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Monday, May 19, 2008

Cutting Corners: Urfi, Mut'aa, Nikah

My friend forwarded - Egypt cracks down on the £5 'licence to live in sin' By Caroline Wheeler in Cairo. First an excerpt:

Young, middle-class Egyptians are buying so-called "urfi", informal marriage contracts, in growing numbers to get around religious strictures against having pre-marital sex.

Without documentation it is almost impossible for couples to live together or stay in the same hotel room, and the whiff of impropriety can bring down the wrath of parents, friends and neighbours.

Now Egyptian legislators are preparing to outlaw the contracts and impose fines or jail sentences on the couples involved, and on anyone who acts as a witness. The government fears that urfi marriages have become the country's equivalent of common-law marriage, while conservatives warn that the practice is against Egyptian morals and senior clerics say it is irreligious.

The cost of a traditional wedding, including a lavish dowry, expensive gifts and a furnished flat, is an added incentive to take the urfi option. Traditional weddings have declined in Egypt, from 592,000 in 2000, to 506,000 in 2006.

For some, the urfi marriage is a step towards a permanent arrangement; for others, it's a licence to live together without a more formal commitment. But there are cases where contracts are abused, often by wealthy men from Gulf countries who take a temporary "wife" for the duration of a holiday in Egypt, then dump her, leaving her in disgrace with her own family. Siham Ali, who runs a help hotline for these women, said: "There is still a taboo against this in society."


I asked my friend, "Is urfi the same as 'mutaa' that is allowed in shiism?"

The friend replied, "No, there are a lot of differences, for one it has no stipulated time period, which is the essence of the mutaa contract, but incompatible with sunni jurisprudence. A lot of orthodox scholars view it as prostitution made legal and refuse to sanction it. It is missing some of the pillars of a real sunni marriage contract namely the mehr (dowry) and the ishar (making it known publicly) which is another difference from mutaa, because mutaa can be made known but urfi remains secret."


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