Several times a week I get emails from readers who are involved in relationships with Muslim men and are often seeking advice on religion, culture, tradition, and how the three tie into one another — if at all. Many of them are also seeking advice on marriage and whether or not he’s ‘serious’ when he asks her to consider marrying him. Obviously I don’t have all the answers and never claimed to be a professional in the field of intercultural marriages, so I simply share information based on my experience and hope that helps.
A topic I recently realized I have never covered is Mut’a Marriage. And based on a few emails I’ve gotten as of late, I figured now would be the best time to touch on this.
My experience with Mut’a is pretty much nonexistent. It’s something (from what I understand) that is practiced among the Shia’a Muslims and not so much anymore within the Sunni community. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong. I’m basing this information off of friends in Kuwait and the UAE who are both Sunni and Shia’a. Therefore, I would love to hear from any readers who have been involved in a Mut’a Marriage in hopes of helping out some of the women who might be reading this and could use that guidance.
It’s my understanding Mut’a is a ‘temporary marriage’ where a woman agrees to be a man’s wife for a specified period of time and can then participate in all things husbands and wives participate in; ie. sex. There is no dowry involved, no additional benefits, no financial gain (unless he agrees to pay her a certain amount), and no support upon divorce. Some of these marriages last as short as a few days and some can be a lifetime I suppose. As far as their legality, I know they’re not recognized in the US as our marriages (to be legal) must be documented in a court. A Mut’a Marriage is simply an agreement between a man and woman. I don’t believe there’s any paperwork involved. However, I do believe it’s a fairly common practice for boyfriends and girlfriends as a way to eliminate any Islamic guilt. You know… have sex, pretend you’re married, and Allah doesn’t know any better. No offense intended. Just keeping it real.
That being said, if you’re one of the women who have written me about your boyfriend asking to marry you ‘temporarily’ to ‘test’ out how a real marriage would be, maybe that’s not exactly what he means. It’s possible he has a strong desire to have sex with you but his religious guilt is telling him to ‘do the right thing’ and ‘marry’ you. Of course the real right thing would be to respect you as a woman and keep it in his pants. But, chances are, you’re unaware of his culture and what is and is not permitted in his religion. He can pretty much tell you anything and you’ll pretty much believe it. And of course, once he starts throwing the idea of marriage around, it makes it all that much more appealing. And, well, ‘real’ in your mind.
Do your homework, ladies. And keep your panties on while you’re studying
Muta’a is the Shiite version of temporary marriage, but there is also “misiaar” for Sunnis. Misiaar is a form of temporary marriage when a man travels (supposedly for a long period of time at a location far away from his wife, but more recently people have been bending the rules on this one). I don’t know the details of Misiaar marriages. Neither of these forms of marriage are accepted by legal entities (governments) and are done without witnesses, making them secret arrangements (at the discretion of the couple to tell people or not).
“Orfi” marriage is by contract with witnesses and presided over by an Islamic cleric. Both the man and woman sign the marriage contract. This form of marriage can be approved by legal entities if the couple takes the contract to court (or if the woman becomes pregnant).
I’ve been “temporarily” (“muta’a”) married several times; for very short-term and two that lasted over 5 years each. I didn’t seek the arrangements – it was because the boyfriend asked for it (and in one case, although muta’a is a Shiite Muslim belief, my Bedouin Sunni Muslim boyfriend asked me to marry him muta’a as it made him feel better/less guilty). In the case of both of the long-term arrangements, I was the one who didn’t want to get married in court for different reasons. But – I was educated before I went into it.
I’m not a Shiite Muslim. I don’t believe in the “sanctity” of temporary marriage; but I do believe in commitment and temporary marriage takes the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship to a different level, just by stating that you commit to that person for a period of time. (How many boyfriends can actually put a time limit commitment on your relationship or are willing to commit to anything at all?) You are saying vows out loud which makes it deeper somehow (at least in my experience and maybe I’m romanticizing something that is really just a pretend marriage?). All good and no judgement as long as everybody is in agreement and knows what it is and that it isn’t meant to last forever.
So, how do you get married via muta’a? The man recites a statement and the woman responds with a statement (I can’t remember the exact words). There is a mahar (dowry). It is usually symbolic (like a quarter dinar), however, the woman can ask for whatever she wants (and trust me when I tell you that NO man asking you to get temporarily married will educate you on this fact). In my long-term arrangements, I asked for rings (if you want me to take this seriously, then be serious). (But if you need a new refrigerator and a new set of tires, you can throw that in there – whatever you want.) In the statement, you insert the mahar amount (or material thing) and the duration of the agreement.
In my long-term temporary marriages, other people knew we were married (however non-traditional/controversial it may have sounded to others). Short-term marriages were basically for fun so the guys didn’t feel guilty about sinning. Whatever. There is no formal “divorce.” And – like other forms of marriage in Islam, the guy can marry several wives so you don’t know if he is temporarily married to other women at the same time. Muta’a within Arab circles is usually only done when a woman is divorced (meaning she is no longer a virgin).
My advice to your readers who are asking questions about the possibility of marriage to their Muslim boyfriend: There is no “try before you buy” in Islam. Ask him direct questions: Specifically, what type of marriage do you want? If the guy is serious about a “forever” commitment and wants you, tell him to get serious: put his mother on the phone with you. Tell him what you want. A reception? Flowers? Your family? His family? But get a marriage license first. AND – make sure that you know about the marriage contract before doing anything. If you don’t add in the contract that you want half of the house and/or alimony (specific amount) on divorce, you are going to be left with nothing. It MUST be in the marriage contract.