Polygamy: Unacceptable second marriage

Q457 :Can a man marry a second wife in order to punish his first wife for her disobedience and failure to fulfil her duties towards him ?

A457 : Islam provides a system which regulates family life as well as the life of the community as a whole. In every respect of its legislation and in its regulation of relations between various groups and individuals in society, Islam maintains justice, fair treatment and a balance between rights and responsibilities. In this way it provides a solid basis for a strong, closely knit community. Within the family, Islam has established certain rules and distributed responsibilities to each of the two partners, adding commensurate rights which should be observed and fulfilled by both of them. A woman should obey her husband as long as he does not tell her to do something which is unlawful, from the Islamic point of view. In return, she is to be treated with respect and kindness and to be well looked after so that she has no worries about her own or her children's needs. Because the woman is the weaker partner in the family relationship, Islam places strong emphasis on the importance of being fair to women, and not to abuse them in any way. The Prophet describes those who are kind and good to their wives as the best of people. He says : "The best among you are those who are best to your households; I am the best among you to my house-hold." This is a clear statement which encourages every kindness toward one's wife and children. Such a kindness is certainly a measure of good character. It is also the gauge for a happy family life. There is no doubt that by the way a man treats his wife and the care and kindness he shows her, he sets the pattern of life in the family home. If he is kind, good and caring, mutual affection and happiness will be well established. If he is quarrelsome, unkind and dictatorial, his life at home will be beset with problems. While a woman can influence the pattern of life at home to a large extent, there is no doubt that the ultimate responsibility for the happiness of the family lies with the man. When we say this, we are certainly speaking in a general manner. Families differ as much as individuals differ in their habits, temperaments, cares and prejudices. Moreover, they differ according to the degree of compatibility between man and wife. Everyone of us requires certain qualities in his or her life partner. It is no exaggeration to say that none of us finds in the other the ideal partner that he or she has imagined before marriage. There is always need to compromise. That need continues with us through life and the more ready we are to make such compromises, the happier we become. It is perhaps with an eye to this need that one of the final commandments of the Prophet was concerned with the treatment of wives and women generally. On his deathbed, the Prophet continued to remind the followers of three areas as needing continuous attention. The first concerns man's relationship with Allah while the other two are concerned with human relations, concentrating on the need to protect the rights of two vulnerable groups in society, namely, women and slaves. He said repeatedly : "Attend to your prayers. Do not ask those whom your right hands possess to accomplish for you what they cannot do. Fear Allah in your treatment of women." With such emphasis on the rights of women and the need to extend to them the proper and kind treatment they expect and deserve, every Muslim must do his best to ensure that in his treatment of his wife and the rest of his household, he provides an example to be followed by others. We all know that Islamic society is compassionate and caring. These characteristics start in the family home and with every member of the family extending them to the others, according to each one's responsibilities and duties. On the basis of the foregoing principles, we look at the question posed by our reader. It is well known that Islam allows a man to marry up to four wives at any one time. Furthermore, Islam allows divorce. In each of these two cases of polygamy, there are rights which belong to the husband and each of his wives. A man may marry a second wife for any one or a number of reasons. These, however, do not include punishing his first wife for her non-fulfilment of her duties towards him. She may be disobedient and totally undutiful. Her behaviour may leave much to be desired. The proper way to correct such a situation is not by marrying a second wife. It is true that such a marriage may jolt her violently and she may correct her attitude towards her husband. But then, that is not the primary consideration in such an equation. We have to begin with the second wife who is being used as a means of punishment or retaliation in a situation in which she remains not involved up to the point of her marriage. When she accepts to marry her husband, she may be totally unaware of his intentions and the general situation which exists in his home and the relationship between him and his first wife. On the other hand, she may be given a highly false impression of that situation. What will happen next is, in most cases, a continuing rivalry, fed up by jealousy, between the two women, until one is finally able to win a special position of favour with the husband who may, in turn, suffer as a result of this rivalry. In such a situation, the making of a good family home is totally lacking. The real sufferers, at the end of the day, are the children of either one or both of the two women. If the second marriage is intended as punishment for the first wife, is it not appropriate to ask : what happens if the punishment works and the first wife becomes obedient, loving and caring? Will the husband in this case divorce the second wife, as the role which she was brought in to play has been fulfilled? If the answer is in the affirmative and that a divorce will take place, then the whole affair is absurd. It involves an exploitation of a human being, the second wife, to remedy a situation which is neither of her making nor of her concern. Nor has she been told that her role will be over when the punishment proves to be effective. Moreover, by that time, children may have been born to the second wife and they have rights to claim against their father. If the answer to the above question is that no divorce will take place and the second marriage is permanent, as every marriage should be, then the husband is guilty of playing games with the interests of the family as a whole. This is something which Islam does not accept at all. Islam views marriage very seriously and emphasizes that all rights of all partners must be honoured and strictly observed. To sum up, the second marriage while retaining the first wife is allowed in Islam for any of the good reasons for which such a concession has been allowed us by Allah. The duties of husband and wife must be fulfilled, as they are commensurate with their rights. A wife obeys her husband and looks after her. Both care for each other and respect and honour each other. A second marriage contracted with the aim of punishing the first wife for her lack of observance of her duties towards her husband cannot be approved because it involves unfairness to others. Moreover, it betrays an unacceptable attitude to marriage as a whole, which Islam views very seriously.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )