I attend this biweekly lesson about Islam headed by a Syrian-American who, Allah yerzyah al khair, is amazing. Last week she started off with a rather interesting request: “Tell me the things you find horrendous about Islam. The things you’re embarrassed of, the things you don’t understand.” So the girls came up with a rather short list of categories we weren’t really comfortable with, the things that you accept because you have faith but some-where deep down, they just don’t sit right. The first of that list: polygamy and it was unanimously agreed upon.
And so the lesson started. Now growing up in a Western society, I’ve never been exposed to polygyny. And even on our visits to Damascus I had no relatives who were polygynous. So I had no anecdotal experiences I could base my judgment upon. At the age that I became aware that polygynous situations existed, they were in the form of Mormon marriages who were, as we’ve heard, heinous acts of degradation upon women. They were not only frowned upon but also actively fought by society as a whole. So imagine how I felt when I learned that not only does Islam permit polygyny, the Prophet, my icon and role model for so long, had also practiced it!
As I grew older, I asked around about polygyny. I’m a true muslim at heart; I love this faith, this religion. And the fact that I had come to question some part of it caused me no little pain and anguish. I questioned it because I needed to understand. However, either the answers I received were so inadequate at explaining polygyny, or I was to too young to fully understand because the message came across wrong, and I was left feeling unsure. So for a while now I’ve had it filed under “Al-Ghayb” – the unknown.
Islam is, as are Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and practically any religion, based on faith in the unknown. Belief in a God is faith in the unknown. None of us have felt, touched, seen, or heard from God, but we have a bone-deep belief that He exists. Belief in prophets, the day of judgment, angles and devils, heaven and hell all constitutes as faith in the unknown. As does belief in the unexplained. The sister who volunteered to talk in place of our regular teacher yesterday gave the example of a child. Parents are constantly telling their children don’t do this, or don’t do that and to the child the reasons are more often than not unclear. The parent, on the other hand, knows what he or she is doing when they tell their child, no, jumping of the roof of the house isn’t such a good idea.
Ironically enough last week I watched “The Other Boleyn Girl.” The movie itself wasn’t too great, but the idea that King Henry had to work and think and plot to get rid of his first wife in order to marry Anne of Boleyn was so well, stupid! According to the movie and what I have read about Henry and his six wives, his first wife, Catherine of Aragon had done nothing wrong other than fail to provide Henry with a son. But because Henry wanted to marry Anne, he needed to be off with the former, and she was humiliated after all the years she has spent with Henry. When I finished the movie I was in awe of the flawed and faulty condition Henry was in. He couldn’t divorce the woman he didn’t want, even though he had been having affair after affair right underneath his nose. Had polygyny existed at the time, Henry could have found a perfectly valid solution to the dilemma!
Now before yesterday, polygyny as a solution would never have occurred to me, and had anyone suggested it I wouldn’t have considered it a valid idea. But back to the lesson, for the first time I’ve had it handed to me straight. The good the bad and the downright ugly of polygyny. You have the honest to God situation above: the man whose first wife cannot have children. He wants children and it’s causing a rift between them, but he doesn’t want to leave her. Intro polygyny and ta-da! Instant-solution!! And so on and so forth.
But what really cleared up matters for me was the emphasis she put on the distinctly separating between polygyny and betrayal. In order for a man to marry a second wife, doesn’t mean he is necessarily betraying the first. And if he does betray the first, and tells her after the act is over and done with, what kind of woman wants to be with that sort of man anyways? One who would and could easily disregard her feelings so easily in preference to his own needs. And in the end, really, it all boils down to the first wife. The way she deals with the situation. The option of divorce is always open to a woman who refuses to be in a polygynous situation.
For the woman who chooses to stay, the woman giving the lesson highlighted an important point. As well as having a basis in believing in the unknown, Islam also encourages and promotes Jihad. And not the kind of jihad that you’re thinking of, involving bombs and what not. Jihad is anything that requires to you to forsake something you hold dear for the sake of God – to put it roughly. For some of us, praying five times a day could be our personal Jihad of the Nafs (the soul). For others, it could be this: polygyny. I guess all it takes is an open mind and an open heart.
Next lesson? … you’ll just have to wait and see 🙂
Ps. A BIG thank you to the sister who opened my eyes!!