Kicking and Screaming

As I unwillingly enter this debate/discussion, I want it known that I don't wish to step on any toes or offend any feelings or prides. I've never been in the situation I'm about to discuss, nor do I ever hope to be. I can not imagine the emotional and psychological suffering it causes and I really don't want to come across as a "Know-Nothing-Know-It-All". If any of this upsets my readers or offends them, I apologise before hand. I am inexperienced in the field of life, love and have no experience in being a wife. Nor am I very smart (even though I have professed that I am in my other posts). Also, I haven't researched this issue thoroughly and I'm not citing intellectuals. These are my personal reflections on the matter. A lot of it came to me in the shower. Its great when inspiration hits like that. Sometimes I'm inspired while in the toilet. I don't share those inspirations with my readers.

I'm a woman. So the issue of polygamy creates an upsetting beat in my psyche. I'm not comfortable with the notion. Even as I near my use by date (after which I'll be shelved away as an "older spinster") I haven't entertained any perceived threats of polygamy in future marital bliss. I've always thought of polygamy as something that happens to other people, much like all other catastrophies in life. There's no reason it couldn't happen to me but there's a safe distance my mind maintains between myself and it (polygamy).

With this safe distance between us, I have the following thoughts on the matter.

Ali notes that men who choose to take a multiple wives use the religion argument to justify their choice. Women opposing this choice are then seen as getting in the way of all things God-licious. My view on the matter is this, how can you profess to know your faith and your God if you don't know yourself?

Yes, in Islam, a man can take up to four wives at any given point in time. That's what our faith establishes. I'm not getting into the reasoning, or conditions under which this is made permissible. As to the woman who consents to this religious reasoning, is she not being untrue to herself? Isn't her first duty to be true to herself and then pretend to love her faith and submit to Allah's will?

I understand that the two are not always mutually exclusive but God knows what's in your heart. If you're forcing yourself to concede to something as mind altering as polygamy, you're ultimately denying your own happiness. This affects the rest your physical and spiritual existence, a decision that could possibly see you become bitter, unhappy and wanting.

Are you really making the choice to stay with your multi-wife husband because you truly submit to the Will of Allah (swt) or are you doing it out of fear? Are you submitting because you believe it to be the right thing for you and a test of your faith?

If you're playing with the religion card, you might as well be true to yourself and be upfront about what you feel. Because ultimately, its not your religion that sits crying with a broken heart and throbbing head. I sound callous and for that I apologise. Its very hard writing this without coming across as the afore mentioned "Know-Nothing-Know-It-All".

This argument lends itself to my next point: Do you really know yourself and are you willing to stand up for that? Its difficult, I understand, to have a true appreciation of self when you're a mum and a wife and so many things, other than you. When you become a mother, you let go any pretence of having a life, opinions, dreams, aspirations or needs of yourself. I understand that as well.

So maybe the issue here isn't religion at all. Maybe the issue is knowing yourself and how to not lose touch with that. I know a lot of husbands don't want their wives to really have opinions that threaten their world view, I know a lot of wives are the same. I know parents think the same way about their children and so do best friends about each other.

Marriage is a risky business but not because of the threat of it breaking down. Its risky because every single day of your life presents a new challenge. The challenge of steering your life with someone else at the helm, or with the life of another human being. Challenges reign supreme and compromise is undermined. Its risky and oft times you just ignore your own needs to make the family unit work.

Its important in that circumstance to include people in your sphere who are going to push you to live for yourself (even if it is ten minutes at a time) and people you can share something other than the woes of family hood and wifeship with. People who know you and will help keep the flame of the original you burning.

For the woman faced with polygamy, the choices are limited. Said woman will not be bold enough to make a decision that sees her shunning God's rules. She will need a support network, not just to stop the tears but to help her find work, take care of her kids, give her legal, moral and financial support. I'm not suggesting that breaking away from the relationship is the cure. But I have noticed a trend in first wives to sit back and accept because really, there is no hope for them. Its a helluva task taking on the world and when you're a mother and have been a housewife for most of your married life, that can scare you into submission. Nothing to do with submission to your Lord.

My other issue is with the men. Der.

I've noted, and with some dismay that a lot of men who take a second wife tend to do it in privacy. If you're doing something permissible under Divine Law, then why do you feel the need to keep it from everyone else? A marriage is a public declaration. Why would you hide it? Are they afraid of public opinion or do they really not want their first wives to find out? And why don't they want their first wives to find out, for fear that they'll leave? I have so many questions.

I think I'll wrap this up now by saying, my last bone of contention is the issue of consent. You can tell me that Islam does not require a man to take permission from his first wife. I can accept that (not really but lets just go with this). Lets say you don't take permission, because really, if you had such a great relationship, would you really be looking around. Fair enough. Maybe your first wife is unstable, granted.

I'll even go so far as to say, don't take permission but for the love of all things decent at least tell your wife of x years what it is you have planned to do. Isn't that just good manners? You may not be required to ask permission but God didn't make the laws for a man who lived on an island cut off from the rest of the world. The rules and laws are there for human beings who coexist with other human beings and there is great onus on treating people right. God may not have told you to take permission but he sure didn't tell you to rip someone's heart out, pureé it and devastate their trust.

I think my main argument is to focus on the human side of the decision making process. If you can make your decisions with the recognition that concerned parties have hearts and minds, then maybe we won't have so much turmoil. It's a terribly naive view of the world but I'm not actually trying to solve the issue here.

Let's try and create for ourselves the kind of life we think we deserve. Inshallah, ameen.


25 thoughts on “Kicking and Screaming

  1. Beautiful post Maryam! And thought-provoking points. Unfortunately, I don’t see things changing at all. I cannot understand men who wish for ‘variety.’ One Imam stated:

    “There are some men who may have strong physical desires, for whom one wife is not enough. If the door is closed to such a man and he is told, you are not allowed more than one wife, this will cause great hardship to him, and his desire may find outlets in forbidden ways. In addition to that, a woman menstruates each month, and when she gives birth, she bleeds for forty days…, at which time a man cannot have intercourse with his wife… So plural marriage is permitted when one is able to be fair and just.”

  2. Oh, and I have always thought and professed on my blog that you are very smart:-)
    Mashallah, great post, once again.

  3. Saly: Regarding the Imam. I find that so interesting. Because the man’s efforts won’t be on the baby, all he can think about is his “physical desires”. Perhaps what needs to happen is that men need to be educated in life at home and their responsibilities to their families (and I don’t mean bringing home the bacon, astaghfirullah).

    The other side to this argument that I find interesting (because its very interesting to note what we exclude from our decision making when it suits us) is the call to control your nafs and to NOT give in to desires of the flesh.

    Re: My brilliance… why thank you mademoiselle, you’re too kind! *blush*

  4. I feel very priveliged watching this debate unfold. Mainstream media seems incapable of addressing it in a non-sensational way so it is very refreshing to get this insider’s view.

    I wish the ignorant folk who constantly go on about “subjugated voiceless helpless Muslim women” could see some of your blogs.

  5. ***When you become a mother, you let go any pretence of having a life, opinions, dreams, aspirations or needs of yourself.***

    I disagree with that. Parenthood does not erase you, it enriches you. I’ve got my mother and my grandmothers to go on, and they always say that they got back twice as much as they gave up from having kids. Same goes for the men in my family. Mind you, I come from a very screwed-up clan, but I’ve never heard a close relative describe parenthood in such harsh terms. My mother gave up six years for me, but then again, she says now that if it wasn’t for my brother and I, she would have never matured as an artist.

  6. I think what Maryam was trying to say was that many Muslim women agree to their husbands taking another wife for the children. Since her post is addressing polygamy in Islam I’m sure she’s not talking about women and careers/education. Women have, I know, agreed to polygamy for their children and other women always use this excuse to cajole first wives to accept their co-wives.

  7. Mr Angry: So do I! I have issues with the whole “subjugated” theme… to my mind, the world should just get over it already.

    Abrar: Thanks for dropping by, its been a while 🙂 You’ll notice a lot of the links are crossed out. Its the theme’s way of showing visited links. Other than that, hows about you comment on the post?

    Natalia: Wow, its definitely good to hear that side of the argument. When I wrote that I was meaning it in the context of women who tend to put family first, or even men who do that, with regards to the polygamy issue. Many women stay because they don’t really know anything other than what’s in their homes and between their children. So I meant it in that respect. I most definitely want the enriching experience. How do you think that would fare in the polygamy debate?

    Would a woman enriched from her surrounds choose to leave, or what would she do?

    Saly: Haha, didn’t even read your comment before answering Natalia’s 🙂

    Also I was thinking, how would you exactly go AGAINST religious doctrine? Like, what exactly would you say to that argument? I suppose one way is to deconstruct the argument and get down to the real reasons behind taking another wife.

    Also, are most first wives, housewives? Like do most men take on a second wife if their first wife is a housewife and reliant on him for income and just does the kids and hubby thing? That’d be interesting to note.

  8. I assume that most first wives in polygamous marriages are homemakers and dependant on their husbands. Those who work find it easier to leave the children home with the second wives, provided the 2nd wife is a stay-home mum. Very few women enter polygamy willingly; I think it is an extremely humiliating experience and do it because they are not independent. I know converts who knowingly enter into polygamy as second wives but then they usually have children from first marriage or pre-conversion relationships. Usually such women have not studied beyond high school which further explains their ‘cloistered virtue.’

  9. I’m not really sure how polygamy is good for children. Unless the first wife can’t have kids (?) And even so, hello, adoption? Fostering?

    There are plenty of unwanted kids in this world, you know.

    Which is why all these “pro-family” polygamy stories just grate on me even more. It’s not about “family” it’s about the man playing willie big-dick with the other men, and making sure his wives remain obedient.

  10. Hey here’s another thing that just came into my head and its another side to thepolygamy debate. Its about the stigma of divorce. As much as the man may want to marry another woman or possibly even the woman feels the same way,they cannot get divorced. For a man to divorce his wife would seal her life with the kiss of a throbbing pulsating stigma of divorce.

    I know of men who have furnished their first wives and families with everything theyrequire and have maintained them very well and then gone on to take secondwives. So, their material needs are being met and they have a roof over their heads and are still part of a family unit, but the man cannot out of his own sense of duty divorce the woman and lose contact wtih the children (thekids would never take the dad’s side… would they?)

    But he’s met someone else and doesn’t quite know how to resolve the situation. For that i’ll use the “society is to blame” argument. Because both parties are acting out of obligation. What say ye?

  11. I recently read something that has opened my eyes regarding polygamy in Islam. I’m sure you’ll find it interesting. Polygamy was unheard of in Mecca and Medina before the advent of Islam. Free sex was not frowned upon and everyone was sleeping around. Islam banned fornication and at the same time polygamy was introduced to satisfy the Arabs who were used to free sex and would have been frustrated under the new ‘no fornication’ laws. Co-wives were jealous of each other because they openly knew each other unlike before when they didn’t know the women their husbands were sleeping with. But that is a minor consideration realizing just how tactfully Islam tried to satisfy the male urges. I think it is superb reasoning.

    However, in today’s time when we are reverting to free sex it is not ironic at Muslim men in the West see polygamy as a way to keep themselves in control. Never mind that it shouldn’t be. Muslims are one of the poorest and most uneducated nations. Polygamy will lead to greater Muslim population but at what costs? We don’t have enough resources to feed the mouths we already have in some countries like Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even Egypt where population is exploding.

    Another reason for polygamy is that Arabia is so hot that girls reach puberty very early and men are always sexually frustrated. Even after so many centuries and after being allowed to marry up to four times the men from Arabia are always ready for sex. There is a hadith that the Prophet is believed to have said, “Three things of your world have been made desirable to me: perfume, women, and my delight in prayer.” So, all men needed have legal access to more than one woman. However, it should be remembered that polygamy in Islam was for the ancient Arabs trying to let go of the jahiliya. I do not see any room for polygamy now.

  12. beautifully written post maryam with some excellent points raised. I’m glad Saly mentioned what she did in her comment and also wanted to add that having upto four wives involves treating them equally and I don’t really think that unlike the Prophet (pbuh) that this is possible for men today to practice.

  13. i am not muslim, but reading the above posts one question came to mind… If a man (according to islam and history) can take more than one wife so that he doesnt stray during the days his wife cannot fulfil her ”wifely duty” ie during menstruation and the 40 days of bleeding after birth, and cant have sex.. what does he do when:
    all 2 or 3 or 4 women after living together for a few months become insync with the menstrual cycle and he cant have any of them… if he has reached his limit of 4 ”legitimate” wives.. can he take a 5th? or if he is just soooo virile that he just cant hold on for a few days and he strays, can he say to god ”wat did u want me to do? wait? come on! all 4 had their period, i just couldnt wait, u understand, this is why i had to stray”.. would that be valid?
    Why cant the woman have more than one husband? Wat if SHE is the one who is not satisfied with him? what if the guy is the one that cant fulfil his ”husbandly duty” and she has needs too that she cant wait for? Women are better at multi tasking anyway so doesnt it make better sense that it is the woman who should be allowed to have more than one husband?

  14. Pingback: Angry 365 Days a Year » Marriage? That’s so Gay!

  15. saly: i didnt notice 🙂

    susi: Thank you for your comment. The only argument I can think of with regards to women having more than one partner is the confusion over the baby’s biological father (ok so now we have paternity tests). You make an interesting point with regards to the period, etc. The argument of virility and the “man’s needs” is to my mind the most base and therefore weak argument to use in defence of polygamy. To my mind, from my understanding, its not about that at all. Without giving you a lesson in history, I would really encourage you to read up on the context under which this came about, go to Saly’s page and find the post on Polygamy (conversely, go here

    Another possible reason (and this is my logic here at work so, feel free to argue the point) for women going with the one man, is that the woman isn’t the “leader” of the family unit and its not the woman’s lineage that is carried on. Woman is not the provider etc… so the man takes on more wives as part of growing his “empire” or whatever…

    Mr Angry: Shucks! Imma have to read that. You know the Incoming Links section doesn’t update when someone whose NOT using a WordPress blog links you. *shurgs*

  16. Susi and Maryam, I have heard some apologists say that women are by nature monogamous and wouldn’t like to have multiple partners unlike men who enjoy diversity. However, I know at least two women who are not only into polygamous relationships but are actually bisexual. Today’s woman is full of surprises for the naïve apologists:-D

  17. fabulous post sister. polygamy is a very intimidating and strange institution to me and i pray that i am never faced with the decision to leave my husband (when i marry) or be in a situation that would cause so much fitnah.

  18. Nah! Women are human beings and I think the major difference between the two ‘genders’ is that women have sex because they love the man and men love because they want sex. If a woman receives no love from the man she loves she’ll move on to find another man whereas a man would move on to find another woman even if he gets sex from one woman. Sooo, men and women ‘can’ be monogamous if they want. Apologists aren’t, though.

  19. Dear Maryam,
    Let me enlighten you a bit with what ALLAH has to say about polygamy. From An-Nisa 4:1 – 4:3;

    ” 4: 1. O people! be careful of (your duty to) your Lord, Who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind) and spread from these two, many men and women; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, by Whom you demand one of another (your rights), and (to) the ties of relationship; surely Allah ever watches over you.

    4: 2. And give to the orphans their property, and do not substitute worthless (things) for (their) good (ones), and do not devour their property (as an addition) to your own property; this is surely a great crime.

    4: 3. And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course.”

    Please note that ALLAH said IF AND ONLY IF men fear that they CANNOT ACT JUSTLY towards orphans that they are allowed to practise polygamy.

    Polygamy today has been so far away from its true course. Men has changed the laws to suit theirs. That is why we can find so many sufferings resulting from polygamy. I hope this helps.

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