Every time I open the MSN home page there is another story about the Mormon sect “polygamists”, from what’s happening to their kids to how the raid was conducted to why they dress the way they do (like decent people!). Of course since I live overseas now I have only vaguely followed the story. As far as I can tell the problem is not so much that they are engaged in polygyny, but that they are rather “overindulged’ in it. Many, many wives, young brides and old men, sisters wed at the same time? Is this a correct reading of the situation? Are there any other facets of the story that are worthy of discussion?
OK, so here’s the thing:
I love polygyny.
I love having time to myself and I love that when my husband is with me the time is special and I don’t take him for granted. I love living in a house where the other wing is family, I love our kids running back and forth. I love family vacations where we caravan together (me and cw in one car with half the kids, dh in the other with the rest of the kids). I love having a sister who knows the little quirks about my husband that make me want to wring his neck sometimes – and who sometimes reminds me to be patient and other times offers to join me in the neck wringing!
The prospect of going back to monogamy after all these years is depressing to me. If it really happens I’ll be so sad.
What do you say when you haven’t written in a year? How do you start again? A quick, painful look at the comments shows me that there were people reading and some of them reached out to me and I was very irresponsibly not there. Please forgive me.
I stopped writing because my cw and my husband were going through a really hard time. For a long tiem it looked as if they would divorce. I felt like I was no longer really qualified to speak positively about polygyny, because I would no longer be in it and because while not all of my cw’s difficulties arose because their marriage was polygynous, some of them were related to that fact, I’m sure. Also, I certainly didn’t want to talk about my cw’s business online or run the risk of making any kind of ghiba. So I just stopped writing.
I also had to sort through a lot of my own emotions. I’ll share some of them here in future posts soon, insha’Allah.
Anyway, Allah knows how my cw’s situation will work out, although it is looking more hopeful recently, thank God. But no matter what goes on in that arena, polygyny is still an important topic and I should not have just abandoned my blog like that. I will get back on the horse and pray that any readers will be willing to give it another shot with me.
CW has her nursing boards coming up, so we took the kids out for pizza on Friday and I kept her kids overnight so she could study. I am so proud of her, masha’Allah. It’s been a tough road but she’s almost finished!
JTL was talking in the comments about community responsibilities toward families in polygyny. This is a really important topic, because community support or lack thereof can have a significant effect on a polygynous marriage.
While I’m sure there are ideal communities somewhere that support the families within them regardless of their marriage style, most communities fall into one of two general categories when it comes to polygyny.
Consider the polygyny-obsessed community. This is a masjid or a region where the idea of polygyny is being actively preached and practiced, and the leaders and others make it their business to encourage brothers to take additional wives. This is a an unwise proposition because brothers who might not otherwise even think about polygyny can be guilt-ed into “bringing back this sunnah”, and they might not be financially, emotionally or spiritually ready for such an endeavor.
In addition, once the brothers marry there is usually no counseling or instruction to assist them with the heavy responsibilities they’ve taken on, and often not even any good, humble, open role models for them to emulate. There is also often no sheikh or “big brother” to hold them accountable for doing polygyny right (avoiding welfare fraud, being fair with time and resources, dealing with stepchildren and half sibilings, etc.). The communities where polygyny is encouraged are most often made up of reverts, and it has to be remembered that they did not grow up with polygyny as part of their culture, so they have no reference point for how to be a husband in polygyny, nor do they usually have the support and help of their families.
Pushing polygyny is also dangerous because it can breed an atmosphere of judgement and even bullying for the sisters. Many sisters are made to feel inadequate or downright sinful if they object to or have a hard time adjusting to polygyny. There is an attitude that polygyny is the be-all and end-all of deen measurement and that its acceptance is incumbent upon each woman, regardless of her circumstances or her reasons for not liking it. If her husband stops supporting her, cheats her out of her time, abuses her verbally, forces her to live on state subsidies, even moves away completely, she is encouraged to accept it as qadr. This reflects a poor understanding of both polygyny and qadr. Would these same people encourage a man to “be patient” with a wife who decided not to ever cook again or who refused to care for her children? Not many would. But those things, too, are qadrullah. It is no more halal to abuse or cease supporting a wife than it is to stop cooking or to neglect one’s children. (In fact, according to Maliki fiqh, women are not even required to DO housework and cooking, and if they choose to these are considered nafl acts!) This attitude that women are not good Muslimahs unless they accept polygyny unconditionally, without even the limits Allah put on it, is insidious and ignorant.
Of course I’m not saying that women should bail out or should be encouraged to leave their husbands at the very mention of polygyny. But neither should they be encouraged to stay and be endlessly patient in a destructive marriage. And putting up with abuse should definately not be used as a measuring stick for their iman.
Then there is the other extreme, which is a community that rejects the idea of polygyny altogether and denies any kind of support or encouragement whatsoever to families who choose polygyny. Some community leaders simply advise against it carte blanche, without considering each case on its own merits, and then leave families to deal with all their problems alone because, after all, they were told not to enter polygyny and they chose to do it anyway, so they will just have to muddle through as best they can.
In our case, the Islamic school’s tuition was set up according to family, with discounts being given for each additional student. One year it was even a flat fee per family. But the school insisted on counting polygynous families as two separate families. Of course schools are not required to count all of a man’s wives and children as one family, but this seems like one small way a community could support the polygynous families in its midst rather than make things more difficult for them.
In both polygyny-obsessed and polygyphobic communities, the least people could do would be to refrain from gossiping about a polygynous family. This, of course, often proves most difficult and even some normally dignified Muslims fall prey to discussing and dissing polygynous families. If community members cannot even pass this tiny test from Allah, how do they justify expecting the polygynous family members to pass such a great test with no help or support?
Polygyny seems to me to be a symptom of a larger problem that Muslims have with supporting each other and with implementing and maintaining organizations and services to help our ummah become strong. If we don’t get it together and start taking our community duties seriously we will see more and more division, more and more failed marriages of every type, and more and more assimilation as people have to turn away from the Muslim community to get resources and assistance they need.
When there are bad feelings between believers, the remedy Sh. Hamza Yusuf shares in his course on Purification of the Heart is to do kind things for the other person or to give him or her a gift. This can cause their heart to incline toward you, which in turn helps your heart to incline toward them. We should do this for the sake of Allah, as an act of ibadah, and insha’Allah it will ease our relations as well as.
Here are some kind acts that a sister can do for her co-wife that can improve, solidify or beautify the relationship between the wives:
Offer to take care of her children while she does her grocery shopping or other errands.
Send a baked treat or some of your meal along with your husband when he goes to her house.
Attend her children’s recitals, plays, soccer games or other activities.
Speak well of her to others.
Send her a little card or note in the mail or email once in awhile.
Have your children make little artworks and, if they’re old enough, sign them as gifts for her on ‘Eid or just anytime.
Ask for her advice or suggestions in an area where she is particularly skilled, such as cooking or sewing or teaching or filling out tax papers.
Take a road trip or a day trip together, either with just you two, with you two and the kids, or ask your hubby if he’d consider taking you all somewhere special for a weekend.
Invite her kids with you when you’re taking your own children somewhere fun.
Pick one day a month to be “kid’s night” and watch her other kids while she spends time with one child alone. She can do the same for you once a month, so that all of your kids get at least semi-regular time to have fun alone with mom. Sometimes we also take out one of the other’s children, especially the older girls.
My cw loves baklava. If I go somewhere where they have it I always try to bring her back some.
Stand up for her if you hear others speaking about her. Sometimes people will “confide” (read: gossip) things about your cw to you. Don’t ever, ever tolerate this. She won’t know you did this but suphan Allah, don’t let others badmouth her – or your husband for that matter.
If you have small children you can take turns going on dates with the hubby. You watch her kids while they go out, she watches yours while you and he go out. Sometimes our husband takes my cw and me out to eat or to a movie together. If this doesn’t make you uncomfortable, try it! It’s great fun, allows for lighthearted communication time and it is hilarious to watch all the people peeking at you, wondering if you’re both married to him.
When my cw orders things from online she sometimes orders a scarf or a second of whatever she’s ordering for me.
If your cw’s kids are school-age and they are selling things as fundraisers for school, always try to order from them if you can.
It’s really cool when both cw’s children grow up together as siblings. We have “camp outs” sometimes where all the small kids get to crash at one of our houses on the living room floor and sleep in sleeping bags. They love this and sometimes drive us crazy begging for camp outs!
Be as concerned about your husband’s fairness to her as you are about your husband’s fairness to you.
If a special night like her anniversary falls on your night, offer to switch with her (be sure to check with your hubby first).
Always, always, always make du’a for her, your husband, both your marriages and all your kids.
Sometimes neither these tactics nor anything else will seem to soften a cw’s heart. If they don’t, that’s OK. Just keep doing them – at least the ones you can. Sometimes all you can do is be concerned with fairness to her and make du’a. If that’s all you can do, do it. If you can do more without upsetting her or your husband, do more. Just be kind to her as an act of ibadah and Allah will bless you in ways you can’t even fathom. It may not come as a direct response to your kindness – you may never break through her wall of resistance. But Allah never suffers the reward of the righteous to be lost.
“…never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: Ye are members, one of another: Those who have left their homes, or been driven out therefrom, or suffered harm in My Cause, or fought or been slain,- verily, I will blot out from them their iniquities, and admit them into Gardens with rivers flowing beneath;- A reward from the presence of Allah, and from His presence is the best of rewards.” (Al Imran, 195)
When people ask me what my stand on abortion or divorce is, I tell them that I think these questions require starting at the wrong end of the problem. The way to really address the high abortion rate or the high divorce rate is to begin at the other end, by instilling modesty and self respect in our young girls and emphasizing true manhood and responsibility to our young boys. We have gotten to a place in our society where these traits have not only receded, but they are not even any longer the ideal. Our young people are literally inundated with ads and media images that glorify and encouage wantonness, capreciousness, narcissism, and irresponsilibty. Men are portrayed as sexually and physically aggressive and hungry, while women are portrayed as either temptresses or passive objects. Almost no one in the media even thinks about the consequences of their actions, let alone takes responsibility for them. So if we’re going to address abortion or divorce or similar social problems, the place to begin is by reclaiming our real values and rising up to purge our society of the socially acceptable evils that are exploited and encouraged by the media.
This approach is the sunnah of Allah. In Makkah for 13 years Allah concentrated in inspiring and nurturing the iman of the fledgling Mulsim community. All the Makkan surahs emphasize spirituality, explain Allah’s nature and familiarize us with the realities of the next world. Then in Madinah, after the Muslims were solid in their deen and were in a position of power, then is when we see laws being sent down and socieity’s rules being dictated. The Qiblah, fasting, hijab – all of this was revealed in Madinah.
As humans, though, we often get the cart before the horse. The Christian Right and the Taliban are examples of this phenomenon. Rather than taking the time and effort to do things the spiritual way and begin with inspiring people’s iman so they will be self-motivated to follow Allah’s rules, these groups try to enforce piety from the outside; a doomed idea if ever there was one. They are attacking their societies’ problems from the wrong end.
Similarly, people who see women suffering in polygyny automatically jump to the conclusion that the polygyny itself is the problem. They want to begin by outlawing polygyny. But just like the problem with abortion is not caused by the doctors performing the operations, the problem with polygyny is not caused by the imam’s performing ceremonies. The problem is the people involved in the polygny.
OK, usually not the people.
Usually the brother.
I hate to come out with it like that, but most often when polygyny goes bad the brother is not maintaining his duties to all his wives equally. Either he’s neglecting the wife he doesn’t have children with, or he’s comparing his wives to each other, or he’s not supporting one or more of them financially, or he’s allowing one wife to be nasty to the other one…..but in most cases the problem is that the brother is not practicing his deen well enough to successfully shepherd a poly family. A lot of the jealousy and resentment that wives feel toward one another and a lot of the anger wives feel toward their husband could be avoided if the brother would conscienciously maintain all of their rights fairly.
The problem is that in a case where the brother married additional wives for less than altrusitic motives, he is obviously the type of person to give in to his desires. And a person who is a slave to his nafs is certainly not going to be able stand up under the burden of being the head of a polygynous family.
So when we see that many polygynous situations turn sour, we need to address the problem by starting with the men. We need to raise our sons to respect Allah and respect women, insha’Allah. Our brothers need to volunteer with MYNA or Boy Scouts or the masjid youth group, to serve as role models for the young men. We need to have marriage classes and marriage counseling available without stigma so our brothers can learn the ins and outs (no pun intended!) of what is expected of them as husbands and fathers. And our men need to begin to hold themselves accountable for their decisions and their actions.
Too many men have the idea that everything Allah requires of women is an iron-fisted law etched in stone, and evrything Allah requires of men is a vague suggestion that they might want to give some thought to someday. This attitude has got to stop.
Because only when it does will polygyny be successful. Only when it does will monogamy be successful! Allah made men leaders of the family, so come on, brothers! Lead your families correctly, do it for the sake of Allah, and make your wives proud!!! Or we’ll sic the Talibaat on you.
(Pardon the dust – still in the process of editing this)
Some sisters I know were discussing their various situations, with some urging sisters to be patient and others urging sisters to leave their husbands. A big row ensued about whether women should stay in polygynous/abusive situations or not. Then I got a comment here on ye olde blogge that indicated women should not even try to adjust to “something as horrible as polygyny”. So apparently there are two different issues that need to be teased apart:
To be in a polygynous marriage is not, in-and-of-itself, horrible. Many women all over the world are in polygynous marriages, and they are happy to different degrees depending upon such things as their husband’s temperament, their co-wife’s(ves’) attitudes, their own nature, their health, the climate, their children’s ages, whether their mom lives close by, whether they have a hang-nail today or not….all kinds of variables go into whether or not a person is happy. Polygyny is not a make-or-break factor.
The behavior of the husband, however, is often a make-or-break factor. One woman can be in a horrible monogamous marriage and another in a stable, happy polygynous one. Yet another woman may be in a happy monogamous marriage but her sister in a disastrous polygynous one. If a man treats his wife badly – whether the bad treatment manifests in obsessive control, beating, neglect, lack of maintenance or whtaever – then the issue(s) needs to be addressed as bad treatment. Whether the marriage is monogomaous or polygynous is really inconsequential. If the situation involves bad treatment, it needs to be addressed as such. It bothers me when people see a polygnyous husband who treats one or more of his wives badly and they automatically blame it on the polygyny, when obviously the problem is the brother.
Now – a further distinction: There is a difference between “an abuser” – a person who habitually abuses those in his care – and “a husband who committed an abusive act”. In the first situation, not only should the wife leave the husband, but it could be considered fard on her to leave him, depending on the type and severity of the abuse, whether her children are being abused as well, etc. In the second case, a woman has to make a choice. She can cite the abusive act and request a divorce, no blame on her if she does that, or she can choose to forgive her husband and remain by his side even though he made a serious mistake, no blame on her if she does that either.
I believe that women in general should be much more open to polygyny, but I do not believe that women should be more open to being betrayed – or abused in any manner.
It is an extremely serious thing to advise a woman to request a divorce or to advise her to remain “patient” if she is being abused. And the thing is, unless a person is very intimately involved in a situation, knows both parties, and has seen them interact, there is no way to know who is suffering what. Maybe the wife who is in tears because her husband just took away her checkbook is a shopping addict who indulges her own desires while there are groceries that need to be bought! Or maybe the husband who is at his wits end because his wife is a nagger who won’t leave him alone is unemployed and neglecting her while he spends time out with his friends and neglecting the children while he watches TV! We can never really know what a situation entails, especially over the Internet. So insisting that someone should divorce or should stay married is not a wise thing to do.
As an advisor, all one can do is stress the need for the person to pray istikhara and give helpful tips on being patient, if that’s what the person is trying to do, or on relying on Allah for a decision made if they have decided to divorce, and always, always, on trying to improve one’s relationship with Allah, no matter what their marital choice is.
Whether to stay and be patient through a difficult trial or to pluck up one’s courage to leave a dangerous or iman-draining situation is, in the final analysis, a choice that can only be made by the persons involved. May Allah guide us all to whatever is best for us in the dunya and the akhira, and help us to always remind each other of Him. Ameen.
While I’m not a second wife, I have been in contact with many of them and I can assure you that second wives encounter their own share of adjustment issues, and indeed are sometimes completely blindsided by them.
Many people assume that since most second wives entered their marriages knowing it would be a polygynous situation, they are not entitled to their share of adjustment issues. This is not only unfair, it’s downright stupid.
Every marriage, polygynous or monogamous, involves an adjustment period and goes through different stages – some harmonious, some discordant. So second marriages should be allowed that room to struggle just like first marriages. The thing is, with second marriages this is happening in the “shadow” of the husband’s experiences with his first wife. So if his first wife was more acquiescent or more domestic or more strong-willed (whatever the case), the second wife will feel she’s being compared to that. And some unwise husbands even harp on such things to their wives (“The other one doesn’t talk back,” “The other one dresses up more,” “The other one [fill-in-the-blank]”). So there may be a sense for a second wife that she has to “live up to” or “excel” her co-wife.
A second wife is also often going through the ups and downs of early marriage at a time when her co-wife is far past all that. Early marriage involves power struggles, boundary setting, cooperation style finding, etc. These things don’t usually happen in complete bliss. They are struggles. They involve conflict and emotion. Can you imagine going through all that feeling that your co-wife has already ironed it all out and is more stable in her relationship with your husband? And what if your style is completely different from that of your co-wife? Some husbands deal better with such a situation than others. Some husbands expect to behave with their second wife exactly the same way they deal with their first, and this does not always work. So sometimes second wives have a double-hard time of it because they have to find their own way and disabuse their husbands of the idea that they are a clone at the same time!
In my opinion one of the worst things second wives have to deal with is the wagging tongues of others. People who are normally kind and generous and forgiving can grow forked tongues and horns when the subject is a second wife. Not only is she accused of being a home-wrecker, but any problems she has are considered deserved, so she suffers twice. This can make for a very lonely road.
So being a second wife can be as much of a struggle as being a first wife. Of course the methods of coming out healthy and victorious are the same: du’a, sabr, and leaning on Allah. If a polygynous family can agree to meet all their challenges with humility and trust in Allah it can be the most rewarding kind of family, because it offers so much room for spiritual growth, maturity, and the gaining of wisdom.
(Disclaimer: I am speaking in this post primarily about women who entered polygyny knowingly.)
No matter what you feel as a co-wife at any given moment, almost everyone wonders, “Is this normal? Am I crazy to feel this way? Am I a bad Muslim if I feel this way?” Some people will make you feel as if weak iman is what causes various emotions. But be assured that emotions are just that – feelings – and no emotion can make you a bad Muslim. In fact, if we didn’t have those emotions, we’d already be perfect and not human, and there would be no point to this dunya! Also be assured that most co-wives’ emotions run the entire gammut at one time or another!
Most importantly, it is completely normal for your emotions to fluctuate and bounce all over the spectrum from one second to the next (this is true about second wives as well, of course. I’ll talk about second wives’ emotions in another post). The adjustment to being a co-wife is somewhat like loss, because you’re changing your previous identity and role. So you may feel horrified, grieved, betrayed, sad, excited, angry, hopeful, afraid, indignant, relieved, impatient, all in one day! Often your “state of acceptance” is very black and white: either your’re completely fine with it (one minute or one day), or you’re completely falling apart (the next minute or the next day!). Another pendulum swing is from wanting to rise to the occassion, greet your co-wife with graciousness and take polygyny head-on in a positive manner, to wanting to crawl into bed and cover your head, never greet your co-wife at all, and jump off a cliff rather than face life in polygyny.
Most first wives experience a lot of self doubt. “Why am I not enough for him?” A close relative of this emotion is its polar opposite, “What’s wrong with him that he can’t be satisied with one good woman??” Seek refuge with Allah from shaitan whenever you feel these emotions, because, while normal, if you dwell on it it can cause a lot of misery. Remember, “IF” is a door for shaitan.
The rockiest time as far as pure adjustment goes usually lasts about a month or so, and that is a healthy amount of time. One sister, Zainab, reported with a chuckle, “I cried for three weeks straight. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I did nothing but lay on the bed and cry. Then, after three weeks, my husband said, ‘OK, girl, that’s enough crying. Come on,’ and I stood up, dried my eyes, and didn’t return to that state. Things just seemed manageable.”
Incidentally, these emotions are normal even for women who were completely OK with the polygyny concept, and who may have even encouraged their husbands to marry another wife. When the reality comes closer, fear and doubt sometimes set in, and the emotions do tend to runneth over! But this is most usually a temporary state. After the knot is tied, the drama is past, and things have a chance to settle down into a routine, the adjustment is easier. One sister said, “All kinds of people told me I was crazy and that after the deed was done I’d regret it. They said, ‘Thinking about polygyny is one thing – the reality is another completley.'” I kept saying, “If they would just hurry up and get married, I’ll be fine. And once they did, I was.” So don’t let other people make you doubt yourself by pushing their own emotions onto you.
As time goes on, the adjustment to polygyny progresses and your issues and emotions change. You may have issues with friends who either stubbornly invite one wife and not the other to parties, or who treat you as connected at the hip, always assuming that one wife will tell the other about the party and that they’ll both feel equally invited that way, which is not the case. You’ll turn your attention to dealing with your families’ reactions to your polygynous marriage, and the affect their reactions have on the respective marriages. There will always be challenges, but many sisters report that they are worth it. Sister Zainab now says, “Polygyny is difficult, but I like the independence it has given me now. If something happened and I had to go back to monogamy, I wouldn’t want to.”