The Plural of Wife is …

By Fatima Aly Jaffer (Nairobi, Kenya)

Wives.  Which is grammatically correct.  However, when you begin to associate more than one wife to one man, then a typical result is the one displayed by the head-shaking, condescendingly-pitying figure of CNN’s Jonathan Mann on his Insight segment (16th May 2006).  According to him, polygyny is more than a minor ‘aberration’ in some parts of the USA.

When the segment began, I was glued to the TV waiting for that fateful mention of Islam, but to my surprise with every passing minute of the half hour there was only more and more of Americans and Christians.

The obvious difference between the Islamic and Christian concept of polygyny rose up at the sight of one man leading ten wives and their broods of children, or air-shots of women and children working in fields confined within closed grounds (and hijab is restrictive?).

In all honesty however, when the topic of multiple wives comes up, it’s almost unnatural how we, as a community, treat it .  Like Muta’, the issue of having a second wife (we’re not ready to digest thirds and fourths yet) rubs against the Khoja like sandpaper on silk.  We know it’s halal, but we believe that it’s wrong.  The plurality of that belief passes us by as inconsequential.  What happened to “We do not love except that which He loves”?  In our heart of hearts, are we actually disagreeing with Allah (SWT)?

Salaat and fasting we can handle, but when it comes to issues of emotional attachment, fidelity and sexuality, we are more often then not guided by our desires and fears.  In this case, the fear dominates.  A woman believes (largely because of the images society presents) that love can have only one object.  If the man she marries were to take another wife, it would imply that she was not enough for him, that she had not satisfied him and in turn that she had failed as a wife.

I can’t speak confidently on behalf of men, but considering the number of clandestine second marriages, I’m led to assume a man marries secretly a second time because: a) he simply wants to, not caring that he breaks the law condition of required equality by hurting his first wife or b) he is forced into it for fear of the reaction of his first wife (Hell hath no fury and all that).  In the first case, he’s wrong.  In the second, he’s chicken.

First wives are seen as martyrs and ‘poor-her-she-never-saw-it-coming’ victims.  Second wives are looked upon as pariahs, called home-wreckers and every other devious epitaph known to womankind.  And the men…well, this is a family-oriented newsletter.

Time for a wake-up call, people.  The Law of Allah (SWT) is perfect (repeat that last word again: p-e-r-f-e-c-t).  If we have a problem with it, the fault is with us, not the law.  By defying it, we invite the consequences of messing with a system whose flawlessness we have no way of fully comprehending.  When we become hostile to the possibility of polygyny we breed grounds for divorce, promiscuity, adultery and a general breakdown of spousal trust.  Can we truly afford to hold on to a hard-headed opinion regarding the paint on the wall, when the whole house is crashing down around our heads?

We complain that our children don’t value marriage, that unions don’t last and that the very foundation of the familial structure of society is crumbling.  Yet, we are not willing to consider the possibility that we’re sticking to a formula that doesn’t provide for every situation – after all, it’s a man-made formula.

Generally speaking, the Formula requires that a young man (ideally early- to late- twenties) should marry a young woman (ideally late-teens to early-twenties).  But there are a lot of men and women out there who don’t fit this profile.  There are widows and divorcees, reverts and converts, young, mature and old.  From amongst these, women tend to get the short end of the stick – if they don’t fit the ‘profile’, they’re in for a struggle.

Given the limit of space, it’s not possible to go deeper into the issue or to discuss it from all angles, but then we don’t do preaching here anyway. We only suggest ideas and leave it to the reader to develop them individually.

No one is suggesting that it’s easy accepting, or being a second wife.  According to a sister who has a co-wife: “You either have to be very strong and Islamic minded to make a success out of polygyny or you have to not like your husband very much and look forward to his days away from you!”

Looking to the future, we know that one of the signs of the Last Times will be a dire difference in the ratio of men to women.  The last thing I want to do is inflate the general masculine ego, but these times are already upon us and the solution is available.

If there only a (relatively) few good men scattered around the world, then where is the justice in encouraging our sisters to monopolize them?

Disclaimer:  This article is based on personal analysis and contemplation and should in no way be used to justify another persons’ actions without appropriate consideration and communication on their own part.  (Just in case people out there actually listen to what I say…)

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