4:3 And if you fear that you cannot do justice to the orphans then marry who seem good to you from among women— two or three or four. But if you fear that you cannot deal justly, then only one; or whom your right hands possessed. This is more proper so that you may not deviate.
4:3 Continuing with the healthy ways of taking care of the orphans and strictly for the purpose of the welfare of the orphans, the verse allows one to marry up to four women from among those who seem good to be the guardian provided that certain stipulations are maintained. The phrase who seem good to you attempts to qualify those women who are lawfully permitted (i.e. excluding those mentioned in vv. 22-24), ideally the orphans themselves or the mothers of the orphans, so that welfare of the orphans takes precedence over gratification of sexual desire. Additionally, the permission to marry more than one wife, up to maximum four is categorically restricted by strict conditions: to deal with each wife fairly, equally and justly, and only if the family, as a unit, will not suffer by the addition of wives. Thus, it is as much a test of man’s ability to treat the wives fairly and equally, as it is to take good care of orphans under one’s care. But then the Qur’ān declares man has no capability to treat all his wives equally (v. 129). Thus, from the conditions laid down in the verse, it is evident the Qur’ān clearly envisages directing the Muslim ummah towards strict monogamy, although in the early Islamic era, there was a historical bias and social need for limited polygamy in order to protect the security of surplus women. Polygamy was a legal tool to grant shelter to women in a society that only recently emerged from highly promiscuous sexual orientation. Androcentric interpretation of this verse is often made based on selected phrases, a trend particularly noticed in the past centuries, to allow Muslim men to take multiple wives mainly for sexual motives than anything else.
The phrase whom your right hand possessed qualifies those women who are taken captives during war (cf. 4:24,25,36; 16:71; 23:6; 24:31,33,58; 30:28; 33:50,52,55; and 70:30). The permission to marry two or three or four women includes women from two broad categories: who seem good to you mentioned in the fist part of the verse and whom your right hand possessed. Regardless of which categories of women are taken into marriage, the total number cannot exceed four.