In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,
Unfortunately, as is the case with a lot of things, many Muslims are involved in two kinds of extremes when it comes to polygamy (a man taking on more than one wife. Note, whenever the term “polygamy” is cited in this article it is to be understood in this context). And, like always, the best of ways is the middle way – the path of moderation, insha Allah.
The first form of extremism found in some circles is that of taking polygamy extremely lightly. Some men consider taking on a second wife to be a divine right assigned to them by Allah Most High, and hence regardless of the their circumstance and situation, they insist on marrying second or third time without giving due consideration to the extremely difficult condition prescribed by Shariah. There is no doubt polygamy is allowed in Islam but it is not an unrestricted right of a man. There are strict conditions that must be adhered to before a man can take on a second wife.
As such, many contemporary scholars have advised against marrying a second time unless a man is genuinely in need of doing so. Having two (or more) wives is surely not easy, given the complications and problems the situation can bring about. Scholars explain that it is generally unwise for a man to take on more than one wife in “our times” without a genuine need, because it results in a) harm to the first wife, b) harm to the second wife when the first wife is upset, c) non-fulfilment of rights, and importantly d) harm to the children involved.
As explained in previous answers on this website, it is one of the foremost requirements for a man having more than one wife that he treats all his wives equally and justly. There are grave warnings mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunna for oppressing, mistreating or not being fair with the wives. The Qur’an conditioned the permissibility of marrying more than once with justice and equal treatment.
Allah Most High says:
“If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two, three, or four. But if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one…” (Surah al-Nisa, V: 3)
As such, it is a grave sin to treat the wives unequally and to fail giving them their rights. Any man who wishes to take on a second wife has to meet the important condition of fair treatment of all his wives. The verse quoted above includes the command to treat wives equally, and anyone who is unable to do so should marry only one woman.
Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “A man who has two wives and he does not deal justly with them will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment with half his body paralysed.” (Sunan at-Tirmidhi, no: 1141)
Treating wives fairly and equally is easier said than done. Many people think they are capable of treating their wives justly, but the reality on the ground is somewhat different. They start off treating them justly but eventually fall into the major sin of unjust and unfair treatment.
Equal treatment includes all social, economical and physical needs. It is very difficult for human beings to be completely fair, a fact which is recognised by the Qur’an:
“You are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire: but turn not away (from a woman) altogether, so as to leave her (as it were) hanging (in the air)…” (Surah al-Nisa, 129)
The above verse alludes to the fact that a man must be fair in his external treatment of his wives. He should spend equal time with all of them; spend out on them equally, etc. However, if his heart is inclined towards one or he has more love for one wife over the other, then that is not blameworthy, for it is beyond his control. But he should not let his extra-love for one wife be known to the other.
Muslim men considering polygamy really need to think deep and hard before taking such a huge step. They must realize that marriage is no joke. It brings with it a great deal of responsibility. They must not consider the second marriage akin to an extra-marital affair. It is wrong and sinful for men to destroy the lives of women by marrying them and then failing to give them their due rights. Some men even go to the extent of taking on a second wife with the intention of divorcing her after a short period, without making the second wife aware of this. This sister (the second wife) enters the marriage with the intention and hope of spending the rest of her life with him, but the selfish man has some other agenda and enters the marriage with the intention of short term enjoyment! All of these are real problems faced by people entering polygamous marriages; hence, many contemporary scholars advise against such marriages unless there is a genuine and exceptional need.
The Second form of extremist approach to the issue at hand is one of totally rejecting the permissibility of polygamy. Many modernist Muslims and some others cannot tolerate the fact that Islam allows a man to marry a second wife after fulfilling the strict condition of fair treatment. Some consider polygamy to be abrogated, outdated or not suited to our times. Some even go to the extent of considering a man who takes on a second wife to be guilty of a crime akin to adultery. Even “practising” Muslims unfortunately become involved in such absurd judgments.
I have come across cases where the local Muslim community went against a pious Muslim man who due to “genuine” reasons had married a second wife with the consent of his first wife. He was degraded and insulted by his community as though he was guilty of a heinous crime. A wife of another Muslim man said, she would rather prefer her husband being involved in a secret unlawful adulterous relationship than taking on a second wife! Others, upon learning that so and so married second time, simply recite La Hawla wa la Quwwata illa billah or other similar statements of scepticism. As such, these Muslims unfortunately ridicule, scorn and look at polygamous marriages with contempt.
This no doubt is a serious situation caused due to many factors and reasons. From wanting to appease non-Muslims to simply not being able to understand the wisdom and logic behind polygamy, there are many factors that contribute in a Muslim not accepting this divine injunction of Islam. A Muslim male or female must realize that it is completely permissible for a man to take on a second wife provided he fulfils all the necessary and strict conditions, and that there is much wisdom behind this permissibility. (Some of these wisdoms have been outlined in an earlier article available on this website). As such, considering the permissibility of polygamy an absurd ruling of Islam is indeed very dangerous, and could even lead to disbelief (kufr), as scholars explain.
It is stated in the Fatawa collection compiled by the Hanafi jurist of recent times in the Subcontinent, Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ Uthmani (Allah have mercy on him):
“The permissibility of polygamy is established through the verses of the Qur’an, Sunna and consensus of the Muslim Umma. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) married many widows, as it is known by all. As such, considering polygamy a defect due to the prevalent customs of the world is a major sin and a grave crime. Not practicing polygamy is one thing but considering it wrong is a serious situation wherein one is challenging the pristine teachings of Shariah. There is no question of transgression and impiety (fisq) but rather a fear of disbelief (kufr), because considering a ruling of Shariah (i.e. permissibility of polygamy) to be absurd is an act of disbelief. All the books mention mockery of Shariah-rulings to be disbelief….. It is stated in Shami (aka: Radd al-Muhtar by Imam Ibn Abidin) that if there is evidence of contempt of a Shariah-ruling, one will be guilty of disbelief…” (Fatawa Dar al-Uloom, P: 62, Kitab al-Iman wa al-Aqa’id)
In light of this, we need to be extremely careful how we judge polygamy. There is nothing wrong in a sister not wanting to enter a polygamous marriage or not wanting her husband to marry second time, for that is natural and normal. But ridiculing and looking down upon polygamy is extremely serious which may even lead to kufr. May Allah protect us all, Ameen.
As Muslims we must realize that we have submitted to the Will and Command of the All-Merciful. Regardless of whether a particular ruling of Shariah pleases us or not, we must bow down to the divinely ordained law of Allah Most High. Islam permits a man to take on a second wife, many Prophets (peace be upon them) entered polygamous marriages, many Companions (Allah be pleased with them) took on more than one wife, many scholars and pious servants of Allah, both past and present, have practiced polygamy. The Qur’an allows it in clear and unambiguous terms, the Sunna is evident on its permissibility and all the Muslims throughout history have never rejected its permissibility, then who are we to consider this ruling of Shariah to be absurd, unjust or blameworthy?
I can understand it is a difficult pill for some of our sisters to swallow. But, as explained earlier, there is no sin in a sister refusing to enter a polygamous marriage, since that is her right. She may refuse without disrespecting the ruling of Shariah, for looking down on it is a serious crime.
Therefore, the path of moderation in the issue of polygamy lies in between the two forms of extremism propounded above. One must not take polygamy lightly merely to fulfil one’s own desires and whims. It is unwise and generally wrong to take on a second wife without a genuine need. However, polygamy is completely permissible in Islam (provided its conditions are met) and not something that is absurd, illogical or blameworthy. It is a serious crime to look down upon someone who takes on a second wife or condemn him. Criticizing and condemning someone merely for practicing polygamy is in reality being critical of the law of Allah Most High. Yes, if one is neglectful in treating his wives fairly, then he must be reproached and advised accordingly.
Keeping all of the above in mind, I will now try and attempt to address your specific situation. The Shaykh or learned scholar who has proposed to you to be his second wife must not be looked down upon or talked about negatively. There are many pious Muslims and Shuyukh, especially in the Arab world, who have taken on more than one wife. They are extremely pious, practising, well-learned and they fulfil the requirements of Shariah. As such, the community must be educated in that the Shaykh has done nothing wrong whatsoever by expressing his desire to marry again. He may have a genuine reason for wanting to take on a second wife, but then again, it is not the business of others to establish whether he has a genuine reason or not. As he is a scholar of Islam, he must be wary of the Shariah requirements for polygamy. You also state that his first wife has given her consent for him to re-marry, hence that makes the situation easier to solve, even though seeking the first wife’s permission, strictly speaking, is not a pre-requisite in order for a man to marry second time, although strongly encouraged.
What you need to do is to think deep and hard about the situation. Take advice (istishara) from parents, family members, relatives and others close to you. Ask from those who know the Shaykh and his first wife well, as that may help you in making your decision. Respect the wishes of your parents and take consideration of their counsel. Perform the prayer of guidance (salat al-Istikhara) and seek direction from Allah Most High.
If you are unhappy being a man’s second wife or fear unfair treatment from him or his first wife, then you should avoid marrying him, since that will only bring about harm to you in the future. Will you be able to have a gracious relationship with his first wife? Will you be able to have a proper marital relationship with him? What will happen when you have children with him? Is he in a position to financially support and look after two wives? These and other such issues are what you need to really think and ponder over. Don’t enter the marriage merely because he is a learned scholar or Shaykh.
If, however, you are happy being a second wife and you have thought over all of the above-mentioned aspects and scenarios, then you may accept the proposal and marry him. With or without his first wife’s consent, your marriage with him will be valid (provided all the necessary ingredients of a valid marriage are met). If you are perfectly happy, your parents give you their blessings, you don’t think you will fall into problems later on and the man has all the qualities of being a good husband, then there is nothing wrong in going ahead and marrying him. It may actually be of benefit to you since you have stated he is a pious and learned individual. If there is no reason of apprehension, then don’t refuse him merely due to what people will say. One is never able to please or satisfy people in this world. Do what is right for you, Insha Allah. However, from a practical perspective, you will need to be careful, cautious, and mindful of the consequences in the future.
Please also read the following related article available on this website:
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK