My Husband, My Teacher
EN: In pursuing the Sufi path, you have made a choice that is very unusual for a contemporary Western woman—you’ve entered into a multiple marriage with your teacher. I imagine many people would say that your choice to become the third wife of Shaykh Fadhlalla is a step backward for women. How would you respond to that?
AH: [Laughs] I certainly don’t feel as if I’ve taken a step backward—quite the opposite! It is unusual, and it’s not easy for people to wrap their heads around a concept like this. I certainly can understand that. Let me say also that multiple marriage was never meant for everyone; it’s always been the exception within Sufism and the Islamic religious tradition as a whole. I had incredible respect for Shaykh Fadhlalla as a human being, as a sincere and genuine teacher, and as someone whom I had seen for a couple of years living with his own families and leading a community. I trusted that this person, who is now my husband, wanted for me what I also had made a commitment to, which is to live in higher consciousness. You see, choosing something as unusual as entering into a multiple family situation is a choice to live in another level of consciousness. That is what enables it to work out.
EN: In what way is living in a multiple family about choosing to live in another level of consciousness?
AH: The biggest challenge for many of us who truly want to live in authenticity is the fact that our attachments distract us from the path and keep us connected to the outer world of separation. Our relationships are often a source of great attachment; most of us have the illusion that we own our partners. I went through, as did the other wives, all of the usual feelings of jealousy, fear, and insecurity. They’re very normal. Thus, it can be a very powerful way to overcome these basic tendencies of the self that are rooted in attachment.
Really, the soul mate we all seek is actually the soul within us. That’s what we’ve always been looking for. Once we recognize that what we’re really seeking is union—the union of the self with the soul within ourselves—then that’s very liberating. So whenever personal challenges have come up, I’ve wanted this union with that Source more than the sense of owning another human being or being the only wife. That makes it all possible.
EN: Looking at this from the context of the past forty years of fighting for women’s rights, doesn’t multiple marriage inherently benefit men more than women?
AH: I think I have evidence that it isn’t so simple. In my observation, if a man has one wife, she serves him. That is how we have been conditioned, and it is still largely this way. But if a man takes on more than one wife, he serves his wives because he feels responsible for them. So in some way, I feel quite fortunate.