hat tip-Margo I.
This is part one of a two-part report.
Hear Part Two of This Report
No one knows how many Muslims in the U.S. live in polygamous families. But according to academics researching the issue, estimates range from 50,000 to 100,000 people.
You can see some of the women involved in polygamous marriages in the lobby of Sanctuary for Families, a nonprofit women’s center in New York City. It bursts with color as a dozen women in bright African dresses and head wraps gather for a weekly noon meeting for West African immigrants. The women come each week to this support group where they discuss hard issues, such as domestic abuse, medical problems, immigration hurdles and polygamy.
Polygamy is freely practiced in parts of Africa, and almost every one of the women in the group has experienced polygamy firsthand – either as a wife in a plural marriage or having been raised in families with one father who has two or more wives.
Group member Sarah says that in her native Guinea, the husband springs it on his wife that he’s going to marry someone else. Sarah, like the others interviewed for this story, would give only her first name.
“Sometimes he say, ‘OK, I am going to be married tomorrow,’ or ‘I’m going to be married today.’ He’s going ask you like that. It happened to me,” she says.
Sarah begins to cry. Others nod in sympathy. These women are all Muslim. The Koran states that men may marry up to four women. The Prophet Mohammad had multiple wives.
But there’s a restriction, says Sally, another group member. The husband cannot favor one woman over another – with his wealth or his heart.
“You have to love them the same way, share everything the same way, equally,” says Sally. “Nobody can do that. It’s impossible.”
Still, Muslims practice polygamy in the U.S., despite state laws prohibiting it.
Here’s how a man gets around the laws: He marries one woman under civil law, and then marries one, two or three others in religious ceremonies that are not recognized by the state. In other cases, men marry women in both America and abroad.
Many women keep quiet for fear of retribution or deportation.
For example, Sally’s husband moved to the United States from the Ivory Coast before she did. When Sally joined him, she found he had married someone else in America. But without legal immigration papers, she didn’t dare come forward and report him to the authorities.
She said when she arrived in the U.S., her husband and his new wife put her in the basement.
“They told me to cook, clean, do everything. I didn’t speak English. And he told me, ‘Don’t say nothing. You say something, she’s going make you deported. And me, I’m going to be in jail.'”