Sunday, October 2, 2011

British Muslim Men Bringing Back Polygamy

According to religious leaders in Britain, there has been a recent surprising revival of polygamy. This revival stems from an increase of the number of young British Muslims who are taking a second and third wife. A special report by the BBC Asian Network unveiled a report regarding the revival of polygamy based on findings from the Islamic Sharia Council, which provides legal advice and guidance to Muslims. The council admitted that they have had an unusual amount of questions about polygamous marriages, such that recent data has revealed polygamy is among the top ten reasons cited for divorce. Wives claim they cannot tolerate the competition with the other wives.

Within Britain, Polygamy is illegal. However, Muslim men are allowed to have a multitude of wives under Sharia law through a religious ceremony called the nikah. These second, third, and fourth wives are not recognized by British law but are seen as legitimate within certain Muslim communities. Khola Hasan, adviser to the Islamic Sharia council, said it was obvious that polygamy in the younger generations is on the rise and out of 700 applications for divorce in the past year, 43 were cited with polygamy as the reason. Hasan said her research revealed three main reasons for this revival. One deals with the increase in the number of young Muslim men who want to practice a more orthodox form of the religion. These men know that it is illegal to be married to more than one woman but continue to do it anyway. These marriages, however, were noted as having one of the lowest records of succeeding. Hasan proceeded to speak about how the wife usually does not want a divorce and wants her husband to continue supporting the children. Thus instead of living together and fighting, the husband will simply just take on another wife.

A similar case would be seen with Imran Patel, who is a second-generation Pakistani living in Birmingham. He was married by the age of 18 to a woman of his parent’s choice. Seven years later, he fell in love with another woman who was divorced with children. Instead of getting a divorce himself, he decided to marry the second woman. Patel said that while he did not initially tell his first wife, she easily accepted the situation when he told her months later. He claims to love them both and has created a unique schedule to accommodate his life style.

Perminder Khatkar, who was part of the investigation by BBC said there was also concern for wives in these polygamous marriages that are unaware that they have no legal rights. The Muslim Council recommended that those who marry under Sharia law should have a contract stating who is entitled to what. The contract requires the consent of all parties involved and could be challenged in British court.

In my opinion, polygamy should never be tolerated. From a woman’s perspective, it is disrespectful and degrading. How could one man love and treat five women equally and justly? It is not fair to have multiple women tolerating a competitive environment in their own marriage. Financially, the burden of supporting such a large number of people is outstanding. How could a father let one child be sent to college but say no to the next? There seems to be no logical balance for polygamous marriages and usually results in a lose-lose situation.

As we have seen in the case of Reynolds v. US, the law cannot in interfere with religious beliefs but can interfere with the practice of those beliefs. Polygamy can be seen as a political threat and not civilized. Monogamy is crucial to order and social liberty. As with the Reynolds case, the young British Muslim men are aware that polygamy is illegal however continue to marry under Sharia law. These men are committing a crime of bigamy and there is no benefit of this type of marriage to not only the parties involved, especially the woman, but also the government. I do agree, however, with the Muslim council enforcing those who will be wed under Sharia law to create a contract that settles who gets what if there were to be a divorce. Also, the issue of the women being completely unaware that they have no legal rights is unacceptable. Everyone needs to be aware of what they are truly getting themselves into. Overall, it comes down to a simple question; could you see yourself happy in a polygamous marriage?


Harry R. said...

I disagree with Molly's statement that the women involved in these relationships are unaware of what they are doing. It is every citizen's responsibility to know the laws which pertain to them. As such, since most individuals know that polygamy is illegal, they should know that additional marriages performed under sharia law carry no legal weight. These are simply religious ceremonies which have no legal standing. Therefore, from a legal standpoint, the men in question are simply having multiple affairs, which may not be ethical, but is certainly not illegal.

Jack Ness said...

To answer Molly's question, no, I do not think I would be happy in a polygamous marriage. That is one of the main reasons that I agree with most of what was said here. In this case, the law banning polygamy stands because the British government feels that there is a compelling state interest to keep marriage between 2 people only. To add to Harry's comment, adultery is not illegal in the UK, he is correct. However, it does come up in divorce proceedings and is a legal reason for divorce, so all of the women married to one of these men could likely divorce him provided they have evidence.

Chris R. said...

The answer to Molly's question about personal happiness in a polygamous marriage is irrelevant in this context. I take the key legal question in this blog to be: are women being illegally pushed into marriage blindly? The answer is no. I most definitely agree with Harry that it is "every citizen's responsibility to know the laws which pertain to them." I do not believe in polygamy and I strongly feel that there is a compelling state interest to forbid it. By extension, if the government doesn't recognize it, then it would be entirely redundant to make laws reforming it.

Andrew Lichtenauer said...

The issue of polygamy is so pertinent to our studies in this class because it forces us to determine the lines that should/should not be crossed with regards to freedom of religion in our country. If some sort of religious act or practice seems inherently wrong from a general moral standpoint, do we have the right to say that it is unacceptable and illegal in our country? Does this violate the polygamist's rights as a U.S. citizen?

David P said...

I disagree with Molly that polygamy should never be tolerated. Obviously it is not disrespectful and degrading to the women willingly becoming involved in polygamous relationships. As Molly stated Patel's wife easily accepted the other wife. I do not think this is a sexist argument, as if this were to be made legal woman would also be able to take on multiple husbands. All members of these agreements are willingly involved.
Second, although Reynolds vs. US made polygamy illegal, we have come back to that decision repeatedly considering that maybe the US overstepped its bounds.

Christopher J. said...

Forgive me if I am missing the point, but why are we discussing Reynolds v. US? These are British citizens living under British law; US court cases don't apply here. If we want to discuss polygamy in the US that's fine, but that won't help us come any closer to finding a solution to this British issue.

Mike HJ said...

I think Harry brings up the most pressing issue with this case. From a technical standpoint, these men are not participating in polygamy in the eyes of the law. However, while ideally every citizen should know the laws that pertain to them, clearly there is a lack of information being grasped by the wives in these cases. A large problem I see is that Shariah law is taken extremely seriously by many muslims -- evidenced here to the point that they will "break" (technically they're not, but in reality, lets face it, they are) national law to go along with religious law. I have maintained before and will continue to do so, that codified national law should trump codified religious law.