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Marriage to orphans | Verse 4:3 (Surah An-Nissa)

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Author Topic: Marriage to orphans | Verse 4:3 (Surah An-Nissa)  (Read 81 times)
TEAM MUSLIM VILLA The Avid Reader | Mom of 3 cute rascals
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« on: September 18, 2016, 04:43:55 am »


As-Salam Alaykum all.  I think it's relevant to discuss a bit on Verse 4:3.  This Verse is largely connected with societal history of the era when it was revealed.  Thus, many readers with scant knowledge of the Middle-Eastern social setup (though the European society and its rules weren't a whole lot different back then) may not be able to follow it correctly. 

Let me first quote Verse 4:3.

"If you fear that you will not deal fairly with orphan girls, you may marry whichever [other] women seem good to you, two, three, or four.  If you fear that you cannot be equitable [to them], then marry only one, or your slave(s): that is more likely to make you avoid bias."  (4:3) An-Nissa.

This Verse alludes to a specific social environment in Arabia. The Surah was revealed in Medinah during the early days of Hijrah when many pre-Islamic social practices still existed that needed to be modified or changed.  The Verse begins with the mention of female orphans. In some cases the male guardians were permitted to marry orphan girls who reached adulthood, if until then they were still unprotected, that is, weren't married off or couldn't live independently for lack of their own financial resources.  Such girls were often vulnerable.  Some of their guardians who married them treated them according to their whims as they had no family/financial protection.  Verse 4:3 tells these men not to marry orphan girls, instead to marry "other" women (which means free women) up to a maximum of four at a period when the number of wives could be unlimited.  However, four wives is stated as a provision, not a compulsion, for men with certain mindsets to discourage the practice of adultery. 

The Verse then highlights the aspect of fairness or equitability that brings still greater responsibilities in a polygamous marriage.  A man must preemptively assess his capability of handling such a task and in case of any doubts of his own possible shortcomings, he should stick to a monogamous marriage. 

Finally, the Verse hints on another social aspect when slavery was rife not only in Arabia but just about everywhere from Europe to Japan.  In this era which lasted for centuries, female prisoners (who were generally widows or orphans) of war taken captive by the victorious side had the status of slaves and physical intimacy between them and man who took them captive (and was also their caretaker) was legal similar to his legally wedded wife.  So the Verse mentions that if a man cannot treat more than one wife (of the free women) equally, then he should either marry only one free woman or simply stick around with the companionship of captive women who were under his care .. if at all any. 

It's hard to elucidate these social issues briefly; and it's still harder for many to understand unless they study/research (from the right sources) enough to get a clear picture of the historical setup at that time.  Verse 4:3 is addressed to a society where existed a very different system compared to the present.  There are no slaves today, therefore the idea of having slave women / girls does not arise in accordance with the Quranic principle itself.  Legal marriage to more than one woman can however still be applicable, depending on the situation, but again it's a provision not a compulsion to curb the practice of extra-marital sex.

There are various other considerations and aspects that need to be mentioned.  But since this board is for brief tafsirs/commentaries and this post has already gotten lengthy, I'll stop here. I'll mention some significant links to give you a clearer grasp of similar social aspects.  Also the method of abolition of slavery as initiated by the Quran is very essential to know.  Kindly bookmark the links below and read at your own time.

- Slavery and its abolition in the light of the Quran

- Articulating further on that storm in a tea cup - polygamy in Islam
(At the end of this post there are 5 more relevant links)
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« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2016, 04:59:50 am »

Thanks a million for putting this up, Sister Ruhi.   
Allah bless.
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