By Miret el Naggar
Egypt's top Sunni religious authority issued a decree promulgating the "messiar," a controversial form of unregistered marriage, that allows couples to tie the knot through a verbal commitment and according to their own set of rules.
"In Islam contracts are spoken. In a messiar marriage a man and wife can agree on certain conditions, as that the woman gives up the right to having a home that she shares with her husband, or the right to alimony, or both," said the religious decree posted on the website of Dar al Iftaa, Egypt's highest religious institution.
The rules for marriage in Islam stipulate only the couple's acceptance of one another and the presence of witnesses, and does not require official contracts.
While this form of unofficial marriage is accepted in the Gulf countries, it is unheard of here in Egypt. Any form of unregistered marriage in Egypt is highly frowned upon. In recent years the government led a campaign to warn young couples of the dangers an unregistered marriage can bring.
In cases of unofficial marriages, issues as divorce, child custody and alimony are very difficult to take to court. Especially if the relationship results in a child, the woman faces huge difficulties to make the father acknowledge his child, because their is no written proof they had been married. Other than that the woman is shunned by her family and by society.
However, it has become harder for young couples, especially for young men, to meet the requirements (set by society) of marriage. For a family to consider accepting a young man's request to marry their daughter, he must provide a place to live, a gift of jewelry for the bride, a wedding party, a sum of money as dowry, and the list goes on. As a result, many couples struggling with bad economic conditions and low wages, resorted to the unregistered marriage, which gave them the freedom to hang out with each other, away from the family's eyes.
A court case between Egyptian actor Ahmed el Fishawy and costume designer Hind el Hennawy dragged on for months in Egyptian courts Hennawy claimed they had gotten married through a urfi marriage, another form of unofficial contract, and that her baby girl Lina was Fishawy's. Fishawy in his turn, refused to recognize the baby as his, and claimed they had never gotten married. Only after DNA tests did Hennawy win the court battle in 2006.
The Hennawy-Fishawy court battle made headlines for months, but with the positive outcome that now courts acknowledge DNA testing. This encouraged other mothers with similar cases to Hennawy to go to court and battle it out with whom they had children.