Image: Keoni Cabral/Flickr
When he was 12 years old, Azad Chaiwala saw a man with two wives in a Saudi Arabian airport on his way back to the UK from Pakistan. Chaiwala, who is now 33 and lives in the city of Sunderland, UK, said that was the moment he knew he wanted more than one wife. Today, 11 years later and two children into his first marriage, he still feels the same way. With a busy schedule and little luck on his own, Chaiwala decided to create a website for himself, and other men like him, looking for their next wife.
SecondWife.com, which caters exclusively to Muslims, launched in November 2014. The site gained so much traction that Chaiwala followed it up with Polygamy.com in February 2016, which is designed for non-Muslims who wish to enter into polygamous marriages. With over 100k combined users in countries around the world (including 2,000 active users in Canada), Chaiwala's latest move is to launch a Google Play app for SecondWife.com, to bring polygamy right to its users' fingertips.Both sites allow men to seek multiple wives, but not the other way round.
Of course, these marriages are not legally recognized in Canada, nor in many other countries. Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada explicitly prohibits polygamy, and offenders could face up to five years in prison. The UK and US have similar laws.In Canada, the practice is widely rejected: a 2005 survey showed only 4 percent of Canadians approved of polygamy. The Canadian Council of Muslim Women has also officially taken a position against polygamy polygamy, deeming it "inherently harmful to women and children, because the family structure is based on the values of tribal patriarchy." (Polygamy shouldn't be confused with polyamory, which can involve carrying on multiple romantic relationships at the same time, but not necessarily marriage.)The goal of SecondWife.com, according to Chaiwala, is to help "decent" men channel their lust and desire for women in a healthy and honest way. "The problem that man has today is there is too much temptation," he told me in an interview. He wants to be clear: this is not a dating site. It's exclusively for those who are marriage-minded and seeking long term commitment.
Chaiwala said that 75 percent of SecondWife users are men, while 25 percent are women. The women are seeking marriages with a man, according to him, and are willing to act as sisters or colleagues to the other wives."Some women find polygamy attractive too because they don't want to be full-time wives," Chaiwala claimed. "They are busy with their careers or their children."Alliyah Brown, who lives in London UK, is one of those women. Chaiwala put me in touch with the 56-year-old community worker and SecondWife.com user. She argued that polygamy is a good option for independent women. "Men need a lot of attention and many can be quite demanding of your time," she told me by phone. "So it can be nice to have your own time and space." Brown is a single divorcee who has never been in a polygamous relationship, but is open to the idea, she said.
As of 2009, polygamy was legal or generally accepted in 33 countries: 25 of them in Africa, including Egypt, Kenya and Mali, and seven in Asia, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, according to one United Nations report. Another survey, carried out between 2000 and 2010, showed that in 26 of the 35 countries with data on polygamy, between 10 and 53 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 shared their husband with other wives.According to Chaiwala, since its launch, the service has resulted in over 100 marriages worldwide. He says he knows this because of letters he has received from users sharing their stories.
A legal landscape that prohibits polygamy in many countries isn't an obstacle for SecondWife.com, according to Chaiwala, who said that legal marriage isn't necessary for a successful polygamous relationship. "The second, third or fourth marriages should be a community-based ceremony. Do it in front of friends and family. We don't need a piece of paper. People are already with multiple partners through prostitution and affairs and such, and no one even blinks an eye."The vast majority of Canadians, including Canadian Muslims, aren't buying it."A few decades ago, the Imams in the greater Toronto area got together and decided the only marriages we will perform is after the couple has brought us a license from the city, and with the stipulation that this will be registered with the city once the religious ceremony is over," said Shabir Ally, president of the Islamic Information & Dawah Centre International in Toronto.Legal recognition of a marriage is important to make sure each spouse's rights are enforceable."Say an unregistered marriage breaks down, and the wife deserves spousal support under the law. As Imams, we don't have authority to enforce the rights of the wife. Only a court can do that," Ally said.When it comes to the temptation argument, Ally said women could rightfully make the same claim. "Everyone is bombarded with images by the media and everyone can be tempted. If one is going to use temptation as a reason to pursue multiple marriages, what's to a say that even a fourth wife will be the solution?"As for Chaiwala, he's still looking for that second wife.Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.