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.
Contrary to misconception, Islam did not start off the practice of polygyny. 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.
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 and lonely. 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, I hope I have achieved this goal.