“So we will expect you this evening,” she said happily as she put the phone down. I turned to my husband and said, “K has invited me for dinner tonight with some of her friends.” He looked up from his work, smiled and said unconcerned, “That’s nice. OK,” and carried on working.
K is the same age as me; she is a beautiful and talented woman and is my husband’s first wife. The dinner invitation was to celebrate his second marriage – to me.
As a child my mother had regularly held up the wives of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) as examples of the best women in their behavior and lifestyle, and I carried the images of these women around in my head.
Of course being married to the same man was a challenge to Prophet’s wives, but they never had their behavior contravening the rule of justice and the rights of each other. All were ‘equal’ wives, no matter who was older or more educated or had been married the longest.
I was daily fascinated by their sisterhood and made prayers that one day I could revive just one such Sunnah – little realizing what the future might hold – some twenty years later.
It is strange to see people proclaiming adherence to religion and justice but when faced with a personal challenge like this they suddenly claim “multiple marriage was all meant for the Prophet’s companions” and that “We can not live the religion the way they did so we should not try at all to emulate their example” . These words of ignorance more often come from educated women who know the core of religion but do not love it more than they love themselves – living off the religion not by it.
These women do not realize they are not liberated but imprisoned by their own insecurity.
My parents had always taught us “Live the justice, speak it even if people do not like it, take your rights from Allah without fear and He will protect you. Don’t just talk about it – live it.” So for me religion is simple and uncomplicated. As long as we kept our ego in check, there was liberty and joy in this life and in the hereafter. I lived these words the day I agreed to marry my husband.
When I Met My Husband’s First Wife
The proposal was not without conditions from my side – The first question I asked my husband was, “Do you love your first wife? Because if you don’t it is better you work on your marriage rather than ignore it and get married again?” My husband replied, “I love my wife very much, indeed I can never forget the sacrifices she has made for me throughout her life and all her support during very difficult times. I am not marrying you because there is a problem; she is the best of wives for me.” I was relieved – this was the most important issue out of the way.
K met me at the gate as I stepped out of the taxi outside her home,“Welcome” she said and hugged me, taking my hand and leading me in to the house. The room was bright with colors and women, all eyeing me somewhere between smiles – friendship towards me and formality – loyalty to K.We went on to consider the practicalities of implementing the sunnah; separate living arrangements and our potential Sharia obligations to each other as husband and wife and Sharia considerations if any, between wives. It was all so clearly laid out in the Sunnah before us, so simple – such is the generosity of Allah, the Almighty. And so it began…
But K was totally unaware of this. I passed her some gifts and she smiled broadly opening them showing her friends with delight.
Protectively she sat next to me throughout the night – pouring my drinks and serving me food and telling the women to do the same. I was the ‘chief guest’ she told me. It was a strange feeling that when she left the room briefly, I felt lonely amongst these women and as kind as they were to me, I desperately wanted her to return. This is a feeling that whenever we are together has remained.
When K is in the room and not sitting beside me – I feel emptiness, as if my ‘shield’ is missing. K brought in tea and I turned to her with my last few spoonfuls of dessert and we sat on the floor with me feeding her while she attended to the needs of the guests between mouthfuls – finishing the dessert together.
The other women watched us in amusement and confusion. That night, she waved me off in the taxi and I can recollect her image now as she stood there outside her home thanking me for coming, surrounded by her family – the beginning of something that I was to somehow be part of. It was not expected of me in a formal way but because K saw me as a sister in Islam and I held the visions of those wives in my heart and mind as I waved goodbye.
I have been to her home many, many times since then and this image remains deep in my mind.
First published: March 2014