I have been reading your views on the questions of divorce and separation and your response to various questions on the subjects. My compliments to you for expressing yourself very clearly and helping people see what is correct - both from their personal as well as the Islamic point of view.
I find myself in a very difficult situation and am turning to you to clarify various confusions in my mind - personally, morally and with regard to Islamic laws. I shall try to be concise:
I have been married for almost 10 years and have 2 beautiful sons from my wife. We were getting along with our lives until I met another woman with whom I developed a very intimate emotional and physical relationship. This was 3 years ago.
I have been trying throughout this time to sever my relationship with either of them - my wife or the other woman. But I have struggled to do so and every time I take a decision I take it back because I get very scared to go either way. I gave my wife a divorce notice which I took back after 2 months thinking that I would be able to let go of the other woman. But that has not been possible and I find this whole situation becoming very unbearable. Not only for me but my wife, my family and children, the other woman and her family etc. It is also affecting my work and other things.
I would like to know:
If I was to take a second wife - what are the conditions under which one is allowed to take a second wife in Islamic law? How does one go about doing that? Do I need my wife's permission? What if I am unable to get it?
Are these circumstances "enough" for me to divorce my wife? Does Islam look at this as justifiable grounds for divorce?
Can I insist on keeping my children? They are 8 and 5 years old. Is it better for young children to stay with the mother or the father?
Are there any instructions in the Shari`ah which will condemn me in the eyes of Allah if I were to get a divorce under the circumstances?
Are there any instructions in the Shari`ah which provide guidance for ones relationship with children after separation/divorce? So as to ensure that they are emotionally and physically protected?
On personal grounds, would you advise me to continue my marriage under the circumstances? Do you think that it is better for my children if I was to stick to my marriage?
I would like to get your response at the earliest - if that does not inconvenience you too much. Also I hope that you do not disclose the identity of people asking these questions.
Before I answer your questions, I would first like to clarify a few things with reference to the Qur'anic allusion to polygamy.
While referring to polygamy, the
Qur'an actually has only referred to an existing and a well-accepted
institution of the then prevalent social system. In other words, polygamy is
neither an allowance nor a prohibition of the Qur'an. It was an accepted norm
of the society in which the Qur'an was revealed. The Qur'an has only
referred to this practice while prompting the Muslims to take care of the
orphans and the widows in the society.
Thus, the Qur'an is neither an advocate for, nor one against polygamy. It is
only an advocate for the moral well being of humanity.
Furthermore, even though the
Qur'an has not made the permission of the first wife a mandatory condition for
a second marriage, yet it seems that the social environment in which the
Qur'an was revealed is a major factor for ignoring the inclinations of the
first wife, in the matter under consideration. It cannot be denied that polygamy
was an accepted norm of the Arab society. Wives, under normal circumstances,
would not have any objections to their husband's taking another wife. In fact,
there is evidence to suggest that the number of wives was considered to be an
indication of a person's high social standing. Thus, a woman would normally
see the increased number of her husband's wives with pride, even if it meant
sharing the love of her husband with other women as well as entering into
competition with other women in becoming the favorite wife.
Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored
that over the centuries, a tremendous change has taken place in the social
attitudes toward a second marriage. Most of the modern day societies are,
generally, averse in accepting it. The existing wife of a person, obviously, is
no exception. That, which at the time of the revelation of the Qur'an was
looked upon with pride, is now generally seen with disgust.
That, which could safely be presumed as acceptable, is now likely to fire
endless feuds and, sometimes, to completely ruin the peace of one's household.
In view of this considerable change in the social (as well as domestic)
acceptability of second marriage, it would only seem prudent that a person
should not even consider a second marriage, unless he is certain that his
decision shall meet acceptance of his existing wife and children. A second
marriage, which risks the foundations of the existing family seems to be against
the spirit of the directives of the Shari`ah,
and should, therefore, be avoided.
Keeping the foregoing explanation in perspective, let us now turn to your specific questions:
The above explanation entails my answer to your first question. However, in this respect, I would further like to add that besides the directives of the Shari`ah, you should carefully examine the laws and legislations of your state of residence as well as the possibility as to whether or not your wife and children would accept your decision. If the law in your country does not allow a second marriage, then it would be advisable that you avoid taking the decision or, at least, implementing it. Likewise, if your wife and children are not likely to accept your decision of second marriage, I would then not feel very comfortable in recommending you to carryout your plans of second marriage.
As far as the allowable grounds for divorce are concerned, any ground considered adequate by the concerned parties, for the permanent severance of their relationship is a justifiable ground. The Shari`ah does not specify any circumstances under which divorce is allowed.
The question is not whether you 'can' insist on the custody of your children, as there should be no doubt in that, the question is whether you 'should' insist on the custody of your children. This is going to be your personal decision. The only important factor, which should be considered while taking this decision, is the well being of the children.
If you have ultimately resolved to marry the second woman and if your wife is not willing to live with you in case you marry the second woman, then you would probably be left with no other option but to divorce your wife. Such an action, even though it has not been expressly condemned by the Shari`ah, should be avoided to the ultimate extent, as it leads to the undoing of a household, which the Shari`ah wants to avoid, as far as possible.
The Shari`ah has not given any express directives in this regard.
On personal grounds, I would not only advise you to continue your marriage but would plead and request you to do so. I would request you to sacrifice your emotions to fulfill your commitment with your existing wife and the blessings that God has bestowed upon you in the shape of your children. On personal grounds, I would never recommend laying a foundation of a new relationship on the ruins of other relationships. Even if the law of your country allows you a second marriage and if the Shari`ah does not prohibit such marriage for you, I would still suggest that you carryout your plans only if you feel that it would ultimately succeed in meeting acceptance of your existing family.
You ask: "Do you think that it is better for my children if I was to stick to my marriage?"
The answer is obvious.
August 20, 2000
 As is clear from the context and background of the opening verses of Al-Nisaa, in which Qur'an has alluded to the practice of polygamy.
 It, however, deserves to be added here that there have been a number of negative social implications of the general attitude of aversion toward taking a second wife, (especially for the widows and the divorced women in the society). Nevertheless, the fact remains that such a change has actually taken place.
Answer published by Moiz Amjad