A topic close to my heart that has received much criticism in the west from both the non-Muslims and Muslims is the subject of Polygyny. Polygyny is where a man has two or more wives, polygamy in Islam refers to this but its actual definition in the west is the practice of having more than one husband or wife at the same time; for ease therefore, it shall be referred to as being called Polygyny in this article. Polygyny, even between some Muslims is a controversial subject, we know it’s permissible in Islam but some people still have a hard time digesting the concept;
there are many reasons for this but one of the most frequent ones are to do with ownership and then having to ‘share’ what is yours. We teach our children to share when playing with others because it’s polite and courteous and shows good manners and also because we should want for our brother/sister what we want for ourselves, so it’s interesting to see that some adults also, have trouble ‘sharing’. We know it is a man’s haqq to have more than one wife, how much do women complain about having their rights stolen and why is it then fair to do it to a man just because we can’t control our emotions? No woman in Islam can ever seriously say she is in the right for the condemning this practice in general (not in accordance to her specific situation) because that means going against something that Allah has made lawful and this is actually haram. Some women say that they have no problems with Polygyny but that their own husband shouldn’t enter into it because of this reason or that reason. Sisters, please stop making excuses and see it is just your jealousy speaking and that you will be held accountable for withholding your husband’s rights. It is better for you to repent and ask Allah swt to help you have sabr in this situation. This does not refer to sisters who have a legitimate reason for not wanting their husbands to have another wife e.g. he has no money to give her let alone another wife or cannot be fair to both.
Contrary to misconception, Islam did not start off the practice of polygyny, it existed a long time before Islam – we know this because we know that several of our prophets had more than one wife like prophet Ibrahim (alayhis salaam). Many religions did and still do practice Polygyny; other cultures still, are in the practice of having one wife but many mistresses whom, if they fall pregnant, do not have their child recognised by its father. Islam restricted polygyny; it ensured fairness and gave women equal rights that they previously did not have. It limited one man to having up to four wives (when before they would take as many as they wanted) and only then if they could treat all four equally. The punishment for treating one wife better than the other is serious; RasulAllah (sallilahu alayhi wa sallam) was reported to have said:
“Whoever has two wives and leans unduly to one of them will come on the Day of Judgment with half of his body leaning.”
[Sunan Abu Dawud, Reported by Abu Hurairah (RA)]
meaning that if a husband is unjust in equality or kindness, on the Day of Judgment half of his body will be paralysed.
Whilst it is true that most wives may not want to share their husbands, Islam looks at the needs of society rather than the individual; which isn’t to say that the pain these women feel goes unnoticed for Allah is the All-Knowing and All-Seeing. ‘Aisha (radiAllahu anha) narrated that rasulAllah (sallilahu alayhi wa sallam) said:
“No calamity befalls a Muslim but that Allah expiates some of his sins because of it, even though it were the prick he receives from a thorn.”
Allah tests those that He loves and whatever befalls us none can change. There is wisdom behind polygyny, some of which is obvious: there are more women than men in the world; if every man was to only marry one woman then half of the world’s population of women would be left unmarried. One of the purposes of marriage in Islam is to procreate; if a woman has 5 partners she still can only have one child (unless twins etc.) at a time, whereas a man could potentially have 5 children. The man will know he is the father and which wife is the mother but if the situation was reversed the woman will not know for certain which man fathered her child. And on a more personal note, a lot of single Muslim mothers know first-hand how difficult it can be finding a husband: there is a lot of stigma attached to divorcees, because people assume it was your fault you are seen as a second-class citizen; and women do not encourage their sons to marry divorcees. Many men also do not wish this for themselves and we also know in Islam that RasulAllah (sallilahu alayhi wa sallam) encouraged men to marry virgins, unless it suited them for a specific purpose not to, like in the case of Jabir Ibn ‘Abd-Allah (radiAllahu anhum), who said:
“The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) asked me, ‘Have you got married?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘A virgin or a previously-married woman?’ I said, ‘A previously-married woman.’ He said, ‘Why not a young girl, whom you could play with and she could play with you?’ I said, ‘I have sisters and I wanted to marry a woman who could gather them together and comb their hair and take care of them.’ He said: ‘You will reach, so when you have arrived (at home), I advise you to associate with your wife (that you may have an intelligent son).’”
(Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 1991; Muslim, 715)
What then happens to the single mothers/divorcees/widows? This is where the beauty of polygyny shines through; I like to think that one of the reasons why polygyny is allowed is solely for the benefit of these women. Left alone, life can be very tough especially if you live in the west where the government is anti-Muslim. How does a mother raise her son alone to become a man; when he has questions about why his body is changing and what is happening right now. Is it really helpful to tell him “let me just Google it”?! Polygyny safeguards these women so they can still have their haqq and not be left to rot on the shelf. It lets them concentrate on motherhood without the burden of going to work and working hours that affects their children. Polygyny, if gone into with the right conditions can be a blessing. The conditions with which to enter into a polygamous marriage have been made very clear by scholars:
1- Justice in dealing with the wives which includes being fair in financial matters, gifts, trips, entertainment, buying a house, furniture, car, health care …etc.
2- Justice in treatment which means treating both or (all) wives kindly and not treating one wife kindly at the expense of the other.
3- Justice in treating and raising children.
4- Justice in the sexual relation.
5- Not abandoning one wife for the other.
6- Not making comparisons between the wives, which might hurt their feelings and make them carry hate and grudge for each other (those feelings are not encouraged or approved to occur among Muslims).
7- Establishing a separate house for each wife according to her taste and standards.
8- Dealing with every wife according to her personality and needs.
There is much literature available on this subject so my aim is to approach it from a personal angle as a single mother and as a woman, whilst also reflecting the opinions of brothers, whom I have interviewed for this article.
Some men love women; we know they have a weakness for them and this is one of the reasons why Polygyny was still allowed to continue within Islamic parameters. A second wife (or more) can help smooth out any fine lines that a husband has in first marriage by giving the husband the balance he needs and therefore promoting harmony with all parties involved. This sounds very male oriented but the truth of the matter is that men can sometimes be big babies, they constantly need attention and if you are a mother with children especially young children, you may often be too knackered and drained to want to take care of an extra child (i.e. your husband). Things are different in a marriage after you have children, when our bodies don’t stay the same then how can we expect our situation to or our mindset? Finding that balance and harmony again within the marriage is hard and for some people they struggle, in these situations many men feel that by taking a second wife they are restoring balance: they won’t be so frustrated with the first wife not having enough time so they therefore won’t have as many fights and their marriage won’t end in divorce. This is not to say that all polygamous marriages occur because the first wife cannot satisfy the first and nor should blame be put on these women; in fact, some women may argue as to why the men don’t have more sabr in this situation.
I asked a brother who was looking to enter into Polygyny about his views and he replied:
“I have always been inclined towards it, as the messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wassalam) loved women and so do I. Being brought up in the west, it’s [Polygyny] always going to be a taboo topic and relationships are deemed to only be in a monogamous (accepted) state. So generally sisters brought up in the west or in a culture where it isn’t the norm, will most likely not succumb to it easily or at all. If any woman reflects over it deeply they’ll see that it’s a mercy from Allah upon them; as the woman doesn’t want her husband around ALL the time, she likes her quiet moments to herself. Everybody has a lazy day(s) and if the hubby is expecting whatever, and doesn’t get or see that it can cause tension, etc. But if there are days when he is absent she has time to prepare herself, the home, the kids, whatever, without any pressure. For me, when I go away for a few days or couple of weeks and I come back home the statement ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ becomes a reality.”
I then asked the brother if he thought it was ever hard for the man in the marriage and was it really all about lust and desire and he replied:
“From those who are in such relationships, they’ve told me it is hard. But the hard is what makes it great! Maintaining one family isn’t a walk in the park (as I always tell those younger or bachelor bros) so how about 2 or more. But all strength lies with Allah. As I said before, if sisters/women reflected over it then they would see it as a mercy for them. Allah is most kind to his slaves and wants ease for us, NEVER difficulty. So yes, they [women] do get a fair deal, as long as the husband knows and understands his role. But, saying that, it does take two to tango, so the sister/wife must cooperate in doing good.
Being the bread winner and maintainer of the family isn’t an easy role to fulfil. Plus the being fair policy is very demanding. Emotions we can’t control. Aisha (ra) wasn’t jealous of any woman more than Khadijah (ra) and she wasn’t even alive! He, (sallallaahu alayhi wassalam ) even clearly expressed his love for Aisha (ra) more than anyone else. But he was still fair and just with them all, to the extent that his other wives knew how much he loved Aisha (ra) but never complained about it while he was with them as they were content with him. If the companions state that they used to feel like the messenger was giving his undivided attention to them while with him, even though others were present, then how about when he was alone with his wives?!
Realistically I couldn’t handle 4 (and Allah knows best) but I think 3 would be my limit. Some brothers I know are living that life as I type, each has a different story. Men love to love and women love to be loved.
I have friends who have 2-3 wives and all of them say, “…if your time-management sucks, then forget about it…” Which I totally agree with and they also emphasise that it’s not about the physical side to it, as that becomes duty bound instead of a desire, as you may be exhausted from a day’s work but your wife isn’t! For me it’s more than that, it’s being loved…”
I further enquired into what he thought about brothers marrying single mums as their second/third/fourth wife and the expectations surrounding this:
“[My expectations are] someone who has more practical experience of being both a mum and wife, who has learnt from her previous relationship, with that she’s wiser and stronger, more loving and patient. A previously unmarried woman is an empty book. She won’t have anything to refer back to for reference except what she has had practical experience in via her upbringing. But that will never have the same taste as her own marriage. So [I would expect a single mum to be] more insightful. It’s not a good deal that the sisters who are single mums get. I do empathise with them, but I know single bros who will take on the challenge of a ready-made family. If you look hard enough and are patiently persistent enough, you could find one. Single mums aren’t damaged goods. They’re diamonds that weren’t valued properly. Anyone who values their own mother and knows her status will equally respect and value a woman who is a mother. We all need some TLC. As that’s how we’ve been created. They [single mums] may have barriers as they may have come out of an abusive (mental or physical) marriage. Women scarred may be fierier than those not. But this is probably due to not letting go of old habits, if the new man is good, then time will heal that wound, inshaa Allah. This can be overcome with patience and advice (after dua’).”
I had been wanting to get closer to Allah swt for a while and I just felt in my heart that the way forward for me was to enter into polygyny. I had interviewed single brothers and even divorced brothers for marriage but it always seemed to boil down to the same thing: they had no clue as to how to be a dad. I can appreciate that if you haven’t been in that situation you may not understand what is required of you, but I was expecting a father figure and these men who had no experience couldn’t be. They didn’t understand the importance of family time vs. friends’ time, they didn’t appreciate I couldn’t marry them then just move abroad without any proper plans hoping the kids managed to find a school somewhere. They didn’t even understand the cost associated with children! Many were too immature and expected me to do the parenting alone without realising that my children would look to them as role models. I then tried looking for divorced brothers with children but I too found that they had no clue, their mothers would look after their kids and they fell into the same category eventually as the single men. It seems that the life of a single mum and that of a single dad are completely different subhanallah. It wasn’t until I was approached by a brother on behalf of his friend about Polygyny that I even considered the idea, at the start I had an aversion to the idea but then the more I thought about it the more it sounded appealing. I would still get to have my own life and see my friends and call my family round and get alone time with my children but I would also have an opportunity to extend my own family, not have to worry about income and get a loving husband insha’Allah, and in fact, a whole new family. I got very excited about the idea; however I tried to look at it from all perspectives: how would the brother ensure fairness especially emotionally? The answer the brother gave me really made me think highly of him mashallah; he told me that he had always tried to control his love for his first wife and to never let it transgress limits so that if ever anything happened to her first he could still carry on looking after their children and not let the grief consume him and make him go crazy like some people do. I remember listening to a talk by a sister who said that even halal things like love for our partners or children can end up in shirk if we don’t control our emotions and stay within the limits set by Allah, that it can end up feeling like a prison when you love someone where you feel pain rather than feeling happiness. Loving for the sake of Allah ensures you stay within your limits and is better than just loving because you fell in love.
Well things didn’t work out with this brother, but ever since then my mind was open to the idea of Polygyny and I started speaking to my friends and family about it. Initially, many people were against it, they told me it was emotional torture to make another woman endure me stealing her husband and asked how I could be so cruel. They said I would always be seen as the home wrecker and should consider the children whose father I had stolen; other sisters in polygamous marriages warned me to think very carefully as the support would always go to the first wife and that many men were not fair at all. It gave me a lot to think about but I kept asking myself why I should miss out just because I was divorced? Finding a husband when you’re divorced like I said is hard enough and finding a never married before one is near impossible, why then should I have to lose out just because some people couldn’t accept what Allah swt had made lawful? I kept reminding myself that I was doing no haram and that this was allowed and would insha’Allah make me a better Muslim and teach me sabr too.
A year later I married a brother who was married, as his second wife. We had discussed a lot via emails which was sent by him to my brother then to me then back to my brother then back to him; this was in fact one of the things that drew me to him – doing things the correct way and not finding rubbish excuses to not speak to my walli. He was honest enough to admit his family would take time in accepting his decision and that his wife was upset but he hoped that in due time she would accept us. He also told me he wasn’t rich and would give me whatever he could (which I understood as a certain amount). He said he would spend 3 days with me and then 3 days with her and that if any of us needed him during the day that he would come and see us even if it wasn’t our day. He was even honest enough to admit one of the reasons he wanted to remarry was to protect his nafs.
The problems subhanallah, started a week after marriage; his wife hadn’t been actually told when we married (which I later found out many men do to avoid aggro) and had a very bad reaction to our marriage, his whole family abandoned him as they felt him unworthy of being fair and he lost many friends too because their wives got insecure. This put a lot of pressure on us, I had people sending me messages from his side that I didn’t even know telling me I was bad because I had done this to his wife and child. Some of my own family said I should have foreseen this and weren’t very supportive; my husband was ordered to pay back a loan immediately his family had lent him even though he didn’t have the money. Suddenly, I was caught up in the eye of the storm, doing the one thing I had wanted so desperately to stop having to do: fighting for my haqq.
I realised one thing straight away, that though I was stressed he had just lost every single thing because he married me. I always thought the wife stood to lose more but in this case I had still had my children and family and home and he didn’t. I paid off his loan with my meagre savings and tried my best to support him and be a good wife; I was angry at their lack of acceptance when he had done nothing wrong Islamically. I was hurt at him defending his wife’s actions of getting people to send me hate mail by saying she was hurt and I should have sabr. I endured many comments and when one day I had had enough and sent something back I was told off. To appease him and repent to Allah I made a public apology; it just seemed to me she could do no wrong and I was expected to be the glue holding their marriage together. It came to pass that he hadn’t actually been happy in his marriage for a long time, he let little things slip that gave me indications and I saw that for 4 years he had had sabr hoping things would change and tried his best to keep the peace but that he felt hurt because he felt unloved and neglected and that he just wanted someone on his side, like I want, like we all want. I know losing his family hurt him so much, he adores his daughter and wasn’t really able to see her; he would still come home with a smile on his face though and give me attention and hide his grief. The days I got mad at him because I felt oppressed and I thought about this, I really felt ashamed of myself.
Things just got worse and worse subhanallah; his business was failing and he not only had no money to give me or his other wife but I actually had to give him money too. I was of course upset that he had entered into a marriage with me when he was living somewhat from hand to mouth; I explained to him that he should have made sure his finances were secure before marrying me. I told him I had read the shayukh had said that you can’t be receiving benefits and be barely able to keep one wife then take another. I told him that I am the one paying for the rent and food and clothes, his included and that he didn’t fulfil the criteria needed to take a second wife and that he shouldn’t have expected me to just give that all up. He would talk to me about my anger and jealousy and I pointed out that he made me insecure by comparing us and letting his family say he should divorce me and saying nothing because he didn’t want to cause fitnah although it still did cause fitnah in our marriage. I asked him that when he had been married for so long to a woman why he forgot that he had married a second woman, complete with womanly emotions; if one would be jealous then why not expect the other one to be too?
I felt like he was pinning so much on me and felt under pressure, it was like I had to be the glue holding him and them together. I was bearing the weight of his stress and illness and financial burden alone, he couldn’t seem to cope and I had to be the strong one and manage my kids, control my nafs and fight off our oppressors. I felt like I was getting it from all sides. Somewhere though Alhamdulillah our love grew and we fell in love, we couldn’t even really enjoy that love because of all of the chaotic things that were going on with us which were not Polygyny related. We both kept saying that we never had the chance to spend any real time together; it was running here or there or fighting or just plain stress. When I fell in love with him and him with me, I started understanding the jealousy that other women feel; for me it was due to my insecurity of being second best. The first wife had the family and his child and marital home and I was told to have sabr and that they knew her first, so I felt like an outsider and a monster. On top of that when he compared us and told us I did such and such wrong that she didn’t do it made it worse; I felt like my back was up against the wall and I had no-one on my side. I didn’t understand how he could be so in love with me and then go to someone else, and I was honest about my feelings; I said had he not made me feel second best and had he controlled his love for me and not made out like I was the centre of his universe that things may have been easier for me. We had a long talk and he explained some things and told me how it was different, that he did love me but that she was the mother of his child and that it was different with us both, that when he was with her I wasn’t replaced and vice versa; he loved us both in different ways because we were different and both had different qualities.
I admit that talk made things more bearable, here was me thinking I would never fall in love with this man so wouldn’t care how many wives he had and yet I did fall for him and very hard. I had a lot of talks with myself and realised that I could never be the centre of his world especially because he had two and that therefore I shouldn’t make him the centre of mine. I shouldn’t sit there waiting for it to be my day with him but that I should use my time productively to do what I wanted. Some days I spent the nights with my family and some nights on the phone with friends but then I started wanting to get closer to Allah swt again and I started reading up on Islam. I have read many articles where sisters say that the thing that gets them through a polygamous marriage is their deen, I think this is a sad way to find Allah swt again but as long as we find Him, who cares right? I questioned myself again and again, did I still believe in Polygyny, was it fair or was it cruel? The truth is that it is fair and sometimes it’s people that make it unfair, I still stand by my beliefs but think it’s not as simple as men think.
Brothers, its not enough for you to say ‘I only have £20 (which feeds no-one) and I’ll split it half and half with both wives’; it is YOUR duty to clothe and feed them. It’s not ok to think that marrying a second wife is better than divorcing the first because all you will then do is cause fitnah, it’s better to have a long talk with your first wife and tell her you aren’t happy and that this is your intention then leave it with her for a few months and then remarry if you wish when she has had time to absorb it. You can’t put the burden of your first marriage onto the second because it’s not fair, fix your marriage and be content in it and then look to remarry. A woman’s jealousy is a bit like this: we know if you are in water it’s when you panic that you drown, if you keep still you will float, when put in this position we panic due to our nafs and end up fighting and almost drowning. When a woman calms down she will float and therefore insha’Allah accept the situation and not be so emotional; our first response unfortunately is to panic, we need to be still and have sabr but it’s so easy to say and so very hard to do. Brothers, you may think that now you are in a polygamous relationship there is nothing wrong with falling in love with one wife over the other (if you aren’t already) but learn to control this; you don’t need to turn into an aashiq over the sister because otherwise how can you maintain emotional fairness? If you love one more than the other and don’t control yourself then when the one who you love less, cries, you won’t be as bothered about her as the one who you do love more when she cries. Of course loving one over the other is natural but you shouldn’t let it mean you disregard the other wives’ emotions be she first, second, third or fourth. DON’T ever make your wives feel like they have to compete to get you to love them more, love isn’t always about how much someone does for you but just their very nature. If you have taken another wife then understand that they take priority over your social life, if you wanted to chill all the time with your bro’s then you should have kept one. You can’t say one wife gets one day and the other the other day and the other 5 are yours. Please remember that the reason the punishment for unjust treatment of wives is so severe is because it is so easy to be unfair even when you think you may not be unfair. I think more men go wrong with the emotional side than on any other bit, love them, make them feel loved, don’t compare them, keep what they have told you confidential and never be seen to be taking sides. Many brothers threaten their wives with taking another wife as if it’s punishment; if your wife then has problems with your second wife then whose fault is it? Marriage is always a blessing and not a punishment. If your family won’t accept the other wife this of course will upset them and you can’t palm off the issue saying have sabr because what about the hadith where we are told to stop injustice? The reward in polygamy is so high because it is so hard to be fair, just because you are tired of your first marriage doesn’t mean you meet the conditions to take another wife, if you want it then speak to an outsider and don’t disregard their opinion if they honestly tell you, you are not a fair man. These are women’s and children’s lives we are talking about; maybe the reason its allowed for men but not women isn’t to do with a man’s jealousy being more than that of a woman’s but because women have more sabr in these things and are stronger emotionally. Understand that even the pain in Polygyny is equal: the first wife feels she is losing her husband but the second wife gets the hatred thrown her way, how can we say who hurts more?
My aim was to talk about how Polygyny has affected me personally; it’s an ongoing struggle for us all; it was allowed to continue due to wisdom that we cannot fully comprehend owned by Allah swt. We cannot hate it but we are allowed to find it difficult because it is a test; I won’t say you have to like it but you do have to accept it, even if you leave. How many people starve in the world? They know it’s a test, they don’t enjoy it but they have to accept it. For some women Polygyny is a blessing and for others it’s a test that they always struggle with; every bit of pain we experience expiates some sins, no-one said it would be easy or that you have to be happy but it’s better for us all to be content with what we have and be glad our test isn’t so much worse like other peoples’. In today’s society Polygyny is almost abhorred; men sometimes suffer more than women and what once seemed like a good idea really becomes a test. They may lose family and friends who are ignorant, they have to deal with emotional women and children and most importantly, they live with the knowledge that it is so easy to be unjust and that if they are, even over a tiny small thing, that they could be resurrected half paralysed. Compare that to the understandable pain you may feel over your husband having another wife and tell me which is worse?