Polygamy, Men and The Position Of Wives -Hiba Noor
When you google the rate of polygamy in Pakistan, you would think that it is quite uncommon here. However, we are talking about ‘polygyny’ here; the marriage of a man with more than one woman at the same time. If you look around, I am sure you would find two or three cases of polygyny in your own family. Of course, it is legal and Islamically permitted for a man to marry more than once if he desires or feels the ‘need’ for it, so I would not object it in that aspect, but there is one thing that men often forget while practicing this ‘right’ of theirs – their current wife.
God has given Muslim men the concession to marry more than one wife. Her consent is not necessary. He could just tell his wife about his intention to remarry, and that would be adequate.
However, the essence of Qur'an cannot be understood without the context of specific verses, and when it comes to these injunctions, Muslim men tend to ignore the context and specifities of these verses. The verses explicitly highlight the objective of facilitating women who lack a support system and are in needs of assistance. These circumstances were aggravated by conquests in the early Islamic history where the social support that marriage provided didn't have any alternative. This is just one aspect of the vast scope of interpretation of Qur'anic commandments and yet, not even this is part of the discourse when men harp on their supposedly unconditioned right to multiple marriages.
Therefore, the idea of polygyny sounds okay, because it is permitted and there is nothing illegal about it, and I am sure you have heard these lines from many Pakistani men as well, and they are not wrong, but this is the manipulation they tend to do through using Islam as the defendant of their desires. They do not feel the need to step deep into this matter, because it is enough to defend their case.
But do we ever consider looking at the other side of the story? Everything written above represents an objective point of view. But do we realize that it is not a matter of objectivity here? It involves another person’s life, her feelings, and her home.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) indicated that one wife is always preferable so that a man does not expose himself to the risk of treating his wives unfairly when he is required to maintain fairness between them at all times. Nevertheless, if a man remarries, he is to maintain fairness between them and not let any of them feel unwanted. Moreover, the Quran should be interpreted holistically, and it says men should remarry to support women who need it, and we also need to understand the changing times because it is not a rigid rule, customs change, and so do societal needs. Even though the essence of the commandments remains the same, Islam is a religion that includes jurisprudence which caters to needs of different times and spaces. For instance, there are exceptions granted to travelers for the obligation of prayers but the comforts of modern transportation systems allows people to perform their obligations during travel with ease. Although different schools of thought implement these rulings with different interpretations (which I believe is the beauty of Islam), the overarching point is that changes in times, customs, technology, economy, etc. are compatible with religion. Besides, a lot of things aren’t haraam, but it doesn’t mean they are the best course of action.
The portrayal of second marriages through media representation on tv and movies is another attempt to normalize this act. Men are portrayed as oppressed beings who are then left with no option except remarriage.
Furthermore, The fact that the constant playful threat of a second marriage is considered a national joke in Pakistan, tells so much about the misogynic impact on our society. You would see Pakistani men jokingly planning their second marriage in family gatherings, in front of their wives, and their wives awkwardly laughing it off.
These things might seem trivial, but leave a much larger impact than intended. A wife constantly lives in the fear that her husband might leave her for another woman if she makes the slightest mistake, if she gets fat, if she gets wrinkles or if she does anything that might drag her husband’s attention away from her. How ridiculously disgusting is this fear that most Pakistani women live with? The pain that this continuous stress brings is unimaginable.
The thing that is even more sickening is that most Pakistani men further validate these fears. Polygamy is allowed in Islam as a measure to solve some social problems. It is not a question of satisfying men's whims. Research proves that most marriage breakdowns occur when a woman gets pregnant, or after she gives birth. When a woman gets pregnant, she becomes “unattractive” to a man’s materialistic and egregious standards of beauty and looks. So he ends up cheating on her with considerably “young”, “attractive” and “slim” women.
Women live under this constant pressure that in order to maintain her husband’s interest in her, and to make sure he does not leave her for another woman, a wife should make sure she remains slim, ever young, and beautiful according to her husband’s despicable standards of attractiveness, all her life.
Another reason why most men remarry is if a woman is infertile. The desire for a child is understandable. But don’t you think that in this advanced age, there are numerous other alternatives which would not make your wife feel unwanted? To anyone who thinks that many women happily allow their husbands to remarry in these cases, you are mistaken. Aside from some specific cases, no woman would be okay with sharing her husband, even if she says it is okay. While exceptions certainly exist, pop-culture representations of society, as well as anecdotal evidence suggest that most women only agree because they are insecure, since they are made to believe that there is something wrong with them, and their husband would leave them anyway, if they do not abide. Even an oppressed wife with an abusive husband does not want to share her disrespectful husband.
Moreover, when a woman’s husband remarries, she becomes even more anxious and insecure that he might leave her someday because he would prefer the younger and prettier wife to her. No man can imagine the pain of a woman whose husband remarries; maybe not even women, unless they go through it themselves.
This is one of the many reasons I believe that this is not a matter to be looked at objectively. It is not important if it is lawful or legal, or the man’s right, because maybe the only person who is being adversely affected is the first wife. It is just not ethical to remarry without an honest consent of the wife, unless it is to help someone or to financially or morally support someone that might be circumstantially acceptable.
Men need to understand that before they take this big step, it is a person’s life that will be emotionally impacted, and that it is not only a matter of them practicing their “rights”.
Hiba Noor is a 16-year old aspiring writer who is in the process of exploring different perspectives and finding her voice in their midst.