Dutch Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin is considering whether measures against ‘Islamic marriage’ ought to be introduced. Islamic weddings in the Netherlands are generally unofficial, non-government sanctioned ceremonies based on Islamic law. Contracts in Islamic marriages are not legally recognized under Dutch law. As such, there will be no alimony if a couple divorces, and an Islamically bound spouse is not automatically eligible for inheritance if one member of the marriages dies. Labour Party politicians have repeatedly expressed concern that such religious weddings may be forced for some, and may involve polygamy. Ballin condemns the practice, and said that he is not ruling out future criminal proceedings for people who enter into Islamic marriages (without making the marriage legal under Dutch law).
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The mayors of four Dutch cities – Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, and Rotterdam, plan to ask the government not to grant citizenship to foreign nationals who have more than one wife. Even though polygamy is banned in the Netherlands, Dutch towns currently register such marriages, and do not ask whether or not an applicant is polygamous. The national statistics office estimates several hundred of polygamous cases across the country, with over 100 who have received citizenship in Amsterdam alone.
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A Rotterdam man originally from Pakistan was sentenced to one month in jail and one month suspension for engaging in polygamy. The unnamed man had lived in the Netherlands for the past 25 years and received Dutch citizenship in 1992, and had married two Pakistani women. The man’s bigamy was discovered when the man applied for Dutch passports for the children from his second marriage at the Dutch embassy in Pakistan. Polygamy, which is a crime in the Netherlands, carries a sentence of up to six years in prison if a case is discovered. Magistrate Rapmund who oversaw this particular case, said that the man should have known the law since he lived in the country for quite some time. While prosecutors also sought a 750 euro fine against the man, the judge did not see this necessary, and kept his sentence to one month in jail.
Thousands of polygamous marriages have sprung up throughout Italy, as a by-product of fast and voluminous immigration of Muslims to the country. Souad Sbai, a Moroccan-born Italian lawmaker believes that Italy has turned a blind eye to the phenomenon. It is absurd that in a civilized country like Italy, so little is acknowledged about this, says Sbai. Sbai estimates that 14,000 polygamous families live in Italy, while other estimates put the number higher. Sbai is convinced that Muslim polygamists in Italy practice a more fundamentalist and abusive form of marriage, often imprisoning women and confining them to a life of solitude, wholly dependant on their husband. Many of these polygamous families take advantage of the orfi marriage – a less formal union that is performed by an imam, which does not carry the same social and legal standing as a lawful marriage.
According to a report on the NPR program All Things Considered, polygamy is a rare, but quietly present practice in the United States by Muslims. In the report, Muslim women from Guinea discuss the pro’s and con’s of the practice in Islamic contexts – that the husband cannot favor one wife over another, either in love or in how he provides for her, but citing the impossibility of this dilemma. Daisy Khan, who is head of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, says that polygamy is more common among conservative, less educated immigrants largely from Africa and Asia, and more rare among middle-class Muslims from the Middle East. Khan adds that imams generally do not conduct background checks on grooms to check their marital status in their native country. While polygamy in Islam is a blessing according to some because it allows for the having of more children, Abed Awad, a family law attorney says that many men often forget the major responsibilities that go with the practice.
The president of Italy’s immigrant party Mousapha Mansouri said that there are at least 15,000 cases of polygamy in Italy, and has urged women to call a special helpline for female victims of violence. Mansouri and his colleagues have reported cases of men who converted to Islam with the sole aim of being able to have multiple wives. Polygamy is illegal in Italy, but imams presiding over these marriages often do not keep a paper trail to avoid prosecution. “For this reason, we are appealing to the victims – the wives – to encourage them to denounce such abuse,” Mansouri said. However, Muslim convert and director of Islam Online’s Italian website, Hamza Piccardi, told Adnkronos International that he believes Muslim immigrants who have several wives should not be penalized. “If a foreigner arrives in a European country with four wives, he should not be reported to the police,” said Piccardi.
Thousands of New York’s African immigrants are thought to be practicing polygamy as they did in their native countries, where it is legal; practice is clandestine because polygamy is grounds for exclusion from US under immigration law; no agency is known to collect data on polygamous unions, and many agencies that deal with immigrant families in New York have adopted don’t-ask-don’t-know policy; some men have one wife in US and others abroad; Islam is often cited as authority that allows polygamy, but practice is cultural tradition in Africa that crosses religious lines, and some Muslim lands elsewhere sharply restrict it; some African immigrant women speak bitterly of polygamy, saying they had no choice but to accept their husband’s other wives; many women accept situation, fearing to expose their husbands to arrest or deportation; presence of polygamy in New York was revealed after March 7 fire in Bronx that killed woman and nine children in two families from Mali.
The president of the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Organizations, Mansur Escudero, gave his endorsement yesterday to the policy to allow gay marriage. However, he protested to the executive who also regulates polygamy as a marriage option, which is allowed in countries where the Islam is the majority religion. Escudero says that the question already was broached in 1992, when the agreement of cooperation between Islam and the Spanish government was negotiated. One of the warnings contained in the report approved yesterday by the CGPJ is therefore coming true, that it is now possible that other minority groups also want to see legalized in Spain their particular forms of coexistence.