Polygamy in the Quran
By: A Muhammad

What does the Quran say about polygamy? Can a man be married to more than one woman at the same time and whenever he pleases?
As will be demonstrated in this article, the Quran sets two clear conditions that must be met before polygamy may be allowed. However, traditional scholars speak only of one condition while totally disregarding the second Quranic condition for polygamy.
The Quranic law for polygamy is found in 4:3. If we start by reading 4:2 first, we note that God is addressing men who are either supporting orphans or acting as guardians to the orphans. The words that follow are:

And if you fear that you may not be just to the orphans, then you may marry whom you please of the women, two, three, or four. But if you fear being unfair, then only one, or what your right hand possesses, for that will make it less likely that you act unfairly.
4:3

1- The word "if" at the beginning of the verse is a conditional word. Therefore, the words that follow this word must be met before a man is allowed to have more than a single wife.
2- The word "then" followed by the words, "you may marry whom you please of the women, two, three, or four" speak of the allowance for polygamy after the conditions set are met.
The words that follow the word "if" present a condition that must be met.
The words that follow the word "then" present an allowance that is granted once the condition is met.

The words in 4:3 tell us that God has set three conditions that must be met for a man to marry more than one wife, they are:

1- Supporting orphans
As explained above, the words "if" and "then" make it a condition that a man is supporting orphans to have the right to marry more than one wife.

2-
Fear of injustice towards the orphans
Not only must a man be supporting orphans, but he must also fear that he is not giving them the appropriate care they need. This condition must also be present for a man to be lawfully entitled to take more than one wife. What this means is that if a man is supporting orphans, and he is able to take good care of them, alone or with the help of his wife, then there would be no lawful justification for him to take another wife. This condition is made clear in the words "if you fear that you may not be just to the orphans".

3- Treating the wives equally
The third condition is that the man must be able to treat his wives equally and without having bias in favour of one of them over the others. This condition is made clear in the words
"
if you fear being unfair, then only one".

By reading the words in 4:3, we immediately realise that the purpose for which God allowed polygamy is the best interests of the orphans.
A second wife would help the man in the raising of the orphans who are not getting the care they require. This would also provide the orphans with a mother figure who would offer them the love and care they need. If a man is supporting a larger number of orphans, he may take a third and fourth wife as the need may require.

Sadly, the bulk of scholars and imams in the Islamic world have turned a total blind eye to the first and second conditions above, and they only speak of the third condition.
In addition, the majority of them have misunderstood God's wisdom in allowing polygamy, that being the best interests of the orphans. Instead, they went on to claim that God allowed men more than one wife because men have a higher sexual appetite then women, and other claims which are equally unacceptable!
And so, while as the condition of treating all wives equally is indeed a condition set by God, it is misleading to regard it as the only condition required by God for polygamy.
Now let us look at the following words once again:

If
you fear being unfair, then only one.

What is quite irrational is that the scholars acknowledge that the words "if" and "then" in the above sentence set the fair treatment of the wives as a condition, yet for some unexplicable reason they refuse to accept that the same words, "if" and
"then" in the first sentence, also set conditions!
Once again, the first sentence is:

And if you fear that you may not be just to the orphans, then you may marry whom you please of the women, two, three, or four.

To claim that the two words
"if" and "then" (which appear in both sentences) are conditional in only one of the two sentences is a case of accepting part of the Quran and rejecting another part.
God warns against doing that:

Do you believe in some of the Scripture and disbelieve in some? So what is the penalty for those among you who do that except disgrace in the worldly life, and to be returned to the most severe punishment on the Day of Resurrection? God is not unaware of what you do. 2:85

Genuine Submitters to the Law of God will give due attention to all the conditions set by God in the Quran and strive to uphold them.

In addition, if supporting orphans is not a condition for polygamy, and men may marry up to four wives at any time as long as they treat the wives equally, then why is God linking polygamy with the case of supporting orphans?

This question becomes more relevant when we are reminded that the words,
"you may marry whom you please of the women, two, three, or four"
are not mentioned anywhere else in the Quran. If supporting orphans was not a condition, then there would be no need to link it with polygamy, and specifically, to use the conditional word "if".

Please consider the following example:
A doctor tells his patient:
"If your blood pressure rises above 150/100, then take this medicine, 2, 3, or 4 times a day."
Can we say that high blood pressure is not a condition for taking the medicine and that the patient is free to take the medicine any time he wishes?
If the answer is yes, and the patient is free to take the medicine anytime he wishes, even if his blood pressure is normal, then why is the doctor linking the medicine with high blood pressure? In such a case, the doctor would just say, "Take the medicine any time you wish".