By Catrina Xu
An aspect of Singapore that I find interesting is the law of polygamous marriages. In Singapore marriages involving polygamy are legal but only under the practice of Islam. With Malaysians in Singapore dominantly identified as Muslims, it is estimated that in July 2016, in Singapore there was an estimate of 13.3% of the popular that were of Malaysian background and also 14.3% of the population identified as a Muslim.
A legal polygamous marriage in Singapore under Islamic practices allows only the male to marry the maximum of four wives. The practice of a polygamy marriage is managed and governed by the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA). The process of a polygamous marriage involves first the submission of applications to the ‘Kadi’, a name for what they call a judge in most Islamic countries. The Kadi reviews the application, and then conducts separate appointments with the first wife, proposed spouse and the applicant. The interviews are documented with statements from individual parties that are recorded and signed. With all evidence and statements, with reference to the Syariah Law, the Kadi makes a decision. The outcome of the application is then sent to all parties.
In Singapore for a polygamy marriage to be legally approved, the husband must have consent from the first wife. Though during the process of the application, if the first wife does not attend scheduled interviews, after the third time a summons will be issued to her. And if the first wife does not attend the interview after being summoned, the Kadi will have the right to continue with proceedings without her behalf.
There are multiple and complex reasons why a man would chose to be polygamous. To go back in to history to understand where Islam in Singapore is typically derived from Malaysia societies. Historically in Malaysian society, polygamy was considered a luxury that was limited to the ruling class. It was also practiced by a traditional group of the rural elite that consisted of men who were schoolteachers, religious professionals, farmers and local political leaders. This particular group desired attractive but poor young girls as their second wives. There was a benefit from both parties when engaging in a polygamy marriage. The kinsmen of the girl would gain social and financial benefits, and the husband would gain a sense of prestige and glamour for attaining a young and attractive new wife.
In a contemporary society in Singapore where women now work and are able to be financially independent, there are many reasons why they would agree on a polygamy marriage. Though there are still women who would agree on polygamy based on seeking financial dependency. Working class women who are financially independent may chose a polygamy marriage for the purpose of love. In a lot of cases, working women who have become the second wife may not desire having children. The husband may find this companionship with new benefits where both parties can enjoy their freedom without reproductive duties. The workingwoman may also enjoy the structure of not being bound to a husband 24/7 because of his obligations of equally sharing his time with each of his wives.
Polygamy under urban environments is found to be convenient for the husband. The anonymity of a bigger city makes it easier for the husband to visit his wives without travelling far, thus maintaining the unawareness of each wives existence. The secrecy of a second wife might suggest that though it may be legal, polygamy is still not socially accepted into modern society.
Though Polygamous marriages in Singapore are legal, they not common. Statistics show that in 2015, out of the 5,778 men who married that year, only 17 were polygamous marriages. With statistics only showing 0.3% of the male population in Singapore who married that year, not all polygamy marriages are legally documented. Many men chose to travel abroad to marry their new wives, which is a term called ‘cross-border polygamy’. Males chose to keep their polygamy a secret because the application of these marriages requires the consent of his first wife. It is not common to find a woman willing to agree on a polygamous relationship, thus this may result in secrecy.
 Peron, J., 2015, ‘Polygamy is not the next gay ‘marriage’’, The Huffington Post, viewed 26th January 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-peron/polygamy-is-not-the-next-gay-marriage_b_7767018.html
Zeitzem, M.K., 2008, Polygamy: A Cross: Cultural Analysis, Berg, New York
Department of Statistics Singapore, 2015, Statistics on Marriages and Divorces Reference Year 2015, ISSN 1793-0081, Singapore, viewed 25th January 2017 http://www.singstat.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-library/publications/publications_and_papers/marriages_and_divorces/smd2015.pdf
Registry of Muslim Marriages, ‘Polygny’, Singapore, viewed 23rd January 2017, <https://www.romm.gov.sg/about_marriage/romm_polygyny.asp>