A marriage of convenience

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The misyar or marriage of convenience within the country’s borders became a popular variant of marriage after it was sanctioned by some of our religious sheikhs. Essentially a license to have multiple partners without much responsibility or expense, it was soon followed by the misfar and other variations as well.

“Misfar” marriage refers to a union contracted so that a woman may cohabitate with her foreign “husband” for the period of time he is visiting a foreign country. These women are usually divorced after a short period which ranges from a week to a month. It is natural that most of these women who are married off come from deprived backgrounds, and for most of them, they have very little say in the matter.

Reports in the Saudi press have spoken of growing concerns over the number of children fathered by Saudi males in their trips abroad, and abandoned for all practical purposes. And while these overseas amorous urges and paternal distribution of genes are not necessarily restricted purely to Saudis, the number of wives and children left behind is of alarming proportions.

Several years ago at a conference in Egypt, Aiman Abu Akeel, chairman of the Maat Foundation for Peace and Development, stated that the majority of men who visited Egypt looking for misfar (tourist) marriages tended to be Saudis, followed by Iraqis, and that the women they married were predominantly younger than them.

In Egypt, parents receive several thousand Egyptian pounds from the visitors for sanctioning their approval for a limited time marriage. Most of these girls are below 16 years of age, and do not understand that they are being treated like commodities.

And it’s not just in Egypt that such a problem exists. There are abandoned wives and children in significant numbers in many countries. In Morocco, there were in the past reports of over 5,000 wives and as many children who had been left deserted by their tourist husbands without honor or gratuity.

In Syria, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, similar numbers exist making it a growing concern for the Saudi government which is attempting to make it obligatory for such errant fathers to own up to the responsibility of parenthood.

Several years ago, Najeeb Al-Zamil, founder of the Back to the Roots Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that helps Saudi children abroad said that there were many such children in Arab countries and that men abandoned their temporary wives and subsequent children for fear of discovery by their relatives back home.

He added that many children lived in miserable conditions and turned to drugs and illegal activities, deprived as they were of their true identity, although there have been others who have grown up to be success stories.

In the past in Morocco, a Saudi ambassador said the problem was compounded by the fact that many Saudis married Moroccan women without their family’s knowledge, and blamed the misery of these women on irresponsible Saudis.

“We give the children Saudi nationality if the woman can prove that she was married to a Saudi. The main problem we face is dealing with Saudis who do not cooperate with us. We at the embassy feel great pain toward our sons and daughters who have been abandoned like this. I try every day to call their fathers to solve their problems,” he stated.

He added that Saudi embassies had been advised to register children and issue temporary travel documents that allowed fathers to bring their children to the Kingdom and arranged passports and ID cards for them. Fathers, however, could be punished for violating the law and this could be in the form of a travel ban or a prison sentence.

This phenomenon following the oil boom years resulted in a rising number of abandoned women and children in different parts of the world fathered by Saudis.

Religious leaders who in the past had been quick to sanction such unions between men and women and legitimizing them to the degree of making them palatable within the framework of Islam should today be aware of the sorry consequences. They clearly did not possess the wisdom to foresee the tragic end of some of their edicts.

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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