An old Arabic proverb goes: “Homes are secret places.” It is a proverb that we still hear quite often. However, it does not seem to ring true any more. The private concerns of home and family are so quickly publicized these days. What used to be kept quiet is now discusses in the street.
One thing we hear on the streets these days that used to be a very private concern in Arabian culture is that someone’s father is looking for a second wife – or a third – or a fourth. From what we hear, it seems that many of these men justify their decision on the grounds that “Islam allows it.”
They all seem to have memorized the portion of the verse that reads: “…marry women of your choice, two, three, or four...” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 3]
They can certainly recite it from memory without a problem. However, most of them are reluctant to complete the verse: “…but if you fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with them, then only one, or what your right hands possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.”” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 3]
On other occasions we hear a man saying without any inhibitions whatsoever: “I am not content with my wife. I want to spend the rest of my life contented.”
We hear another man express that it is his right to experience sexual pleasure with more than one wife.
In this article, we will investigate what is going on in the minds of men who seek to marry more than one wife. What are their views on the matter? We also want to know what their wives think about their husbands’ looking to marry again.
Boredom is the Reason
One man we interviewed, Mahmûd, had no qualms telling us that his reason for seeking a second wife was “boredom”!
He adds: “I love my first wife a lot, but I could not help but feel that nothing in my life had changed since I got married to my first wife. Everything was the same. The faces around me were the same. She was the same. I wanted to alleviate my boredom by marrying a second wife.”
Three years into his second marriage, we ask Mahmûd: “Do you feel bored with your second wife now?”
He replied: “I must admit that, yes, I do feel bored.”
We asked: “So, do you wish to marry a third?”
He answered: “Not right now, but maybe in the future I will want to.”
`Umar is forty-five years old. He feels that he has resorted to marrying a second time because Islam made it permissible for him to do so. He defends his opinion by saying: “I am – and let Allah be praised – a man of sufficient financial means. Therefore, I find there is nothing to prevent me from taking on a second wife. I am quite capable of supporting two households. They everything they want, without worries. They feel want for nothing.”
When asked about being just in his dealings with his two wives, he replied: “Yes, I am just to both of them. Both have homes of equal merit. Whatever I buy for one wife I buy for the other. At the same time, I can’t deny that I love one of them more. No one can control his heart. Unfortunately, I am unable to hide my feelings. Some of the problems that I have with one of my wives is due to the fact that I love the other one more.”
Another man justifies his decision by saying that he is “not content” with his first wife. He blames her for not taking care of their home life as she should. We tried to speak to her about the matter to hear what she had to say, but he would not allow us to do so. He only allowed us to speak to him under the condition that we did not publish his name.
He said: “I have not been for a single day contented in my married life. Usually, the house is in disarray. She does not care about her appearance. The children are also disorderly. All of these things pushed me to look for another wife who would provide me with what I was not experiencing with my first.
The Wives Defend Themselves
The wives did not concede to their husbands’ claims and justifications. They describe their husbands’ excuses as being lame.
Fâtimah says that she has never fallen short in her duties to her husband, her home, and her children.
She says: “My husband told me that he wants more children after I ceased being able to get pregnant due to my age. You must know that I have given birth to eight children – five boys and three girls.”
Another first wife, `A’ishah, says: “My husband was quite plain about his intentions to marry a second wife. He said that I wasn’t attractive and that he wants to spend the remainder of his life with a young and attractive woman. He forgot all the years that we have spent together, since he has grown bored with me and wants a change.”
Islam Demands Justice
Islam is emphatic about the need for justice. It is justice that forms the basis for polygamy in Islam. Islam does not permit a man to marry a second wife unless he is absolutely certain that he will be able to be just.
Sheikh Salmân al-Oadah, the General Supervisor of IslamToday, speaking on NBC’s Hijr al-Zâwiyah explains that “the many marriages of the Prophet (peace be upon him) were due to necessity. It was needed for him to do so in order to convey Islam’s message to all of the people. For polygamy to be allowed in an Islamic context, it is essential that the rights of the women are safeguarded and that justice is guaranteed. Allah says: ‘…if you fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with them, then only one’.”
He adds: “Polygamy in Islam is limited by a legal framework and bythe dictates of justice and rights.”
Islamic legal scholars have written about polygamy, explaining that these dictates include financial ability, physical ability, and the ability to act justly with more than one woman.
This is in consideration of the role that polygamy plays in fulfilling the needs of women who would otherwise not find opportunities for marriage. Also, in many societies, it plays an important role in cementing social ties and provides for children. There are many ways that polygamy can be beneficial.
As for a man marrying more than one wife as a status symbol, this is excessive behavior, and is censured by the verse of the Qur’ân that says: “Do not act extravagantly. Allah does not love those who are extravagant.” [Sûrah al-An`âm: 141]
Ibn Kathîr in his commentary in the Qur’ân says: “Whoever fears that he will not be able to act justly should marry only one wife.”