Yet another marriage without strings

Yomna Kamel and Rasha Mehyar

Adverse economic circumstances are promoting the rise of a new type of marriage in Egypt that waives nearly all of the man's responsibilities or the women's rights.

Although not new to other Arab countries, the mesyar marriage was brought to the country by Egyptian men who had worked in the Gulf countries. This kind of marriage relieved them from any of the financial burdens or responsibilities of ordinary marriage.

In the mesyar (traveler) marriage, men are not obliged to spend on their wives and children according to an agreement made between the couple. The mesyar's husband is free to travel and leave his wife and children for a long time, and she cannot ask for divorce because of his disappearance. Also, he can marry another woman in another country without informing his first wife. Since it is not a registered (official) marriage, the wife and children lose all their rights if the man divorces her.

Some Egyptian men working in the Gulf countries prefer to engage in the mesyar marriage rather than live for years single. Many of them are actually already married with wives and children in their home country, but they cannot bring them.

The rise of unofficial kinds of marriage like the motaa ("pleasure" marriage bounded by a time), urfi (not registered) or mesyar are traced by sociologists to the economic condition of the country.

"Young people, who are more likely to engage in such kinds of marriage belong to families who cannot afford to help them with marriage expenses," Saniya Saleh, professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo, says.

"The unofficial marriage is an escape from economic burdens and family commitment. They do it without informing their families and they feel they are not doing something wrong because it is marriage," she added.

Saleh says she keeps advising her students, especially girls, not to be engaged in any kind of unofficial marriage since they lose their rights. Although in the urfi marriage, for example, the man can be forced by a court's decision to sponsor his children, his wife will still be suffering.

The marriage often occurs between poorer men and more financially well-off women. The men want to get married, but can't afford it, while the women fear becoming old maids.

Although it is not haram (against Islam), Muslim scholars do not advise people to be engaged in such a kind of marriage.

"The mesyar and other unofficial types of marriage don't fulfill Islam's aims of marriage, which are forming a settled family surrounded by care and love," professor of jurisprudence at Al Azhar University, Soad Ibrahim, says.

Even if a few sheikhs accept it, Ibrahim thinks the mesyar marriage is still disapproved of by the majority of scholars. In creates many social problems, especially for children who are not financially and emotionally supported by their mesyar father.

For renowned conservative Egyptian Sheikh Youssef Al Badri, a member in the High Council of Islamic Affairs currently living in Pakistan, nothing is wrong with the mesyar as long as it meets all Islamic requirements for a marriage which are the couple's agreement, the presence of the woman's agent (wakil) and two witnesses.

"Whether the man has the intention to leave his wife and move to another country, or not, it is still an Islamic marriage," Sheikh Badri told the Saudi daily Al Sharq Al Awsat .

The fatwa Committee of Al Azhar, however, does not recognize the mesyar marriage, but neither is it explicitly forbidden. Sheikh Ibrahim Muhammad, a member in the committee says it is an illegal marriage because women are not given any of the rights Islam demands from men.

"We do not approve of this marriage, and we don't recognize the marriage contract, if it exists. Also, we don't recognize the divorce," Sheikh Muhammad said.

Without the presence of a settled family, the only thing the woman marries the man for is sex. Since the man is not financially or socially committed to his mesyar wife, he can marry more than one woman, one in Italy, one in Greece, one in Qatar, he adds.

Adding to this, such a kind of marriage did not exist during the Prophet's time.

Some sheikhs, like Sheikh Gharabawi, maintains that it did exist during the Prophet's time. He believes its recent rise in Egypt is because some women in their late 20s and 30s have not yet married or had sex and this way they can get it easily and in a way they believe is legal, he said.

Saleh, the sociologist, maintains that there is another social group starting to use this marriage, the children of the idle rich. These scions of the economic elite have inattentive parents and lack social or moral principles and so they rush into such kinds of relations without thinking much about the consequences.

"The number of young women having abortions is increasing these days. I think it is all because of the new kind of marriage they rush to without being financially or socially responsible for it," she said indignantly.


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