Listening to Radio 4 on my way in this morning I was intrigued by a feature on the revival of the ‘temporary marriage’, or ‘Nikah Mut’ah’, among young British Shia Muslims, a program about which will be broadcast tonight on the BBC Asian Network. As many struggle to reconcile Islam with their western upbringing, where non-Muslim peers are able to date freely before deciding to wed, temporary marriage appears to offer a solution.
There is a sectarian divide on the issue of temporary marriage; Sunni Muslims do not practice it and question its moral basis. Sunnis acknowledge that temporary marriage was permitted initially under the Shari’ah (for example when traders travelled long distances and required a temporary partner) but argue there is no longer any need, and may indeed act as a cover for prostitution.
In the UK, nowadays young people are able to decide for themselves whether they want to have a relationship, and if so, what degree of intimacy that relationship will afford; there is no pressure even to get married. For young British Muslims that is not so. The opportunity to get to know one another before marriage is made ‘permanent’ offers a pragmatic solution to the unhappiness which can otherwise be caused by ‘permanent’ marriage, where there is little or no opportunity to get to know each other beforehand, and which so often creates grounds for divorce.
Temporary marriage has certain conditions: the duration, and details of the dowry must be defined before it takes place. Further, if the temporary marriage is consummated the woman must undergo iddah (meaning she is unable to remarry for two menstrual months) after it ends. However the benefits appear to outweigh any dis-benefits; in addition to those discussed above, to void a temporary marriage there is no need for a talaq (Islamic divorce) or a legal divorce, unlike with ‘permanent’ marriages.
For me, the very concept of divorce, even for so-called ‘permanent’ marriages, begs the question: can any marriage be said to be truly permanent? Or are all marriages temporary, even where there is no contractual end date? That’s not to say that for some, marriage is not a lifelong commitment which endures. However the secret of a successful marriage may be to bear in mind that ‘permanence’ is illusory, and making it last a lifetime requires hard work.
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