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New Canadian Law to Declare Polygamy a ‘Barbaric Cultural Practice’

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Canada is taking the lead role in banning barbaric cultural practices.

Nay, I should rather say, it’s taking a lead role in banning practices that the Harper government considers barbaric.

Actually, to be more precise, its banning practices already illegal in Canada – which the Harper government has decided to declare ‘barbaric’ simply because they believe immigrants and refugees are guilty of practicing them.

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These are some of the obvious conclusions of the self-righteous and bizarrely titled ‘Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act’. Yes, that’s the official title – it’s not signage that was posted somewhere in colonial India or apartheid South Africa. As one writer aptly described it, this is Canada’s “You Guys Are Animals and We Don’t Want You Anywhere Around Us” Act.

The act claims to address the problems of forced marriages, honour killings and domestic violence amongst immigrant communities specifically. Whereas amendments in the law to grant greater protections to women would have been praiseworthy, framing the law as if these practices are ‘immigrant problems’ only engenders xenophobia and stereotypes immigrants.

Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander, mentioned the Shafia murders as a motivating factor behind the law – despite the fact that the killers were already tried and given the severest punishments under Canadian law.  He also mentioned the case of another immigrant man who killed his wife – but his case hadn’t gone to trial at the time. It seems, the fact that the accused was Afghan is sufficient evidence for Alexander to declare him guilty of honour killing. (This is the second time the man has been pre-emptively declared as guilty of honour crimes by the minister).

The types of domestic abuses cited in the act may be more prevalent in South Asian, African or Arab communities. However, the act fails to recognize that it is Canadian citizens from these communities who often suffer these abuses. In other words, the act creates two categories of domestic abuse: there is regular domestic violence which describes abuse by white Canadians; and then there are ‘barbaric cultural acts’ perpetrated by brown-skinned Canadians which are far worse and requires separate legislation – even though existing legislation already criminalizes these practices.

What is particularly hypocritical is the fact that the act comes in wake of the government’s refusal to open up a national inquiry into the hundreds of murdered and missing aboriginal women. Repeated calls were made to the government, especially by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, to investigate over a 1000 cases relating these women. Calls became intensified with the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose body was found in a bag the Red River in Winnipeg.

In their case, however, the PM simply stated that systematic abuse of aboriginal women shouldn’t be seen as a specific sociological problem but as a part of wider crimes against women. He conveniently lumps the problems of aboriginal women with those of other women; despite the national demand for special attention to this issue and the much greater risk these women have been shown to be at. The government is swift to pass edicts supposedly protecting immigrant women from brown barbaric men, but turns a blind eye to its indigenous population. This legislation is particularly useless given that the immigrant communities it targets are in much greater need for social programming and education than empty sloganeering.

One of the most striking features of this legislation is that it describes polygamy as a barbaric practice. While polygamy is already illegal in Canada, the act reframes the practice as if it is something widespread in immigrant communities and deserves special attention as a result. The reality, however, is that Canada’s most well-known polygamists are a Mormon sect based out of Bountiful, BC who have lived in the country for generations. They’ve openly practiced polygamy on religious grounds and continue to challenge the country’s anti-polygamy laws.

While I am no advocate of polygamy, to call the practice barbaric is quite unprecedented and unnecessary. In a country that’s come to accept all kinds of alternative lifestyles ranging from gay marriage to BDSM, why is it so hard to fathom the concept of consenting adults living in a polygamous relationship? Especially in a time when polyamorous relationships are increasingly common, such a severe condemnation of polygamy is misplaced at the very least. To pass legislation referring to the act as barbaric is particularly negligent given that criminalizing it is already argued to be in conflict with constitutional freedoms.

The prime reason such harsh views on polygamy are acceptable, if not mainstream, is because its association with misogynistic religious men who have often used the practice to abuse young women. It was harm to women and children that was cited as the primary reason why the supreme court of British Columbia upheld the polygamy ban recently. There is no doubt that domestic abuse needs to be penalized; however, criminalizing the entire institution not only infringes personal freedoms, it also makes it impossible for women in abusive relationships to come forth and get help – as was seen in the case in Bountiful.

It is evident that this piece of bogus legislation is meant to target Muslims as they’re the prime community that has to come to be associated with these practices; despite the inaccuracy of such presumptions. Much like the ban on stoning of adulteresses and niqab ban at citizenship ceremonies, this move is yet another political gimmick that panders to right-wing anti-immigrant sentiment.

At a time when Canada should be opening its doors to people from war torn places like Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan – places it is guilty of bombing –  it has only taken measures that ostracize and stereotype these people before they’ve even set foot in the country.

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Waleed Ahmed writes on current affairs and politics for MuslimMatters. He focuses on Muslim minorities, human rights and the Middle-Eastern conflict. Based out of Montreal, he's currently pursuing a Ph.D. at McGill University in fundamental physics. Waleed also has a keen interest in studying Arabic and French. He spends his spare time reading, playing basketball and praying for Jon Stewart to run in the next presidential election. contact: waleed dot ahmed at muslimmatters.org

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Chris Nystrom

    December 19, 2014 at 4:32 PM

    Well said. I agree 100%.

  2. Infidelicious

    December 19, 2014 at 7:11 PM

    The “tu quoque ” argument, again. A polygamist of any religion is still a polygamist. I some countries, polygamy is against the law. Put your belief above the law and face the consequences, but don’t pull the racism card.

    • Ajmir

      December 20, 2014 at 3:44 AM

      There’s no limit to number of wives in the Bible, nor in Hindu scriptures. Most cultures in the past had polygamy as normal.

      • mm

        December 22, 2014 at 2:36 PM

        but there is a limit prescribed in the Quran. so stop trying to break it, Ajmir.

      • mm

        December 22, 2014 at 2:38 PM

        (to clarify, the highly recommended limit is ONE wife. It sounds like Ajmir is in favor of polygamy. but I could be wrong)

  3. fiqhonomics

    December 20, 2014 at 2:56 AM

    I wonder how the situation of Mormon women in polygamy compares to those of Muslim women in polygamy? I.e. the rate of abuse and neglect garnering the attention of the kuffaar government.

  4. Haqq

    December 20, 2014 at 9:37 AM

    So its fine to have multiple girlfriends and boyfriends, and its fine to come adultery when married, its fine for Canadian politicians to have wifes and then sleep with prostitutes regularly, but its illegal to have a polygamous marriage? So hypocritical!

    • mm

      December 22, 2014 at 2:29 PM

      You sound just like the writer of this article when he says, “In a country that’s come to accept all kinds of alternative lifestyles ranging from gay marriage to BDSM, why is it so hard to fathom the concept of consenting adults living in a polygamous relationship? Especially in a time when polyamorous relationships are increasingly common, such a severe condemnation of polygamy is misplaced at the very least. ”

      So you’re using gay marriage, BDSM, and polyamorous relationships to justify polygamy. At least, even in the presence of all these evils, the Canadian government still recognizes the sanctity of holy matrimony. Do not forget that the Quran says, “Marry only one”.

      You both are in fact advocates of polygamy (even though Ahmed says he is not), which was only really necessary at the dawn of Islam when the Prophet pbuh had to have a lot more than the allowed (but not generally recommended) 4, and when many slave and prostitute women needed to be rescued via marriage (there are prostitutes even today but there are much better ways of rescuing them – primarily by upholding the one-marriage law and the rights of women). Even so, the Prophet pbuh was granted almost all of his children through his first wife. Enough said as to Allah’s swt leanings towards one marriage. This article is irrelevant and a barbaric waste of time.

      • Abu Milk Sheikh

        December 23, 2014 at 1:18 AM

        Actually it says “And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice].”

        It doesn’t limit polygynous marriage to a specific time period or the social welfare of women. Polygyny is permissible, full stop, with the condition of just treatment of wives. Justice here means dividing time equally between the wives and sufficient food, clothing and shelter according to the social status of the wives and financial capability of the husband.

      • aaaaaa

        December 24, 2014 at 3:35 AM

        @mm. That’s a stupid argument. It’s not like Allah allowed polygamy so that men could rescue women from prostitution. You offer no evidence for it. Infact, what happened was polygamy was pretty common back then, Islam just legislated it to 4 wives. It’s not like only 1 wife was allowed, then later allowed so that men could rescue women from prostitution. Almost most sahabas lived in polygamous marriages. And not everyone was married so that women could be rescued from prostitution. That’s just a stupid argument, for which you offer no evidence. Many well off women also lived in polygamous marriages during the prophet’s time. Also you forget that other prophet’s also practiced polygamy. Prophets Ibrahim (Abraham), Ya`qub (Jacob), Dawud (David), and Sulayman (Solomon). You even forget that in afterlife each man will have two wifes. In addition to that each man will also be provided with hoors. So that pretty much destroys your argument that it was only necessary at the time of the prophet, because then why would Allah provide Men will hoors in addition to two wifes? Also don’t give out fatwas like you are doing with absolutely zero evidence whatsoever, even while going as far as to make polygamy something so evil, when it’s perfectly allowed in Islam and will be till the end of times.

      • muhammed

        December 24, 2014 at 3:48 AM

        Are you saying that anyone who was in a polygamous marriage at the time of prophet was either a slave or a prostitute? Are you saying all the women today who are in polygamous marriages are prostitutes and entered into it because they needed rescuing? Do you know how demeaning it sounds?

        Also where did you get the notion that only marrying one was highly recommended? It’s mubah(permissible) to marry how much ever you want, if you guarantee equality. The hanbali fuqaha even recommend marrying four if you are rich. The zahiri madhab say 4 is good. Also why do you think people should be ashamed if they advocate polygamy? Do you consider a permissible action by Allah something immoral and evil? Who are you to judge if anyone want to follow polygamy? You neither agree with the the conservative opinion and the Islamic opinion when you say that and you neither agree with the liberal opinion which most of the people wouldn’t judge you for what you do with your life. Why do you think you have the right to judge people for what they do in their own lives if done consensually? Are you some kind of a fanatic where everyone has to live by your opinion, and the one who doesn’t is automatically an evil person?

  5. Hyde

    December 21, 2014 at 5:55 AM

    Well I consider homosexual marriages to be barbaric. So there Mr. Harper.

  6. Shagufta

    December 22, 2014 at 1:15 PM

    It’s not barbaric to have more than one wife and justify in dealings with them, rather it is barbaric to have relationship with one for sometime, divorce and switch to the other. Or even make so called love, have illegal children (according to any religious beliefs) after some time throw that relationship away. Now you are free, enjoy your life with a new sweetheart, no divorce, no divorce penalty. And for the kids you bore??? Hell civilized!

    • Babar

      December 24, 2014 at 2:43 AM

      It is women who instigate barbarism by instigating transient sexual relationships by dressing immodestly, having multiple sexual partners, and in a very high percentage of cases, not even knowing who the father is. What is barbarism is women initiating divorce just because they are ‘bored’ with their husband, without a care in the world for their children either. What is barbarism is women dumping their children with babysitters and maids while they go to work, even while many babysitters drug babies and rent them out to beggars. What is barbarism is women throwing babies on sidewalks and in garbage dumps.

  7. Mezba

    December 23, 2014 at 7:44 AM

    An excellent write up.

  8. Babar

    December 24, 2014 at 12:24 AM

    Women are the prime abusers in marriages, who abuse men verbally, psychologically, physically, and emotionally, and on top of that intimidate, blackmail and threaten with false cases. This has resulted in a high number of suicides by men.

    If you talk about the violence perpetrated by women, you can also be a victim of death threats from women, as in the case of Erin Pizzey.

    Pizzey has been the subject of death threats and boycotts because of her research into the claim that most domestic violence is reciprocal, and that women are equally as capable of violence as men. Pizzey has said that the threats were from militant feminists (Wikipedia).

    Furthermore, people sympathize with women’s causes because of the hype in the media, as it is good for business as people sympathize with women’s causes. It is almost as though violence against men does not exist. Since courts and juries worldwide are biased in favour of women, and police are also more likely to believe women, women abuse the judicial system to their advantage.

    According to the Canadian statistics on gender equality:

    Women receive physical custody of 92% of all children of separation, and men only 4%, women are acquitted of spousal murder at a rate 9 times that of men, men are sentenced 2.8 times longer than women for spousal murder. Furthermore, men commit suicide at 4 times the rate of women, live an average of 7 years less than women, account for more than 95% of all workplace fatalities, and are murdered at a rate 5 times that of women.

  9. Babar

    December 24, 2014 at 1:02 AM

    There is more domestic violence against men, but men do not talk about it because it is considered unmanly and embarrassing to do so. Women, on the other hand, not only report it but also fabricate cases of domestic violence. In the U.S. alone, a man is a victim of domestic violence every 38 seconds, and that is when it is highly, highly underreported.

    http://youtu.be/WC37RS6lLjE

  10. fiqhonomics

    December 24, 2014 at 4:35 AM

    the hoors and multiple wives of paradise argument is a canard. marriage in Jannah cannot be compared to earthly matrimony with its concomitant limits and responsibilities, nafaqah, equality etc. Polygamy is severely constrained by the increased difficulty men experience in adequately supporting even one household. If it weren’t for the innovation of misyaar, polygamy wouldn’t be even remotely a consideration for many.

  11. ahsan

    December 25, 2014 at 1:19 AM

    Enjoyed reading it.

    I dont understand how such a law would help Canada in being a better society.
    If a law is banned then the ban says enough.
    Taking such extreme position on the matter sends a very negative signal to the people.

  12. Alima

    December 30, 2014 at 12:54 PM

    I wouldn’t consider polygamy as being ‘barbaric’ needless to say it is something that I think should be banned. The prophet and his companions had numerous wives so to say that it is recommended to only have one is really just an uneducated suggestion.

    Comparing western relationships such as having numerous girlfriends with islam and polygamy is ridiculous. In the west women can have as many relationships with as many men as they want as can men. Where as in islam only men can marry up to 4,
    Women can’t.
    Adultery happens in every culture/ area of the world even in the most ultra conservative places e.g Saudi Arabia

  13. shagoofa

    March 2, 2015 at 9:17 AM

    Amzing u guys have such tunnel vision, yes the law is stupid and has anti-muslim nuance but why do u compare it to gay marriage ??? I hope some of the misogynistc comments makes it evident to you ,harsh laws r needed

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