Egyptian lawyers welcome fatwa banning short-term marriages

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Dar Al Iftaa has issued a fatwa that prohibits so-called Tahleel marriages or short-term intermarriages, in which a man marries a divorced woman in order to enable her to religiously remarry to her first husband.

The newest Fatwa published on Dar Al Iftaa’s official Twitter account condemns such marriages as “sinful” or haram. the Fatwa was welcomed by social media activists and women’s rights activists who have long been calling for an end to archaic discrimination against women. They hope the religious ban on the practice paves the way for legislation that criminalizes such marriages in Egypt.

According to Sharia law, a husband can remarry his wife without preconditions if he divorces her once or twice. However, if he divorces her a third time, be it verbally (by simply saying the words “I hereby divorce you”) or through a judicial petition for divorce, the divorce is irrevocable.

It is sinful for the couple to remarry after a triple divorce unless the divorced woman marries another man and the second marriage is consummated. If the second marriage also ends with the divorce or the death of the second husband, only then can the woman return to her former spouse.

Muslim scholars argue that this requirement is intended to contain divorce, which in God’s eyes is the “most heinous” of all lawful acts, according to a hadith or proverb of Prophet Muhammad.

Still, some couples have found a way to circumvent Islamic rule by resorting to Tahlael marriage. In such cases, after an irrevocable divorce (often from the husband himself or from the family of his ex-wife), it is agreed that the wife will marry another man, a so-called muhallil, for a short time (sometimes without duration), more than one night and often without sexual intercourse) to legitimize their reunion. The difference between the Tahleel marriage and the Islamic regulation is that the former is a marriage of convenience with a pre-arranged deadline and often with the muhallil (the second husband) who is paid as an intermediary.

Despite the religious judgment against Tahlael marriages, such marriages are not banned in Egypt and have even been promoted in TV soap operas, films and theatrical comedies such as the long-running “El Wad Sayed El Shaghal,” in which veteran actor Adel Imam plays the role of Muhallil.

In issuing the latest edict, Dar Al Iftaa quoted the hadith of Prophet Muhammad, narrated by his companion Abdullah Ibn Massoud: “Cursed is he who serves as Muhallil, and cursed is the (former) spouse who allows his divorced wife to to enter into a sham marriage (after their third, irrevocable divorce) to make it lawful for him (the ex-spouse). ”

The fatwa was brought against a man who, during interrogation by the public prosecutor, admitted that he had married no fewer than 33 divorced women in the past two years and later divorced, which he described as “charitable” to allow their ex-spouses after the couple’s third divorce.

Mohamed El Mallah (the man in question), who is married and works as an accountant, describes himself as “legal muhallil”. In a live interview on an episode of “Hadatha Fee Masr,” broadcast by satellite MBC Masr, he was unrepentant and insisted on “doing the right thing by saving families from destruction”.

“I married the women in accordance with Sharia law and without pay or reward,” Mallah said.

It all started when a work colleague told Mallah about a friend whose husband had divorced her for the third time and suggested that he do a charitable deed by acting as Muhallil so that the divorced woman could later become her ex-spouse can return, but with a new contract.

Mallah married the woman and divorced her three days later. He then met other divorced women who were looking for a muhallil on Facebook, where he advertised himself on his page as a “legal muhallil (aiming to reunite divorced women with their ex-spouses”). Some of the other women he married were introduced to him “through mutual friends” or “mutual acquaintances” who knew he was ready to repair broken marriages for free.

Mabrouk Attia, preacher and Sharia professor at Al-Azhar University, who appeared on the show with Mallah, criticized his approach as “un-Islamic”. He argued that marriage in Islam is based on mutual consent with no time limit. If a husband annuls the marriage for the third time, his ex-spouse would have to marry another man (before she can return to him), but that (second) marriage should by no means be a stepping stone to reunification with her ex-spouse, Attia noted.

Azza Soliman, lawyer and human rights defender, acknowledged that Tahlael marriages take place in Egypt, noting, “We have no idea how widespread they are as they are rarely publicly declared as such.”

“We find that a woman whose husband has divorced her three times is registered as married to another man,” Soliman told Al-Monitor. “After a month, or sometimes even a week, we find her registered as divorced again, citing incompatibility or some other reason as the reason for the divorce from her second husband.”

“The same woman then remarries her ex-spouse after observing the Iddah,” said Soliman, referring to the three-month waiting period a Muslim woman observes after divorce or after the death of her husband.

“There are no statistics showing how common Tahlael marriages are,” said Soliman. “What is certain is that Muhallil is not mentioned in the proposed civil status law, nor was the Tahlael marriage criminalized in Egypt.”

Mozn Hassan, a suffragette and founder of Nazra for Feminist Studies, believes that while laws are important to contain the practice, it is even more important to find out what is causing the problem. “We need women to speak out so that we can better understand why some women are okay with this [be] exploited in this way, “she told Al-Monitor.

“Criminalizing such marriages is an important first step, but instead of focusing on this phenomenon, we need to look at the whole situation and take a holistic approach to women’s rights,” said Hassan. She called the government’s draft law on civil status “regressive” and complained that proposed changes in the law “largely discriminate against women and do not recognize them as men”.

Nehad Abul Komsan, founder and chairman of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, said President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for a ban on oral or oral divorce in 2017, but the request met with stiff opposition from Al-Azhar clerics.

In Egypt, a husband can annul the marriage simply by saying the words “I hereby divorce you”. This partly explains the high divorce rate in the country. With more than 200,000 divorces per year, Egypt ranked first among the countries in the world in divorce according to official statistics in 2019. The following year saw a surge in divorce and domestic abuse cases filed in court due to the lockdown of the pandemic, according to Ahram Online.

Still, women’s rights activists hope that the historic decision to appoint women judges to the State Council and the Public Prosecutor’s Office will do Egyptian women good, “as the women judges are likely to have more sympathy for women’s concerns,” suggested Hassan. She hopes the move will “put an end to discriminatory customs such as Tahlael marriages, which cause severe socio-economic burdens on women.”



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