As the definition of marriage loosens from its once-strict notion of a man and a woman, all sorts of novel arrangements are turning up – notably homosexual "marriages" and polygamy. This development has come at just the right moment for the growing, demanding Muslim populations in the West, which are asserting their right to one husband and multiple wives. This weblog entry looks, in reverse chronological order, at some of the more interesting signs of polygamy's advance in the West.
Additional benefits for additional British wives: The Daily Mail reports from Great Britain that
Immigrants with more than one wife will qualify for extra benefits under reforms to Britain's welfare system, after an attempt to crack down on the problem backfired. … Currently, any additional wives can receive reduced individual income support, meaning the husband and his first wife are paid up to £111.45. Subsequent spouses living under the same roof receive around £40. Under the new system of Universal Credit, which comes in next year, polygamous marriages will not be recognised at all. Ministers pledged to end the 'absurd' benefits regime which has seen multiple wives allowed to claim extra welfare payments.
But a House of Commons Library paper has highlighted a loophole in the rules which will allow additional wives to claim a full single person's allowance, currently worth up to £71, while the original married couple will still get a married couple's allowance. The paper said: "Treating second and subsequent partners in polygamous relationships as separate claimants could mean that polygamous households receive more under Universal Credit than under the current rules."…
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions told MailOnline said that the loophole will exist because extra wives in a polygamous home are treated as single. "Polygamy is illegal in this country and it would be wrong for the benefits system to legitimise these arrangements by recognising them in any way."
(July 30, 2012)
Muslim man arrested on polygamy charges in UK: Fazlur Rahman, 42, the owner of five or so restaurants, was arrested at Manchester Airport and charged with bigamy as well as an immigration offence. He was arrested and taken to Workington Police Station in Cumbria where he was interviewed and charged. A man-bites-dog story or the beginning of a trend? (January 27, 2010)
Increase in French polygamous families: According to Sonia Imloul, a specialist on French Muslims, there were 8,000 polygamous families in France in 1992, 16-20,000 families in 2006, and now 40-50,000. Adding in the children, this means some 400,000 individuals are connected to a polygamous marriage. (November 17, 2009)
45 registered polygamous marriages in Antwerp, Belgium: These involve mainly immigrants from Morocco, Pakistan, Mauritania and other countries where polygamy is allowed – and have not been contracted in Belgium. (August 17, 2009)
UK polygamists rely on taxpayer funding: A Daily Mail investigation by Sue Reid reveals how easily for Britain's thousands of harems rely on state benefits. For starters, she notes that polygamy was first made illegal in England and Wales in 1604, when parliament made it illegal for "evil persons" to marry more than one wife and made death the punishment for this crime.
So much for then. Now, as noted elsewhere in this weblog entry, polygamy is legal in Great Britain if formally contracted in another country – Reid mentions "Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia and across huge tracts of Africa." If that is the case, then a Muslim husband legally can claim state support of more than £10,000 a year to keep his wives.
For example, a man can receive &£92.80 a week in income support for wife number one, and a further £33.65p for each of his subsequent spouses. Therefore, if he has four wives - the maximum permitted under Islamic teachings - he can claim nearly £800 a month from the British taxpayer. Controversially, a polygamist is also entitled to more generous housing benefits and bigger council houses to reflect the large size of his family. He is also able to claim £1,000 a year in child benefit for each of his growing brood. … critics claim our generosity simply encourages more Muslim men to keep several spouses.
She then gets into the details:
So how do the polygamists get away with it here? Firstly, it needs to be understood that the generous benefits system allows any man and the partner he lives with to claim benefits together - even if the woman is not officially registered as his wife. If they do marry, to avoid breaking Britain's bigamy laws, such men often engage in a ceremony with their second or third wife in a Nikah secretly in their own homes and never register the union officially in this country.
Another technique is for the man to divorce his first wife under British law while continuing to live with her as his spouse under Islamic law. He then gets a visa for a new wife to enter the country and can legally marry her here. Moreover, our politically correct immigration rules state that if a husband has divorced his first wife under British law - and even if that divorce is actually suspected to be part of a plan to set up a polygamous household - a second wife from abroad must be allowed to come and live here.
Reid then provides some compelling testimony from women caught in polygamous relationships. (February 24, 2009)
Tory speaks out against polygamy: In a rare instance of public resistance to polygamy, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the Tory spokesman on community cohesion and herself a Muslim, warned that growing numbers of Muslim men are "marrying" up to four wives in Britain and that this leads to tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. She accused Labour of turning a blind eye to the practice; "in the name of cultural sensitivity," the topic is avoided. The Government, she said, must make it clear that "in this country, one married man is allowed to marry one woman" (not perfect phrasing, but one understands what she means). "There has to be a culture change and that has to brought about by policymakers taking a very clear stance on this issue." She suggested a system to register polygamous "weddings." (February 21, 2009)
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Tory spokesman on community cohesion.
"Westerners Welcome Harems": That's the title of my column today, noting the major developments that have taken place in 2008, summarizing this weblog entry, and drawing some conclusions. (November 26, 2008)
Polygamy rampant and accepted in Israel: Israel, like Albania and Russia, differs from the rest of the "West" in that its Muslim population is mostly indigenous, so Islamic customs have persisted rather than newly arrived. Still, it's of note to learn about a first-of-its-kind conference at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev focusing on polygamy in Israel, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, "Israel 2008: State of Polygamy."
According to data presented at the conference, 20 percent to 25% of Israel's Bedouin families practice polygamy, and most of the women and children in such families suffer deep psychological, financial and social difficulties.
The conference chairman, Alean al-Krenawi, a professor of social work at Ben-Gurion, presented findings from a three-year study that compared polygamous and monogamous Bedouin families in Israel.
Prof. Krenawi took a sample of 973 subjects, half from polygamous families and the other half from monogamous ones. He questioned fathers, wives and children about their psychological, family and social functioning, as well as the quality of their marriage, father-child and mother-child relationships, and even checked the children's scholastic success.
Children from polygamous families reported more distress, depression, anxiety and problems in establishing social relationships than those from monogamous households, the study found. Children from polygamous families also have much lower self-esteem and tend to quarrel with their fathers more. "There is always going to be tension between the women, which ends up creating different camps in the family," Krenawi said. "The father tends to prefer the junior wife and abandons the senior wife and her children."
Men in polygamous families are also not generally happy with their situation, mostly due to the constant arguing between wives and children, Krenawi's research found. Many of the men said that in retrospect they would not have chosen to marry multiple wives.
The article ends on this sobering note: "While polygamy is illegal, participants at the conference said the law wasn't enforced and that nobody in Israel had ever been arrested or punished for the practice." (October 30, 2008)
Dutch statistics office registers polygamous marriages: Statistics Netherlands (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, CBS), the government office that registers all marriages, has been removing polygamous marriages from its files on the innocent assumption they these must be administrative mistakes. But polygamous marriages legally entered into in other countries are legal in Dutch eyes, so these will be registered. The change was prompted by an internal order in Amsterdam about procedures for writing up such marriages. (August 9, 2008) Sep. 21, 2008 update: Amsterdam's records show 171 marriages with two wives and 2 with three.
Man jailed in the Netherlands for polygamy: On a different note, an unnamed 56-year-old man of Pakistani origins living in the Netherlands since 1983 and a Dutch citizen since 1992 was sentenced yesterday to one month in jail and a one-month suspended sentence for practicing polygamy. The Rotterdam resident married one woman in the Netherlands and one in Pakistan during the 1990s; in 2007, his arrangement came to the authorities' attention when he applied at the Dutch embassy in Pakistan for passports for children of his second marriage.
Polygamy is a crime that can lead to up to six years in prison. In this case, noted Magistrate L.K. Rapmund, the prison sentence is deserved because the man had lived long enough in the Netherlands to know it is illegal there. Incidentally, the prosecutor asked only for a €750 fine but the judge heightened the penalty to do justice to the seriousness of the offense.
Comment: This prosecution would seem to contradict the statement by Dutch justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin (discussed below), who said in April 2008 that polygamous Muslim marriages should be dealt with via dialogue, not the legal system. (August 3, 2008)(August 3, 2008)
Victims of Polygamy Assistance Act of 2008: Harry Reid, majority leader of the U.S. Senate, has sponsored a bill that would create a Federal Polygamy Task Force within the Department of Justice to
formulate effective responses to the unique set of crimes committed by polygamist organizations;
establish partnerships with State and local law enforcement agencies to share relevant information and strengthen State and Federal efforts to combat crimes perpetrated by polygamist organizations;
assist States by providing strategies and support for the protection of witnesses;
track the criminal behavior of polygamist organizations that cross State and international borders; and
ensure that local officials charged with protecting the public are not corrupted because of financial, family, or membership ties to a polygamist organization.
Comment: Everything about this bill screams Mormons; were it to pass, it presumably would not notice the growing phenomenon of Muslim polygamy. (July 23, 2008) Mar. 27, 2009 update: Reid's bill failed to go through in the last session of congress, so he is trying again, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Again, every indication suggests that he is thinking exclusively of Mormons:
Reid, a Nevada Democrat and Mormon convert, made a push for his measure last year after the raid of a polygamous community in Texas grabbed national headlines. Now, a year later, the Nevada senator says he still believes the federal government needs to step in. "These people who are doing this—many of them are doing things that are immoral, and in many instances illegal," Reid said at a breakfast meeting with reporters. "There's a lot of welfare fraud that goes on, domestic abuse that goes on. ... I think we have an obligation to help these women and children who are being victimized."
Polygamous wives in South Africa may inherit from husbands' estates: Johan Jacobs, executor of Ebrahim Hassam's estate, refused to recognize the claim of Fatima Gabie Hassam, his second wife to an inheritance. Jacobs argued that the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act and the Intestate Succession Act do not recognize polygamous marriage, therefore Fatima could not be treated as a survivor or a spouse. Fatima sued for her portion of the estate.
Now, in a landmark judgment, Judge Dennis van Reenen of the Cape High Court has ruled that women in polygamous Muslim marriages do have inheritance rights. That means that when a man in a polygamous marriage dies intestate, each of his wives inherits her share. The court reasoned that Fatima would be entitled to her share had her marriage been monogamous; so, denying her from inheriting her portion of her husband's estate is "unfairly discriminatory" and against the Constitution. Van Reenen ordered that spouses in polygamous marriages be covered by both the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act and the Intestate Succession Act.
The Women's Legal Centre responded favorably, noting that this judgment "takes us one step closer to reducing discrimination against women." (July 19, 2008)
Moroccan immigrant fights polygamy in Italy: Souad Sbai, 47, a Moroccan immigrant living in Italy since 1981, is fighting an uphill battle against harems in Italy, Tracy Wilkinson reports for the Los Angeles Times. She estimates the existence of 14,000 polygamous families in Italy and argues that polygamist husbands practice a particularly abusive household: feeling threatened by Western culture, they often imprison their wives, leaving the wives "in a kind of ghetto," according to Sbai. She created a hotline for Muslim immigrant women and heard from about 1,000 of them in the first three months. She realized she had found a hitherto hidden community, many isolated in polygamous households, most of them Moroccan and illiterate. (July 15, 2008)
Australia recognizes polygamous marriages contracted elsewhere: Natalie O'Brien, a senior writer with the Australian, tells the story of Keysar Trad, 44, drops and in the course of it, drops a bombshell. She reports that "In Australia it is illegal to enter into a polygamous marriage. But the federal government, like Britain, recognises relationships that have been legally recognised overseas, including polygamous marriages. This allows second wives and children to claim welfare and benefits."
Keysar Trad and his wife Hanifeh pictured at their Sydney, Australia, home.
O'Brien presents Trad's polygamous urges with great sympathy, telling how his wife Hanifeh returned with their six children to the couple's native Lebanon for several months, leaving him lonely in Sydney's western suburbs. Taking a second wife "seemed the natural thing to do for Trad," writes O'Brien, for he
had already lived through the experience of being the son of his father's second wife, who became part of the family after the first wife became too ill to look after their children. A childhood spent living with a mother and a stepmother was completely normal. "There was nothing out of the ordinary," Trad tells The Australian. "My mother and my stepmother were always best friends. They never argued. She looked at my mum like she was her sister."
Their extended family took shape in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli in the 1960s. "That society was very open-minded," Trad recalls. "Even though it was not the norm. I was not aware of any other family with that sort of relationship. But generally, I found people didn't care as long as the relationship was a peaceful one." But Trad's mother warned him not to talk about the family arrangements, saying people really were not that open-minded.
Back to Sydney in 2008, however:
Whether a second wife would work in the Trad household remains another issue. The Trads say they have discussed the idea only in principle. Trad's wife, Hanifeh, is not against the idea of having another woman in her husband's life. She says she has enough confidence in herself not to let it affect her ego. However, she's concerned of the effect it might have on her children and how they would be affected by the stigma. "We don't know whether it would work for us. We have only intellectualised, we have never practised it," Trad says.
Although Trad in the end did not marry a second wife, he supports Khalil Chami's call (see below) for Australia to recognize polygamous marriages on the grounds that doing so helps protect the rights of women in such relationships. Now, Trad says women are left in a vulnerable financial position if the man dies.
O'Brien also quotes Silma Ihram, described as an Anglo-Australian convert to Islam and a pioneer of Muslim education in Australia, urging a public discussion of polygamy, and not just for Muslims. "Take away the Islamic tag because that is irrelevant. There are many people whose marriages are not registered and there are a large number of people having affairs. … Where are we going with the family structure? Where are we going on relationships? We need to ask the questions: How important is it to have a one-on-one relationship and is it acceptable to have more than partner?" (June 26, 2008)
More privileges to polygamous marriages in Belgium: The Belgium Constitutional Court annulled a stipulation in the alien law of 2006 that denied the right of family reunification to children born of a polygamous marriage and who were descended of an alien established in Belgium or from an alien who was already permitted or authorized to an unlimited stay and from one of the spouses not living in Belgium. (June 26, 2008) July 15, 2008 update: In another ruling, the Belgian Constitutional Court has forbidden discrimination against the children of polygamous marriages, for example in the handling of visa applications to enter the country. The ruling does not clearly apply to spouses in polygamous marriages, though Freddy Rosemont, head of the Alien Affairs Department (DVZ), says that the court also annulled the article of the law that bans spouses in polygamous marriages.
Australian sheikh calls for polygamy to be legalized: Khalil Chami of the Islamic Welfare Centre in Sydney has called for polygamous marriages, which already exist in the country, to be recognized and regularized in Australia. Chami told a radio program that he is asked almost weekly to conduct polygamous ceremonies; although he declines, other sheikhs accede. "There are a lot of sheikhs here without any qualifications, without any place. They'll conduct that marriage no problem at all."
To this, Keysar Trad, president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia added his agreement (for the rights of women to be protected, of course), revealing that he
once proposed to another woman with the consent of his wife, Hanefa, but the second marriage did not proceed. "I certainly would not have entertained the thought of having a relationship without a religious marriage and I thought the relationship with that person was developing to the stage where we had become too friendly with each other," he told the program. "Rather than entertain any thoughts of an affair I thought the only decent thing to do was to consider a proper commitment to that person. This idea of plural sexual relationships, it is not so much frowned upon by society as long as these people don't say we want a polygamous relationship."
Trad also told about his own mother being the third wife in a polygamous relationship and praised the family setup in which the women admired, respected, and supported each other.
In a sense, it's a compliment to the original partner that if he didn't find marriage to be so good why would he go into it again," he said. "In a sense, he's saying that his first wife has made life like heaven for him so he's willing to provide the same service, love and support to a second woman." He said women were choosing to enter into such marriages.
Trad's mother also got on the radio and praised polygamy. Then, asked if it is about men wanting sex with several women, she replied: "Yeah it can be, but having it in the right way instead of having it in like go to prostitute or just date."
To this talk, Attorney-General Robert McClelland responded severely: "Everyone should be on notice that the law in Australia is that marriage is between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. That's based on a long tradition. It's based on the culture of our community and polygamous relationships are entirely inconsistent with that culture and indeed with the law. Polygamous relationships are and will remain unlawful." (June 25, 2008) June 26, 2008 update: This exchange appears to have inspired Ismail Yusanto, the head of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Indonesia (and husband to two wives), to advise Australia to legalize polygamy immediately. "Do you allow prostitution [in Australia]?" he asked. "Why? Even though it enables women to become chattels, to be traded, and given a price?" Polygamy, he argues "should be accepted. If you believe in what you call human rights and freedom of expression, then it must be allowed. If someone wants to marry and take responsibility for a woman, why wouldn't you let them?"
More pro-polygamy propaganda from National Public Radio: Barbara Bradley Hagerty focuses on Philadelphia's African-American Muslims and recounts the story of Zaki and Mecca, who are in their late 20s, have been married to each other for nearly 12 years, live in the Philadelphia suburbs, work in the real estate business, have a 5-year-old son – and also a second wife. How this jolly development came to pass:
Two years ago, Mecca told her husband she wanted to study Arabic in the Middle East, which would mean a lot of time away from home. (NPR is not using any full names in this story because some of those we interviewed could be prosecuted for bigamy.) "We were talking about it," Mecca recalls, "and the first thing that came to my mind was, 'I'm going to have to find you another wife!'"
Zaki was game. After all, he had been raised in a polygamous home in Philadelphia. Like many black Muslims, his father subscribed to an orthodox view of Islam that allows a man to marry several women. Zaki says he loved having seven siblings and four mothers, especially at dinnertime. "I would find out who's making what that particular night. I know that this mom makes barbequed chicken better than my other mom makes fried chicken, so I'm going with the barbequed chicken tonight. Things of that nature," he says with a laugh. …
When it came to finding a second wife, Zaki said he had no one in mind, and he asked Mecca to conduct the search. "You know, he gave me the baton, and I took it and ran with it," Mecca says. Mecca launched a nationwide search. She found candidates by word of mouth. She scoured the Internet. Eventually, she interviewed about a dozen women. "I had to make sure that she'd be the right fit — not just for my husband, but for our whole family," Mecca says.
But the ultimate match was right under their noses: 20-year-old Aminah, who was a friend of Zaki's younger sister. Aminah knew Mecca was looking for a second wife but thought she was too young. That is, until one night after a dinner party when Mecca pulled her aside. Mecca asked Aminah if she would consider marrying Zaki. "And I said, 'That's funny, because I was thinking the same thing,'" Aminah says.
Zaki was the last to know the identity of the final candidate to be his bride. He could have vetoed the choice, of course, but he was delighted. In October 2007, he and Aminah married in a religious, not civil, ceremony. Many polygamous marriages are conducted in secret and are not legally binding because state laws prohibit them.
Aminah recalls that Mecca helped prepare the wedding feast. Aminah, who's finishing college, lives in an apartment a few miles away from Mecca's house. Zaki moves between homes on alternating nights. But every week after Friday prayers, they get together as a family. "It can be a variety of things," Zaki says. "Going to a nice restaurant, catching a movie, going bowling, maybe seeing a concert. All kind of things." "I always call it family date night, because it's one big date," Mecca says. "We just chill. I always look forward to it. We always have a ball, laughing, goofing around."
(May 28, 2008) July 23, 2008 update: In an interview, Debra Majeed, the chair of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Beloit College, provides NPR with more pro-polygamy views. She tells how she thought polygamist women crazy but then changed her mind and came to see plural marriage as a feminist statement:
I discovered that there are women for whom there are no available men, particularly Muslim men, or African-American Muslim men, or however they want to perceive of what would be a good mate for them. Some women I have interviewed look for an opportunity to be a second wife because they want to continue their careers, they do not want the full-time responsibilities of a husband and they are economically set, but they do want to experience the benefits of marriage. And in Islam, the family is the nucleus of Islamic society, and legitimate sexual intercourse can occur only within the bounds of marriage. So for some women, sharing a husband is preferred.
Majeed goes on to state that pedophilia, incest, and other forms of sexual abuse among African-American polygamists is rare.
50,000-100,000 American Muslims live polygamously: So reports National Public Radio in the first of a two-part series. It quotes Daisy Khan, head of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, to the effect that polygamy is more common among Muslim immigrants from Africa and Asia and rarer among those from the Middle East. Being NPR, it stresses the cheery aspects of polygamy, as in this story about Mona, a Palestinian woman with six children from her first marriage, who is happy to have had the chance to become a second wife.
When Mona got divorced in 1990, she became a pariah in her conservative Muslim community in Patterson, N.J. "When ladies divorce," she says, "the people look down on her — looking to her like [she's] second class." Then 14 years ago, a man approached her to be his second wife. She resisted at first but then grew to admire him and agreed to become his wife. She says her problems evaporated.
"When I married the second husband, everybody's OK," she says, smiling. "If I go anywhere, I'm free, nobody talks, because I have a husband." He provides for both of his families, and he divides time between the two homes. Mona says the first wife was initially angry, but she got used to it. "What is the problem? If he is not happy with the first marriage, why he stay all the life like this? You know, my religion is good because it gives man and woman another chance to be happy."
(May 27, 2008)
Toronto imam officiated at over 30 polygamous marriages: Noor Javed of the Toronto Star tells the story of Aly Hindy and his polygynous marriage-making:
There were no pleasantries, there was no small talk. Safa Rigby had expected to hear her husband's voice when the phone rang one morning. Instead, the caller didn't even bother to say hello. "You think you know your husband. You don't know him at all," said the man, a friend of her husband's. "His car is parked outside my house right now. He is with my ex-wife. They just got married last week," the man said.
Safa Rigby holds the youngest of her five children.
It took a minute for the news to sink in. Then she called her husband of 14 years, demanding to know if what she had just been told was true – that while she spent a year in Egypt raising their four children in a more Islamic environment, he had used it as an opportunity to marry not just one, but two other women in Toronto.
"Yes, I'm married," he said, quashing all her dreams of their future together. He told her he was married in a small ceremony 20 days earlier, officiated by Aly Hindy, a well-known Toronto imam, at his Scarborough mosque.
"I cried for six days straight. Lost my appetite, ignored the kids, even had to start taking antidepressants," said Rigby, 35. "What I couldn't understand was how such a thing could happen in Toronto, my hometown, where polygamy is supposed to be illegal."
It was easy. He simply found an imam willing to break a Canadian law, in exchange for upholding an Islamic one. "Polygamy is happening in Toronto; it's not common, but it's happening," said Hindy, imam at Salahuddin Islamic Centre.
Aly Hindy, a pro-polygamy imam at the Salaheddin Islamic Centre in Scarborough, Canada.
Hindy says he has "blessed" more than 30 polygynous marriages, most recently just two months ago. "This is in our religion and nobody can force us to do anything against our religion. If the laws of the country conflict with Islamic law, if one goes against the other, then I am going to follow Islamic law, simple as that."
The laws of the country do indeed conflict with the Shari'a when it comes to polygamy, outlawed in Canada in 1892, punishable with up to five years in prison. That said, the last time the Canadian authorities prosecuted polygamy was over 60 years ago.
Despite this record, Hindy is not an enthusiast for the practice. "I don't encourage people to do it, unless they have reason for it. Life ends up being very complicated. You have to jump from one house to another all the time." (May 24, 2008) June 1, 2008 update: Publication of the above story in the Toronto Star inspired Fouad Boutaya, the man who made that telephone call to Safa Rigby, to go public with his side of the story. Particularly dramatic was how he found out about his wife suddenly being married to Rigby's husband, Hossny Ismail.
Boutaya remembers every detail of the moment of revelation he has relived in his mind many times since. The former civil servant came home early from a job-hunting trip to Ottawa to surprise his wife and two children, picking up a cake on his way. When he arrived, he found Ismail sitting at the dinner table, eating comfortably, as if he was in his own home.
"I asked him, 'What are you doing here, my friend? You should not be here alone with my wife when I am not here,'" said Boutaya. "What's the problem?" Boutaya said Ismail replied. "She is my wife."
In shock, Boutaya stormed out with his two children – a daughter, 7, and son, 11 – and drove to the local police station in Hamilton. "It was my first reaction. I just needed someone to listen to me and protect me," said Boutaya. Instead, he was told that he didn't have much of a case.
So Boutaya sought proof. He spent the next month talking to imams while taking care of his children and trying to adjust to life at the Good Shepherd Centre, a local shelter, where they lived for four months. His wife continued to live in their home. "It's been so hard for my kids. They were in shock for weeks afterwards," said Boutaya, who now lives in subsidized housing.
Dutch will not prosecute polygamy: Dutch justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin told parliament that polygamous Muslim marriages should be dealt with via dialogue, not the legal system. Hirsch Ballin gave this response in answer to questions from two Labor Party members, Khadija Arib and Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who suggested the government should actively persecute polygamists. They noted some of the problems of such marriages, for example that children produced from them cannot be registered and thus are not eligible for official papers. To this, the minister replied that if the father recognizes the child, there should be no problem. (April 21, 2008)
Scottish court accepts polygyny as reason for speeding while driving: Mohammed Anwar, owner of "Sanam," a restaurant in Falkirk, Stirlingshire, was caught driving at 64 mph in a 30 mph zone in Glasgow, Scotland, on August 21, 2007, driving so much above the speed limit that he ordinarily would have automatically lost his driving license. Except that he offered an excuse that tugged on the heart strings of Sheriff John C. Morris in Airdrie Sheriff Court who allowed Anwar to keep his license in the course of a five-minute court appearance. The excuse? Let Anwar's lawyer, Paul Nicolson, explain the argument he made in court:
Mohammed Anwar, restaurant owner, polygamist, speed driver.
He realises his licence is at risk, but this is an unusual case and is very anxious to keep his driving licence. He has one wife in Motherwell and another in Glasgow and sleeps with one one night and stays with the other the next on an alternate basis. Without his driving licence he would be unable to do this on a regular basis. He is also a restaurant owner and has a restaurant in Falkirk, which he has had for the past 30 years. He has had a clean driving licence until now, and on this particular evening was on his way home after a busy evening at his restaurant.
When caught speeding, by the way, Anwar was on his way from the restaurant to the Glasgow wife. Given these special circumstances, Morris merely fined him £200 and gave him six penalty points.
Commenting afterwards, Anwar told Alex Dowdalls of the Daily Mail: "It is true I have two wives. Muslim men are allowed up to four. But I am not a religious leader and it is not my place to comment. As a matter of respect to my wives I would not comment on my home life. The sheriff did not ban me because I need my licence to run my business, although my wives were also part of the decision." (April 5, 2008)
Italian harems "on the rise": Muslim scholars estimates the number of polygynous marriages in Italy at 15,000-20,000, La Repubblica reports, with the phenomenon increasing along with Muslim immigration as well as conversions. Unlike Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Ontario, however, the Italian state does not offer welfare benefits to more than one wife per husband. The paper tells the story of Baba Kar, who reached Italy wifeless in 1999 from Senegal. He began by bringing Fadu, along with their three-year-old son. On getting a work permit, Kar brought Nkeir. The four of them lived in a two-room apartment in Brescia. "The Koran says I can have up to four wives. I observe my religion, and I have never had any problems with the Italian state," Kar reflected.
Indeed, the Italian state, while only recognizing Fadu as Kar's wife, has indicated that polygamous marriages legally contracted abroad are acceptable. Recently a court in Bologna allowed a Muslim immigrant to bring the mothers of his two children to Italy on the grounds that the dual marriages had been legally contracted. (April 2, 2008)
Polygamous Canadian wives recognized and receive benefits: The Ontario Family Law Act accepts polygamy. It defines "Polygamous marriage" as "a marriage that is actually or potentially polygamous, if it was celebrated in a jurisdiction whose system of law recognizes it as valid." In other words, the act recognizes polygamous marriages legally contracted in other countries.
Mumtaz Ali, president of the Canadian Society of Muslims.
According to Mumtaz Ali
, president of the Canadian Society of Muslims, "several hundred" Muslim men in the Greater Toronto Area engage in polygamous marriages, for "Polygamy is a regular part of life for many Muslims." They do this by the man and one wife and children first entering Canada as landed immigrants, then they sponsor the other spouses and children, or these arrive as visitors.
Ali also says some of them receive welfare and social benefits for their additional wives. "There are many people in the community who are taking advantage of this," Ali said. "This is a law and there's nothing wrong with it." He is proud of Canada's record: "Canada is a very liberal-minded country. Canada is way ahead of Britain in this respect." That said, the families receiving benefits keep their identities hidden, fearing too many questions and a cut off of benefits, Ali added.
In contrast, city and provincial officials say that welfare applicants can claim only a single spouse; other adults living in the same household must apply on their own for welfare. According to Brenda Nesbitt, Toronto's director of social services, "There may be polygamous cases we are not aware off. They can apply as single people and we won't know." Erike Botond, spokesman for the Ontario Community and Social Services, notes that social assistance may only include a single spouse. "Other adults residing in the same dwelling place as a recipient and their spouse may apply as individuals."
The immigration authority seems not to realize that the rules have changed. "I can assure you," says its spokesman, Karen Shadd-Evelyn, "that polygamy is not recognized under immigration legislation. A conjugal relationship, whether involving marriage or a common-law partnership, must be exclusive." (February 8, 2008)
Polygamous UK wives recognized and eligible for benefits: British law recognizes only a single spouse and bigamy is punished by up to seven years in jail. But if a husband should arrive in Britain from a country that permits polygamy is legal, then the law recognizes multiple wives. More than recognizes; the UK benefits system formally accepts multiple wives as dependents and pays for them. The Department of Work and Pensions guidelines on housing and council tax benefits read:
If you were legally married to more than one partner under the laws of a country that permits this, then your relationship is called a polygamous marriage. In this case your household consists of you and any partners who live with you and to whom you are married.
The DWP pays couples up to £92.80 a week (in jobseeker's allowance, housing and council tax benefits) and each "additional spouse" receives another £33.65. Now that this policy has become public, however, and raised a small furor, the DWP is reviewing its policy. (April 18, 2007) Feb. 3, 2008 update: A year-long government review has confirmed this policy, The Sunday Telegraph reveals today in "Multiple wives will mean multiple benefits" by Jonathan Wynne-Jones. In addition to the DWP, three other departments were involved in the review: Treasury, HM Revenue and Customs, and the Home Office. They reached their conclusions in December 2007 but did not publicize the results. Despite the fact that bigamy is punishable in Britain by up to seven years in prison, the departments concluded that recognizing multiple marriages entered into in foreign countries was "the best possible" option. Wynne-Jones explains the implications:
Even though bigamy is a crime in Britain, the decision by ministers means that polygamous marriages can now be recognised formally by the state, so long as the weddings took place in countries where the arrangement is legal. The outcome will chiefly benefit Muslim men with more than one wife, as is permitted under Islamic law. Ministers estimate that up to a thousand polygamous partnerships exist in Britain, although they admit there is no exact record. …
New guidelines on income support from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) state: "Where there is a valid polygamous marriage the claimant and one spouse will be paid the couple rate ... The amount payable for each additional spouse is presently £33.65." Income support for all of the wives may be paid directly into the husband's bank account, if the family so choose. Under the deal agreed by ministers, a husband with multiple wives may also be eligible for additional housing benefit and council tax benefit to reflect the larger property needed for his family.
New York City establishment accepts polygamy
Mayor Michael Bloomberg with Mamadou Soumare (second from left) and Moussa Magassa (third from left).
: A space heater set off a fire that climbed quickly through a three-story Bronx row house, killing ten immigrants from Mali, including nine children of two fathers and three wives
. As the city's deadliest fire in nearly 20 years, the tragedy attracted enormous attention, with the mayor and many dignitaries attending the funeral and consoling the two men, Mamadou Soumare and Moussa Magassa. New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner volunteered to pay for the funerals. No one said a word about the polygamy. An Associated Press report refers casually to this fact:
The woman who leaped out the window, Assia Magassa - Moussa's 23-year-old second wife – was at Lincoln Medical Center on Saturday with broken legs. … According to Mali's Muslim traditions, a man may have more than one wife.
(March 10, 2007) Mar. 23, 2007 update: The New York Times directly takes on polygamy in its home city. Nina Bernstein writes in "In Secret, Polygamy Follows Africans to N.Y." that
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.
The city's mourning for the dead a woman and nine children in two families from Mali has been followed by a hushed double take at the domestic arrangements described by relatives: Moussa Magassa, the Mali-born American citizen who owned the house and was the father of five children who perished, had two wives in the home, on different floors. Both survived.
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. Under state law, bigamy can be punished by up to four years in prison. No agency is known to collect data on polygamous unions, which typically take shape over time and under the radar, often with religious ceremonies overseas and a visitor's visa for the wife, arranged by other relatives. Some men have one wife in the United States and others abroad.
But the Magassas clearly are not an isolated case. Immigration to New York and other American cities has soared from places where polygamy is lawful and widespread, especially from West African countries like Mali, where demographic surveys show that 43 percent of women are in polygamous marriages.
And the picture that emerges from dozens of interviews with African immigrants, officials and scholars of polygamy is of a clandestine practice that probably involves thousands of New Yorkers. …
Don't-ask-don't-know policies prevail in many agencies that deal with immigrant families in New York, perhaps because there is no framework for addressing polygamy in a city that prides itself on tolerance of religious, cultural and sexual differences and on support for human rights and equality.
… 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.
In sum, this report suggests, polygamy is in New York by the thousands, it causes much suffering, but no one has the will to take it on. Mar. 7, 2008 update: In a one-year update on the surviving family members, the New York Times again blithely accepts polygamy, reporting that Moussa Magassa, 46, the father of five children who died in the fire, said in an interview that "his family has grown since the fire: Two wives recently gave birth, one to twins." The reporter, Timothy Williams, notes delicately only that Magassa "is from Mali, where polygamy is legal and widespread." The New York Post causally provides the eye-popping information (in the caption to a picture) that Magassa has taken a third wife: "Moussa Magassa now has nine children with his wives, Aisse, Manthia and Niekale."
Comment: I wonder if Magassa trekked back to Mali to marry Niekale or whether he "married" her in the United States. If the latter, he is as liable to charges of polygamy as any Mormon fundamentalist, but something tells me, much less likely to have the law after him.
Taxpayer subsidies for UK harems: According to a sensationalist story by Nigel Nelson in The People, "Have a Harem: Geta Handout," it's not just Inland Revenue but other government agencies that recognize polygamous marriages. He finds that the British taxpayer spends £5m a year on polygamous immigrants who bring harems into the country for such benefits as jobseekers' allowances, housing benefits, and council tax relief. Their children can claim child benefits and family tax credits. For example, as Nelson colorfully puts it, "The exhausted husband also gets a Jobseeker's Allowance of £90.10 a week for himself and his first wife. Extra wives get £32.65 each." The Welfare Minister, Philip Hunt, is quoted acknowledging that "British law recognises those marriages. Income-related benefits can be paid for more than one wife." (November 12, 2006) May 28, 2007 update: The Times (London) follows up with more information: The Department for Work and Pensions estimates there are "fewer than 1,000 valid polygamous marriages in the UK, few of whom are claiming a state benefit." Here's how it works:
Britain does recognise polygamous marriages that have taken place in countries where the custom is legal, such as Pakistan, Nigeria and India. The Home Office said that multiple wives in polygamous marriages may be allowed into the country as students or tourists. Officials are advised to let extra wives into Britain even if they suspect that a husband is trying to cheat the system by getting bogus divorces. "Entry clearance may not be withheld from a second wife where the husband has divorced his previous wife and the divorce is thought to be one of convenience," an immigration rulebook advises. "This is so, even if the husband is still living with the previous wife and to issue the entry clearance would lead to the formation of a polygamous household." …
A husband may claim housing benefit for each wife even if she is abroad, for up to 52 weeks, as long as the absence is temporary and for pressing reasons. In a draft Commons reply released under the Freedom of Information Act, officials explained another way in which the system made it easy to receive handouts. "A polygamous marriage is the only circumstance in which an adult dependency increase is payable in income-related benefits," it stated. "In any other circumstances an adult 'dependent' would have to make a separate claim."
To calculate the amount of income support that is payable to an extra wife, officials subtract the rate paid to an individual from that paid to a couple. This produces the amount that a cohabiting spouse is deemed to need in social security benefits. If a man lives with two valid wives, his household is paid the rate for a couple, plus an amount for the extra spouse, the documents show.
Tax credits for UK harems: The paymaster general of the Treasury, Dawn Primarolo, gave this reply at a parliamentary inquiry:
Where a man and a woman are married under a law which permits polygamy, and either of them has an additional spouse, the Tax Credits (Polygamous Marriages) Regulations 2003 allow them to claim tax credits as a polygamous unit. It is only those in legal polygamous unions who are covered by these regulations and there is no provision for those in less formal arrangements to claim as a polygamous unit.
Azouz Begag, French minister for promoting the equalty of opportunity.
(December 2, 2005)
Accepting polygamy in France: Azouz Begag, French minister for promoting the equalty of opportunity (yes, such a position exists) laconically addressed the issue of polygamy by saying that the country "could find a way to live with it." (September 9, 2005)
Polygamous UK wives inherit tax-free from husbands: Nicholas Hellen, "Muslim second wives may get a tax break" provides rich details, which I feel compelled to quote at length so as not to lose their texture:
The Inland Revenue is considering recognising polygamy for some religious groups for tax purposes. Officials have agreed to examine "family friendly" representations from Muslims who take up to four wives under sharia, the laws derived from the Koran. Existing rules allow only one wife for inheritance tax purposes. The Revenue has been asked to relax this so that a husband's estate can be divided tax-free between several wives.
The move is bound to create controversy if it leads to a change in the rules. It is seen as a breakthrough by Muslim leaders who have been campaigning to incorporate sharia into British domestic law. Ahmad Thomson, of the Association of Muslim Lawyers, said: "Wives and immediate children should be exempt from inheritance tax. If the government is family friendly they should change a tax which is unfairly hitting minority religious values."
Any concession by the Revenue could open a wider debate about the legality of plural marriages. At present a person married to more than one people can be charged with bigamy. Muslim marriages to second, third and fourth wives are not valid in civil law, with the women effectively regarded as mistresses with no legal or tax rights.
However, some official bodies have already pointed out that tax laws are unfavourable to religious groups that recognise more than one spouse. The National Audit Office (NAO) recently concluded that the tax system inadvertently penalised devout Muslims. An NAO inquiry into inheritance laws found that devout Muslims were not able to take full advantage of British tax law, which allows spouses to inherit an entire estate from their husband or wife tax free. …
Sadiq Khan, a leading Muslim politician, said: "I am pleased to see the Inland Revenue applying common sense to the application of Islamic law on uncontroversial matters such as inheritance. There are some other uncontroversial areas of Islam law which could easily be applied to the legal system we have in the UK." …
Gordon Brown, the chancellor, has already made one significant concession to adapt to the dictates of sharia. In the 2003 Finance Act he spared Muslims from paying stamp duty twice on their properties when they took out "Islamic mortgages" that complied with the sharia ban on paying interest. The Islamic mortgages involve the lender buying the house — ownership is transferred to the purchaser only at the end of the repayment period.
In a totally startling development, perhaps what most stands out is the idea that polygamy is already deemed "uncontroversial." (December 26, 2004)
Related Topics: Conservatives & Liberals, Dhimmitude, Islamic law (Shari'a), Muslims in the West, Sex and gender relations
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