Big Faith

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

Community duties

community.jpgJTL 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.


April 27, 2007 - Posted by | considering polygyny, Coping with polygyny, Islam, marriage, muslim men, Muslim women, polygamy, polygyny, religion


  1. Assalamu alaikoum, sorry I haven’t responded to your other comment yet. sister, could you please take me off your blogroll as a polygyny blog? My current blog isn’t a polygyny blog, in fact, I don’t talk about it much at all. this is a conscious decision for me not to be put in a little box and defined entirely by my marriage. This happened with previous blogs. thank you.

    Comment by jamilalighthouse | May 1, 2007 | Reply

  2. AsSalaamu Alaikum,

    Would you like for me to keep the link to your blog under my regular blogroll (not the polygny blogs)?

    Sorry I didn’t mean to label you like that. I understand how you feel.


    Comment by juwayriah | May 1, 2007 | Reply

  3. sorry, that came across a bit bluntly..thank you for having me on your blogroll, I just have reasons for not wanting to be defined as a p blog at the moment. 🙂

    Comment by jamilalighthouse | May 1, 2007 | Reply

  4. alhamdulillah, we are here at the same time! Yes, that would be nice!

    Comment by jamilalighthouse | May 1, 2007 | Reply

  5. AsSalaamu Alaikum,

    Don’t sweat it, I understand. 🙂

    Comment by juwayriah | May 1, 2007 | Reply

  6. AsSalaamu Alaikum, Jamila,

    BTW, was that sort of what you had in mind when you were talking about “community responsibilities”?

    Comment by juwayriah | May 1, 2007 | Reply

  7. walaykoum salam, I’m trying to figure out where I was talking about ‘community responsibilities’! sorry, my brain is a bit mush! You’ve raised some important issues and I think part of the problem with the way polygyny is practiced so badly most of the time is because people tend to turn away from it completely rather than try and stop it being abused. Both the extremes you have mentioned cause problems for people who sincerely want it to work. And then it comes back to a much deeper problem in our communities regarding marriage, responsibilities, gender roles and rights. There’s not much support for badly functioning monogamous marriages either.

    My view at the moment is that polygyny is hard to manage in a culture that is hostile to it (including and especially the Muslim community). On top of that, a lot of the time, it is converts who end up in such marriages. Some fitting the first category you describe and others like myself, who lose their head fall in love etc. How balanced are the decisions made? We have a responsibility as a community to ensure that their is proper counsel before marriage occurs. We are transplanting the rules regarding marriage onto an entirely different set of social circumstances. Yes, all that is required are the witnesses and a wali (not always) but they are supposed to be there to uphold the rights of the couple involved. It’s not just a signing of papers and be done with it.
    Aaah the gossip! What would the community do without us? At least we give them something to talk about! It’s so damaging. No one wants it to work. I have to say that I’m not an advocate of polygyny in our communities. I think it is rare that a really good reason comes up for it, most of the time it causes masses of damage. I concede that it can have benefits but I also think it is extremely difficult to adjust to when you haven’t been socially conditioned to do so, and most of us, these days haven’t. And even at the time of the prophet pbuh, the women bickered and felt jealous.

    But I’m not against it either (obviously!) and I certainly respect people who make it work.

    When you do try and talk about it positively you get heaps of criticism. For myself, I tried to see the good aspects and focus on them as a way of willing myself to feel totally comfortable. Now I accept that some things I am not comfortable with and I don’t expect myself to have to be. I tolerate them simply because I’m in the situation. I am not a saint and neither is my husband. I express my discomfort and know that ultimately Allah understands what cause me pain. It’s part of my human-ness to feel and show it.

    But we do need to get past all the hang ups and start dealing with it properly as a community. For those who really want and need it, we should offer support. And we need more social support services period.
    sorry about long comment!

    Comment by jamilalighthouse | May 2, 2007 | Reply

  8. Asalaamu alaikum.

    Thank you so much for this post. I appreciate how even-handed it is, not saying only one way is the right way. As Jamila said, we are sorely in need of better social support services of any and all kinds within our communities and this is just one more area where we are not looking out for each other as we should be. The problem is not the polygyny itself, but its misuse, misapplication, and not being fully aware of the unique situations it presents (including, as already noted, living in a country where it is not going to be supported at all) so that those issues can be addressed honestly and openly as needed.

    Comment by Aaminah | June 21, 2007 | Reply

  9. I am now faced with polygyny. For 7 years my husband has always reminded me of his intentions of finding another wife. until last night it was something just in the air.Now, it is real. I have been through being sad and depressed when i find out he was serious about his new gf. But last night, he says that he wants to see this through and marry her. I could only feel numb. I need kind words of support to allow me to accept this with and open heart and mind. I know this is my fate and journey but facing facts can be very difficult…

    Comment by ehouzie | October 10, 2007 | Reply

  10. I don’t agree that the community is not supportive because they don’t count the polygamous family as one family.

    Even though yes, they are all related because the husband is married to two women so he’s the common link and the kids are like half-brothers and sisters, I think technically speaking, the husband is supporting two separate families. I mean its not one big household. I mean one of the things that comes up often w/ polygamy is that the husband has to be able to support TWO HOUSEHOLDS. So its sort of obvious that there are two families units here. Do you know what i mean?

    Comment by alwaysred | May 5, 2008 | Reply

  11. I also think that if you live under a certain country’s laws, part of your deal w/ living there is that you follow their laws. So if you live in the US, from what i know(i could be wrong or not updated) yur not allowed to have polygamy here.

    So I think it makes sense that if someone wants to practice polygny that it should be in a country under a government which is supportive.

    Comment by alwaysred | May 5, 2008 | Reply

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