Spotlight: More couples tying the knot in Thailand

Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah, EMBUN MAJID AND ILI SHAZWANI

MORE Malaysian Muslims who want to practise polygamy are getting married in southern Thailand.

The number of marriages (involving a Malaysian citizen and a foreigner or two Malaysians) registered at the Malaysian consulate office in Songkhla has risen steadily. Last year, there were 4,178 couples compared with 4,081 in 2015 and 3,831 in 2014.

To cater to the growing demand, the Narathiwat Islamic Council opened a branch office in Sungai Golok last year.

Up to Dec 31, more than 200 couples had applied to register their marriages at the office, which is just a stone’s throw from Rantau Panjang, Kelantan.

The council’s vice-president Abdul Aziz Che Mamat said it was set up under an agreement between Malaysian and Thai Muslim religious authorities.

He said Malaysians would no longer need to travel to Narathiwat, which was 90km away.

“It will have a marriage registrar and two staff daily, including weekends,” he told the New Sunday Times.

“Malaysian couples must first and foremost be from places that are more than 96km or two marhalah from where the bride’s wali (father, male sibling or close relative) resides,” he said.

Aziz said the couples were required to collect their marriage certificates a week later. He said the new office was also established to counter illegal marriage syndicates operating along the border.

“Many Malaysian couples have complained that they were cheated by syndicates. With the new office here, I hope we can put a stop to this,” he said.

The council office is likely to receive a steady stream of couples eager to enter polygamous marriages as Kelantan Family Development, Welfare and People’s Wellbeing Committee chairman Mumtaz Md Nawi announced recently that men who met conditions stipulated under syariah were encouraged to practise polygamy to promote the spread of Islam and carry on the family lineage. Aziz said the number of Malaysian couples tying the knot in Narathiwat had reduced by half last year from the year before.

“In 2015, an estimated 300 Malaysian couples got married in Narathiwat. Last year, the number dropped to 150,” he said, adding that this was because couples had the option of getting married in Songkhla, 112km north of Perlis, where they could register their marriages at the Malaysian consulate office.

However, couples who get married in Narathiwat are required to register their marriages at their religious departments in Malaysia.

Aziz applauded the move by the Kelantan government to make it easier for Malaysian men to take a second wife.

Other states like Perlis are planning to simplify marriage registration procedures for couples who had tied the knot abroad.

Perlis Islamic Affairs Committee chairman Khairi Hassan said the move was aimed at encouraging Muslims who had solemnised their marriage overseas, especially in southern Thailand, to register with local religious authorities.

“If it is approved by the authorities, we will implement the new procedure earliest by next year,” he said.

In Perak, a “mass polygamy wedding package” has been proposed to deal with cases of polygamous marriages that were solemnised abroad.

Islamic Religious Affairs, Islamic Education and Personality Development Committee chairman Datuk Dr Mohd Nizar Zakaria said some Malaysian couples opted to marry abroad because the wali (custodian) disapproved of their union.