Personally, upon encountering Al-Sherbiny’s report, I was filled with relief, hope and a growing excitement. The fact that another woman would care enough to delve into such an area for study was touching and liberating – inspiring because of the doors such a study can open for the psychological health of women, especially Muslim women.
Women have undeniably lived with mental health ailments throughout the twentieth century, most of them suffering silently through the effects of bad marriages, economic injustices and physical/mental abuse. And although the West, particularly the Women’s Rights movement of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s in the U.S. can be credited as having been a leader in terms of seeking that women be liberated from the pain and shame of mental illness and abuse, fewer gains have been made in the behalf of the female populations of poorer nations, if modern western media is to be believed. Whether what the news reports is true or not, a study such as this has emerged and to discover such a find and not share it would be a blunder on my part.
I first need to point out that in terms of polygamy, I have unfortunately found that most women when asked about it react with disdain, disrespect or outright anger, rarely taking the time to try and understand why a woman may choose to practice polygamy or to see any good that may be inherent within it.
I can certainly attest that unless one has embarked upon a journey as a polygamous wife it can be very difficult to put oneself into the shoes of another that has made such choices. From my own perspective, I can imagine the pain it may cause a woman to visualize living in a polygamous household, especially in the West because of the images that we are constantly bombarded with professing to define womanhood for us; but the fact nevertheless remains that a significant percentage of women, whether by choice or circumstance, is familiar with aspects of sharing a spouse or significant other.
For instance, there has been a new development in recent years within popular American culture, particularly urban pop culture with the advent of the “baby daddy” and “baby mama;” terms that refer to estranged or absent parents that do not participate as an official spouse but that function within the family unit nonetheless. Cultural norms have now emerged where it becomes necessary for individuals to identify and interact with one another in a new way due to the increasing numbers of children within society that are born out of wedlock or subject to divorce and re-marriage.
These circumstances often require individuals to interact in ways that are similar to the ways in which polygamous households function for the sake of the children involved. We even have spin offs such as “baby mama/daddy drama, ” that alludes to the stress and anxiety involved in interacting with the mother/father of the children of one’s former spouse or significant other.
If we were to analyze the prevalent social norms in modern American society we would not be able to ignore the fact that we do indeed deal more directly with aspects of polygamy and bigamy than we would expect from within the constructs of a “monogamous Christian society.” The Bible after all contains several narratives of polygamous marriages within the Old Testament, and the Judeo-Christian tradition is not without it’s own history of polygamous marriages throughout the ages.
All this to say that regardless of one’s opinion concerning whether polygamy is right or wrong, it cannot be denied that analyzing the effect that polygamy has on women’s minds and their psychological health is an important and commendable accomplishment. Whether I believe polygamy is good or bad becomes insignificant in light of what women are going through psychologically because of a lack of understanding and support from the medical profession.
Al-Sherbiny documents that, at least within the confines of Arab culture, women of a certain demographic and social status tend to practice polygamy more than others. This alone provides an excellent opportunity to endorse literacy and education throughout the Muslim world, especially quality religious education so that women can be cognizant of their rights in polygamy according to Islam. This can not only alleviate the symptoms that women tend to experience but also to elevate her social status.
The study states, “following Islamic principles and adhering to the rules surrounding polygamy can minimize or eliminate side effects.” So while providing treatment to prevalent symptoms, education in the form of literacy and religious teaching can also treat the greater social condition of women and thus assist the family structure as a whole.
I am obviously extremely excited about this study and much respect goes out to Dr. Al-Sherbiny. I pray that women around the globe continue to emerge as leaders and advocates for one another in the struggles for justice and the establishment of human rights. We are all trustees upon this earth and it is our duty to do our best to be worthy of such a trust.
With peace and blessings for you and yours!
Scriptures: Listed by Chapter and Verse
Wives in the Qur’an:
2:187, 2:223, 4:3, 4:19-21, 4:129, 13:38, 23:6, 24:6-9, 33:37, 37:22, 40:8, 43:70, 60:10-11, 64:14, 66:10-11, 70:30
Wife in the Bible:
Gen.2:24, Prov.18:22, 19:14, Hos.1:2, Mark 10:11, Luke 14:20, 17:32, Eph.5:33, Titus 1:6, Rev.21:9
Wives in the Bible:
Eph.5:25, 1Tim 3:11
Matriarchs in Polygamous Structures:
Qur’an: Sarah, 11:71, Hajar 14:37;
Bible: Sarah, Gen.11:29, 18:15, 21:12, 23:1+2, 19, 49:31, Heb.11:11, 1Pet.3:5+6, Hagar Gen.16:1-16, Keturah Gen.25:1, 4, 1Chr. 1:32, 33, Leah Gen.29:16-32, 30:9-20, 31:4, 31:14, 33:1-7, Rachel Gen.29:6-31, 31:34, 35:16-24, Matt.2:18, Zilpah Gen.30:9, Bilah Gen.29:29, 30:7, 35:22, 35:25, Zipporah Ex.2:21, 4:25, 18:2, The Ethiopian Woman (Moses’ Wife) Num.12:1, Hannah 1Sam.1:2, 1Sam.2:1-11, 2:31, Peninnah 1Sam.1:2, Michal 1Sam.14:49, 18:17-28, 19:11-17, 2Sam.3:13, 3:14, 6:1-23, Abigail 1Sam. 25:39-41, Ahinoam 1Sam.25:43-44, David’s wives 2Sam.3:2-5, 2Sam.5:13-16, Bathsheba 2Sam.11:3, 12:24, 1King.1:11, 2:13, 2:18-19, Pharoah’s Daughter (Solomon’s Wife) 1King.7:8, Solomon’s Wives 1King.11:3
Polygamy and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh):
Wives of the Prophet:
1)Khadija bin Khuailid, 2)Sawda bint Zam’a, 3)Aisha bint Abu Bakr, 4)Hafsa bint ‘Umar, 5)Zainab bint Khuzaimah, 6)Umm Salama, 7)Umm Habiba, 8)Zaynab bint Jahsh, 9)Safiyya bint Huyay, 10)Juayriya bint al-Harith, Maymuna
Polygamy: The Qur’an Restricts the Number to Four
Abu Dawud: al-Harith ibn Qays said, “I embraced Islam while I had eight wives. When I mentioned that to the Prophet (pbuh), he said, “choose only four of them.”
Tirmidhi: Abdullah ibn ‘Umar said, “Abu Ghaylan ibn Salama ath-Thaqafi embraced Islam and he had ten wives whom he had married during the pre-Islamic period. His wives also embraced Islam with him. Thereupon, the Prophet (pbuh) commanded him to choose only four of them.”
Sahih Sunan Abi Dawud: vol.1, pg.358: “Fear Allah concerning women, for you have them under Allah’s security, and you have the right to sexual intercourse with them by Allah’s word. You have the right to expect from them that they do not bring into your houses anyone whom you dislike. But if they do that, then strike them lightly, without violence. They, on the other hand, have the right to expect from you that you feed and clothe them reasonably.”
Tirmidhi: “What kind of wealth should be sought?” He replied: “Each one of you should seek a thankful heart, a mindful tongue, and a believing wife who will help each of you in the matter of the Hereafter.”