First Published: 2006-04-25

Misyar marriage enrages Gulf women

Gulf women's rights activists blast Islamic Jurisprudence Assembly for permitting no strings attached marriage.


Middle East Online

By Hassen Fakih - DUBAI

Men are primary beneficiaries

An Islamic tribunal's ruling that allows Sunni Muslim men to marry without having to live with or financially support their wives has enraged Gulf women's rights activists who say Islamic marriage is unfair enough already.

The Mecca-based Islamic Jurisprudence Assembly announced on April 12 that so-called Misyar marriage- from the colloquial Gulf Arabic word for visitor -- was permitted, drawing the ire of women in the region.

Kuwaiti activist Rula Dashti said the move, which skirts around strict Islamic rules on extramarital sexual relationships and relieves men of almost all responsibility for their wives, "destroys the fundamentals of a family."

"The rights which would be abandoned by a woman (in this kind of marriage) are essential to build a stable family," said Dashti, who also heads the Kuwait Economic Society.

The controversial edict says "a marriage contract in which the woman relinquishes (her right to) housing and support money ... and accepts that the man visits her in her family house whenever he likes, day or night ... is valid."

Misyar marriage is sought after by men who want to avoid the burden of dowries and alimonies that are usually stipulated in standard Islamic marriage contracts.

But by giving up her rights with such a marriage, which is usually seen as temporary, the wife would not necessarily receive a penny when divorced.

"A woman who is married the standard way faces enormous problems when it comes to getting a divorce, so what would her situation be in a Misyar marriage?" said Dashti.

Unlike Shiite Islam's form of temporary marriage known as Mutaa, which has a preset date of expiry, Misyar marriage in predominantly Sunni Gulf countries does not have a predetermined end.

The practice has previously already been accepted in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with the blessing of notable clerics.

"Enlightened Islamic scholars should stand up to such radical thoughts disseminated through Islamic tribunes, and not abandon women to stand up to them alone," Dashti said.

"There should be a counter-campaign to face down this extremist doctrine because it harms religion and society ... and limits women's progress in Arab society."

Misyar marriage is particularly appealing in Saudi Arabia where segregation of the sexes is heavily enforced, with Saudi men posting hundreds of Internet messages seeking Misyar wives.

Bahraini activist Ghada Jamshir, who also lobbies for a reduction of clerical influence in family affairs, said liberals should rise up to combat Misyar marriage.

"I don't encourage Misyar marriage, nor Mutaa marriage, because they deny women and children their rights. I believe in a normal marriage which is based on the couple living together for their lifetime," she said.

"The women's rights movement, liberals and the intelligentsia, as well as all those who believe in liberty, should move to defend freedom in general, and women's freedoms in particular," said Jamshir.

But prominent United Arab Emirates-based cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Kubaissi says that while Misyar marriage is correct Islamically, it also compromises some values.

"The only difference (with a normal marriage) is that the woman abandons voluntarily her right to housing and support money. There is nothing wrong in relinquishing one's own rights," the preacher said.

He said Misyar marriage is suitable for divorced women as it would help solve the high-rate of "spinsterhood" in the Gulf.

Iraqi-born Kubaissi said that Misyar marriage became popular during and after the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq to "protect widows from committing sin", referring to the difficulties of finding sexual satisfaction without being married.

And, he said, a "respectful" woman would never accept a Misyar marriage, which, "despite being accepted according to Islamic sharia (law), compromises a number of values."

"If a king came asking for my daughter's hand in this (Misyar) way, I would spit in his face," he said.


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