Jezik / Language:
6 June 2016

Arabs Marry Bosnian Women to Establish Parallel Families

Albina Sorguc BIRN BiH Sarajevo

After an influx of tourists and investors from Gulf countries in recent years, Bosnia faces new occurrence - Arab men marrying local women as second or third wives, who remain in the country waiting for their husbands' occasional visits.

A thirty-six year old woman from Sarajevo, who has two children from her first marriage, told BIRN about how she married an Arab, to become his second wife.

She says her new husband, who is 51, originally came to Bosnia for business, to open a small company in Sarajevo. They met, the woman recalls, when he came to her place of work. She says they joked and she noticed him looking at her.

After a while, a mutual friend who is already married to an Arab introduced them. This friend explained that the man was looking for a Bosnian wife, to help her if he could.

She says it took her about two months to familiarize herself with his way of life and habits over the phone and through video messages. Her father gave his consent to their marriage, so they got married in Sarajevo.

“I deliberately consented to this kind of marriage, knowing I am not his only wife. Nobody tricked me”, she said.

The story from the woman from Sarajevo represents a new trend in which Bosnian women, usually with the consent of fathers or brothers, marry businessmen from Arab countries who are increasingly coming to Bosnia, either for business or for holidays which they spend in apartments or houses they rent or buy here.

Only in the past few years tens of thousands of visitors from Gulf countries came to Bosnia, because of its fair climate, pristine nature, culture, as well as the fact that at least half of the country's population practice Muslim religion and mosques are always close by.

Most of these men already have one or more wives, which is allowed by the Islamic Sharia law that is respected in these countries.

The wedding ceremonies which take place in Bosnia and Herzegovina are performed by members of the clergy, but marriage certificates they issue are invalid both according to the rules of the Islamic community in Bosnia, as well as by Bosnia's legislation.

Bosnian brides usually remain living in the country and are waiting for their husbands to visit them.

"We are married before Allah…” the woman from Sarajevo says, adding that she is aware of at least twenty other women, who have become the second wives to Arab men and one has even become the third wife.

She explained that this group of about 20 women, who have Arab husbands, prays together and meets regularly.

The Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina says they don’t have any data on this subject. In case an Imam would eventually perform such a ceremony, a disciplinary procedure would be initiated against him, because he would be violating the procedures applied within the Islamic Community.

Sharia wedding in Bosnia and Herzegovina is allowed but only symbolically and after the couple is married in accordance with the Family Law. According to that law, polygamy is not allowed, i.e. none of the spouses can be married to more than one person. Also, Sharia wedding alone is not legally recognized.

Protection of women

Sarajevo Mufti Enes Ljevakovic, says the Islamic Community has no exact data on Arab men marrying Bosnian women as their second or third wives.

Ljevakovic says that, for this reason they cannot undertake any measures, because the Islamic Community procedures are not being violated since they do not approach “our Imams authorized to perform wedding ceremonies” and they are not “registered in the main register of marriages at the Islamic Community Majlises”.

“The Islamic Community fully respects the state laws regulating marriage procedures. On the other hand, this also ensures the rights of women and protects them,” Ljevakovic says, pointing out that women are protected only in case the state recognizes a certain union as a marital union, which is achieved by holding “a civil” marriage.

Yet according to the woman from Sarajevo, this does not prevent women from marrying Arab men. She said that she loves her husband, but admitted that his financial support to her was also a factor in the marriage.

“I was thinking about changing my job, and it was very hard. When he proposed this I thought maybe it was a chance for a better life”, she explains.

She claims most of the women in her group which have Arab husbands married for both reasons.

“This concept of polygamy is not foreign to me. I understand it, in Bosnia it happens more than people think”, she says.

According to her, the Arabs meet potential wives through friends and others who have already found a match. She added that Arab men most often marry religious women, but stressed that her husband did not request her to wear a Niqab (a part of Hijab that covers face or head) like the one worn by women in Arab countries.

Attorney Esad Hrvacic explains that nobody has the right to practice polygamy on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“That is the basic postulate of the European law. It is impossible to apply the Shari law according to which a man can marry more than one woman,” Hrvacic said, yet added that Bosnia's law on family does not prescribe fines for polygamy.

Sharing a husband

The woman from Sarajevo says that, when she accepted to marry the Arab man, she was aware of the fact that her husband would not be with her every day. She explains he visits Bosnia and Herzegovina almost every month, depending on the amount of work he has to deal with in his own country or in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“As far as my husband is concerned, he is a wonderful person. We speak to each other and communicate via video calls every day. I get plenty of nice words and kisses from him,” the woman from Sarajevo says, pointing out she has felt his full respect and love.

She explains that the age difference between women and their Arab husbands varies from two to 20 years.

“Considering the fact that they already have wives of their age, they will normally look for younger women. However, in some cases they search for women of their age,” she said, explaining that most of the Arabs who marry Bosnian women come from Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Kuwait, Egypt and Libya.

A Bosnian woman, who married a man from Kuwait at the age of 23, thus becoming his second wife, has a similar faith. She says it was “a love marriage”.

The 23-year old woman refused to reveal the name of her hometown because of disapproval of her fellow citizens. As she said, an Imam whose identity she does not want to disclose conducted the wedding ceremony of this woman and her new husband.

“We met in a mosque where I prayed. We saw each other often and then he asked for my hand. Now, my husband comes monthly… We talk every day. I have a daughter from my first marriage and I knew going in that he had another wife. This is not a problem. We have the same rights, under Sharia law”, the 23-year old explains.

“One thing I have to highlight – for me, this is a love marriage - love and honour. I have never seen men honouring their wives as much as he honours me”, she adds.

The woman from Sarajevo stressed that women who want to marry Arab men have to accept the fact that their husbands will not be here all the time, because they are married and have children and jobs in their countries.

“If a woman agrees to share her husband with another woman, she has to accept the conditions that accompany such marriages,” she says.

When she got married to an Arab, the woman from Sarajevo got a Mahr (property or certain amount of money given by husband in case of divorce). She says she is not worried that he could one day just stop coming back to her, since he has proved to be an honourable man and she knows him well.

Besides that, she points out that he gives her a certain amount of money each month to support her family and cover other costs as well.

“They mostly look for divorced women with children, so they can secure better future for them. They are not interested in having children with those women, although it does happen in some cases,” she said.

The woman from Sarajevo also says that, while her husband is away from Bosnia and Herzegovina, she spends time with her children or simply uses the time “for herself”.

“When he is here, I enjoy,” she says.

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