What Does a ‘Friends’ Marriage’ Really Entail?

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Abeer Mishkhas, [email protected]

Published — Thursday 20 April 2006

Last Update 20 April 2006 3:00 am

THE Islamic Jurisprudence Society recently held a seminar in Makkah discussing among other topics the different kinds of marriages that are being applied in the Muslim world. The committee decided to discuss nine types of marriages, marrying on condition that the bride must produce offspring, meaning that if the wife is not able to have children the marriage is automatically terminated.

There is also the secret marriage (Orfi), civil marriage and the limited period marriage. Those are some of the kinds of marriages that were discussed and the others seem to me to be merely variations on the main ones. Now one more kind of marriage was added to the list: “Friends’ marriage.”

In a discussion with some colleagues about the seminar and its results we all seemed to have problems in understanding one or more of these marriages, what they mean and if they really are a social problem that should have been discussed in such a seminar.

One colleague said, “I really want to understand what is ‘Friends’ marriage’? Is it new, and does it mean people should not marry their friends?” His question started an endless discussion, and the obvious thing about it was that there every one of us had more questions, but no one seemed to have an answer or even an explanation.

So here I am asking my readers to think with me: What is a friends marriage, and who does it? Is it bad to become friends with the other sex, or is it not OK to marry a friend, or maybe it is not OK to become friends with the person you are marrying? I give up and I hope someone really understands what that newly coined concept means and can explain it to everyone who reads about it in this paper.

My other colleague had another question. He wanted to know how many such marriages have become a phenomenon.

“In our conservative societies where the approval of the families is an integral part of getting married and gives the green light to allow couples to enter social circles, in these societies how do we explain something like Mesyar marriage?

“How many people marry in this way? Do we have a statistic? And if we do is it that widespread that it deserved the time of these honorable scholars?” he asked.

Again the answers to his questions were not easily found since obviously not a lot of people knew how many get married this way, and what their families think of this. But I was stumped when he asked: “How many people in Mesyar marriages do we know personally?”

I started searching in my head and the answer was none, everyone else seemed to come up with the same answer, and I have to say that the people in the discussion came from various Arab countries. So if this kind of marriage is there, the number of people who do it is not a big one, and that means also that it is not a social problem.

But then we did not anticipate that final decision of the committee, which said that this kind of marriage is “halal.” This only caused more questions and discussion with another colleague wondering: “If this kind of marriage is OK doesn’t that create a generation of children who are not living with both parents? How is that fine by anyone?”

But we were not the only ones aghast at this new development, as other Saudi women, who are against Mesyar and “Friends’” marriages, have gone public with their rejection of any kind of marriage that deprives women of their own dignity, even if it might be legal on paper.

These types of marriages are seen as a way out for men who want to have as many wives as they like without really being responsible for any of them. A well-known Iraqi cleric, who enjoys people’s confidence in Saudi Arabia, recently said that these types of marriages are legal and if the woman and the man are willing then there is nothing anyone else one can say, even though he admitted that “if the wealthiest man on earth asked to marry my daughter this way I would beat him up.”

The final session of the seminar decided to combine the nine kinds of marriages into three: The Mesyar, the one with a built-in intention of getting divorced later, and the one conditioned by having children.

But no matter what decisions they came up with, the answers to our questions remained unanswered.

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