An English translation of Mr Ghamidi’s rendition of the verse follows:
And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry [their mothers] that are lawful to you…. (Q 4:3)
A more literal translation of the verse would be:
And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry the women that are lawful to you.
Now the definitive article AL (the) in the word al-nisaa (the women) has to be explained. It can refer to all the women that are lawful. According to some it can refer to the orphan girls. It may also refer to the mothers of the orphans as the context is limited to the welfare of the orphans. We believe that the third option is supported by the context and the first two cannot be considered. The first does not seem to be sound as marrying more women has nothing to do with taking good care of the orphans. Second is also not considerable as the word al-nisaa does not according to the convention of Arabic language refer to minor girls.
I must also explain that the Qur’an has not initiated the custom of polygamous marriages by allowing it. It has always been in practice in almost all the cultures of the world. It has been permitted in the previous divine scriptures. The Qur’an has however curtailed this freedom and confined the no of permitted marriages to four. It has only referred to it and encouraged people to use it for the noble purpose of the welfare of the orphans. We do not need to emphasize the fact that due to frequent wars a great no of families lost their heads and the women and orphans abounded in the society. It is in this context the Qur’an referred to it and guided people to marry more women if they intended to take care of the weak in a more careful way.
It also needs to be noted that since the permission was general the Qur’an did not put any limitation in this regard. Thus the permission is not specific to the welfare of the orphans. Rather it is general and there could be many other social issues in which one needs to marry more than one woman.
It would not be sufficient to have a good dictionary in order to properly appreciate and translate a foreign language. One needs to have full command over the literature of the source language in order to understand the implications, usages and nuances. Classical Arabic is highly elliptical and dictionary cannot help us uncover the understood parts of the text.