4 - An Nisa (The women)

6 Tafsir(s) related to verse 4.3


If you fear that you will not act justly, [that] you will [not] be equitable, towards the orphans, and are thus distressed in this matter, then also fear lest you be unjust towards women when you marry them; marry such (mā means man) women as seem good to you, two or three or four, that is, [each man may marry] two, or three, or four, but do not exceed this; but if you fear you will not be equitable, towards them in terms of [their] expenses and [individual] share; then, marry, only one, or, restrict yourself to, what your right hands own, of slavegirls, since these do not have the same rights as wives; thus, by that marrying of only four, or only one, or resorting to slavegirls, it is likelier, it is nearer [in outcome], that you will not be unjust, [that] you will [not] be inequitable.


If you fear that you will not act justly towards the orphans, marry such women as seem good to you, two or three or four, but if you fear you will not be equitable, then only one, or what your right hands own; thus, it is likelier that you will not be unjust. * And give women their dowries as a free gift;

God granted free men the right to marry four women at the same time. He mandated justice between them, so the servant must respect what is obligatory. If he knows that in choosing this permitted thing, he would attempt to uphold this obligation but would fall short in it, he should not do it since the obligation is something for which he is responsible.

[4:4 cont'd] but if they are pleased to offer you any of it of their own accord, consume it with wholesome appetite.

This denotes the fact that the food of the chivalrous (fityān) and generous is wholesome because they only feed others from good-heartedness. The food of the miserly is rotten because they look only to themselves and feed others out of obligation not good-heartedness. [The Prophet] (ṣ) said: The food of the generous is a remedy while the food of the miser is a disease.

Asbab Al-Nuzul by Al-Wahidi

(And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans") [4:3]. Abu Bakr al-Tamimi informed us> "Abd Allah ibn Muhammad> Abu Yahya> Sahl ibn "Uthman> Yahya ibn Za"idah> Hisham ibn "Urwah> his father> "A"ishah who said, regarding the words of Allah (And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans): "This was revealed about any custodian under whose care is a female orphan who possesses some wealth and does not have anyone to defend her rights. The custodian refuses to give this orphan in marriage out of greed for her money, harms her and treats her badly. And so Allah, exalted is He, says (And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans marry of the women, who seem good to you") as long as they are lawful to you and leave this one". This was narrated by Muslim> Abu Kurayb> Abu Usamah> Hisham. Sa"id ibn Jubayr, Qatadah, al-Rabi", al-Dahhak and al-Suddi said: "People used to be wary of the wealth of orphans but took liberty with women and married whoever they liked. And sometimes they were fair to them and sometimes they were not. So when they asked about the orphans and the verse (Give unto orphans their wealth), regarding the orphans, was revealed, Allah, exalted is He, also revealed (And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans). He says here: "Just as you fear that you will not deal fairly by the orphan, so should you fear that you do not deal fairly by women. Therefore, marry only as many as you can fulfil their rights, for women are like orphans as far as weakness and incapacity are concerned". This is the opinion of Ibn "Abbas according to the narration of al-Walibi".

Ibn Al Kathir

Protecting the Property of the Orphans

Allah commands that the property of the orphans be surrendered to them in full when they reach the age of adolescence, and He forbids using or confiscating any part of it. So He said;

وَلاَ تَتَبَدَّلُواْ الْخَبِيثَ بِالطَّيِّبِ

(and do not exchange (your) bad things for (their) good ones;) Sa`id bin Al-Musayyib and Az-Zuhri commented, "Do not substitute a weak animal of yours for a fat animal (of the orphans).'' Ibrahim An-Nakha`i and Ad-Dahhak commented, "Do not give something of bad quality for something of good quality.'' As-Suddi said, "One of them (caretakers of orphans) would take a fat sheep from the orphan's property and put in its place, a weak sheep of his, saying, `A sheep for a sheep.' He would also take a good Dirham and exchange it for a fake Dirham, saying, `A Dirham for a Dirham.''' Allah's statement,

وَلاَ تَأْكُلُواْ أَمْوَلَهُمْ إِلَى أَمْوَلِكُمْ

(and devour not their substance to your substance.) means, do not mix them together so that you eat up both, as Mujahid, Sa`id bin Jubayr, Muqatil bin Hayyan, As-Suddi and Sufyan bin Hassin stated. Allah said,

إِنَّهُ كَانَ حُوباً كَبِيراً

(Surely, this is a great sin. ), a major and substantial sin, according to Ibn `Abbas. This was also reported from Mujahid, `Ikrimah, Sa`id bin Jubayr, Al-Hasan, Ibn Sirin, Qatadah, Muqatil bin Hayyan, Ad-Dahhak, Abu Malik, Zayd bin Aslam and Abu Sinan. The meaning above is: adding their property to your property is a grave sin and a major mistake, so avoid it.

The Prohibition of Marrying Female Orphans Without Giving a Dowry

Allah said,

وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تُقْسِطُواْ فِى الْيَتَـمَى فَانكِحُواْ مَا طَابَ لَكُمْ مِّنَ النِّسَآءِ مَثْنَى

(And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry (other) women of your choice, two) Allah commands, when one of you is the caretaker of a female orphan and he fears that he might not give her a dowry that is suitable for women of her status, he should marry other women, who are plenty as Allah has not restricted him. Al-Bukhari recorded that `A'ishah said, "A man was taking care of a female orphan and he married her, although he did not desire to marry her. That girl's money was mixed with his, and he was keeping her portion from her. Afterwards, this Ayah was revealed about his case;

وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تُقْسِطُواْ

(If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly)'' Al-Bukhari recorded that `Urwah bin Az-Zubayr said that he asked `A'ishah about the meaning of the statement of Allah,

وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تُقْسِطُواْ فِى الْيَتَـمَى

(If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphan girls.) She said, "O my nephew! This is about the orphan girl who lives with her guardian and shares his property. Her wealth and beauty may tempt him to marry her without giving her an adequate dowry which might have been given by another suitor. So, such guardians were forbidden to marry such orphan girls unless they treated them justly and gave them the most suitable dowry; otherwise they were ordered to marry woman besides them.'' `A'ishah further said, "After that verse, the people again asked the Messenger of Allah (about marriage with orphan girls), so Allah revealed the Ayah,

وَيَسْتَفْتُونَكَ فِى النِّسَآءِ

(They ask your instruction concerning the women..) 4:127.'' She said, "Allah's statement in this Ayah,

وَتَرْغَبُونَ أَن تَنكِحُوهُنَّ

(yet whom you desire to marry) 4:127refers to the guardian who does not desire to marry an orphan girl under his supervision because she is neither wealthy nor beautiful. The guardians were forbidden to marry their orphan girls possessing property and beauty without being just to them, as they generally refrain from marrying them (when they are neither beautiful nor wealthy).''

The Permission to Marry Four Women

Allah's statement,

مَثْنَى وَثُلَـثَ وَرُبَاعَ

(two or three, or four), means, marry as many women as you like, other than the orphan girls, two, three or four. We should mention that Allah's statement in another Ayah,

جَاعِلِ الْمَلَـئِكَةِ رُسُلاً أُوْلِى أَجْنِحَةٍ مَّثْنَى وَثُلَـثَ وَرُبَـعَ

(Who made the angels messengers with wings, - two or three or four) 35:1, does not mean that other angels do not have more than four wings, as there are proofs that some angels do have more wings. Yet, men are prohibited from marrying more than four wives, as the Ayah decrees, since the Ayah specifies what men are allowed of wives, as Ibn `Abbas and the majority of scholars stated. If it were allowed for them to have more than four wives, the Ayah would have mentioned it. Imam Ahmad recorded that Salim said that his father said that Ghilan bin Salamah Ath-Thaqafi had ten wives when he became Muslim, and the Prophet said to him, "Choose any four of them (and divorce the rest).'' During the reign of `Umar, Ghilan divorced his remaining wives and divided his money between his children. When `Umar heard news of this, he said to Ghilan, "I think that the devil has conveyed to your heart the news of your imminent death, from what the devil hears during his eavesdropping. It may as well be that you will not remain alive but for a little longer. By Allah! You will take back your wives and your money, or I will take possession of this all and will order that your grave be stoned as is the case with the grave of Abu Righal (from Thamud, who was saved from their fate because he was in the Sacred Area. But, when he left it, he was tormented like they were).'' Ash-Shafi`i, At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ad-Daraqutni and Al-Bayhaqi collected this Hadith up to the Prophet's statement, "Choose any four of them.'' Only Ahmad collected the full version of this Hadith. Therefore, had it been allowed for men to marry more than four women at the same time, the Prophet would have allowed Ghilan to keep more than four of his wives since they all embraced Islam with him. When the Prophet commanded him to keep just four of them and divorce the rest, this indicated that men are not allowed to keep more than four wives at a time under any circumstances. If this is the case concerning those who already had more than four wives upon embracing Islam, then this ruling applies even more so to marrying more than four.

Marrying Only One Wife When One Fears He Might not Do Justice to His Wives

Allah's statement,

فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تَعْدِلُواْ فَوَحِدَةً أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَـنُكُمْ

(But if you fear that you will not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one or what your right hands possess.) The Ayah commands, if you fear that you will not be able to do justice between your wives by marrying more than one, then marry only one wife, or satisfy yourself with only female captives, for it is not obligatory to treat them equally, rather it is recommended. So if one does so, that is good, and if not, there is no harm on him. In another Ayah, Allah said,

وَلَن تَسْتَطِيعُواْ أَن تَعْدِلُواْ بَيْنَ النِّسَآءِ وَلَوْ حَرَصْتُمْ

(You will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire) 4:129. Allah said,

ذلِكَ أَدْنَى أَلاَّ تَعُولُواْ

(That is nearer to prevent you from Ta`ulu), meaning, from doing injustice. Ibn Abi Hatim, Ibn Marduwyah and Abu Hatim Ibn Hibban, in his Sahih, recorded that `A'ishah said that, the Prophet said that the Ayah,

ذلِكَ أَدْنَى أَلاَّ تَعُولُواْ

(That is nearer to prevent you from Ta`ulu), means, from doing injustice. However, Ibn Abi Hatim said that his father said that this Hadith to the Prophet is a mistake, for it should be attributed to `A'ishah not the Prophet. Ibn Abi Hatim reported from Ibn `Abbas, `A'ishah, Mujahid, `Ikrimah, Al-Hasan, Abu Malik, Abu Razin, An-Nakha`i, Ash-Sha`bi, Ad-Dahhak, `Ata' Al-Khurasani, Qatadah, As-Suddi and Muqatil bin Hayyan that Ta`ulu means to deviate from justice.

Giving the Dowry is Obligatory

`Ali bin Abi Talhah reported Ibn `Abbas saying, Nihlah, in Allah's statement,

وَءَاتُواْ النِّسَآءَ صَدُقَـتِهِنَّ نِحْلَةً

(And give to the women (whom you marry) their Saduqat Nihlah) refers to the dowry. Muhammad bin Ishaq narrated from Az-Zuhri that `Urwah said that `A'ishah said that `Nihlah' means `obligatory'. Muqatil, Qatadah and Ibn Jurayj said, `Nihlah' means `obligatory' Ibn Jurayj added: `specified.' Ibn Zayd said, "In Arabic, Nihlah, refers to what is necessary. So Allah is commanding: Do not marry unless you give your wife something that is her right. No person after the Prophet is allowed to marry a woman except with the required dowry, nor by giving false promises about the dowry intended.'' Therefore, the man is required to pay a dowry to his wife with a good heart, just as he gives a gift with a good heart. If the wife gives him part or all of that dowry with a good heart, her husband is allowed to take it, as it is lawful for him in this case. This is why Allah said afterwards,

فَإِن طِبْنَ لَكُمْ عَن شَىْءٍ مِّنْهُ نَفْساً فَكُلُوهُ هَنِيئاً مَّرِيئاً

(But if they, of their own pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it, and enjoy it without fear of any harm.)

Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an

The commentators ascribe three meanings to this:

(a) Hadrat 'A ' ishah says that this was revealed to remedy an evil that was prevalent in the days of "Ignorance." The guardians of the orphan girls used to marry them for their wealth and beauty, with the intention of keeping them under their power because they had no one to defend their cause; then they treated them unjustly without any fear. Therefore when they became Muslims, they had misgivings about marrying orphan girls. Accordingly, the Qur'an advised them to marry women of their choice other than orphan girls in their charge, if they feared that they would not be able to do justice to them. Verse 127 of this Surah also supports this comment.

(b) In commenting on this, Hadrat Ibn-i-`Abbas and his disciple `Ikrimah assert that this Commandment was given to eradicate an injustice that was prevalent at that time. In pre-Islamic days, there was no limit to the number of wives and some people would marry even a dozen of them but when they could not meet the increasing expenses, they were forced to grab the property of their orphan nephews and other helpless relatives. Therefore, Allah restricted the maximum number of wives to four, and enjoined that this too, was subject to the condition that one should do justice to all of them.

(c) SaÆid bin Jubair, Qatadah and some other commentators declare that this Command was given to safeguard the interests of wives. They say that even before the advent of Islam, injustice to the orphans was looked upon with disfavor, but in regard to wives, it was different; they would marry as many as they liked and would treat them cruelly and unjustly without any fear of the society or pangs of conscience. Therefore Allah warned them that they should refrain from doing injustice to their wives as they did in the case of the orphans. Therefore they should not marry more than four wives and that too, only if they would do justice to them.

The words of the verse bear all the three meanings and probably all three are meant. Another meaning also can be: "If you cannot treat the orphans justly as they normally should be, you may marry the women who have orphan children."

The consensus of opinion of all the scholars of the Muslim law is that this verse limits the number of wives and prohibits the keeping of more than four at one and the same time. Traditions also support this. It is related that at the time when Ghailan, the chief of Ta`if, became a Muslim, he had nine wives. The Holy Prophet asked him to keep only four of them and divorce all the others. There is another instance of Naufal bin Mu`aviyah, who was ordered by the Holy Prophet to divorce one of his five wives.

It should also be noted that this verse restricts polygamy with the provision of justice to all the wives; therefore whoever abuses this permission without fulfilling the condition of justice and marries more wives than one tries to deceive Allah. The courts of an Islamic State are, therefore, empowered to enforce justice in order to rectify the wrong done to a wife or wives. At the same time it is absolutely wrong to conclude from the proviso of justice, attached to this Commandment, that this verse was really meant to abolish polygamy. This is not the view of the Qur'an, but of those Muslims who have been overawed by the Christians of the West. They say that the Qur'an is also against polygamy but it did trot abolish it directly because it did not consider it expedient at the time for the custom had become very common. Instead of this, it allows polygamy provided that justice is done to all the wives. As this condition is most difficult to fulfill, the recommendation is towards monogamy. Obviously, this way of thinking is the result of mental slavery, because polygamy in itself is not an evil for in some cases it becomes a real cultural and moral necessity. There are Borne people, who, even if they wished, cannot remain content with one wife. Polygamy comes to their rescue and saves them and the society in general from the harms of unlicensed sexual indulgences. That is why the Qur'an allows polygamy to such people with the explicit condition of doing justice to all the wives.

As regards those who consider polygamy to be an evil, they are free to oppose the Qur'an and condemn polygamy, but they have no right to ascribe their own perverted views to the Qur'an, for it makes this lawful in very clear language without employing any words that might be stretched in any way to imply that the Qur'an means to abolish it. (For further explanation, please consult my book.Snnat ki A 'ini Hathiyyat, pp. 307-3161.

"Those women": slave girls captured in war and distributed among the people by the government. It tray either mean: "If you cannot bear the expenses of a free woman, you may marry a slave girl as permitted in.v. 25," or it may mean: "If you need more wives than one but are afraid that you might not be able to do justice to your wives from among the free people, you may turn to slave girls because in that case you will be burdened with less responsibilities. (For details please refer to E.N. 44 below).

Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs

(And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans) and if you fear that you will not preserve orphans' wealth, you should also fear not dealing fairly with women in relation to providing sustenance and apportionment. This was because they used to marry as many women as they liked, as many as nine or ten. Qays Ibn al-Harth for example had eight wives. Allah forbade them from doing so and prohibited them from marrying more than four wives, saying: (marry of the women, who seem good to you) marry that which Allah has made lawful for you, (two or three or four) marry one, two, three or four but do not marry more than four wives; (and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice) to four wives in relation to apportionment and providing sustenance (then one (only)) then marry only one free woman (or that your right hands possess) of captives, and in that case you do not owe them any apportionment, and they need not observe any waiting period. (Thus it) marrying just one woman (is more likely that ye will not do injustice) that you will not incline to some at the expense of others or that you transgress regarding the provision of sustenance and apportionment to four wives.