Some cultural and religious practices just keep going on and on for centuries without ever being questioned. No one asks what good they are or who truly benefits from them or why they are still in place after 1,300 years.
Nikah Mut’ah and Nikah Misyar, for instance, are some of those customs that perhaps seemed relevant in the seventh century, but today – to many Muslims – they are outdated and geared only towards the benefit of Muslim men, with little or no advantages for the women.
Nikah Mut’ah and Nikah Misyar are Quite Similar
There are other Nikahs such as Nikah ‘Urfi, which is a Sunni marriage custom that requires witnesses but is not to be registered with the state or government, and the Nikah Halala, which insists that a divorced woman marry someone else and consummate that marriage and then divorce him BEFORE she can remarry her previous husband – if that is what she really desires.
These religious traditions continually undermine the rights of women and constantly remind us all of who is in charge and who is the dominant gender in Muslim countries ruled by Sharia law. It certainly is not the woman; she is not even an equal partner.
Nikah Mut’ah, also known as the traveller’s marriage, is a temporary marriage that is practised by Shia Muslims. Nikah Mut’ah was initially designed for men who went on long journeys, or to war, and didn’t want to break Sharia law but wanted to save themselves from various sexual sins by getting “married” to a woman for a limited period of time.
The same practice is still available for men today, even if they aren’t travelling or going to war. A man can make a temporary contract with a woman to be his temporary wife for a certain period of time, which could be several hours, days, weeks or months. No witnesses are necessary for this contract to begin, as Allah and the Qur’an are considered to be the only witnesses needed. He must pay the “bride” in some way (dowry) and when the time period of the contract ends, then the temporary marriage ends also and the woman is alone – again. He could conceivably do this with as many women as he likes for the duration of his life. It is not unheard of for a man to be “married” to a number of wives at the same time for several hours – and then the relationship(s) is over.
Nikah Misyar is similar to Nikah Mut’ah in many ways, even though Sunni Muslims might disagree. It is a contractual marriage that must have two adult Muslim male witnesses to make it legitimate and there can be no limit or term of expiration involved in the contract, either written or spoken. The Nikah Misyar mandates that the “husband” and “wife” each voluntarily give up some of their rights. They don’t live together and the husband cannot have “anytime” sexual access to her and they must arrange visits. He doesn’t have to support her financially and if any children are produced through the relationship the father gains total custody of them after the children reach the age of seven.
An important factor in Nikah Misyar, that was mentioned earlier, is that the marriage contract is not temporary – that is, there is no end date affixed to their contract. There is, however, an exit or escape strategy built into the covenant – just for the man. He is not allowed to say or write the termination date or even mention his intention of leaving her, say, at the end of his stay in Canada or the United States. If he does any of those things then the contract is null and void. He is, on the other hand, allowed to “think” it. In other words, if he doesn’t say or write his intention but in his mind he intends to leave her at a certain point in time, then it is not definite, because things could change and he might not leave. His tacit intention has been interpreted as being between the “servant and the Lord” and therefore, he can remain chaste and avoid fornication because he is legitimately “married.”
The woman must give up equal husband time in cases of polygamy – along with maintenance payments by her “spouse” – and she can be divorced at any time if he gets tired of her, leaving her destitute and then have her children taken away when they are old enough.
Marriages That Ill Benefit the Women
Both Nikahs have plenty of benefits – for the man. It has been said that some women who have no hope of a real marriage also benefit from these marriage contracts, because of the companionship they offer. It has also been said that most women in these very temporary relationships are being treated as prostitutes and the men are simply using the women as sexual objects. Of course, most women who have entered into these arrangements have little or no future hope of a life-long marriage because of the stigma placed on them for being in a temporary marriage.
The Shia and the Sunni cannot agree on many things including how disastrous these two Nikahs are to women. Sunnis and Shias also can’t agree on the fact that these two Nikahs (barring a few minor differences) are very similar indeed. The Shia say that the Quran allows Nikah Mut’ah: “So those of them [women] whom you enjoy, give to them their appointed wages” (4:24). While the Sunnis say that the practice is not lawful because the Quran states: “Prosperous are the believers, who…guard their private parts, save from their wives and what their right hands own…; but whosoever seeks after more than that, those are the transgressors” (23:1-7), which they say means sexual intercourse is illegal with the woman who is not a real wife.
Nikah Mut’ah and Nikah Misyar are temporary marriages that only benefit the man in the relationship. Both of these practices should be seen by every sovereign government for what they are – prostitution – and prohibited endlessly. These “marriages” are only hiding behind the thinnest façade of legality and posing as a sacred element of a world religion for only one reason: to maintain men’s domination over women.
(Deeba Abedi is an Indian-American born in Mumbai to a Muslim family and raised in India and the United States. Currently writing books, she wears multiple hats as a writer, a poet, a women’s rights activist and a physician entrepreneur. Also an advocate for global public health and health laws, Dr. Abedi hopes for perfect humanism toward women one day. She can be reached @drdeebabedi)
(This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. IndianSpice neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)