Secular Rule and Islamic Ethics: Engaging with Muslim-Only Marriages in the Netherlands

In: Sociology of Islam

From the mid-2000s, Dutch policy makers, the media, and others have started to define Muslim-only marriages as a problem. This contribution unpacks a recent hype, when a Dutch TV station broadcasted the conclusion of a polygamous marriage at a mosque, while simultaneously the largest right-wing political party presented an initiative to further criminalize Muslim-only marriages. In both the TV program and the policy initiative, the same feminist organization, Femmes for Freedom, was involved. Using liberal arguments such as freedom of partner choice to limit the freedom of a religious minority, interestingly, the dividing lines were neither between Muslims and non-Muslims, nor between more ‘mainstream’ and more ‘Salafi-oriented’ mosques. Arguing for the need to protect women, many supported the current Dutch law demanding that couples conclude a civil marriage prior to a religious marriage, as the former would protect women better, while others called for better educating Muslims about women’s rights in Islam. Whereas the voices of women in Muslim-only marriages were not heard, our research with converts entering into polygamous marriages indicates that they may opt for these marriages themselves with their main concerns centering on the equal treatment of wives and men’s openness about polygamy.

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