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Controversial Fatwa Seeks to Unite Muslim Lovers

Sep 17 2003

By Nabil Sultan

SANA’A, Sep (IPS) û A leading Muslim scholar in Yemen has issued a
controversial fatwa to create “married friendship” among Muslims living in the
West.

The fatwa in effect gives young Muslims living in Europe and the United States
the option of a status between boyfriend and girlfriend, and living under the
same roof as a married couple.

Sheikh Abdul-Majeed Al-Zindani, head of the al-Eman religious university in
Yemen, and head of the Shura (consultation council) of the Islamic party Islah,
says his fatwa comes in response to a call from Arab communities living in the
West who are seeing their children adopt a “boyfriend and girlfriend” culture.

The fatwa means a young Muslim going out with another can marry, but
continue to stay with their parents. They can, of course, meet freely.

Under Islamic requirements, an unmarried woman is not allowed to be alone
with a man who is not her father, grandfather, brother or uncle. “Why don’t we
make ‘married friends’ instead of ‘girlfriends’ and ‘boyfriends’,” al-Zindani says in
his fatwa. The present conditions for Muslims living in the West are
“unpleasant”, he said, because they find it difficult to hold strictly to their religion
and traditions.

Many Yemenis and other Arabs have long respected al-Zindani’s fatwas. The
al-Eman university is the leading Islamic university in Yemen, and is considered
the equivalent of the influential al-Azhar institute in Egypt.

Clerics at al-Azhar have strongly condemned the fatwa. “Through the issuance
of such a fatwa, al-Zindani is calling for the enjoyment of all the benefits of
marriage according to Shariah, but in a temporary form,” says Dr Abdul-Sabour
Shahin from al-Azhar. He accuses al-Zindani of failing to finish his studies at al-
Azhar.

Dr Nasser Farid Wasel, the former head mufti in Egypt said al-Zindani’s fatwah
is illegitimate. “Allah legalises marriage for humans as a solid and sacred
relationship between man and woman, a relationship that is based on stable
and perpetual love and mercy,” he said.

“The Islamic Shariah law is comprehensive, timeless and universal,” he said,
“and so it has no exceptions whatsoever, and a Muslim must not abandon
Islamic teachings whenever and wherever he or she might be. Such a marriage
would lead to demoralisation, the mixing up of kinship, infringing on the Shariah
and committing immoral crimes and sins.”

Al-Zindani defended his fatwa against such charges. “The fatwa aims at
saving progeny and keeping oneself away from sins,” he said at a press
conference. “Moreover it is an initiative to solve a critical and ethical problem
facing Muslims in America and Europe.”

The fatwa is based on the regular pillars of marriage, he said, namely two
witnesses, a marriage contract and agreed dowry. “It is for the period of
unavailability of a residence, which is temporary, until the husband is ready to
maintain a new home,” he said.

The fatwa has become quite a talking point in Yemeni society. “The married
friend is a solution to a problem,” says Afrah al-Musaini, a dentist who has
graduated from Poland. “In Muslim countries it’s easy to marry and take upon
yourself all marriage requirements,” he said. “In Europe this is different, because
the culture of relations between boys and girls is open and unlimited.”

Abdulmalik al-Sharabee, father of three sons says al-Zindani is known for his
modern views. “He has not imposed his views on anyone, and I believe we can
discuss such things as long as they are within the limits of Islam,” he said.

But can the fatwa work also in Arab countries?

Many see this as a solution to the practice of secret marriages spreading in the
Arab world. Secret marriages are considered un-Islamic, and do not guarantee
women’s rights as provided by Islam. A man could walk out on his wife and the
wife could hardly go to court because the marriage itself would be considered
illegal.

Such marriages have come to the surface in several Arab countries, and
recently in Yemen. Many parents have been shocked to discover that their
daughters have married without their knowledge.

Those who have married like this blame parents for making huge money
demands a precondition to marriage. “Society and family say secret marriages
are against Islamic rules,” says Adel Abdulmalik, 32 and single. “Yes, they are,
but they never admit that they make marriages so expensive. That also is
against Islamic rules.”

Asma al-Shawafi, 26, says marriage has become almost impossible because
poverty is “suffocating our dreams and expectations.” Society must make it
easier for young people to marry, she says. The price tag to marriage has
become a recipe for secret marriages.

Bilqis al-Buqari teaches in a school where six schoolgirls were found to have
married secretly. “The discoveries were shocking, and we informed their
families,” she said. “The least of the punishment the girls faced was that they
could not continue their studies.”

Secret marriages “are a natural result of the oppression and backwardness
our communities are still suffering from,” says Morad Saif, a university student.
“Our society is unable to get rid of its obsolete traditions that do not arise from
Islam.”

An agreed solution to these problems is far. But the problems are beginning to
come to the surface. (END/IPS/

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