Polygamy in USA (New York)

New YorkShe worked at the Red Lobster in Times Square and lived with her husband near Yankee Stadium. Yet one night, returning home from her job, Odine D. discovered that African custom, not American law, held sway over her marriage.

A strange woman was sitting in the living room, and Ms. D.’s husband, a security guard born in Ghana, introduced her as his other wife.

Devastated, Ms. D., a Guinean immigrant who insisted that her last name be withheld, said she protested: “I can’t live with the woman in my house — we have only two bedrooms.” Her husband cited Islamic precepts allowing a man to have up to four wives, and told her to get used to it. And she tried to obey.

It’s difficult, but one accepts it because it’s our religion,” said Doussou Traoré, 52, president of an association of Malian women in New York, who married an older man with two other wives who remain in Mali. “Our mothers accepted it. Our grandmothers accepted it. Why not us?”

Polygamy in America, outlawed in every state but rarely prosecuted, has long been associated with Mormon splinter groups out West, not immigrants in New York. But a fatal fire in a row house in the Bronx on March 7 revealed its presence here, in a world very different from the suburban Utah setting of “Big Love,” the HBO series about polygamists next door.

No one knows how prevalent polygamy is in New York. Those who practice it have cause to keep it secret: under immigration law, polygamy is grounds for exclusion from the United States.

The woman is in effect the slave of the man,” said a stylish Guinean businesswoman in her 40s who, like many women interviewed in Harlem and the Bronx, spoke on the condition of anonymity. “If you protest, your husband will hit you, and if you call the police, he’s going to divorce you, and the whole community will scorn you.”

“Even me,” she added. “My husband went to find another wife in Africa, and he has the right to do that. They tell you nothing, until one afternoon he says, ‘O.K., your co-wife arrives this evening.’ ”

Islam is often cited as the authority that allows polygamy. But in Africa, the practice is a cultural tradition that crosses religious lines, while some Muslim lands elsewhere sharply restrict it. The Koran says a man should not take more than one wife if he cannot treat them all equally — a very high bar, many Muslims say.

It’s not life, your man sharing a bed with another woman,” Ms. D. said. “You’re always thinking in your head, ‘does he love me?’ ”

Such stories of polygamy, New York style, are typically shared by women only in whispered conversations in laundries and at hair-braiding salons. With no legal immigration status and no right to asylum from polygamy, many are afraid to expose their husbands to arrest or deportation, which could dishonor and impoverish their families here and in Africa.

Credit for above information: New York Times by Nina Bernstein/2/23/07

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10 Comments

  • Lekan

    June 30, 2013

    @Ana thanks for the prompt feedback.Yes i agree with you it is very difficult to maintain presence in multiple threads.I will join the new one to vatch up with events and also try to understad more how women feel about this topic.It is very interesting that a forum like this exist for women to share their view.

    I think I will invite my wife and intended wife as well to read the articles therein.A better undertsnading of the good,bad and ugly(due to human nature) side of the concept may eventually assit us in living a somewhat harmonious life.

  • ana

    June 26, 2013

    @Lekan,

    Wa Alaikum As Salaam! Welcome to our blog. Thank you much for commenting.

    There is not much I can say to you about what you stated other than you should read the blog to understand how first wives feel and what they go through when their husbands decide to marry others, which Allah permits. It’s easier if you ask us specific questions.

    I will say, I think it is not easy for any first wife to accept polygamy until she gets her heart purified. I believe if a wife who becomes a part of a polygamous marriage has sincere intent to serve and worship Allah, knowing the true meaning of life, she will prevail in this world and the Hereafter/Jannah. She already has a good foundation to work with. If, however, she is Muslim in name only and do not do or try to do as Allah swt has instructed us in Quran (salats (prayers), fasting, reading Quran and act on/practice what they learn, are charitable, believe in all the messengerS, etc). she will have problems that may last indefinitely. Allah swt says that there is relief after hardship. If there is no relief, the person hasn’t done what Allah swt instructed them to do to deserve and get that relief. If a woman converted to Islam to get a Muslim husband or converted to compete with her husband’s new wife who is Muslim, she will have problems. No one can fool Allah. They can fool themselves, but not fool Allah. You have lived with your wife and should know the level of her emam (faith).

    I like what you stated as follow: “For it is because of the poor, that those that have riches are created and of the bounty which they have been given they will account…Things we hold as not “shareable” can be gone within the twinkle of an eye,what happens then.” I agree with you. A Muslim/BELIEVER knows others have a right to their wealth and we should share, be charitable and giving. What better way for a woman to gain barakats from Allah swt than to share what is near and dear to her and mean most to her in this earthly life than a husband.

    What I suggest to you that if you do marry the other woman, you let her know straight up; she will not replace your current wife. You will not leave your current wife for her. She is joining a family and that family consists of you, your first wife and your child. She is no more special than they are. If she can’t get with that, you don’t need her.

    You may want to join us over on the newest thread that everyone is talking on. “Marriage in Pakistan – Culture versus Islam”, so we don’t lose you. It’s difficult having two threads going at the same time. It’s up to you though. It’s all good happy

  • ana

    June 26, 2013

    @Joumana,

    Welcome to polygamy 411. It’s nice to have you here with us. happy Thank you for commenting.

    If you’re willing to take a smaller house and pay the rent yourself, then, Insha Allah, do it. You shouldn’t have to live with her, if you don’t want to. I could imagine how it would be for you to move into THEIR home. In no way would it be possible for you to feel at home in their home. You are absolutely correct that a woman does not have to share a home with her husband’s other wife. I don’t blame you for not wanting to be tormented by seeing him go into a bedroom to sleep with her and subject yourself to possibly hearing the two of them being intimate.

    You are correct; Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) wives had separate apartments. I don’t care how close in vicinity they were and if they were somewhat similar to a room apart in a modern day house or apartment.

    You have accepted he is married and are willing to share. Only you can stand your ground and say, NO!; you will not move into her house. I have no doubt she will clearly let you know it is her house.

    Should you move into your own home and pay the rent, be prepared to possibly later become resentful that he pays there at first wife house (if, in fact, he does) and doesn’t pay at your house. Many are quick to say what they will accept before in the situation, but once it becomes a reality they begin to sing a whole new different tune, and want to change the rules.

    Insha Allah, we will be here for you, if you would like to discuss the matter further.

    This is an open house. No need to knock. Just come on in.

  • Lekan

    June 26, 2013

    Asalam alykum Sisters.I can try to understand how you feel or felt when a man tells you he is takin a second wife(a 3rd or 4th may not really have much impact) but i dont think I can ever quantity it.I am a muslim man and recently considering polygamy not for the usual reasons(sexual desires, 1st wife getting old…etc) that most men(muslims and non-muslims) but for a course which I feel is more fulfilling.
    I will tell you a bit of my story,perhaps you will understand and share with me a woman’s perspective.
    I have been married to my lovely and pretty wife for over 6years and recently had a wonderful baby boy after several years of trying.2 years back, I became very close friends with a little girl and fell in love with her.Her mum was divorced and somehow I got to know her .I prayed for God”s Guidance as I felt the desire to have them as part of my family,if Allah makes it easy for me.After this period my wife concieved and had a baby boy.The desire still persisted in me and by my actions/intentons my lovely wife asked me about the little girls mother(they were acquinatnces).
    I was sincere and told her if Allah makes it easy for me, I would like them to be part of the family.Of course,feelings escalated but Alhamdullilah she understood somethings but ordinarily will not accept as a ‘woman’.Interestingly reading the article,”Polygamy:life,desire and pains” i could recollect some of the things i had told her,about the life beeing transient and the much we could do here on earth is worship Allah and provide happiness for those we can.For it is because of the poor, that those that have riches are created and of the bounty which they have been given they will account…Things we hold as not “shareable” can be gone within the twinkle of an eye,what happens then.
    I have not been perfect and do have some anormalies in my approach but by and large the intent, I believe is still OK.My wife is still not OK with it but has resorted to Faith as I have.
    I have spoken with few of my female friends ,just to get their opinion on the concept of polygamy and how they see it as a woman and within the context of what it actually seeks to achieve as God permitted it.Even with the purest intentions and explanations,the woman’s feeling supercedes….smiles.

    I’d love to hear from you

  • Joumana

    June 26, 2013

    I am a second wife and my husband and his first wife want us to all live in the same house, but I cannot bear it. I told him I will even take a smaller house and pay the rent myself. I feel that she is so oppressive to me: all those stories you hear about nightmare mothers in law, I feel she is like those mothers in law. I am happy to share my husband and even give her some of my nights when she is sick but I cannot live with her. Even the Prophet’s wives had separate apartments.

  • Master of Universe

    June 26, 2012

    The only proper way for a man to marry a second wife, or a third, or a fourth, is to do it as a family. The first wife should give her consent as it is her roll to run the house and the affairs of the home. A good husband will seek a second wife that compliments the family. It is not absolute that the first wife must agree to the husband’s choice for a second wife, but it is his responsibility to choose wisely so that she does approve. This is similiar for a third wife, in that the husband must choose wisely and this includes seeking the input and approval of the first and second wife. Failure to do so is being a poor husband, which is against the dictates of Islam, Christianity and nearly all religions. I would gladly take a good additional wife if one is available, but only if she fits the present family and if she is approved by all members of the family as God intended the decision to be.

  • Ana

    April 25, 2010

    Wa Alaikum As Salaam Okhti!
    I am well and I pray you are, as well or better happy

    What a very sad story you related of the sister. Sadly, situations like hers probably occur far more often than we’d care to imagine. What we could surmise in her situation is that her husband’s taking of the second wife/engaging in polygamy was not for the propagation of Islam. It apparently was all about self interest and self gratification for the husband and his new wife. He had no regard for his first wife. There was no mutual consultation or anything.

    As with the case of the new wife (similar to that of Carolinah), it seems I will always be flabbergasted by any Muslim who refuses to return the greeting “salaam”, after it was received, knowing that Allah SWT has ordered us to return the greeting or give one better….a simple greeting meant to bring peace between the parties, if only for the mere moment of it being said. It’s the most basic and fundamental rule of etiquette in Islam. Allah SWT tells us to investigate. Refusal to say a simple word meant to bring about so much good reveals much about that person. For those who don’t know, “salaam” means peace.

    I too, dear sister khadijah Z, pray the sister has found peace and contentment in her life and that Allah SWT helps her. Insha Allah, her husband and his other wife will repent and seek Allah’s SWT forgiveness for what they have done. Allah SWT will deal with them accordingly. Thank you for sharing with all of us, Khadijah Z.

    This is an open house. No need to knock. Just come on in.

  • Khadijah Z

    April 25, 2010

    Asalaam Alaykum okhti i pray your well. I new a sister in the US who on the day of her eldest daughters graduation as the family pulled up into the driveway he told the kids to go in as he needed to talk to mom. They had a large party planned with family and friends for that evening for the graduation, after the kids all left the car he did not even look her in her face and only stated he would not be there and she asked why? He then informed her he was getting married and would not be home for 7 days to have a good night and greetings from him to their guest. She said she was in shock as she had no idea even leaving the car or entering the home, as guest arrived asking of him she had no words to say, only mumbling to her self as the guest left wondering what was wrong and where was her husband for this great celebration she had slipped into a mental state of denile. She became depressed, refusing to leave her bed or room, not eating or drinking and her childern trying to call their father got no answer. From what i understood this lasted for pretty much a few months, throwing back in her mind why, i denied him nothing she gave him more then 20yrs of her life and now at age to 42yrs he left her for a younger woman because in her mind this is what he did, after a week he came home telling her she needed to accept this and get up and care for her home and family as a proper Muslim. I did not get much from her in this only that she tried for over a year to accept this and took med for depression also but in that time she div and left the marriage as the 2nd wife would see her in the public places even the masjid, would not return salaams, boasted how she stole the husband of the old woman and would keep her shape even if she had childern for him. This was to great for her mentally no matter how much she kept quiet and did not reply to such statements, and even tho other people told her husband of these happenings he ignored and said nothing. so she took her childern and left, soon after filed for a div, and in this i heard nothing else form her. I pray only she is well and found peace in her hardship and that Allah helps her as i do miss her so ever much.

  • ana

    July 5, 2009

    I just don’t know, CM. I thought I had it bad. I can’t imagine my husband showing up one day with a woman, telling me that she’s his other wife, and will live with me. I mean…kill me now… really. I’d be like…my life is definitely over. It is just by the grace and help of God that they live and survive it.

  • CM

    July 5, 2009

    I can not even imagine the pain and torment these women must feel. Why are some men so, so… uggggg! I can not even come up with a word! My heart goes out to these women and I pray that God will help them with their heartache.