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 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.
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!
These days – especially in the West – we are encouraged to be ruled by our emotions and shehawaat (passions), and to trust them as the real guides in how we live our lives. We are literally bombarded with those kinds of messages every day. Popular culture insists that if you’re “in love” you should be able to do anything you want – from commit adultery to marry a person of your own gender (“If lovin’ you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right…”). Many psychologists even recommend that a person should divorce their spouse if they “fall in love with” another, because somehow it’s healthier for the children to have parents who follow their dreams than to have parents who willingly sacrifice for the good of the family and out of loyalty to their vows.
Even in the mundane departments of life we are constantly told to give in to our desires and worship our emotions. The makers of Sprite encourage us to “Obey our thirst”, and Newport cigarettes had a campaign that showed people engaging in fun activities and sported the tagline, “Alive with pleasure!” In this atmosphere it’s no wonder that some men think, “If I desire polygyny, I should naturally give in to that desire”, and on the other hand, some women think, “Polygyny will cause me sadness, pain and jealousy, therefore it is an unreasonable challenge and I should reject it out of hand.” We’ve been raised to believe that our emotions are the foremost concern in any given situation, and, like children concentrating more on the ball than the traffic, we often base our decisions on how we feel at any given time.
But just like the cigarettes, which will actually kill you instead of making you “Alive with Pleasure!”, appeasing your emotions in every situation is short-sighted, prevents growth, and can actually be detrimental to your iman. A man who indulges in polygyny because he is intrigued by it or has fallen for another woman, without praying istikhara, consulting his wife, and doing some serious soul-searching, risks not only the wrath of his first wife but also his own happiness and the future stability of his entire family. Likewise, a woman who cries divorce at the first thought of polygyny may be risking even more pain on the part of herself and her children, letting herself and her children in for a life marked by economic stress, and may also be depriving herself of some very great blessings.
It is much wiser and more Islamic to weigh things carefully, asking Allah to grant what is good for you in the dunya and the akhira. Asking Him to strengthen your iman and make easy for you the path that leads you closest to Him. In this way men can look at the entire situation before jumping into the nikah, and women can carefully consider whether polygyny is something their hearts can hold or something that necessitates escape.
When the subject of polygyny first comes up in a marriage, it can be either a casual exploration of an idea or it an extremely delicate and threatening topic that causes all kinds of trauma. So some words for both sisters and brothers on the subject:
Brothers: I imagine that when a brother begins thinking about polygyny, he spends a good bit of time considering it, weighing the potential advantages and disadvantages, and – let’s face it – maybe even fantasizing about being one of those men who can successfully keep two (or more) women happy. So I advise you to take at least as much time as you spend thinking about all these things to truly, honestly, think about how your current wife will feel. This kind of empathy is difficult for brothers – they often block out a lot of what they themselves feel; what someone else feels is pretty far down there on the list of things they want to contemplate. But if you’re considering polygyny, you’d better get used to it, because a man who is a successful polygynous husband spends a lot of his time anticipating the feelings of his wives and understanding the feelings of various family members.
The way a man brings up the idea of polygyny to his first wife can say a lot about whether he’s even spiritually qualified to enter it. While there can be extenuating circumstances, as long as your first wife is not a criminal or an abuser herself, kindness and respect should rule your behavior. I know of a man whose first wife found out about his philandering (for that is what it is when you marry behind your wife’s back) when his friend called her one day and said, “I just thought you had a right to know: your husband is not on a business trip. He’s getting married in the next town over”. I also know of a woman who found out about her co-wife when her husband came to her with a woman and said, “Hello, Honey, I’d like you to meet my wife”. I even know of a case where a woman who found out her husband was married to another woman when that woman delivered his baby. These are not kind or respectful ways to broach the subject of polygyny with your wife.
A much better method would be to tell your wife you’ve always admired the sahaba and other polygynous families (or whatever intro you’d like to use), and that you would like to consider marrying another sister. It is better to bring your wife in on your musings as soon as you begin contemplating polygyny, because it can then become a decision you both make, as opposed to a decision that you impose upon her. She might be able to bring up variables you had not thought of and help you reach your decision with a more complete picture of the pros and cons. Speaking to her about it right away also gives gives her time to adjust to the idea before it becomes a reality. Polygyny as an abstract concept is much easier to accept than polygyny in the form of a woman your husband has already fallen for. Telling your wife of your thoughts early on makes polygyny something a Muslimah can approach as a good deed – not what she had envisioned as a young girl fantasizing about marriage, but something she is willing to tackle for the sake of Allah. It also communicates the message that you and she have a meaningful marriage, in which trust and respect matter, and that you care enough about her to bring her in on a decision that will affect her life greatly. It also demonstrates that you take seriously the Islamic precept of mashura. There are even many couples who go about choosing a new wife together. On the other hand, dictating it to her or telling her after the fact is a form of betrayal – a kick in the stomach that communicates the message, “you are inadequate and I don’t really love you.” It involves duplicity and deceit and all the attendant feelings those evil deeds stir up. It is much more noble, Islamic, and wise to consult with your wife about the idea of polygyny before you even dream of making it a fact.
This is not to say that broaching the subject early on will cause her to jump up and down and clap her hands with joy at the idea, but it does increase the chances that, if it should become a fact for your family, your first wife will be able to meet the challenge with a healthier, more positive attitude. And no matter what difficulties she faces as a co-wife, at least she will not have to shoulder the searing, often cauterizing pain and humiliation of having her husband spring his new little passion-fruit on her unawares or marry on her behind her back.
One further note of caution: be aware of your wife’s personal past experiences with polygyny. If her father married on her mother and she watched her mother suffer for years in an unfulfilling or downright abusive marriage while her mother’s co-wife was enjoying a happy marriage with her own father, polygyny may not be something she will ever be open to, no matter what. In that kind of situation, if you have a hankering to marry another woman, you might just as well reconcile yourself to the idea that it will not be polygyny, because it will probably cost you your current wife.
In addition, it seems counter-intuitive, but the recommendations I’ve made apply mostly to converts or people whose wives are converts, because those sisters are often the most open to polygyny. Malaysians and some other Asian/South Asian sisters might be a bit more comfortable with the idea, but I’ve noticed that many Arab women have an active hatred of the idea. Such a vile repulsion that it causes them to bad-mouth those who are in polygyny and actually ostracize them. They say things like, “It is wrong.” When it is pointed out that it is halal, they still do not make the connection. “It is halal, but it is wrong.” It is a fanatical view that has a lot to do with colonialism and Arab classism. Most converts don’ t hold such violently anti-polygyny views, since they have had to shuttle all their old cultural norms and accept a set of norms that is defined only by Islam.
The granddaddy of all bad reasons for a man to think about polygyny is: Midlife Crisis.
Many men go through a period in middle age where they feel compelled to cling desperately to (or recreate) things they feel represent their spent youth. This compulsion can manifest itself in any number of different ways, including the proverbial red sports car, a wacky haircut (if there’s any hair left!), wearing clothes from the Gap, taking up snowboarding, or booking that trip to Italy that was a teenage dream. But the important thing is that many men reach a point where they believe their good years are ending and, they attempts to keep them rolling by external means.
When a guy tries to keep them rolling by getting a younger wife, it can be a disaster for all concerned.
Although some women take this quite well, other women are devastated by such a turn of events. Can you imagine having been a loyal wife for twenty or thirty years, raising children with your man, supporting him in his early career when there wasn’t enough money, defining your life by the rhythms of your relationship with him, only to be repaid by him turning to a younger woman because she has no stretch marks or crows feet – does not bear the beautiful marks of a long life lived together? This is another instance where a little empathy would go a long way on the part of the husband. But unfortunately, a man in the throes of a pathological midlife crisis is not thinking or feeling clearly. He is obsessed – wrapped up in maintaining his own pleasure.
Some second wives in this position are likewise unhealthy. Such a marriage feeds their ego, and they enjoy their position as the husband’s trophy. So between the lack of empathy on the husband’s part, the depression and rage the first wife may feel, and the superior attitude of the second wife, these situations often turn into one big mess. In addition, the second marriage often fails as the husband realizes that what he really wanted wasn’t the responsibility and permanence of another wife. The excitement of someone new and young can wear off after awhile. If the man is lucky, his first wife will be waiting for his return to sanity. If he’s not, he might lose them both.
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…..