There comes a time in the process of curing infertility when a couple decides that they have availed all options and they must move on with their lives. Many husbands see divorce and then remarriage as the only alternative to have children. Islamically though he has an option that could be far more beneficial to his first wife, himself, and his marriage to follow. The option of polygyny is one that is looked down upon in western society, but one that is permissible and in some cases encouraged in Islam.
Allah(swt) says (what could be translated as):
“And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphan-girls, then marry (other) women of your choice, two or three, or four but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one or (the captives and the slaves) that your right hands possess. That is nearer to prevent you from doing injustice.” (An-Nisa 4:3)
From this ayat it is clear that Islam has allowed men to marry up to four wives. He does not need any specific reason to have multiple wives, but he can do so for whatever reason he may wish as long as he is just with them. Most wives though would detest the idea of sharing their husband with another wife. What is said in Islamic sources about marrying for reasons of fertility?
The Prophet Muhammad (saw) said:
“Marry the loving and the fertile because through you, I will compete with the nations for superiority in numbers.” (Abu Dawud and others)
The Prophet of Allah has encouraged Muslim men in this hadith to marry those who are fertile, he did NOT say not to marry the infertile amongst you. If for some reason the first wife is infertile then the option to avail the choice of polygyny is one that is encouraged islamically.
It is important to note that only two wives of the Prophet Muhammad(saw) gave birth to his children. Ayesha(rad), one of his most beloved wives, never had any children. Although others of his wives never conceived he treated all his wives justly and in a kind manner. He never raised the status of a fertile wife over an infertile one. His(saw) example is the best example. Men who wish to take on more then one wife should study his(saw) seerah and try to implement his(saw) treatment towards his(saw) wives in their own lives.
What are the benefits for the first wife, wives to follow, and any children from those wives? Oftentimes women who cannot conceive wish more then anything to rear a child or help in rearing a child. They often envy women who have children and wish that for even a day they could take care of a child as their own. I have seen several instance where a brother has taken on another wife as a result of his first wife being infertile. The first wife has almost always been extremely happy to be able to help the second wife in rearing her children. This creates an ideal situation for everyone in the household. The first wife is happy to be able to get a chance to raise children. The second wife receives extra help from the first wife and this strengthens the bond and relationship between the wives. The children have the attention of “two mothers.” I am not saying that this happy-go-lucky relationship exists in every polyganous household, but rather I am suggesting that this may be a positive alternative for a husband who would like to have children.
There could also be problems as well. Jealousy is a common problem that arises amongst wives. Infertile women often feel that they were not good enough for their husbands and this was the reason for their remarriage. Husbands usually do not feel this way towards their wives. In fact if they are willing to keep their first wife then obviously the love and honor they feel towards them is what is keeping them together. Husbands should take this into account and make the change as painless as possible for their first wives.
The situation of every couple is different. Each couple knows how much they can take, and what options are best for them. As a couple it is important to sit down and discuss the pros and cons of going into a polygynous relationship. May Allah make it easy on everyone and relieve our hardships (Ameen).
“…Our Lord! Condemn us not
If we forget or fall
Into error; our Lord!
Lay not on us a burden
Like that which Thou
Didst lay on those before us;
Our Lord! lay not on us
A burden greater than we
Have strength to bear.
Blot out our sins,
And grant us forgiveness.
Have mercy on us.
Thou art our Protector…”
-The Meaning of the Qur’an (2:286)