The bureaucratization of Islam in Malaysia has enabled the state to boldly enter domestic domains, and resulted in a tighter surveillance of Muslims’ intimate pursuits. This includes closer policing of elopements to Thailand to contract secret cross-border marriages (CBMs) which, despite being a legal offense under Malaysian Shariah law, has been increasing steadily in recent years. To counter this rise, the Malaysian state has begun intervening in the marriage-making process by standardizing and streamlining Islamic marriage procedures in Thailand to ensure that these CBMs comply to Shariah requirements.
In this paper, I argue that the Malaysian state’s intervention and formalization of these elopements engenders several unintended consequences: first, this facilitates covert elopements by creating a transparent pathway to a Shariah-compliant and state-condoned marriage in Thailand. Second, the state’s recognition of polygamous CBMs contracted in contravention of the Malaysian Islamic Family Law indiscriminately allows Malay middle-class men with little financial wherewithal to marry additional wives they cannot afford to support. These various inconsistencies and legal loopholes on marrying in Thailand can be a productive space for the manipulation of the law to secure marriage and intimacy, but may also increase the risks of contracting economically and emotionally precarious unions, especially in polygyny.
Nurul Huda Mohd. Razif is currently a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) in Leiden. Before this she was a research fellow at KITLV. She read Anthropology and French Studies at the University of Western Australia and Sciences Po Paris, before completing her PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge in 2017. Her doctoral research, conducted over 14 months in Malaysia and Southern Thailand, explores the intersection between intimacy, marriage, and the state in contemporary Malaysia, with a specific focus on how polygyny and cross-border marriages contracted at the Malaysian-Thai border fulfill various personal and conjugal aspirations among the Malay middle-classes today.
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Photo: Nurul Huda Mohd. Razif