Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Marriage À La Carte

I have an opinion about polygyny--I don't think it's an evil monster, but I do think everyone should be responsible about it. Those who aren't give other Muslims a bad name, but worse, fling themselves against the boundaries of Islamic law, possibly infringing on the rights of others.

I have a problem with the sort of man who would pursue a woman to be his second wife, and devote to her alone all his free time. As if, because the woman is not his wife, he isn't responsible for being fair with his time! The horrible injustice of this to the first wife pains me. Imagine the scenario--after weeks of intense courtship, during which the prospective couple has spent just nearly all their evenings (after work until midnight and beyond) and weekends together, they spontaneously wed without any prior announcement to the community.

The wife, aware that her husband is seeking another wife despite her own objections, is forced to endure weeks of neglect while her husband doesn't feel the need to be fair to her because the other woman isn't his wife. He somehow thinks he won't be accountable for how he spends his time. I have a problem with the man, and I think I even have a problem with the other woman who approves of that behavior. Undoubtedly her heart and hormones are steering her off the proper course, but she should consider the position she is leaving the wife, as she alone monopolizes his time.

So I don't have a problem with polygyny per se, but the abuse of it by some men. I truly love how women are honored and respected in Islam--guaranteed rights often abused by various societies. Unfortunately, there are in fact people in this world, Muslims, who deem important only their own rights, the obligations of women, while remaining silent and ignorant on the rights of women! Many of them will, for example, strongly advocate the right of men to take a second wife, without a word on their capability of treating them fairly. They proclaim the right of men to know where their wife is, and that she not speak to other men, but freely engage in flirtation and romance with women to whom they are not married. They describe their own jealousy as admirable, and their anger as acceptable--but for a woman to respond to her own jealousy or anger, is deemed intolerable! What hypocrisy is this?

Islam is not a religion in which we can pick and choose what we like and dislike. Allah SWT says what can be translated as, "It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when Allāh and His Messenger have decided a matter, that they should [thereafter] have any choice about their affair. And whoever disobeys Allāh and His Messenger has certainly strayed into clear error." (33:36)

We cannot claim our rights while disowning our responsibilities--that is the nature of oppression, and tyranny. The Prophet Muhammad (saaws) reminded his Companions to "Fear Allah concerning women! Verily you have taken them on the security of Allah, and intercourse with them has been made lawful unto you by words of Allah." (Muslim) That hadith goes on to list the rights of the wife, and of the husband. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as "And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable." (2:228) This is Islam, a religion with guidance and wisdom from our Lord. It is imperative that we heed His words, and those of His Messenger, and not strip our brothers and sisters of their rights, which are from Allah.

For my part, I hope that men who do pick what they want, especially in marriage rights, don't make up a majority--for sure, there are not many such among my acquaintance, and I prefer to believe (in absence of proof to the contrary) that these are the exception rather than the rule.


the crazy jogger said...

I thnk tht these husbands dont realize tht just bcuz we can do it doesnt really means tht we should do it. or we HAVE to do it.

jana z. said...

im not going to go too far with this because i get very irritated. yes yes yes men are allowed more than one wife. but ive often questioned the courtship involved in pursing wife # 2, 3 or 4. even when a man is looking for wife #1 he was not supposed to be dating her...going to her home...taking her out to dinner without a chaperone. yet in many instances, this is what we see. the muslim man and the woman (whether she be muslim or not) DATING. and the first wife is at home tending to the home and the family.

in reality, there are very few men who can really make polygamy work the way Allah advised..yet the ones that are the least capable do it anyway and leave a trail or heartache and pain behind them.

Jamilah said...

I've had the same thoughts about how a muslim man marries a non muslim woman. How does he meet her? She does not have a wali usually? He is seeing her uncovered, talking and flirting with her? How does that all work?

jana z. said...

jamilahz..just like youre saying, talking flirting, uncovered. its totally not right. but its not just non muslim women..there are a couple of circumstances that i know of personally where the woman is a muslim and she is "dating" the future hubby. there are instances that you dont even want to know about..they will make your eyes roll backwards.

Jamilah said...

Yes, I guess I'm getting a bit off topic, because I'm not really talking about multiple wives but how muslim men go about meeting their non muslim spouses..

Amy said...

It didn't really occur to me in this post to consider how a man would go about courting a non-Muslim woman... that's a completely different bag of worms, altogether.

Jamilah is right, there are cases (looking at myself first) where a couple is pretty much dating.

Some brothers even excuse their behavior, saying they need to get to know the sister... HELLO? Get to know, over time--you don't have to spend weeks glued to each other every free minute.

Christian the Christian said...

Curious because this is new to me, but how would this "allowance" (men allowed to have multiple wives) work in Ameria (or other countries) that does not allow polygamy? Does the country's law(s) have any bearing on this practice? just curious. also, you, as a woman (and the other women posting), do seem to support the idea of multiple wives, but seem to hope your husband (present or future) doesn't practice it. do you have a voice in the decision? again, just curious.
very interesting post. thank you.

Amy said...

Hi Christian--I won't try to speak for the other sisters, but I myself would (will) accept polygyny for myself, with a few preconditions, like the ability of the man to provide for both households and his fear of God in being equitable. It's more important to me that my husband be just, and fair, than that he be monogamous.

The country's laws can be an impediment. Some people don't register their marriages (perhaps they can't), but because the marriage isn't on the books, it's actually questionable as to the illegality of it. In front of the law, they are only two people living together; or a man supporting a woman in the manner of a mistress. The difference is that they have signed an Islamic contract. It's imperative that both people respect that contract, though, as it might be more difficult to enforce.

That said, moving to a country where polygamy is somewhat more acceptable is an option utilized by some such couples. It is still very rare in the USA to find polygamous marriages among Muslims, despite media to the contrary.

A woman can have a voice in the decision, though. Her husband certainly does not need her permission to marry, but especially if she stipulates in the marriage contract ahead of time, she can ask for a divorce if her husband takes another wife. The husband would of course know that, and know that his wife would be entitled to a divorce if he wanted to marry someone else. That could be a deterrent. Although ultimately she does not have the power to prevent it--nor should she, in my opinion--a wife does have a voice to ensure that her rights are protected.

jana z. said...

actually the prophet, pbuh, told us to respect the oaths and allegiances that we make. and when muslims live as a minority in a country, we are told that we are not to break the rules of that country where we abide....even though islam rules our lives and that is what we practice, we are still not to break the law!

as far as supporting polygamy, yes and no...its permitted by God true. but only ONLY in the best of circumstances and most men dont meet the criteria.

and of course i hope my husband never takes another wife. but if he does, it is his right but its also my right to leave the marriage.

Jamilah said...

Its a strange law to have sort of... I mean its ok for a man to be married and have a girlfriend but its not ok for him to marry 2 women?

Amy said...

I agree with Jamilah, that the law itself seems pretty weird.

But it seems likely that civil partnerships will be allowed in this country in the next few years (or maybe decades.) Islam of course would never condone gay marriage for example, and I'm sure we as Muslims don't, but if you think about what America stands for... why shouldn't two consenting adults who want the legal entitlements of marriage be able to get them? And there is a strong push in this country in that direction.

And if the law allows gay marriage, there really won't be any reason to further ban polygamy, provided all parties involved consent to the situation.

Just my thoughts on that.

And I know you might not like this opinion, but I do think that polygyny can be an arrangement that is BETTER and prevents harm. In fact it, it might have enough good in it, and prevent enough harm, that it would be acceptable to sort of shadily evade the law (I'm not convinced unregistered polygamy technically breaks the law.)

Especially in the case of a widow or divorcee, even more so with children.

We often see the harm, but the benefit of the arrangement, and that it might provide a stable situation for more people, indicates that maybe the case isn't as clear-cut wrong as some people want it to be.

kaalimaat said...

A man would not accept to share his woman, why do we have to share men? Its unatural. Also what is the point of having a partner when 3 or 4 nights of the week he is away, the whole point of getting married is to have ONE family, grow old togather, become best friends and share the good moments in life. Societies in the West is not suitable for polygamous marriages. Some women in muslim countries agree to become second or third wives mainly for financial reasons. But we live in the West and every woman should be able to support herself. Why do we have low expectations of women who are widows or divorcees, they dont need the pity of a married man. If you pity a woman then marriage is not the only way you can help that person, i think most of the time its an excuse to get a second wife, only that in reality they will go for a 20 year old.

Amy said...

Hi Kaalimaat, thanks for commenting.

Firts of all, you said, "A man would not accept to share his woman, why do we have to share men? Its unatural."

The reply to this is that it's not unnatural--doesn't the Creator know His creation? As Muslims we believe that God understands us, and what is natural--and if there were more harm then benefit in polygyny, He wouldn't have permitted it. Muslims trust in His wisdom.

Now to another comment, "But we live in the West and every woman should be able to support herself."

In fact, as a Muslim, I reject this statement that everyone woman "should be able to" support herself. Why? What if she cannot? Is she deficient in your eyes? Islam actually demands that a woman's husband, father, brother, even sons if they are old enough, take care of her. She has responsibilities--like raising the children, for example. That is her job. So a society (like the West) which demands that she also financially support herself is in fact doing her an injustice, taking away her right to be with and raise her children. Islam on the other hand makes a way for her to do that.

Lastly, it is not "pity" for a divorced or widowed woman to want another husband, even a polygynous one. Marriage is NOT just about financial support, it is also about companionship, and that might be a preferable arrangement for such a woman--that doesn't make it pity.

Anonymous said...

Salaam, amy, and others:

Amy writes: "That said, moving to a country where polygamy is somewhat more acceptable is an option utilized by some such couples. It is still very rare in the USA to find polygamous marriages among Muslims, despite media to the contrary. "

My comment: Actually, it is quite prevalent among the black Muslim community here in the US -- I read about that recently (I think NPR's website) while this Texas case was raging on and on!

I don't know too much about this subject as a new revert to Islam, having come from a thoroughly rigid concept of "one man, one woman" regardless of the situation.

Amy said...

Wasalaam alaikum Faris

I heard that NPR story but really I still think polygamy is the exception, rather than the rule.

And I'm sure your wife (one day inshaaAllah) will appreciate your "rigid" one woman-one man concept. :-)

kalimaat said...

Well sister the Islam that is in the Quran and books is theory, the reality is that many muslim women are the breadwinners for their families. If a woman is illiterate you dont offer to read for her, instead you teach her how to read. If a woman cannot support herself she should be offered help, skills and education to stand on her own two feet, not get married for financial reasons. If someone wants to enter into such marriage its their choice but they should consider the implications for their children and put them first. The society in the West is not suitable for multiple marriages for obvious reasons.

Amy said...

Thanks again for your comment Kalimaat.

The Islam that is in Qur'an, and the books--that is law. It's not just "theory" but something that every Muslim should be striving for. We cannot cherry pick which parts we like and which we don't--it is the totality which ensures justice for everyone.

If a woman wants to be a breadwinner and feels good in that role, it certainly doesn't bother me. But she shouldn't be forced into that role, because her husband is not able to care for children the way she can. He cannot breastfeed them, for physical example, but there are emotional reasons as well which show that a woman is more suited. In Islam, it's her right to do that without having to be the breadwinner for a lazy husband.

And I certainly don't advocate ignorance for women--Islam commands education for both men and women, both are supposed to learn their religion.

It is unfortunate so many women are illiterate but you'll note it is in so-called "Third World" countries where the bulk of the population is living in poverty without access to educational institutions. It has absolutely no relationship to the religion.