It would perhaps not be too far-fetched to say that today Islam is largely misunderstood around the world.
One of the main reasons for this, besides the ever-increasing Islamophobia and media propaganda, is the fact that Muslims around the world do not do a good enough job of practically representing Islam. They lack knowledge of their faith, and hence, their cultural practices, ethos, manners, habits, and lifestyles do not represent the authentic teachings of Islam.
One of the major realms, where this becomes obvious, is marriage. Islam liberated women from oppressive cultural practices that allowed men to objectify, exploit, and mistreat them as human beings, for centuries. At the same time, the laws of Islam obligated men to protect and provide for women, thus preventing the latter from having to support themselves, unless that was their own conscious choice.
Before we begin to discuss the kinds of odd and strange marital unions that are entered into just for temporary worldly benefits, we must acknowledge one important thing: that marriage does not have the same implications for every human being in the world.
At the basic/ideal level, marriage in Islam allows a man or a woman to have a companion in life, satisfy their sexual needs, and raise the next generation of Muslims in a nurturing and loving home environment.
However, for many people, marriage does not always serve the same purposes or goals. Marriage has been used since time immemorial to serve certain other, social purposes as well.
Many people get married for reasons other than just satisfying their biological urges, or starting and raising a family. This is all the more so when certain peculiar events, circumstances, and situations in life can coerce anyone, particularly someone in authority, to enter a marriage in order to avoid some harm, or to facilitate some greater, communal good.
For us, the best example of this is in the later marriages of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), during the period of his life that he spent in Madinah. He married several more women at the command of Allah, not just to support them, but to also form important political alliances with their tribes, which served to strengthen the cause of Islam.
There is nothing wrong with entering a marriage with the intention of availing certain benefits that it brings, as long as the person (male or female) who is getting married, intends to sincerely fulfill their Islamic role and responsibilities that Allah has obligated in the union. For example, many women in developing countries desire to get married solely to acquire financially independence viz. to have a husband who will financially support them.
However, Islam has categorically prohibited marriages that aim to exploit one partner by stripping them of their due rights, whilst allowing the other to avail marital benefits. The main reason for this prohibition is that they are a grave injustice to women.
Before we discuss these marriages, I want to point out one more important point: men desire to get married primarily because they want sex. Also, they are naturally predisposed to desire multiple women, and they gravitate towards physical beauty.
Women ― on the other hand ― desire the whole package: love, sex, protection, company, financial support, and social prestige. Both genders often desire children through marriage, as well.
Because of this, men ― particularly those with social/political power and authority ― can exploit those women who are economically weak and socially vulnerable e.g. orphaned & abandoned young girls, poor women in need of money, or young Muslim converts living alone, who are looking for a husband.
Islamic laws have closed the door to any marriage that can leave a woman exploited and abandoned by her husband.
The first kind is “mut’a”, which is a temporary marriage contracted with the clear intention to divorce after a preset time period, in which the husband pays the ‘wife’ a sum of money at the onset:
`Ali ibn Abi Talib reported that:
Allah’s Messenger forbade on the Day of Khaibar temporary marriage (mut’a) with women, and the eating of the flesh of domestic donkeys. (Sahih Muslim 1407)
This kind of marriage is forbidden in Islam, because, understandably, it leaves women ― especially those in need of money ― vulnerable to rich men, who might marry them just to enjoy their bodies, without the intention of permanently supporting them, dwelling with them as family, or providing for any children borne out of this union.
The second marriage that is prohibited in Islam is called “misyar”. The Arabic root of this word is “yusr”, which means “ease”. As the name implies, in misyar marriage, the wife gives up her Islamic marital rights viz. financial maintenance, conjugation, accommodation, and regular companionship with her husband.
In other words, the husband is legally allowed to have sex with her whenever he wants, but she is not entitled to anything from him, not even financial support for raising any children that they have.
Islam has forbidden the above 2 kinds of marriages in order to protect women from being exploited by men for ‘legal’ sex.
No doubt, misyar does serve to save certain men & women from adultery, such as those men who travel often and for long periods to another country, but their existing family (wife and children) cannot accompany them.
Contracting a misyar marriage with a woman based in the foreign country can help save both of them from adultery.
However, scholars prohibit this marriage in order to protect women, like I already said, from being exploited sexually and then abandoned, at the husband’s free will. Being in a misyar marriage is demeaning to a Muslim woman, and this marriage can even be regarded as a ‘legal’ form of prostitution. And Allah knows best.
It is no secret that, since time immemorial, poor, orphaned, vulnerable, and needy women have been exploited by powerful men, in return for access to their bodies. Children borne from such unions have grown up fatherless and prone to delinquency; the vicious cycle of abuse continuing across generations.
Islam is the only religion that has protected women from all kinds of exploitation, by obligating men to take financial and social responsibility for any women whom they touch intimately, and to practice strict justice between their wives.
Like I said at the start: Islam is the most beautiful religion, but also, the most misrepresented!