Columns's Our Families

February 2003

Further Discussions on Polygamy

by Siddiqua Hassan Haswarey Editor's Note: In May 2001 Siddiqua wrote a column titled "To My Dearest Sisters... From a Co-Wife" in which she discussed the issue of polygamy. The column produced a lot of responses from readers, some in favor of polygamy and some against it. In September 2001 Siddiqua answered a response from Rita, who wrote that "It is difficult to imagine that any woman could accept it."

This brings us to this month's columnn, in which Siddiqua has answered sister Hadjia, who shared her opinions about this issue. Hadjia's comments are in blue Arial font, while Siddiqua's responses are in regular text.


Hadjia: Assalaamu aleykum. I wish to support my sister Rita that I cannot imagine allowing or even inviting another woman to share my husband. polygamy in Islam is only "allowed in certain situations and under very strict conditions" which can only be ensured and implimented under the Islamic sharia. In any other environment like the western or native cultures ,it is being badly abused. For example in some parts of my country, Kenya, it works because of the cultural way of life that favours it and the whole community is involved in the family and marital stability of the people. However where I come from, any second marriage is considered a punishment to the first wife, due to her advanced age or to show incompetence on her part mainly in bed. The other wife is the favourite and will make sure the first one knows it by constant abuses. The first wife and children are neglected . They will live how the husband decides. No state, community or scholars will interfere in any way.

Siddiqua: Wa-Alaikum Assalam wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu Hadija! I pray this message finds you and your dear ones in the best of your eman and health, enjoying the immense blessings provided by Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta'ala). InshaAllah! Before I continue I wish to take a minute to first thank you for your response and your sharing. Jazaka Allahu Khairan Katheer.

Sister! Firstly, I would like to iterate that I completely respect your views and choices. In fact, I can understand your point of view as well; factually the Islamic legality of polygyny has been selfishly abused for whatever reasons, in the end leaving for others (the others normally being the co-wife) to suffer the consequences. As for your personal feelings towards having to share your husband is understandable as well.

But whether polygyny can be fully implemented only under Islamic Shariah, I don't fully agree. Yes, it would make a huge difference but, but I personally feel that a woman who chooses to be a co-wife say in a non-Muslim setting can take measures to ensure her marriage will be a successful one. Basic measures such as background checks, personality analysis of both husband and first wife etc.

In the end, if a woman feels she cannot handle the stress of being a co-wife, whatever the reasons then, I would advise her to choose a monogamous marriage. And InshaAllah, I think everyone else can respect her choice as well.

As for your comments on how a plural marriage is viewed or rather how the co-wife is viewed and treated, SubhanAllah, that is something that happens not only in Kenya I am sure, but even in Muslim countries, by Muslims themselves, which is the biggest shame of all.

Yet, Hadija! Do you feel we should care any more about what people feel or say of us when they do nothing to assist us? If I were to base my life on others opinions, I'd probably be a mental wreck by now. I know and understand that fighting an emotional battle with society and its norms is very hard, not to mention the stress and isolation, but I would rather be myself than to live an externally opinionated life, because in the end I would know I had the courage and the confidence to simply be myself.

As for the favoritism and abuse between the wives, that is something a good husband should know how to deal with. The first wife should have nothing to do with the co-wife or wives, because they are not married to each other but to the same husband and thus, the wives are not obligated to each other in any way - rather the husband is obligated to each of them, including their respective children. This kind of situation can be dealt with if the husband is just and has taqwaa.

Therefore the key is to look for a husband who is just and has taqwaa, being a man who would do all he has to in the way of Allah firstly to please Allah, and then his wife or wives. This piece of advise I would also share with a woman seeking a monogamous marriage, looking for the right aspects in a spouse will make a huge difference. Regarding the wife and children living how the husband decides, that is something that can happen even in a monogamous marriage. In fact, I am sure you too know of at least one couple that lives as such. This aspect also depends on the kind of man that is married; if he is extremely possessive or emotionally dependent, this would be the sign of a potential bad marriage or divorce.

Hadjia: I do not want to continue with the misery that a first wife in my community goes through. Most men here do not want polygamy as a result of their childhood neglect and experience from their fathers' polygamous marriages.

Siddiqua: MashaAllah! I completely respect your choice and support you in it. As for the men and their childhood experiences, well, practically put that cuts down all the complications. If the men themselves feel they must not marry more than one wife, Al-Hamdulilaah, they shouldn't, as simple as that. If they feel they should, Al-Hamdulilaah!

Hadjia: All the same I wish to point out the following:

1.Our Prophet ( saw) never married another wife during the life time of his beloved Khadija. This shows claerly that it is very possible for a man to stay with one wife.

Siddiqua: I agree completely. Yes, the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) did not marry another woman during the time of his being married to Khadijah. And yes, it is very much possible for a man to remain married to one woman at a given time. There are plenty of examples not only in the past like Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq (who is known to be one of the best of the Sahabah and the closest friend of the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam)) who refused to marry another woman while he was married to his first wife out of respect and love for her but even in the present times, where there are lots and lots of Muslim men who are happily married to one woman. In fact, there are a lot of men who feel it is too much of a hassle for them to deal with polygyny, not only with the competition between wives, but even so with the financial aspects.

Hadjia: 2. From the hadiths of Sahih Bukhari, a certain Arab tribe approached the Prophet (saw) for permission to marry their daughter to Ali ibn Abi Talib (ra), who was already married to Fatima. The Prophet (saw) refused them and said he will never allow it because what hurts Fatima, hurts him.

Siddiqua: MashaAllah! I personally feel one of the biggest reasons of the Prophet's (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) refusal to let Ali marry another woman while being married to Fatimah was because of his love for her. But, this implies nothing really, except a personal choice made by the Prophet in this one case. However, if Rasullallah (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) had refused plural marriage to everyone except himself (unless there was a divine revelation as such) he would be contradicting his own message to mankind.

Hadjia: 3. Unlike what one of the readers put forward in one of the articles. polygamy is not sunnah. It is only allowed but not encouraged. Or why would the Prophet (saw) refuse his son-in-law a sunnah act?

Siddiqua: Rather I feel the question must be "is polygyny haraam?"

Hadjia: I wish to call upon my married sisters to come up and give their views on this subject because most of the views are from subsequent wives, men or women from Islamic countries where they enjoy community protection.

In an Un-Islamic environment like the one I live in, a wife is forced by the situation to invest all her energies, mental, spiritual, emotional and even financial to the well being of her children and husband. How can one invite or even allow a " stranger" to come and share the most treasured and precious part of her life?

Siddiqua: The problem here is not that the wife has to deal with polygyny but that she has to be the only one to make all of the sacrifices that come along with raising a good family. The fact that the wife feels she is forced to make all the sacrifices alone is the big problem. This does not necessarily have to happen in un-Islamic or monogamous setting, this can happen anywhere, even more so at times in an Islamic setting. These are the issues that need to be dealt with before getting into any marriage. The man must understand that he as well as his wife is an equal partner in sharing not only the pleasures but even the responsibilities that go into being married and raising a family.

It is very common for women to make their marriages the center of their lives, when in reality a marriage accentuates an individual. A woman should feel pleased to have to be married to the man she is married to and even feel blessed to have the kids she does, because her husband and children complement her as she complements her husband as a wife and her children as their mother. Similarly, the husband should feel honored to be married to his wife.

When it comes to polygyny each wife has a separate life with the same husband and that is the way it should be. I understand what I say may be idealistic, but this is the reality of the way it should be. If it is other than this, the marriage setting needs to be worked out by all involved.

Hadjia: Let us not take this issue lightly. We should address it with the seriousness it deserves. All the other aspects of a Muslim man's life is mainly below what is required of him in terms of imaan and ibada. Why is it that it is only in dealing with women that we think he is competent enough to perform according to the Quran and Sunnah? And if there is any degree of his non-adherence to the conditions, then the first wife and her children are affected by this irreversible damage due to betrayal and neglect.

- Hadija, Kenya.

Sister Hadija! This issue is not taken lightly or even addressed in a sporting manner for the sake of debate or otherwise, at least not by myself. But, surely I cannot deny a law of Allah because of my personal feelings or opinions!

As for the question of how a man can feel competent enough to perform well in accordance to the Qur'an and Sunnah, I cannot answer that question. This is a question only a man can answer.

As for the first wife and children to be the ones to suffer, I don't agree. It can be any other wife and her children as well. In fact, I do know of one instance where the third wife and her child had to suffer from being neglected among all three wives, and that led her to leave the marriage and another instance where the second wife is neglected while the first tried to intervene on her behalf to be justly given her portion of time. Both of these marriage settings were based in non-Muslim countries without a Shariah law.

I'd also like to say that we must not forget the jealousy and competition that was prevalent during the time of Prophet's marriage. Ayesha (radhi Allahu anha) was quite well known for being outspoken in the deen and even at times when she would become extremely jealous of the Prophet's wives, even with Khadijah (radhi Allahu anha) long after her demise. Yet, the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) knew how to deal with the situation, though there were times when he would get upset by his wives behaviour. What I am exactly trying to say is that, not even the Prophet's marriage was picture perfect, but he knew how to deal with the situation and he understood the importance of his being just and patient with his wives.

Not meaning to say it is okay for the wife or wives to cause trouble or to be victimized, rather to say since polygyny is something halal, women must not be ones to object as much as they do regarding legality etc., rather we must understand it is Allah's ordainment and therefore we have to accept it, just like we have accepted hijab as an ordainment from Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta'ala).

On a final note, my point now and even earlier, in the message to sister Rita is that there is a clear difference between making a certain choice for oneself and imposing your personal view or choice upon another. If you feel you should be in a monogamous marriage, I and many others (I am sure) not only respect your view but also fully support it. In fact in this time and age, there are many more Muslims who are completely against polygyny than are for it. If you feel that Islamically you will not be supported, there are actually measures you can take to ensure you can remain in a monogamous scenario by making such a stipulation before being married, and if the brother does not agree, then InshaAllah, I am sure there are other men who are not interested in taking on more than one wife and will be more than happy to marry such a woman. If you are in a situation where you did not make the stipulation earlier because of whatever reasons, then the only way I see is to talk to your husband and bring out your fears, and InshaAllah if he loves you and understands your fears, he will do whatever he must to ensure that no harm comes to you. If he does not agree, you may have to negotiate a settlement that will in the end benefit both you and him, and this solution too may not be as bad as it seems. Allahu Alam!

O Allah! Make all of our deeds righteous and make them purely for Your Sake, and do not let there be any share for anyone or anything else in them. O Allah! Turner of Hearts! Keep our hearts steadfast on Your religion. Aameen. Allahumma Aameen.

Subhanaka `Allahumma wa bihamdika, wa `ash-hadu `an laa `Illaaha `illaa `anta, `astaghfiruka wa `atoobu `ilayka. (Glorified are You O' Allah and I am in Your praise, I testify that there is no deity except You, I ask Your forgiveness and repent unto You).

Siddiqua Hassan Haswarey

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