In this counseling answer:
• “Although polygyny is completely lawful in Islam, don’t forget that, like everything else in Islam, it is subject to rules.
• In the best of situations where everyone follows all the rules, it is laced with emotional and personality problems.
• I am sorry to say that, but that is my experience. That is not to say don’t do it. It is to say, don’t expect it to be a walk in the park.”
As-Salaamu ‘Alaikum sister,
First of all, welcome to Islam!
Regarding the first part of your question (divorcing your Christian husband), kindly check out below our scholar’s response as it’s not my field.
I feel sorry that you had this difficult situation arise in your life just as you are entering Islam. This is the time when you need to learn the basics rather than the ins and outs of something so difficult to understand and do properly as polygyny.
I converted 44 years ago, and I am still struggling with analyzing polygyny (a form of plural marriage in which a man is allowed more than one wife.) Few people I know don’t struggle with it.
I will give your question my best shot. I ask Allah (swt) to guide all of us to what is right regarding polygyny.
Why is Polygyny Allowed?
Polygyny was revealed when the wars in the Prophet’s (saw) time had seriously reduced the number of men in the new Muslim community. In other words, many women were left without a husband. This was a serious problem in that day and age when women were not the “breadwinners” in their homes. It became an existential matter of survival for the women.
Thus, polygyny became a necessity.
This is not to say that it is the only righteous reason to marry more than one woman. However, it is important to note the context in which something was revealed. It can shed much light on the meanings of things and Allah’s (swt) intent in His orders.
In this day and age, many women live without a husband because of a shortage of men. Widows and older women with children also need husbands. A man who marries in that sort of paradigm gets a lot more consideration and respect than a man who marries young women who are not short of suitors.
That said, it is not haram to marry them as long as the man follows the rules.
Furthermore, polygyny was already a cultural practice among the Arabs. There was no limit on the number of wives a man could have. Islam put a ceiling on it: four.
The Rules of Polygyny
Furthermore, a man is not supposed to marry unless he can “afford” it. In this day and age –in the US at least –, it means that he better have a six-digit salary that starts with a 2 …
Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an regarding polygyny,
”And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice]”. (Qur’an 4:3)
“And you will never be able to be equal [in feeling] between wives, even if you should strive [to do so]. So do not incline completely [toward one] and leave another hanging. And if you amend [your affairs] and fear Allah – then indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful.” (Quran 4:129)
Furthermore, no, a man does not have to get his wife’s agreement to marry again unless (I am told) she had put it in their marriage contract and he agreed to it.
However, not getting her agreement to something that is so serious because it is going to have such a serious effect on her life is a very strange way of having an “equal” relationship with your wife.
Allah (swt) says:
“And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness, and men are a degree above them. Allah is Mighty, Wise.” (Quran 2:228)
What that means, in sha’ Allah, is that a man should consult his wife in everything pertaining to the marriage so as to have a win-win situation, if he can. But, if they can’t agree, the man has the right to do things his way.
Few men ever remember the equal part. They just jump to the one degree part!
And what is “one” degree? Now, if it is a toothpaste brand (that sounds like a “one” degree type thing to me), I can see it is easy to let him override her preferences.
However, when it comes to something that will impactful her life as much as polygyny will probably, is it wise to ignore her concerns and even her choice?!
Put Yourself in Her Shoes
Please, put yourself in his wife’s shoes just for a minute to try to understand her feelings.
Check out this counseling video:
You have a loving husband. You are happy and thoroughly attached. Then, boom, you are thrown into another world. You have to share him.
No matter how much you love our religion, you are going to feel something! A serious sense of loss, grief, pain and, and, and…You can’t help it! Your emotions are going to process it that way.
This is the way our minds and hearts work when we face changes, even when the change is good. It is always packed with tons of emotion! We have to process new information, especially information that touches us on a personal level!
Her life is going to be different from now on; there is no doubt about that. So, no matter how you cut it, that is going to make her feel a lot of stuff. She probably doesn’t understand them since she has never shared her husband before.
Thus, she doesn’t know what the future holds other than that it hurts right now and is scary.
She might be wondering whether this new woman is going to interfere with their life. I could go on and on, but you get my point.
Polygyny is not an easy subject.
I have been in two communities which were torn apart by polygyny. There are lots of contradictory, sound opinions about it and tons of emotions associated with it.
Lastly, although polygyny is completely lawful in Islam, don’t forget that, like everything else in Islam, it is subject to rules.
Furthermore, in the best of situations where everyone follows all the rules, it is laced with emotional and personality problems.
In fact, I have yet to see it work!
I am sorry to say that, but that is my experience. That is not to say don’t do it. It is to say, don’t expect it to be a walk in the park.
Most of the men I have seen did it have never tried it again after their marriage ended in divorce.
My prayer for you is that you learn your religion gradually and soundly the way they did in the time of the Messenger (saw). I hope Allah (swt) gives you the beautiful thing that you said you wanted with a different brother, who loves you even more, whom you love even more, and whose sole desire is to get to Jannah and to help you and your offspring get to Jannah, in Sha’ Allah.
Answer from Aboutislam Scholar, Dr.Wael Shihab:
Wa ‘Alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatu Allah wa Baraktuh,
Thank you, sister, for your good question.
First of all, I welcome you to the fold of Islam among your Muslim brothers and sisters. May Allah (swt) keep you and us all on the right path of Islam, amen.
In fact, your question has different angles. So, consider the following:
First, you should first end your official marriage before getting married to another man to avoid legal problems and complications. A reliable lawyer could help you in this regard.
Second, if polygamy is not allowed in the country you live in, you’re not advised then to be a second wife as this may risk your family life and pose legal problems on you, too.
Third, if polygamy is legal in the country you live in, but the man you want to get married to has promised his wife not to have a second wife, then he has to respect his word or his first wife will then have the right to ask for divorce, if she couldn’t bear it.
Fourth, if polygamy is legal in the country you are living in and the man you want to get married to has not promised his wife not to have a second wife, then he could marry you and his first wife should be patient or she can ask for khul` (divorce) if she cannot bear it.
Dear sister, it’s my advice for you to seek professional counseling and assistance from a local Muslim scholar or imam who will be more aware of your circumstances and the conditions of your community.
Moreover, pray istikharah to seek Allah’s (swt) guidance before taking any decision.
Allah (swt) Almighty knows best.
Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.