Polygamy in Germany

It is an open secret that many Muslim immigrants (and their descendants) enter into polygamous marriages in Europe. The extent of the practice is uncertain, due to the obvious difficulties in tracking it, but it is known to occur in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Britain, and Germany. At the moment there are discussions in the UK about legalizing polygamy via the existing sharia court system.

The following German documentary takes a look at sharia-based polygamy in Germany, with a focus on Kurdish Muslims in the Neukölln district of Berlin.

Many thanks to Oz-Rita for the translation, and to Vlad Tepes for the subtitling:


00:00   This is a Kurdish family. Head of the family Halil
00:04   with his children and his wife Slima.
00:08   And this is Rimsia, his other wife.
00:12   Polygamy in the middle of Germany.
00:16   This woman too, from Berlin-Neukölln, is a victim of polygamy, therefore she doesn’t want to be
00:20   to be recognised. She lives in fear of her ex-man. Samira was one of three.
00:24   I’m not clear. I am afraid. I’m crying all the time.
00:28   In Berlin-Neukölln every third
00:32   Muslim migrant is married to several women. The mayor
00:36   has warned about this for a long time. “Polygamy
00:40   is a fact. It is practiced.” And that in our midst.
00:44   Not only a problem for the women but also for the taxpayer. An expert journalist
00:48   has dedicated a whole chapter to the theme. “The German taxpayer pays for
00:52   Islamic polygamy in Germany via (Harz 4 Law?)”
00:56   Is this true? This would be a scandal.
01:00   And do the bureaucrats know about this social fraud?
01:08   Hallo, I would like an appointment for a consultation expert .
01:16   This is fraud. Fraud at the taxpayer’s expense.
01:20   Why is nothing done about it,
01:24   and what do those responsible say about it.?
01:28   Berlin-Neukölln, the stronghold of polygamy in Germany.
01:32   Nearly every third migrant has more than one wife. More than half of the residents
01:36   have Muslim roots. It is a problematic part of town. 70%
01:40   count as “poor”. The parallel society has been there for quite a while.
01:45   Here the youth prefer Sharia to the German constitution,
01:49   including rules regarding marriage
01:53   (Sirene)
01:57   Yes, most men have several wives;
02:01   that’s completely normal with us. I mean, among Muslims
02:05   it’s completely normal these days, because the prophet
02:09   had several wives too, so it’s normal.
02:13   So one can do it in Germany too? Yes, of course, one can do it in Germany too. It’s also in the Koran
02:17   that one can have several wives, therefore many do it.
02:21   Do you find this OK? Of course it’s OK. It’s normal.
02:25   Why not? But you have to treat them all equally.
02:29   If you go out with this one, you have to go out with the other one too.
02:33   That’s a problem. His father also has two wives,
02:37   he tells us. We meet
02:42   (name Halil ?). In his function as family counsellor he is
02:46   confronted daily with the problems of polygamy
02:50   How second and third wives are financed is an open secret here.
02:57   They get assistance for rent and living expenses from the Job Centre,
03:05   and that is comfortable for the man, he doesn’t have to worry. I have never seen a woman who works.
03:09   The second wife always gets money from the job centre? Mostly yes, mostly yes.
03:13   Clear words from someone who knows about it. They trust him
03:17   here. Even sons and daughters
03:19   come to the born Palestinian with family problems.
03:23   Polygamy and its consequences keep creating stress,
03:27   but they also bring profit. At least for ( Adi name?)
03:31   Unal. He has his jewellery shop directly in the Karl Marx Street,
03:35   and he is a winner in this development. He cannot complain about a lack of clients.
03:39   There are many men who have two or three wives,
03:43   and who prepare a wedding for those two or three women,
03:47   buy jewellery etc. Even from you? Yes from us.
03:51   How often do men with their wives come to you? Three times, twice…
03:55   Per week? Yes per week.
04:00   And that’s done quite publicly? Yes, right, it’s said quite openly that there is a new wedding
04:04   that he has a new wife. Naturally he chooses new wedding rings with her and
04:08   it’s all normal, and it works.
04:12   A normal Turkish-Arabic wedding starts at 25,000 euros.
04:16   Jewellery is usually bought to a value of 10,000 euros.
04:20   A second wife is expensive. Even this owner sometimes wonders about it.
04:24   Well, how most of the men can afford it
04:28   when they have two wives and they don’t know professionally how to do this…
04:32   it’s not a cheap pleasure, is it…
04:36   we sometimes wonder about it… but. How can those men
04:40   afford it? Where does this money come from, for a second or even a third wife?
04:44   Joachim Wagner, Journalist and author, in his book “Judges without Law”
04:48   dedicates a whole chapter to polygamy.
04:52   For him the answer lies in our social system.
04:57   In Arab countries, polygamy is affordable only for affluent people.
05:01   Here in Germany, thanks to Harz4 (law),
05:05   everyone can afford it.
05:09   What do the employees of the Job Centres say about this scandal? Do they know?
05:13   Polygamy in Germany, a problem
05:17   for the taxpayer, but also for the women and the children of those families.
05:21   What kind of life is this, and what kind of problems does it create?
05:25   Today we visit Halil and his wife Slima. The couple
05:29   have been married for 24 years and comes originally from Turkey.
05:33   They still do not speak German, unlike their seven children
05:37   who have all been born here. This is Rimsia, the other wife of
05:41   of Halil. With her he has three children, which for Germany
05:45   is unthinkable; here it seems to be normal: One man
05:49   with two wives, in the middle of Germany.
05:53   How was it for you, when your husband came to you and said “I’m now getting a second wife”?
05:57   What did you feel? In my life this seemed predestined..
06:01   You could do nothing against it. Yes, yes.
06:05   I did it for love of my children,
06:10   they were so little then, and I could see no other way out.
06:14   Where could I have gone? So it was better to sacrifice myself for the children.
06:18   Also the
06:22   13-member family lives in (Harz 4). Halil does not work
06:26   In addition there is the child allowance for the ten children. The second wife came eleven years ago
06:30   as a refugee to Germany.
06:38   First it was difficult, but then it worked normally.
06:42   My friend Halil is very good to me.
06:46   Not like other men.
06:52   He loves not only the one or the other wife, but he loves us both, equally
06:56   Slima and I, we are like one wife, not like two.
07:00   The two women seem to
07:04   have arranged it among themselves. Today they live in separate flats, but for seven years
07:08   they lived under one roof, and there were fights
07:12   in which the first wife mostly gave in; she had learned to submit.
07:16   Why did you collect a second wife?
07:20   (Kurdish)
07:24   As my wife Slima said
07:28   it’s that life is predestined. And my destiny
07:32   helped me to collect the other one.
07:37   It’s not that Slima was not enough for me,
07:41   that she had not fulfilled her motherly obligations, or that I did not love her.
07:45   But I just love them both,
07:49   not one more or less.
07:53   (Kurdish)
07:57   (Kurdish)
08:01   Does this family father not take the easy way out with this answer? We think that at least the first
08:05   wife suffers more in this situation than she says.
08:09   When polygamy is lived openly, then it happens with the agreement
08:13   of both wives. We might find this weird, but
08:17   but it’s not as reproachable as the model
08:21   of a secret polygamous marriage. This woman is the victim of a secret marriage,
08:25   therefore she does not want to be recognised. We call her (Sami ?name).
08:29   The 38-year-old is an Arab and was
08:33   married to a man who had two more wives. She is in flight
08:41   because she is still frightened of her ex-man. He was very violent. I take pills to this day.
08:45   You take pills still? Yes, sleeping pills.
08:53   What has he done to you? How did he beat you? He often beat me with hands and feet.
08:57   Samira was collected from Syria to come to Germany. Her ex-man
09:01   chose her over there. That’s how most men do it here.
09:05   They collect their second and third wives directly from their countries of origin and promise them
09:09   the paradise in Germany. These women are reputed to be more submissive, because
09:13   disobedience causes the man immediately to threaten them with deportation back to their country.
09:21   Samira’s ex-man did this too. “Why do you sit here in Syria and work for 400 euros?
09:27   Come to Germany and work there.”
09:31   He promised me paradise. But the paradise
09:36   changes quickly into a hell on earth when she tries to enrol in a German language course.
09:40   He beats her “hospital-ripe”. He does not want her to
09:44   learn German, he wants her to remain dependent.
09:48   Broken bones, brain hemorrhages; at the end she weighs only 39 kg [87 lbs].
09:52   Her life is in danger. Her husband has hard financial
09:56   interests. He forces her to go to the Job Centre. There she should say
10:00   that she is a single mother and does not know the father of the children. For the Job Centre,
10:04   this statement is not controllable, because an Islamic marriage
10:08   does not legally exist in Germany and is not registered anywhere.
10:12   (music)
10:16   And that’s how it’s done: In Germany
10:20   one can only be married to one woman. The marriage is registered in the registry office
10:24   According to Islamic law, a man can marry several
10:28   women. But these marriages are not registered in Germany.
10:32   The second wife is, according to German law, unmarried and therefore
10:36   she can demand financial help at “Arga”?
10:40   Many of those unregistered second wives add more tricks to this one.
10:44   They pose as single mothers, stating that they don’t know the father of their children, and cash in
10:48   on an additional amount of 200 euros as single mother.
10:52   So that is a system, many do it like this? Yes.
10:56   Yes, many, many. Ja? Ja! And they pretend to be alone, single mothers. And so
11:05   they get the money. “Yes, more money.” You get more money when you say you are a single mother.
11:09   That works because Islamic marriages are not registered.
11:19   I think it’s wrong to marry the Islamic way in Germany. Why do they all marry Islamic here?
11:23   One reason for this boom here in Germany could be that an Islamic marriage facilitates
11:27   the sneaky access to social welfare. But what does it actually mean?
11:31   To be married in Islam means that the marriage
11:35   can only be celebrated by an Imam.
11:42   Such marriages are, as in this Berlin Mosque, celebrated according to Sharia.
11:46   They are not legal, but in Muslim circles
11:50   they are of higher value than civil marriages.
11:54   What are you accusing the Imams of? The Imams act
11:58   even in Germany during the wedding
12:02   according to the Sharia, and under Sharia it is permitted
12:06   to have four wives, and the Imams do not ask
12:10   in Germany if a man was already married
12:14   twice or three times, so that a man
12:18   can go — in Berlin and everywhere in Germany —
12:22   from Mosque to Mosque each time to marry a woman
12:26   without attracting unwanted attention. Just as in this Omar Mosque
12:30   at the (…?) Tor. It is one of 80 mosques in Berlin. Friday prayers
12:34   have just finished and we have an appointment with Imam Birol Ucan. He is
12:39   Imam and is very busy at the moment. Up to ten Islamic marriages per week
12:43   are common. What has he to say to those accusations?
12:47   Do you have to report the Islamic contract of marriage?
12:51   Is there a central register? No, it doesn’t exist as far as I know.
12:55   Is it important for you that they are also married legally
12:59   when you marry them Islamically? That’s a private matter. So you don’t demand or ask?
13:03   Why not? As I said, it’s a private matter, we don’t ask.
13:07   It’s their business, their family life. What happens if the man is already married?
13:11   ahh…that’s rather…errr aaahh mm
13:15   It doesn’t happen here, I have done it for more than ten years.
13:19   I have never come across such a case.
13:23   It’s always: one man one wife.
13:27   Although Birol Ucan had never asked
13:31   if the man was already married, the Imam seems to
13:35   be convinced that he never enacts polygamy. Heinz Buschkowsky,
13:39   Mayor of Neukölln, disagrees strongly
13:43   Polygamy is a fact. It is practised!
13:47   Information comes constantly from teachers
13:54   that this or that child has a second or third mother.
13:58   Just as it happens in this Kurdish family. In the kitchen we finally catch the women alone
14:02   for the most urgent question: “Did you never want a man
14:07   whom you wouldn’t have to share?”
14:11   Well, yes…
14:15   It is destiny. I came from Syria to Germany, he from Turkey
14:19   and we met here. Destiny…
14:23   destiny…(Kurdish)
14:27   Did you have a bad conscience about the first wife, sometimes?
14:31   (Kurdish?)
14:35   hmmm… sometimes… when…
14:39   one breaks into such a marriage, one wonders, yes… I often have
14:43   a bad conscience.
14:47   (Kurdish)
14:51   “That’s enough”
14:55   “That’s enough now”, says the man in the background and interrupts our conversation. We
14:59   continue our talk with him in the living room. “What has she got that the other one has not?”
15:03   (Kurdish)
15:07   For example?
15:11   I can’t think of anything, for me they are both the same.
15:15   I really don’t see any difference between those two women.
15:20   (Kurdish?)
15:24   Are you aware of your privileged role?
15:28   (laughs)
15:32   Yes, I am aware, I have it good,
15:36   and the two women have it good too. How do you get on with
15:40   each other? …We have to …
15:44   we have to …somehow… And where could I go? And where to with the children?
15:48   I have to accept… And how come that you both
15:52   love the same man? “Sorry”… and again
15:56   the husband intervenes and changes the subject. Our questions
16:00   are obviously not to his liking. We continue with our uncomfortable questions, this time
16:04   we ask the authorities. With a hidden camera we look for answers.
16:08   What do the civil servants know about polygamy, the social fraud?
16:12   After two minutes we meet an employee in the corridor
16:16   who carries a pile of documents in her arms, but not just any documents…
16:31   I have here just a pile of criminal charge sheets. Really? What kind of charge sheets? Fraud.
16:36   I only know that there will be court hearings. It is so that we all finance
16:40   all of them. Yes this is fraud against each taxpayer, each single one of us.
16:48   In this Job Centre the problems are an open secret,
16:52   at least among the staff. We meet the next staff member.
16:56   (inaudible…”they get this social help fraudulently?”) Yes, but I can’t say this here like that.
17:00   But it is fraud, yes? Yes, but I’m not allowed to say it like that.
17:04   Would you like to see a caseworker?
17:09   Thanks to the helpful woman we are now on the way to the place where the applications arrive.
17:15   The “Leistungsabteilung”. What are the case workers saying here?
17:26   Islamic marriage, our hands are tied, we cannot really do “researches”.
17:30   These problems arrive, often
17:34   “I don’t know the father… One-Night stands in the disco etc.
17:38   But we have no real possibilities of examining those statements,
17:42   because we have no reference points.
17:46   One can only hope that our colleagues from the Youth Welfare office can apply more pressure.
17:50   Here the workers are in agreement: a change of legislation is necessary to stop
18:01   this fraud. “Please start a petition” — Do you think that would help? It would take time but it would help.
18:05   We intend to confront the Federal Employment agency with our research results, and
18:09   we are en route to Nurnberg Headquarters. At the Federal level
18:13   we were promised. Does one know about the problem here? And what does one do
18:17   against it? Anja Huth, the press spokeswoman of the Job Centre, is aware of it.
18:22   Does the Job centre know about the polygamy at the expense of the State?
18:26   It is known that these problems exist
18:30   Not everywhere, in the big cities of West Germany, Berlin, Koeln,
18:34   Frankfurt, we know the subject. Why does nothing happen then, what do you think?
18:38   I believe these cultural differences are very sensitive,
18:42   we are a very tolerant country. Are we too tolerant?
18:46   There are many reasons in favour of a high tolerance,
18:50   there are also many reasons that speak against it. Germany is very sensitive,
18:54   very tolerant. I am interested myself how
18:58   it will end. What would you, the Job Centre wish for?
19:02   Well, we need information to know if it really is a case of
19:06   single mothers, i.e. the second or third wife alone with a child,
19:10   in which case she is a single mother in need. Or does she live with a partner
19:14   in a so-called multi-marriage. This we often don’t know, because the women are not obliged to
19:18   tell us. And there is no central register for Islamic marriages.
19:22   If such a thing existed, and we had access to it, then we
19:26   would have more means. Would you wish for such a central register?
19:30   It would facilitate our research, but if this is wanted,
19:34   politics has to decide. We try to contact the responsible politicians.
19:38   The minister for Work and Social Services is the person responsible.
19:42   We are told that the Minister is abroad,
19:46   and our request for a talk is denied. It would be desirable
19:53   that the Minister looks into this subject rather urgently, because as long as polygamy
19:57   is practised without being detected by the German authorities,
20:01   the abuse of social services on the one side and
20:05   the oppression of the women and their children on the other side will be the consequence.
20:09   The introduction of a Central Register, which would oblige Imams
20:13   to report Islamic marriages
20:17   would be a first step.

For a complete listing of previous enrichment news, see The Cultural Enrichment Archives.