*Please note that the opinions expressed in this post, like all op-ed pieces on MM, represent the viewpoint of the author, and are not necessarily endorsed by all MM writers*
By Irum Sarfaraz
The wise have said that no matter how strong a person is, he definitely has one Achilles heel. Compared to women of any other society and religion, I consider Muslim women no less an epitome of wonder women. And their Achilles heel? Their husband's second marriage. Its been years and years and I still haven't found a single woman who wouldn't object to her husband's second marriage and would be willing to have a big heart just for the sake of two reasons; Islam has given him to permission to and he wants to. If ever I am in a really boring party where chances of the guests falling asleep are getting really strong, I shoot this question and lo and behold they are all not only awake but arguing in such heated contention as if their husbands are just about to get married in the next room!
I know it is a cultural phenomena and one of the stigmas of the Asian societies that 'a husband's second wife is the worst thing that can happen to a woman'. The Arabs have no issue with it because that is the way they've been raised to view it. Women in any other culture on the other hand have been taught that this is the worst crisis that can befall a married woman. In my personal opinion, and much as I regret and hate to state the truth, the worst thing that can happen to a woman in the Pakistani society is divorce. After that she becomes free game. So she might as well have a husband with two wives than no husband at all. I also think that if this tradition of keeping multiple wives would become more common, not only would the women in all Islamic cultures besides the Arabs would start viewing it differently but it would also solve the growing 'finding a match' crisis in the majority of Muslim societies as well.
But even after years of reflection and consideration, I still haven't been able to put a finger on why the vast majority of Muslim wives cannot stand to even discuss the topic without losing their cool. How do I view the situation? First of all if Allāh has permitted it, how can one oppose it or be 'totally against it'? I just cannot see the logic in it. Secondly, since women tend to view the situation extremely personally, if you can't keep an animal tied up in your yard forcibly, how can you keep a human being? If a husband wants to marry again, why should he be stopped? Of course he should be able to support two wives and be willing to keep equality between them. But that is not for the women to worry about. That is between him and Allāh. Islam has said that he should attempt multiple marriages only if he is able to keep equality. But that would be a discussion for the men. My argument is that Muslim women first need to get the 'hang of the idea' that if their husband wants to get married, he should be allowed to do so without the usual excessive fuss and ruckus associated with the event.
If one was to extend the discussion on 'how this is more of a personal issue and than a religious one', as put forth by almost everyone who opposes it, I personally believe that one of the major reasons why a man would want to keep two wives is because is 'out' of love with the first one and 'in' love with someone else. Why he is 'out' of love is not the point here. The point is that if he is then why should the first wife care what he does or doesn't do when the major factor, love, has fallen out of her equation with him? She cannot keep him tied to you forcibly. So why are Muslim women still hell bent to oppose a law pre-determined by Allāh? Point to ponder, are the women who see no harm in force, coercion and threats to keep the husband to themselves looking for 'khairat' or love? Even if they are unwilling to give the situation the benefit of the religious ruling they should still realize that by employing force they not only push their husband even further but also lose respect in his eyes in the process. Yes there are instances when men do love the first wife but still marry for children. But these are exceptional cases but I have also seen men so much in love with their first wife that they prefer to be childless than marry someone else and hurt the feelings of the first.
Let's talk about why women oppose the idea so passionately even when they know that he is allowed by Islam. Someone suggested that the innate possessive nature of a woman does not allow her to share her husband with another woman. But if the husband wants to marry someone else, is he still emotionally the husband that she should be so innately possessive about? If he has no regards for her feelings, what is the point of being possessive about him? The love is gone anyway. Another lady suggested that if the husband is looking for another partner, it means that she is not the ideal wife for him any longer and hence she should try to find out what is causing him to distance himself by seeking another soul-mate. Good point but again, there are rare instances when the wife does not try to find out what is happening from her side, 'ihtesab', and tries to make amends, scared by just the threat of a second marriage. She does try to fix the leaks in the ship of her marriage to the best of her knowledge and capability. But if the husband thwarts any sincere efforts from the wife to make amends, if needed, and continues the litany of a second wife then all the more reason to let him off the hook. If despite all efforts from the wife to make things 'better' he still wants to marry, then that translates into an even better bargain for the present wife as now she has even less to regret that she didn't try to 'make the marriage work'. She should now think impartially that as long as her rights as a wife are fully taken care of and her kids still have the father around, that's a very very good bargain.
But this second marriage tête-à-tête is not a big but always a HUGE deal to women who take any such discourse as a personal attack on their relationship with their husbands. I just want to get to the bottom of why women oppose what Islam permits. I am not asking anyone to actually find their husband a second wife. One of my friends said:
'Why does it upset women? Ask yourself. Show me a single woman who would like to share their husband with anyone. It's the same topic as the age old conflict between mothers in laws and daughter in laws. The average mother in law believes that even after marrying her son to her daughter in law, she still 'owns' him totally. If women can't handle a mother in law butting in their lives all the time, just imagine how they would feel about another woman taking over their exact place. No way…..'
I know this is a point that many others would have in their minds but I don't think, despite the fact that the mother in law and wife are also two women fighting over the husband, that it is even remotely the same thing as letting your husband marry another lady. As I pointed out earlier, the second marriage means that the emotional attachment just isn't there for the first wife or even if it is, it will lessen, if not diminish entirely, as the husband is now sharing that pool of love with another person. With love and attachment lessened, the fight and resistance will lessen too. So no, I don't think it would make any sense to compare the mother in law/wife tussle, in which the ferocity of the fight never lessens but only increases, with first-wife/second-wife tussle, in which the players eventually come to terms with the new modes of relationship. And believe me, they do.
There is another common reaction of the majority of women in this instance that if ever their husband mentions second marriage, they would walk out as they have been given the religious right to do so. But that is not a healthy or proper reaction. This shows an eye-for-an-eye attitude. A lady reacts to this by saying,
'The Qurʾān has clearly stated that a man can keep four wives simultaneously. Allāh has given him the permission. So how can a woman say no to that…are you saying no to Allāh taala?? Ok and about she being 'free to walk out' but that would be demanding something that Allāh intensely dislikes, divorce, for something that Allāh has given permission for. And what about the children, how is she going to raise them and help them to grow? Is she going to deprive them of a father and a normal family life at the hands of her obstinacy, jealousy and stubbornness?'
In my opinion, this lady made a lot of practical sense. I also got this heated tart response:
'I refuse to agree with you. Maintaining equality between wives might be his problem, but in what context is it not our problem? Any woman will go through “—–” (excuse my French) when she hears that her husband is going to remarry……and by expecting a “human being ” not to feel, think and imagine the repercussions due to this, in my humble opinion, is being nothing short of hypocrisy. If a 2nd marriage situation arises in my case I really don't know what I will do but one thing I definitely won't be doing is singing and dancing at his wedding. The initial period would be nerve racking, depressing etc. but ultimately I would treat him completely as an acquaintance in my life and nothing else. As far as the kids are concerned, I would not come between them and their father but GOD knows how that's going to give a “normal” life to anyone'.
This can perhaps be called the response that best reflects the mindset of the majority and indicates that such women are really attached to their husbands. Maybe even to the point of being jealous and possessive. Very common trait in women. I don't know about other societies but if readers of Pakistani origin were to analyze objectively they would have to admit that there are tens of Pakistani wives who are even hesitant to hire pretty maids in their homes. Hmm. Possession and jealousy in full play.
Nevertheless, I would like to tie up the whole discussion with a simple thought. We are all commodities of Allāh and He has already drafted the rules and regulations for our lives and how He wants us to live them. We do what he says and nothing more. If it is hard for some people then they should still accept it as Allāh's will and their 'azmaish' instead of wailing, lamenting and denouncing the rule. The boundaries have already been sketched out by Him so let's not talk about 'feelings of giving and sharing' or 'we are not commodities'. Another lady agreed with these words,
'You know what ladies! The problem is with that little sound within ourselves, the sound that tells us 'I am the greatest'… THE EGO…. In this matter as well as any other, this little sound makes our heads swell, and we say, “Why should we share? We are individuals, we have an entity.” Allāh says, according to Hadith Qudsi, 'Do not Takabbur, Takabbur belongs to me.”
Point being, get rid of that ego thing. Bow in front of Allāh's raza'.
Right on the dot.