Can a Muslim-Convert Marry Again?

NDVLAW Article Image Remarriage under Muslim Law Bigamy

(last updated 14 June 2022)

A way to get out of an existing marriage?

Picture this. A couple gets married in church. When things get sour and the husband falls in love with another woman, he converts to the Muslim faith and marries another. Is the husband liable for bigamy?

Such situation has happened in real life in the Philippines. Perhaps, the stringent grounds for annulling or declaring a marriage void in the country has propelled Filipinos to be more creative in finding ways to get out of a bad marriage. However, such crafty scheme has reached the chambers of the Supreme Court and has put to rest the gnawing issue on the interplay of national laws and Muslim laws.

Supreme Court convicts a Muslim-convert of bigamy for marrying another wife.

In the case of Nollora vs. People of the Philippines (G.R. No. 191425, 07 September 2011) [“Nollora Case”], the Supreme Court convicted a Muslim-convert of bigamy for marrying another wife.

Bigamy is punishable under Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code.  In Capili vs. People of the Philippines (G.R. No. 183805, 03 July 2013), the Supreme Court enumerated the elements of bigamy as follows:

(1) the offender has been legally married;

(2) the marriage has not been legally dissolved;

(3) that he contracts a second or subsequent marriage; and

(4) that the second or subsequent marriage has all the essential requisites for validity

In a pluralist society such as that which exists in the Philippines, P.D. No. 1083, or the Code of Muslim Personal Laws, was enacted to “promote the advancement and effective participation of the National Cultural Communities” ( Zamoranos vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 193902, 01 June 2011). In fact, Section 13 of PD 1083 provides that the Code of Muslim Personal Laws shall only apply to marriage and divorce wherein both parties are Muslims, or wherein only the male party is a Muslim and the marriage is solemnized in accordance with Muslim law or this Code in any part of the Philippines. In case of marriage between a Muslim and a non-Muslim, solemnized not in accordance with Muslim law, the Civil Code of the Philippines shall apply. Further, Article 3 of PD 1083 enunciates that the provisions of the Muslim Code shall be applicable only to Muslims and nothing herein shall be construed to operate to the prejudice of a non-Muslim.

Hence, in the Nollara Case, since both marriages were not solemnized according to PD 1083, Muslim laws cannot apply. Besides, there is a proper procedure on Muslim laws before taking on a second wife. As held by the trial court and affirmed by the Supreme Court in the Nollora Case, “the principle in Islam is that monogamy is the general rule and polygamy is allowed only to meet urgent needs. Only with the permission of the court can a Muslim be permitted to have a second wife subject to certain requirements.”

In the recent case of Malaki vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 221075, 15 November 2021, the Supreme Court convicted a man (and his second wife) for bigamy who had a previous marriage under the religious rites of Iglesia ni Cristo and subsequently converted to Islam to marry  another woman. The Supreme Court ruled in this wise:

“A party to a civil marriage who converts to Islam and contracts another marriage, despite the first marriage’s subsistence, is guilty of bigamy. Likewise guilty is the spouse in the subsequent marriage. Conversion to Islam does not operate to exculpate them from criminal liability.

Further, a married Muslim cannot many another. In exceptional cases, a married Muslim man may do so if “he can deal with them with equal companionship and just treatment as enjoined by Islamic law.” The formal requisites of the subsequent marriage under Presidential Decree No. 1083 or the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines (Muslim Code) entails the wife’s knowledge of the impending subsequent marriage.”

Thus, a spouse, by simple expediency of converting to the Muslim faith, cannot validly marry another, without having the first marriage legally dissolved.

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