Is it permissible to keep my first ...

Egypt's Dar Al-Ifta

Is it permissible to keep my first wife who waived her conjugal rights and marry a second one?


Is it permissible to keep my first wife who waived her conjugal rights and marry a second one?


There are two important elements in this question. The first concerns the equal treatment of women and the second the rights which are established by marriage to each and whether it is permissible for either wife to forgo some or all of these rights.

It is well known that Islam allows polygamy, giving a man the right to marry up to four wives at one time, provided he treats them fairly. This applies to everything that can be shared or replicated. For example, a man must provide his wife with a place to live. If he has more than one wife, then he must provide them all with the same standard of accommodation. He cannot house one of his wives, which may be his favorite, in a luxurious, separate house with a garden and the others in small apartments with barely sufficient amenities. He should also divide his time equally between them and this includes the number of nights he stays with each one. Whenever he spends the night with one wife, he is obliged to spend nights with the others. He may make his own arrangement on how to divide the nights, but if he decides to stay more than three nights at a time with one wife, he should obtain the consent of the others. The standard of food and household furniture should be the same. This is how we understand equality between wives as prescribed by Islam.

Equality is also required in the way a man takes care of his wife. If she is ill, he should provide her with the best medical care he can afford. He breaches the principle of equality if he provides one wife with a high standard of medical care and neglects the health of another. Such matters are not beyond a husband’s control. But when it comes to the question of love and affection, that is something that a human being cannot control. Islam recognizes this and does not overburden one with what he cannot shoulder. Nevertheless, a Muslim who marries more than one wife is required not to allow his feelings take the better of his judgment to the extent that it affects one of his wives.
Some women find it very difficult to cope with the situation when one of them finds out that she must share her husband with another woman. In this case, she may file for divorce. On the other extreme, some women want so much to remain married, even though they have to relinquish some of their rights to which they are entitled through marriage. The case we are looking at today is one such example. The reader wants to divorce his first wife in order to marry another. His first wife, however, has offered to relinquish some of her rights in order to stay married. This may be due to her circumstances and she may feel that if she were to be divorced she will end up in a more miserable situation, particularly if there is no one to look after her. A woman may feel that it is sufficient for her to have a home of her own and a husband who provides her with food, clothes, accommodations and care. She prefers such a situation to having to live with her married brother where she may have to submit to the wishes of her sister-in-law. Indeed, she may have no brother to turn to for support. If a woman makes her husband such an offer, he may take it, provided she is not pressured into it. The offer must be made of her own free will as she is the one to determine what is the best course of action for her. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this. A husband may take up the offer only if it is made freely. This applies to her mahr [dowry] which is the money or property her husband pays her at the time of marriage and which becomes her own property and she has the absolute right to determine how to dispose of it. It also applies to her other marital rights. If she is pressured into forgoing any of these, it becomes forbidden for the man to take away these rights from her. The pressure on a woman to waive her right to mahr may not come from the husband as is the case in some Muslim countries where it is viewed as a mere formality. Even though it is specified in the marriage contract, on the wedding night, a wife may tell her husband that she forgoes her right to it. She does this because she is taught by her family to do so. This may be called social pressure, family pressure or what you will. It is not a free choice. Hence, it is not permissible for the husband to take the money from her.

It was reported that Sawdah, one of the Prophet’s wives who was elderly, once told him that she was giving her turns to Aisha. [She did this] because she knew that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) loved Aisha more than his other wives. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) accepted the offer because it was made of her own free will. So, it is permissible for you to take up the offer made by your first wife if you did not coerce her to make it. When made freely, this offer is a gift which you may accept. There is nothing wrong with this.

I must add, however, that she still retains her right to be cared for and looked after. In this regard, you have to maintain equality. It should not be difficult for you to do so since your wife appears to be reasonable and understanding. You should extend your kindness to her as you will to your new wife.

Perhaps I should add here that it is one of the rights established by marriage that each partner should help the other observe the strict Islamic moral standards. Islam does not allow promiscuity of any sort. Only through marriage can sexual desire, which is innate in man, be satisfied. You have mentioned that your first wife has offered to relinquish her conjugal rights in favor of your new wife. I would like to draw a distinction between her offer to let you spend all nights with your new wife, and an offer to forgo her right to sexual satisfaction. The first you can accept without question. As for the second, you have to consider whether it is right to accept such an offer. If she is still a young woman and feels sexual desire, then you should help her maintain Islamic moral standards. You can still spend all your nights with your new wife, but you also have to look after your first wife. There is no contradiction between the two. The point is that you must try to be as understanding as possible. Where there is a legitimate need, you should try to satisfy it. In this way, you can benefit by your wife’s offer and fulfill your obligations toward her. Let me just add that if you only accept a part of what your wife has offered, in order to be able to satisfy both wives and arrive at a satisfactory arrangement, then I hope God will reward you for returning her generous offer with similar generosity.

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