Opinion: My two mothers-in-law: I saw the benefits of polygamy for both men and women


Attiya Shaukat, Complementary Therapist

I saw how polygamy protects a man and the women involved. I am now convinced that all Quranic rights granted to men offer liberation for women too.

I know three families in total where the husband has two wives. But it was when I observed my mother-in-law who was the second wife in a polygamous marriage that the rights of women became more apparent to me. 

Some biblical personages had ascribed 700 plus wives (1 Kings 11:13). However, Islam curtails the number of wives to four, in certain circumstances within the confines of absolute justice.

Certainly, all couples are not alike. Therefore, Islamic law has never shied from offering a solution to the multitude of scenarios that may compel a man to ask the hand of another woman. The Quran’s 700-plus commandments contain solutions to life’s contingencies, akin to a comprehensive pharmacy containing all the remedies required for mankind’s needs.

King Henry VIII is an example of why monogamy is not for all.  For the sake of a male heir, infatuation, or to form political alliances, Henry VIII married again and again, discarding wife after wife like a dirty rag or beheading them! Islamic polygamy would have helped Henry to keep multiple wives without ruthlessly disposing them and if these unfortunate wives were allowed to divorce him instead; the situation would have fared better. 

On the other hand, men such as Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre are deserving of genuine compassion. He finds his marriage to a mentally ill woman constrictive. To appease himself, he gratifies with all sorts of mistresses in Europe. Eventually he wishes to marry Jane, who rejects him. “You fling me back on lust for a passion – vice for an occupation?” he says to Jane. 

Jane urges Rochester to live in celibacy, which is cruel to the faculties of a man. Polygamy would have helped this man stuck with a mentally incapacitated woman to lead a virtuous, pious life. Preventing him from visiting prostitutes and contracting a sexually transmitted disease without dejecting the other spouse into destitution. And if the tables are turned and the man becomes invalid or loses his capacity, a woman is free to divorce him if she wishes. (Hazrat Mirza Ghulam AhmadasNoah’s Ark, p. 130)

Historically, we find that in World War I and World War II, the proportion of spinsters increased due to deficiency in marriage partners, which led a life of sexual promiscuity and the subsequent moral decline in the West we see today. Islam prevents promiscuity that can be created from such a scenario. Polygamy allows protection for a large number of women who are otherwise left to prey on family units. Being a mistress is a foul way to live, with no legal rights or protection over herself or her subsequent children.

There are various situations where monogamy becomes a curse and polygamy the only cure. Those situations are rare – but they happen.

 To counter a man’s right of polygamy, a woman has rights if she is unhappy. Firstly, “[…] the wife, at the time of marriage, can take an oath from her husband that he will never marry another”. (Jalsa Salana 2021, Lajna session)

Those ladies who did not scribe this stipulation in their nikah form have the liberty of obtaining a divorce from the husband, should he take another wife. (Noah’s Ark, p. 129)

Alternatively, she can plead to a court higher than any shariah law – that is the court of God itself, praying she is never tested with such a predicament. (Ibid, p. 131)

Contrastingly, if becoming the second wife is daunting to a woman, she can dismiss the proposal. Thus, in reality, only when the first and the second wife agree to the situation can the man take a second wife. 

 I am lucky that I observed through scrutiny how polygamy grants protection to the women involved and society. The children from the two mothers grew as if they were from a single unit, financially cared for and supported. The brothers, despite being apart in personality and expression, grew up close in their affection. During family reunions, the house brims over and the atmosphere is full of mutual warmth and affection due to fraternity.

Whatever thousands of requisites out there that compel a man to remarry, society thinks that unfairness of polygamy falls on the first wife. But when my father-in-law passed away in hospital last month, I was at home with Aapi (the first wife) and broke the news to her. I reminded her to be patient. She held on to the kitchen worktop for support and said, “You don’t understand. I miss him already”. 

You see, no one misses an unjust man.  

May his soul rest in peace.

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