I remember a friend at uni telling me her father’s ultimate warning, something he wanted her to stay away from the most. No, it wasn’t drugs, partying, free sex or alcohol. It was Malay, or rather Muslim men. (She’s not Malay, obviously). “Whatever you do, don’t marry them,” her father sternly instructed his only daughter. “They can have other wives, and up to four.”
I was aghast at hearing this but took a moment to digest before launching into my defense of my fellow brothers in jannah (Amin). “But it’s not something altogether that common,” I found myself saying weakly. As if I didn’t believe the official party line myself. “Moreover,” (Note: okayy, so I didn’t really use that word. But something along that line lah) “the Quran specifically states that if you want to marry other women, you have to remember all the risks and challenges that comes with it and decide if you can really be fair. If you fear you can’t, then you’re supposed to stick to one.”
“What about your Prophet?” she asked. “Oh, well, that’s different,” I hedged. “He was a very special man, very strong, pious and fair. That was a time of war and a lot of women were left as single mothers. The Prophet married mostly divorced or single mothers, to help set an example in society. The only virgin he married was Aisha and that was a family arrangement with the father.”
I felt like I had to provide more arguments and so I launched the final bullet, which I still believe to be very much true. “Plus, at least under Islam the other wives have rights. In other religions, the other women (and let’s not even pretend that this doesn’t happen!) will just be mistresses in all those affairs we see happen around us.”
During this time, I was still in my terkapai-kapai mencari laluan hidup phase and wasn’t at my life’s best, and hence was the last person in the world to give out religious advice, so I left it at that. And at that time, my own family had challenges and hence I was also not in the best position to provide affirmative evidence of a successful Muslim marriage. It wasn’t a time when I could say, “Look, my experience shows that our culture and religion really can produce a happy marriage and family” because I wasn’t 100% sure of that statement myself, as evidenced a few years later.
In the end I think she didn’t buy it. And she’s still single now, presumably by choice, although if you ask me the love of her life was really a Malay close friend she had in college. But she must have stuck to her father’s words pretty well as nothing really happened between them even when everyone around them could feel his love towards her. And again, if you ask me, if he had been her husband, he would never have married other women. But now we’ll never know.