Polygamy in the U.K.
March 17, 2012, 01:41 PM
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From The New Statesman

The marriage business

Jemima Khan

Jemima Khan, a U.K. media figure, is the daughter of Sir James Goldsmith, a colorful character who endorsed polyamory, and Lady Annabel Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Sir James' third wife. Jemima married Pakistani cricket hero Imran Khan, but then it turned out, surprisingly enough, that she wasn't happy living in Pakistan, so they divorced. Khan then founded a political party and is said to be "the Ron Paul of Pakistan." Jemima then took up with actor Hugh Grant for awhile. I'm not quite sure how all this is relevant to this article, but how could it, in some way, not be?

By the way, isn't the name "Jemima" raciss?

Muslim men bring 12,000 brides to Britain each year. That leaves their female peers with a dilemma — accept a “part-time husband” or turn to an agency that will check out a man’s family (and his bachelor pad) for you 

"Click? Why does everyone talk about clicking? What is this need to click? You're just too fussy," says a Pakistani auntie, reacting angrily to a twentysomething accountant's complaint that there was no chemistry between her and any of the men to whom she was introduced at a Muslim marriage event in east London. 

Marriage Asian-style is practical, contractual and, to the western mind, deeply unromantic. "The spinster crisis is an issue of modernity," preaches an energetically gesticulating man in a white prayer cap, jacket and trainers. "Success is the right attitude – no conspiracies, please. Can't blame Israel." Cue laughs from those assembled: women in hijabs seated on one side of the wood-panelled hall; men, mostly in suits, a few of them in Arab dress with beards, on the other; chaperones at the back. 

The speaker is Mizan Raja, the engaging founder of the UK-based Islamic Travels agency, who also set up the Islamic Circles community network and now presides over the east London Muslim matrimonial scene. I'm at a Practising Muslim event at Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel. According to the network's website, the event is held four times a year and is "especially geared towards those Muslims who are actually practising, ie, not a 'fasiq' – open sinner – as defined by the classical texts in sharia law". 

Arranged marriages are big business in the UK. Second- and third-generation immigrant families, with no extended family structure, limited networks and religious restrictions on acceptable ways to meet future spouses, are turning to external matchmakers for help. Mizan arranges between five and ten marriages every month through Islamic Circles, in his spare time. His day job is investment banking. By his own estimate, he has been responsible for 1,300 marriages over the past ten years. 


Isn't matchmaker a female job?

Mizan says he is meeting a need for something that is a duty in Islam. There's someone for everyone: "Even the disabled have needs" and Islamic Circles holds regular events for them. And increasingly, he says, career women are electing to become "co-wives" – in other words, to become a man's second or third wife. 

He reckons he gets between five and ten requests every week from women who are "comfortable with the notion of a part-time man". He explains: "They don't want a full-time husband. They don't have time." So couples live separately, the husband visiting his wives on a rota.