Saudi Arabia: What Would it Feel Like to Live in Polygamy?

Polygamy is always a sensitive topic.  Looking at Polygamy from the Islamic point, a Muslim man may have up to four legal wives.  Yes; legal wives who are entitled to the same benefits and rights…if polygamy is practiced in accordance with Islam.

Polygamy is considered the man’s right.  In spite of women having clauses in their marriage contracts that they are entitled to a divorce if the man chooses to take another wife, it remains that a man can engage in polygamy if –he- chooses to do so.

Most women in Saudi Arabia will not seek a divorce if their husband has taken another wife.  Because the man is legally and islamically allowed more than one wife, it would look odd for her to end the marriage in divorce.  If so, she could be ostracized by her family and also her community.  People may wonder what was so wrong with her that the marriage had to dissolve in a divorce.  Her chances to remarry would be few and probably not ideal.  Her children could also be impacted on their own abilities for entering good marriages if they have a divorced mother.

While a woman is married her husband is expected to provide for all her needs – housing, transport, clothing, luxury items and spending money, regardless of how many wives he has.  This further reinforces the negative connotations on a woman if she leaves a marriage due to polygamy. Yet what about the woman and her emotional needs?  Don’t they count?  Try to put yourself in the shoes of a woman who gave one of the greatest gifts to her husband…herself… and then she discovers he has another or several more wives?  Knowing that her husband is performing intimate acts with another woman is heart-wrenching.  Worse is not knowing how clean the other woman can be.  Can a wife be at a higher risk for a yeast infection or a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?  Of course.

Then think about the change and disruption to the household itself.  Few families in polygamy in Saudi Arabia live under one roof.  Generally each wife will have her own home.  However, she may only have her husband for 3 or 4 days of the week depending on how many wives have to “share the man” and what kind of schedule has been established.  If the man is well to do, he should provide for each wife and family equally.  But in many cases it is generally the first wife who loses out with cuts being made to her standard of living.  If the first wife had been married long and there are children involved, the children all of a sudden also learn that time with Dad is more limited and shared.

What about family gatherings of the husband’s tribe?  Which wife will get to go?  That usually depends on the occasion.  In some circumstances such as Eid al Fitr or a wedding, all wives must put in an appearance.  In other cases there may be rotating schedule as to whose turn it is to accompany the husband.  In many cases the husband’s family will continue to treat all wives cordially or at least not change their manners or attitudes.  The men of the first wife’s family will likely continue to treat the husband with respect.  The older women of the family may be more likely to speak their minds and chastise the husband for his actions.

What happens though if the husband is hospitalized?  Which wife would be his caregiver?  How would they arrange a schedule?  If the husband passes away, it is expected there will be a central place of grieving and all wives would be present.


22 Responses

  1. Such a negative post…

    I suppose the American Bedu would be more understanding of the Western option where men have multiple mistresses (those who choose to…) and none of these women enjoy any protection or priviledge of the the wife… ? How heartwrenching must it be for the wife then to realise that she “has given herself to her husband” and he went and taken a mistress. Or is it safer for the wife if the man has multiple short term mistresses as opposed to another wife with regards to STD’s?

    There is an aspect of polygamy that the American Bedu simply forget to mention… some men choose to marry a woman who would otherwise be destitute and thereby take care of her… within the confines of Islam, for the pleasure of his creator…

  2. Quicksmiler,

    This post has nothing to do with men anywhere who choose to take mistresses. The subject is polygamy and what would it feel like.

    Yes; some men choose to marry a woman in the confines of Islam to take care of her. But do you think the first wife is typically accommodating and joyful?

  3. It is indeed a bad situation, to me it can be compared with plain cheating or treason, all families suffer and all trust will be destroyed. I cant even imagine what I would do if this were to happen to me, i guess that if I have no children i’ll simply walk away since I will see that he no longer considers me special…

  4. Women in the West whose husbands cheat
    on them are free to move onto other
    relationships with a better more trustworthy man. Society and her family do not condemn
    her if she chooses to leave. She does not lose her children and can seek a new life as a single woman. I don’t believe Muslim women whose husbands marry other wives have the same options.
    My husband’s mother was a second wife. She was lied to when she entered the polygamous relationship. Several of his relatives also have polygamous relationships. None were entered into out of the goodness of their hearts. I wound like to know how many men enter into polygamous relationships for altruistic reasons? I doubt very many. If that were the case divorced women and widows would not be such outcasts

  5. It is certainly possible to take care of a destitute woman without marrying and having sex with her. I bet if you asked first wives they would agree.

  6. An American woman married a man from Saudi Arabia of Palestinian descent. She moved over there with him for several years until he decided to get another wife. Now she is back in the States and he is with his second wife.

  7. In an arranged marriage I can really see the guy getting a second wife for love since he didn’t marry his first wife for love. I’m sure they grow to love each other as husband and wife, but I really wonder if they ever are “in love” with each other. I sincerely doubt it.

  8. There are plenty of Arab men who go to different countries and have sex with prostitutes and their wives probably never know about it. Those who do not want a second wife are the ones who are usually doing this.

  9. I’ve never understood the ‘polygamy is better than having a mistress’ argument. Better for whom? Depending on one’s religious beliefs, it can be argued that it’s better for the husband and the mistress, but not really for the wife – she’s doing nothing wrong either way. The husband might choose to provide for the mistress to an extent that affects his ability to provide for the his wife at the standard she’s used to, but the mistress has no legal or moral right to demand that he do so – with regard to that issue, a mistress would be better for the wife than polygamy. Other issues, such as the risk of STDs, are the same in either case.

    More to the point, it’s irrelevant – I doubt any woman who criticizes polygamy would be any happier about her husband having a mistress. If someone had stated that polygamy was wrong, but adultery was perfectly fine, you’d have a point. However, I’ve never heard one single person, in my entire life, express that view. Some may believe it, but it certainly isn’t common.

    I don’t particularly care what consenting adults do in their own bedrooms, or what marriage arrangements they make – if everyone involved in a polygamous marriage is happy with it, more power to them! However, from what I’ve observed, it’s typical for most or all of the wives to either enter, or to choose to remain in, the marriage primarily for convenience. Most second, third, or fourth wives would also prefer to be the only wife of a man close to their own age, and when you see a situation where a 24-year-old is marrying a 70-year-old as a second wife, you can safely assume that regardless of the reasons that drove her to make that decision, she’s not necessarily any happier about the situation than the first wife is.

    Even in cases where the second wife marries him out of economic necessity, I have a tough time considering it ‘charity’ – charity is giving something without the expectation of anything in return. If a man wanted to support a widow and her kids, or an orphan woman, out of the goodness of his heart, that would be charity. If he only does it in exchange for her sexual services, then I don’t think he has any claim to any sort of moral high ground. Marrying her isn’t necessarily haram, but it isn’t required, either – it’s merely permitted. In Islam, as with every other system of rules and laws, just because something is permitted doesn’t mean it’s morally praiseworthy, or that it’s the best course of action for that situation.

  10. It feels normal, Bedu, just normal. You just have to change your mindset.

  11. @All
    What is the problem? If man is behaving and treating all 4 wives according to the Law, what is the problem for others.It is stupid for the woman who agrees to marry a man who has already a woman, it between them. What is the for BEDU?

  12. I mean what is the problem for BEDU?

  13. Well said quick smiler, alot of muslimaat are speaking without religious refrences to back their statements but rather are speaking based on pure emotion. This is a dangerous affair when it comes to matter of the religion. Allaah says ( Surah An-nisaa 3) what translates to mean

    And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphan-girls, then marry (other) women of your choice, two or three, or four but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one or (the captives and the slaves) that your right hands possess. That is nearer to prevent you from doing injustice.

    He makes the mutiple the first command and singular the exception. The mothers of the believers were in polygyny and they were better than all of us so who are we? there are so many societies from Africa to Asia that practice polygyny and it really isn’t a big deal, no one said it won’t hurt for a while but Allaah knows what he’s doing

  14. The only good I can see in it is if you were forced to marry some creepy old man, and you didn’t want to spend much time with him. Having 2 or 3 co-wives would be good so you wouldn’t have to have him around so much. Otherwise, it is an awful practice, in my opinion.

  15. My husband’s mom was the first wife and the 2nd wife was not treated the same as her. She was from his tribe, the 2nd was from yemen. Both their children were affected, badly. the wives were very unhappy, the first was mad and the 2nd had no choice.
    My 2 BIL’s also have 2 wives each, one died and his wives and many children suffer, hate him and all he stood for . he was useless and even one wife would have been too many for him. yet he continued to marry and procreate…
    the other one is still married to both, the first is terribly unhappy – stuck because of her kids, luckily she has the support of my MIL and as soon as she makes it to this side with her kids she’ll dump him . his kids don’t see himmuch anyway, and don’t deal well with him , 2nd wife doesn’t have kids so i’m assuming he’s already lining up no.3 ..
    My SIl ‘s useless husband took a 2nd wife from yemen or somewhere, abused my SIL because she refused to be in polygamy and we finally bribed the judge, got her out of that situation and into a fresh life, unfortunately she passed away from cancer. but atleast she came out, lived and married and knew the joys of a marriage in her terms.

    so i know personally of 4 cases of polygamy and i can safely say not even in one case is either of the women happy. I can pretty much say none of the men married for any noble reason.
    I’m sure there are very happy polygamy couples, very accepting couples etc., more power to them , but after seeing the mess this creates I kind of am happy that I’m the only wife. and my husband has no mistresses either. oh the joy he manages to survive with just one campanion…

    I don’t think I’ll tolerate another wife or mistress or affairs from his end and i’m pretty sure he would not either. so problem solved.

    i was actually reading a study of woman married to many men ( in this study) brothers the woman was very happy 🙂 , the wealth stayed in the family and the kids grew up with less angst and turned out quite well…mostly there was no financial power struggles …

    now that i see benefit 🙂

  16. the only concern regarding polygamy i have is in the countries where it is not yet legal. saudi doesn’t matter, legally there can be 4 wives, so they get some amount of protection ( or equal protection or lack of) 🙂
    i know women/girls in polygamy in the US, and the first wife is legal and the rest no.2 ,3 etc, have a religious ceremony that’s it..
    No.1 can’t stand the rest ( no surprises) and in case of a medical issue with the man, I’ve seen chaos, I’ve personally kept no.2 away from one such man. what can i do? its the law – family only and unless No.1 or one with a valid licence permits who am i to let the rest in. and of course she didn’t …
    it was painful to watch. i’d give no.2 updates verbally an dsuperficially ( can’t release confidential records) felt so bad.
    and whn he died, guess who got ewverything.. YEP no.1 , 2 and her kids were onthe streets…
    sad .. so so sad.
    i’ve always wonderd why she showed up in the US, she would have been netter off staying in saudi even with her husband making trips…

  17. I’ve seen in the recent years the growth of “polyamory” in the west, wikipedia defines it as: ” the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. Many contend that it is distinct from both swinging (which often emphasizes sex with others as merely recreational) or with polysexuality (which is attraction towards multiple genders and/or sexes)”. In this case both the male and the female can have several sexual and emotional partners, I wonder how it works, but I’m sure many muslim men would go mad just by listening to the idea since the idea of women being sexually free is out of the question…

  18. @Shukura – Polygamy and monogamy are both Sunnah. The Prophet was monogamous with Khadija, and didn’t remarry until after her death. I don’t recall any mention of female slaves during that timeframe, either – which was unusual for a man in a position to afford them. Though he had no living son and knew Khadija was too old to give him one, all evidence indicates that he had no thought for any woman but her while she was alive.

    Fatima became upset when her husband Ali wanted to marry again, and the Prophet discouraged him from doing it, on the basis that he didn’t want to see his beloved daughter unhappy. Some claim that Fatima’s objection was based on the lineage of the proposed co-wife, but that explanation requires both her and the Prophet Mohammad to have disregarded the clear Qur’anic directives to judge people solely on their faith and actions, not those of their relatives. Also, if that were the case, Ali could simply have married someone more ‘suitable’ if he’d wanted. However, he didn’t marry again until after Fatima’s death… at which point he practiced polygamy almost continuously for the rest of his life. Objective reasoning suggests that Fatima’s objection to polygamy was the main reason he was monogamous with her.

    No Muslim who knows their religion can say that polygamy is haram when the conditions in the Qur’an are followed. However, no one can say it’s fard or wajib, either. It’s mubah (permitted), and both polygamy and monogamy are Sunnah. As with all mubah matters, what a husband and wife choose to do in their marriage is between them, and no one else’s business. If a wife decides she wants to enter or remain in a polygamous marriage, that’s her prerogative, and if she decides she’d prefer to divorce, that is also her prerogative. Likewise, if a couple agrees that the husband won’t take a second wife as a condition of the marriage contract, then it’s as binding as any other condition would be. You shouldn’t expect your personal dislike of the practice to be relevant to the lives and decision-making processes of people you’ve never met.

    I’ll admit I just skimmed the later comments, but I think what people are objecting to is the fact that social stigma against divorce essentially forces women to stay in marriages they’re not happy with. This is true of monogamous marriages as well as polygamous ones, and it has no basis in Islam. I don’t believe anyone is saying that two (or three, or four) women who all want to be married to the same man should be forcibly prevented from doing so in a country that allows it. The issue being discussed is whether it’s wrong for a woman to be essentially forced to remain in such a marriage, and the Islamic stance on that is clear – no one can be forced to stay in a marriage they don’t want, regardless of the reasons.

  19. I believe radha has a best feel since he is from a polygamous family as a child.

    Human nature worldwide is prone to: love, yet jealousy, competition for affection, etc.

    I find it ridiculous to suggest that multiple wives, that none would not feel jealous, anger, frustration or depression.

    We’re HUMAN, not saints. For Pete’s sake. Look at the reality of ourselves and our emotions….because marriage involves emotions, sex, convenience, children and money. Wives in polygamous marriages are not machines, who don’t feel any of these emotions.

    If that stresses out the husband: too bad. His problem.

  20. Penny, I really agree with you regarding the arranged marriage… Been in a marriage for eight years now and feeling the need to be in love marriage……obviously second wife, but within the confines of Islam

  21. Of course muslims can argue polygamy is haram. There is only one sura allowing polygamy and this is under a condition, a clearly stated “if…then” and it allows for polygyny if you have orphans wards and are afraid of not being able to do right by them. Nowhere in the Quran is polygyny said to be allowed without this “if…then” condition. And it also says that if a man has fear he will be unjust polygamy is unlawful for him. And honestly, what man in this world can say he has no fear whatsoever that he will ever be unjust to his wife if he is monogamous? The man who has no fear whatsoever that he will ever be unjust having TWO wives is a moral idiot. Moreover, actually there is a sura allowing women to have as many husbands as they wish. IF they are what these husbands right hands possess. Look it up, and you’ll see I’m right. And history shows us that many women in the muslim world have been married to at least two men, having become slaves. And btw, why would no muslim say that polygamy is haram, while most muslims say slavery is haram? Slavery is allowed in the Quran, and in the sunnah. So why is slavery haram, while polygamy is not??

  22. Since the post has continued right into 2015 I’d like to share a story.
    My husband is the son of a second wife. My father in law married his cousin, lived with her for 15-20 years (I don’t know all the details) didn’t like her very much but still had 7 kids with her. He was successful, had multiple houses, his own business, invented sweets and all sorts of things that brought prosperity to his family. Then one day he went to Indonesia to see extended family. I don’t know if he went straight there or was travelling for business but he met my husbands mother. They married within 3 weeks and didn’t have a son for a few years. He’s an only child.
    I don’t know if he asked permission from his first wife, they stayed married because divorce is frowned upon in Arabia and he was financially able to continue giving them money but he never went back. He travelled the world with his second wife, lived in multiple countries and eventually came to settle in England. His health started to leave him a few years ago and he got PSP a type of Parkinson’s and dementia rolled into one. My husband and his mother looked after him for 5 years. He had never gone back to Arabia because upon entering the UK they came on the wrong visa and passports got lost by the home office and they ended up in Limbo. They finally got legality and recognition while he was ill. His children came to visit for about 1 hour. 2 of his daughters brought their husbands, travelled to the UK to see their ailing father and stopped for 1 single hour after months of not seeing him. The wife turned up a few months later. Had a row with my husband and his mother telling them it was their fault he was like this and that coming to England had caused his illness. She also didn’t stay long.
    In the time they’ve been in the UK his children have gotten gradually more dislikeable. They’ve taken money from the family business, stopped consulting and paying money to the father. His daughter rang him frequently and yelled hoping he’d have a heart attack. His first wife was apparently not a lovely woman to begin with but I imagine she has gotten worse.
    He passed away, they swooped in, gave him a good funeral and took his body back to Arabia. I told my husband – You’ve had him for this many years, let them do their duty and let him go if it’s the only gift you can give them.
    But now they’ve stopped contacting in regards to what is happening with the will (it’s been a year) and my mother in law wants to take them to court for their injustices (apparently each wife and child had shares in the company and they refused to give over my husbands and his mothers).
    I don’t want to criticise my father in law. He was a wonderful man, he truly loved his son and wife that he lived with but as an outsider I can also see the pain it’s caused on both sides. It’s like he gave his time and love to his second family and his money to his first and considered it equal. He also made it so my husband has been in limbo for a very long time, he’s almost 30 and I constantly live in fear the government will change their minds and kick him out as you have to reapply every 2 1/2 years (3 more times) His 2nd wife is also away from her family in Indonesia, she keeps in touch but has no friends in the UK at all. At least not down the road they live.
    You need to be really careful what choices you make. Either be a man who devotes to one and gets it right, or be a woman who’s willing to work with the first wife or you end up in a world war that will destroy everyone’s finances and everyone’s happiness. And do not take parts of your family to other countries, it’s easy to vilify someone who took your husband/father away.

    I’ve told my husband if you ever fall in love with someone else, tell me and you can divorce me. I don’t want this situation to happen ever again.

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