By Asad Mirza
An alleged un-Islamic practice has mushroomed in Saudi Arabia, with wider societal and moral implications, while the Saudi authorities remain indifferent to it.
The Saudi society currently is facing a dilemma bordering on societal norms, morals, and Sharia. This peculiar situation has developed mainly due to the increase in the number of Zawaz Al-Misyar or Misyar marriages in the Kingdom.
A Misyar marriage is considered legal across Arab countries but is not favoured upon due to its immoral basis, though legally it stands the trial of Sharia. Its opponents say that no reference to such marriage is found in the Holy Quran or Ahadith (the saying and practices of the Prophet Muhammad). They further put it at par with Muttah marriage, which is prevalent amongst the Imamiyyah Shias.
What is Misyar?
Basically, Misyar is a contract under which the husband and wife give up several rights by their own free will, such as living together, equal division of nights between wives, the wife’s rights to housing, and maintenance money (nafaqa), and the husband’s right to home-keeping and access, etc.
The couple continues to live separately from each other, as before their marriage, but get together regularly, often for sexual relations in a permissible and halal manner. Although allowed in some Muslim countries, Misyar is not popular with many because women lose nearly all their rights in this confidential marriage. A large number of such marriages end up in divorce.
A Saudi study conducted by Mada Bint Abdul Rahman Al Qurashi at the King Saud University confirmed the necessity of working to reduce the exorbitant costs of marriage so that some men do not have to resort to a Misyar marriage for economic motives. The study stressed the need not to increase the ‘mehr’ (gifts and money given by husband to his wife after the nikah), as it is one of the main reasons for the spread of Misyar marriage in Saudi society, particularly among not well-off young Saudis.
The Saudi study showed that one of the reasons for husbands resorting to Misyar marriage is that most Saudi women do not accept the idea of polygamy. The study further called for conducting studies aimed at uncovering the reasons for the spread of a Misyar marriage among different segments and groups of the Saudi society in different cities of the Kingdom, so a proper strategy could be formed and a campaign started against it.
It showed that women often resort to Misyar marriage, forfeiting their right to maintenance and overnight stay, in order to obtain a husband who provides her with the life needs that were difficult for her, and that most divorced women resort to Misyar marriage because of their desire to marry and chastity, as well as the woman’s desire to move and travel freely.
Even the Saudi government is aware of the ill effects of Misyar, Al Watan newspaper quoting government sources reported in 2018 that such marriages are often short-lived, with most ending in divorce from anywhere between 14 and 60 days.
Some time back a prominent Riyadh cleric attributed its proliferation to men unwilling to shoulder the full responsibilities of polygamous marriage, which is permitted in Islam as long as all wives are treated equally.
Senior Saudi journalist Tariq Al Maeena in one of his columns published in the Saudi Gazette daily in 2019, termed Misyar as a “license to have multiple partners without much responsibility or expense”. “Reports in the Saudi press have spoken of growing concerns over the number of children fathered by Saudi males in their trips abroad and abandoned for all practical purposes.” he wrote.
Misyar and Sharia
Though no reference to Misyar is found either in the Holy Quran or the Ahadith, one is also not sure how and when it crept in the Saudi society. Moreover, Misyar is permissible only under Hanbali Fiqh (school of Sharia or jurisprudence), which is prevalent in Saudi Arabia. Saudi clerics say the practice has proliferated since 1996, when the then Grand Mufti, the kingdom’s highest religious authority Abed Al Aziz Ibn Baz, legitimised it with an Islamic edict. But no one is ready to ascertain what were the factors based on which the Grand Mufti issued such a controversial fatwa.
Since then many fatwas have been issued concerning the legality of the Misyar marriage. At the beginning, Sheikh Al Athemain made a distinction between the legal aspect and the moral or social consequences of the ambulant marriage. Nevertheless, he did not say that it is against the Sharia; however, what scholars fear, are its dangerous and unpredictable social consequences, which no one is ready to address.
According to Sheikh Al Athemain and Sheikh Al Yusef Qardawi, the Misyar is a lawful marriage since it includes a contract, a declaration, and a dowry. However, within this marriage, the fact that the Misyar wife gives up her rights of cohabitation and nafaqa are ones which no jurist is ready to address.
Most of the Islamic jurists take a very convoluted and cautious approach to the issue by saying that it fulfills the requirement of the Sharia and when pointed out that no reference to it is present in either the Holy Quran or the Ahadith, they evade response. But most of the Indian fuqah (Jurists) who follow the Fiqh-e Hanafi describe Misyar as an un-Islamic practice.
Mufti Amanat Al Qasmi, Mufti at Dar-ul Ifta (Department of Jurisprudence) at Darul Uloom – Waqf, Deoband says categorically that fulfilling the legal aspects of a lawful marriage in certain aspects doesn’t grant the status of legality to Misyar marriages. He opines that as a jurist and ‘alim’ (scholar) one should also consider the moral and customary aspects of a decision and should not be bound by the legalese and take cover under them. In addition, Misyar also exposes the contradictions found in the Saudi society.
One can only hope that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has taken many progressive steps to ensure rights to women, might also take up this issue with jurists and campaign against it. In addition, he should also call for decreasing the mehr amount, which not every young Saudi is able to meet, therefore trying to solve two issues with one edict and also freeing the Saudi society from an allegedly un-Islamic act.
(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on Muslims, educational, international affairs, interfaith and current affairs. The views expressed are personal)