I’ll first address the issue of men having four
wives before I answer your question as to why women can’t have multiple
I think that among many other misconceptions about Islam
is the notion that it unconditionally allows a Muslim to have four wives. In
this regard, some scholars have gone as far as to say that keeping four wives is
a man’s essential physiological and psychological need. I am afraid that this
point of view is in direct contradiction with the Qur’ān. It is, in fact, a
distortion of the stance of Islam. According to the Qur’ān, in normal
circumstances, a family comes into being only through wedlock between a single
pair of man and woman. A subtle reference to this is made by the Qur’ān (4:1)
where it alludes to the fact that when the Almighty created Adam, he made Eve
for him as his only wife. Naturally, had the Almighty intended that a man should
have more than one wife, he would have created more wives for Adam instead of
just one. This shows us that as far as a man’s physiological and psychological
needs are concerned, they are completely satisfied even if he has a single wife.
Let us now take a look at the verses which are generally
thought to be the basis of polygamy. But first a brief word about their
background. A greater part of Sūrah Nisā, in which these verses occurs, deals
with the society and its reformation. In this regard, the foremost sphere in
which directives were given was that of the welfare of the orphans – since they
are one of the weakest sections of society. In Madīnah, there came a time when
many Muslims were martyred in various battles. As a result, many children were
orphaned. In this situation, an appeal was made by the Almighty to the Muslims.
They were urged to look after these children and guard their wealth and
property. In this regard, the already in-practice custom of polygamy in the
Arabian society was resorted to. Muslims were told that if they were afraid that
they would not be able to take proper care of these orphans, they should marry
their widowed mothers.
We will now take a look at the actual verses:
If you fear that you would not be able to deal justly with
the orphans, marry two, three or four of the women who are lawful for you. But
if you fear that you would not be able to deal justly [with them] then [restrict
yourself to] one only. (4:3)
Three implications of this verse are very clear:
Firstly, polygamy is related to some social need.
Secondly, the number of wives should not exceed four in
Thirdly, if a person cannot maintain balance and do
justice to his wives, he must restrict himself to one.
In other words, while in normal circumstances, a family
comes into being through the union of a single man and woman, there may be
certain exceptional circumstances in which the practice of polygamy many be
benefited from with the restrictions mentioned in the above quoted verse. For
example, in our society, many young widows and divorced women with small
children have to live a life of misery and no one is willing to accept them as
wives. Such widows and children can lead normal lives if this permission is
benefited from. Similarly, many young women converts who have been abandoned by
their non-Muslim husbands need Muslim husbands. So, a number of problems can be
solved by using this permission, which would have been impossible to overcome
had Islam totally forbidden polygamy.
With this background, I’ll now come to your question
regarding polyandry (woman having many husbands at the same time). It is common
sense that if a family is to come into being not only should there be only one
head but also one person should not be placed under the command of multiple
heads other wise, great anarchy would result. Since, in the family set up
envisaged by Islam, husbands are to head the family, if a wife has multiple
husbands, she would be placed under the authority of many husbands at the same
time. This of course would only hasten to tear apart the fabric of a family
unit. Furthermore, the lineage of the child borne by a woman having more than
one husband cannot be ascertained. How would the father be ascertained? Someone
might say that a DNA test would be able to do so. However, even if this test is
used, there still are great chances of dissent between all the husbands with one
claiming to be the father and the other denying him.
Owing to these reasons Islam has not allowed women to be
married simultaneously to multiple husbands.