Monday, June 02, 2008

Nuptial Impropriety?

1. Boy sees girl.
2. Boy pesters girl's wali.
3. Boy meets girl.
4. Boy woos girl.
5. Boy marries girl.

That seems simple enough, right? But let's start complicating it. Boy is married--let's call him Zayd. The girl knows--let's call her Zaynab. The wife (we'll just call her Zayd's wife) knows her husband is courting a second wife, even over her objections. At some point between steps 4 and 5, let's say 4.5, all parties--Zayd, his wife, his children, and Zaynab--all meet to discuss the situation. Naturally Zayd's wife still objects but is given very little say in the matter.

Zaynab is easily wooed by Zayd, accepts the notion of polygyny and is even convinced of Zayd's capacity to be fair and just between wives. After a few weeks of intense courtship, Zayd and Zaynab get married at the spur of the moment, with the consent of Zaynab's wali of course, but in privacy with respect to the rest of the community. Thereafter, Zaynab proceeds to introduce the man to her friends, inquiring as to their opinion of her new husband.

Now, doesn't it seem more logical to petition one's friends for opinions before contracting the marriage? I'm not a fan of overly long engagements myself, and to publicize an engagement which is not certain can be difficult for some couples, if they decide in the end to not get married. But somehow, "Surprise, we got married today!" doesn't seem like the right course.

If the thought "Did Zayd tell his wife about the marriage?" is going through your head, I'm sorry to tell you the answer is "Not yet." And when asked when he planned to tell her, he said "In three days." What is the significance of three days, I wonder? I'm still wondering.

I sometimes gauge how appropriate an activity might be by how much I wish to keep it to myself--the inherent shame associated with it is a kind of guide suggesting that it is probably not a good thing. And if a marriage has to be kept secret at the beginning--from friends, family, spouses--then is it really such an occasion for joy?

And if considering someone for marriage, why not introduce the person beforehand? Why not ask, before signing the contract, what other people think?

Because for me, "Surprise, we got married today!" followed by, "What do you think?" with a coy wink seems to only engender the following response, "You didn't seem to want to know before, and I doubt you'd appreciate what I think right now." After all that skirting around, my opinion is far from favorable.


Aliocha said...

This is probably not what you want to hear, but is it possible that you are bringing your christian notion of marriage into your new faith and your new cultural milieu?

You want your husband to commit to monogamy. That's fair enough, especially since you'll be clear about it from the start.

Now what does upset you so much in the fact of a man getting a second wife without telling the first one? Isn't it the fact that you feel he shouldn't even get another wife in the first place, because this is not fair to the first? Isn't it that at your basic instincts you can accept polygamy as a concession from the wife to her husband, but not as natural right of the husband, one for which he doesn't need his wife's permission?

In the christian notion of marriage, there is a bilateral commitment in which the husband and wife offer themselves to each other. They commit to each other. To have a second wife or a second husband doesn't make sense because it is like giving Jane a gift you already gave to Mary, and then force them to share. If you do that , then you weren't really giving it to Mary in the first place. If you gave it, it is no longer yours.

The original christian meaning of marriage even goes further than that: it is the kind of commitment that doesn't allow a return, a step-back. Because that also wouldn't be fair to the other spouse. If someone offers his life day by day and then is abandoned it is absolutely unfair. Unfortunately, most protestans have lost this sense and allow for divorce, but it shouldn't be allowed.

How would you react if Zayd would abandon his first wife because he is happier with Zaynab?

Or, even simpler, if he starts prefering Zaynab over his first wife, what will his children feel? How are they going to be caught up in the mess between their parents?

What is marriage for you? A contract? A commitment? A gift of yourself?
What are the implications of a marriage for you? Do you expect your husband not to keep secrets from you? Do you expect him not to make decisions without hearing you first? Do you consider yourself bound to do the same?

Amy said...

Hi Aliocha--that was a deep comment. I was thinking I'd making another post about the polygyny issue altogether, but I'll go ahead and reply to you hear.

It might be possible I'm bringing my christian background into my perspective on this marriage, but I don't think so. You see, I'm actually not looking at the story from the perspective of the first wife--I'm looking at it from outside, behind Zaynab really, who is my gate to the situation.

I actually accept polygyny as a right of the man, but also a responsibility for a husband and father. Islamically he must be fair between his wives--fair in all material means, like his time, and his money.

I am upset in this case not that there was a second wife, but the manner in which the second wife was obtained, which strikes me as horribly unfair to the first. It isn't the taking of a second wife which I think is unfair--but I do think that Zayd's behavior with Zaynab prior to and immediately after the marriage was not appropriate per Islamic standards. It was less about the wife's permission, and more about openness among peers and the community at large.

And unlike Catholics, Muslims believe that divorce should be allowed, and there are many reasons for that. Sometimes a marriage just doesn't work.

If we look at Zayd, who certainly seems to be preferring Zaynab at this time--I did not elaborate about how much time he spent with her before the marriage, but I'm sure it was most if not all of his free time. That alone is unfair to the first wife--and getting to know a woman, prospecting as a second wife, should not be done in such a way that it compromises the rights of the first wife.

About giving a gift to Jane and Mary. I don't see the situation the way you do. I expect to 'give' myself to my husband, but I would not belong to him. And I expect that he would 'give' himself to me, but I would not own him.

To answer your last paragraph, a marriage is all those things. Contract, commitment, and gift. I expect that my husband would include me in affairs that relate to the marriage. In the case of polygyny, I would not expect him to share secrets of his other wife, and I would expect him to keep my secrets as well, from her. I would expect that he would inform me and include me in his decisions--where we would live, for example, is a decision that all parties should have a say in.

In summary, I think the situation describes is NOT a proper example of polygyny, a situation which I think can be successful. I think that Zayd and Zaynab did not handle the situation appropriately, disrespecting the bond with the first wife and excluding her from their decision and for the time being, concealing it from her. But also concealing it from friends and family, and the community at large. That secrecy is utterly inappropriate.

alajnabiya said...

Isn't making the marriage known publicly one of the requirements of marriage in Islam? And how can you say someone is making an effort to be fair between two wives if he is denying one of them knowledge of a very important fact?

Anonymous said...

"I sometimes gauge how appropriate an activity might be by how much I wish to keep it to myself--the inherent shame associated with it is a kind of guide suggesting that it is probably not a good thing."

Very well said and sums up my opinion on the matter perfectly. That a woman is willing to be a dirty little secret is sad because she deserves better than that.

I came to your blog on the heels of reading this blog:
What a coincidence.

As far as friends asking for opinions after the fact: yeah... I've come to realize that most people do not want advice or (differing) opinions on their love lives. They're going to do what they are going to do, regardless. If I am asked, or if I see a friend doing something truly bone-headed, I try to say something, but very politely and gently. After the fact, there is no point in sharing your opinion if it's negative... The deed is done!

Amy said...


Salaam, thanks for your comment. You're right--it's definitely important Islamically to publicize the marriage. That means to tell the wife too, doesn't it? And right away, not several days, weeks, or months later!

And being fair to the wives--you're right, keeping that secret from one isn't fair.

But what about a man who isn't even fair in his time during courtship? Who gives the non-wife a disproportionate abundance of his time, with the excuse that she isn't his wife so he doesn't have to be fair in his time!? That just shows someone who is NOT at all determined to be fair to his wives.

It makes my stomach turn.

Amy said...

Eyes serene--thanks for reading and leaving a comment. I agree that people generally don't want other people's opinions on their love life. Which makes it so sad to see an unsavory character wooing one's friend, blinding her to his faults, so she only exposes him after the marriage. That she didn't want anyone to meet him beforehand might be a kind of indicator she knows she wasn't making a good choice... but I guess I really don't know.