The two types of legally recognised marriages in Malaysia are:

  1. Civil marriage; and
  2. Islamic marriage;

The civil or monogamous opposite sex marriage is being practiced by non-Muslims and non-natives in Malaysia under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976. Non-Muslims continue to insist on strictly monogamy marital relationships as an essential of marriage.

Monogamy simply means marriage with one spouse at a time. Bigamy is a crime in Malaysia. If you are lawfully married under any law, religion or custom to one or more spouses, you are not allowed to contract a valid marriage with another person, whether your marriage is contracted within Malaysia or outside Malaysia. If you have contravened the above provision, you are deemed to have committed the offence of marrying again during the life-time of husband or wife, as the case may be, within the meaning of Section 494 of the Penal Code.

Whereas in Islamic marriage, polygamy is permitted with certain restrictions. Men can only marry up to four (4) wives at any one time; however, most men have only one. Muslim women are not not allowed to practise polyandry in which one woman has more than one husband at the same time.

Under Section 23 of the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984, a husband desiring polygamy must obtain the consent and views of the existing wife or wives and the permission from the Syariah Court to enter into a polygamous marriage, failing which he is deemed to have committed an offence under Section 123 of the Act.

Chapter 4 of the Qur’an specifically states that men who choose this route must be able to afford to take care of each of their wives properly, be fair and just to them and doing everything they can to spend equal amounts of time and money on each of them. Usually the wives have little or no contact with each other and lead separate lives, though sharing the same husband.