Polygyny: What Was I Thinking?

By Aishah Schwartz
American Writer, Activist & Photojournalist

Monday, 30 December 2013

Marriage in Islam is principally about mutual co-operation and about encouraging one another towards obedience to the Lord, Most High.

Marriage in Islam is principally about mutual co-operation and about encouraging one another towards obedience to the Lord, Most High.


As we continue exploring polygyny in this series for OnIslam, I decided to freely share with readers that I am not embarking upon a discussion of the subject off the top of my head, or as the activist I am known well enough to be.

On the contrary; I have embarked upon this journey as a second wife myself.

“What were you thinking?!” may be the obvious question to some, so this is how it all started.

After becoming Muslim I was anxious to integrate into a Muslim community, so I set out to find a masjid I could be comfortable enough with to attend.

It is interesting, 11-years later, that I am still able to add to the list of things that other women perceive as threatening about me, as a woman and/or as a revert Muslimah.

In the beginning, it was simply the fact of my being a revert/new Muslim, American, and lets be straight-forward; white.

My appearance at the masjid seemed to create quite a frenzy amongst the women there, who deemed it absolutely necessary to inform me that marriage was “half my deen”, thus, they set about making sure I was married off as quickly as possible. Why?

Naturally (?), because the sooner I was ‘off the market’ the sooner they would be able to breathe easier knowing their husbands could not approach me to become the dreaded second wife.

What is ‘Half My Deen’?

Marriage in Islam is principally about mutual co-operation and about encouraging one another towards obedience to the Lord, Most High. The act of marriage itself is considered to be “half the religion”, “half of iman”, or perhaps more commonly known as “half the deen”.

This is why the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, advised men:

“A woman is married for four reasons: for her property, her status, her beauty and her Religion; so try to get the pious one that you may be successful.” (Al-Bukhari, 27 & Muslim, 3457)

The Quran states:

{And among His signs is this: that He created for you mates from among yourselves that you may dwell in tranquility with them. And He has put between you affection and mercy. Verily in that are indeed signs for a people who reflect.} (30:21)

Now, let’s explore my journey as a revert Muslimah in finding the other half of her deen.

Let the Proposals Commence – in Secrecy?

Sadly, the most popular form of marriage proposal I have received over the years, by at least a-half-dozen men, was the secret second wife.

Some may be also be familiar with the phrase ‘sugar momma’ – a foreign woman who appears to have a disposable income. You know, the man who has a first wife from his own nationality/country but lucks up in meeting a foreigner and sees his ticket to another life, thereafter cultivating what is oftentimes the farthest thing from an Islamic marriage that you could imagine.

And, of course, there’s the widely despised green card marriage proposal, among others.

Muslims are under obligation to do whatever they can to safeguard their religion, honor, and dignity.
My sisters in Islam, please do not fall for the secret wife scenario; it’s a path leading to nowhere good in a hurry, and oftentimes orchestrated for the sole purpose of diminishing your rights.

According to the teachings of Islam, Muslims are under obligation to do whatever they can to safeguard their religion, honor, and dignity; and as such they should stay away not only from that which is considered as strictly haram or forbidden, but also from all that is doubtful and dubious.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“…Whosoever shuns what is doubtful he has protected his religion and honor; but whosoever commits what is doubtful, he may inadvertently fall into haram!” (At-Tirmidhi, 1205) and “There is no (valid) marriage without a guardian.” (Ibn Majah, 1881)

By stipulating conditions for the validity of marriage, Islam insists that a marriage should remain distinct from other loose and immoral lifestyles such as fornication and illicit affairs. Hence, the Prophet (peace be upon him) insisted on making marriages public.

The concept of a marriage “just for both of you or for Allah” is also not tolerated in Islam.

Other Types of Proposals

After secret marriage requests, there were many other types of proposals in my journey to finding a Muslim life partner, or, well, at 52, what is left of this life!

There was the man who thought I needed to lose weight; another who thought I wasn’t Lebanese looking enough (err…he should have realized that from photos before flying into Cairo to meet me!); another needed children that I am past the point of bearing; two more proposals came from men who wanted second wives, but their original wife would hear nothing of it; and then there was the one who said he was willing to marry me, but not with my two cats as part of the package. Next!

In one of the worst cases of being asked to be a second wife, the man’s first wife and her family made his life utterly miserable for a solid month and he ended up in the hospital!

That experience was deeply disappointing because I had met the man’s wife at a seminar and was instantly delighted with the idea that I might finally have a sister to help me learn Arabic and who could mentor me from what she had already learned of Islamic teachings.

But in the rush to shut the door on all of the potential my becoming part of their family held, the man’s first wife mistakenly presumed that her husband’s intentions were less than honorable – when, in fact, he had seen something that I had as well – the potential for her and me to have made one dynamic dawah team.

As time passed new road-blocks in the path of marriage arose as I morphed into a boots-on-the-ground writing activist/photojournalist. Not so many men out there willing to withstand that kind of direction in the life of his wife, or the attention that came with it.

Then there was one of the most honorable of proposals – a widower of five years who actually took the permission of his adult children before asking me to marry him. Only this was a marriage that would also not come to pass due to his unexpected early return to Allah Almighty.

So, a year later when I finally settled on a marriage partner, you would think that things might have begun to get better. Well, they did – but at the same time – they didn’t.

Now, in the eyes of many, I am the dreaded second wife and advocate in support of the right for those who choose polygyny to live free from the stigmas and marginalization that members of our own Muslim communities dare to stamp upon this sunnah that comes straight from the Quran itself – forcing many, as in the case of the Mormon polygamists of Utah, to hide their true lives behind closed doors.

Why have I shared so much of my personal story in this segment of the polygyny series?
Yikes! Every first wife’s enemy!

And that, sadly, is the proverbial hat I have had to grow accustomed to wearing for the sake of Allah (SWT) along with the tags such as “fitnah (chaos) maker” and “home wrecker”.

Lastly, in the week preceding writing this segment of the series on polygyny, I was even referred to by members of one polygynous group on Facebook as a Neanderthal – not for being Muslim, or my interest in polygyny – for being born with white skin.

Why have I shared so much of my personal story in this segment of the polygyny series?

To make a point: I did not set out to be the second wife nightmare of anyone.

We plan. But Allah (SWT) is the Best of Planners.

The Real Source of Fitnah

The preceding section outlined just a few of the sources of fitnah surrounding the subject of polygyny, not surprisingly, there are more.

It is unfortunate that so many men are seemingly uneducated regarding the proper adab (respect regarding two wives/families) and requirements of engaging in polygyny.

Polygyny is a matter fraught with restrictions because of its seriousness. It cannot be taken lightly and engaged in merely for the relief of one’s sexual desires without any consideration for the way in which it is undertaken.

Muslim men who inappropriately practice and misinterpret the rulings on polygyny for their own insatiable and egotistical purposes adversely affect those striving to achieve success in their polygamous marriages for the sake of Allah (SWT) – contributing to the root cause of the fitnah surrounding polygyny.

Furthermore, it isn’t difficult to run up on any number of discussions throughout the internet, in groups discussing polygyny, focusing on the abuses far more than the possible benefits; clearly marking the marginalization of a community striving to serve the greater good – which is disproportionate to the fundamental teachings of Islam itself – yet another cause of one of the most repressive sources of fitnah where polygyny is concerned.

Then there are those Muslim women who are insatiably jealous, unrelentingly suspicious and combative against both their spouse and any potential co-wife who might contend justification for their behavior. These women do not get a free ride on the blame train either.

Although the negative impact on polygyny can be partially attributed to the misdeeds of men, they in no way bear the full brunt of responsibility for polygyny’s failings, misrepresentations or for the marginalization of those striving to do their best for the sake of Allah.

Final Thought

I am grateful to the Brown family (“Sister Wives”) of Utah and their attorney, Jonathan Turley, who took the case in support of decriminalizing polygamy by the proverbial horns, and for the brave US District Court Judge Clark Waddoups, who spent 11-months meticulously drafting a final decision in the case issued on December 13, 2013, overturning a 19th. century law that forced Mormon community members practicing polygamy to hide in the shadow of their religious beliefs and practices.

Islam was delivered to Muslims as a complete way of life over 1,400 years ago; polygyny among its teachings.

What am I thinking? If only Muslims were that courageous.


Categories: Americas

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6 replies

  1. Polygamy is one aspect of Islam that makes outsiders see it as primitive and alien, so the writer is doing her religion no favours by promoting it, especially in a western country.

    I would have thought that the writer’s own observation that first wives live in dread of second wives and are prone to jealousy would indicate even to such an apparently astonishingly naive woman, that it b is not natural or acceptable to most women, and I would hope to most men, to share your marriage with another woman. Why seek out a married man and break b another woman heart rather than find a partner of your own for an exclusive relationship of equals? I have a friend who teaches in Qatar and sees daily the confusion and unhappiness of the children of such marriages. It is bad enough that men should lust after other women without women like Aisha Schwarz collaborating in the humiliation and heart break of their supposed ‘sisters’. Mohammed made it clear that multiple marriage was not to be encouraged unless all wives could be treated equally. I am sure he had found that that is hardly possible, as the man would inevitably favour the newer youngest wife and because of inevitable jealousy among wives. How ludicrously naive (or I would say more likely disingenuous to express surprise that a first wife might not see a second wife as a ‘sister’!) The whole idea fills me with as much disgust as does the idea of the mistress, who is no different from the Muslim ‘secret second wife’. both are immoral to my mind.

    • ‘Secret second wives’ are not Islamicaly correct. The whole idea of marriage, whether first or subsequent, is the public acknowledgement of what you are doing. A ‘nikah’ (islamic marriage) needs to be announced with witnesses in public.

  2. Jo, you are behaving like the proverbial ostrich with her head in the sand!

    Please, face reality. All over the Western world there are men who are having affairs in secret or having mistresses.

    Who do you think has more dignity – a second or subsequent wife/s with full rights of a wife or a mistress who will have no rights to speak of if the man decides to discontinue his relationship with her? I suppose you would like to be the second…..?!

  3. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) said that muslim men must only marry more than once if there is no other option. When jihad of the sword was going on then there was an abundance of widows, so this was given as a means for their safety. Is it not better that Islam has allowed men to protect and support women through marriage than left those women without a home or means of financial support? I wonder what your opinion would be, jo, if you were a widow whose village had no unmarried men and you had no financial support. Islam supports the help of the needy – not the exploitation of them.

    • The ‘normal’ situation these days, especially in the West, is similar to ‘after a war’ not necessarily with widows but with divorcees and other unmarried ladies, with or without children… I am sure that Aysha in this article would have preferred a single husband, but after trying for a year she did not find one and the ‘second wife’ option was better than no husband at all…

  4. Wow I know this is an old post but I had to reply purely because of this statement
    “In the beginning, it was simply the fact of my being a revert/new Muslim, American, and lets be straight-forward; white.” You are just another privileged entitled self absorbed WHITE revert. Let’s be real being white clearly wasn’t any sort of threat to beautiful born Muslim Arab women. Why would you even say something like that? Do you think men desire you purely because of your whiteness? Please do not bring your white privilege into our perfect religion! Islam has no privilege we are all the same regardless of colour. You think your better because your white? You think your more desired? Wait till you stand before Allah any one with even an atoms weight of arrogance/pride will not enter Janna

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