Misyar marriages have been discussed a lot in the Kingdom’s news lately, causing debate whether or not these marriages are acceptable/legal. The Saudi Ministry of Social Affairs has recently announced that it will welcome misyar marriage applications for those who want to get married to female orphans under the custody of the ministry. On the other hand, this week a woman in Jeddah was found guilty of immoral and unlawful activities and acting as a pimp for arranging misyar marriages.
Misyar marriage is usually practised as a second marriage, kept secret from the legal first wife, done behind closed doors and lied about, which many Saudi men are masters of.
The term “Nikah Misyar” (translated sometimes as “travelers marriage” or “marriage of convenience”) is not found in the Qur’an, Sunnah or classical works of Islamic jurisprudence. Although polygamy is allowed under certain very strict conditions in Islam, (which you can read more about in this article “Sharing Husbands is Caring“) misyar is not a legal marriage as it denies women their full rights as a wife, such as providing her housing. Often the “husband” only visits the misyar wife (sometimes she still lives at her parents house) for sex, and this is what these marriages are based on, fulfilling the sexual desires of men under the guise of Islam, when in reality what is going on would be more accurately described as an extra-marital affair, infidelity, adultery, fornication or prostitution.
If you’re not familiar with the term misyar, often referred to as legalized prostitution, take a look at the following article which is a re-post from a blog written by a friend of mine, Kimberly Hadley-Mominah. Kimberly is a psychologist by profession residing in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and she published this excellent article about misyar on her blog “BREAKING MY BOUNDARIES” .
“For those living outside of the Arab world, the concept of “misyar marriage” is a foreign concept, although the equivalency of misyar in the Western world is that of having an extra-marital affair. A relationship that is often based on meeting the sexual needs and conquest of men, and perhaps women, with no strings attached as far as responsibility on the part of the male.Misyar marriage is a secret marriage contract entered in by a woman and a man, in which they engage in sexual relations, in which the man has no responsibility to provide financial support, no responsibility of any children that may be born out of the sexual unions, as well as there is typically a “time span” in which this secret marriage is valid for. The women that engage in these marriages, may temporarily benefit in terms of materialistic gifts, vacations, love nests that are temporarily erected to carry out the acts of sexual relations, as well as meeting their own sexual desires. Perhaps these women also may have secret aspirations that the misyar marriage will transform into a traditional marriage through time.
These types of marriages are not registered with any type of government agency or authority, and they occur in secret, often away from the knowledge of legitimate wives, family members, or recognizing the temporary union to the public. The Islamic religion strictly forbids sexual relations outside the boundaries of marriage, hence the human creation of the misyar marriage, which allows people to fornicate, perhaps only once or numerous times, while avoiding the worldly consequences or responsibilities of engaging in sexual relations.
In these situations, it would be easy to buy into the worldview of the evil temptress whore, that uses her sexual energy to lure away the family man into lurid sexual activities, but to be completely honest, the only individuals that benefit at the end of day from these situations, are those that advocate the social acceptance of misyar, and the men that engage in the secret “affairs”. I am going to call it an affair, and not refer to it as a marriage for the rest of this piece, because calling it a “marriage” degrades the sanctity of what marriage stands for in terms of respect, honesty, and authentic pure intentions.
In addition, in terms of the Islamic principles of honesty, truth, and compassion, this practice is devoid of any of the aforementioned virtues. Misyar is built on the intentions of secrecy, deception, and in all reality, a lie. A lie not only to the legitimate wives and children of the men that choose to engage in this practice, but also to the women that agree to enter into the practice, as well as the risk of children being born out of these unions that have no legal and social rights of having two parents with the benefits of being recognized as a child of both parents. The women that are affected by this practice either by choice or by being legally married to a male that practices this way of life are victims.
The children born out of these sexualized temporary unions, as well as the children of legitimate marriages in which their father engages in these practice are victims, forever being scarred by the father’s lust, selfishness, and disrespect of the female gender.
Most men and women enter into a legal traditional marriage, with the expectation that love, trust, honesty, respect, and honor will be the pervading values of the union. It is often viewed as a lifetime commitment in which the two people merge their lives in their efforts to form a family, grow together through the different developmental life stages, as well as often have offspring to continue their own legacies into the future. While indeed Islam does have practices that provide routes for men engaging in polygamy, in which they are permitted to have up to four wives, in reality even Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) did not advocate the practice of polygamy by the conditions in which were set by the act of taking more than one wife.
One of the conditions is the man must treat the wives equally in terms of his affection, and material provisions and gifts. Perhaps a man can give equality by the material possessions and gifts that are given, but the equality in terms of affection is almost humanly impossible. In other words, it is permitted, but do not do it because even Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) could not equate his affections equally among wives. In addition, the first wife must agree to the husband taking another wife and if she does not, she is permitted to divorce the husband.
This case scenario illustrates traditional marriages, but the practice of misyar does not even inform the wife of her husband engaging with sexual relations with another woman. The practice of misyar is not only a form of deception and lies to the legally sanctified traditional wife of a man practicing this form of deception, but it also puts the wife’s very health and life in jeopardy. Many countries require testing prior to traditional legal marriage of both the man and woman undergoing testing for the presence of sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Two of these STD diseases such as AIDS or hepatitis most often are fatal to those who are infected in the long-term. In addition, other sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia can cause infertility, or genital warts, which increases a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancers, and least of all the embarrassment and humiliation of being diagnosed with the social stigma of an STD.
The practice of misyar, because it does not require the marriage to be legally registered and is engaged in deceptively, does not entail the male or female to engage in testing of STDs. This is a lethal way to spread the transmission of STD’s not only between the two people that are engaging in the deceitful practice of misyar, but also to the innocent unsuspecting wife who believes she is in a mutually sexually exclusive relationship with her husband. In all honesty, neither the men, nor the women who engage in the misyar marriage are virgins who have abstained from sexual relations in the past, and are most likely to have the highest risk of carrying an STD. In fact, some of the women who engage in misyar relationships have a history of engaging in “secret sexual liaisons”, or misyar, one after another, to finance their style of living. For those of you from Western cultures who may be reading this article, we do have slang terms for these women such as “sluts”, “prostitutes”, or “whores” in all honesty.
The traditional legal wife is also an innocent victim in terms of dealing with the emotional and financial drains of her husband engaging in this type of deceitful relationship. As the husband sneaks off to engage in his sexual liaisons with the “secret woman”, this robs not only the wife, but also any children of time and support in the family household that should be available from the husband/father. In addition, the husband is spending the financial resources and future inheritance of the children as he engages in arranging vacations, apartments, as well as gifts to be given to the “other woman”.
Perhaps the most painful of all of this experience, is to the wife that finds out about the “secret relationship” and the emotional of feeling betrayed, belittled, and the feelings of inadequacy of worthlessness that accompanies many individuals that have experienced their partner engaging in an affair. Infidelity and the long-lasting scars can cut to the very soul and perception of one’s self as they question why their spouse has engaged in this type of relationship, that is if the wife ever discovers her husband’s extra sexual activities. It not only damages a woman’s perceptions of herself, but can also affect her ability in other roles in life, such as a mother, friend, or employee as she tries to work through the negative emotions that are often associated with this type of betrayal.
Although the women who engage in misyar are often portrayed as evil women with the intentions of gaining financial means, or the plots to secure a future legitimate legal marriage, they are also victimized through this practice. These women are typically never acknowledged as a legal wife, nor do they reap the benefits of inheritance from their sexual liaisons, or the security of a legal marriage. They are often used as a temporary escape from the reality of family life, in which men are able to fulfill their sexual desires outside the traditional boundaries of a public marriage with no future obligations to the woman. In addition, the social stigma involved to the woman that engages in such a type of relationship is often that she is “damaged goods”, either because of divorce, social status, nationality, social economic status (SES) that has been relegated to the role of servicing the sexual needs of a male without the benefits of a legitimate marriage.
While some advocate the misyar also is a benefit to these women, examining this practice in regards to these women, they are marginalized, used for sexual pleasure, and are not viewed as worthy enough to legitimize their presence publicly. Their motivation to engage in this type of arrangements may be done in part for momentary financial gains, but I am sure that some of them have the secret hopes that the relationship will develop into a long-term lasting eventual legal marriage, which typically does not happen. The hope of the man acknowledging this “secret women” in the future is bleak, because he has engaged in this type of relationship out of his own sexual lust, but most often will not risk the social condemnation, his legal wife, children, or reputation to have a long-term committed relationship. While he may eagerly profess his love to this woman, you have to question whether he truly has authentic love for anyone to engage in this type of relationship to manipulate and risk his legal wife and children, as well as the “secret woman”. He engaged in a misyar relationship through using deceit and lies, and rest assured this is a character of the individual that carries through in other relationships, including the misyar relationship.
The concept of misyar is built on the concept of “secrecy”. Often when we speak of secrecy, someone is being deceived, lied to, and betrayed. While the women, who engage in these types of relationships with men are often portrayed as the temptress set out to destroy the sanctity of marriage, in reality, the real transgressors in these types of arrangements are the men that are not only betraying their legitimate legal wife and children through their egotistical actions to satisfy their sexual urges, they also are manipulating and using the very women that they engage with in these secret sexual liaisons behind the closed doors of deception and secrecy.
The difference is one woman has chosen to engage in the practice, while the legitimate wife is often kept in the dark of the fraudulent behavior of her husband. The women in these types of arrangements may be marginalized by some type of socially constructed grouping in which they have been categorized either by life experiences, or by birth, but they too are humans with aspirations, dreams, and needs. Those that advocate and practice this type of secretive behaviors are the lone transgressors and oppressors of women and children, as well as illustrating the treachery and sham of dishonesty that humans can choose to engage in by their animalistic sexual urges that rob them of values, virtues, and honesty in relationships.
The practice of misyar is not a practice of Islam, because Islam advocates truth, honesty, humbleness, and respect. The practice of misyar is a creation of patriarchal men, who happen to be associated with the faith of Islam, but have bent the rules to satisfy their own selfish carnal needs, and have disregarded the female gender as human beings worthy of respect. For those who have limited understanding of the Islamic faith, this is not Islam, but is a construction of a practice by humans that seeks to circumnavigate the rules of Islam to quench sexual desires, while avoiding responsibility, honesty, and respect for the female gender.
I sincerely hope that women would stand up for their God given rights and not accept this type of “marriage”, not for themselves, their daughters or sisters. No woman deserves to be treated in such a way.
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Hello there, I’m Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I’ve been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008.
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