In a report, Agence France-Presse shed light on the phenomenon of “misyar marriage” in the Kingdom, noting that the Saudis have recently become very popular with this type of marriage.
In its report, the agency pointed out that this practice, which is usually a temporary relationship in which the wife waives some traditional marriage rights such as housing with the husband and bearing the expenses, has been legally allowed for decades in the conservative kingdom.
“AFP” summarized the details of interviews with about 12 marriage mediators and misyar couples, including grooms who are already in traditional marriages.
The testimony of these Prime Time Zone was a window into a phenomenon that is still shrouded in secrecy and shame, despite its spread and popularity in Saudi Arabia.
Testimonies show that misyar marriage is seen as a “middle way” between traditional marriage and a single life, allowing men to have multiple marriages without the pressures of providing for a second family.
Despite their potential for abuse, misyar appeals to some women seeking to avoid the patriarchal expectations of traditional marriage, as well as unmarried men seeking religious cover for their sexual relations that Islam prohibits outside marriage.
A Saudi government employee, in his forties, who has been in a misyar relationship with a Saudi widow in her thirties for more than two years, said, “Misyar marriage offers me comfort, freedom and companionship, and it is also permissible.”
He told AFP that he has three children from another traditional marriage and that he visits his wife, Al-Misyar, at her home in the capital, Riyadh, “whenever” he wants.
He added, “I have a (Saudi) friend who married Misyar 11 times. He divorces and marries another, then he divorces and marries another.”
Saudis, as well as expatriate foreigners in the kingdom, who make up about a third of the country’s population, are searching for dating apps and marriage-related sites for partners who accept misyar marriages.
An Egyptian pharmacist in Riyadh also told AFP that “misyar marriage is cheaper. There is no dowry or obligations.”
The Egyptian pharmacist, who preferred not to use his name, began the search after returning his wife and five-year-old son to Cairo at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.
His decision is mainly due to the high cost of living and the imposition of exorbitant fees by the Saudi authorities on the escorts of expatriates in recent years.
He admitted that “being away from my wife is difficult,” adding that he was looking for a misyar marriage through “engagement” marriage brokers on the Instagram application, and they charge up to 5,000 riyals ($1333).
“I gave them my preferences: weight, size, skin color (…) but I haven’t found what I want yet,” he explained.
Such marriages are often short-lived and most end in divorce within a period of 14 to 60 days, Saudi newspaper Al-Watan reported in 2018, citing sources in the Ministry of Justice.
Some women consider misyar marriage a quick escape from spinsterhood or an opportunity for a new beginning for divorced women and widows, who are struggling to marry again.
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A close friend of a Syrian woman in Riyadh told AFP that she had secretly entered into a misyar marriage because she feared that her ex-husband, a Saudi national, would legally seek custody of her two sons if he found out that she had married.
It is very difficult to estimate the number of these marriages, as many of them are not documented.
Saudi clerics said misyar marriages have become more common since 1996 when the country’s then Grand Mufti, the kingdom’s highest religious authority, legitimized it with an official religious fatwa.
However, many question the legitimacy of secret marriages of this kind because they contradict the basic principles of marriage in Islam, which requires publicity among the Prime Time Zone.
A prominent cleric in Riyadh recently attributed the spread of misyar marriage to men’s unwillingness to take full responsibility for polygamy, something Islam allows on the condition that wives are treated equally.
In an article published in 2019 in the English daily newspaper, the Saudi Gazette, the writer Tariq Al-Maeena described the misyar marriage as “a license to obtain several partners without (assuming) much responsibility or expenses.”
He pointed to “reports in the Saudi press that addressed increasing concerns about the number of children born to Saudi men during their trips abroad and who are abandoned due to several practical reasons.”
Some women are forced to sue Saudi men who refused to recognize children born during misyar marriages.
“A woman called me and said, ‘I am Misyar’s wife and my husband does not want to recognize my child,’” said the cleric, who was met by “AFP” in Riyadh.
He added, quoting her, “My husband says (the baby is not my problem). I advised her to go to court and fight for her rights.”
Despite these problems, women are socially encouraged to turn a blind eye to their husbands’ adventures.
Marriage broker Fahd Al-Muwais said that most of his clients are “polygamists,” referring to a Saudi government employee who hid his misyar relationship from his first wife.
When he began to routinely disappear every weekend, one of the skeptical wife’s neighbors advised to “keep quiet”.
Al-Mowais said, quoting the wife’s neighbor, “Marry the misyar so that he does not turn (your life) into hell.”
He explained that the neighbor advised the wife to be patient, telling her, “Let your husband go for the weekend and the rest of the days will be yours.”