Ownership and Polygamy

When trying to unpick polygamy and understand why it is so hard for many women to accept, the sense of ownership in a marriage must play a part. When something is ours, it is up to us if we share it or not.  Young children find this especially hard, but even as adults it is not always easy. When someone mentions their reluctance to share their husband in polygamy, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard the paraphrased hadith of wanting for your sister what you want for yourself.

(Th original hadith is: “None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.” Related by Bukhari & Muslim)

In fact there is a book with a title similar to this, which I hope to read at some point:

My… Our…husband

OK, so there’s no arguing with the hadith, and we would be happy to be on the receiving end of a sister wanting good for us, so how can we look at this from a different angle and make it easier to share?

One way is to rethink our sense of ownership. Although a woman of course says “MY husband is….” we do not own him, he is not our possession, as much as we are not our husband’s possessions.  This is similar to  “MY children”  Our husband does not belong to us and our children are also simply entrusted to us, not our possession.

We all belong to Allah (SWT).

Men as well as women are guilty of this sense of ownership, with the classic abusive jealous man saying “If I can’t have you, nobody can.”

If we stand back and look at it, the ownership of a person is limited to slaves and we know how slavery is repugnant and is to be abolished from this world.  So really, our husband is not ours to share in the first place. If Allah (SWT) has made is qadr (destiny) to have more than one wife then that’s it. But this is hard – really hard – to accept, but gently trying to unlearn the sense of ownership should help.

One way to unlearn this thought pattern is if  we think about this: when we start to claim ownership to someone and take away their rights, it pushes them away from us rather than draw them closer. When a husband is free and does want to be be with you, it’s a fulfilling feeling that he has chosen this, rather than from a sense of duty or obligation.

In the end, we should focus back on Allah (SWT), and on that we are all His slaves and owned solely by Him.

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But Polygamy Isn’t Even Legal

Most of this blog focuses on emotional issues, but there have been requests for a look at the legal aspects of polygamy. For many Muslims living outside of Muslim countries, the secular legal status in of their polygamous marriage is questionable. Even in Muslim countries such as Kurdistan, there are fines for men who have more than one wife. Under shariah law, the nikah will be accepted, but when it comes to issues of inheritance or child maintenance, for example, many people do not fully think this through nor make arrangements to secure things as they would want when living under non-shariah law. While the case for polygamy legalization is now and again brought up in non-Muslim countries, by mainly followers of particular Christian denominations in the States, the frequency of non-Muslim countries taking a more strict approach against this comes up in the media quite often nowadays. 

 

Since homosexual marriages have become legal in many countries, polygamy supporters have increasingly called for legalization of plural marriages. Here we can see how culture also has an effect on the practicalities of polygamy (see here for cultural effects at an emotional level). Up until fairly recently, homosexuality was culturally a no no, and the law reflected that. This is currently the case for polygamy in most of the world.

But whether it’s legal or not it doesn’t stop it happening; there is nothing  in these countries forbidding extra marital affairs, two,  three or four-timing with numerous girlfriends, nor the fathering of children outside of marriage. In fact I’ve read of some non-Muslims being more ‘cool’ about someone being in polygamy than the average Muslim who would find it, whether openly or in their heart, repulsive.

So usually the first wife is married legally in whichever country they reside, and any subsequent wives have the same legal status as a girlfriend i.e. no legal rights. Any children are not automatically assumed to be the father’s, and a husband’s medical insurance would probably not cover the subsequent wives (most relevant in the USA where medical costs are high and not covered by the state). In the program Sister Wives, there was the drama of the first wife getting a divorce from the husband in order to have custody of his other wives’ children.

If a husband wants to acquire the same nationality or residence permit for a second wife, it is likely to be problematic if he already has a wife legally registered in that country.

 

Inheritance 

It is particularly important for a man to have a will drawn up in these situations where multiple wives are involved because if not, only the first wife and their children will receive any assets on her husband’s passing. If not, it will then be up to to her to then distribute it fairly in accordance with Islam, which will not be legally obliged on her by the non-Muslim country of residence.

So just because polygamy is illegal in most countries does not mean a Muslim woman can turn round and say her husband cannot marry again, but it does bring up issues which men especially have to consider. Polygamy, as in marriage in general,  is nothing to go into without careful thought. There are so many aspects to consider: emotional, financial, as well as legal, that sometimes I wonder why a man would want to cause themselves so many potential headaches, (and I looked at the reasons here). But I am not a man, and I have to trust the Creator for making them like they are, and pray that those that choose the path of polygamy do it in a wise, considered way.

Help, I Need Therapy!

This was the kind of thing I was thinking in the early days after finding out I was in polygamy. With all the negative feelings I was having, I knew I couldn’t deal with this alone. I had to get my emotions out in the fresh air, give my situation a fresh pair of eyes, and find some other perspectives besides my own and my husband’s. But I knew that I had to choose carefully who to reveal what I had gone through; I didn’t want someone who would be more upset than me about it to be giving me ‘advice.’ I needed a steady hand to hold, someone who had maybe been through what I was going through or could see the other side of polygamy, the positive side, because polygamy is part of Islam, whether I liked it or not. I didn’t want my deen to suffer – I was really worried about this, and needed those who would listen and respond in a way that wouldn’t drive me away from my husband or my religion. But I did want my feelings validated, at least to some extent – someone to listen and let me know I wasn’t going crazy, and that I wasn’t alone in all of this. However, from some of those I first talked to, there were some comments that were hard to swallow initially, like that I was very wrong to expect my husband to divorce his second wife, that I’d be splitting a family, that it’s ‘just sex’. In those first few days, this was hard to hear – hadn’t she, the other wife, chosen to go behind my back too? She must have had thoughts of my and my husband’s marriage being at risk from all of this? When someone is unaware of the details of polygamy in Islam, the rights of all wives, the absolute need not to to encourage divorce – especially with no Islamic reason – the significance of (non-nuclear) family ties – these were things I had to learn, even if it hurt like hell. This hurting had no obvious reason because I had probably as much time and love with my husband whether he’d married again or not, but still, the pain was real.

Pain makes you act to get rid of it, and I had to talk to someone, get it out and unburden myself little by little. I needed to try to understand the whys coming in my head, and my own reactions. I found solace first with a sister who was happily in polygamy, and with a Facebook group of mostly similar sisters. But I felt I needed a real life person to talk to, preferably someone qualified who would help me heal rather than fan the flames of resentment towards my husband and religion.

Alhamdulillah, I found a sister and friend who was training as a counsellor. She did listen, she didn’t judge and she gave me a few things to think about. Still I felt I needed to have someone present me with certain questions or some other therapeutic method in order to get over issues brought up by all of this, such as getting over trust issues and jealousy. I also went to a non-Muslim counsellor as later on that year I was referred by the doctor for stress, and again it was good to get things off my chest. Although she didn’t appear to judge me, it felt always more difficult when someone is not of your faith or worldview. I came across other online Muslim therapists, but I couldn’t afford the fees. So in the end, I took to journaling and eventually this blog to sort through my feelings and issues with polygamy, and hopefully help some other people along the way.

I still feel there must be a Muslim therapist out there that could help me truly ‘move on’, but for now, self-help and good old-fashioned time are keeping me on the right track, although there are plenty of derailments along the way. If you’ve had to sort through some difficult emotions and reach out for help, have you managed to find it?

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Book Review: Constructive Wallowing How to beat bad feelings by letting yourself have them, by Tina Gilbertson

The reason you are here, I am guessing , is because polygamy is a struggle for you. It certainly is for me, and the main struggle is the inner torment of thoughts and subsequent negative feelings. We’ve looked at jealousy and betrayal and feelings about self-worth. There are no doubt a lot of feelings going on because we are talking about emotional relationships. And even if the men (and some women) involved here say “Stop being so emotional!” or something along the lines of “This is your religion and you can’t dislike something Allah (SWT) has prescribed!”,  having negative feelings isn’t a choice you make – it’s how you handle them that is important.

I have mentioned how some people just simply block their feelings off, but those feelings are still there, just stored up for the future.  So how can we deal with our negative feelings more effectively?

I found this book, Constructive Wallowing: How to beat bad feelings by letting yourself have them, by Tina Gilbertson, pinpoints a sensible approach. I think the title containing  the word ‘Wallowing’, however,  is a bit misleading,  as we have negative connotations of this word, but in fact the author does early on in the book put a bracket around the ‘w’ which then emphasizes the word ‘allow’.  It is perfectly fine,  and we should allow ourselves, to acknowledge and dwell to a certain extent on our feelings, including what we see as negative ones. As long as we do this with kindness to ourselves and not attempt to manage them (by blocking them off for example; Gilbertson refers to this as ‘stuffing’ our feelings and describes the consequences as the Escalation Cycle) or act out our feelings,  such as violence or maybe in the case of jealousy, verbally harm someone. So the book gives us the permission to have these feelings without feeling bad about this (we are hard on ourselves aren’t we!) and to allow us to put a name to those feelings, work through these and let the tears flow if we feel like it. The author also emphasizes self-compassion, much like the area of self-esteem I wrote about here.

There is also a chapter where the author talks about how life is about the good and the bad times,  the fact we appreciate the good because of the bad. We don’t try to manage or stop good feelings and accept that they too will pass – all good things come to an  end. There’s no reason why bad feelings will not also end, if we work through them.

Overall the book is written in a lighthearted style, with practical examples and  exercises, quite a few diagrams to explain things along the way, and I particularly like the fact there are summaries of each chapter as when in a funk, my brain is not functioning at its best!

I like to remember that even the Prophet’s wives felt jealous – they didn’t restrict themselves by not allowing themselves to feel jealous. If a husband says to you as his wife, “Don’t be jealous,” this is really a waste of his breath.  Helping you acknowledge you are feeling what you feel and finding out why (in which case he might be able to rectify a jealousy-inducing situation) will be more helpful, and that these negative feelings will pass, if you work through them. 

Have you read any good self-help books, perhaps especially useful for those in polygamy? Do share the titles in the comments section!