1- The Noble Verses:
Marriage from multiple women in Islam might not be allowed for those who might result in damaging the society with their marriage by bringing more illiterate, poor, and in many cases starving children to the society.
Let us look at Noble Verse 4:3 "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."
Notice how Allah Almighty allowed polygamy only for helping the orphans (more women are needed to take care of the Muslims' and infidels' orphans after every battle.) Notice also how Allah Almighty ordered the men to be either fair to their wives or else to never marry more than one wife.
Let us look at Noble 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 practise self-restraint, God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful." Here we clearly see that Allah Almighty tells men that they will never be fair to their wives.
Let us see why then Allah Almighty temporarily ordered polygamy but yet very highly discouraged it, and why I personally believe from the Noble Quran that polygamy should not be allowed today to most Muslim men in the Muslim world.
2- What was the purpose of the Noble Verse 4:3?
Noble Verse 4:3 was revealed to Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him in Madina after he migrated to it from Mecca and established an Islamic state there right after the battle of Uhud in which the Muslims not only had lost badly against the Pagans, but also suffered a dramatic decrease in the number of Muslim men. The Muslim men before that battle were approximately 700. They became only 400 after the battle. This loss had left so many Muslim women (1) Widows, and (2) Not able to get married if they were single.
To make matters even worse, the Muslims had faced yet another battle against the Pagans in Mecca and its neighboring tribes who wanted to attack the Muslims in Madina to finish off Islam once and for all, and by the Jews and the Christians in Madina who betrayed the Muslims in the "battle of Trench" after signing a defense treaty with Muhammad peace be upon him against the Pagans.
All praise due to Allah Almighty. With Allah's Will and Mercy, the Muslims had miraculously won the battle against the Pagans of Mecca and drove them back to where they came from, and then attacked the Jews and the Christians who betrayed the defense treaty and kicked those hypocrites out of Madina forever!
These continuous battles against the Muslims were very costly in terms of Muslim men's lives. The women had to be taken care of one way or another. For this reason, Allah Almighty had revealed the Noble Verse 4:3 to Muhammad peace be upon him to solve the social problems that the Muslims were facing. That is why at the very beginning of the Noble Verse 4:3 we see Allah Almighty setting a conditional clause for Orphans "If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans...(4:3)." This Noble Verse came down for the purpose of protecting the Orphans and to increase the number of the Muslims by allowing the men to marry multiple wives (preferably from the grown Orphans at that time), up to four wives only. The purpose was absolutely not for man's sexual pleasure nor privilege, nor was it to support man's personal ego. It was revealed to solve a major social problem to prevent major sins such as illegal sex and prostitution.
Polygamy is not encouraged in the Noble Quran, nor Allah Almighty had allowed it because He really liked it. He was clearly careful to highly discourage polygamy to men by telling them "but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one...(4:3)" which clearly orders men to either be fair or to not marry at all, despite the fact that we lost many men, Allah Almighty still didn't want polygamy to really take place. That's why He later told men "Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire...(4:129)" which clearly nullifies the excuse that He gave them to practice polygamy. Is this a contradiction then? Absolutely not!. It clearly proves that when Allah Almighty allowed polygamy, He only allowed it because we (the Muslims) had an emergency; we lost almost half of our men if not even more. When Islam later became much stronger and Muslims defeated the infidels in the continues battles that were forced upon them (the Muslims), Allah Almighty nullified the excuse that he gave to men to practice polygamy, which would then lead to prohibiting polygamy altogether.
The way I read Noble Verse 4:3 is as follows:
Allah Almighty ordered us to take care of the Orphans in our Islamic society (Noble Verses 2:177, 2:215, 2:220 and much more). He then commands us that if we fear that we will not be able to provide enough support for the too much Orphans in our society (especially after the battle of Uhud where more than half of the Muslim men were lost), then marry up to four of them to provide a social balance between men and women. But if a person feels that he can't handle multiple women, then one is just fine.
That's really all there is to it. Please read the Noble Verse again and compare it to my brief explanation above:
"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. (The Noble Quran, 4:3)"
3- Why didn't Allah Almighty then directly prohibit polygamy?
Because Islam is the most straight forward religion, and because Islam is truly a religion for all times and all places that doesn't need to be modified as some of the other religions in the world do (including Christianity). Allah Almighty left the issue of polygamy open for Muslims in case Muslims face dilemmas in the future like the ones we faced during Islam's weak times by losing too many men. In cases like this, Muslim scholars should look into allowing polygamy. But until then, polygamy should be completely prohibited by the Muslim scholars according to the commands of Allah Almighty.
To see polygamy in the Bible where a man can marry an infinite amount of women without any limits to how many he can marry, see Exodus 21:10 in the Bible. Please note that King David in the Bible had six wives and numerous concubines according to 2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Chronicles 3:1-9, 14:3. King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines according to1 Kings 11:3. Also, Solomon's son Rehoboam had 18 wives and 60 concubines according to 2 Chronicles 11:21.
Please visit: Polygamy in both the Old and New Testaments in the Bible. Jesus himself in the New Testament allowed Polygamy.
4- Why then did Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him practice polygamy?
Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him can be treated as an exceptional case. The Noble Verses that I presented above clearly talked about men and women in general. They apply to all men and all women. Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him was a Messenger of GOD (filled with sympathy and mercy to people) and a leader for all Muslims. He didn't practice polygamy for the sake of sexual pleasure at all. Most of his wives were either widows (older than him in age too) or divorced women (also most of them were either older or same age). Only one of his wives was a virgin, and he only married her because her father was his best friend. He wanted to strengthen that relationship. And it was her father who offered her to our Prophet peace be upon him anyway.
If our beloved Prophet peace be upon him really seeked sexual pleasure, then he would've married young virgins from the Muslims. Back then, people loved Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him so much, that they would literally do anything for him. Certainly fathers would've given him their young virgin daughters if he wanted to. Many people offered him their young virgin bosomed daughters anyway to raise their families' honor, but our Prophet never seeked that sexual privilege in life.
Because Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him was a smart political leader and a wonderful humble merciful true Messenger of Allah Almighty, he chose to marry the weak from his people to encourage the Muslim men to do the same; to create a balance in the Muslim society. Again, another emergency case that existed during Islam's weak times that forced the Muslims (including Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him) to practice polygamy.
5- Can anyone be absolutely fair?
No one on this earth including Muhammad peace be upon him can be absolutely fair. Our Prophet peace be upon him used to pray in one of his prayers to Allah Almighty by saying in Arabic "Allah humma innaka taalamu be anni aadiloo bima astatee', wa lakinnee la aadiloo bima la astatee'," which means in English "Dear Allah, you are well aware that I try to be just with all I can, but I can't be just with what I can't." This prayer means that our Prophet always tried to be fair as much as possible, but he couldn't always do that.
One time, Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him said this prayer, because he used to love his wife Aisha (who was the youngest of his wives) the most, and he always feared that he would not be fair to the rest of his wives. Muhammad peace be upon him recognized that he was only a human being, and he can not be fair especially in his feelings at all time.
This clearly proves that Islam highly discourages the marriage of multiple wives for (1) Because no one can be fair; (2) polygamy is only allowed when the male species is endangered in a society; and (3) The Noble Verse 4:3 orders us to marry only one wife if we feel that we will not be fair.
The Noble Verse that I presented above also clearly proves that no one can be absolutely fair; "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 practise self-restraint, God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. (The Noble Quran, 4:129)"
6- Too much illiterate and starving kids damage the society and Islam:
Today in some of the poor Muslim countries, some poor men still practice polygamy. What benefit would it really serve the society and Islam for a person to bring more illiterate and starving kids into this world?
I honestly believe that practicing polygamy among the poor and starving is not allowed in Islam. Allah Almighty will hold accountable every man who practices polygamy. Poor men practicing polygamy don't provide fairness to the newly born kids and to the economically crippled society, and certainly not to their wives either.
If people practice polygamy without being thoughtful to others, then I am certain that Allah Almighty will take that negatively toward them, because Allah Almighty clearly demanded that we be fair, and think thoroughly before having multiple wives. He clearly encouraged just having one wife.
7- What if the person is rich and can afford polygamy?
I think it would be ok, but the man would still be taking a very high risk in displeasing GOD Almighty for anything that goes wrong in the marriages and the damages that it would cost the wives and the kids. If his kids will not be a burden on the society, and he makes sure that his wives are all treated well and equally as much as he can, even though he will never be perfectly just, then he might be ok.
Brining well educated kids into a Muslim society definitely helps. But if a rich guy practices polygamy the way some of the oil rich Gulf-Arab multi billionaires practice it; by marrying and divorcing on Thursdays which ensures that he never exceeds four women, and at the same time he always experiences new sexual pleasure with a new woman every week, then believe me Allah Almighty will damn him really bad in the Day of Judgment, because this is not the spiritual point from allowing polygamy in the Noble Quran!
I think practicing polygamy among those who can afford it really depends on the individual case. If the man's wife strongly opposes to polygamy to a point that she would seek a divorce, then obviously he can never satisfy her, and most probably can never be fair enough with her because he would be always fighting and arguing with her, where it may not be the case with the other wife. So destroying a marital life and damaging the kids for a personal reason is really not fair by itself, unless of course the wife is unbearable and the man and wife don't want the divorce, which in this case it would be a great idea for the man to have another wife.
Also, some Muslim women don't mind polygamy. And yes, some of them even seek wives for their husbands. If this is the case, then polygamy in this case would not be a problem, provide that the man can financially afford it and can provide a good quality life for all of his wives, and most importantly, can provide a good quality of education to his children.
As I said above, Allah Almighty clearly revealed Noble Verse 4:3 for the protection of the Orphans and to solve a major social imbalance between men and women. The Noble Verse never really came for man's pleasure, nor did it come for general purposes like in the Bible where men can practice polygamy for just about any reason.
So men in Islam are really taking risks when they practice polygamy for personal reasons only, because they will be held accountable for everything that goes wrong in the multiple marriages, and for any martial dissolutions that will ultimately hurt the kids the most.