At first glance, Islam does not seem a fair religion. Muslim men seem to have it much better than their female counterparts. One issue which perplexes many is how inequitable it is that Muslim men can marry more than one wife while a Muslim woman has only one husband at any one time. I understand how it looks and so spent time researching the issue.
The Quran states, in Surah An Nisaa’ (verse 3):
وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تُقْسِطُواْ فِى الْيَتَٰـمَى فَانكِحُواْ مَا طَابَ لَكُمْ مِّنَ النِّسَآءِ مَثْنَى وَثُلَـثَ وَرُبَاعَ فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تَعْدِلُواْ فَوَٰحِدَةً أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَٰـنُكُمْ ذلِكَ أَدْنَى أَلاَّ تَعُولُواْ
And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphaned females, then marry other women of your choice, two or three, or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with them, then only one or that your right hands possess. That is nearer to prevent you from injustice.
So, the possibility of marrying more than one wife at one time is in the Quran but there is a caveat.
Allah places upon it the condition that the wives must be dealt with justly. This encapsulates time, housing, and finances. This immediately excludes many men as it is quite exceptional that one man may be able to financially support more than one family at any one time.
While the Quran stresses the importance of justice, what actually happens in most cases is that a Muslim man, having a tumultuous time in his current marriage, not knowing how to fix the relationship, sees a way out. He does not need to worry about the emotional, legal, and financial repercussions of divorcing his wife because he decides to stay legally (islamically or otherwise) married and marries another woman WITHOUT his first wife’s knowledge. The second wife will end up claiming support from the government as the man is unable to provide housing for both women out of his own earnings. The first wife will often only find out after the second marriage has gone through.
Now, this deceit, and it is DECEIT, is definitely NOT from the religion of Islam.
In Islam like many other religions, a marriage is a sacred contract based upon love, compassion, and trust. The first wife of course has the choice as to whether she would like to become a co-wife. In fact, there is evidence from the Prophet that when his son in law Ali bin Abi Taalib wanted to marry a second wife, and Faatimah, the daughter of the Prophet did not want him to, the Prophet himself FORBADE Ali from doing so (See Bukhari for the hadith).
Some ‘scholars’ argue the Prophet did this because Ali bin Abi Taalib wanted to marry the daughter of Abu Jahl (considered an enemy of Islam at the time) but this is completely nonsensical as the Prophet himself was married to the daughter of Abu Sufyan (who was also considered an enemy of Islam)!
Now, I’m sure many men will argue that most, if not all women, will refuse to be a co-wife which would make it impossible for any man to marry more than one wife. My answer to this is in the example of the Prophet. He married his first wife when he was 25 years old and she was 40. The marriage lasted around 25 years and was completely monogamous. During this time, they had 4 daughters. Only after Khadija’s death did the Prophet have multiple wives – all except one (Aisha) were divorcees or widows.
In other words, when the Prophet had young children, he was committed only to that wife and family. This makes perfect sense as the needs of a wife with young children are very different from older people coming together in marriage without any children to raise and being more independent in how they live their lives within the marriage. So, of course, it is possible that women would be happy as co-wives if their circumstances are suited to such.
Indeed the way of our Prophet and pious predecessors was not to leave their current wife in limbo and take the easy way out. They lived according to verse 129 of Surah An Nisaa’ which states:
وَلَن تَسْتَطِيعُواْ أَن تَعْدِلُواْ بَيْنَ النِّسَآءِ وَلَوْ حَرَصْتُمْ فَلاَ تَمِيلُواْ كُلَّ الْمَيْلِ فَتَذَرُوهَا كَالْمُعَلَّقَةِ وَإِن تُصْلِحُواْ وَتَتَّقُواْ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ غَفُوراً رَّحِيماً
You will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire, so do not incline too much to one of them so as to leave the other hanging. And if you do justice, and do all that is right and have Taqwa, then Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
In fact, the way in which second or further marriages are being conducted goes against the very essence of Islam. It is not Islam which is an unfair religion. In this aspect, it is Muslim men who are twisting it for their own needs.
The Muslim community needs Muslim men to live up to the honourable examples of men in the past. Men who were strong in faith, in conviction, and knew the actual religion.
After all, the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) did say, “The most perfect man in his faith among the believers is the one whose behaviour is most excellent; and the best of you are those who are the best to their wives.” (Tirmidhi).