Polygyny: Utah, Legitimacy & Change

(Part 2)
By Aishah Schwartz
American Writer, Activist & Photojournalist

We as Muslims in America need to be more vocal about the rights of religious freedom. This moment has paved the way for us...

Introduction - Part 1

Muslims are not the only ones adversely affected by the marginalization of polygnous families, Mormons practicing polygamy have been victimized as well.

Nationally recognized legal scholar and constitutional law expert, Professor Jonathan Turley, as lead counsel for plaintiffs in an arduously pursued battle to de-criminalize polygamy – brought to the forefront by the Brown family ("Sister Wives") case – announced a victory on December 13, 2013 in a Summary Judgment delivered by US District Court for the State of Utah's Judge Clark Waddoups.

"With this decision, families like the Browns can now be both plural and legal in the state of Utah," Turley said in a statement on his blog.

The court specifically struck down language criminalizing cohabitation - the provision that is used to prosecute polygamists – as violating both the free exercise clause of the first amendment as well as the due process clause. The opinion is over 90 pages and constitutes a major constitutional ruling in protection of individual rights.

The Utah ruling is truly a landmark decision, overturning a 19th century law that forced Mormon community members practicing polygamy to hide in the shadow of their religious beliefs and practices.

Isn't it ironic that Muslims practicing polygyny are pretty much forced to live the same way? In hiding, fear and with shame, because cultural practices dictate their being disinclined to accept that something they may not like might actually be good for them.

Muslim Response to Utah Polygamy Case

As I began this journey on the subject of polygyny, I came across numerous groups on the internet dedicated specifically to discussion of the topic.

Below is a sampling of what Muslims had to say about the Utah ruling and how the Brown family makes their plural marriage work:

- Sad, non-Muslims get Polyngny better than we! And we were given the how to and right from Allah. We throw in the towel and they work to stay together!

- Muslims need to review themselves.

- He (the husband in the Brown family) is not Muslim but he puts a lot of Muslim men to shame.

- The husband does his job and they are not struggling to meet their expenses; they work as a unit.

- They are mature and have the understanding of a unified family. Not a lot of egos involved.

- They all have to want, believe in it, and work toward its staying power. Finances can mean little to a family that believes in its relationship. Trying to force someone into wanting something is never a good idea even with something halal. Once it enters the heart, the commitment shows through.

- Could it be that they are all committed to the same vision, goals and aspirations? Or that the wives believe wholeheartedly in the vision of their husband for his family?

- All of the above, although knowing it is even beyond your husband can be the most inspiring method of retention than shared aspirations of this life. When we go beyond that to pleasing Allah as a unified cohesive believer. There is no stopping us as families, multiple or not. Those visions and goals only begin with your husband but they end in Jannah by whatever means you all have agreed upon.

- I think it is great. We as Muslims in America need to be more vocal about the rights of religious freedom. This moment has paved the way for us even though the husband in the Brown case is not Muslim. We just have to fight for what is ours here as well.

- The Mormons have been doing their thing for years, right here in the land of the non-believers (America). What are Muslims doing? Can we have solutions, examples of polygyny working, encouragement? Really, the Imams are full of fear, the scholars are a joke, it is up to the everyday untitled Muslim to fix this.

- It is indeed the Muslims themselves who have wronged themselves and our Ummah.

- The main difference, in my eyes, is that the Mormons who practice polygyny follow their prophet's example, their teachings, down to the letter, in a way that many Muslims are reluctant to do. We look for loopholes, we cry, "That was then, this is now it's not possible!"

- We don't like the Sunnah, and many of us disregard it because "It isn't in the Quran" (although it is), so we do not succeed, fully, at what we put our hands to do.

It is very probable that a man marrying a second wife could be solving a problem.

It is, indeed, shameful that Muslims, particularly those living in countries where polygyny is not only a sunnah practice of their religion – but legal as well – often fail to realize how they've been favored by Allah with the freedom to practice Islamic religious beliefs virtually unfettered – yet even amongst themselves there is a form of unspoken criminalization of those choosing polygyny.

Why Muslim Men Take Second Wives

Generally speaking, the reason a Muslim man is permitted to marry more than one woman is because Islam is a realistic religion, not based upon idealistic notions which would cause real problems of everyday life without solution or treatment.

It is very probable that a man marrying a second wife could be solving a problem, in that his first wife is incapable of bearing children or has extended menstruation cycles which result in his sexual needs being unsatisfied.

The first wife could be ill and thus, instead of divorcing her and leaving her alone, could marry a second wife and remain next to his first wife, and so on.

This allowance also solves the problem of a widow who needs a husband to care for her but does not wish for an unmarried young man, similar to a divorced woman with children.

Also, as previously discussed, polygyny may solve a social problem which arises from the high proportion of good women who want to marry in comparison to able men, which coincides with the disparity in the number of female vs. male reverts to Islam.

In such instances, without the permissibility of a man to take a second wife, women would be faced with remaining unmarried for the rest of their lives, and are thus deprived from being a wife, companion, helpmate or experiencing motherhood; which would be a great injustice.

These women would also face fulfilling their sexual needs regardless of decrees of religion and acceptable behavior, resulting in a tragic loss in this life and the hereafter.

Alternatively, they agree to marry an already married man who is capable of meeting their living and/or sexual needs and who is confident in his ability to deal fairly and justly between his wives.

Prophet Muhammad said:

“Allah did not send me for monasticism, rather He sent me with a simple and straight [Shariah]. I fast, pray and also have intimate relations with my wife. So whosoever likes my tradition, then he should follow it; and marriage is one of my traditions.” (Muslim, 3236)

I am not here to refute that the sexual relationship between a husband and wife is a crucial element of marriage, but it's not the only reason for entering into a second marriage.

Muslims know well enough that the Prophet maintained a 24-year monogamous marriage with Khadijah.

Neither is the taking of a second wife a "do-over" because the first marriage didn't work; it's an additional promise to care for another woman, another family, monetarily, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

{And fulfil the covenant of Allah when you have entered into it, and break not your oaths after you have confirmed them. Indeed you have made Allah your surety, for Allah knows all that you do.} (An-Nahl 16: 91)

Recognizing Polygyny's Legitimacy

Historically most societies practiced a variety of definitions regarding marriage, with monogamy and polygyny among the most common.

Yet, the idea that a person can love only one intimate partner—that a person must relate to, be faithful to, and love only one person at a time—is ingrained into most of us from childhood, thus, monogamy is generally romanticized as being the only acceptable form of marriage.

Muslims know well enough that the Prophet, peace be upon him, maintained a 24-year monogamous marriage with Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her), just as they also know that after her passing, the Prophet, peace be upon him, practiced polygyny – taking wives from among those who were divorced (even with children) or widowed.

Disturbingly, regardless of what Muslims know of Islamic teachings, both fard (obligatory) and sunnah, it is apparent that we live in a culture which dictates monogamy as the only viable option in marriage.

This mindset repeatedly, demonstrably, and volubly dismisses all other forms of marriage as illegitimate, wrong, and harmful – resulting in marginalization of families successfully practicing or wishing to practice polygyny.

I believe that it is important to set a discourse in motion that recognizes polygyny's legitimacy; that allows people to begin thinking differently about the ways in which people can relate and in which families can thrive.

Successfully practicing polygynous families have the right to be more visible, but we need to get to a place where there is a common language for people to draw on so that monogamy isn’t considered the only viable option and people can begin to be more honest with one another.

After all, isn't the fact that some Muslim men take a second wife without the knowledge of the first wife one of the biggest complaints amongst women? This is also often one of the reasons first wives seek divorce.

Alternatively, there are also second wives who plot to destroy the relation of the husband with his first wife, something Muslims are strongly cautioned against.

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle (peace be upon him) said:

“No woman should ask for the divorce of her sister (Muslim) so as to take her place, but she should marry the man (without compelling him to divorce his other wife), for she will have nothing but what Allah has written for her.” (Al-Bukhari - Book 77, Hadith 598)

It is also commonly known that research has cited infidelity as a major reason for divorce among married couples the world-over, which begs the question: Is the force-feeding of monogamy part of the problem leading people to seek additional relationships in secrecy because of fear of judgment?

In the case of any polygynous marriage, the bulk of responsibility for making it work falls on the shoulders of the man – and it takes a great deal of compassion and patience to make it work.

Maintaining peace and harmony between family members is no small feat.

A lot on the success or failure of a polygynous marriage also depends on the personalities of the women involved.

Thus, it would behoove a man seeking a second wife, to be completely open about his decision.

I have read that in some cases the first wife even aids in seeking out a suitable co-wife in an attempt to make the transition into polygyny cohesive.

But are we willing to listen, learn and participate in the process?

{…Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves…} (13:11)

One Muslim at a time; are you in?


Polygyny Surveys:

Anonymous Q & A for Muslim Men in Polygynous Marriages

Anonymous Polygyny Questionnaire for Muslim Women

Related Links:
The People of the Book in the Quran
Hospitality in Islam: The Joy of Honoring Guests
What Is Socializing Anyway?
Italian Catholic Finds Islam in Australia
A Happy Marriage Makes a Healthy Family (Folder)

Aishah Schwartz is an American Muslim revert to Islam since April 2002, is founder and director of the 2006 established Washington, D.C.-based Muslimah Writers Alliance (MWA) and a retired nearly 20-year career litigation legal assistant. Ms. Schwartz is also a published freelance non-fiction writer and photojournalist whose aim is to counter misconceptions regarding the Islamic faith and members of the Muslim community. As a woman traveling in the Middle East, Ms. Schwartz's role as a civil and human rights activist has focused on the rights of Muslim women and the plight of the Palestinian people affected by the Israeli imposed illegal embargo on Gaza. She has also reported on revolutions in the Middle East as a Demotix photojournalist from 2011-2013.

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