Islamic “Pleasure Marriages”

MEMRI: Latest News

It seems reasonable to assume that much of the adolescent rage of the Arab Street was sexual frustration. So this debate about the legitimacy of this Islamic form of dating and polygamy is important. After all, why wait for the 72 virgins, when you can have it all now?
For over a decade, the phenomenon of marriage without commitment, called misyar marriage, has been spreading throughout the Sunni Muslim world, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries.(1) In such marriages, the woman relinquishes some of the rights that Islam grants her, such as the right to a home and to financial support from her husband, and, if he has other wives, the right to an equal part of his time and attention. In most cases, these marriages are secret, without the knowledge of the man’s other wives – even though a marriage contract is drawn up in the presence of witnesses, and although consent is commonly obtained from the woman’s guardian, and the marriage is registered and documented at the courthouse. Demand is high for misyar marriages on online matchmaking sites, as well as through services using text messages and email.(2)

Advocates of misyar marriage argue that such marriages meet the needs primarily of women who have little chance of finding a husband for ordinary marriage. These include widows, divorcees, and especially single women who are beyond marriageable age [awanis].(4) Those opposed to misyar marriage – including the vast majority of women – claim that it exploits the difficult social situation of unmarried women in Arab society, and is designed primarily to sate men’s lust, with no concern whatsoever for women’s needs and the needs of children born of these marriages.

These non-binding marriages are to a great extent similar to the “pleasure marriages” (in Arabic, mut’a; in Persian, sigheh) that have been accepted in Shi’ite Islam since its beginnings.

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