Informal marriage across the region

With the rise of Islamism in recent years, misyar, ‘urfi and other spins on informal marriage are increasingly documented in countries where they were considered rare only earlier—among them Tunisia, and Algeria. For an overview of the various forms, see Mariage Temporaire et Coutumier en Droit Musulman by Sami A. Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh.

Newer twists on the phenomenon include mityar, or flying marriage, in which a man takes a trophy wife for international travel. And then there is zawaj friend, proposed by a controversial Yemeni scholar, Abdul Majeed al-Zindani. Having visited Europe, Al-Zindani came up with the idea of putting an Islamic gloss on Western-style dating by giving teenage romance all the trappings of a halal marriage, including guardian’s consent for the girl, witnesses, declaration and acceptance, and symbolic mahr. The couple would then be free to pursue their relationship, but would continue to live separately, in their respective parental homes. Some Islamic organizations in Egypt have been trying to promote the idea of zawaj friend. “This is a form which is halal, not prohibited, respects women’s rights and men’s rights. The man has a full responsibility for his wife. The marriage occurs in front of both families. If they have no place they can meet at her family, her home or his home,” one social counselor in Cairo enthusiastically told me. “But the community doesn’t accept it,” she sighed.