There it was, on the computer screen, another child’s name. Another child’s name next to the list of our children on the child benefit website. Must be a mistake – I’d better ring the authorities. But I thought I’d check with my husband first.
No, it wasn’t a mistake.
That Friday morning felt like one of those nightmares where you can’t move, pinned down by shock, and then you feel your heart hit the floor, and wake up. But I didn’t wake up -my life, at that point, had been turned 180 degrees. My holiday cruise of a life had transformed into a rollercoaster, seemingly going into a black hole. My husband had married again without my knowledge, and they had a baby son.
Although this felt like a devastating situation to find myself in, as time went by I began to prise out important lessons:
I never thought my iman could go so low, or so high. When I initially found out, the first words that came out of my mouth are not repeatable. They should have been, inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un, (To Allah we belong and to Him is our return) or La hawla wa la quwwata illabillah, (there is no power nor might except with Allah). My iman had just got a severe wake-up call, and the sense of who has ultimate power over my life needed a rethink. The phrase, Qadr Allahu wa Masha Fa’al (Allah has decreed it and what He willed has happened) now had to become my mantra. My iman fluctuated so much, mostly to the negative end of the spectrum. But I had to keep going, had to keep praying, even if it was almost robotic because I knew, deep down, Allah SWT still had my heart soldered to Him. It was my nafs and Shaytan just trying to sever those last threads of steel. And then the prayers became more genuine, more tears flowed, hands held up, begging.
Your husband is not your god
When Mu’aadh RA once prostrated to the Prophet SAW, The Messenger of Allah SAW said, “Do not do that. If I were to command anyone to prostrate to anyone other than Allah, I would have commanded women to prostrate to their husbands…” (Ibn Majah)
Of course we cannot ‘worship’ our husband – we can only completely rely on Allah SWT. But you often hear the phrases, ‘He is my everything’, ‘He completes me’, ‘I can’t live without him’. Being brought up in the West, with these sort of expressions in pop music subtly influencing you as you shop for your loaf of bread at the supermarket, maybe I was in need of a rethink of who my priority should be. The only love that lasts forever is from Allah SWT. Without Allah SWT, you certainly are incomplete. He SWT is the one who will always be there, always listening, always supporting you.
Anything can happen in your marital relationship; love can be fallen out of, death can strike. I began to think that if we put all our hope on one person, on one man, we are setting ourselves up for destruction.
You are your own person
Polygyny makes you take a hard look at yourself. You think the worst of yourself because the other woman must be better – why would he take her as a second wife, right?
I realised after talking to other sisters, that there are numerous reasons why a man decides to marry more than one wife – dissatisfaction with the first wife is not necessarily the case. Divorce would be a much easier option for the man if that were so.
But becoming a co-wife does kick out the complacency. And you take care of yourself, if at first solely due to that competitive streak that many women have, but then I realised you are benefiting the relationship and most importantly, benefiting yourself.
And the complacency of the husband is given a knock. If he expects a wife who didn’t want to be in polygyny to stay with him, she’d better have a good reason to.
Rather than being an isolated pair, all alone completing each other and incomplete without – you realise that whatever situation you are in, you are you, and no one else can replace you.
Marriage – half your deen
Your marriage is not your whole life. It is an important part of course, but because you are not the sole focus of one man’s attention does not make your life worth any less. Having time alone can be used to be filled with more dhikr and ‘ibadah. I realised the benefits of more ‘me’ time and more self-development, and of course, time for your other family members and sisters in Islam.
The sisterhood is amazing
The counselling I received from other sisters, in the same situation or not, was amazing. I have tears in my eyes when I think of their compassion and wisdom, patience and kindness.
And the sisterhood from sharing a husband – I am anticipating this is going to be something else, another level. Some advice and tips from those already in polygyny left me baffled, but I followed their advice because they had experience and knowledge of such situations and I did not – and they turned out to be right, of course!
Battles of heart and head
My heart was demanding the whole thing had to end, my head was saying it could be good, practical and solve a lot of problems, and it had already improved my marriage. I found my heart began to turn, but then my head was saying, you what? Are you sure? All I could pray for was a miracle. I learnt to trust the Plan of Allah SWT, and that what I don’t like could actually be good for me and vice versa. Being Muslim is all about thinking long-term – seeking Jannah is the ultimate example of this. On the other hand, however, especially in moments of anger or jealousy, in order to cope I did have to concentrate on the ‘now’.
Just do it
I was dithering about contacting my co-wife for a while, making excuses. I’d given her my details via my husband, so why hadn’t she contacted me? Sisters had told me that befriending my co-wife would help with the jealousy. I couldn’t really understand that, but trusted their wisdom. So once I’d made istikarah, I just did it. So far it seems to have helped. Realising she is as human as me, that she has had her own difficult soul-searching, and that she is not out to undermine my relationship with my husband – this has all helped.
This is the one that bites me where it hurts and I am trying to let it just pinch me. You can’t tell me how many times I have recited the last three surahs, and this remembrance of Allah SWT being my ultimate protector beyond my husband, is reassuring. The concept of compersion, the opposite of jealousy, looks like a far off goal right now, but that’s where I am aiming because that’s the only way I can see me finding true sakinah. Blocking things off can only work for so long, and I do not want the feelings to build up and fester, infecting my heart and ending up spoiling everything, marriage relationships and ultimately my relationship with Allah SWT.
The past has passed
The way I found out and the way I was in the dark for almost three years was one of the biggest blows. The imagination is the worst of companions in this situation, and there has been a lot of soul-searching on both our sides to reconcile the past. But it is done now. The pen had been lifted, the Best of Planners had written my life story long ago. I realised I need to forgive and try to forget. ‘Alhamdulilah’ is a phrase I needed to utter for everything, the good and the bad.
Sometimes the past is hard to accept. ‘If I’d been more caring… If I’d been more loving, more…’ ‘If we’d not moved there… ‘ popped in my head. These are words influenced by Shaytan. Yes, we can reflect on past actions and see where improvements could be made, but I realised that the constant rerunning and regret of the past in my head is not going to do me any good nor bring me closer to Allah SWT. I do not know the whole Wisdom behind His plan, this belongs to Al Hakim. I was only looking from my narrow perspective. I already found the benefits of a renewed marriage I could never have dreamed of. I cannot even fathom the rewards of sabr but know they are worth striving for. I see others under greater tests and am inspired by their courage and steadfastness – their acceptance and their trials bringing them close to their Lord. If I don’t accept the past and the future is in His hands, my mind will always be tickled to the point of screaming with negative thoughts, when all I want and need is sakinah and lasting moments of calm.
This is a really hard situation, especially because I am not from a culture where polygyny is the norm, nor was keen personally on the idea. But I still have a loving husband – he could have divorced me, he could be having an affair, he could have passed away.
If you are reading this and in a situation of polygyny which you have ended up in unwillingly, I expect you are shaking your head at how I turned my feelings around, how could that happen? I still don’t exactly know except that Allah I was listening to my du’as. I expect that my feelings will fluctuate and take a dip fairly often, at least on a monthly hormonal basis! But miracles can happen, hearts can change, hearts can melt.
Update: The second marriage is on the rocks now, for their own reasons. I am still struggling severely with jealousy.
Umm Farah* is kept busy with writing and her spirited children.