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And so let it be known that Islam did not initiate the system of polygamy; it existed from the early dawn of human history.
When Islam came on the world scene in the seventh century of the Common Era, it inherited the existing marriage system.
Condoning of polygamy should not be seen as a piece of pure male chauvinism. In the words of Karen Armstrong, “polygamy was not designed to improve the sex life of the boys — it was a piece of social legislation.”
It is to the credit of Islam that it modified and reformed the system in existence at the time.
First of all, Islam put a limit to the numbers of wives that a person can have at one time — maximum of four wives at one time.
Secondly, Islam put stringent conditions on a person who wanted to marry a second wife. He must be able to provide and maintain the family and also deal with both on basis of justice and fairness. In Chapter 4 (Surah an-Nisaa), verse 3, after allowing the Muslim men to marry two, three or four wives, the Qur’ãn immediately says:
“but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one…” (Surah an-Nisaa, 4:3)
Looking at the psychology of humans, only exceptional people have that quality of justice and fairness. The Qur’ãn itself, in the same Chapter 4, verse 129, says:
“And you do not have the ability to do justice between the wives, even though you may wish (to do so)…” (Surah an-Nisaa, 4:129)
Based on such verses, certain Muslim governments (like Iran and Egypt) regulate the provision of polygyny: the person who intends to marry a second wife has to seek approval from the family court and prove the need for a second wife and the ability to provide for both in an adequate manner.
Islam is a practical religion; its laws are in line with human nature. It does not deny the natural forces in humans, rather it confronts them and provides guidance to control them without disrupting the peace in society.
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