“I hope you don’t plan on doing something like that,” I said.
His smile faded. “Doing something like what?”
“Marrying another wife.”
He was quiet for some time. “Of course not.”
“Good.” I folded my arms across my chest. “Anyway, I read that I can put a no-polygamy clause in my contract.”
He nodded slowly. “I read that too.”
“I hope you know I’m putting it in there.”
We didn’t speak for some time.
“What if I don’t want to sign it?” he said.
I shrugged. “It doesn’t matter to me. I just won’t marry you.”
“You would turn down a good brother for something like that?”
“If he’s a good brother, he wouldn’t mind signing it.”
“Now, that’s not true.”
I shrugged again. “Whatever. It’s what I think.”
“Some brothers I know think it’s haraam [forbidden] to sign it,” he said. I could tell he was trying to use my religious sensitivities to make me back down from the no-polygamy clause.
“So?” I said.
“So I’m not sure if it’s okay.”
“Honestly, I don’t care what you think,” I said. “All I know is that whoever I marry is going to sign that. Otherwise, we won’t be getting married.”
“And if no one signs it?”
“I just won’t get married. It doesn’t matter to me.”
There was an awkward silence.
“You’re really serious, huh?” he said, looking at me with concern, but I wouldn’t meet his gaze.
“Does it really mean that much to you?”
I looked at him. “Would you want your wife with someone else?”
“But that’s different—”
“How is it different?”
“Polygamy is halaal [permissible].”
“I didn’t say adultery. I said someone else. She could divorce you and marry your friend,” I said. “That’s halaal. But would you like it?”
His eyebrows rose as he thought about what I said. “No, I wouldn’t.”
“Then why are you surprised when I feel the same way?”
“But it’s in the Qur’an. That means it’s not the same for you. Obviously, women can handle it.”
“Just because it’s in the Qur’an doesn’t mean everyone should do it.”
“Then who should?”
“Honestly, I don’t care. I just know it’s not me.”
“But how do you know?”
At that I grew impatient. “How do you know you can handle another woman?” Before he could answer, I went on. “You don’t. So why do it? Or, better yet, why not just be patient and see how you can handle just one?”
He shrugged. “You have a point.”
“I know I do. And you don’t.”
A grin formed on his face and he shook his head. “Okay, you win.”
Because I didn’t know what to say and was too upset to smile with him (though I did feel the urge to laugh at myself), I got up. “I should get home,” I said. “I told my mother I’m going for a walk. I don’t want her to think I’m kidnapped or something.”
“Or to know the truth.”
Unwilling to display amusement, I nodded. “As-salaamu’alaikum,” I said, giving him the standard Muslim greeting of peace in an effort to end the conversation. I didn’t wait for his reply.
Later in my room, I reflected on what I’d said and wondered if it was the full truth. I certainly was not willing to live in polygamy, but I doubted I’d turn down the opportunity to marry someone I really cared about just because he didn’t sign the no-polygamy contract.
Still, I refused to get married without the clause in there.
Realities of Submitting to Marriage
In the above excerpt from my novel Realities of Submission, the narrator Renee is discussing marriage with a man who is interested in marrying her, and like many women, she does not want to deal with the possibility of her husband taking another wife. In order to ensure that this does not happen, she is stipulating a no-polygamy clause in her contract.
However, will this stipulation protect her from the endless “unknowns” that are inevitable after agreeing to marriage?
Frustration After Marriage
“I dropped out of school and gave up my career for him. I even abandoned my dreams and became a stay-at-home mom. Now he wants to tell me how to dress and practice my faith! I feel like a sex slave with no rights except picking nice meals and pretty clothes. I can’t take this anymore.”
Many women gush at the thought of finding the “perfect man,” and often this sense of excitement continues after marriage for women (and men). However, after years of living together, it is not uncommon for men and women to face difficulties and trials. The man and woman knew that marriage would mean sacrifice, but in the beginning stages, it’s impossible to know exactly what that means.
For women who marry while they are completing their studies or before they obtain a university degree, marriage often means letting go of this educational pursuit, at least for a time. If they become pregnant after marriage, many women give up on their education and career altogether. Though this sacrifice is often voluntary, many women complain that their husbands, who were very supportive of their education and career prior to marriage, insist that they drop out of school and give up their career and dreams completely after they are married, especially once children are in the picture.
However, their frustrations do not stop there. Many women complain that their husbands, particularly those men who consider themselves religious, go as far as to micromanage their dress and religious practices. And because these women wish to be good, righteous wives, they feel obligated to listen to their husband’s demands, even as they see no Islamic need to adjust their hijabs and religious opinions.
Unfortunately, though “swallowing your pride” and obeying the husband seems like the right thing to do, if the woman’s concerns are left unaddressed for an extended period of time, she may become extremely frustrated such that she ultimately wants out of the marriage, or even out of Islam itself.
Can a Marriage Contract Help?
Too often when women are negotiating the marriage contract, they focus on what they want from the man or the relationship (such as “no polygamy”) as opposed to what they want and need for themselves. In the case of Renee above, though her insistence on a no-polygamy contract is well within her rights (as it is for any woman), perhaps it would be best for her (and other women) to shift her focus to matters that would benefit her life, mental health, and spirituality regardless of the choices her husband might make down the road.
What if, when writing the terms of her marriage contract, Renee focused on her desire to live as mentally and spiritually independent, successful woman, as opposed to her desire to never share her husband?
In other words, what if women used the marriage contract to think long-term regarding their own actions and choices as opposed to those of their husband?
A Suggested Marriage Contract
Here are some suggested marriage contract stipulations that women might want to consider, even if they do not foresee any serious obstacles or disagreements with their future husband:
- I have the right to continue my education, and I will have my husband’s full support, such that he will not seek to deter or prevent me from this. If there are any concerns regarding the care of the children, we will come to a mutually agreeable arrangement that respects the rights of both the children and myself.
- I have the right to own my own business or to pursue a career path of my choice, and I will have my husband’s full support, such that he will not seek to deter or prevent me from this. If there are any concerns regarding the care of the children, we will come to a mutually agreeable arrangement that respects the rights of both the children and myself.
- I have the right to practice Islam in a manner that I believe is most correct in front of Allah. Under no circumstances will my husband compel me to understand or practice Islam differently from what I believe or understand to be right.
- In religious matters in which there is a legitimate disagreement amongst scholars, my husband will not compel me to follow the opinion that he favors, as I have full right to follow the point of view that I believe is most correct, even if it differs from his.
- Regarding any personal or religious matter in which my husband and I disagree, we agree to first seek a mutually agreeable conclusion between ourselves. If this is not possible, we agree to seek the counsel and input of an arbiter whom we both respect.
- Above all, we agree to put Allah first and last in everything and let the ultimate decision rest in His hands through seeking righteous advice from others and makingdu’aa (sincere supplication) and Istikhaarah (the prayer for making a decision) before coming to any final conclusion.
If women wish to add the stipulation of no-polygamy, they can feel free; but it is perhaps best long-term to make the primary focus of the marriage contract on the their own needs and goals, as opposed to the men’s desires and choices.