Saturday, January 2, 2016

How I learned that polygamy is not a big deal.

CW: polygamy, cheating

This is a collection of anecdotes of polygamy among Muslims, and the reactions surround them, told to me by various people. Arranged in no particular order.

A man in his 40s is caught walking around town with a woman who was not his wife. His brother tells him to think about how much his wife has done for him and their children, in an attempt to stop him from straying. He marries the woman anyway. Children are distraught and pretend that the co-wife is a distant relative.

A man in his 60s leaves his recently disabled wife to marry a younger woman, because he "wants to enjoy life while he can". The new woman makes him feel alive, while he says has lost the passion with his wife of 30 years.

A man in his 60s leaves his wife of 25 years and three children. He marries a woman 25 years younger than him. His peer jokingly calls him and his wife 'pengantin baru' (Malay, 'newlyweds') every time he sees them. The ex wife stays with the oldest child.

A man in his 60s has a wife and 8 children. He courts and buys a home for a woman in her 20s. His first wife leaves and stays with one of her children.

A woman is courted to be a second wife. She is plied with religious literature about how it is part of the Prophet's sunnah. Her sisters are against it, but she marries him anyway. Her husband does not fulfil the sunnah of providing financially for her. Instead, he created his own model for polygyny: each wife works to feed herself and her children.

A man with two wives reveals, 17 years later, a third wife from a neighbouring country. And a child, who is now a young adult discovering a full set of half-siblings and distant relatives.

A female convert in her 20s is courted by a man in his 40s with beautiful religious arguments and promises of leading her to Paradise. After a secret marriage, he reveals a first wife and two children. She tries to make herself accept this with Islamic-sounding justifications, but the problem isn't religion, it's deception.

A man serially cheats on his wife for decades, amongst other betrayals. He meets a non Muslim woman, gets her to convert to Islam and marries her (not sure if with or without first wife's knowledge). When she uses this reason to ask the court for a divorce, man defends himself by stating that converting someone to Islam brings a lot of 'pahala' (divine brownie points).

A smart young woman is made to believe she is fast becoming unmarriageable, too educated and too smart mouthed. She marries the first man who loves her for her mind and soul, despite feeling sick to her stomach when thinking about his wife and two children.

A woman discovers her husband's infidelity when the other woman is pregnant. She is mortified and humiliated that he then wants to marry her to save her from shame. Eventually he does not marry her, but this secret gives her a quiet power in the relationship.


I heard some of these anecdotes as a child, and I felt very strongly that the situation was unjust. Today if I express such sentiments, I am told that my Western education or my feminist books are to blame. Good question: Was I secretly reading Western feminist books as a child?

Why are the feelings of the women and children involved seemed insignificant or completely invalid? It may hurt the feelings of human beings I once promised to love but whatever, I'm just looking for new thrills for my penis.

Why is there no legal redress for women of a certain generation, who often did not work (whether from social expectations or economic possibilities) outside the home, and may have been mostly or completely financially dependent on their husbands?

I thought about how it is impossible to turn someone's heart away from you. Just as impossible is to turn someone's heart towards you.

Most recently someone asked me what advice she should give a friend. This friend'a husband was planning to divorce her for another woman. I thought long and hard, and eventually decided that if you're going to end up in an emotionally shitty situation, make sure you get enough money to soften the blow.

In the end, that's why legal protection is so important. Every person entering a marriage must research this and make the best possible decision for themselves. Be it pre-nups, joint bank accounts, joint tenancy, etc. No sense in adding financial hardship to an already difficult mess.

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