While polygamy comes with a strict set of rules of equality, some men choose to violate this. Aysha Noora tells her story.
It all started when my father’s briefcase toppled from the bed when my older sister was searching for some CDs. As the it fell, a few photos slipped out. My sister was taken aback with what she saw: my dad, dressed up in a suit, was next to a woman who wasn’t my mother. In other words, it was a wedding photo.
As my mum ended her midday prayer, my sister showed the pictures to her. She just fell on the prayer mat, shocked, but her tears did not flow at that moment. No one could believe that my father, who to us was the best dad ever in our lives, had done this.
It all started from that moment. I was just seven years old. A mere child.
I can still remember peeking into my aunt’s house as my mum pulled on my father’s shirt collar, demanding an answer for having married someone in secrecy. His main supporters for his marriage to that other woman were his own parents, who I believe hated us because we did not have fair skin. And so, they insisted that my father marry someone pretty and fair.
When we were helpless and desperate for comfort, every single one of our relatives gave us the cold shoulder, ignoring us when we tried to enter their conversations. My siblings and I were always straight-A students in school, but this situation distracted us and our grades started to drop terribly.
My mother was in a dilemma of whether to divorce my father. After months of sleepless nights and frequent prayers asking for Allah (swt) for help, she finally decided to pack our bags and follow my father to Malaysia, where he was working, to fight to get him back. As a seven-year-old, I was confused by my father’s actions. Many other adults also started teasing me and my eight-year-old brother by saying “Oh you have a step-mum now!” How we hated hearing those words!
We left for Malaysia in November; it was just before Ramadan. I was excited as this was my first plane ride and also because I thought I would be staying with my father forever. Normally I would only see my father once a year when he was in Sri Lanka. As the plane landed in Penang, I squealed in excitement when I saw my dad. But I was also shocked to see another woman beside him.
I hated her at first sight.
As we settled down in an apartment, we realised that we were complete strangers in this country. We didn’t know how to speak the language and our visas were also not stable.
My father’s new wife frequently visited us together with him, acting romantic with my father in front of my mother. They would share a cup of soda with two straws, until my mother put a stop to it by threatening him. He also stipulated that his children should visit his new wife every week, while she would allow my father to visit us for only an hour every day, and he would stay with us only on Saturdays. One day, when my sister and I went to visit them, the new wife started showing her honeymoon photos to my sister, who came home and wept.
In Sri Lanka my father had promised that he would enrol us in school in Malaysia, but we didn’t go to school for two years. He also didn’t pay my sister’s college fees even though he was able to do so. My sister had to work hard to earn just RM300 (about US$100) – a big sum for us. My father would say things like “I want to see you guys go down in life.”
Arguments occurred between my dad and my mum numerous times. He turned violent. He would punch her, pull her hair and scratch her. As kids, we would be weeping and pleading for them to stop, and try to separate them – but my brother and I were only nine and eight years old. My 17-year-old sister would try to pull them apart but my father would slap her and make her fall. But I can never forget the most terrible fight.
When I was 11, my father, who is quite passionate about cars, bought a Mercedes Benz. When his business sales dived and he did not have enough money to pay for his car tires, he came home furiously one day and demanded that my mum hand over her gold bangles for him to pawn. My mum refused to hand them over, and he punched her eye. Her whole face became swollen and she couldn’t speak or eat for weeks. When we went to push my father aside, he kicked us.
We could not take it anymore. One day, when a fight was about to begin, my sister came forward and slapped my father. She said that if he ever touched my mother again, he would be put behind bars. With that, the physical abuse stopped.
But the other abuse continued. My dad stopped paying our house rent and bills, as his new wife controlled all his money. We would live without electricity for days as the bills were not paid on time. I remember studying with a candle throughout the night while my sister and mother worked hard to pay our bills.
He refused to buy us school books. At school, I was punished numerous times for this, until my best friend, who was about to move to another state, gave all her books to me. He also did not pay for my student visa fee, and when I was 13, I was suspended for a month from school because he did not pay the RM200. I remember crying bitterly; I was so ashamed because I did not know how to explain my absence to my classmates.
In 2007, my maternal grandmother passed away. As her oldest child, my mother had to take an emergency trip back to Sri Lanka to sort matters out. The three of us were all alone in Malaysia for a month, and my father only came to visit from 8pm to 9pm, but never stayed the night. We just locked the doors and prayed for our safety.
Every day was hard. But it made us courageous. We told ourselves to stand and face each day like a warrior, affirming that this was a big test from Allah. We studied hard as we knew that our education was the only option to get out of this misery. We always asked du’a from Allah to improve our situation. I believe our frequent prayers and our strong faith helped us.
Allah gave us various means to meet our needs. He gave my sister a good job as an accountant. He gave my brother the chance to pursue a degree in his dream field of mechanical engineering. And He gave me the opportunity to do a professional accounting degree. Today, alhamdulillah, we are doing quite well.
As for fighting for our father back, I feel that Allah also did answer our prayers. Since 2011, my father’s attitude has changed; he is starting to show some compassion towards us. For example, he now pays for our daily needs, and even my college fees! Although he is still residing with his second wife and still visits us for only an hour every day, he seems to be much better than he was before. I know that one day, he will come back to us. And I hope that happens very soon, insha’Allah.
In Islam, polygamy comes with a set of rules that stresses equality between wives. But I think that most men who use polygamy do so as an excuse to get another woman and mistreat their first wife. The point is often missed or ignored that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) reportedly said that if you cannot treat them equally, stick to one wife. My father never – and still does not – treat his two wives equally.
This dark period left a lot of scars on us. Although polygamy is allowed in Islam, I personally believe that men should understand why the Prophet committed to polygamy, and not use it as a way to ruin the lives of innocent women and children.