Polygamy: Rights of wives

Q456 :When a women learns of her husband intending a second marriage, is it permissible for her to tell him that he may not bring his second wife in her home and that he must provide a second accommodation for her. Can she say that even when her husband has only a small house provided to him by the company and he has only a limited income which may not be sufficient to keep two houses. Can he choose a Christian woman for his second wife?

A456 : Islam views marriage as a relationship between human beings. Therefore, the rights and privileges as well as the feelings and emotions of each partner in this relationship must be taken into consideration. Since the woman is the weaker partner in a marriage relationship, Islam has taken care to ensure that her rights are respected. When a man defaults on his duties towards his wife, this constitutes sufficient ground for the nullification of the marriage, if an Islamic court determines that the situation cannot be mended. Such annulification can be enforced despite the objections of the defaulting husband. Every married woman is entitled to have a decent home of the standard to which women in her social status are accustomed. If she agrees to marry a man of limited income, she implicitly consents to have a home of the standard her husband can afford. Whatever may be the family circumstances, her right to a decent home is undeniable. This is part of something greater to which she is also entitled by right, namely, a family atmosphere based on care, affection and compassion. In short, a homely life. It is well known that Islam allows a man to marry up to four wives at a time. When a man intends to marry a second wife, it is not obligatory that he should seek or obtain his first wife's consent. But she remains entitled to all her rights and privileges. The second wife also enjoys similar rights. Both of them are entitled to equal standard. He cannot, say, give one of them a detached two-story villa with a garden and accommodate the other in a small apartment in a large block of flats. If he does that, then he is guilty of unfair and unequal treatment. When we consider this very carefully, we realize that it is the duty of any man who intends to marry a second wife to make sure that he can support both of them on an equal basis. The Qur'anic instruction is very clear: "If you fear that you may not treat them equally, then limit yourself to one (wife)." It may so happen that a married man finds himself deep in love with another woman and she consents to be his wife, knowing that he is of limited means. He should reflect, however, that marriage is not a temporary arrangement. He must never overlook his duties toward his first wife, or indeed the second. The first question he should ask himself is whether he would be able to maintain two homes. It is not lawful for a man who has married two women to force them to live in the same house, whether it is big or small, unless both of them agree to that arrangement without coercion. This is due to the fact that in such circumstances it is only natural for them to harbour feelings of jealousy and hostility toward each other. Each of them will be always on the watch, trying to discover any sign of favouritism which her husband shows toward his other wife. That will inevitably lead to endless quarrels and the atmosphere in the family home will be unhealthy for the upbringing of the children. Moreover, why should a wife be exposed to such a situation which enhances ill-feelings. On the basis of this, it is perfectly legitimate for the first wife to tell her husband when he embarks on a second marriage that he must not at any time enforce on her the burden of sharing her home with his second wife. If she makes that clear to him and he nevertheless tries to impose it, then this constitutes a basis for the nullification of the marriage, if she so desires. She will be entitled to all her rights. Having said that, I realize that not every woman who finds herself in such a situation would like to have her marriage nullified. A wife may still be young and she may have young children who need to have both their parents around. She may have no feasible alternative. If she gets her marriage nullified, she may face the problem of being separated from her children. Many a woman would sacrifice her happiness in order to stay with her children. Therefore, it is only right that a woman is given the freedom of choice with regard to the type of home she may have when her husbands marries a second or a third wife. As I have already said, a man may not force his two wives to share one house without their consent. If both of them agree to such sharing, they are forgoing part of their right and this must be on the basis of free choice. A husband may arrange for both his wives to have separate rooms in one house only if such is the nature of housing people in the same social status as his wives have. If, for example, a man's wife comes from a family which shares her home with another family, then such a shared accommodation is the type of her equals. He may, then, ask her to have separate rooms in a house which she shares with his other wife. When we consider all this, we find that in the case the (lady) reader cites, the husband will be ill-advised to marry a second wife. His company is unlikely to give him a second home for the second wife. Therefore, he will have to rent a flat for her which will constitute a heavy financial burden and will take a considerable portion of his income. If he is thinking of getting both his wives to share his small accommodation, he is depriving both of them of their rights. As we have said, he cannot do that unless both of them freely consent. What we have also to consider is that Islam allows polygamy only as a solution to social problems. When a man is happy with his family life with his first wife, he should not think of marrying again. His own happiness is at stake. Having said that, it is perhaps valid to say that a man does not normally think of a second marriage, if he is happy with his first wife. When a woman finds herself threatened with the prospect of having to share her husband with another woman, she should examine her situation very carefully and think whether her husband is motivated to take such a step by the lack of happiness in the family home. Perhaps she may do something about that to ensure that everyone of her family is leading a happy life. The other point the lady reader raises is whether it is permissible for a man who is married to a Muslim wife to choose a Christian for his second wife. The answer is that it is permissible, but far from recommended. What we have also to understand is that Islam may permit certain things but it advises its followers against resorting to them. We know that divorce is permissible, but is one legal thing which Allah dislikes most. Allah would not have allowed it, had it not been for the fact that there is a certain social need for its legality. The same applies to marrying a woman who adheres to another faith. The problems which may arise in such a marriage are enormous, but it has been legalized nevertheless because there are circumstances which make it the most practical solution.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )