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Taking a second wife

Answered as per Hanafi Fiqh by DarulUloomTT.net

Message: Assalamu Alaikum – Mufti Waseem mentioned in his discussion on Sunday 24th on TIN topic pertaining to marriage and divorce that there must be a need for the man to take a second can you enlighten me on examples of what will constitute as a need in this case.

Wa Alaikum Assalaam,

الجواب و بالله التوفيق

‘There must be a need’ means that there should be some reason in one’s mind/heart for wanting to take a second wife. A person does not normally go into an important relationship like Nikah without having a reason for doing so, since it is not a ‘Courting’ or boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. Even for one’s first marriage, there would have been a reason in a person’s heart for wanting to be married. It could have been for the sake of companionship or to fulfil one’s sexual desire or to have one to look after the chores of the home or for the sake of fulfilling a religious obligation or any other reason. Whatever it may be, there would have been a reason/need for wanting to be married.

One must understand that Nikah in Islam is an act of Ibadah (worship) and is not done simply for the fulfilment of one’s sensual desires. Hence, when one is already married and wants to take a second wife, he must think and ask himself as to why he wants to do so. In many cases, it is seen in this Country and the surrounding territories that taking a second wife brings an end to one’s first marriage and a good family unit with a husband, wife and children become torn apart only on account of taking a second wife. There are also many cases where, in order to please the first wife, a man divorces his second wife for absolutely no reason. Therefore, what we see is that a man breaks up his first marriage for the sake of a second wife, and also, a man divorces a wife without having a valid reason to do so, which makes him sinful in the eyes of Allah. Therefore, a man, by taking a second wife, finds himself in a situation where he has to choose between one of the two wives, which leads to breaking up a family unit or divorcing a wife without a valid reason.

It is also seen that when a man intends to take a second wife, and he informs his first wife of it, she becomes upset, disappointed and angry, telling him that she cannot deal with the ‘two wife’ issue. Due to this, she opts for being out of the marriage and with this, comes the end of a good relationship which involves children.

If he chooses not to tell his wife, and he takes a second wife secretly, then eventually the first wife finds out about it.  When this happens, a lot of problems begin to take place. This results in a situation where the man is forced to divorce one wife in order to keep the other. There are those who live in this manner in the polygamous marriage or are forced to do so because they have no where and no one to turn to. In these cases, the wives continuously complain of the inequality, injustice and unfairness from the husband which they have to deal with.

All these problems occur because of the fact that in our country and in the west, polygamous marriages have not been a custom or culture of the people, unlike other places in Middle East and Africa. Seeing that it is a new trend and a practice, many women find it difficult to deal with. Many, if not all women, will prefer to be out of a marriage than to live in a polygamous marriage. This, most of the time, is based on the nature of women and their feelings. They find it extremely difficult to see their husband with another woman, just as it is difficult for a man to see his wife with another man. The feelings are similar. Muslim women may not go against the allowance given in the Quran, however, because of their nature and feelings, they find it extremely difficult to be in a polygamous marriage. These feelings of difficulties which come to a woman must be considered. A man must not be so selfish to think about his own comfort and desires while ignoring the comfort and feelings of his wife.

Muslim men must understand that marriage to more than one woman at a time is only an allowance and permission granted by Allah, since there may be situations which may arise to practice upon this allowance. This however, is not a command or an encouragement, nor was there an instruction or encouragement from the Prophet (S.A.S).

This allowance is conditional, and can only be practiced when one can do equal justice to his wives. Each wife must be treated equally with respect to the fulfilment of their conjugal and other rights. There must be equality of treatment in food, clothing, lodging and time shared between the wives. When one cannot obey these instructions, it becomes Haram (unlawful) for him to take more than one wife.

When one knows that there are many conditions to fulfil, and also the fact that taking a second wife may put him into a situation where one of his marriages may end up in divorce, he must ask himself if there is really a need for him to do what he wants to do. In fact, if the husband tells his wife that he intends to marry a second wife, the first question she will ask is why? What is the reason? What is the need to do so? From this, it shows that the husband will need to have answers to give his first wife when she questions him regarding his intention to take a second wife. When this is the case, then a person should know that whatever the reason he has, it must be one which is acceptable to Allah.

On many occasions, I have seen that many of those who have taken a second wife have done so because they have developed a haram relationship with a girl/woman. They then become friendly with her, and feel that they ‘have fallen in love’ with this girl. All these, they know is totally haram. However, because they know that they can have a second or third wife, they continue with this haram relationship and when the time is right, they legalise it by secretly doing Ijab and Qubool (consent and acceptance) in front of two witnesses. At this time, the first wife has no knowledge of this and she is ‘kept in the dark’ for a long while until she finds out for herself. The husband often says at that time that it is not essential for him to inform her, nor is it essential to get her permission. Although this may be in its place, the husband must accept the fact that he was engaged in a haram relationship for a long period of time, cheating and being dishonest to his wife. Did he do the right thing? Was that the way of the Prophet (S.A.S)? Now that the wife finds out about the second marriage, she will either choose to live with the husband because she has no choice (although she feels pain and hurt), or she may get out of the marriage because it is difficult for her to deal with. In this case, a beautiful long marriage with children comes to an abrupt end because of the man’s behaviour.

Although the above may not be the case in all polygamous marriages, most of what I have seen occur in this manner. This is the main reason why many of those who take second wives do not inform their first wife of their intention. They prefer to play a ‘hide and seek’ game until things are revealed.

Based on my observation, I have seen that many people misunderstand the allowance that has been given to have plural marriages. It must be understood that the verse which permits polygamy is in the nature of permission and not in the nature of an order or command. This permission is also subjected to the provision that the husband must do justice with the wives and deal with them equally. It is to be understood also that the Quran did not tell the believers (as to encourage them) to enter plural marriages. The concept of polygamy (plural marriages) was not introduced and encouraged by the Holy Quran. Polygamy existed in Pre-Islamic Arabia and in the neighbouring communities. It existed before the Quran was revealed and before the Prophet (S.A.S) came. The Holy Quran limited the number of wives which a man can have and placed a strict condition of doing justice between wives.

While writing on the subject of polygamy, Scholars and Commentators of the Holy Quran have discussed the needs and circumstances which may not only justify, but also make it essential for one to resort to taking more than one wife. In this regard, they have written, ‘Some situations are:

  1. In cases of war, men are generally killed in large numbers. With this, the number of men decreases while the number of women increases, especially widows and orphans. If polygamy is not permitted to support the widows and the orphans and also to bring the unmarried women into marriage bond, it would lead not only to economic misery of many families, but also to immoral practices like prostitution, adultery, sexual anarchy etc.
  2. The wife may be barren and the natural desire for children/progeny may lead the husband to contract another marriage, who does not want to divorce the first wife but at the same time wants to have children.
  3. A wife may not be able to fulfil the needs of her husband.
  4. A wife may be chronically diseased and unable to satisfy the desires of her husband. In certain cases, she may be able to perform marital obligations but her fragile health may not withstand pregnancies and child births.

(Women’s Right in Islam – Pg.87, Sh. Muhammad Ashraf Booksellers Lahore 1991).

When one looks at the life of the Messenger of Allah (S.A.S), one will see that there were reasons which he had for entering into plural marriages. Among his pious wives, all were widows except one, (Aisha R.A).

The Prophet’s (S.A.S) first marriage was at the age of 25 years with Khadijah (R.A) who was more than 40 years of age. Both of them had a happy and perfect family life with seven children. The two stayed together till when he was fifty and she was more than 66 years, she passed away. During this period of 25 years of living together, the Prophet (S.A.S) did not marry another wife though it was permissible. It was only after Khadijah’s death when the Prophet (S.A.S) was 50 years of age, he married other wives.

His first wife after the death of Khadijah was Sawdah bint Zam’ah (R.A), whose husband had died and she was left in a state of destitution. She was old and had passed marriageable age, and her father and brother were pagans, so it was very difficult for her to survive and remain with her faith in that environment. The Prophet (S.A.S) heard about her situation and felt sorry for her. He proposed to her and both became married.

To have better ties with the supporters and vanguard of Islam, he decided to marry Aisha (R.A). Aisha (R.A) was the youngest of all the wives who was intelligent and had great retentive ability. Through this marriage, the Prophet (S.A.S) taught Aisha (R.A) all matters of the religion of Allah, especially regarding women. Aisha (R.A) who was very young, bright and intelligent retained all the information and disseminated it to the Ummah of the Prophet (S.A.S). This was the great service for Islam which was the outcome of this marriage. It is narrated in many narrations that in order to clarify many issues, many great Sahabahs including her father, Abu Bakr (R.A), resorted to Aisha (R.A), who was known to be one of the grand jurist of Madinah.

After Aisha (R.A), the Prophet (S.A.S) married Hafsah (R.A), the daughter of Umar (R.A) whose husband had died. Her father, Umar (R.A) asked Abu Bakr and Uthman to marry her, but they refused. He then went to the Prophet (S.A.S) and told him about his grief. Upon this, the Prophet (S.A.S) married Hafsah (R.A).

The Prophet (S.A.S) then married Umm Salmah Hind Bint Abu Umayya whose husband had died in the battle of Uhud. At this time, she was old and had already passed the marriageable age. The Prophet (S.A.S) was then instructed by Allah to marry Zainab Bint Jahash who had been previously married to Zaid Bin Haritha (R.A). This marriage to Zainab was contracted as per the order of Allah to break the pre-Islamic custom among the Arabs where they considered it prohibited for a man to marry the divorced wife of his adopted son. This, they held to be prohibited since they considered one’s adopted son to be like a real son. Through this marriage, these two un-Islamic customs were broken and the true Islamic teachings became established on the face of the earth.

The Prophet (S.A.S) then married Umm Habibah Ramlah Bint Abu Sufyan Bin Harb, the daughter of the leader of the Quraish (Abu Sufyan) who led the opposition (against the Prophet (S.A.S)) for a decade or more. She migrated to Abyssinia with her husband where he embraced Christianity. Umm Habibah later accepted Islam against the wishes of all her people, even that of her father. Had she gone back to her people, they would have forced her to reject Islam. She had migrated to Abyssinia with her husband, leaving everything behind her. Her husband died. She had no one to look after her and no where to go. She could not go back to her parents. She was an outcast in the family as she was a Muslim. The Prophet (S.A.S) married her in order to heal her wounds and bring comfort to her.

Another wife was Safiyyah Bint Huyay who was the daughter of the leader of the Jews. In a battle between the Muslims and the Jews, Safiyyah was captured as a captive/prisoner of war and was taken as a slave. In order to give her back the respect, dignity and honour which she had, the Prophet (S.A.S) freed her and married her as a wife.

When Banu Mustaliq fought against the Muslims, they were defeated and some of their people were taken as captives of war. Juwairiyyah Bint Harith, who was the daughter of the chief of the clan was one of them and was taken as a slave. The Prophet (S.A.S) freed her and married her. Through this marriage, the Banu Al Mustaliq regained their dignity and freedom after they suffered humiliation through their defeat. In fact, when the Prophet (S.A.S) married Juwairiyyah, the Muslims released all their prisoners saying that they could not keep the Prophet (S.A.S) relatives in bondage. It was due to this marriage that the whole clan accepted Islam and became peaceful and obedient to the laws of the new Islamic State.

The Prophet (S.A.S) finally married Maimoona Bint Al Harith as his last wife. Maimoona came from a clan whose people were enemies of Islam. In fact, they murdered 70 companions who went out to propagate Islam. Maimoona was the sister of the wife of the leader of the clan. Through this marriage with Maimoona, the entire situation changed and the people of the tribe accepted the leadership of the Prophet (S.A.S).

From this, it can be clearly seen that the Prophet (S.A.S) had reasons for his marriages, and it was not a matter of simply wanting to have more than one wife. Besides Aisha (R.A), all other wives were widows, some with sons and daughters from their previous marriages. He took care of them and their children and provided support and protection to them.

It is evident that he did some of these marriages in order to provide protection and dignity to widows. Some he did to emancipate the women from slavery and to restore dignity, honour and respect to them by marrying them. His marriage to Zainab Bint Jahash was done as per the order of Allah in order to break the pre-Islamic custom and establish the teachings of Islam. He also married to some women in order to build strong ties with families and tribes for the sake and benefit of Islam, and also to end the hostility/enmity shown to Islam and the Muslims.

From the previous discussion, it becomes clear that while permission has been granted in the Quran for taking more than one wife, Allah has subjected this to a very strict condition. One must also think about the consequences which can disrupt the 1st marriage and children’s life. If one wishes to enter into a second marriage, one must know that ‘Nikah’ is a very sacred contract and an act of Ibadah in Islam. Therefore, one must not venture into it in a haram manner; one must not be dishonest to one’s wife; one must not play a ‘hide and seek’ game and do everything in total secrecy. In fact, the Prophet (S.A.S) said, ‘Announce the marriage’. Today, a second marriage is kept in such a hidden manner that the one who did the Nikah of the two parties, as well as the witnesses are not revealed at all. It is kept as a ‘top secret’. If the husband thinks that he did something good by marrying a second wife, why the secrecy at this level? Why is he scared to mention it to others?

The reality is that today, while some people have started to practice a ‘permission’, they have caused a great amount of harms to others, and at the same time, have failed miserably to fulfil the conditions which the Shariah has placed upon one who has more than one wife.

And Allah Knows Best.

Mufti Waseem Khan.


This answer was collected from DarulUloomTT.net, which is operated under the supervision of Mufti Waseem Khan from Darul Uloom Trinidad and Tobago.

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