Muslim Interpretation of Polygamy

The Muslim scholar Abdullah Saeed has categorized three approaches in interpretating the ethico-legal of the Qur’an in the modern context: Textualist, Semi-textualist and Contextualist. This categorization is based on Muslim interpretations of the Qur’an verse 4:3, which is commonly quoted to justify polygamy:

“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 (A captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice”. (An-Nisaa; 3)

The first groups, the Textualists, based on their literal reading of the italic part of the verse “marry women of your choice, two or three or four”, believe that Islam permits polygamy and justify their opinion by referring to the Prophet Muhammad’s practice of polygamy.

The second group, the Semi-textualists, believe that polygamy is only permitted under certain circumstances, when wives can be treated equally. They based their opinion on a literal understanding of verse 4:3, eliminating the context of the verse revelation that deals with orphans. In addition, this group believes that unlike pre-Islamic polygamy, which had no limitation on the number of wives, in fact in Islam the number of wives is limited to four.

The third group, the Contextualists, believe that polygamy is prohibited. They interpret the verse comprehensively and contextually. They not only base their opinion on one segment of the verse 4:3, but begin from the verse 4:3 and continue their reading with the verse 4:129.

Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, Even if it is your ardent desire: but turn not away (from a woman) altogether, so As to leave her (as it were) hanging (in the air). If ye come to a friendly understanding, and practice self- restraint, Allah is Oft-forgiving, most Merciful”. (An-Nisaa; 129).

Women, Islam and Everyday life "Renegotiating of polygamy in Indonesia" book's by Nina Nurmala.

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