Why can men have more than one wife?
Updated on 01 February 2018

By: Salamah Ghudayer

In the Emirates, most Emirati men have just one wife, but roughly a quarter will be known for having a second wife. Highly rare is a third or fourth wife, even amongst the wealthy men who could afford four households or a very large family in the U.A.E.

In Islam, men can have a maximum of four wives, so there is a limit. Also for a man to take more than one wife he must be prepared for the challenge given to him within this right, as he absolutely must be equal between his wives or have the sincere intention to be so. He must show he is being equal and they should be able to feel he is fair; yet namely he must split his nights equally among them and they should live in equal homes with an allowance the same for each of his wives, while adding allowance for each child under her care. Most scholars are of the belief that a woman may not give up any of her rights in a marriage, while some believe she may if she chooses to do so and at anytime she may ask for them back. A common example is a wife giving up her nights to another wife indefinitely or while she is traveling. It then would not be seen as the man isn’t equal, unless she requests them back and he refuses. Her rights for equality are the condition for the husbands right to have multiple wives, so her needs are sacrosanct. If he fails in his obligations and a wife no longer has patience for gaining her rights, then the couple may divorce. She can in effect fire him from his position as husband, like any of us would be for habitually failing in our duties.

In the past it was more common to take multiple wives, as the community was the social affairs system. War was very different long ago, with less technology and was highly dangerous with hand to hand combat. Many men did not return from war to their tribes or villages. The men who did, returned to widows and children of their brothers, best friends and neighbors. All of a sudden, these women are thrust into the role of Super Woman, caring for her family and financially supporting them. It is seen as dishonorable to accept charity as a lifestyle. She could attempt to handle it all, as many women attempt worldwide. She could return to her family for support. Yet she could also accept a proposal from the community of men, to share her life and the challenges and joys of a family. Those men likely loved their first wife very much, but felt there was a duty involved to the men who were lost.

Also in situations where a man feels compelled toward a woman he comes across in his daily life; he is required to respect her from a distance, or make her family to become closer. A man in Islam can not “try” a familiar relationship with a woman without her having her rights and to be seen in public with her and any children they have would carry his name and have rights as well. Yet when this happens worldwide and the man agrees this woman must be his wife; then in a nation allowing only one wife, this can devastate the life of the original wife. Aside from a woman entering her husband’s thoughts and heart, her life is turned around unexpectedly by divorce.  Here, in Islam, everyone can stay as they are or decide not to share and get a divorce. A huge misconception is that only Muslim men can divorce their wives and this is absolutely not the case. Women also may divorce their husbands. Nobody is ever stuck in a marital relationship causing them distress or agony. Amongst the wives, they will decide the level of connection they will have. Most are quite respectful, while some even become close as family members. It must also be said, there are some women who prefer to be second wives and have more spare time and an easier schedule for their work or other activities by sharing the issues marriage especially time wise.  A marriage with multiple wives is not for everyone and is far from being the average situation here in the Emirates, but for some families it is an answer to their own issues and provides them all with the family that suits them. 

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