Published: 10:00 GMT Daylight Time - Friday 07 October 2011
UK: Polygamy amongst British Muslims increasing
Country/Region: United Kingdom, Europe
A growing number of young British Muslims are taking second or third wives, according to religious leaders quoted in news reports.
The Islamic Sharia Council said that it was receiving an unprecedented number of inquiries about polygamous marriages.
Polygamy is illegal in Britain, although taking a second, third or even fourth wife is considered legitimate within many Muslim communities in accordance with sharia law. Muslims are married in an Islamic religious ceremony known as nikah. Only about 10% of UK mosques are registered to conduct weddings so for a marriage to be legally recognised in British law it has to be in one of these mosques or accompanied by a civil ceremony. Many weddings do not meet these criteria so the wife, whether first, second, third or fourth, is not legally recognised in the U.K. This means that Muslim men can easily ‘marry’ their second, third or fourth wives at the mosque without committing polygamy under the law. There is also a special exception on polygamy for men who have married second, third or fourth wives in other countries where polygamy is legal and who then come to the UK with their families or bring their other wives in.
Khola Hasan, lecturer and adviser to the Islamic Sharia Council, said it was clear that polygamy among the younger generation was on the increase. She said:
Out of 700 applications for divorce in 2010, 43 cited polygamy as the reason.
Ms Hasan said that her research uncovered three main reasons for the growth in polygamy. The first is the growing number of young Muslim men who want to practise a more orthodox and conservative form of the religion. She said:
Young men who have come into a more radical understanding of faith know it is illegal to marry more than once [under British law], but do it to spite the system. These marriages have the lowest record of succeeding.
The second and biggest group are men whose first marriage has failed.
Perminder Khatkar, who used the findings from the Islamic Sharia Council in an investigation for the BBC Asian Network, said there was also growing concern that wives in polygamous marriages are unaware that they have no legal rights.
Meanwhile a Daily Mail investigation last week reported concerns that some Muslim men in bigamous or polygamous marriages were exploiting the British benefits system.
Baroness Flather, who was born in Lahore said:
The wives are regarded by the welfare system as single mothers, and are therefore entitled to a full range of lone parent payments.
As a result, several ‘families’ fathered by the same man can all claim benefits, as they are provided for by the welfare state, which treats them as if they were not related.
It is certainly difficult to discuss this phenomenon of serial marriage and exploitation of the benefits system, with few people in Britain seeming to want to confront the disturbing truth.
Social workers estimate that there are around 20,000 bigamous or polygamous marriages in the UK.
Two years ago, another peer, Baroness Warsi, born in Dewsbury to Pakistani parents, and now a Coalition Cabinet Minister, also voiced her concerns. She said that cultural sensitivity was stopping politicians addressing the problem.
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Read BBC News article The British Muslim men who love 'both their wives'