Big Faith

The show is called Big Love but polygyny really takes Big Faith

Secret Marriages

doghouse.jpgI recently heard of a woman whose husband informed her one day that he had been secretly married to another woman for the past five years. He insisted that as a man, polygyny was his right and he was under no obligation to tell his first wife about the second.

There are so many things wrong with this logic that one scarcely knows where to begin.

Polygyny is not a right like, say, shelter. Simply by virtue of being married a woman has a right to shelter and her husband must provide it for her. It is an absolute right – with an attending obligation on the part of the husband. Polygyny is not that kind of right. It is more like the right of a woman to keep all her earnings for herself – something she has the right to do but that isn’t always the right thing to do. There are conditions to polygyny, and very often it is not the wisest or the most practical style of marriage for a given family at a given time. In addition, the first wife is not obliged by shariah to remain with her husband if he should take another wife (especially in Maliki fiqh, where a woman is permitted to write into her marriage contract a clause that stipulates divorce should he take a second wife.)

A husband who is considering keeping a second marriage a secret from his first wife would also do well to remember that in Islam there are two tiers of expectations for behavior. The absolute bottom line is Shariah – Islamic law. If someone owes you money and is not paying it back you have the right by shariah to take him to court and have him forced to pay, even if that causes him great hardship. But by ______, (Suphan Allah, I can’t remember the Arabic name for it! If anyone knows it, please remind me! Jazzakom Allahu Khairun.) it would be much more praiseworthy (gentlemanly, kind, chivalrous..) to forgive the loan, especially if you have enough and have no real need of the sum you are owed. This is the truly Islamic behavior. According to the letter of the law you have a right to demand that you be paid, but the more appropriate thing for a Muslim to do would be to forgive the loan. Likewise, even if someone believed that by shariah he was not obliged to tell his wife about her co-wife, the truly Islamic thing to do would be to tell her.

As far as I am aware, however, a man may not, by shariah, hide a second marriage. (Mind you, I’m not saying a man must get his wife’s permission to marry a second wife. That is not the case. He doesn’t have to have her permission but I do believe he does have to inform her. If anyone knows of an actual ruling on this subject, please pass it on.) Secret marriages themselves are forbidden – the person’s community must be made aware of any marriage. How much more, then, his current wife? To be married in secret leaves unfulfilled one of the conditions of marriage – that it be recognized and acknowledged. In addition, while I have never seen the hukum shariah on this topic, I have seen in Malik’s Muwatta that when Umar (radhi Allah anhu) heard of a man with a secret marriage in another place, he replied that if the man had been present he would have had him flogged.

In addition to the legal rulings, there is the profound betrayal that is involved when a man keeps a second marriage secret. Trust me, brothers, the pain a woman experiences when her husband takes a second wife is a mere pinprick compared to the pain she feels upon realizing she’s been deceived in this way. And the same goes for the second wife. It is not lawful to mislead a woman into thinking she is marrying you as an only wife and then spring your pre-existing family on her. Either way, it is absolutely no different than cheating – no matter how you may wish to justify it. There is no pain like that that a woman feels upon realizing that the man she thought she knew is really a stranger who belongs as much to another stranger as he does to her. No real man would do such a thing.

So if you are of the opinion that you have a right to marry a second wife, then, by God, stand up for that right and be honest (read: grown up) about it! If you’re too weak to deal with your wife’s reaction you are MOST DEFINITELY too weak to deal with a polygynous situation. And if you marry a second wife and lie to either of the women about the circumstances and then your life falls apart, consider yourself properly compensated.

February 15, 2007 - Posted by | faith, Islam, marriage, Muslim women, polygamy, polygyny, religion


  1. Assalamu Alaikoum,
    According to traditional fiqh a man IS allowed to marry a second wife without the knowledge of the first, although it’s considered disliked and not recommended. It is thought of as the best of two bad situations i.e better than falling into zina. As far as secret marriages being forbidden, that’s correct but the man’s direct community doesn’t have to know as long as some people do, as long as they are known as a couple in one community at least.

    Personally, I have trouble with this ruling. I have experienced first hand how destructive it is and I can’t see how it can be considered ok islamically to deceive someone who is supposed to be your garment. It provides men with an excuse to trick themselves into thinking they are doing something ok and if the women has a problem with it, then it’s her fault/low iman etc. A man doesn’t have to be bad to do this. My husband convinced himself he was doing it for his children (so they wouldn’t grow up in a broken home), he really believed he was making the right decision for them. He totally underestimated how devastating it would be for his first wife and he convinced me that they lived in the same home but that was about it. I agreed to marry him at a time when they were not living together. I was head over heals in love, a new Muslim, had lost all support from family and friends because of my decision to enter Islam and was feeling extremely isolated and reliant on him. My iman was weak and I couldn’t walk away.

    I acted against my conscience and agreed to marry him in secret, firmly believing that their marriage was virtually over, that she was a strong, independent woman who no longer cared for him. I always thought it was unfair to her and spent a great deal of time in tears worrying about how hurt she would be when he finally told her and berating myself for making such a selfish decision.

    As much as I still love my husband and still know him to be a good man (who made a hurtful choice), I am angry with him for how he treated her and I will always be angry with myself for my role in things. I don’t regret the marriage because I am happy with him and we have beautiful children, but I do regret the hurt caused and I don’t think it should be right that men can just do this and it be ok according to Sharia.

    I’m sorry about this long comment but I just wanted to say I agree with your post except that it IS actually allowed by Sharia. But this experience has really made me think that it cannot be in line with the concept of justice in Islam. It would only work if women were robots. Perhaps in some circumstances where a first wife has a serious or terminal illness it may be different. Allahu Alam.

    My advice to potential second wives is don’t agree to do it in secret, remember that your potential spouses perception of his wife’s attitude towards him mat be wrong. Trust your gut feeling/conscious and trust in Allah to get you through the separation from him if that’s the only other option.

    Ultimately if you are a kind person, making a choice like this will be hard for you to live with. Please feel free to delete this if it’s to long.

    Comment by jamilalighthouse | April 22, 2007 | Reply

  2. AsSalaamu Alaikum,

    Jamila, thank you for such a lovely, heartfelt post. I am so happy that you sisters are jumping in, masha’Allah!!

    I am also a traditional Muslim and have poured over the answers at Sunnipath looking for the hukum shariah on this issue. Your comment prompted me to do so again and suphan Allah, I did find and answer that afirms that it is, strictly speaking (their wording), allowed for a man to marry a second wife without the knowledge of his first wife. Suphan Allah.

    Like you, I cannot see the wisdom or justice in this ruling. I can see a VERY few situations where this kind of thing might not be so awful, but the ruling more often seems to be used by selfish, cowardly or misguided men to justify their selfishness, weakness and immaturity. I believe the chances are very slim that I could have stayed with my husband if this had been my circumstance, wa Allahu alim. It doesn’t seem that it should be allowed for a person to hurt their spouse (their garment, as you said) esp. in light of Surat ArRum, 21: And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.

    Ya Rabbi, we need to really look into this. I have always found that Islamic rulings have a basis that makes sense, even if I don’t get it at first. So I’m going to make du’a about this and try to find some explanation – from Sh. Hamza Yusuf or Sh.Nuh Mim Keller maybe, insha’Allah.

    Thank you again for your great comment and I’d be honored for you to keep posting! May Allah forgive me for writing my own opinion without knowing the hukum shariah to back it up.


    Comment by juwayriah | April 22, 2007 | Reply

  3. Assalaamu alaikum…nice to see you here, Jamila…..

    In the FIQH us Sunnah I have here at home….(in arabic)…it also says that there is one or two schools who allow the idea of the marriage not being told to the first wife. But it is not referred to as a “secret”….this fiqh us sunnah is excellent because it has explanation. It says basically….that should the man be in a position where he is unable to inform the first wife….then there is no sin on him if he doesn’t tell her…..right away. I believe that they were thinking about the muslims who may be travelling to another city……how could they possibly inform the first wife? No phones, cells, internet…..u with me? I mean….I wouldn’t like to get a telegram from my husband saying something like..

    In Canada stop. Getting married stop. Bringing home new wife next visit stop.

    U know? But okay….according to this…I feel that it makes sense. He’s in a position…he has no possible way of telling u….and goes thru with it.

    But he has no basis to keep it a secret…..a marriage is a public affair……and eventually…ur wife will notice you gone every couple of days….!! So I can understand why the man does NOT need the permission of the first wife….but I think that anyone who tries to justify the marriage in secret is just opening a can of worms that once opened…can never be shut.

    It takes a strong man to have two wives….it takes a brave man to discuss this with his wife…..and it takes a coward to hide it all. If Allah made it halal…..then there should be no doubts concerning it. The grey areas that surround it are due to the weakness of the man…..and oftentimes…..they risk losing everything…..

    Comment by safaseeknsolace | April 22, 2007 | Reply

  4. Hear, hear, Safa!!!! Masha’Allah!

    It does make sense that he doesn’t have to inform his wife *ahead of time*. As you say, there could be many circumstances where this could happen. Even our Beloved Prophet (sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sellem) came home from a couple of expiditions with a new wife.

    But as you say, that does not mean he doesn’t have to inform his wife *at all*. That is a horse of a completely different color.

    Asiya, do you think this is what the provision means, and that it was not intended to be a provision for dishonesty?


    Comment by juwayriah | April 22, 2007 | Reply

  5. I am a revert of over 3 years and married to my husband for almost 3 years. My husband married a secret second wife. I beleive the secret second wife called me on my husbands phone while they were at a hotel so I could hear what was going on. The secret wife was a christian with two kids and an ex in jail for drug dealing. When I found out I was hurt and shocked. This is more like a mistress than a wife. He did not support her household. Only they met at hotels and took one trip to atlantic city. So, for both, they only saw each other for the “good times”. But neither supported each other for the “bad times”. I did the housework, helped my husband run his business and generally ran his household from paying bills to improving his business (I’m a CPA). My husband had agreed verbally prior to our marriage not to marry a second wife. I told him that I was divorcing him. I told him the only way we might have a chance was for him to divorce this secret second wife. This was also for the good of this woman. My husband is not in a financially postion to support her and her 2 kids. He could not give her the time he gives me. What ever the outcome, one of us would have a real husband and the other would have a chance to find a real husband. My husband immediately called the second woman and let her know that it wouldn’t work. My concern is that woman are agreeing to these types of situations. First, they are TOO many men WITHOUT wives in this world. Why wouldn’t a woman want a man without a wife. Second, why would a woman ever agree to a secret marriage? This is really a mistress dressed in a wives clothing. The best situation with a second wife would have been for me to have been introduced to the second woman and for us to become friends. At that point, if my husband said what do you think about me marrying so and so I might really give it some thought. I have often thought that my best friends would make great sister wives and I would not feel jelousy for them sharing my husband bed as a true second wife. However, I would caution my husband because we are young and not financially secure. I would let him know that this would not be the best time. A not so great way is not to consult me and to marry a second wife but to at least let me know about it so I can choose what I want to do. The way may husband handled it was the absolute worst way. And in the end it worked out poorly for him. He divorced the second wife and now owes her, her dowery. Besides the fact he was so much money on hotels and atlantic city.

    I hope this comment helps anyone considering taking a second wife or considering becoming a second wife.

    Comment by suprised1stwife | September 17, 2008 | Reply

  6. I think it just all comes down to two things: Novelty and of course the obvious…When the novelty wears off, all you’re left with is “the obvious”. What a shallow marriage…

    I blame the women (2nd wives) the most though… Because they’re the ones who agree to such a dishonourable relationship. I mean come on…. Remove the title (of marriage) and what do you have? I don’t think it’s necessary for me to clarify what type of a relationship we’d be talking about here…

    Comment by gennemrejse | October 21, 2008 | Reply

  7. … but just to give you a hint, it’s about as honourable as “Mut’ah”…

    Comment by gennemrejse | October 21, 2008 | Reply

  8. What if the 1st wife is a christain lady, what does that say about his 2nd marriage to a muslim lady? Nd he married the 2nd wife without askin the 1st wife.

    Comment by lonelygal26 | October 13, 2009 | Reply

  9. I would like to know how come there is no reference or quotes from the shariah on muslims men’s right on marrying a second wife, without the first wife’s knowledge. To me, it sounds like man’s law of the land. In wich these laws maybe good for the communities, God’s commandments supercede and override these laws. For example, God’s commandment, “thou shall not lie”. If the muslim man have to lie to his first wife about the second wife or his where about because of the second wife, he has sinned before God because of his decision to keep this type of information away from his wife.

    Comment by Gmoney More Green | February 6, 2012 | Reply

  10. I need some SERIOUS ADVISE, i have read everyone’s comment and agree with you all. I have put myself in the 2ND WIFE POSITION IN SECRET and I don’t know what to do. I was aware that my muslim man was married, but i have fallen in love with him. His love for me is mutual. I have commited myself to him because i didn’t have a problem with a man having more than one wife, though i had a problem with the wife not knowing. I have had trouble staying away from him since the begining. I am a christian woman and he has taught me a lot about the islam faith and have accepted, but still learning more and more everyday. We have made our vows before God, but have not gotten married. In the sciptures when you have made these vows before God you are considered husband and wife, though not married…Well, his first wife is a christian also but have not accepted islam. She is a great woman who mets her husband half way and they get along and have peace with their life together.
    He have mention that he was allowed to have more than one wife, and she didn’t approve of it , and she comments that as long as there is no drama in my house and she don’t know about it , she don’t care what he do outside of her home. As long as he behaves as a man of God .
    I am close to his wife, being im her sister. When I had trouble in my past relationship, she, by way of her husband was determine to help. I tried different options, but i was stuck having to accept their help. She never helped me physically with anything. She always would have her husband help me. I tryed to escape their home and his help, but it was useless. I have a daughter by a previous relationship, and now a 2 year old by him. I am financally stronger now than before, so i don’t need their help as much, but everyone have accepted him being around me. We have been together for 3years. My sister watches my kids for me, and I watch her two kids for her as well. We were never close growing up because of our age difference, but our family was raised to be supportive of each other. We love and respect each other greatly.
    I have fasted and prayed on what to do to make things right. The only thing i hear in my spirit by God is to contiue to pray over our relationship and to pray for acceptance.
    He continuous to be in mylife as much as he’s in her life.We all share everything and support each other.
    I’m only unconfortable, when we are all together and i cant be myself. Or when i think of how i don’t have any legal rights or even voice in major decisions. I’m always subjected to his first wife, only because she doesn’t know. And i always have to get the time with him after she have set her schedule. and some times i don’t get the best times with him. She lives 45min. away from me, so sometime i spend the night there to make things easier for her and myself. HELP HELP HELP

    Comment by Jay Brown | February 6, 2012 | Reply

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