Thursday, December 24, 2015

Archie, Betty and Veronica: America's (Polygynous) Sweethearts

Archie, Betty, and Veronica: 

America's (Polygynous) Sweethearts

Polygyny is so often presented as a strange, Eastern concept rooted in misogyny and chauvinism... yet few realize that polygyny has existed in Western culture for decades, flaunted right under everyone's noses.
Archie comics were a staple of hundreds of thousands of North Americans' upbringing - and, unbeknownst to many, are a perfect example of a positive, heterosexual polygynous triad.
Betty and Veronica are best friends both in love with the same man; two women whose minor rivalries for Archie's attention and fights over his affection never destroy their friendship. If it looks as though Archie might be distracted by another woman (in particular the nefarious Cheryl Blossom), Betty and Veronica unite to remind him very strongly of which two women are the only ones he should be paying attention to.
Though they might squabble over fashion, hobbies, and who Archie is on a date with that night, Betty and Veronica are also loyal to each other and love each other dearly. Many a comic strip has ended with the two of them spending time with each other instead of with him, proving that loving the same man doesn't mean being unable to love 'the other woman.'
Archie, for his part, can never make up his mind and choose one over the other. His love for Betty and his love for Veronica is certainly not the same, yet no one can say that he truly favours one over the other. He appreciates each woman for her own unique personality (and of course, physical appearance). He stumbles and bumbles between the two, torn by the expectation of having to choose when he obviously *can't*... and really, why should he have to?
Archie, Betty and Veronica are possibly one of the best and most realistic portrayals of ‪#‎positivepoly‬, one which recognizes natural human emotions that are not narrowed and restricted solely to rabid jealousy or unrealistic adoration. From the close friendship between the two women to their unwillingness to give up on Archie, these three characters have proven that through thick and thin, their mutual love for each other can withstand the test of time. There’s really nothing quite like a consensual heterosexual polygynous triad, after all ;)

 wink emoticon

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Polygyny: What It Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands (Book Review)

POLYGYNY IS THE pink elephant in the room for so many Muslims – a topic both titillating and embarrassing, one that comes up in questions from non-Muslims and in debate in Muslim gatherings, a subject that elicits strong emotional reactions from almost everyone.
There are books about coping with polygyny; there are arguments made as to whether it’s even Islamically acceptable in this day and age. Yet, fiqh rulings aside, there is very little discussion on how polygyny exists as a practical reality in the lives of many Muslims in the West.
Debra Majeed, a professor of religious studies at Beloit College, wrote the book “Polygyny: What It Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands” in order to better understand (and explain) the phenomenon of polygyny from the perspectives of African American Muslim women based on their lived experiences.
In her preface, she describes her motivations for exploring the topic, and the lens through which she has framed her work. She makes it clear that her primary focus is on African American Muslim women. She emphasizes that she is operating from within the paradigm of Muslim womanism, which she defines as “a ‘philosophical perspective’ that draws attention to the varied conditions of black womanhood as experienced by African American Muslims, and the values of Islam they articulate.[1]
Majeed’s book is divided into 6 chapters, not including the Introduction and Afterword, both of which are worthy of spending time on reading.
Despite the fact that the book’s main purpose is to be used as a textbook, Majeed’s writing style is refreshingly clear and easy to read, unburdened by the convoluted terminology one generally expects from academia. The context of the book is equally refreshing: an honest, realistic, practical, and most importantly, non-judgmental look and discussion at the many ways polygyny is lived in North America.
Though it is repeated many times that these stories are of African American Muslims, much of what the book discusses is applicable to the vast majority of Muslims in North America who practice polygyny. Sprinkled with anecdotes and quotes from individuals whom Majeed interviewed on the topic, Polygyny does not skew in favor of polygyny or against it – it is merely  frank, and provides a very balanced view at polygyny across the spectrum of both positive and negative experiences.
Chapter 1 is titled ‘The Road to Understanding Polygyny,’ and lays out a clear and well-organized introduction to key ideas and concepts that Majeed proceeds to cover. She is transparent about how she has gathered all her information and references those whom she has drawn useful contributions. As part of ‘the road to understanding polygyny,’ she introduces to us some of the individuals whom she spoke to – women who have either lived in polygyny in the past, or are living in it currently. There are those who found themselves, unexpectedly, not the first wives they believed themselves to be—due to the fact their husbands went behind their backs, and then there are those who had more positive experiences.
Additionally, she goes to some length to explain why polygynous marriage is considered a viable option by some women in the African American Muslim community. She further explains the importance of womanism in her work, and ties the various threads being introduced into a comprehensive foundation upon which to proceed reading.
Chapter 2, ‘Agency and Authority in Polygyny,’ talks about the agency, power, and authority that Muslim women wield in polygynous marriages, and how those choices are acted upon in different ways. This chapter also includes a section that I thought was particularly intriguing and enjoyable: a ‘dialogical performance as ethnography.’ That is, she took a semi-fictional approach by imagining that she had gathered together her various interviewees and put together their responses on various topics related to polygyny, in order to provide a compare-and-contrast discussion-based platform. Through this medium, she provides readers with the opportunity to better identify and relate to the variety of perspectives of individuals who have lived through polygyny.
Majeed broadly divides polygyny into three types: polygyny of liberation, polygyny of choice, and polygyny of coercion. These three categories roughly describe polygyny as it is experienced by the women within these relationships – the first being an extremely positive experience wherein women find joy and empowerment; the second being that of acceptance but not necessarily enthusiasm or preference; and the third being that in which the women felt pressured – due to various factors – to remain within the polygynous relationship despite their own displeasure with the situation.
From personal experience and observation of others, I strongly agree with Majeed’s categorization of polygynous experiences for Muslim women. I especially appreciated the nuance and thoughtfulness that went into describing these categories and validating them with the lived experiences of women in those situations.
Chapters 3, 4, and 5 “Religious and Experiential Prescriptions”, “Legalities and Emotional Well-Being,” and “Imam Mohammed’s Commentary on Polygyny,” respectively, were a little denser in terms of content. The topics covered mostly revolve around explanations of, and discussions on, polygyny in the Muslim community, and specifically within the Nation of Islam community. There is some detail given to the history of polygyny within the NoI movement and how it affected its leadership, which to some non-NoI Muslims would be considered largely irrelevant – although I personally thought that there were various insights definitely worth considering and applicable to the Muslim community at large.
Of particular note were the observations of steps taken by men that made polygyny easier and more successful—or more difficult and burdensome—for the women involved. It is clear that those men who were respectful and considerate of their first wives’ physical, emotional, and psychological situations and well-being were those men with far more positive polygynous marriages. On the other hand, those who neglected the well-being of both wives, whether spiritual, financial, legal or otherwise, were of those who often ended up going through a divorce with one of them.
It is also interesting to note that in almost every successful example of polygyny, the women involved were aware, educated, and involved in how their husbands chose to marry other wives. Among my own favorite stories, the co-wives had friendships and close relationships of their own that were not dependent upon their shared husband.
Chapter 6, “Mental Health and Living Polygyny” was, to me, the most enlightening chapter by far. One aspect of polygyny that is almost completely neglected by Muslims is that of how polygyny affects the psychology of children raised within this family structure. Again, Majeed brings forth a balanced view of how polygyny can positively affect children, and how it can also be a source of anguish and negativity for them as well.
Describing the positive experience that one child of a polygynous family had underscored the importance of the father’s role: to be present in his children’s lives, to communicate with them about changes in their lives due to the introduction of another adult to the family, and to model healthy relationships with both his wives.
Unfortunately, such an example of lived polygyny is extremely rare not just amongst African American polygynous Muslims, but polygynous Muslims at large. All too often, men going into polygyny rarely deign to think about how their marital choices will affect their children, especially if it means creating two (or more) separate households and reducing the amount of quality time spent with each child.
In her conclusion, Majeed lists several key notes which she thinks are of utmost importance for polygynous Muslims to be aware of and to practice in order to ensure the safety and security of all parties involved.
Polygyny: What It Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands is a book that I consider a must-read for all those interested in, or involved in, a polygynous marriage. It provides candid glimpses into real-life examples of polygyny, indirectly making it obvious what the common denominators of positive poly marriages are – and equally obvious how to guarantee the failure of a poly relationship.
By discussing not only the religious aspect of polygyny in Islam, but also by going into detail about legal concerns, financial caretaking of spouses, the relationship between co-wives, and the mental health of women and children in polygyny, Debra Majeed highlighted a wide spectrum of necessary issues that Muslims are faced with when undertaking polygyny.
It is my hope that we see a great deal more literature – as well as speeches and workshops by qualified Imams and other community leaders – provided on these topics. Unfortunately, existing narratives about polygyny in the Muslim community are overwhelmingly negative, unhealthy, and stale, with very little practicality. Majeed’s book is revitalizing , and hopefully the beginning of a more realistic and healthy approach to polygyny amongst Muslims not only in African American communities, but all Muslim communities, both in the East and the West.
[1] “Polygyny: What It Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands(2015) University Press of Florida, Introduction, page 3

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Tale of Two Women: The Milkmaid and the Empress

ONE LATE NIGHT, the second khalîfa Umar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb walked through the narrow streets of Madinah in silence, observing the state of his people. As he passed by one mud-brick home, two voices caught his attention. Both were female: one older and hardened by life; the other, youthful and quietly determined.
“Tomorrow, when you take the milk to sell,” said the older voice – a mother’s voice – “Mix it with water. We’ll make more money for less milk, when today you sold all the milk and brought back only a meagre profit.”
“Mother!” the younger woman exclaimed. “We cannot do such a thing. Didn’t you hear the Commander of the Believers, Umar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb, prohibit everyone from doing so?”
“And where is the Commander of the Believers now?” retorted her mother. “Even if he can’t see us, Allah surely sees us,” the daughter responded firmly.
Unseen, Umar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb smiled into the darkness and silently marked the door of their home with a piece of chalk. The next day, he brought his son Âṣim and had him propose marriage to the milkmaid whose taqwa was made clear on a dark night. “For perhaps,” ¢Umar told his son: “Allah will bring forth from this woman a people who are as pure and good as she is.” [1]
Umar’s words rang true. This story is famous, for everyone knows of the great khalîfa Umar ibn Abd Al-Azîz, often spoken of as the fifth of the Rightly Guided Caliphs… and how he was the grandson of Âṣim ibn Umar Ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb. Yet when Umar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb voiced his foresight, it was not only Umar ibn Abd Al-Azîz to whom his words applied.
Of the lineage of the unnamed yet famous milkmaid and the son of Umar Ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb was a woman who exemplified the knowledge, courage, and excellence of character found in her grandfather. Maymûnah bint Abd Al-Azîz was the sister of Umar ibn Abd Al-Azîz, and in her own way, was no less famous than her brother.
Maymûnah, also known as Umm Al-Banîn, was married to her cousin, Al-Walîd ibn Abd Al-Malik – who was at one point a khalîfa of the Umayyad dynasty, thus making Umm Al-Banîn the equivalent of a queen. Royal position aside, Umm Al-Banîn stood out as a unique individual due to her own qualities: she was known to be an âbida, an ardent worshiper who spent her nights in tahajjud; she was incredibly generous, and loved to donate her wealth for the sake of Allah; she was also an Islamic scholar in her own right – she was considered a great muadditha by Imam Abû Zur'a, who was himself an authority in the field of Hadith and specifically with regards to the chains of narration.
As impressive as all of this is, however, it is not the only thing that is known about Umm Al-Banîn. Rather, there is one particular incident that highlights the true mettle of her character.
Al-Walîd ibn Abd Al-Malik, Umm Al-Banîn’s husband, was an Umayyad khalîfa, and – perhaps somewhat shockingly – kept the infamously brutal Al-Ḥajjâj ibn Yûsuf in his employ as the governor of Baghdad. Al-Walîd’s father had instructed in his will that Al-Ḥajjâj be retained simply due to the fact that his vicious methods kept the unruly elements of the empire in check. Just because her husband had no qualms with Al-Hajjâj, though, it didn’t mean that Umm Al-Banîn would remain silent.
Umm Al-Banîn’s father, Abd Al-Azîz ibn Marwân, had been a man of strong principle and justice, who despised the methods that his siblings did not necessarily eschew. Abd Al-Azîz had instilled in his children a hatred for blatant evil, and the need to stand up to injustice wherever they perceived it.
Umm Al-Banîn abhorred Al-Ḥajjâj with a passion, and made her feelings clear to her husband. She would repeatedly ask him to get rid of Al-Hajjâj, citing his history of slaughter, his killing of some Companions of the Prophet œ and his corruption; Al-Walîd knew just how strongly she felt about his employee. As tends to happen, news spread, and Al-Ḥajjâj himself came to know of Umm Al-Banîn’s unfavorable stance towards him.
One day, Al-Ḥajjâj went to visit Al-Walîd ibn Abd Al-Malik, while the former was still attired in his armor and the latter was dressed in casual clothing. As they sat, a slave girl came to Al-Walîd and whispered in his ear, then left.
When she left, Al-Walîd said to Al-Hajjâj: “Abu Muhammad, do you know what this slave-girl said?” He said: “No, O Commander of the Faithful.”
Amused, Al-Walîd continued: “Umm Al-Banîn sent her to warn me about sitting in my home attire with an armed Bedouin (i.e., Al-Hajjâj) while innocent people are being killed. Umm Al-Banîn also said that she would prefer that I sit with the Angel of Death himself rather than Al-Hajjâj, for he is known to have killed many.”
Furious, Al-Ḥajjâj retorted: “Never listen to women! Do not apprise them of your matters, [nor] make them desirous of [knowing] your secrets, [nor] take their counsel, [nor] use them for other than their beauty. O Commander of the Faithful, do not be tender towards women nor frequent their gatherings because their gatherings are a humiliation and ignobility.”
Al-Walîd stood up and went to his wife directly to inform her of Al-Hajjâj’s words. Furious yet clever, Umm Al-Banîn arranged for Al-Ḥajjâj to meet her the next day. Desperately, Al-Ḥajjâj appealed to Al-Walîd to countermand her order, but he refused, and so, Al-Ḥajjâj was forced to present himself to Umm Al-Banîn. She made him wait for a long time before she would permit him to approach, and even then, kept him standing – a major insult. She addressed Al-Ḥajjâj with a speech so powerful and blistering that Al-Ḥajjâj later admitted: “I wish the earth had swallowed me up while she spoke!”
Some of her words were recorded and transmitted in the book Balaghât Al-Nisâ’[2]:
O Ḥajjâj, you most graciously conferred the murders of Ibn Al-Zubayr and Ibn Al-Ash'ath upon the Commander of the Faithful. You were a mere freeman (i.e. an insignificant slave). Truly, by Allah, were it not for you being the most worthless of Allah’s creation to Him, He wouldn’t have tried you with bombarding the Ka'bah nor with the murder of the son of Dhat Al-Niâqayn.
As for what I mean by the murder of Ibn Al-Ash'ath—by my life—he had overwhelmed you and dealt you one blow after another until you appealed for help. Were it not for the Commander of the Faithful summoning the people of Greater Syria—their arrows protecting you and their combat saving you—while your predicament was more straitened than a pulley, you would have had your head in a noose. Even given this, the wives of the Commander of the Faithful, had dusted the perfume from their locks and removed the jewelry from their hands and feet and dispatched them with his agents’ monetary support.
As for that which you’ve prohibited the Commander of the Faithful from –in terms of interrupting his pleasures and having his way with his wives– if, on the one hand, they open their legs for the likes of the Commander of the Faithful, then he will not comply with your request. If, on the other hand, they open their legs for the likes of whomever your mother opened her legs, then he would be deserving indeed of heeding your advice.
May Allah wage war on the one who said [these lines] while looking at you as Ghazalah Al-Harûriyya’s spearheads were between your shoulders:
O lion of peace, ostrich of wartime,
Black-plumed, you panic when a whistle sounds.
You should have faced Ghazalah in that war.
Instead, you flew with fear above war’s grounds.
Ghazalah cleft your heart with knights who left
A massacre, for fate must make its rounds.”
Having expressed her disgust fully, Umm Al-Banîn dismissed Al-Ḥajjâj from her presence.
Pale-faced, Al-Ḥajjâj went to Al-Walîd and asked him: “Why did you let her come and speak to me?! She did not stop talking until I felt that my soul had departed and that being buried in the earth was more beloved to me than walking upon it. I did not think that a woman could reach that level of eloquence or master that level of enunciation!”
Al-Walîd laughed and said to Al-Ḥajjâj: “Woe to you! Don’t you know who she is? She is the daughter of Abd Al-Azîz ibn Marwân ibn Al-Ḥakam!”
The milkmaid and the empress: these two women stand out in Islamic history on their own merit. Their piety and their determination to live according to principle, to stand for what is right, overrode what their surrounding circumstances could have convinced them to do otherwise.
The milkmaid’s poverty was an easy excuse to be less than ethical, yet her consciousness of Allah made it impossible for her to prioritize wealth over her spiritual awareness. In the darkness of night, with only her mother as a witness, she sought and expected nothing more than Allah’s Pleasure; in turn, Allah expressed His Pleasure with her by marrying her to the son of one of the greatest Companions of the Prophet.
The milkmaid’s story didn’t end with her living happily ever after, though. The du'a’ of Umar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb was accepted, and from the milkmaid’s progeny came the fifth of the Rightly Guided Khalîfas, and his sister, the empress, who stood up to Al-Ḥajjâj ibn Yûsuf.
As the wife of the leader of the Islamic empire, as an empress who could have accepted all the luxuries afforded to her without caring where they came from, Umm Al-Banîn proved that piety is not merely for the poor. Her royal status did not affect her willingness to make a stand against injustice; being married to the man who employed an oppressor did not stop her from making her feelings clear to them both.
Two women from dramatically different backgrounds, yet linked by blood and their courage to do the right thing – the unnamed milkmaid and Umm Al-Banîn show Muslim men and women today that one’s social, economic, and political status should never be a barrier to living in accordance to piety and principle. When faced with situations wherein it is all too easy for us to benefit from injustice or oppression, we must know that these are in truth the hardest tests that Allah places before us. True faith is that which is tried, tested, and succeeds precisely because we have chosen to make a difficult decision – the choice that is most beloved to Allah.
Do the people think that they will be left to say: “We believe” and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars. [Sûrat Al-¢Ankabût, 29:1-2]
It is those who profess their belief and who act on it, whether in private or in public, whether in times of difficulty or of ease, who are the heroes and heroines of this Ummah.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Queen of Sheba

The story of Sulayman ('alayhissalaam) and the Queen of Sheba ('alayhassalaam) stands out in my mind because of how beautifully she is described in the Qur'an and how dignified the interaction between her and Sulayman is. Bilqees' intellect, wisdom, and quick wit are highlighted - as is her willingness to accept truth.

What really catches my attention is that when she declares her Islam, she says it in the following terms: {"My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, and I submit with Solomon to Allah, Lord of the worlds."}
There is no arrogance whatsoever - no stubbornness or reluctance to admitting previous wrongdoing, just honesty. As well, she submits with Sulayman ('alayhissalaam) to Allah - the submission of equals before their Lord. There is a sense of dignity to it all, a powerful aura of respect.

What's really amazing about how Allah tells the story in the Qur'an is that it ends with her declaration of faith in Him, with such grace. A lot of people turn it into a romance story or argue that she gave up her queendom to Sulayman, but none of that is even hinted at in the ayaat that speak about her.

Allah so clearly brings our attention to a woman who had both power & wisdom; who didn't allow herself to be swayed by fear, but who was determined to make her decisions based upon actual experience. She demonstrates to us the attitude that we should all have - a willingness to go out there and seek knowledge and experience for ourselves; to be cautious but not stubborn; open-minded but not easily dazzled... and above all, the ability to acknowledge that we have done wrong, and to turn to Allah with a heart full of faith and repentance - and dignity.

The Queen of Sheba is the perfect example of how submitting ourselves to Allah does not bring us down, but simply raises us higher.

The relationship between Sulayman (as) and Bilqees (as), as hinted at from that final declaration of Bilqees, also encapsulates (to me) the ideal relationship between men and women; that they both be seen as individuals capable of authority, and of humility at the same time. Most importantly, that each party respects the other - acknowledging their strengths and seeking only to assist each other in improving as human beings, and above all, to support each other in turning to Allah and worshiping Him alone.

The image we are left with in the Quran is that of Sulayman & Bilqees, king and queen, submitting themselves equally as slaves to Allah alone. How much more beautiful could their relationship be?

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Almost-Polygynous Woman's Checklist, Part 2

DESPITE THE NEGATIVE perception of polygyny that is widespread amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike, more and more Muslims – including women – are actively pursuing polygynous marriages. The reasons behind this are varied:
  • For some women, their status as divorcees or single mothers marks them in the community as less eligible for a monogamous husband.
  • Others may be older women who have not been previously married, whether out of choice or otherwise, and who do not feel the need for a ‘full time’ husband.
  • Still others may be younger without any children or past marriages, but simply see polygyny as a viable option that they are comfortable with.
Regardless of their personal reasons for entering polygyny, there still remains a dearth of advice geared towards women seeking this option. While Part 1 mentioned points related to what a woman should be aware of when first considering polygyny or speaking to a prospective husband, Part 2 focuses on addressing commonly occurring patterns observed amongst some polygynous women.
  1. Drop the Attitude. Unfortunately, there are numerous woman who intend on entering polygyny, yet hold negative and even aggressive attitudes from the get-go.
  • “It’s my right to marry a married man,” some say, sounding an awful lot like married men who insist on their right to marry other wives (regardless of their circumstances).
  • “I don’t need her permission to marry him!” others cry, deriding the first wife. “Why should I care how she feels? It’s my life and I’m not doing anything haram.”
  • Even worse are those who enter polygyny with the intention of causing the man to divorce his first wife so that she (the second) can have him all to herself.Such mentalities completely lack compassion and consideration, which are basic traits that every true Muslim should have. If someone is determined to enter into a polygynous marriage, they must also remember that Allah loves the musinîn – those who strive to live their lives according to a standard of excellence, knowing that even if they cannot see Allah, He sees them.A woman who is about to enter poly should be acutely aware that her upcoming marriage is not just about herself and her husband-to-be: another woman’s life will be drastically changed and impacted by this new relationship. The advent of, and commitment to, polygyny has serious effects on the first marriage; both the husband and the first wife will be going through a great deal of emotional change, as individuals and as a couple. The first wife in particular will experience great difficulty, especially if she is not 100% happy with the idea of polygyny in the first place.Ideally, polygyny should not be something that any woman is coerced or forced into; it should be something entered into with the consent of all parties involved. Many argue that it is not an Islamic requirement for the first wife to know or for her permission to be given, but it is an Islamic requirement that the husband be just with his wives – and how can he really be just between them if he is engaged in deception and emotionally harming at least one of them?Too many Muslims live their lives according to whether something is their Islamic ‘right’ or not; too few Muslims live their lives according to a higher standard of isân(excellence), dealing with others in a manner that displays greatness of adab (manners) and akhlâq (character).
  1. Be Committed. Usually it is assumed that men are those who enter polygyny without being completely committed – that is, having an attitude of “We’ll see how this goes,” sometimes with the effect of ending the second marriage quickly when the pressure from his first wife, or other factors, get to be too much for him to handle.The idea that the first wife is the only one to whom he should really be committed to is unfortunately bolstered by certain scholarly comments, including the statement that the first wife is the one who fulfills the Sunnah, whereas others are merely considered to be merely accumulations of the Dunya (material world).However, things have changed somewhat in that this attitude is no longer limited to men alone. There are now women who are also adopting this attitude – that polygynous marriage is not as serious as monogamy, that they can just ‘try it out’ and if it doesn’t work the way they want it to, then they can leave it behind without much thought.What is completely disregarded is that polygyny isn’t just about one person – it impacts, at minimum, two other people; namely, the husband and the first wife. If there are children involved, they too will be affected. Choosing to walk out on a polygynous marriage almost as soon as one has entered into it displays a complete lack of consideration for the others involved.What few think about is how polygyny has affected the first marriage, before, during, and after the second marriage has taken place. The husband as well as the wife go through emotional changes that have long-lasting consequences – even and especially in the case of a man who has made the effort to undertake polygyny in the best and most honorable manner possible.
    The first wife, even if she has no serious objection to her husband remarrying, will still experience some degree of emotional turmoil. That is only natural. The husband himself will find himself struggling to process emotions that he has never had to go through before, in addition to the adjustment of establishing a relationship with the second wife.
    Women who take polygyny lightly and don’t view a polygynous marriage as a relationship deserving of utmost commitment, need a reality check. Marriage, whether monogamous or polygynous, is a serious undertaking. Leaving a polygynous marriage abruptly without thinking about the effects it will have on others, is quite frankly selfish. (Note: This does not apply in cases of abuse.)
    Thus, any woman thinking about polygyny should first take a good, hard look at her intentions: Are you ready to view this relationship as being just as serious and deserving of commitment –in every way– as a monogamous marriage is? Are you ready to be understanding of the fact that polygyny is something that affects others besides yourself, and to behave accordingly, even (and especially) during difficult times?
    If not, then perhaps polygyny is not for you.
  1. A Co-Wife Contract. The relationship between co-wives is often the butt of various polygynous jokes. It is often solely defined in the light of jealousy, anger, and overwhelming negativity, with the first wife being characterized as high-strung and overly-emotional, and the second wife as being malicious and determined to ‘win’ the rivalry.More and more, though, there are women who no longer want to play these ill-fated roles; increasingly, women are considering the radical idea that co-wives can have a positive relationship with each other, as friends and genuine sisters in Islam rather than despising each other’s existence.Of course, there are also those who prefer to maintain a certain level of distance rather than become best friends overnight, and that’s okay. Not every woman will have the same constructive feelings towards her co-wife, and that should be recognized and respected.Nonetheless, it is still important to discuss and lay out the ways in which co-wives can establish and maintain a relationship of positivity. While one would think that things like being kind to each other and not harming each other are obvious points that are founded in the basics of Islam, it’s unfortunate that not everyone thinks things through clearly when it comes to polygyny.Hence the idea of a co-wife contract. A contract between a husband and wife is known to be a part of any Islamic marriage, but what about considering a contract between co-wives? Technically, Islam permits contracts –agreements– between parties for almost any reason (so long as it does not involve anything arâm), and further, considers the honoring of contracts to be a very serious matter.
  • The benefits of a co-wife contract would lie not only in the terms laid out, but especially in opening up the conversation between co-wives. All too often, husbands try to keep their wives apart with the mistaken assumption that distance will make things easier for them, rather than making it more difficult.The truth is that not letting the women meet and speak with each other actually gives more room for fitnah – both women will find themselves wondering what the other woman is like, how beautiful she is, what her personality is like that makes her so ‘special’ that their husband chose to marry her (or remain married to her), and so on.
  • Another benefit to meeting and composing a contract between co-wives is so that they –and their husband– can discuss their ‘poly vision.’ That is, how do they want their polygynous lifestyle to be set up? What will their system be – how many days will the husband spend with each of them, which days will go to whom? Where will they live, what is the greatest distance they are able to manage, and how will it affect the husband’s time with each wife? Will they visit each other regularly, or not at all? How will they handle conflict? Will the children from either woman have a relationship with the other, and if so, how will that relationship be nurtured?
  • Most important is laying out the absolute fundamentals of how they will treat each other: to remember and acknowledge that they are sisters in Islam who love for each other what they love for themselves. There should be a point of pledging to honor and respect each other; to have goodwill towards the other woman and her marriage to their husband; never to use their own marriage against the other’s, to cause ill feelings, or to behave maliciously with each other. They should recognize each other as part of the same family, and treat each other accordingly.
Being able to articulate these points makes it much easier to process the emotional and life changes that polygyny inevitably causes, and to flesh out a healthy co-wife relationship.
Having a co-wife contract also adds a dimension of seriousness to the discussion. Pledging to commit to the ideas and goals expressed within it results in all parties involved being held accountable not only to each other, but directly to Allah: an oath that one will have to face consequences for if broken.
Though I’ve referred to it as a ‘co-wife contract,’ this does not mean that the husband has no part in it. The husband should also be included –and wives who are concerned about things like finances or serial re-marriage can include conditions such as ensuring access to bank accounts or stipulating that in the event of divorce, the husband should wait a full year before considering polygyny again.
In the end, the main goal is to facilitate communication and honest discussion between co-wives and their shared husband, and an Islamically recognized safeguard against possible (and sadly common) misuses and abuses of polygyny.
These, then, are some of the most necessary pieces of advice for women who are thinking of entering polygyny as second or subsequent wives –according to my own observations and experience, that is. My hope is that rather than relying upon stereotypes and clichés, and rather than being negatively influenced by the many sad stories of polygyny gone wrong, Muslims can finally have access to resources that promote a healthier polygynous model and lifestyle.
Polygyny was made permissible by Allah for a reason, and while it has been misused by far too many people for far too long, there are also many great benefits that it has to offer to women as well as men.
May Allah guide us all to living according to a standard of ethics and behavior that is pleasing to Him, and grant us success and happiness in our marriages and families. Âmîn.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Almost-Polygynous Women's Checklist (Part 1)

DISCUSSIONS ABOUT POLYGYNY amongst Muslims tend to be quite stilted and repetitive – the same old tired mantras regarding a man’s “right” to take on other wives; that enduring the situation with patience is a first wife’s jihâd; that polygyny is a cure-all to half the Ummah’s social issues, from poverty to the divorce rate to single moms.
Rarely, however, are women–those who choose to go into polygyny as second or other subsequent wives—given advice on what they’re getting into. Amongst average Muslims who don’t necessarily have many positive associations with polygyny, second wives are viewed in a pretty harsh manner – as little more than secret mistresses, home-wreckers, and simply selfish.
The truth is more complex, however. In some cases, the women don’t even realize that they are second wives until after they get married, and only then are they informed (or sometimes, find out accidentally) that their husband already has another family. In other cases, it is an unfortunate reality that some women enter polygyny with the full knowledge that the first wife is completely unaware of what the husband has done.
Sadly, Muslims seem mired in unhealthy models of polygyny that are founded upon a lack of honesty, transparency, and consideration for others who will be impacted by the new marriage(s). There is little out there to provide practical advice on how one can begin a polygynous marriage and maintain it in a positive manner that seeks to embody the concept ofisân (excellence) with regards to all parties involved.
Hopefully, one step in drawing closer to promoting healthier polygynous relationships is the following advice, from one polygynous woman to those who are considering polygyny or have already decided to enter it.
  1. Don’t Be Naïve. Many women who think about entering polygyny as second or subsequent wives do so while being oblivious to the reality of polygynous life.One common trend is that men seeking other wives will attempt to woo the prospective spouse by telling her that he doesn’t ‘really’ love his first wife, that he’s only remaining married to her for the children/family, or that there is something deficient in the first wife that has led him to seek another woman. He will convince her that she will be the wife he truly loves, the only one he really cares for.
    This is a lie. Don’t fall for it.
    The truth is that these men are married to their first wives for a reason – if the situation were truly all that bad, he most likely would have divorced her already. Rather, he already has a solid and established relationship with his first wife; in most cases, the emotional bond that he has with her is such that he will never consider actually leaving her.
    Even so, such men often don’t feel too many qualms about going behind her back to marry another woman, very likely because he knows full well that she either has no option to leave him, or because she herself loves him deeply and would rather remain with him despite the deep emotional suffering he inflicts on her. Is that really the kind of man you want to marry?
    Be aware that the reality of polygyny is a far cry from “he’s a good guy who just can’t leave his first wife because of X-Y-Z.” A man who will truly be a good polygynous husband will have the courage to be open about his reasons for it without trotting out cliché lines that depend upon playing on women’s emotional needs and insecurities.
  2. Be Honest With Yourself. Just as men need to be honest about their pursuit of polygyny, so must women. The assumption is that women considering poly are already aware of what it entails and are prepared for it. The reality is not so. Too often, women have unrealistic expectations or ideas about how poly will work – that they will be the ‘favorite’ wife, that they will be able to handle any hurdles (emotional or otherwise) that come their way, and that they will be able to have the best of both worlds, marriage and singlehood alike.The reality is far more complex. Marriage in and of itself is not easy – add polygyny into the mix, and it holds its own challenges.
    Women must realize that men have emotions as well, and that the husband’s relationship with the first wife is not simplistic but deeply layered with years of love, loyalty, and shared experiences. While one naturally expects that a first wife would feel a great deal of jealousy and emotional turmoil, the truth is that second wives do as well. Ask yourself – can I really handle knowing that he truly loves his first wife? Am I happy to know that he loves his first wife, or do I feel threatened?
    To be a successful polygynous wife, a woman must be able to face her fears, admit to her insecurities, and work hard to grow and improve as a person. Confidence, strong self-esteem, and a realistic perspective will go a long way in making polygyny easier to adjust to. Clinging to unhealthy ideals or unrealistic expectations is a surefire recipe for dragging down the relationship from the moment it begins.
    This is not to say that being confident and realistic will completely remove all negative emotions – but it will make difficult situations a great deal more manageable. So again, be honest with yourself and if you find it difficult to even stomach the idea of the other wife… just don’t do it.
  3. Be Straightforward. When speaking to a married man with a view to entering into a polygynous relationship with him, be aware of red flags and don’t be afraid to call him out on them. If he refuses to tell his first wife about his intentions before he marries you, find out why. Often, the excuse is that “it will be too difficult on her if I tell her now; I’ll just wait until we’re married so that she can’t do anything about it.”Again, ask yourself – do you really want to marry the type of man who doesn’t have the courage to be honest with his wife about a decision that will completely change her life (and not necessarily in a good way)? A man of principle and honor will have enough respect for his first wife to tell her up front, even if he knows that she won’t be happy about it.
    In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you intend on being a second wife, ensure proof that the first wife knows about it. Insist on speaking to her directly, and do so with the sincere intention to be as considerate as possible – not to rub it in that her husband is looking for another wife.
    Some first wives may know about their husband’s polygynous intentions, but do not have interest in speaking to potential co-wives; others appreciate the transparency and consideration, and prefer to be involved. Find out what your potential co-wife is like, and deal with her accordingly and with consideration… but do not be complicit in deception.
    As well, do your best to make sure that he is financially capable of maintaining you without withholding or taking away resources from his first wife and children (if he has any). There are some men who will take advantage of welfare or social benefits in order to take on additional wives, or force one wife to work against her will in order for her to be able to survive financially. Ensure that the man you are considering for marriage is a man of decency and honor who fulfills his role as a qawwâm in the best possible manner.
    The above points are just some of what should be seriously considered by any woman who is seeking to enter polygyny as a second (or subsequent) wife. From the get-go, one must be willing to put aside foolish idealism and recognize that reality is far from a fairy tale. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with being optimistic or hopeful, Muslims should make an effort to do as the Prophet œ advised: Trust in Allah and tie your camel. (Tirmidhi)
    There are further considerations that women must also be aware of when thinking about polygyny, not only with regards to herself and the man she might marry, but to the woman he is already married to as well. Part 2 of this article will discuss this in further detail, inshâ’Allah.