At least 6 of those in my closer circle of friends are in plural marriages, and there are around 20 couples I know in my wider circle who are ‘second wives (for want of a better term). While no one can speculate about what goes on behind closed doors, from what I’ve seen the bulk of these families are deeply disjointed and unhappy!
This of course raises the issue of whether or not their unhappiness is purely due to the polygyny involved? Well, probably not entirely! In fairness, I do know of many polygynous families where every one is happy! But as a humble observer, here is my 2P on the subject!
It seems to me that a great many Muslim men have missed the point/points, when it comes to polygyny. Of course it is halal and perfectly permissible, even though many of us might prefer to turn our noses up at plural marriage, mutah etc, our likes/dislikes are not a reason to dismiss them. Similarly, our liking doesn’t seem like a reason to support the practise either! I.e., I can’t tell my husband not to take another wife just because I don’t like it, nor can he tell me he wants another wife “just because!). You may say that polygyny is halal (which it is), but so are many things! Night prayers are halal: nay, they are recommended! However if I’m not performing my 5 compulsory prayers, it is questionable whether my night prayers will hold any special value for me! Food is halal, but if I over-eat and damage my health as a result, that food may well become haram for me!
What I’m getting at here, is that often, polygyny feels like a symptom to me, rather than a solution!
Before even contemplating a second, third or fourth wife, men need to consider the following.
Hadaith teach us that while polygyny is permitted, if you fear you cannot do justice to your wives, it is better for you to marry only one!
How can you do justice to a second wife when the country you live in does not even permit polygyny? Of course, there is nothing to stop you performing an Islamic ceremony and living as married, but your second/3rd etc wife will not be considered as your partner in the eyes of the law, she will not be entitled to welfare support/pension contributions through you, and will struggle a great deal when you leave this world as a result!
This brings me on to my second point:
How honest can you really be with your wife/colleagues, neighbours, people in the community etc. Polygyny carries a stigma, even within Muslim communities today. Forget the fact that often men take a second wife in secret, how will your lack of honesty impact on your new wife, and any subsequent children you have with her?
3) Family unity.
Secrecy naturally brings its own discord, but if your wives do not get along, your home is likely to dissolve in to pieces! Of course, your wives have the right to demand their own homes: which, if you live in a non-Muslim country, may be pretty impractical for you to afford!
4) (and most importantly!), benefit!
Whether taking a new job or buying a new TV, we all run through a subconscious analysis in our head: cause/affect! How will this job/purchase change my life? Will it benefit me? Will it benefit those around me? Can I afford it? do the disadvantages outnumber the advantages? Or vice versa!
How many men do this when it comes to a second wife! Maybe she is young, beautiful and more appealing than your first wife with whom you have tired, but of course, she too will not always remain like this; and what is there to sustain the 3 of you when she has a few children and is beginning to age herself! Will she enhance your physical/spiritual life? Will she benefit your first wife?
Now: relax all of you who are thinking that Reza is searching away from home! We did talk about polygyny and its not something he is in to! (Thank Goodness!).
Does this mean I am completely against the practise? No! however I think there is allot that men/women leave undone! A friend was asking my opinion on the subject yesterday and that’s what prompted this post!
The way I see it; if you have been married for a significant period of time, and especially if you have children, a plural marriage is something you both have to grow in to. You both have to be on the same page re: whether or not to go for it, your reasons and how to go about it. Living in the west means that your children will likely be unfamiliar with the practise and this too has to be considered in terms of impact. Frankly; if my husband wishes a second wife, I need to know about it; and both she and I need to be involved in the bigger picture, from searching for potentials to initial meetings. It is only fair that she and I meet in private before any thing is decided, so that she knows my feelings on the subject and I know her perspective. We need to be able to get along. Sure we may never become best friends, but we need a level of shared vision in order to sustain and maintain our husband and mutual family. All 3 of us need to have strategies in place for dealing with difficult issues, and be very clear about our own boundaries and how these will translate within the new domestic situation. Many revert sisters have the additional pressure of non-Muslim family, who may or may not know about their changes in circumstances! Only they can make the call as to whether or not their relatives can cope with the knowledge, but it often seems that this too is just another oversight on the part of many men!
I don’t mean to have a rant against the male species over here; and I do know that many of our brothers act with taqwa in mind and with the best of intentions, but for every brother who does, there are 10 who don’t and the numbers of broken families we see today are the horrid legacy of such one-sided thinking!
The majority Pakistani community in which I currently reside, boasts many plural families: men, who married back home, but then took a Western wife on their arrival in the UK to “stay away from haram!”. Years later, wives/children come to know of one another; and the results have not proved favourable! Families are often cramped together in poorly maintained apartments, lost in poverty and loathing the sight of one another! Some say that the fact they remain together is testament to the strength of the marriage, and maybe so! Undoubtedly those women who show patience and perseverance in the face of such tests will Insha Allah be rewarded, but what of those who oppress them unjustly on this earth? Moreover, there are the tests sent to us by Allah (SWT), and there are the dramas we make for ourselves, which cannot be attributed to divine self-Development!
It is worth remembering that our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him), never took a second wife during the time of Khadija (A.S), and those wives that he (PBUH) married after her death, were often performed out of necessity: to protect the dignity/honour of widows, divorced women and those without any other form of protection (there was no welfare system 1400 plus years ago!).
Justifying our wants and desires under the banner of sunnah acts is cruel and unjust, whether we are talking about polygyny, or any thing else!
To any one facing such a test, may Allah (SWT) grant all of you insight to be merciful and understanding to one another, and may you find the wisdom to distinguish between the right and the wrong in such a situation. As for the rest of us; at the end of the day, the key is to think before you leap; if you have doubts, leave it alone! And if you believe polygyny is right for you; think some more; the marriage should make 3 lives beautiful, rather than causing 3 car crashes!