“Two wives,” from the Jerusalem Post, with thanks to Leslie:
Marry women of your choice. Two, three, or four. However, if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly [with them], then only one or [a captive] that your right hand possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice. (Koran, 4:3)
Over the centuries, the phenomenon of polygamy has captured the attention of Westerners — diplomats, travelers, writers and artists — who found themselves in the East. The enigmatic and enticing harems of Arabian Nights, the beautiful concubines and the wily eunuchs of The Thief of Baghdad gave polygamy an exotic eastern flavor for those who saw “the Orient” as nothing more than an exciting and distant fairy tale.
Today, there are no longer harems or eunuchs, but polygamy is still very much alive. It exists in a vast majority of Islamic countries, where it is permitted by law. And in the 20th century, it reached European and American shores with the massive wave of immigration from Islamic countries. Interestingly, Europe, while welcoming the reform of the Family Law in Morocco that made polygamy almost impossible, and pressuring Turkey to put an end to the practice (the country’s ban on polygamy is commonly overridden), is at the same time turning a blind eye to the existence of the practice within its own borders.
Like many Muslim men, Muhammad, an immigrant from Pakistan, first came to Norway alone. After building a career, he found a wife, a Norway citizen, and obtained citizenship himself. Soon enough, his astonished new bride learned that Muhammad was in the process of bringing his first wife to Norway, along with their nine children, all of whom were considered Norwegian citizens by law.
Immigrants from Mali, Egypt, Mauritania, Pakistan and other countries who come to live in Europe often bring along their extended families, which may contain two, three and even four wives, and all of their offspring.
There are no official statistics, but some sources claim there are up to 10,000 polygamist families in France. The average size of such a family is up to 15 people, which means that about half a million French are living in polygamous families. There are also hundreds of polygamous families in England, Germany and Norway.
The law in all of these countries forbids the practice of polygamy, but local authorities are in a bind, faced with issues of freedom of religion. And aside from the social and cultural problems of polygamous families, there are legal questions surrounding issues of inheritance, taxation and property registration.
Jacques Kossowki, the conservative mayor of Courbevoie in France and an MP, believes that the choice is quite simple.
“It’s a disaster. We don’t even have housing big enough for these people. We have to accept polygamy exists in other countries, but it is not recognized by French law, so I don’t see why we should accept it.” But British legislators have chosen to adopt a more liberal approach, and have already begun amending existing laws in an effort to accommodate the needs of the local Muslim population.
“The Inland Revenue is considering recognizing 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,” The Sunday Times reported last year.
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