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Polygamy Within Canada must be Addressed

Friday 8 February 2019, by siawi3



Polygamy Within Canada must be Addressed

by Alia Hogben

How does one balance the critical need to speak out against injustices within Canadian Muslim communities, while knowing that this can fuel more anti-Muslim sentiments? The dilemma is that we must speak out if we want to create change, but it may be impossible to do this without arousing more Islamophobia.

But silent we cannot be in the face of injustice.

One critical issue for Canadian Muslim women is polygamy.

Our organization has known many of these marriages and the negative effects on both the women involved and their children. Many of the women accept the situation because they have been told that it is religiously mandated. Some Muslim majority countries allow polygamy, and sadly many new Canadians who were raised in those countries assume that second wives must be accepted here in Canada as well.

Some imams will still perform second marriages here in Canada even though they know it’s illegal. They call them “Nikah” (rather than marriage) under the guise of Muslim family laws. These imams are devious enough not to register these second marriages. They reassure the man and women that it is religiously permissible and thus all right. It matters not to them that they are party to a criminal act, nor that these second marriages provide little legal protection for the women.

I am glad that CBC’s Fifth Estate did a documentary recently on polygamy in Muslim Canadian communities.

On the program, a particular imam interviewed about second marriages, admitted that he performs them often. His response to the CBC interviewer was “sue me.” Further, his rationale for performing these marriages was breathtaking: He said there is an excess of women, and this justifies polygamy.

My challenge to him is that in countries such as China, there is a preponderance of men. According to his reasoning, China should move towards polyandry to resolve the problem of the sexual needs of both men women. And unlike polygamy, polyandry would have the added benefit of limiting population growth.

I am grateful to the one ethical imam who was interviewed and rightly said that Muslims should abide by the laws of the country and that they cannot justify contravening them by using religion as the excuse.

Traditionalist men argue that polygamy is God given right. They say, for example, that taking a second wife is far better than taking a mistress because children from the affairs won’t have legal protection. Eh what? That’s exactly what will happen to the “second wife’s” children as well because that so-called marriage will be illegal.

They also argue in favour of polygamy by saying, “God has allowed men to have multiple wives.” This is incorrect. This Muslim male practice of having multiple sexual partners cannot be justified by the use of religion.

The Quranic verses regarding polygamy clearly indicate that the purpose is to provide protection for widows left on their own in a patriarchal society and at a particular historical period. Nowhere does the Quran provide polygamy with the aura of religiously sanctified permission in order to satisfy men’s lust.

The Quranic verses are, “You can never be equitable in dealing with more than one wife, no matter how hard you try….” So monogamy is the preferred union.

Fortunately, there are many individuals, scholars, and countries who believe that Islam upholds the fundamental values of peace, justice, equality, dignity and freedom of all human beings. These are the same values articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Canadian Council of Muslim Women would like to collaborate with the Council of Imams to provide correct information to educate Canadian Muslim women about their rights under Canadian family law. In preparation for a meeting, I visited the website of Council of Imams.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that they have articulated their values in a Declaration. The Declaration states, “The sanctity of human life overrides the sanctity of religious laws. Islamic rulings do not – and should not – contradict natural laws. Islam promotes peace, justice, equality, dignity and freedom for all human beings.”

I assume that the imams agree with this definition of natural laws. These are “unchanging moral principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct… that certain rights are inherent by virtue of human nature, and can be understood through human reason.”

We look for leadership from the Council of Imams. Their Declaration should apply to issues such as polygamy. It is morally wrong when imams are conducting polygamous marriages, knowing that the Quran states that monogamy is the preferred union for families.

My questions to the imams are: Are you upholding these values? Can we look for leadership from the Council of Imams? Do you use your council’s declaration to evaluate your own actions in matters such as polygamy? Do you hold each other accountable?

Alas, what we know is that some imams are not only conducting polygamous marriage, but may themselves have two wives.

These imams are “educated” and should know that the Quranic verses tend towards monogamy; that the permission for polygamy had to do with the welfare of women in a patriarchal society and were not meant as a gift to men’s sexuality; and that breaking the law is a very poor example of Muslim leadership.
So what are the next steps in resolving this criminal activity?

The Canadian Council of Muslim Women will seek leadership from the Council of Imams, and direction from the federal government. CCMW should continue their leadership in providing educational workshops to Muslim men and women.

The government must get involved to ensure that we all follow Canadian family law and do not implement other laws.