Painting (“Betrayal”) by
Colleen D. Gjefle
So what if you are a Muslimah and your husband has already done the deed? Already married another woman behind your back? How do you deal with THAT kettle of fish?
You remember how people in the jahiliya Arab culture used to rent their clothing and tear their hair and wail and even engage in self-flagellation when someone died? I never understood how they could do that until something happened once during my husband’s “courtship” with my co-wife. Mind you, I knew all about their planned marriage and I was completely OK with it (which does not mean it was easy), but this one issue caused me a kind of pain that I didn’t even know existed. Deep, searing pain that I had no way awful enough to express. I literally wanted to tear my clothes just to express the weight – the intensity – of the pain I felt. It was unbelievable.
So I cannot imagine the pain of finding out that your husband has married on you after the fact. I just want to put out there that although no one can truly understand that kind of pain, I did have a small taste of it that one time, and other sisters have survived it. When I give my suggestions for dealing with such a situation, I do not mean to belittle your pain. So please don’t close your heart and mind to them, even if some of them seem simplistic.
Suggestion #1: Proclaim (and believe), “Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajaun” – To God we belong and to Him we return. This is reaffirming to yourself that you are not a creature of this dunya – your goal is to be in this dunya as a wayfarer, remembering that your real home and your real dedication is to Allah. Remember the hadith where the woman was wailing at her son’s graveside and the Prophet (salAllahu alaihi wa sallem) advised her to be patient? She (not recognizing him as the Prophet) responded that he had no idea what she was going through. Later, when she was told it was the Prophet who gave her that advice, she came to him and begged forgiveness. He reminded her that patience is at the first stage of a disaster. This has been interpreted to mean that of course you can adjust to calamity later, time can help you reign in your emotions and reason with them and come to terms with your new reality. But those who remember Allah at ALL stages of grief, from denial to acceptance, are those who have truly understood the reality that this life is not where our hearts or our home really is.
Suggestion #2: Don’t do anything rash. Don’t make any decisions while you are in the initial state of turmoil and agony. Emotions are strong, often stronger than our intellect, but a wise woman recognizes them for what they are and does not allow herself to be motivated by them to take action until she has allowed her iman and her intellect to kick in, and has considered things from every angle, not just the emotional angle.
Suggestion #3: Separate the betrayal from the concept of polygyny itself in your mind. While the betrayal is traumatic, polygyny itself can be a wonderful style of marriage. So don’t lump the betrayal and the polygyny all together in the same painful category. The same goes for your co-wife. Don’t pre-judge her as a shameless, homewrecking hussy because your husband went about marrying her in a deceitful way. He may have lied to her as well, telling her you knew or even presenting himself as single. And even if she knew about you, there might be extenuating circumstances that made her agree to the marriage. If there were none, she may have made a mistake, just like your husband. So hold a corner of your heart open for a possible relationship with her and look upon her as family as early as you possibly can. A great deal of whether a polygynous family works or not is in your hands. If you can’t stand the idea of ever seeing your co-wife, that is not a sin. But if, after taking some time to adjust, you open your heart to her, you will receive blessings you can’t foresee, insha’Allah.
Suggestion #4: Take a time-out from your husband if you need to. Maybe you can go visit your parents or your sister or a friend, or maybe you just need to ask your husband to sleep on the couch for awhile. Many women feel a need to withdraw into themselves somewhat and shore up their broken hearts after a second marriage is revealed. Betrayal is one of the most difficult tests any marriage can suffer. The feeling of being betrayed is intense agony and anguish. It is difficult to get past and difficult for the couple to rebuild trust and get back to a normal footing with each other again. But it can be done. Lots of couples have gotten through it: Muslim couples when a husband marries on his wife and all kinds of couples when one partner has had an illicit affair. What the offending partner has to do is realize that he (in this case) has made the mistake and he will just have to be patient while the offended partner comes to grips with the situation.
Now: to “men” who say that they have done nothing wrong because polygyny is allowed, I reply that betrayal is most certainly NOT allowed in Islam, nor is secret marriage. So while it is permitted for you to marry more than one wife, it is not permitted for you to live a lie and keep your wives’ true status a secret from any of them. (Here is a link to a great article on this subject: http://themajlis.net/Article149.html ) And even if you can somehow justify your actions to yourself or find some sheikh somewhere who gives you a fatwa that you are in the clear, that does not make the betrayal any less hurtful to your wife. It probably even increases it. So you need to be prapared to give her time to adjust. If she needs that time and you don’t allow it, or if you refuse to acknolwdge that you caused her pain, you will probably find yourself right back in monogamy in short order – this time with your second wife.
Suggestion #5: Remember that life is cyclic and time stands still for no one. Your husband and his new wife, even if she is younger or skinnier or a better cook or whatever, will get past their infatuation with each other and will arrive at a time when their marriage is tested. When their marriage becomes mundane. They will get bored and frustrated and angry and impatient with each other, just like all couples. There is no such thing as a fairy-tale marriage. No matter what your co-wife brings to her marriage that you see as “better” than what you brought to yours, it does not mean she is perfect. It only means that different women have different talents and attributes, and that’s all. Remember, even Aisha was bedazzled when she looked at Juwayriah, alaihom asSalaam. So don’t be overly concerned with what you see as your new co-wife’s “better” qualities.
Suggestion #6: Draw close to Allah. Polygyny is a trial with which Allah only tests selected people. It is also the perfect battle ground on which to fight Jjihad un Nafs (the battle against the baser self). You will fight battles that many people never even get to in their lifetimes. This is a good thing, because you have the opportunity for much spiritual progress. Whereas many people live life in a state of spiritual delusion, thinking they have control over at least some things in this life, you have been shaken to your very core with the realization that things are not in your hands. This is not a unique situation – it is in fact the situation for everyone – but you have had the veil of delusion lifted and have seen reality for what it really is. That is a grand first step on your journey to become ever closer to Allah.
Co-wives also confront other issues that are wonderful opportunities for spiritual growth. Ghira (protectiveness over your husband or children or other parts of your life) is a powerful emotion, and co-wives must always be vigilant that their ghira does not turn to hassad (outright envy or jealousy, where you would take the blessing from the other person if you were able). Hassad is extremely destructive to both the person experiencing it and the person toward whom it is directed, and there are people who feel it regularly without even being cognisant of that fact. As a co-wife, however, you will constantly feel the need to seek refuge with Allah from shaitan, while you fight hassad. This is a blessing because at least you will recognize it and seek refuge from it. Some people are never tested in a way that makes them feel the need to address this issue, and thus they may never grow spiritually in this area. (Note: the EMOTION of hassad, simply feeling jealousy, is worthy of seeking refuge with Allah, but it is not the same as the sickness of real hassad, which goes deeper than that. True hassad is when you seethe with it and give in to it and don’t seek refuge with Allah and would gladly take an opportunity to steal the blessing away from the other person.)
Ghiba (gossip) is another area where co-wives have a chance to improve their spiritual state. By consciously trying to avoid speaking badly about your co-wife or your husband to others (including people on annonymous email forums or chat rooms), you discipline your soul. Ghiba is a great playground of shaitan, because when you engage in it you actually feel superior to the person you’re speaking about. You get that twinge of haughtiness that whispers to you, “It’s OK, it’s TRUE. She IS evil or she DID do this or that”. But what’s really happening is that you are demoting yourself a step and elevating whoever is the object of your gossip. See how deceit is what shaitan is all about? Suphan Allah.
Suggestion #7: Qiyam ul Lail. Pray it! Did you know that Qiyam ul Lail is considered a blessing bestowed on only a few? There was even a sheikh once who was prevented from rising for Qiyam for 40 days, and he said he thought it was punishment for him having made a demeaning comment about how a man looked. So to those who pray Qiyam regularly it is such a blessing that to miss it is considered a punishment! Take advantage of this time when your heart and mind are spinning and you may even have trouble sleeping to rise at night and seek salve for your heart with Allah. He is waiting, especially at the blessed last third of the night, to answer your du’as and ease your soul. Just remember to keep up the habit after you have adjusted to your new marital situation! You may be blessed with adjustment so complete that you no longer have trouble sleeping and find it hard to rise at night. Many sisters report this phenomenon.
Suggestion #8: As soon as you can, try to think in a forgiving way about your husband. Even though what he did was horrendous, it is now something that is in the past – something he cannot change. So after your fury and agony and humiliation have ebbed somewhat, remember that your husband is no less human than anyone else, and that mistakes are part of being human. (I’m NOT going to tell you to consider how scared he might have been to tell you, or to consider that he probably just didn’t want to hurt you, because frankly I don’t buy those excuses. If a man thinks he is man enough to be a polygynous husband he needs to stand up and be one. If a man honestly doesn’t want to hurt his wife, he will tell her up front, because no one is stupid enough to believe that a secret like that can be kept forever, and no one is stupid enough to think that finding out later will hurt a woman less.) But put yourself in the frame of mind that any tresspass, no matter how huge, can be forgiven.
Give your husband a chance to rebuild his trustworthiness again. Don’t hold on to the indignation and fury forever, for eventually it will begin to fester away in your own soul, and wind up hurting you. In order to have a healthy relationship again you need to take small steps toward forgiveness each day (after the initial shock period ends, of course).
Suggestion #9: DO NOT dwell in the state of Self-Pity. It may be a place you visit after you’ve been married on, but do not set up a residence. Get the heck out of there as fast as you possibly can. That place is full of spiritual stagnation, bitterness, and depression. You’ve been wronged. Try to move from that idea to the idea that you have a special opportunity to get close to Allah, and get on about the business of growing. Live life as it comes to you – it’s an adventure! So you have a co-wife now. OK. Get on with your life. Rededicate yourself to being the best wife and the best Muslimah you can be!
Suggestion #10: Remember that when you are in the grave and when you are brought back on the Day of Judgement, you will be alone. All alone. Your husband will not be a part of your experience of it at all. This reminds us that our primary relationship should be our relationship with Allah. I know many of us sisters build our lives around our husbands. This is not a bad thing, unless we put our husband above Allah in our thinking. And here’s a secret: without knowing it, a lot of us do. Polygyny can help remind you where your primary focus should be and it can also help you develop interests and involvements that are yours alone, which makes you well-rounded. You’ll find that after awhile you value those interests a lot and they have become part of who you are. You still love your husband just as much but you’re not as dependent on his presence to be fulfilled as a Muslimah or as a person.
Suggestion #11: Remember that we don’t know what may happen in the future. Allah has reasons for things, even painful things, that we cannot fathom. Remember the story of Prophet Musa and the wise man. Perhaps your relationship with your husband will ultimately be improved by his marrying another wife (I promise, this has happened!). Perhaps your co-wife or you will come down with a condition like cancer, authu billahi, and need intense care. Perhaps your situation will strengthen your faith and raise your rank. Life brings us things we could never expect, and we adjust and adapt to new situations differently than we THINK we will ahead of time. So give things some time, express your feelings but don’t wallow in them, open your eyes and heart to the reality that we are not in control of what happens to us, and put your relationship with Allah first in your life.
Well, it’s probably taken you twenty years to read this, so I’ll sign off for now! More later. Oh – and welcome to the club!