VANCOUVER — While the discussion on polygamy has largely focused on B.C.’s polygamist community of Bountiful, a long-time Canadian activist says she believes it is also being practised among a minority of Muslims in Canada.
Homa Arjomand, a Toronto-based activist who has campaigned against the use of Shariah law to resolve family disputes in Canada, said she is hopeful the Bountiful case will open the door to other polygamy investigations.
Winston Blackmore, 52, and James Oler, 44 — two leaders in the breakaway Mormon sect living in Bountiful — were arrested by the RCMP on Tuesday and charged with practising polygamy under the Criminal Code.
Ms. Arjomand said the practice of polygamy among Muslims has experienced a resurgence in recent years alongside the growth of fundamentalist Islam.
“[Polygamy] has become a flag of political Islam,” said Ms. Arjomand in a telephone interview from Toronto.
She said it is often the younger generation endorsing the practice. A recent case Ms. Arjomand dealt with in Toronto involved a Muslim woman concerned for her daughter who had become a man’s second wife.
“I am hoping one day all people who commit polygamy will face jail time,” Ms. Arjomand said.
The Koran, Islam’s holy book, permits polygamy, but it is not a requirement of the faith. Islamic law allows men to take up to four wives under strict conditions, including financial capability.
“[Islam] recommends that they take on only one wife … however, Islam allows it for a solution for certain circumstances,” said Mohamad Rachid, an imam at the Richmond Mosque in B.C.
Those circumstances may include the first wife being unable to bear children or being unable to be intimate with her husband for physical or mental reasons.
Both Mr. Rachid and Aziz Khaki, president of the Muslim Canadian Federation, say they have not come across Muslims in B.C. with plural wives.
“I have travelled extensively across Canada and I have not met any Muslims with multiple wives,” Mr. Khaki said.
Both leaders say they tell Muslim communities in Canada that they must respect Canadian law, which has outlawed polygamy.
While there are no estimates of Muslims with multiple wives in Canada, Ms. Arjomand said she believes there are cases across the country. In Toronto, where she works as a transitional support counsellor for abused women, Ms. Arjomand has dealt with two cases over the past year.
Last May, a well-known Toronto imam, Aly Hindy, told the Toronto Star he had officiated at or “blessed” more than 30 polygamous marriages over the past five years.
About 2% of Canada’s population are practising Muslims, according to the 2001 census.
Statistics Canada is not expected to release updated numbers until 2011.