Polygyny: For the Benefit of Women

Image: Colin Christopher

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day in the US and, in recognition of that holiday, the next in our series of Inside Islam radio programs will feature Jean’s conversation with the co-editors of Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, Ayesha Mattu & Nura Maznavi. (See the end of this post for information on how to listen and participate in the show.)

One of the authors in this collection of real-life stories about love, relationships, and dating, Asiila Imani, deals with the often difficult topic of plural marriages. We have written here about polygamy in Islam previously, but this is the first time we have heard from a proponent or participant in polygyny directly. Imani converted to Islam over 30 years ago and has followed the Jafari madhab for the last twenty. She is a strong proponent of polygyny and views it as an extended family that is most beneficial for women. The following is excerpted from Love InshAllah.

Ali became my spiritual advisor. He sent me books on the Prophet and the Prophet’s family and encouraged and helped my Arabic and Qur’anic studies. I read everything he sent me, which solidified my beliefs once again. I began to wear the khimar and identified myself with the Shi’a school of thought. Ali’s letters and phone calls came whenever I felt myself slipping back into doubt, and my faith in him grew alongside my faith in God.

We conversed about my son and about my plans to become a midwife; he told me about the communal business he ran with the brothers of his jamah, and their desire to live self-sufficiently.

Within the year, talk turned to marriage, both a hopeful prospect and a dreadful thought. Was I ready to do this again? Ali believed that both of my previous marriages had failed because he was my match. God meant for us to be together, he said. Our paths certainly had crossed many times, and we seemed to fit together perfectly, but for one thing––Ali was already married.

Asiila Imani

Even though I had heard that polygyny always ended in broken hearts, mayhem, and dismemberment, the idea of sharing a husband had never bothered me. I had never understood why women fought so much over men. If a man loved two women, the women could either leave or share him. I believed women should be confident enough in themselves that they wouldn’t need to be the sole object of a man’s affections. I knew there were men who loved and supported two families with equal devotion. To me, husband sharing sounded like the perfect blend of being married and single at the same time. I would have a loving partner to care for me, and time alone to care for myself. In every holy book I’d read, God was clear that love, unlike money, is infinite; it’s a metaphysical commodity that grows when shared. In short, polygyny seemed not an unholy aberration, but a sacrosanct communion between a family and God.

I realized that most other women did not share my philosophy, and I had already decided that I’d never marry a man whose wife did not agree with having a co-wife. Ali said his wife, Hajar, was an exception. He said she was fully aware of our relationship and supported it openly. Learning that eased my worries some, but I still had to hear it from Hajar herself.

Hajar and I had spoken many times before, and so, during our next conversation, I asked her what she felt about the idea of our sharing Ali. I began uncomfortably, unsure of what to say, but Hajar was quick to put me at ease. She told me that she had traveled to Africa when she was younger and lived with a polygynous family. Seeing the community they had together, she knew that she wanted a marriage like theirs. Ali had told her soon after they met that he felt obligated to marry more than one woman; there were too many single women in the ummah for him to care for just one. Hajar agreed, and said she believed that I was the right woman to join their family. She invited me to visit them in San Diego, to see their home, meet the rest of the family, and feel what it would be like for it to be mine, too.

I bought a ticket and scheduled a two-week visit to San Diego.

What do you think of Imani’s decision to create a family within a preexisting family and become the second wife of Ali? Are there a shortage of Muslim men to marry in the US? Islam obliges men to treat their wives equally; however, US law prohibits the legal recognition of polygamy. Are there other ways that Muslim men with more than one wife can ensure equity without a recognized legal framework for medical rights and so on?

You can read Imani’s full essay and stories from other Muslim American women on the Love InshAllah website. And you can hear more about this collection on tomorrow’s Inside Islam radio show.

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6 thoughts on “Polygyny: For the Benefit of Women

  1. As a woman, I find this very strange but i have personally encountered many women who are ok with this. Not to mention, I have encountered many women whose men cheat on them and somehow, they deem it acceptable in the big picture.
    As a general concept, It’s difficult to comprehend why married men look for second wives-this sounds problematic.
    I really don’t appreciate the spin that they are trying to help the ummah by marrying the single women.
    Allah knows best.

  2. Having the knowledge of Arab history may give greater insight to the source of Muslim polygamy. While my comment may contested by the Imma, I would simply establish the historical background that gave impetus to a social practice that is continued today.
    In the early part of 625 A.D., or 3 A.H., Muhammad and his followers fought a significant battle at the foot of Mount Uhud against the followers of Abu Sufyan ibn Harb from Mecca.
    The Muslim suffered many deaths among the community (umma).
    The obvious result of extensive combat in addition to loss of life, is the collateral suffering of the wives and children of those that have lost their lives in the service of Allah.
    Muhammad had to deal with this social reality. Muhammad gave directives about how to treat widows and orphans, the victims of battle, by the revealed word of Allah through him.
    Here, we have what might be considered a conundrum. In the Qur’an, it is emphasized that;

    “Allah has not made for any man two hearts, in his one body, nor has made your wives whom you divorce by (Zihar) , this was an evil Arab custom before Islam, where a husband denied his wives conjugal rights, yet kept her as a slave unable to remarry. your mothers, nor has he made your adopted sons, your sons, such is your speech by your mouth. But Allah tells you the truth, and he shows you the right way”.
    (Al Ahzab Surah 4:33)

    The hypocrisy , and cruelty inflicted upon a man’s harem reveals that man has but one heart, and is incapable of loving more than one woman equally. Hence the injustice of marrying more than one wife.

    ” If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, TWO OR THREE OR FOUR, but if ye feel that ye shall not be able to deal justly with them, then only one, or a (captive slave) that your right hand possess. That will be more suitable to prevent you from doing injustice”.
    (Al Nisa Surah 4:3)

    In view of the lady’s two previous failed marriages, I could understand her search for the security of an adopted family. However it would be a mistake to expect to to share a man’s heartfelt love equally with another woman, or for that matter possibly three other women if her husband so decides to further help the Muslim umma due to the lack of Muslim men.

    I also would not be surprised if they received a visit from the Department of Child Services if this continues.

  3. Pingback: Love, InshAllah

  4. I wonder about polygamy from the perspective of communities where youth are not growing up with fathers. There are such family units in the United States particularly, where various sorts of wars (gang related and oil related are two examples) take away the lives of many young men. Does it make practical sense in this context to have a male presence/role model for youth as an alternative to them growing up father-less? And by saying “practical sense” I mean to create distance between the concept of love/marriage as it is portrayed in movies and marriage as it was viewed for so long as a very practical matter.

    On another note, didn’t the Prophet say to respect the laws of any land in which Muslims live as minorities? Or to engage with them to gradually shift perceptions if it is a significant matter? The federal Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862 outlawed polygamy (interesting that it was okay before then to have multiple wives, no? And interesting that slave masters would continue to impregnate more women than their one wife). And, the 1878 Renolds vs United States case specifically outlawed using religious arguments as grounds to justify the act of polygamy.

    Men certainly have the role of protectors and providers in the Quran, but I am extremely uncomfortable with the view that “there were too many single women in the ummah for him to care for just one.” I am not saying it cannot work — it did for Nelson Mandela’s family, for example, and there are many men and women who are comfortable with this idea — but it is so significant to look at the Muhammad’s example. The man was monogamous for many, many years of his life. He did not feel he was doing anyone a favor by marrying multiple women when he was with Khadigah. He was devoted to her and chose not to be polygamous, and so did she.

    Possibly the most hurtful point of a partner being unfaithful in a marriage or partnership is the betrayal aspect. If women or men were informed, or asked, it would change the dynamics of the situation. It would evoke dialogue. That is one key point I take away from Muhammad marrying multiple wives post-Khadigah.

    We live in a world of contradictions, shades of gray.

  5. Although polygamy is acceptable in Islam, Its difficult to believe that a women would truly be satisfied in such a relationship. In most instances if a man is satisfied in his first marriage, he would not look to explore getting married again. This is why its so important to find the right person. There’s several resources out there to help people do so, whether its thorugh work, school, parents or freinds. Matrimonial sites are also a good option.

  6. polygyny is a sunnah! A muslim may say it is not for them but they cannot say that it is wrong!
    Virtually every culture on earth has more females than males by the time they become of marriageable age. If we are against zina and we believe that marriage is half our deen, how can anyone argue against polygyny?
    An odd angle to this issue is that it is the secularists who are against polygyny for the most part. These people use science, or their brand of science, to support many of their ideas but science will tell you that, by and large, females are more likely to be interested in “nesting” or having a stable environment to rear and nurture their genetic off-spring while males are interested in spreading their genes around (not all eggs in one basket so to speak) these strategies are completely logical from the perspective of their respective proponents. I think the support of the ban on polygyny by “evolutionists” is totally hypocritical.