Through My Lens–Polygamy in Practice

September 23, 2010 by  


By Nadirah Angail

TMO Editor’s note:  Polygamy is illegal in the United States, and as such it is arguable that it is also haram and contrary to Shari’ah in the US–because Muslims should obey authority (Ati Ullah wa atiur Rasul wa ulul amri minkum–Obey Allah, obey Prophet (s), and obey those on authority).  This indicates that a Muslim must keep Islamic requirements and also obey the laws and other authorities of the country he or she lives in. 

The following article disscusses the issue of polygamy (polygyny) from the point of view of the practical and emotional impact on the women involved, without discussing legal implications, and without disputing the fact that in Shari’ah polygamy is accepted.  The views expressed are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of anyone else at TMO in any capacity.  Note also—Nadirah Angail is not in a polygamous marriage.

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Polygyny (marrying more than one woman) is the right of the Muslim brother in Shari’ah, and it was practiced by our beloved prophet Muhammad (s).

I write about the issue of polygyny with some hesitation, but many have asked me to write about it, and there are important practical considerations regarding polygyny, aside from its illegality in this country. 

The difficulty of polygyny for the woman

Yes, under certain circumstances, a man has the right to take additional wives (up to 4), but does that mean the addition of another wife must automatically be easy for the first? Men, you will never know what it is like to have to share your wives with another man, but imagine if you did. Imagine how hard that might be to accept.  Even Aisha, wife of the Prophet, (may Allah be pleased with her) had issues of jealousy toward Khadijah, who wasn’t even alive at the time.

Narrated ‘Aisha:

I never felt so jealous of any wife of Allah’s Apostle as I did of Khadijah because Allah’s Apostle used to remember and praise her too often and because it was revealed to Allah’s Apostle that he should give her (Khadijah) the glad tidings of her having a palace of Qasab in Paradise. (Bukhari, vol. 7, book 62, number 156)

It was not by mistake or mere chance that Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) felt this way. Allah is in control. He allowed her jealousy to demonstrate the difficulties that even the most righteous woman can have when it comes to sharing her husband with another woman. If one of the best women in Islam was, at times, jealous of the mere memory and mention of another wife, why are we expected to take it so lightly? Are we better than Aisha? I’m not encouraging jealousy, just pointing out the emotional strain that can come along with being a co-wife.  Husbands should be understanding of these feelings and not see them as rebellion and defiance. 

The type of man best suited for polygyny

Maintaining a happy marriage with one person is a serious task in itself. Adding in other people can make it even harder. It takes a special man to balance the physical, financial and emotional needs of two (or three or four) women. Men often cite that the Prophet had many wives. This is true, but the Prophet was also extremely kind, caring, understanding, empathic and considerate. The Prophet was playful, did housework, and allowed his wives to have their opinions (even if they were against his own).

Narrated Aisha:

That Allah’s Apostle said to her, “I you are pleased with me or angry with me.” I said, “Whence do you know that?” He said, “When you are pleased with me, you say, ‘No, by the Lord of Muhammad,’ but when you are angry with me, then you say, ‘No, by the Lord of Abraham.’ “ Thereupon I said, “Yes (you are right), but by Allah, O Allah’s Apostle, I leave nothing but your name.” (Bukhari, vol 7, book 62. Number 155)

This hadith shows that the Prophet’s wives did, in fact, get angry with him, and he was okay with that. He didn’t yell at them and demand their servitude. He wasn’t disrespectful nor did he treat them as property. He gave them every consideration and allowed them to have a voice.  Is this how most men nowadays approach polygyny or do they hasten to take other wives simply because it is allowed, giving little or no consideration to the one already there?

I’ve seen so many hot-tempered, impatient men passionately defending their right to multiple wives. I find it hard to believe these types of men can keep one wife happy, let alone two. Polygyny is an option, not a necessity; therefore, men should consider their own temperament and that of their current wives before getting into additional marriages that may do more harm than good. 

Using the Prophet’s (s) example for guidance

If we are to examine the example of the Prophet, then let us truly examine it. For most of his married life, he was in a monogamous relationship with one wife, Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her).  For 25 years, he lived peacefully with her as his only companion and took no other wives until after her death. His additional marriages were mostly for social, political, and altruistic reasons, not just because there was a new sister in town. 

From this, we can infer that polygyny, while it is a mercy and a safeguard, is not a priority. It is not something a man must to do be a better Muslim, but something he can do if the situation permits. There are times when polygyny is preferred, the most logical choice, but there are also times when it isn’t. For example, if a brother is barely supporting his wife and children, who are just getting by with the help of government assistance, it makes no sense for him to get –or even consider—another wife. That would only increase the burden on his already-strained family.  Another example: If a young brother is newly married and still in the “getting to know you” phase with his first wife, he has no business getting into another marriage when the foundation of the first one is still solidifying. Would it not make sense for him to learn how to be a good husband to one woman before he introduces another? And would it not make sense for the second wife to want to marry a man who has already established himself as a quality husband?

Considering the first before choosing the second

Taking another wife doesn’t just affect the man. It affects the first wife and children (if there are any). This new wife is entering into an already existing family. It would be in everyone’s best interest that she is a good fit. It seems some men marry additional wives just because they like them, but do they consider if anyone else will?

Narrated Al-Miswar bin Makhrama:

Ali demanded the hand of the daughter of Abu Jahl. Fatima heard of this and went to Allah’s Apostle saying, “Your people think that you do not become angry for the sake of your daughters as ‘Ali is now going to marry the daughter of Abu Jahl. “On that Allah’s Apostle got up and after his recitation of Tashah-hud. I heard him saying, “Then after! I married one of my daughters to Abu Al-’As bin Al-Rabi’ (the husband of Zainab, the daughter of the Prophet) before Islam and he proved truthful in whatever he said to me. No doubt, Fatima is a part of me, I hate to see her being troubled. By Allah, the daughter of Allah’s Apostle and the daughter of Allah’s Enemy cannot be the wives of one man.” So ‘Ali gave up that engagement… (Bukhari, vol 5. book 57, number 76)

Regardless of how capable Ali may have been of caring for two wives, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not allow it because of who the second wife was and how it would affect Fatima (may Allah be pleased with her). He knew the two of them wouldn’t be good co-wives, and for that reason, he denied the marriage. The match of the two women should be considered up front, not as an afterthought. The point of polygyny is to strengthen families and communities. Bringing in another wife who would do nothing but cause problems does the opposite: weaken families and lead to divorce (which we all know is the least liked of all lawful things).

Having multiple wives is a big responsibility, and it shouldn’t be done just because you can. Men should consider themselves, their first wives, their children, their communities and the example it would set for others before taking such a step. It seems many men are in love with the idea of a second wife without being firmly grounded in the responsibility and gravity of it.  It isn’t just about marrying another attractive sister. It’s about being ready—in more ways than the obvious—to undertake a major responsibility. Done right, polygyny can lead to a bounty of blessings. Done wrong, it can cause a lot of pain. The pain is what led me to write this article. May the blessings be the cause of the next.

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