Malaysians Flock to Thailand for Secret Islamic Weddings

BenarNews Staff
Songkhla, Thailand
160915-TH-secret-wedding-1000.jpg A Malaysian couple is photographed during the day of their wedding in Southern Thailand’s Songkhla province in February 2012.
Courtesy of Central Mosque of Songkhla

Thailand’s far south is hopping as a hub for secret Islamic weddings, drawing Malaysian men who go there to marry second, third or even fourth wives without their other spouses knowing about it, officials say.

By the hundreds already-married men from neighboring Malaysia cross over each year to tie the knot with other women in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim southern border region, exploiting a loophole that allows them to get around the law in their home country, Islamic leaders say.

The Central Mosque in Songkhla, a border province inside Thailand, is a hive for such weddings.

Many of the weddings there involve married Malaysian men who take on other brides, according to Sakriya Binsaela, chairman of the Islamic Committee of Songkhla. Relatively few of these marriages involve first-time grooms, he said.

“Today, Aug. 31, there are 10 Malaysian couples coming for weddings. Some days there are more,” Sakriya told BenarNews.

As many as 30 Malaysian couples marry in Songhkla every day and, last year, 4,500 couples from Malaysia were wed in the province, according to local Islamic authorities.

Imams – Muslim preachers – are compelled to perform such marriages because Muslim law permits them. In Islam, a man can take as many as four women in wedlock as long as he can provide for and maintain each of his families equally.

“To not perform the wedding ceremony at the request of the bride and the groom that we know are going to share their lives as husband and wife is sinful,” Sakriya said.

Potential problems

Crossing the border to marry in Thailand is an old practice, according to a Malaysian man who spoke to BenarNews in Songhkla.

“This has been around for decades since Malaysia has a strict law. A man who wants to marry a second wife must obtain permission from the first wife, must have financial stability and must follow the religious tenets,” Mokem Abdullah said, adding that men who do not meet those requirements leave the country to skirt Malaysian sharia law.

Government records support claims that Thailand is a destination for Malaysians to tie the knot. During an 18-month period that ended in June, more than 6,000 Malaysian couples were married in Thailand, Mohammad Afandi Abu Bakar, the Malaysian Consul-General in Songkhla, told state-run news agency Bernama.

But this number only includes couples who registered their marriages.

“Couples who do not register their marriages with the consulate will face difficulty validating them in Malaysia,” the consul-general said.

Malaysian, Thai officials meet

Speaking at a conference in July for marriage registrars and Islamic religious committee members from the five provinces that make up Thailand’s southern border region, a Malaysian government official said both countries needed to work together to ensure that marriages are valid in Malaysia, Bernama reported.

A marriage that is not legally recognized could create problems for wives and children, said Jamil Khir Baharom, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. Therefore, a mechanism needs to be developed with Islamic authorities in the southern Thai provinces of Songkhla, Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani and Satun regarding marriages and divorces of Malaysian couples.

Those who do not register their marriage with the Malaysian government could face complications in registering the birth of a child even though the marriage was recognized in Islam, Bernama quoted the minister as saying.

“Since the number of marriages involving Malaysians in South Thailand increases every year, these matters have to be resolved to avoid problems in future,” he said.

“The problem becomes more serious when there is death or divorce because of problems in verifying the next of kin during property distribution.”

Lightning wedding

Among those men who have crossed the border to take on another wife is a Malaysian businessman who asked not to be identified.

He said he married his second wife at the Narathiwat Islamic Council three years ago, after his first wife did not approve of his wish to marry another woman.

The first wife does not know about her husband’s second wife – he visits her twice a week during business trips to northern Perak state, where spouse No. 2 lives.

The wedding was handled by marriage agents based in Kota Baru, a city in the Malaysian state of Kelantan, which is just across the border from Thailand.

“The whole procedure was fast. We left from Kota Baru, Kelantan, around 8 a.m. and by 1 p.m. we were already husband and wife,” the man told BenarNews. “We only needed to bring our identification card and two witnesses for the solemnization – that’s all.”

During the Nikah wedding ceremony, the groom proposes to his bride in front of at least two witnesses. The bride and groom then repeat “I accept” three times, making the marriage legal.

“It was cheap. We spent just over 1,200 ringgit (U.S. $290) for our transport, fuel, food and fees for the Islamic council.”

The couple registered their marriage with Malaysian religious council after each paid a fine of 1,000 ringgit ($241) issued by the sharia magistrate court back home.

Haireez Azeem Azizi in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.