DESPITE THE NEGATIVE perception of polygyny that is widespread amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike, more and more Muslims – including women – are actively pursuing polygynous marriages. The reasons behind this are varied:
- For some women, their status as divorcees or single mothers marks them in the community as less eligible for a monogamous husband.
- Others may be older women who have not been previously married, whether out of choice or otherwise, and who do not feel the need for a ‘full time’ husband.
- Still others may be younger without any children or past marriages, but simply see polygyny as a viable option that they are comfortable with.
Regardless of their personal reasons for entering polygyny, there still remains a dearth of advice geared towards women seeking this option. While Part 1 mentioned points related to what a woman should be aware of when first considering polygyny or speaking to a prospective husband, Part 2 focuses on addressing commonly occurring patterns observed amongst some polygynous women.
- Drop the Attitude. Unfortunately, there are numerous woman who intend on entering polygyny, yet hold negative and even aggressive attitudes from the get-go.
- “It’s my right to marry a married man,” some say, sounding an awful lot like married men who insist on their right to marry other wives (regardless of their circumstances).
- “I don’t need her permission to marry him!” others cry, deriding the first wife. “Why should I care how she feels? It’s my life and I’m not doing anything haram.”
- Even worse are those who enter polygyny with the intention of causing the man to divorce his first wife so that she (the second) can have him all to herself.Such mentalities completely lack compassion and consideration, which are basic traits that every true Muslim should have. If someone is determined to enter into a polygynous marriage, they must also remember that Allah loves the muḥsinîn – those who strive to live their lives according to a standard of excellence, knowing that even if they cannot see Allah, He sees them.A woman who is about to enter poly should be acutely aware that her upcoming marriage is not just about herself and her husband-to-be: another woman’s life will be drastically changed and impacted by this new relationship. The advent of, and commitment to, polygyny has serious effects on the first marriage; both the husband and the first wife will be going through a great deal of emotional change, as individuals and as a couple. The first wife in particular will experience great difficulty, especially if she is not 100% happy with the idea of polygyny in the first place.Ideally, polygyny should not be something that any woman is coerced or forced into; it should be something entered into with the consent of all parties involved. Many argue that it is not an Islamic requirement for the first wife to know or for her permission to be given, but it is an Islamic requirement that the husband be just with his wives – and how can he really be just between them if he is engaged in deception and emotionally harming at least one of them?Too many Muslims live their lives according to whether something is their Islamic ‘right’ or not; too few Muslims live their lives according to a higher standard of iḥsân (excellence), dealing with others in a manner that displays greatness of adab (manners) and akhlâq (character).
- Be Committed. Usually it is assumed that men are those who enter polygyny without being completely committed – that is, having an attitude of “We’ll see how this goes,” sometimes with the effect of ending the second marriage quickly when the pressure from his first wife, or other factors, get to be too much for him to handle.The idea that the first wife is the only one to whom he should really be committed to is unfortunately bolstered by certain scholarly comments, including the statement that the first wife is the one who fulfills the Sunnah, whereas others are merely considered to be merely accumulations of the Dunya (material world).However, things have changed somewhat in that this attitude is no longer limited to men alone. There are now women who are also adopting this attitude – that polygynous marriage is not as serious as monogamy, that they can just ‘try it out’ and if it doesn’t work the way they want it to, then they can leave it behind without much thought.What is completely disregarded is that polygyny isn’t just about one person – it impacts, at minimum, two other people; namely, the husband and the first wife. If there are children involved, they too will be affected. Choosing to walk out on a polygynous marriage almost as soon as one has entered into it displays a complete lack of consideration for the others involved.What few think about is how polygyny has affected the first marriage, before, during, and after the second marriage has taken place. The husband as well as the wife go through emotional changes that have long-lasting consequences – even and especially in the case of a man who has made the effort to undertake polygyny in the best and most honorable manner possible.
The first wife, even if she has no serious objection to her husband remarrying, will still experience some degree of emotional turmoil. That is only natural. The husband himself will find himself struggling to process emotions that he has never had to go through before, in addition to the adjustment of establishing a relationship with the second wife.
Women who take polygyny lightly and don’t view a polygynous marriage as a relationship deserving of utmost commitment, need a reality check. Marriage, whether monogamous or polygynous, is a serious undertaking. Leaving a polygynous marriage abruptly without thinking about the effects it will have on others, is quite frankly selfish. (Note: This does not apply in cases of abuse.)
Thus, any woman thinking about polygyny should first take a good, hard look at her intentions: Are you ready to view this relationship as being just as serious and deserving of commitment –in every way– as a monogamous marriage is? Are you ready to be understanding of the fact that polygyny is something that affects others besides yourself, and to behave accordingly, even (and especially) during difficult times?
If not, then perhaps polygyny is not for you.
- A Co-Wife Contract. The relationship between co-wives is often the butt of various polygynous jokes. It is often solely defined in the light of jealousy, anger, and overwhelming negativity, with the first wife being characterized as high-strung and overly-emotional, and the second wife as being malicious and determined to ‘win’ the rivalry.More and more, though, there are women who no longer want to play these ill-fated roles; increasingly, women are considering the radical idea that co-wives can have a positive relationship with each other, as friends and genuine sisters in Islam rather than despising each other’s existence.Of course, there are also those who prefer to maintain a certain level of distance rather than become best friends overnight, and that’s okay. Not every woman will have the same constructive feelings towards her co-wife, and that should be recognized and respected.Nonetheless, it is still important to discuss and lay out the ways in which co-wives can establish and maintain a relationship of positivity. While one would think that things like being kind to each other and not harming each other are obvious points that are founded in the basics of Islam, it’s unfortunate that not everyone thinks things through clearly when it comes to polygyny.Hence the idea of a co-wife contract. A contract between a husband and wife is known to be a part of any Islamic marriage, but what about considering a contract between co-wives? Technically, Islam permits contracts –agreements– between parties for almost any reason (so long as it does not involve anything ḥarâm), and further, considers the honoring of contracts to be a very serious matter.
- The benefits of a co-wife contract would lie not only in the terms laid out, but especially in opening up the conversation between co-wives. All too often, husbands try to keep their wives apart with the mistaken assumption that distance will make things easier for them, rather than making it more difficult.The truth is that not letting the women meet and speak with each other actually gives more room for fitnah – both women will find themselves wondering what the other woman is like, how beautiful she is, what her personality is like that makes her so ‘special’ that their husband chose to marry her (or remain married to her), and so on.
- Another benefit to meeting and composing a contract between co-wives is so that they –and their husband– can discuss their ‘poly vision.’ That is, how do they want their polygynous lifestyle to be set up? What will their system be – how many days will the husband spend with each of them, which days will go to whom? Where will they live, what is the greatest distance they are able to manage, and how will it affect the husband’s time with each wife? Will they visit each other regularly, or not at all? How will they handle conflict? Will the children from either woman have a relationship with the other, and if so, how will that relationship be nurtured?
- Most important is laying out the absolute fundamentals of how they will treat each other: to remember and acknowledge that they are sisters in Islam who love for each other what they love for themselves. There should be a point of pledging to honor and respect each other; to have goodwill towards the other woman and her marriage to their husband; never to use their own marriage against the other’s, to cause ill feelings, or to behave maliciously with each other. They should recognize each other as part of the same family, and treat each other accordingly.
Being able to articulate these points makes it much easier to process the emotional and life changes that polygyny inevitably causes, and to flesh out a healthy co-wife relationship.
Having a co-wife contract also adds a dimension of seriousness to the discussion. Pledging to commit to the ideas and goals expressed within it results in all parties involved being held accountable not only to each other, but directly to Allah: an oath that one will have to face consequences for if broken.
Though I’ve referred to it as a ‘co-wife contract,’ this does not mean that the husband has no part in it. The husband should also be included –and wives who are concerned about things like finances or serial re-marriage can include conditions such as ensuring access to bank accounts or stipulating that in the event of divorce, the husband should wait a full year before considering polygyny again.
In the end, the main goal is to facilitate communication and honest discussion between co-wives and their shared husband, and an Islamically recognized safeguard against possible (and sadly common) misuses and abuses of polygyny.
These, then, are some of the most necessary pieces of advice for women who are thinking of entering polygyny as second or subsequent wives –according to my own observations and experience, that is. My hope is that rather than relying upon stereotypes and clichés, and rather than being negatively influenced by the many sad stories of polygyny gone wrong, Muslims can finally have access to resources that promote a healthier polygynous model and lifestyle.
Polygyny was made permissible by Allah for a reason, and while it has been misused by far too many people for far too long, there are also many great benefits that it has to offer to women as well as men.
May Allah guide us all to living according to a standard of ethics and behavior that is pleasing to Him, and grant us success and happiness in our marriages and families. Âmîn.