KOTA BARU: Men with "Datuk" titles make up more than half of the Malaysians who cross the Malaysia-Thailand border to tie the knot in Narathiwat.
The Narathiwat Islamic Religious Council said these people did so as they could not get permission from their first wives back home, which was a prerequisite in Malaysia.
It is understood that before the Covid-19 pandemic, around 100 Malaysian men would get hitched in southern Thailand monthly.
After the borders were reopened, the number now stood at 40 to 70 Malaysians in the Sungai Golok sub-province alone.
The council's committee member, Abdul Rahman Yusof said these men comprised ordinary folks as well as civil servants and politicians.
"They come from different backgrounds — from regular blue collar workers to government servants and VIPs, including those with the 'Datuk' title.
"They choose Narathiwat or the Sungai Golok sub-province to take on second or third wives without the knowledge of their current spouse," he told the New Sunday Times.
Rahman said some couples had eloped to southern Thailand after their parents objected to their union.
He said such marriages, especially if they involved VIPs, were a hot topic among locals.
He also cited the case of a Malaysian politician who had tied the knot with his third wife "virtually" last year.
The Sungai Golok-based imam was later censured by the Narathiwat Islamic Council for performing the online akad nikah (marriage solemnisation), which is not the council's procedure.
Rahman said while the Narathiwat Islamic Council had no problems with conducting marriages for Malaysians in the province, they had to follow the proper procedures.
"Demand from Malaysian men to get married in Narathiwat has been on the rise, especially after the borders were reopened and Covid-19 travel restrictions
He said Malaysian couples would normally enter Thailand via Rantau Panjang or Pengkalan Kubor.
"Once they have crossed over to the Sungai Golok sub-province in Thailand, they can get married only at Masjid Kedai Baru," he said.
The council, however, is doing all it can to ensure that everything is done above board, including acting against imam found working with marriage syndicates.
Narathiwat Islamic Religious Council deputy president Abdul Aziz Che Mamat said it had suspended two imam, as well as a religious officer who had aided them, for their involvement with such syndicates.
"They have been suspended for six months and can no longer solemnise marriages for couples from Malaysia and other countries, including Singapore." he added.
Meanwhile, Kelantan Islamic Affairs and Religious Department (JAHEAIK) director Datuk Che Mohd Rahim Jusoh said couples from the state who got married in Thailand must register their union with Malaysian religious authorities after they had returned.
"They must first confirm their marriage with the syariah courts to ensure the marriage is legal before registering with JAHEAIK.
"If they fail to do so, they can be fined not more than RM1,000 or jailed a maximum of six months, or both," he said.