'My father had a second wife, and it was good for me'

"Young men need to be educated because there are misconceptions with regards to polygamy in our religion."
"Young men need to be educated because there are misconceptions with regards to polygamy in our religion."

In Islam, a man is allowed to practice polygamy by marrying up to four wives, but he must have the permission of the first (or other wives) and must be able to provide for them. 

Many in the Muslim community do not agree with the practice and do not see it as necessary or right.

Malika (29) was four years old when her father married his second wife.

He had been married to Malika's mother for 13 years and already had five children before he decided to bring another woman into their home.

"I had no understanding of what was happening. However, I do remember that particular day as I went with my dad and siblings after the ceremony to her home," she says. 

Malika was too young to understand it then, but now says it was a positive experience, even though there were some bumps along the way. 

"Over the years, I realised what polygamy was, when there were continuous arguments between my mother and my dad's second wife," she says.

"It was particularly disturbing as it would leave us, my siblings and I, in a difficult situation as we try to make sense of this new dynamic within our family."

Also see: Women in customary marriages now have equal rights to marital property

Second wife, second mother

So why would Malika's mother agree to a second marriage? Malika asked her mother when she was older:

"She explained that she thought it would end the alcohol abuse and promiscuity of my father, however it did not," says Malika.

It took many years, but Malika's father no longer drinks or is adulterous. Malika sees her father's second wife as a second mother, but growing up, it was a different story.

Malika remembers: "She would discipline me as a child, and it did feel uncomfortable as I would say that she was not my mother.

"Her older sisters were not happy about the marriage and even now, Malika's oldest sister, Aisha, has quite a strained relationship with both her father and his second wife. 

'Many men don't know the full responsibilities'

Malika has a good relationship with her stepmom and her younger half-sister, but she wouldn't agree to allow her own husband, Farid, to marry a second wife.

"A third party would be nice to help out around the house, but not a second wife," she laughs.

"I believe if the process of marrying a second wife is done right and for the right reasons it could work," she says.

"Unfortunately, many men don't know the full responsibilities that come with practising polygamy.

Islam teaches men that if they fear that they will not be fair to both wives, and if they cannot give both wives equal amount of time and maintenance, then they should not marry a second wife." 

"She does not have to stay in the marriage if she is not happy"

Malika also stresses that the first wife must be informed and if her husband goes against that, this is grounds for divorce. "She does not have to stay in the marriage if she is not happy," says Malika. 

Malika says that this has taught her a great lesson: "I've learnt through my family dynamic to know my rights as a woman and to respect other people's views." 

She says that the negative thing was that often the kids needed to sort out grown-up issues. "Adding another person to a home of seven people where space was limited already was very difficult.

If my dad had a second home for her, things would've been way better. And that is why Islam makes it compulsory for a man that wants to marry again to be able to afford it.

"Does she think that all Muslim men shouldn't have second wives? No.

"I do think practices of polygamy should be monitored, especially as we live in a world where an Imam could officiate a second marriage without knowing whether the first wife is even aware," she says.

"Young men need to be educated because there are misconceptions with regards to polygamy in our religion."Malika says a lot of the unhappiness became better with the birth of her younger sister who they helped care for. 

"My children see her as a grandma"

Malika also has two of her own children; Rafiq (4) and Tahir (1), and they love Malika's stepmom: "My children do see her as a grandma, as I've encouraged them to call her by that name.

They are not of the age yet [where I will explain the dynamic to them], but I would explain it when the time comes," she says.

She doesn't think the dynamic she grew up with has affected the way she is raising her own kids, but we'll have to see as they get older and test her patience. 

Malika stresses that having a second wife is not about being able to have your cake and eat it too.

"The one thing I would like people to know is that it's not easy; polygamous marriages need to have three people who are mature enough to journey through the waters of getting closer to God."

*names have been changed 

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