Saturday, September 17, 2011

Divorce or Polygamy: An Argumentative Study


More and more Muslim wives in Malaysia nowadays are asking for divorce out of emotional reason for hating polygamy. It is hotly debated when a husband married another woman, should a wife ask for divorce or accept polygamy. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to argue the harms of divorce based only on the emotional reason by providing arguments which argue that to stay in a polygamous marriage is indeed better than asking for divorce out of emotional reason. The method used for this research is a library research by referring to the books, journals, and thesises. The result of this study shows that the wives who ask for divorce based only on the emotional reason would definitely face greater problems after divorce compared to the problems faced in a polygamous marriage. This paper stressed on the importance of strengthening the family institution and preserving the rights of women and families fairly and impartially without discrimination element.


Divorce, polygamy, argumentative.


Islam deals clearly with both issues; polygamy and divorce and provides certain legal requirements. For polygamy, Islam has regulated this practice only for men (which in its specific term is known as ‘polygyny’), limited it to only four, and insisted equal rights and status for all wives. On the other hand, although divorce is being allowed in Islam; as a sign of the lenience and practical nature of the Islamic legal system, to keep the unity of the family is considered a priority. For this reason, divorce is always the last choice, after exhausting all possible means of reconciliation (Umm Abdur Rahman Hirschfelder and Umm Yasmeen Rahmaan, 2003).
Since there are two types of women in facing polygamy; the first type is those who can bear her jealousy in a polygamous marriage and the second type is those who cannot bear her jealousy in a polygamous marriage and prefer to ask for divorce; Islam gives freedom for both types to choose what is better for them. In Islam it is permissible for a wife to ask for divorce in order to protect herself from jealousy as what the Prophet -s.a.w.- said regarding her daughter Fatimah -r.a.- and her son-in-law Ali -r.a.-. He said: “Indeed, Bani Hashim ibn al-Mughirah asked my permission to marry their daughter with Ali ibn Abi Thalib, so I do not give permission for them, I do not give permission for them, I do not give permission for them, unless ibn Abi Thalib love to divorce my daughter and marry their daughter, because my daughter is a portion of me, harm me what is harmful for her, and hurt me what is hurtful for her” and in another narration: “Indeed, I do not make what is illegal (haram), permissible (halal), and I do not make what is permissible (halal), illegal (haram). However, by the name of Allah, a daughter of the Messenger of Allah and the daughter of the enemy of Allah will never be together.” Therefore, Ali r.a. was faithfully being monogamous to Fatimah r.a. until she passed away. Imam an-Nawawi while explaining this Prophetic tradition said that among the reason why the Prophet said like this is due to his sympathy upon his daughter’s jealousy (An-Nawawi, 1929). It is crystal clear that to ask for divorce out of emotional reason is permissible, and this is never due to the fact that polygamy is illegal in Islam.  
However, some Feminists are now mistakenly exclaiming to the whole world that polygamy is actually illegal in Islam (Tita Marlita, 1997). According to Amira Masshour (2005) that by restricting polygamy to only four wives, Islam wants to introduce a gradual change as in the case of the prohibition of alcohol and slavery, because female slavery is now illegal, the practice of polygamy should similarly be found illegal. In addition, some Muslims strongly believe that a husband must not practice polygamy without any exceptional conditions. These exceptional conditions are such as when the number of women exceeds greatly the number of men during the wartime or in cases where a husband did not have children from the  wife (A. D. Ajijola, 2002).
Then, does a husband can only practice polygamy when there is an exceptional condition? This question has been answered by Dr. Muhammad al-Ahmadi Abu an-Nur, by saying that it is permissible for husbands to marry another woman although without any exceptional conditions such as war or the wife’s sickness. As if polygamy cannot be practiced unless with the exceptional conditions, then the Prophet –peace be upon him- would order the Companions to marry only one except for those who have problems with the  wives (Azmi bin Ahmad, 2003).
Unfortunately, as a result from the views of Feminists and others who detest polygamy, there is a very serious issue in Malaysia where more and more wives are asking for divorce out of emotional reason for not wanting polygamy, although the husbands are good towards the wives. Although most Muslim wives in Malaysia still believe that polygamy is legal but in the same time they believe that asking for divorce is better than to live in a polygamous marriage. For that case, it is very important to discuss what should the wife in Malaysia do if her husband wants to marry another woman. As polygamy will absolutely cause emotional problems, should the wife ask for divorce? Is it a right decision to ask for divorce and to end a happy relationship just to satisfy her emotion? Or should she accept polygamy and strive to overcome her emotional problems? Although some would absolutely disagree, it is strongly believed that polygamy is indeed better for the wife than to get divorced because in contrast with divorce, by polygamy she could strengthen the family institution towards improving social welfare and preserving the rights of women and families fairly and impartially without discrimination element.

Polygamy causes emotional disturbances

Yet, the opponents of this stance have sharply argued that polygamy will lead to divorce in many cases in Malaysia where husbands have to divorce their wives for being rebellious and having negative attitudes. As according to research, more women use violence to retaliate for being emotionally hurt by their partners (Swan, S. C., Gambone, L. J., Caldwell, J. E., Sullivan, T. P., & Snow D. L, 2008). Therefore, most Malay women nowadays prefer to ask divorce than to live in a polygamous marriage which will lead to divorce sooner or later.
Furthermore, the opponents claim that polygamy is only permissible in certain societies where polygamy is widely predominant (Amira Masshour, 2005). Since polygamy in Malaysia nowadays is not widespread, then living in a polygamous marriage would cause great emotional disturbances to the wives which are greater than what had been faced by Muslim women in the past. Among these emotional problems are; low self-esteem, depression, and psychological distress (Tita Marlita, 1997).
Although Muslim wives are encouraged to make a success of a polygamous marriage, in a reality, it is very unrealistic for many women to accept other women happiness by sharing a husband (Tita Marlita, 1997). As indeed imagining the husband emotional involvement with the rival is absolutely distressing to them (Cramer, R.E., Lipinski, R.E., Meteer, J.D., & Houska, J.A., 2008). Thus, the opponents suggest that it is definitely better for the wife to ask for divorce and get herself free from these emotional disturbances.

Divorce causes greater emotional disturbances

However, by asking for divorce could the wife live happily after that separation? Could she definitely get herself free from emotional disturbances after losing her husband in order to satisfy her emotions? According to Nehami Baum (2007), women who initiate divorce would absolutely suffer from separation guilt. This is because; the initiator for divorce is the main factor for both of the spouses to lose their partner, their intact family, and their familiar routines, and both of them have to struggle to build a new life for themselves and new relationship. Nehami Baum (2007) has stated that: “Studies comparing the emotional process undergone by initiators and non-initiators repeatedly observe that while non-initiators tend to have strong feeling of rejection, initiators tend to have strong feelings of guilt” (p. 48).
Moreover, as there are three parties to an Islamic marriage; the husband, the wife, and Allah who is their witness, hence, both the husband and wife should help one another to live as good Muslims (Taiwo Hanbal Abdul Rahim, 1997). Then, to get divorced will only lead her to greater emotional problems which are grudge, separation guilt and grief. Therefore, it is better for the wife to stay patiently in a polygamous marriage where she is actually trying to accept her husband to protect the interests of her own sisters in Islam, which is in line with the vision, mission, goal, objectives and strategies of Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (, polygamy could be considered as an effective support system to the single mothers and unmarried women to ensure their survival, protection and advancement.
According to Niaz A. Shah (2006), polygamy in Islam is actually a system to protect the basic human rights of women, as according to him, “monogamy becomes repugnant to the basic human rights of women because there are more women eligible for marriage than there are available men” (p. 891). Moreover, Maryam Jameelah a Jewish American lady who embraced Islam said as what has been quoted by Abdur Rahman I. Doi, (1983):  
Polygamy is allowed in Islam because all sexual relations outside of marriage are absolutely prohibited…Therefore, a man (who) cannot be satisfied with a single wife, if he insist on relationship with another woman, he must marry her, undertakes her full support and full paternal responsibility in respect of the children of all his wives. As a matter of fact, man is polygamous by instinct (p. 153). 
            We as women must try to manage our own emotions by having positive thinking. For example, a wife can have the ideas that by accepting polygamy his beloved husband will love her more, she can have more time for active and effective participation in national development as her responsibilities as a wife are shared by other wives, and she can also appreciate her time more and have more quality time with her husband. It is very crucial to state here that the inner peace must come from within not through external means. This is because it is not always possible to change external conditions, but as women we certainly can change our inner attitude and learn to stop allowing outside influences affect our moods. Inner peace is attainable here and now, wherever we are (Remez Sasson, n.d.).
            In brief, it is crystal clear that a life after divorce will lead to the greater emotional problems to the wives which are grudge, separation guilt and grief. While by patiently accepting polygamy and managing the emotions, the wives could strengthen the family institutions and improve social welfares. Moreover, by accepting polygamy in order to attain Allah’s pleasure, a wife could attain inner peace and tranquillity. Therefore, the wives must believe that everything happens including polygamy is as a test to her sincerity, wisdom, self discipline, and patience, and then strive to pass the test with flying colours. Allah s.w.t. has promised in the Holy Qur’an to reward those who face difficulties in order to seek His pleasure, He said in Surah al-Imran, verse 195:
Their God responded to them: I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female, you are equal to one another. Thus, those who immigrate, and get evicted from their homes, and are hurt because of Me, and fight and get killed, I will surely remit their sins and admit them into gardens with flowing streams, such is the reward from Allah, and Allah possesses the ultimate reward.

Polygamy causes chaos in a family

            Still, the opponents argue that polygamy will lead to the chaos in a family, as husbands are incapable to be just towards their wives. As according to the Holy Qur’an, Surah 4, verse 129: “You will never able to be fair and just between wives, even if you really want to, but do not turn away from a wife altogether so as to leave her hanging in the air”. This verse clearly indicates the nature of men who would never be able to do justice among the wives, so, polygamy appears to be the exception, while monogamy is the rule (Amira Masshour, 2005).
            Therefore, the opponents suggest that it is better for a woman to sign an agreement with a man before marrying him, promising that he will be monogamous, and if he broke the agreement then she must be divorced, as divorce is far better than to live in an inharmonious home (Tita Marlita, 1997). They believe that in a polygamous marriage the wife is always haunted with fears of no longer being the sole queen of the household, fears of being disregarded and displaced, and jealousy towards the new wife, while the new wife would badly treat her, poisoning the husband’s mind to divorce the wife, persuading her husband to provide for her or her children what he does not provide to the wife (Taiwo 1997). These awful situations definitely affect the whole family especially the children negatively. Thus, to get divorced is better than to live in this disastrous family, as to end an unhappy marriage does not mean it is the end of the world, for the  wife could still develop her personality and form a new happy family after the divorce (Avidan, Yahia, Greenbaum, 2009).

Divorce causes greater chaos in the whole families

            However, could the wife really build a new happy family after the divorce? And could her children accept her decision? What will happen to her family? According to Amato (2008), divorce is a very great shift for the whole family members that lead to crisis and stress, and could cause conduct disorders, emotional disturbances, difficulties with social relationship, and academic failure among children. Moreover, the children would have a very negative perception to the parents and would be neglected; as both their father and mother will marry another person and have new children. They will view both of their parents as lacking of responsibility that only focus on their own needs, and they will remain critical and deal with a lot of pain and blame (Avidan, Yahia, Greenbaum, 2009). The whole family members will keep grudge and hatred, and blame one another for the destruction of the family. In the worst condition the husband would prefer to choose relationships out of a wed-lock that will definitely destroy family institutions and social welfares altogether (Azmi bin Ahmad, 2003). Thus, the life after divorce may lead to the greater chaos in the whole family members.
As a matter of fact, Sister Aisha Lemu who is married to a polygamous husband has argued that, although polygamy might hurt the wife emotionally, but in the same time it could help to overcome the problem of countless women left without husbands. She said as what has been quoted by Abdur Rahman I. Doi, (1983): 
One may observe that, although it has been abused in some times and some places, polygamy has under some circumstances a valuable function, in some situations it may be considered as the lesser of two evils and in other situations it may even be a positively beneficial arrangement (p. 153).
Hence, in order to make a success of a polygamous marriage, the husband must equip himself with strong Islamic knowledge and belief. He must do his best to be just in what he could control which includes the ability in maintaining and providing material needs, and also in dividing his time and attention towards his wives, so that the  wife would feel secured from any misplaced of her rights, as according to Pelusi (2006), “harmful jealousy is a measure not of love but of insecurity” (p. 65). While what has stated in the Holy Qur’an, Surah 4, verse 129, about the incapability of a husband to be just, is mainly about the just of love, as in Islam a husband must be just in what he can control, not in what is out of his control (Azmi bin Ahmad, 2003). Next, the wives must also be equipped with adequate Islamic knowledge and belief, so that they would have sisterly or motherly relationship, and strive to ensure happiness and peace in the whole family, and minimize any problems that might occur.
Whereas, the chaos that occurs in a polygamous marriage is actually a result of those who do not have piety and enough knowledge on how Islam sees polygamy. Therefore, most failures of the polygamous marriages happen in the families with weak Islamic knowledge, where there are members in the families who trespass others’ rights (Azmi bin Ahmad, 2003). In contrast, it is strongly believed that the family with strong Islamic knowledge and belief, Insya Allah could build a happy polygamous marriage, as the husband and wives; all of them would consider polygamy as a way to seek the pleasure of Allah s.w.t. Thus, it is better for children to live in a polygamous marriage where no divorce happens, as according to Shir, a girl who faced parental divorce, “Today I think that…my parent could have succeeded in living together…a child needs a home. She needs two parents at home in the evening…they needed to separate, but it hurt us…there is a price” (Avidan, Yahia, Greenbaum, 2009, p. 38). Therefore, it is better for the wife to let her husband to build another happy family than to ask for divorce, as the effects of divorce are definitely worse than the effects of polygamy.


In conclusion, as a Muslim wife who is granted by Allah s.w.t. with a good Muslim husband, she should really think deeply before asking for divorce. Is it a right move to give up a precious relationship and to leave a happy family just for the sake of emotional satisfaction? Could she really build another happy life after the divorce? Indeed, the happiness and peace is a gift from Allah s.w.t. alone. Moreover, life is not a bed of roses but it is indeed a test for humankind as what has been said in the Holy Qur’an: “He is the One who has created death and life to test you, which of you would do the best (in order to seek His pleasure)…” (al-Mulk, verse 2). If a wife could strive to stay in a polygamous marriage, she might be happier than before when she was staying in a monogamous marriage, as in a polygamous marriage, a wife would appreciate every moment that she has with her husband. Furthermore, she would have more time to spend for social works and welfares outside home, as her duties as a wife are shared by another wife or other wives. A blessed family where no divorce happen, with a new member comes to the family, for the  wife to accept another woman in her life, as her own sister and friend, this is indeed a real happiness, a happier life than a life after divorce, another new strange life, alone, full of hatred and blame. Thus, for the wife to strive in polygamous marriage together with the beloved husband and children is indeed better than to strive in building a new separate life after divorce.
It is very important to exclaim that this paper is neither encouraging polygamy nor denying the permissibility to ask for divorce in order to avoid polygamy. Rather, this paper is trying to open up our mind by weighing the harms of both divorce and polygamy. After that, based on this study, this paper is giving a humble suggestion that to live in a polygamous marriage is better than to live a life after divorce. However, it is undeniable that the suggestion and the weight of harms will differ based on different places, persons, cases, and situations.  
Last but not least, a few suggestions are listed below:
1. Correct and accurate information about polygamy and divorce in Islam should be properly presented to all Malaysians.
2. Training and guidance on emotions’ managements should be stressed in the to encourage men and women to control their emotions wisely and justly.
3. Training and guidance on responsibilities awareness should be stressed especially to the husbands in order for them to manage their responsibilities justly whether in a monogamous or polygamous marriage.
4. Awareness campaign on the danger of any relationship out of a wed-lock as it will create animalistic and barbarism characteristic of both men and women which will damage the rights of women to be respected as a wife and this will definitely destroy family institutions and social welfares. 
5. The importance of God-fearing and responsibility awareness must be stressed in all aspects of life. 


Abdur Rahman I. Doi. (1983). Woman in shari’ah (Islamic law).
A.D. Ajijola. (2002). The Concept of Family in Islam. New Delhi: Adam Publisher & Distributors.
Amato, P.R. & Cheadle J.E. (2008). Parental divorce, marital conflict and children’s behavior problems: a comparison of adopted and biological children. Social forces (86) 2008, 1139-1161.  
Amira Masshour. (2005). Islamic law and gender equality – Could there be a common ground? A study of divorce and polygamy in Sharia law and  contemporary legislation in Tunisia and Egypt. Human rights quarterly (27) 2005, 562-596.
An-Nawawi, Abu Zakaria Mohiuddin Yahya Ibn Sharaf. (1929). Sharh an-Nawawi ‘ala Muslim. al-Mathba’ah al-Mishriyyah bi al-Azhar.

Avidan, D.E., Yahia M.M.H., & Greenbaum C.W. (2009). Divorce is a part of my  life… reseliance, survival, and vulnerability. Journal of marital and family  therapy (35) 2009, 30-46.
Azmi bin Ahmad. (2003). Ta’addud al-Zawjat fi Maliziya. A thesis for the degree of Master Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Heritage. Kuala Lumpur: International   Islamic University Malaysia.
Cramer, R.E., Lipinski, R.E., Meteer, J.D., and Houska, J.A. (2008). Sex  differences in subjective distress to unfaithfulness: testing competing evolutionary and violation of infidelity expectation hypotheses. The journal of social psychology (148) 2008, 389-405.
Nehami Baum. (2005). “Separation guilt” in women who initiate divorce. Clinical  social work journal (35) 2007, 47-55. doi: 10.1007/s10615-006-0053-5
Niaz A. Shah. (2006). Women’s human rights in the Koran: an interpretive approach. Human rights quarterly (28) 2006, 868-903.
Remez Sasson. (n.d.). Peace of mind in daily life. Retrieved on 7 June 2011.
Swan, S. C., Gambone, L. J., Caldwell, J. E., Sullivan, T. P., & Snow D. L. (2008). A review of research on women’s use of violence with male intimate partners. Violence and victims (23) 2008, 301-314. doi: 10.1891/0886- 6708.23.3.301
Tita Marlita. (1997). Ways of knowing:   Islamic customs of polygamy, veiling,  and seclusion in the autobiographical writings of Huda Shaarawi and Kartini. A thesis for the degree of Master in Women’s studies. Newfoundland: Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Umm Abdur Rahman Hirschfelder and Umm Yasmeen Rahmaan. (2003). From monogamy to polygyny: A way through. 1st edition. Darussalam.

1 comment:

  1. Penulisan ini lebih kepada nak ‘counter’ pendapat feminist yang kata poligami itu hanya dibolehkan zaman dulu saja, tapi dah tak dibenarkan pada
    zaman sekarang, sebagaimana perhambaan dah diharamkan.

    Penulis ingin menekankan bahawa cerai & poligami kedua-duanya diharuskan dalam Islam daripada dulu sampai sekarang dan sampailah kiamat... Setiap orang berhak memilih apa yang terbaik buat diri mereka. Tapi disebabkan ada yang kata; bila poligami pasti hidup merana dan kalau cerai pasti bahagia. Jadi, penulis kata tak semestinya cerai itu lebih bahagia. Boleh jadi, dengan poligami itu lebih bahagia. Tengok keadaan,orangnya, dan kesnya. Setiap orang berbeza. Pendapat pun berbeza.

    Kalau boleh bawa contoh macam makan durian. Makan durian itu harus dan dibenarkan dalam
    Islam. Ada orang yang okey makan durian, ada orang yang tak okey, malah ada orang yang bau durian pun dah tak boleh tahan. Jadi analoginya lebih kurang
    sama macam poligami. Ada orang yang boleh berpoligami, ada orang yang tak boleh, ada orang, kalau sebut dan bincang pasal poligami pun dah tak sanggup.
    Jadi, pilihan sama ada nak cerai ke, nak poligami ke, terpulang atas masing-masing lepas ditimbangkan kebaikan dan keburukannya. Bukan semata-mata mengikut emosi dan pegangan yang mengatakan, ‘divorce is better than polygamy’.
    Kena pertimbangkan dulu secara tenang.OK..^_^