Q. Can a man have more than one wife and what would be the conditions for him to have several wives even though he is married to one woman?
A. Based on the sound teachings of the Holy Quran and the teachings of the Prophet (SAW), an allowance has been given for a man to have more than one wife (to the maximum limit of four at one time). However, this allowance has been given with a (compulsory) condition that he must be able to deal justly and maintain an equal and fair dealing/relation with all on the same level. Whatever he provides for one in the area of maintenance, housing, clothing etc. he must provide for the others in the same manner with equality. He must not give preference to one above the other in treatment or in any other thing. He is also commanded to spend an equal time with each of them. In this regard, the blessed Messenger of Allah (SAW) is reported to have said, ‘whoever has two wives and is not just between them, then on the day of judgment, he will appear with his side falling, (hanging) (Ahmad, Abu Dawood, Tirmizi)
The Prophet (SAW) would spend an equal amount of nights with each wife, he would spend on them equally, he would provide them with clothing equally and anything that he could do to be just and fair to them all, he did. It is also mentioned that it is not enough for a man to treat his wives equally, he must treat their children equally as well. If he is extra generous to the son of one wife and negligent in his treatment of his other wives’ children, then he is a transgressor. (Al Khilaafatuz Zawjiya) It is not permissible for the man to marry a second or third wife on the condition that she will provide for herself with respect to food, clothing and shelter. He also cannot get into a marriage with the agreement that ‘when he has time he will visit a certain wife’. All these are unlawful and it shows that the man cannot fulfill the conditions laid for having more than one wife. In this case, when he is unable to provide for his wives in an equal manner, and he cannot be fair and just to all with respect to his treatment and time, then it is haram for him to marry to more than one wife.
Another issue that a man must take into consideration is the fact that he is already married to a woman and may (probably) have children (already). As the husband and father, he is ordered by Allah to take care of his family in the best possible manner to build this unit as strong as possible, and give his children a proper Islamic upbringing.
Seeing that having a second wife is only an allowance (while protecting and preserving the first family unit is compulsory) he must first look to see what possible harms can arise out of his action in taking another wife.
Most assuredly, the blessed Shariah would not allow the destruction of a well established family unit in order to facilitate a simple allowance.
It is therefore imperative for one to give serious thought and consideration to these issues before getting involved in a thing that may prove to be detrimental. There are many cases in which, upon the second marriage, the husband was either forced to divorce his first wife in order to keep the second wife, or divorce the second wife in order to keep his first wife and children.
It is to be noted that Allah has instituted marriage in Islam to be a means of happiness and joy. It is meant to bring comfort, peace tranquility and relaxation, however, in many cases, it is witnessed that these are not attained through the pursuance of a second wife. Instead, much harms tend to come about. Hence, one must give considerable thought to his actions and intentions before getting into a polygamous marriage.
It must also be understood that having more than one wife (at one time) is not a command from Allah, nor is it a recommendation of the Holy Prophet (SAW). Instead, it is an allowance which Allah has given, based on His great wisdom and understanding. Whosoever wishs to practice on this allowance must therefore thread the path with great caution and care, and stay away from that which brings about pain, discomfort and suffering in this world and the hereafter.
And Allah knows best.
Mufti Waseem Khan