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 fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice. Qur'an 4:3 "
I recall telling friends, “Maybe when I get older I will consider polygyny. I don’t think I will want someone up under me all of the time.” Then, I met my husband. I did not expect to like him as much as I do. MashaAllah!
For those who knew me, my openness to polygyny was not a secret. I had previously been exposed to it personally, both in a negative and positive light. Unbeknownst to me, this exposure prepared me and provided insight that I could not have developed independently. I learned what to do and what not to do. Some skills imparted to me by my personal circle of Muslimahs and elders would benefit any marriage. However, I also know polygyny has its own set of experiences. Some of which, one cannot prepare for without the help of Allah.
No, I did not plan to be in a polygynous family. I planned, inshaAllah, to marry a man who pleased Allah and could please me. I prayed for the moment for years. I did not pray for him to be unmarried. I left out a key detail! One must be specific with duas! Prior to marriage, my husband informed me of his marital status. He was happily married and had been for 6 years. I appreciated the loving manner in which he described his wife. He never spoke negatively of her. Alhamdulilah. Clearly, this appealed to me. He had experienced polygyny before and did not negate its sensitivities. He explained his role and how important it was. He informed me of his preferences for the relationship between his wives. He had other benefits I found attractive. His existing wife knew of his intent to add on to his family. He made it clear he wanted two wives but would have one family. I knew this required a level of cooperation which I had not planned to do. I informed him I had no intentions of seeking to be her best friend. I had collected good friends and retained them for over 30 years. These relationships could not be replaced. I explained I likely would not go grocery shopping with her. Yet, I would surely be respectful, kind and sisterly.
I had been given the option to speak with her prior to our marriage. I delayed doing so for months. To date, I do not know my reason. I just wasn’t ready it seems. What do you say to a potential co-wife during the first conversation? No script exists for this. A month prior to our nikkah, I requested to talk with her. We chatted on the phone for over an hour. As I made plans to relocate, she assisted me with identifying housing. When I visited the state to secure my relocation, she drove me around. We went to lunch. She took me to her place of business. Five months from the date of the initial introduction to my husband, we married.
Prior to marrying my husband, and definitely after, many asked the reasons why I chose to enter into polygyny. In actuality though, I did not choose to enter into polygyny. I chose to marry my husband. He just happened to be already married! MashaAllah. Individuals asked, “You are still young. Why choose polygyny?...You are attractive and have a graduate degree. You don’t have to settle for second best…You could do better for yourself.” My physical appearance, educational status, and age did not and do not create the marital structure I desire. My husband and I do this on our own. These attributes do not produce marital harmony. While I thank Allah much for His blessings, I know the greater blessing is a husband to lead me to jannah. I find intellect and beauty in this decision. To date, I despise the stereotypical belief that women in polygynous marriages, specifically the new wife, are older, unattractive, overweight, barren and have few options for marriage.
Regarding my Muslim family unit, I have not kept our lifestyle secret. While we do not blast our polygynous lifestyle, we do not shun it either. I have learned how much of an anomaly we are. People watch us. When in a room together, I see the stares. While sitting next to my co-wife, and leaning on her shoulder, someone asked me, “Is your relationship with her real?” I lifted my head, and said, “She is right here! Ask her!” While individuals may want to believe we fake happiness, do know we do not give a bogus representation of our family. Our sincere family unit gives much more peace than many know. As a marital counselor, I know many would prefer to be in my polygynous position versus seeking to struggle through the despondent monogamous unions they have. I would choose this also!
My co-wife and I converse regularly. I adore my adult step-children and their children. I felt mushy when my adult stepson identified me as “Mom” to his friends. My children love my co-wife also and call her “Umi 2”. We have created a family unit I feel proud to exist within daily. While it takes work, we work at the work. We take others into consideration. We use discretion. While we share our family success and trials with others, we retain a level of privacy for ourselves as any family would. I share many experiences, memories and traditions on social media. However, if people knew how much does not get shared, they may be surprised. Our life is full of good, funny and even boring moments. All can’t be captured! We are simply living the life with the tools Allah gave us.
Regarding trials, one of the hardest for me has been the emotional upheaval. Nothing can prepare a woman for the matters of the heart experienced within polygyny. For example, one Sunday, after spending hours with my husband and co-wife painting our office building, he walked me to the car. It was her day, per our schedule. He affectionately, but privately, parted ways with me. Happily, he turned to walk towards his wife, my co-wife. Seeing the pep in his step and his contentment stung me.I was new to the city. My children were occupied with their own interests. It was a lovely day and suddenly, I was alone. I wanted to be with my husband. I felt angry with myself for choosing polygyny. I thought of things I could go and do alone. I did not want to start a pattern of enjoying myself without him too much. Historically, this was not a good behavior for me. I could become accustomed to his absence and enjoy it more! I did not want this for my marriage. I witnessed him walk away from me with a spirit of contentment, as he should when he turns to be with his wife. In that moment, the wife to share his time was not me. It hurt. There is nothing to prepare one for moments such as these. On the other hand, my co-wife may have had similar experiences. I watch my husband enter the door to our home, every other day, with joy and tenderness.
Another hardship for me was the scheduling. We modified it within three months. As I had relocated for marriage, I believed my dismal attitude resulted from missing my native state, 6 hours away. My husband decided to alter the schedule. It worked! To date, 2 years later, it still works best for me.
I have also learned one has to adjust to the changes and transitions of the husband during this time. The existing wife has formed patterns and habits with him. The new wife seeks to create her own with him. Developing a consistent balance takes time and patience. Never assume what he does with one wife he automatically desires to do with you. Each marriage has its own unique traits and needs. Manage those to produce the baseline needed to sustain your marriage. A man has married multiple women for various reasons. Seek to satisfy the position and talents you bring to the union and nothing else should have more credence than this but Allah.
Regarding legal issues and our children, we have discussed our preferences for matters such as burial and parenting. We know what they are, what to do in the event of an emergency. We feel satisfied with our response to this. As we know bigamy is illegal, the law also allows a person to legally mandate their wills and testament as well as assigning interests and inheritance to relatives and loved ones as desired. Being a spouse is not the only way in which one can secure legal rights. We have taken the appropriate safeguards to protect our wishes.
Daily, Muslims seek advice for ways to live within polygyny. One must plan for polygyny. It begins prior to the nikah. Expectations and preferences should be clear. While we have a beautiful guide in Islam, have a plan for implementation. Many muslims state, “If we put Allah first, we will be fine.” Surely, I agree and support this premise extensively. Yet, people are human. When emotions arise, people overlook common sense and deen. InshaAllah, we will lose the temptation to do so. As we all grow in practice and iman, we have to have concrete Islamic and behavioral methods to assist us through these moments. Ask advice from those who have been in polygyny long-term, and not persons who have been in it repeatedly with minimal success.
Next, many brothers often marry another wife because he is pleased someone has consented to polygyny knowing she will not be a good fit for the existing family dynamic. One must reflect upon the original unit, its structure and how this new personality will enhance, or alter, the existing marriage. Selection has an integral role for a good polygynous marriage. Few give it the credence it deserves. Failure to give this careful review causes many marriages to divide. Yours does not have to be one of them. InshaAllah.
This article was written by guest contributor Naa'ila Moumaris-Clay."
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