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Poly Frequently Asked Questions: Part 1

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Polygamy is that hot topic that no one can get enough of, yet for all the debate surrounding it, it is rare to hear from Muslim men and women who are actually living it in their everyday lives. How can one truly form an educated opinion or understanding, then, if all one ever hears about are the horror stories or the emotional personal debates from people who are most decidedly not living in it, and have no intention of doing so?

To shed more nuanced light on this contentious subject, I present to you this list of Frequently Asked (polygamy) Questions – from my own perspective as a second wife, living in North America, in a polygamous marriage of almost seven years.

Disclaimer: The answers below are reflective of my own personal situation, experiences, and feelings about polygamy. This will undoubtedly differ from others’ experiences and perspectives about polygamy. 

Why would a woman choose polygamy?

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Many women actively choose polygamy for themselves, as second, third, and fourth wives, for a variety of reasons. 

Some of those reasons may include: being divorced or widowed, sometimes with children, and wanting to have the emotional and financial support of a husband without requiring him present at all times; being invested in one’s studies or career, and wanting a husband but also recognizing that monogamy might have higher demands in terms of time and wifely responsibilities; wanting a husband but not wanting (or able to have) children, whereas a married man may already have children and not want more; meeting a married man and finding him to be good marriage material, while not finding the same kind of compatibility amongst single men. Financial stability, emotional fulfillment, and physical needs are all (valid) factors that women consider when choosing polygamy. 

Often, for many women, the allure of polygamy lies in being able to have a fulfilling spousal relationship, while also having their own time and space. 

Of course, there are many other individual reasons that a woman may choose to enter a polygamous marriage. It is important to remember that as long as the individuals involved are conducting themselves ethically, without transgressing the rights of others (e.g. the first/ other wives, any children involved), that one should not immediately negatively judge or condemn women (or men) who choose polygamy. 

Does a man need the first wife’s permission to marry a second wife? If he does marry a second wife but hides it, is that his right and is it okay?

A Muslim man does not technically need the first wife’s permission to marry a second wife, but I am personally adamantly against any situation where the first wife has not freely given her consent. Note that I said “freely” – emotionally guilt tripping women, threatening them with divorce or withholding custody of their children from them, and other such nefarious tactics to pressure women into ‘accepting polygamy’ are not equivalent to consent without coercion. In fact, in some Muslim countries, such as Malaysia, the man must provide proof of the first wife’s consent in order for his second marriage to be considered legally valid.

If a Muslim man does marry a second (or subsequent) wife in secret, then he needs to remember that lying is a sin – even and especially to his wife. He must make sure that he is not treating either of the wives unjustly, as RasulAllah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) mentioned the severity of punishment for that crime.

It was narrated from Abu Hurayrah [ranhiu] that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: 

“Whoever has two wives and favours one of them over the other, will come on the Day of Resurrection with one of his sides leaning.”

 Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (1141), Abu Dawood (2133), al-Nasaa’i (3942) and Ibn Majaah (1969). Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Targheeb wa’l-Tarheeb (no. 1949).

 

How can one make sure that the first wife is comfortable with the situation?

Have open, honest conversations with the first wife or prior wives before the poly marriage takes place. Never rely on the man to be the go-between – too many men have lied or misrepresented things to one or both women, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts. 

Be kind and respectful, but also establish boundaries, and understand the difference between being considerate and accommodating, and being manipulated/ walked over/ taken advantage of/ abused. 

Understand that in many cases, a first wife may consent to polygamy and think that she’ll be okay with it, but once the marriage takes place, reality will set in and she will go through many challenges. In these situations, having healthy discussions and establishing boundaries will be extremely valuable.

If we knew more about poly in reality, would men and women romanticize it less?

Most women probably don’t have a romanticized view of it to begin with, but many Muslim men certainly do. And yes, the more people learn about poly realities, the more likely it is they will realize how serious and emotionally challenging it can be! All the convenient lines that are trotted out about “taking care of widows and divorcees,” or “I can provide a happy relationship to another woman,” or whatever else men think to themselves will come to a grinding halt once they have to actually deal with the daily issues of poly reality. 

How can/ do wives deal with jealousy regarding the other wife/wives?

Overcoming jealousy and insecurities is a learned skill that people must practice in order to become successful at – and you can never guarantee that you’ll fully get over it, either! I highly recommend doing research on self-development on how to deal with jealousy in general; although this situation is a little more niche and more sensitive, the same principles apply in overcoming jealousy/ insecurities in polygamy as they do elsewhere. 

There are a few things to keep in mind: each wife, and potentially even the husband, will discover unexpected insecurities and other emotional challenges when they enter poly. 

First wives often struggle with the sense of being cheated on (even though they know that this is a halal marriage, and they – presumably – have consented to remaining within the marriage), or as though they are being replaced by a newer, hotter model. They may wonder if their husbands still truly love them or are attracted to them.

Second (and subsequent) wives may compare themselves to the first wife, feeling insecure about their established history with the husband and the loyalty that he has towards her. 

For all women, the best way to deal with this jealousy is to shift their internal attention away from the other wife/wives and comparing themselves, and instead focus on their own personal positive qualities and strengthening their individual marriages. Rather than focusing on what the other wife has, focus on what you are bringing to your relationship, and what you can do to improve both yourself and the relationship. Self-growth is key!

Self-reflection, journaling, open and honest discussions with your husband (make sure they are healthy, productive discussions instead of combative ones), and even therapy can all be valuable methods of overcoming insecurities and jealousies in polygamy. 

How should a husband respond to/ accommodate for wives’ jealousy?

It is important for polygamous husbands to exercise a great deal of patience in dealing with jealousy issues – but equally important to maintain healthy boundaries so that “dealing with jealousy” doesn’t devolve into abuse (in the sense of wives exhibiting toxic behaviours under the excuse of ‘coping with jealousy’).

Husbands should be reassuring, ensuring that they do not compare the wives and rather affirm their positive individual qualities. Strengthening the individual relationship and giving spontaneous gifts and leaving random positive notes or messages are also valuable tools. 

Conflict resolution is also a very important skill for both husbands and wives to develop and utilize when dealing with jealousy related issues.

How does one manage conflicts between co-wives? Should the husband get involved, or should he stay out of it and let the wives solve it?

Ideally, all parties should be mature, responsible, and handle conflict in a rational, healthy manner. Unfortunately, in reality, there is a lot of potential for toxic behaviours and cycles.

This is something that should be discussed before polygamy is established, and should be actively worked on during poly. Boundaries must be made clear, as well as the extent of communication between the co-wives – the latter may change over the years, which will necessitate more discussions regarding conflict resolution and management.

The husband’s involvement depends on what the situation/ conflict is. Every situation will also have different dynamics between each person, and the wisest course of action in any given circumstance will likely depend on those dynamics as well.

What if the first wife agrees to polygamy, then regrets it later and wants to go back on it?

This is a difficult situation, and one that cannot be dealt with lightly.

With regards to the first wife, once she has freely consented to polygamy, and the second/ subsequent marriage has taken place, then she must realize that this is now a situation where another entire marriage is impacted.

It is an act of great sin for her to do anything to cause a divorce for the other wife. 

Al-Bukhaari (5152) and Muslim (1408) narrated from Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: 

“It is not permissible for a woman to ask for her sister to be divorced so as to deprive her of what is rightfully hers and take it for herself; rather she will have what has been decreed for her.”

This is marriage, not a game – there are no take backsies. 

Unfortunately, too many women think that the second/ subsequent wife is just a temporary fling, rather than another Muslim woman with a valid marriage, whose relationship deserves to be respected. No matter how much one hates it, they must know that they cannot abuse the other woman (or their shared husband), and that they will be accountable for their behaviour and any transgressions of others’ rights on the Day of Judgement. 

If a first wife truly feels that she cannot cope with polygamy, she does have the Shar’i (legal Islamic) right to seek a divorce. Of course, this is easier said than done, for a myriad of reasons. Ultimately, there is no easy answer to this situation.

How does one navigate in-law relationships in polygamy?

This will depend on each individual situation and require consideration of factors such as the circumstances under which polygamy is taking place, physical location, cultural background of the families involved, how the families feel, and so on. 

Some people may choose to keep things distant and separate, while cordial and civil; others may deal with families that completely disapprove of polygamy and choose not to have anything to do with the new husband/ wife. How people choose to handle these in-law relationships will differ widely. The most important thing to keep in mind is the importance of maintaining the ties of kinship, even during fraught times, and to make du’a that Allah softens the hearts of those who are upset or angry. 

Am I wrong for asking a marriage potential to get tested for STDs prior to joining a poly situation?

Not at all! In fact, this is a really good idea, and is done in quite a few Muslim countries. It is important to see it from the lens of protecting one’s health, and not putting oneself in the position of harming or being harmed. Medical health is a serious priority that must be considered.

How does one legally protect themselves in polygamy if they live in a country that doesn’t allow poly?

This is a tough one, largely depending on what country one is in, laws regarding cohabitation or polyamory and polygamy, child custody laws, health insurance and healthcare issues, and more. 

One idea would be to have a contract with provisions regarding inheritance and so on laid out and notarized so that it can be referred to as a legally binding document. 

Ultimately, it would be best to do a great deal of research and consult a lawyer on how to navigate these issues. 

What is your advice to someone who wants to be okay with polygamy but isn’t/ feels unsure about it?

This is rather difficult to answer.

It is okay to recognize that you’re not cut out for polygamy or don’t want it in your life – it’s not most people’s cup of tea. Even Fatimah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) bint RasulAllah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) disliked the idea of polygamy and didn’t want her husband to marry again in her lifetime.

For some people, life experiences shape their perception of polygamy – for better or for worse. Some people may never be okay with it, and that’s fine; others may find themselves in situations where they consider it a practical solution for themselves, or in an emotional space where they aren’t troubled by the concept of polygamy and what it entails. 

No one should feel pressured into polygamy when they aren’t comfortable with it or don’t think they can handle it. The Shari’ah recognizes that not all women will want to be in, or remain in, polygamous marriages, and provides them with the provision to leave if they so desire.

How does one respond to the argument that polygamy was meant to be phased out and abolished in Islam?

This is a very shaky argument to begin with. Allah tells us that He completed the Deen for us – that means there was nothing that was left out of Islam ‘by accident’ or otherwise. There are Divine wisdoms behind the permanent permissibility of polygamy, including the fact that it may become a necessary institution in certain times and places, even if this may not always be true all of the time. 

Islam already established strong rules and regulations regarding polygamy. Polygamy is neither obligatory nor a “right,” but a cautiously permitted permission from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Men who abuse polygamy for their own desires will face very severe consequences in the Aakhirah. 


There is much to be said on the topic of polygamy, and many more common questions to be answered! These are just a few of the frequently aired concerns regarding polygamy, and I pray that these answers have been helpful to readers. InshaAllah, future posts will address other issues related to polygamy. What topics would you like to see covered?

To read more about polygamy from this author, please see:

https://aljumuah.com/the-almost-polygynous-womans-checklist-1-zainab-bint-younus/

https://aljumuah.com/the-almost-polygynous-womans-checklist-2-zainab-bint-younus/

 

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Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of MuslimMatters.org.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. jarret Jeffery

    March 28, 2021 at 9:22 AM

    The sad truth is that many women would rather live alone then be a second wife. Also many men who marry a second wife are not fulfilling the rights of the first wife. Polygamy is halal because some men and some women can solve these problems and make it worse which is better than having tons of unmarried women in society, look at the statistics for single moms and their children, its not good.

  2. Mohamed Moustafa

    March 29, 2021 at 10:18 AM

    “I am personally adamantly against any situation where the first wife has not freely given her consent”

    No where in the Quran and sunnah does it say that the first wife’s consent is required or even recommended. We can even find hadiths where we see how Lady Aisha raa herself hated polygamy yet the Prophet PBUH went ahead with it anyways.

    Countries that require the first wife’s consent are no different than those who outright ban polygamy or niqab, they are improperly implementing sharia and should not be viewed in a good light. Frankly speaking I would expect that way of thinking from modernists like Amina Wadud so I am quite surprised you would hold similar views seeing your other articles.

    “If a first wife truly feels that she cannot cope with polygamy, she does have the Shar’i (legal Islamic) right to seek a divorce.”

    Interesting, was not aware of that. Can you provide reference for this. Which madhabs allow for it and where I can read into this.

    “Even Fatimah raḍyAllāhu ‘anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) bint RasulAllah ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) disliked the idea of polygamy”

    This again is incorrect. What she did not like was not polygamy, but that her future sister wife would be the daughter of Abu Jahl, a great enemy of islam.

    The full hadith for example is:

    ‘Ali bin Husain said that Miswar bin Makhramah told him that:
    ‘Ali bin Abu Talib proposed to the daughter of Abu Jahl, when he was married to Fatimah the daughter of the Prophet. When Fatimah heard of that she went to the Prophet, and said: “Your people are saying that you do not feel angry for your daughters. This ‘Ali is going to marry the daughter of Abu Jahl.” Miswar said: “The Prophet stood up, and I heard him when he bore witness (i.e., said the Shahadah), then he said: ‘I married my daughter (Zainab) to Abul-As bin Rabi’, and he spoke to me and was speaking the truth. Fatimah bint Muhammad is a part of me, and I hate to see her faced with troubles. By Allah, the daughter of the Messenger of Allah and the daughter of the enemy of Allah will never be joined together in marriage to one man.” He said: So, ‘Ali abandoned the marriage proposal.

    Fatimah raa never mentioned polygamy. She SPECIFICALLY complained that he was going to marry the daughter of Abu Jahl. And the Prophet PBUH himself also explicitly stated what the issue was.

  3. Spirituality

    March 30, 2021 at 10:00 AM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Thank you Sister Zainab for this article. It is the best article I have read on the subject. As someone who is actually in a poly marriage, you speak from direct experience and not theory or emotion (either aversion, or wispy wishful thinking). Your article is considerate (of both the first wife and the husband) and practical.

    As a person who has been averse to polygamy, your article taught me that it can work for some people, although its no walk in the park!

  4. Hasan S

    April 7, 2021 at 11:24 AM

    I am not against polygyny Islamically speaking however taking a second wife in the West realistically means opening yourself to be charged legally as it is considered a felony in most states. If you get sick and in the hospital your husband cannot show proof of your marriage to visit you. Many things that require proof of marriage actually will be difficult such as taxes, finances, health care, etc. The previous imam in my community would not perform these nikahs because of the unforeseen circumstances the people fail to take into account.

  5. Anon

    April 14, 2021 at 5:47 PM

    Great article, but it doesn’t cover how Muslim men who are able to support a polygamous marriage can go about finding a second wife in the US. It seems impossible to even find someone who would be open to the idea.

  6. Maryam

    April 18, 2021 at 4:33 PM

    In response to brtoher Moustafa’s comment, the law is there to protect the rights of the first wife who might be being forced to consent or who’s rights may not be fullfilled while the husband might be thinking about a second wife for fun. There are a lot of men who do that now unfortunately.

    For instance during the time of Umer (RAA) three consequetive divorces were considered final even though that wasn’t the case suring the time of the Prophet (SAWS). This was done because it was noted that men were taking advantage of this law and taking divorce as a joke.

  7. Spirituality

    April 19, 2021 at 9:57 AM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Sr. Zainab, you mention you are a Canadian Muslim woman in your bio. I am assuming, although maybe wrong, that you live in Canada, and that your husband and his first wife also live in Canada.

    In future Q and As, I do hope you address the following questions, taking the Western setting into account.

    1. As you note, the Sharia strictly stipulates that the husband has to treat his wives equally (except, as I understand it, in terms of actually loving the spouses equally, which is deemed impossible. The Prophet (s) clearly loved Aisha (RA) more than his other wives at that time.) That being the case, is it even possible for a husband to treat his wives (and children from each of these wives) equally in the Western setting?

    a. Does he publicize both marriages equally, at the same time, to everyone? (Muslims, non-Muslims, etc).
    b. What about legal situations, as mentioned by Brother Hasan? (ie tax benefits, hospital visits, death benefits, etc).

    2. Anon wants to know how a Muslim husband who is able to support a polygamous marriage able to find someone who is open to the idea. Great question.

    3. I also have the converse question. How is a woman who maybe interested for whatever reason able to find a responsible man who is actually interested and fearful of fulling the rights of both/all of his wives? Most men considering polygamy seem interested in having more wives for more sex only. Many are addicted to porn and believe having an additional ‘outlet’ will cure them of this disease.

    I have heard it said that a man who does not have a successful first marriage should not consider a second marriage – he will fail at both. In that sense, in the western setting, why would a responsible man with a successful first marriage even consider a second marriage, taking into account all the challenges?

    Jazaki Allahu Khayran again for all your insights!

  8. Alex

    April 19, 2021 at 8:47 PM

    One question that is not addressed here is why the only permissible arrangement should be for a man to marry multiple wives rather than a woman marrying multiple men. Couldn’t several of these arguments work in either direction?

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