In one of your answers1, you write:
If your wife disagrees to the marriage then you may still marry the second woman and keep your original marriage or grant your wife a divorce and marry the second woman.
If the wife disagrees to the marriage; she does not commit a sin. How far is it justified to desert a wife for no fault of hers?
Does it not imply that a woman can be chastised by her husband by using the provision of polygyny/divorce?
First of all, it should be kept in mind that no legislation in the world can force a man or a woman to remain bound in wedlock, if he/she is bent upon breaking it. Islam has prescribed a law for divorce so that, on the one hand, both the husband and the wife observe a moral code while they are in the process of severing this sacred relationship, and on the other, to provide them both a chance for reconciliation, if they find such reconciliation possible.
The provision of separation or divorce after marriage is only a realistic recognition of the relative volatility of human emotions. Just as a human possesses the emotion of love, which is the very foundation of the relationship of marriage, his love is sometimes prone to be influenced by circumstances to such an extent that he may find it difficult to continue living with the same person. In such circumstances, it would be only realistic to allow for a separation or divorce so that both the parties to the marriage may try to get a fresh start, rather than ruin each others’ lives by being forced to live together.
It is true that divorce can result in heartaches and however strong the reasons for the party seeking a divorce, the other can feel chastised, betrayed and deserted – whether it be the man or the woman, yet it is equally true that after becoming devoid of love, mutual trust and respect, marriage loses the very foundation on which it was raised. At such instances, it may only be fair, in most situations, to sever the bond in a civilized manner rather than make it a life long torture for both the parties.
As for second marriage, we must first of all recognize that there is nothing morally wrong with taking a second wife – as there is, for instance, with infidelity or extra-marital sexual relations – provided the man can fulfill the moral obligations entailed in the additional marriage, while continuing to meet those entailed in the first marriage as well. It is for this reason that major religions have generally not prohibited keeping more wives than one.
As for the point that if the wife disagrees to the second marriage, then the man should not marry again, this would inevitably be the case where the bond of the first marriage is strong enough to face the challenge entailed in the situation. However, where the existing marriage is itself not strong enough to meet the challenge of the situation, a wife’s refusal to grant permission will only lead to divorce and separation. The same, obviously, will also be true where the wife wants to marry someone else. In such a case, she would divorce her husband – for apparently no fault of his – and marry the other person. The only difference, however, is that in the case of a man’s taking a second wife, if both the wives are willing, then both the marriages can be simultaneously maintained.
Seen in this perspective, it should be clear that the lack of prohibition of a second marriage, while maintaining the first, is only an effort to save the marriage, provided that the wife is willing to live in the new situation, which, obviously, she has a right not to.
I hope this helps.
September 30, 2004