By Paul S Armstrong
“If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or that which your right hands possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.” Holy Qur’an 4:3 (A. Yusuf Ali)
I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been quizzed on this very issue. How many wives does Islam allow men to have? Before we can even begin to answer this question, we must consider the historical context of the verse above. The Holy Qur’an was revealed 14 centuries ago in 7th Century Arabia, a very different society to the ones in which almost anyone lives today. Even those remaining regions, relatively undeveloped in Arabia, are still very different to the society in which the Holy Qur’an was revealed. After 14 centuries, so much has changed, for starters, the Holy Qur’an is believed in and recited in modern Arabia and to varying degrees modern Arabs, the majority of whom are Muslims, try to adhere to it’s teachings.
In the 7th Century CE, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, started out by himself and then with a small, growing group of friends – the embryonic Muslim community. Many people were opposed to his teachings, preferring to ignore them and stay in darkness, rather than address the social issues of the day. The beginnings of the concept of human rights may well have started with King Cyrus the Great, but were long forgotten in the 7th Century! People were routinely bought and sold, few took issue with this practice. Women suffered especially badly, as one would perhaps expect, when all life was something valued more in terms of gold and silver, than as something priceless and sacred.