Shiver gains incredible access and the trust of a community who, for the first time, share the intimate workings of a world which is often hidden from much of the UK – polygamous marriage within Islam.
In this revealing film, Shiver for Channel 4 explores the world of polygamous marriages amongst British Muslims. While polygamy is illegal under British law, it is permitted under Sharia law, and while unusual, some estimate there are as many as 20,000 polygamous marriages amongst Muslims in the UK today. The film examines the daily challenges of polygamous life and the motivation behind those looking for another wife, and considers whether they are compelled by desire or tradition and meets those who are trying to make polygamy acceptable to mainstream UK society.
Difficult questions are posed, not only around reconciling Muslim values with modern British society but also on questions of duty, love and betrayal.
From an office in east London, Mizan Raja runs a Muslim marriage bureau with over 50,000 clients on his books. In recent years there has been a marked increase in enquiries from Muslim men and women looking to get into polygamous marriages and, as Mizan comments: ‘It’s driven by the women not by the men.’
Hasan, Nabilah, Sakinah and Anub
Hasan Phillips converted to Islam from Christianity at the age of 16. Now 32, he works part-time at a Brixton mosque and has two wives. As is typical in polygamous marriages, his wives live separately and Hasan splits his week between his first wife Sakinah in south London and his second wife Nabilah, in north London. Sakinah works full-time in the City and brings up the two children she has with Hasan.
Nabilah came from Malaysia to do a PhD in engineering at Cambridge University. She met Hasan through a marriage agency and gave up her studies to marry him, have his two children and run their import-export business. She approached the agency looking to be part of a polygamous arrangement: “I was looking for someone who was in a marriage… someone who already knows how to be a husband.” As the second wife or ‘co-wife’ in the polygamous marriage, Nabilah developed a friendship with Sakinah saying: “I really enjoy being in a polygamous relationship. We are not forced to be in this.”
During filming, Hasan marries his third wife. Anub is in her 40s and works as a driving instructor in west London. Following her divorce, she was keen to be party of a polygamous arrangement commenting: “A brother who has a wife is already more responsible than one who hasn’t.” Like the other two wives, Anub never wore a niqab before her marriage to Hasan but agrees to do so at his request.
While his other wives are not invited to the wedding, Hasan arranges a meeting for the three women and their children. The tensions of maintaining a polygamous marriage are thrown into sharp relief as he comments: “You can’t really relax… you have to be very careful. Don’t joke too much with one over the other; don’t overshow emotion to one of them….You have to be very strict.”
Mohammed, Amal, Hana and Touria
In Sheffield, we meet Mohammed who has three wives and eleven children. Like Hasan, his wives live separately but he encourages them to socialise and see themselves as one family. His first wife, Hana, is English. They have four children and live round the corner from his second wife, Amal, and their four children. Tensions are rife, as Amal admits to feeling jealous when Mohammed married his third and much younger wife, Touria, in Morocco.
Money problems are also an issue for this huge family. At 43 Mohammed has been unemployed for two years. Living off benefits has led to tension between his huge family as he struggles to support his two wives based in the UK, and send money over to his third wife and children in Morocco. Mohammed has not seen them for seven months.
In Bradford, Shaheen agreed to become a second wife after her first arranged marriage ended in divorce, hoping it would be her chance for true love. She has 8 children, 2 with her second husband. During filming the marriage breaks down because of the extensive time he spends with his first wife and she is forced to apply for a divorce from a Sharia court: “Out of ten years I’ve probably had six months of time with me and my husband. I knew in a polygamous marriage they wouldn’t be there seven days a week but this is not a marriage.”
The Men With Many Wives airs on Channel 4 at 10pm on Wednesday 24th September.