You hear a lot about misyar marriages all over the Saudi media. Some people are against it and others think that it is the magical pill for all our society’s ailments. Many non Saudis have the misconception that this type of marriage is sanctioned by law and that the actual marriage contract document is different from the one used for conventional Saudi marriages. Well that is just not true. There is only one marriage contract document and whether the marriage is conventional or misyar depends on a verbal agreement. The marriage contract itself looks somewhat like a passport. So what are miyar marriages? Well to answer that you first have to understand our regular marriages. First off a conventional marriage means that the groom pays the bride a dowry ranging between 8000 dollars and can go up to 27000 dollars depending on the bride’s tribe, age, beauty…etc. A government approved sheikh is brought to the house and writes up the marriage in a big marriage notebook. Everyone signs it and then it is sent to the bride for signature. Islamically, the sheikh must make sure that the bride agrees to the marriage by asking her himself. But this is not done in many households. The sheikh does not see or speak to the bride. The bride’s father or any other male relative represents her and speaks for her. When it comes to the dowry, it is considered impolite to have it written in the marriage contract, even though there is a little blank for it. The groom waits a couple of days and then goes to the Saudi courts to get the document. Then the groom also has to ensure that they have a place to stay, which could be a couple of rooms at his parent’s house, an apartment, or a villa. And most importantly they tell everyone about their marriage, usually at a big wedding party. Finally impregnation is expected within the first three years.
With a misyar marriage, you still have a sheikh and he comes to the house with the big notebook and does his thing. But with this marriage the bride makes a lot of compromises that are agreed upon verbally prior to the shiekh’s arrival. She still gets a dowry but the marriage itself is considered a secret. Only close relative are allowed to know. When it comes to the love nest, that is most commonly the bride’s own bedroom at her parent’s home. Sometimes, especially for richer grooms, an apartment is rented for the bride. The husband can come and go as he pleases and does not have to spend nights over unless he wants to. Having children is discouraged in these marriages. And they are designed just so the husband can divorce anytime without obligations.
Why would a woman put herself in this position? It differs from one to the other but ultimately it boils down to these reasons:
- She’s a divorcee or spinster and unlikely to get a better offer. These women tell themselves that he’ll love me and want me as a full wife once he gets to know me.
- Lower class households that quite frankly pimp out their daughters and use the dowry kind of like a prostitution fee.
- The groom is really rich and made an offer that just can’t be refused. Rich practicing Muslim men do misyar out of fear of their first wife and at the same time they can tell themselves it’s hallal (Islamically sanctioned)
I know a woman who went into a misyar marriage four year ago. She’s been divorced twice before then and approaching forty. Fortunately it worked out for her and a couple of months back her misyar husband bought her a house and publically acknowledged her.