There are many reasons a person or a couple might consider polygyny. Some of them make sense, some of them are laudable, some of them are just fodder for fantasies and some of them are pathetic.
Some men consider polygyny because they may have moved to another country and gotten married there, but their their families ‘back home ‘ have a girl they want him to marry. Perhaps she’s the one he was promised to when he was young, perhaps it would make a good family alliance, perhaps one of his cousins graduated with great grades and the family thinks she deserves an opportunity at a Western education. Whatever the reason, some families do push a second wife on their ex-patriot sons. This can make things somewhat easier for the first wife to take – at least her husband didn’t go gallivanting around and fall for some other woman. But much then depends on the personalities of everyone involved and how well they mesh once they are all together. Sometimes this sets up a real “superiority complex” on the part of the first wife. “I’m the one he chose, you’re just the one who was forced on him.” Conversely, it can also make things more difficult for the first wife, because the second wife will probably be younger, she knows his culture, his language, how to cook the food of his homeland, etc. So the stage is set immediately for jealousy to fly both ways. If the first wife doesn’t speak his language and the second wife doesn’t speak his adopted language, things can be even tougher, because not only will communication be difficult between the wives, but there is nothing more apt to arouse the monster of suspicion like not being able to understand what your husband might be saying to your other wife. It is a truly complex situation. A husband in this case needs to be adept at making both is wives feel special and valued for their differences and not give any impression of valuing what one has to offer over the other. In a situation like this, more than some other situations, the man has a big role to play in helping his wives hit it off and in keeping things on an even keel by helping each one present her most humble and spiritual side to the other.
Usually, though, polygyny is not thrust upon people by others. Men sometimes contemplate polygyny because they fantasize about more sex, sex with a different partner, or even the status polygyny might grant them among their friends and acquaintances. You gotta know that when one man marries a second wife it’s like fathering quintuplets or something: some of his friends will slap him on the back with the ol’ wink, others will stand in chin-gaping awe of him, still others will regard him as a good businessman, because if he can manage all that family drama, he can manage anything. These are among the reasons that make polygyny a great fantasy, but if any man actually takes the step of marrying a second wife for any of these reasons, he should be summarily shot. Both because he is selfish and because he is obviously too stupid to be allowed to procreate any more than he already might have. Not only are all those reasons very dunya-oriented and shallow, they are also short-lived – each and every one of them. The winks die away after about a week, the sex becomes routine with wife #2, just as it did with wife #1 (if you can’t keep sex lively and fun and intimate with one person, chances are you’re not gonna improve that with more sex!), and other men’s awe of you will turn to acidic gossip the first time your family runs into trouble. So if you’re thinking of marrying a second wife for the extra fun you can have, go take a cold shower.
On the other hand, there are some situations where woman’s sexual appetite is virtually nonexistent for one reason or another, and her husband’s is “very healthy”. In a case like this, after careful consideration and mutual consent, polygyny might provide an answer. It might even increase the intimacy between the first couple because there is less pressure on the relationship revolving around sex. In fact, if you’re a woman whose husband has a more voracious appetite than you do, you might want to suggest polygyny to him.
A good reason to think about entering polygyny is if there is a sister in your community who is truly in need of a husband. These kinds of situations are not as rare as you’d think, because as cliche as it sounds, a good Muslim man is sometimes hard to find. The pool is contaminated with lots of racists (or “ethnists”), who only want to marry within their own ethnicity and who think that converts aren’t “really” Muslims; slackers, who only pray at Friday Jumuah; fanatics, who think Islam grows on beards, Saudi scholars or whoever looks the most conservative is always right, and exhaling is bida’; snobs, who write matrimonial ads that read, “seeking slender, light-skinned, PhD virgin who knows how to make chutney and can do the splits”; and rovers, who suffer from temporary religious amnesia and go around dating non-Muslim girls. With the pool this crowded with undesirables, a guy who has already proven himself as a good husband can become the most attractive fish in the pond. A couple might look at it this way: if a sister marries into their already stable Muslim family, they could actually be saving her from a terrible experience with some schmuck. This is especially true of young mothers who have already been divorced. A young Muslimah who has been through something like that can still be a lovely, kind, spiritual, fun person, but having been divorced and already blessed with a child or children she faces an even steeper cliff than a first-time wife when it comes to finding a suitable husband. This is not how it should be, but in many places it is indeed the reality. So an established couple might contemplate polygyny if another sister is having a hard time finding a husband.
One of the worst reasons, by far, to entertain the idea of polygyny, is if you are a man who has let his spiritual guard down and begun thinking with the wrong head. By this I mean a guy who finds himself attracted to a woman at work or school or the DMV, and instead of lowering his gaze he feasts it upon her and then follows his shehawaat (passions) into a relationship with her. Then he rationalizes to himself, “Well, I’m allowed to marry more than one, so it’s not haram. I’ll just ask her to marry me and all will be well with the universe!” Not cool.
First of all, no amount of rationalization will erase the fact that he has already committed haram. He has flirted, giggled, talked and wooed his way into an emotional affair, and besides those things being haram in and of themselves, he has betrayed his wife. He has allowed his desire for dunya to outrank his duty to his Lord and his wife. By this very act he has proven that he probably does not have the spiritual fortitude to be the head of a polygynous household. That takes patience, wisdom, self discipline, self sacrifice, and compassion. To fall for someone else outside of marriage means that a person is lacking in all those qualities. So if you’re thinking that inviting that cute co-worker to lunch is not haram because you might ask her to marry you, you need to find another job. And prepare to find yourself divorced sometime as well, because if you’re always this cavalier about your wife’s feelings, you deserve to be dumped.
There’s one really big, bad reason that some men “marry on” their wives, but it’s so obnoxious it deserves its own separate post, so I’ll save it for next time. But remember: polygyny can be a blessing and a trial. Which side of those scales tips the other has a lot to do with the reasons a family entered it in the first place, so if you’re thinking about it, make sure you examine your niyat and your reasons really carefully. Be honest (brothers) and be open (sisters). More later on that subject as well…..