Two hijabi Muslim women

A Mistress Has No Lord?

This must be what it feels like to give up on your soul, I remember thinking years ago when I nearly left Islam. During that difficult time, I began to understand emotional pain like I never did before. I began to understand spiritual darkness like I never did before. And I began to understand sin like I never did before.

And I found myself inclined to do things I never imagined I would.

Part of me was terrified about this, and another part of me just didn’t care. I’m probably going to Hell anyway, I sometimes thought, so what does it matter?

photo of Umm Zakiyyah looking down with trees in background, cover of I Almost Left Islam
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Thankfully, I fought hard against my nafs during this time, harder than I’ve ever fought, and Allah allowed me to hold on to me emaan in the end. By Allah’s mercy, other than nearly giving up my Islam, I was protected from major sins during that time. But I’ve never forgotten the hopelessness I felt when I wanted to be Muslim but feared I could not. I’ve never forgotten the desperation I felt at when I thought there was no hope for lost souls like mine.

And I’ve never forgotten how it felt to be consistently dismissed, humiliated, and slandered by my brothers and sister in faith, and treated like my soul didn’t matter as much as “honorable people.”

And I’ve never forgotten how close I came to taking my own life because the dark waters of depression and spiritual wounding told me that there was no point in living since I caused so much harm to myself and others by my mere existence on earth.

No Hope for Females Who Sin?

My own dark moments of spiritual despair are what I recalled when I heard an American imam effectively saying that when it comes to sexual sin for women, there is no hope for reform or marriage, ever—even if she has repented and changed her life. She will always be a “dishonorable woman,” and the married man who violated her private parts in adultery should never “honor” her with the title of wife. And if he does marry her, she will never be a real wife, because any woman who has ever been a mistress will always be a mistress, even after she leaves the sin. So never honor a dishonorable woman, this imam advises.

As for the man, his honor is untouched by his sexual sin, as the honorable title husband always applies to him—no matter what immorality he is involved in.

Then the imam earned lots of praise and support from Muslim men and women for these un-Islamic, anti-women statements. How did he achieve this? He mentioned polygamy in the context of his un-Islamic teachings.

Because in American Muslim culture, the rule is this: Neither the guidance of Allah nor the rights of the believer apply when plural marriage is involved—particularly when discussed from the perspective of a female who is “the other woman.”

Once a Mistress Always a Mistress?

If you are a Muslim leader in America today, this is hands-down one of the fastest ways to get claps and likes in any discussion of Islamic marriage: Mention polygamy, adultery, and betrayal in the same context, and then draw out a “lesson” that ostensibly honors the monogamous first wife—through vilifying and insulting the other woman. And this public humiliation is completely justified because this other woman is a “home wrecker” seeking to be the second wife.

When you can further link polygamy to the actual sin of adultery and betrayal, all of the cruelty you inflict on the other woman will win you far more than mere claps and likes. You’ll now get a full bonfire of cheers with flames of praise roaring so high that they could heat up the entire earth.

If you are of the male sex while doing this and also carry the title imam or scholar, then you are beyond the object of roaring praise, you are a Muslim superhero sent from God Himself. In this superhero role, your job is to save Muslim families from ruin—and monogamous marriages from being “wrecked” with dishonorable women using the guise of polygyny to destroy a family. If you are in polygamy yourself while fulfilling your superhero role, it is your job as a man to publicly insult and humiliate any woman who seeks to participate in this type of marriage, particularly if she has not fulfilled your definition of an “honorable woman.”

The Imam’s Advice

In his advice, the imam addresses men in polygyny (or seeking polygyny): “Dear Muslim men in polygyny (or thinking about going into polygyny), when you marry your mistress (i.e. the intendent who you’ve been courting in a haram manner), you are honoring someone who is dishonorable, and dishonoring someone who is honorable (i.e. your wife).”

In a follow-up video defending his original post, this American imam goes on to say to “dishonorable women” specifically, “…And I call it what it is. You are a mistress. So if you have been in a mistress role, don’t shoot the messenger. Don’t get mad at me for calling it what it is. You are not a second wife. I’m not validating that. There is no validation for that…”

Marriage Is Forbidden for Sinful Women?

In practical application, the imam’s teachings mean this: Once a woman has fallen into fornication, marriage itself is forbidden for her, specifically to the man who enjoyed her private parts with the promise of this very marriage itself. In contrast, once a man has fallen into adultery, not only does he have the right to marriage itself (i.e. by retaining his current wife whom he betrayed), he gets the “Muslim superhero” status if he then openly renounces the “dishonorable woman” he slept with. Never mind that this woman’s “dishonor” came about as a direct result of this man violating her private parts for his own pleasure.

Moreover, even if the husband decides to violate this imam’s “honor code” by marrying this “dishonorable” woman, she is forever denied the title of wife. Instead, she must carry the title of sinner and mistress to her grave—like a red A for “adulteress” permanently branded on her soul.

According to this imam, for a woman who has fallen into sin and repented, even if she fulfills the requirements of Allah for a nikaah, her marriage to the man is invalid. This, because for the woman, the sin of zina is the very definition of her existence (even after she repents), while for the man, he can atone for his sin by agreeing to forever dishonor the woman whose private parts he violated during adultery.

Moreover, the husband has so much honor inherent in his male blood alone, according to this imam, that even when he is guilty of major sin itself, he has the power to bestow honor upon the woman he betrayed (i.e. his current wife) and withhold honor upon the woman he sexually violated (i.e. his mistress).

How Should a Cheating Husband Repent?

What is upon every soul, male and female, is to sincerely repent from every sin they fall into, especially major sin. This means leaving the sin, regretting the sin, and having the sincere determination to never partake in that sin again—this in addition to constantly begging Allah for forgiveness.

For a cheating husband (as opposed to the single female whose private parts he has violated), there is the added responsibility of guarding and protecting the rights of his current wife and being careful not to further traumatize her emotionally or spiritually. In practical application, this means that he must respect and honor his wife’s rights to protect her own emotional and spiritual health, as well as to live a life of dignity and respect on this earth. If she would like a divorce, he should respect that. If she is unwilling to live in polygyny, he should respect that too.

However, under no circumstances should a cheating husband humiliate or vilify another soul in seeking to purify his own. Therefore, he should recognize that all honor rests with Allah, not with his decision to marry or discard the woman he took advantage of sexually. In this, he needs to recognize that he does not even have the ability to bestow or withhold honor from anyone. Because the honor is not within him. It is with Allah.

Thus, it is quite possible that the sincere regret and repentance of the woman who committed zina with him has raised her status in front of Allah such that she has been granted a level of spiritual honor and dignity that this man could never reach—in this world or in the Hereafter—even if he himself repents.

Therefore, a believing man with even an ounce of real manhood and spiritual dignity would never call another believing soul dishonorable, especially a female soul whose private parts he violated for his own sexual pleasure. If anything, he would say to her, “I ask Allah to forgive me for what I have done, and I ask you to forgive me. For I have failed miserably in my role as a qawwaam, a guardian and protector of women on this earth, and I pray that Allah grants you someone better than me as a companion and a husband.”

In this, he is taking accountability for his own dishonorable behavior, he is respecting the emotional and spiritual needs of his current wife, and he is recognizing that the woman he violated has a soul that belongs to Allah alone, the same Lord whom He is turning to in his own repentance.

What If He Wants Polygyny?

If after both the man and woman have repented, the husband desires to marry this woman as a second wife, then he needs to understand that his current wife has every right to reject participating in this marriage.

However, whether or not the man and woman separate or get married after repentance is a personal choice, not a religious obligation or prohibition.

We learn this from the prophetic guidance in Istikhaarah: When making personal choices, it is upon each of us is to consult Allah and the believers in seeking to do what is best for our lives, personal circumstances, and souls—and to respect other believing souls doing the same.

My Personal Limits Are Not Allah’s Laws

Before going on, let me make something very clear regarding my personal views on this subject, as I shared with one of my sisters in faith online (who felt I wasn’t being sensitive to the current wife’s feelings in the case of a man repenting from adultery and seeking polygyny thereafter):

On an emotional level, I cannot imagine committing adultery or being married to a man who has, let alone agreeing to be part of polygamy after a man has committed adultery. I don’t think I could ever accept this, even if the man and woman repented. And alhamdulillaah this is my right in front of Allah.

However, my personal rights and limitations don’t change Allah’s laws for all believers.

Allah’s Honor Code vs. The Imam’s

In the merciful deen of Islam, when it comes to the honor or dishonor of the human soul, Allah does not differentiate between monogamy and polygyny, nor does he differentiate between male and female (or husband and wife). No male can bestow honor on a female, and no female can bestow honor on a male. It is Allah alone who bestows honor, power, or glory on anyone.

Allah says what has been translated to mean, “Whosoever desires honor, power and glory, then to Allah belong all honor, power and glory. To Him ascend (all) the goodly words, and the righteous deeds exalt it, but those who plot evils, theirs will be severe torment. And the plotting of such will perish” (Al-Faatir, 35:10).

Allah also says, “And those who, when they have committed Faahishah (illegal sexual intercourse etc.) or wronged themselves with evil, remember Allah and ask forgiveness for their sins; – and none can forgive sins but Allah – And do not persist in what (wrong) they have done, while they know. For such, the reward is Forgiveness from their Lord, and Gardens with rivers flowing underneath (Paradise), wherein they shall abide forever. How excellent is this reward for the doers (who do righteous deeds according to Allah’s Orders)” (Ali’Imraan, 3:135-136)

Regarding who should marry whom, Allah says, “Let no man who is an adulterer or fornicator marry any woman except a woman who is [also] an adulterer or fornicator, or a pagan…” (An-Noor, 24:3).

Regarding labeling chaste believing women as sexually dishonorable, Allah says, “And those who accuse chaste women, and produce not four witnesses, flog them with eighty stripes, and reject their testimony forever, they indeed are rebellious and disobedient. Except those who repent thereafter and do righteous deeds. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (An-Noor, 24:5)

With that in mind, let us look again at the imam’s advice on these topics: “Dear Muslim men in polygyny (or thinking about going into polygyny), when you marry your mistress (i.e. the intendent who you’ve been courting in a haram manner), you are honoring someone who is dishonorable, and dishonoring someone who is honorable (i.e. your wife)…And I call it what it is. You are a mistress. So if you have been in a mistress role, don’t shoot the messenger. Don’t get mad at me for calling it what it is. You are not a second wife. I’m not validating that. There is no validation for that…”

Sinful Men Are Prizes for Honorable Women?

In these male “honor code” discussions (like that put forth by the imam), sinful men are prizes whose sins don’t define them, as every woman should feel honored to be married to one of them, irrespective of his sins. Even when these men persist in their sin and wrongdoing, they have the ability to bestow and withhold honor upon the women they consistently disrespect—including those with whom they shared the same major sin.

In implementing this male honor code, sinful men can sit high and mighty upon the throne of adultery and soul-destruction, and randomly and arrogantly decide which lowly female to “honor” in allowing her to marry him, or to stay married to him.

Yet in the Qur’an, Allah forbids the marriage between an adulterer man and a chaste woman, and an adulteress woman and a chaste man. But according to the imam’s honor code, only the woman’s sins can deny her the honorable right to marriage. Why? Because a sinful man has so much honor in him that his title of “husband” can never be disturbed. In fact, he can decide to bestow or withhold that honor from females and then define these women’s honor based on his actions and choices alone!

However, in the Qur’an Allah teaches us that the female souls who are chaste (whether through repentance or having lived a consistently righteous life), are too honorable to be yoked in marriage to lowly, unrepentant sinful men—irrespective of whether or not that bond is in monogamy or polygyny.

We Need Self-Love

In order for us as women to see and understand this degrading honor code rooted in male worship and female degradation, we must love ourselves enough to recognize when a sinful, unrepentant man is not fit to be our leader or husband, no matter how much we love and admire him in our hearts (or beds).

As imperfect believing women, we also need to understand this painful reality when we interact with Muslim men (whether in marriage or seeking to get married): The way of this world is rooted in misogyny more than morality, even amongst many Muslims who claim to call to Allah.

In practical reality, this means that a man can sin a thousand times over and have his reputation untouched or even improved as a result. In contrast, a woman can be completely sin-free and merely seek to marry a man in polygamy and she’s labeled a home-wrecker and a mistress, and her name is dragged through the mud—by men and women alike—even amongst some carrying the title of Islamic teacher, imam, or scholar.

So we can only imagine how hopeless a woman’s case would be in front of these men and women (who are her brothers and sisters in faith) if she is ever tested with falling into major sin, especially with a married man (may Allah protect us and forgive us).

So I caution my fellow sisters to be extra careful in guarding your chastity in this world, because while Allah is Forgiving and Merciful no matter what sin you have committed, many professed believers are not, even amongst some spiritual teachers, imams, and scholars.

And understand this, my dear struggling sister: No matter what the truth is regarding your innocence or guilt in your interactions with a man, those Muslims (amongst men and women) who ascribe to the male “honor code” will almost always define true honor by the actions and choices of men—and define dishonor by your very existence or a male’s decision to discard you, even if you are guilty of nothing except seeking a type of marriage they dislike.

Honor Codes and Lynch Mobs

Inherent in this male honor code is the destructive “Muslim superhero” culture, wherein the followers of misguided imams and leaders act as social lynch mobs whose job is to blindly support the vilification of anyone the imam targets in his rage. When a woman is the target, especially in the context of polygyny (even if no sin is involved), these mobs will almost always champion how cruelly and quickly a man can cast aside the “home-wrecker” or humiliate this “whore.”

In the case of actual adultery, this superhero culture teaches that women should feel honored to lie next to a man who has chosen her and her alone after violating the private parts of her sister, but then followed it up by vowing to abandon and socially lynch her after the fact (i.e. “I’ll never honor a dishonorable woman by marrying her!”).

This is the way American Muslims champion “honor killings.” While the East seeks to bury bodies, we in the West seek to bury souls.

But in front of Allah, every soul has the right to spiritual life, and every soul has the right to seek the pleasure and company of her Lord—irrespective of whether she is repenting from being a mistress or striving upon a life of sustained chastity and always avoiding sexual sin.

Final Reminder from UZ Journal

Be mindful of what you are becoming with the choices you are making and the habits you’re falling into, especially if you are responsible for others in any way. If you are a mother or father, a counselor or coach, or a community activist or spiritual leader; the heavy responsibility you carry with every word you utter cannot be overstated.

And you’ll be called to account for every word—especially if uttered while teaching others or giving advice. If your role includes spiritual guidance, this already heavy responsibility is even weightier for you.

So be careful.

And listen with your heart when someone reminds you to fear Allah.

Listen closely, dear soul. I beseech you to listen closely.

Then repent and self-correct.

Not only because your soul needs it, but also because your role compels it of you.

But what is this role, exactly?

We are the guardians, protectors, and supporters of every believing soul seeking purity. This is how I’d describe the weighty role of spiritual teachers, imams, and scholars in this world. In fulfilling this sacred duty, no soul is more blessed or damned than another, as we have no idea what lies in the heart of any child of Adam—even those obviously in the throes of overcoming major sin.

In fulfilling this sacred duty, we have no idea who is more beloved to Allah, even when the faults and sins of one person is more painfully obvious than another’s.

Yes, inherent in this sacred duty is the obligation to speak the truth about the seriousness of sin and the dangers of sullying our souls if we do not repent before our deaths.

Yes, inherent in this sacred duty is the obligation to stand firm upon right guidance and make clear to the people when they are treading the path of destroying their souls.

Yes, inherent in this sacred duty is the obligation to never trivialize or support any wrongdoing, even when the desires or frustrations in our own hearts make us inclined to do so.

But most importantly, inherent in this sacred duty is the obligation of the painful and agonizing daily battle of wrestling against our own nafs, until we muffle and restrain our deepest frustrations and desires that incite our tongues to say of Allah, this deen, or of any believer that of which we have no right.

 O Allah! I beg You to purify our hearts, guide us to self-honesty and repentance, and help us to never use our tongues to recite Your Name publicly for any purpose other than sincerely reminding every soul to find refuge in You.

“And those who remain patient seeking their Lord’s Countenance, who establish regular prayers, who spend of what We have bestowed for their sustenance, secretly and openly; and who repel evil with good. For such there is the final attainment of the [Eternal] home, Gardens of perpetual bliss. They shall enter there, as well as the righteous among their parents, their spouses, and their offspring. And angels shall come unto them from every gate [and say], ‘Peace be upon you, as you persevered in patience! Now how excellent is the final home!’”
—Qur’an (Al-Ra’ad, 13:22-24)

Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. In 2019, she launched UZ Soul Gear, a passion project fueled by her love of both art and inspirational reflections. UZSoulGear.com offers apparel, wall décor, and more, aimed at supporting and inspiring the soul-centered lifestyle.