Muslim women know their faith permits their husbands to take more than one wife, but it still came as shock for Laylah when she learnt through her daughter that her husband had done so.
About eight weeks ago, Laylah (her name has been changed to protect her identity), from Sherwood Park, Manenberg, learnt her husband had taken a second wife and had already been married for eight months.
Laylah says she knows polygamy is allowed in Islam, but she says she had at least expected her husband of 30 years to let her know he was planning on taking another wife. Laylah and her husband have six children, three of them are still minors.
On Sunday August 23, her husband left home, saying he was going to his friend around the corner. Laylah had to fill up the car to do the school run the next day and, on a hunch, she drove past her husband’s friend’s house on the way to the petrol station. His car wasn’t parked there.
When her husband didn’t answer his phone, she sent him a text. He called her saying he was at a friend’s place in Hanover Park and would be at his friend’s house in Sherwood Park soon.
He arrived home 10 minutes later and after the couple made maghrib salaah (the evening prayer) together, Laylah asked her husband if he had been having an affair. He denied it, and continued to do so in the week that followed.
Then on Monday August 30 Laylah’s adult daughter called to say her father had phoned her to say he’d married again.
“I was in shock,” says Laylah. “I started screaming and crying, and his mom, who lives with us, asked me what was wrong, and I told her. She too was in shock. That night, he did not come home from work.”
She says their adult son, returning from work, saw his father’s car at a mall and brought his father home.
“My husband sat in the lounge and refused to speak to me about it without the presence of an imam. I called the imam who married them and put the phone on speaker phone. The imam said to my husband, ‘You told me that you would tell your wife, but you did not, how could you do this?’.”
Laylah, who left her job as a dispatch clerk when she had children, says her husband has since left home and is not taking care of her needs and those of the three children who are still at school.
The children’s school fees were not paid and they are short of food and clothing, which her eldest daughter now sees to.
“He moved out of the house three weeks ago, and his children saw him once since he left. He has not bothered to nafakah (provide for) me and my children so this goes against Islam. My home is broken, my children miss their father.”
Sheikh Mieraajudien Abrahams, from Salt River, says a Muslim man is allowed to take a second, third, and fourth wife, but he must be able to do justice to all or only marry one woman.
He says that while the man doesn’t need his first wife’s permission to marry again, he should at least tell her about it.
“The children have not seen their father so this is not just. The wife can either remain in the marriage or file for a divorce because there is no longer trust and a marriage must have trust. The imam should have contacted the first wife or told the husband to go home and tell his wife. The husband also needs a legitimate reason for taking a second wife because what has his first wife deprived him of? There should be no secrets between a husband and wife and this has caused distrust in their marriage.”
The Muslim Judicial Council’s head of the social development department, Fadihl Emandien, says a man need make no apologies about being allowed to marry up to four women as long as he can meet his responsibilities and duties equally to all of them.
“So, in polygamous marriages, the yah (verse) of the Holy Qur’an, solely puts the responsibility of judging the feasibility of a polygamous marriage on the shoulders of a husband. In the event, a husband has taken more than one wife and errs in his responsibility and duties towards any of them, the wife is allowed to apply for relief from such a marriage by virtue of a fasakh (divorce). This is, after, due process and diligence conducted as allowed by the shariah (Islamic law).”
Polygamous marriages can help to support widows, he says, but this is not their sole purpose, and a man may take a second, third or fourth woman for the same reason he married his first wife.
“It is the husband that should be expressing his intentions to his first wife on taking a second wife. This is not the responsibility of the imam/shaykh or moulana,” he says.
Dr Taj Hargey, imam at the Open Mosque in Wynberg, says it is virtually impossible to be just to more than one wife. He says a woman is allowed to state in her marriage contract that her husband may not take a second wife during the course of their marriage.
Some men, he says, misinterpret verses in the Qur’an to suit their opinions about polygamy.
Those verses, he notes, refer to men who marry more than one wife to take them out of poverty or provide them with security or be fathers to their fatherless children.
“Therefore if a man cannot deal justly with more than one wife then marry only one. This was revealed out of extreme pertinent compassion to vulnerable women not to please male sexuality, which is a common mistaken notion of these key Quranic verses by the modern clergy.”
Laylah’s husband declined to be interviewed for this story.