Misyar – Temporary Marriage in Sunni Islam
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
The Shi'ite institution of mut'a or sighe (temporary marriage) is quite well known, being the subject of an English language book, Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage in Shi'i Iran, but many fewer are aware of its rough equivalent in the Sunni world, namely the misyar, or traveler's marriage. With increasing frankness, the English-language press in Egypt ("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") and now Saudi Arabia ("they persist, with men preferring them over adultery and women prepared, for the sake of having a man at their side, to give up the right to a home, any claim to be kept in style, and sometimes even to have children") are taking up the issue. Will the Arabic-language press follow? (June 22, 2003)
Oct. 7, 2005 update: For a corruption of the nikah marriage into a form of prostitution, see my article today, "Arabian Sex Tourism."
Apr. 26, 2006 update: The Islamic Jurisprudence Assembly, a Meccan organization, on April 12 issued a fatwa approving misyar marriages, giving the custom a Wahhabi imprimatur. It deems valid "a marriage contract in which the woman relinquishes [her right to] housing and support money ... and accepts that the man visits her in her house whenever he likes, day or night."
July 19, 2006 update: The April decision has had a wide impact in Saudi society, according to Reuters' Souhail Karam, who finds that "thousands of people" have chosen misyar as a way of staying legal but avoiding the large dowries, extravagant weddings, and other financial obligations a man must undertake in nikah, or standard marriages. Advertisements for misyar marriages abound on the Internet. "I am a 33-year-old Saudi man with acceptable looks seeking to marry a Saudi virgin or a divorcee," reads one. "Saudi man seeking divorcee living in Jeddah, no objection to children," reads another. Television personality Rima al-Shamikh says the popularity of misyar results from a youthful population exposed to Western lifestyles through the media and Internet but bound by a strict religious code. One researcher, Suhaila Zein al-Abideen of the International Union of Muslim Scholars in Medina, finds that almost 80 percent of misyar marriages end in divorce.
Aug. 31, 2006 update: In a fascinating article, "'Pleasure Marriages' in Sunni and Shi'ite Islam," Aluma Dankowitz of MEMRI reviews the recent and growing phenomenon of misyar marriages, with its many implications. Two tidbits:
Sep. 11, 2007 update: Pierre Heumann, Middle East correspondent of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, published "Sex in Ramallah" in German in the August 23 issue. John Rosenthal translated it into English and it appeared today. Heumann describes the frustrations of the young, then ends with the plight of a divorced woman.
Asked about this misyar arrangement, a judge on the Islamic court named Sheikh Fahmi Jaradat responds:
Oct. 8, 2008 update: "Some women thrive on 'misyar' business" is the delicate headline over a story by Arjuwan Lakkdawala in the Arab News out of Saudi Arabia. It begins by noting that while most women generally accept the lesser deal of a misyar marriage when they lack options ("Some may have passed the most-sought-after marriage age and others may be widows or divorcees"),
Lakkdawala then gives the example of one Siham (a nickname). She married once the usual way (nikah) and five times via misyar. Siham looks purposefully for, as she puts it, men who are "scared to death of their first wives. I only marry men who are afraid of their first wives and are financially well off, When I hear that there is a suitor looking for misyar, I check two things — whether he is wealthy and whether he is afraid of his wife."
When she finds such a husband, she gives him the impression that he need only pay her a dowry, which will cost him at least SR30,000 (US$8,000), and nothing more. But once the marriage is contracted, Siham start making demands, requiring of him between SR5,000 and SR7,000 per assignation. "I make him pay all my expenses, otherwise I don't allow him visits." She justifies her little deception rather grandiosely: "I believe men have been taking advantage of women in misyar marriages. They take so much from women and give so little, but I've turned the tables on them."
After the misyar ends in divorce, Siham waits the obligator four months and 10 days, as the Shari'a requires (to make sure she is not pregnant), and then is back on the market for another round.
Feb. 22, 2009 update: The Feb. 10 edition of the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan (made available today by BBC Worldwide Monitoring) ran a report by Adwan al-Ahmari from Riyadh, "Terrorists have resorted to romance, misyar marriage websites after security is tightened around them," that unexpectedly connects misyar to larger political issues:
In other words, violent Islamists are using romance sites to troll for recruits.
Apr. 18, 2009 update: For the devastating role of misyar contracted by Saudi men with women in Indonesia, see "Arabian Sex Tourism Updated."
July 25, 2010 update: Misyar is coming under criticism from Saudi lawyers and Shari'a experts as its human costs become apparent. From the Arab News:
The newspaper gives the example of Abu Fadi, 45, who traveled often to Southeast Asia to recruit housemaids.
The article goes on to quote various Saudi authorities about the illegality and immorality of misyar marriages.
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