Marriages of Convenience: Misyar Marriages in the Middle East
June 7, 2009
Elaborate weddings and furnished apartments remain the goal for many young brides, but the reality often falls far short. As the costs of marriage in the Middle East are rising far more swiftly than incomes, yet cohabitating remains taboo, many Arabs are paying increasing attention to alternative arrangements.
Misyar (or “traveler”) marriages, give a religious imprimatur to sexual relations but free husbands of the financial obligations of traditional marriages. Once mostly confined to Iran and the Arab Gulf, Egyptian clerics recently unleashed a storm of criticism when they endorsed such arrangements as an outlet for the millions of Egyptian singles over the age of 30 who are losing hope of ever having a legitimate sexual relationship. In response to widespread protests from Muslim scholars and laypeople alike, Egypt’s grand mufti seemed to underline his own discomfort with the arrangements, arguing that the ruling “shows how Shari’a is capable of satisfying the needs of human nature in different circumstances.” He emphasized that even without the husband’s obligation to support his wife under the arrangement all of the other obligations of religiously sanctioned marriage remain in effect.
Critics charge that misyar marriages are a form of legalized prostitution. Brides lose any guarantee of basic financial support or shelter, and the marriages are often annulled after short periods of time. In addition, the practice often results in children whose legal status is unclear and who end up being raised by single mothers with little income.
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.