Following are excerpts from a TV debate on types of marriage in the Arab world which aired on Abu Dhabi TV on October 27, 2008:
TV host: Common-law marriage, misyar marriage, misfar marriage, "friend" marriage, marriage... marriage... and more types of marriage... If in science, necessity is the mother of invention, what led to the invention of all these marriage formulas?
Saudi cleric Ahmad Al-'Omari: Allah guaranteed women their rights from the cradle to the grave.
TV host: And along come men to deny them these rights.
Ahmad Al-'Omari: Who stands by the woman and grants her these rights? Her guardian. Who is a woman's guardian? First, it is her father, then her husband, and later her son. They are all her guardians. Do you want to give up guardianship altogether?
Saudi women’s rights activist Suad Al-Shumari: Yes. According to the shari'a, a woman has the right to do so.
Ahmad Al-'Omari: No, she doesn't. Allah bound you to this guardianship.
Suad Al-Shumari: No, according to the shari'a, a guardian is needed only for when a virgin girl of a young age gets married. That's it. It's inconceivable that my son should be my guardian when I am 60. It's inconceivable that my brother should be my guardian when I am 40 – allowing or forbidding me to go out, telling me what I can or cannot do, and we would have to negotiate over this.
According to the shari'a, women are allowed to drive. Do we drive? I need a husband just to drive me to work.
Ahmad Al-'Omari: By God, these things have nothing to do with me. You want to drive a car? It's not right.
Suad Al-Shumari: Driving is permitted...
Ahmad Al-'Omari: You would expose yourself to other problems.
If a woman were to drive, and her car were to break down – whether she has a flat tire, or she crashes into someone – what would she do?
TV host: But women in the Gulf drive cars and they don't encounter any problems.
Ahmad Al-'Omari: Do you drive?
TV host: Yes.
Ahmad Al-'Omari: Don't you encounter problems?
TV host: Absolutely not.
Ahmad Al-'Omari: Never? I don't believe you...
According to the shari'a, when a girl reaches maturity at the age of nine, and she is able to live a life of marriage, there is nothing in religious law to prevent her marriage.
TV host: Even though children are not yet able to comprehend the concept of marriage...
Suad Al-Shumari: We hear about cases of child rape and the sex trafficking of children. This is a sickness that is punishable by law all over the world. By the same token, an old man who marries a young girl is also sick. As for those who say that the Prophet Muhammad married 'Aisha [at the age of 7] – we must differentiate between what he did in his capacity as a state leader, who needed to forge a strong coalition by marrying the daughters of Abu Bakr and Omar ibn Al-Khattab, and between what he did from the perspective of religious law. The Prophet did not touch 'Aisha for three years. I challenge any of those old men who marry a young girl not to harass her, when she enters a world completely unknown to her.
Polygamy is allowed. To be honest, I support this. But the clerics must accept religion in its entirety, not just the parts they like. I challenge any cleric to declare that men should marry women 25 years older than them, like the Prophet Muhammad did. Let them declare that men should marry women older than them – the wives of prisoners and martyrs. No. All they look for are young girls. An older woman must be rich.
Ahmad Al-'Omari: This happens. I know many men who married older women.
Suad Al-Shumari: Only rich women...
Ahmad Al-'Omari: She doesn’t have to be rich.
TV host: What about the [platonic] wanasa marriage, which was permitted by Sheik Abd Al-Muhsen Al-Abikan. Is it not true that this kind of marriage is at the expense of the woman, who is expected to give up sex?
Ahmad Al-'Omari: In this kind of marriage, the woman gives up some of her rights, and she can give up conjugal relations, just like Sauda, one of the Prophet's wives, gave up her nights for 'Aisha. In such a case, the woman gives up some of her rights, but maintains her other rights.
Suad Al-Shumari: Is there a married woman in the world who would agree to give up her right to conjugal relations? Impossible!
TV host: Some people compare this to employing a servant girl.
Ahmad Al-'Omari: She's not a servant girl. Due to the circumstances of the husband, she can agree to give this up. There is nothing to prevent this. She is allowed to demand her [other] rights.
Suad Al-Shumari: As far as the shari'a is concerned – okay, this is permitted. Marriage is a partnership, and either one can give up certain things. But from the human and social perspectives, and from the perspective of our traditions and customs...
Ahmad Al-'Omari: We care about the shari'a more than anything else.
Suad Al-Shumari: Of course, we are very good at exploiting the shari'a for our own interests.
Ahmad Al-'Omari: This is not true. The shari'a serves the interests of both men and women.
The misyar marriage is the same as a type of marriage that was called "marriage of days and nights." This type of marriage existed in the days of the Prophet Muhammad, and even before that, in pre-Islamic times. In this marriage, the husband allocates either the day or the night to his wife. This is permitted by the shari'a. There is nothing wrong with it