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 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 bint RasulAllah 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 . 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: