Weeks ago, I came across a fascinating blog diary of a non-Muslim woman, aged over 35, who shared her emotional everyday struggles as a spinster writing to her imaginary future son. She writes: “To radiate warmth, we women do need a man, otherwise our life is empty. Honestly speaking, we can have success in our career and many other great achievements, but nothing can compensate our desire for love, care, kids and family nest.” Reading her desperate lines, I was wondering that though the West puts monogamy on a pedestal and labels polygyny unjust and uncivilised (regardless that most men do have mistresses), if she had an option, would she choose to stay single and yearn for a family for the rest of her life, or would she prefer giving up some of her principles in order to join a polygynous marriage? In fact, what would I myself do in such situation?
After hearing distressing stories about the abuse of sisters forced into polygyny, it’s quite easy to be sceptical toward this type of marriage and say that I’d prefer dying alone than sharing my husband with someone. However, as Allah I has allowed it, we Muslims believe that polygyny must have some great wisdom behind it – but what? And why would a woman want to live in polygyny? I decided to get the other side of the story and talk to sisters who voluntarily entered polygyny and live happily in it.
The previous story of Mariam* and Fatimah* stands as a beautiful example of faithful sisters who are able to put aside jealousy, and support their sisters in Islam beyond words and money, forming a special sisterly bond by welcoming them into their own family. It gave hope that God-fearing brothers who are eager to provide for their families financially, physically and emotionally do exist. Hence, despite the heartbreaking reality of today’s polygynyous marriages, we need to realise that the problem lies in the wrong approach people take towards polygyny rather than the law itself; we need to admit that for many sisters, polygyny provides an opportunity for a happier and fuller life – just as in the following case of Amina and Aishah.
Destined to be polygynous
Amina, as most women, had regarded polygyny with mixed feelings. As a successful Muslim woman working in a Middle-Eastern city hours away from her family, she was desperately looking for someone who would finally chase away her feelings of depression, loneliness and insecurity. But after a failed engagement, Amina began to consider that she might never marry and start her own family. Then, in her late 30s, finally she found ‘The One’, who happened to have been married for 20 years.
Maintaining a desire to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW), the man Amina met had already set his sights on taking a second wife. However, living in polygyny wasn’t Amina’s original plan. Therefore, when he came up with the marriage proposal, she carefully considered her decision and agreed to the marriage a couple of years or so later.
“I think it’s hard to live in polygyny today, but it can work since societies have increasing numbers of singletons over the age of 40 who might not have another opportunity to marry or re-marry. Personally, I never imagined myself to be polygynous, and I admit I was reluctant at first, but accepted the idea later as I had grown to love my husband’s character.”
Amina says that although her marriage isn’t unproblematic, just like any other marriage, it does have its positive side.
“Obviously, there are times when I do get jealous of my co-wife, who unfortunately never wanted to meet me, as I feel my husband gives more time to his first home because he has more kids and responsibilities there. But he usually pays an hour visit every day and sleeps here every second night. Besides, I also enjoy having more time to wash, clean and cook when he’s not with me, and I am free to go shopping or visit my family. After giving birth to our son, eventually my life became busier, anyway,” she smiles.
Amina admits that despite struggling with the hardships of a polygynous marriage, she feels contentment in polygyny that shields her from a lonely life without children and family.
“I just keep busy and tell myself when my husband is not with me that he is simply at work or travelling. However, I must admit that at times, I regret my decision, but when I remember my life prior to marriage and how much we love each other, I happily accept my life. It seems polygyny was my destiny,” Amina concludes.
Polygyny suits me
While Amina’s reason to enter polygyny was being a singleton over 30, Aishah was already out of a failed marriage by then. Shortly after becoming Muslim, she retired from a nearly 20-year career in law and decided to leave the US to travel to the Middle East.
Over the years, Aishah grew weary of ‘secret’ and ‘green card’ marriage proposals, and proposals with unfathomable expectations, such as giving up her two cats!
Finally, when she least expected it, Aishah met a compatible marriage partner who happened to be a lawyer, open-minded enough to consider that polygyny would also suit his lifestyle.
Today, Aishah feels that polygynous marriage was Allah’s plan for this period in her life.
“I think women may tend to dismiss the thought or idea of polygyny primarily because it does not appeal to their nature, or due to unrealistic cultural norms or worse, because their impressions about polygyny have been negatively impacted by mainstream media or others’ failed polygynyous marriage.”
“Thus, my initial reaction to the possibility of entering into a polygynous marriage was admittedly cautious, but now that I have been in one for nearly four years, generally speaking, I find that polygyny is the best of both worlds. Basically, as an empty-nester, being a part-time wife suits my independent nature in addition to affording me an opportunity for the solitude I crave as a writer. “
“For my husband, polygyny became a bona fide necessity since his business requires that he travels between two cities hundreds of kilometers apart from where his family lives. He was tired, lonely and tempted by all the wrong things a person can get wrapped up in when finding themselves isolated from family support and love.”
Various circumstances circumvented his wife’s ability to leave their home city, and in the end, he was determined to remain steadfast in his religious convictions which ultimately steered him toward polygyny.
“Practicalities aside, it is my belief that polygyny also appealed to his ego. I say that tongue-in-cheek, of course, but he proudly recalls that he is not the only male among his ancestors to take a second wife,” Aishah says with a smile.
Aishah feels blessed for having a pious husband who continuously strives for equality between his wives. She believes polygyny is certainly not something to be entered into lightly, as it requires an exceptional person to uphold the strict balance of maintaining and satisfying each wife.
“It is highly incumbent upon the husband to have a full understanding of his religious and moral obligations. If a man cannot meet the criteria set out in the Qur’an and hadith regarding polygyny, and he is not fearful of Allah (SWT) and the Day of Judgment, such a man would serve himself best by refraining from entering into a polygynous marriage,” Aishah cautions.
She believes another point where polygynous marriages tend to fail is when not all members of the family are equally involved in the decision making and/or are not willing to do the work. Therefore, Aishah advises that sisters living in polygyny should endeavour to establish healthy relationships as first and foremost, they are sisters in Islam who are equally bound to their duties as wives and companions before their Creator. However, she also emphasises the importance of each wife having quality time with their husband.
“I believe it is critically important for any woman to feel she has her spouse all to herself from time-to-time. This supports bonding and the establishment of trust; two key factors in the all encompassing need to feel secure,” she adds.
Although Aishah still yearns to have a more bonded relationship with her co-wife, she feels that overall her marriage is happy and successful.
Being content as a second wife, Aishah’s wish, for the sake of Allah (SWT) and other families striving to succeed in polygyny, is that “there would one day be more balance between the loudness of the naysayers and those who know well that, with the best of intentions and diligence, polygynous marriages can and do succeed – with the same level of success as any monogamous marriage might have.”
“I firmly believe that the success or failure of any polygynous marriage depends on a husband’s ability to maintain the necessary balance between religious, household, physical and monetary obligations, but most crucial in this delicate balancing act, is being able to fulfill the emotional needs of his wives.”
Timea Aya Csányi is a Hungarian revert sister who recently moved back from Egypt to her home country with her husband. She works at Onislam.net as counselling service editor of the Family section, teaches Arabic, pursues her BA in Islamic Studies at IOU, and is a freelance writer and blogger in Hungarian and English. She enjoys reading, doing sport, being in nature and writing about religious, social and cultural issues. You can contact her through her blog: magyarlanykairoban.wordpress.com