Every time I open the MSN home page there is another story about the Mormon sect “polygamists”, from what’s happening to their kids to how the raid was conducted to why they dress the way they do (like decent people!). Of course since I live overseas now I have only vaguely followed the story. As far as I can tell the problem is not so much that they are engaged in polygyny, but that they are rather “overindulged’ in it. Many, many wives, young brides and old men, sisters wed at the same time? Is this a correct reading of the situation? Are there any other facets of the story that are worthy of discussion?
Sometimes in a polygynous marriage one wife will thrive on creating fitnah. Either she’ll treat her co-wife badly, or she’ll act superior to her, or she’ll treat her children badly, or she’ll spread rumours about her, or worst of all she’ll carry tales to their husband about her co-wife that are either untrue or are true but are twisted to sound bad when the other wife did not mean it that way. A woman who feels particularly scorned by her husband marrying a second wife (or a second wife who gets it in her head that she’s the husband’s true love and makes it her goal to get rid of the first wife) might exhibit more than one of these behaviors.
These things are particularly hard to deal with because they involve not only hurtful actions, but also injustice. One of the worst things in life is to be falsely accused of something or have others believe bad things about you that aren’t true. So a woman who is suffering these things is dealing not only with the nastiness of her cw, which is lonely and painful enough, but she’s also having to deal with others looking down on her or her husband being angry with her through no fault of her own.
I’ll give you my ideas on how to deal with some of these situations.
Whenever you are falsely accused of something or someone is spreading tales of you either to your husband or to the community, always remember how Aisha (radhi Allahu anha) dealt with the slander against her. She felt it just as acutely as we feel it today when we are gossipped about. She wept for two nights and three days, distraught because of the slander. She said she wept until she thought her liver would burst from weeping. And when the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallem) talked to her about it she answered wisely that if she should proclaim her innocence she wouldn’t be believed because people had been tarnished by the rumours. If she confessed even though she was innocent the people would believe her. So, she said, I compare my situation only with that of “Joseph’s father” (she forgot Yaqub’s name in the heat of the moment, alaihom asSalaam), who said ‘So (for me) patience is most fitting against that which you assert and it is Allah (Alone) whose help can be sought.’
Another thing to remember when you are falsely accused is the story of Abu Bakr, when he was sitting one day with Rasoolullah. A man came in and began to falsely accuse him of this and that. As the man was talking, the Prophet was smiling. He kept going, and going, and finally Abu Bakr could not stand it anymore. He implored the Prophet, saying, “You know this man is lying….” and offering the truth in his own defense. The Prophet frowned at that point, and got up and left them. Later Abu Bakr asked him why he had smiled the whole time the man was reciting his litany of lies about Abu Bakr, but frowned when Abu Bakr offered the truth in response. The Prophet replied that while the man was accusing Abu Bakr the angels were present, defending him. But once he indignantly began to defend himself, shaitan entered the room, and so the Prophet frowned and left because he could not stay in the same room with the shaitan.
So the first line of defense against a scheming co-wife is to trust in Allah and not give in to the temptation to argue and defend onesself.
Indeed, the best defense is to continue to do what you know is right. Always, always, always treat your co-wife with respect and kindness. Do not be provoked into speaking badly about her, to your husband or to others (This is really difficult sometimes. Choose one trusted person who you know will always remind you of Allah, and share your feelings with her when you need to, but other than that never speak about your co-wife to anyone). This kind of restraint will show people that you are not the kind of person who would do the things you are being accused of. And even though people might eagerly listen when your co-wife is bashing you, they will also respect you more if you don’t reciprocate, and then you won’t have to defend yourself. They’ll just know your character.
More on some of the other situations in future posts….