Valentines Day may be over, but true love lasts more than a day: “forever” seems to be the fairy-tale measurement, at any rate. Per the story book, true love is sealed by a marriage: a commitment that in the past used to actually last a lifetime. And while marriage is certainly more often than not a permanent situation for most couples in the Middle East, there are an alarming number of marriages that end up just as short as a Hollywood celebritie’s Las Vegas wedding. The cause behind these extremely (as in a few hours at times!) short marriages is none other than true love’s just as passionate but much more spontaneous sibling, true lust, whom Muslims are finding harder to suppress despite their conservative cultures.
“Faux-marriages” are a common practice for those in Egypt who want to be able to legally “be intimate” with someone who is not a spouse. Known as “orfi marriages” these allow couples to live together without being harassed by their landlords (as I found out, non-married couples cannot rent a flat or even a hotel room in Egypt; proof of marriage is required). While the logic behind the orfi marriages seems sound (from a liberal Westerner’s point of view) the underlying problem is that most of the time the woman (more often than not a foreigner) is not told that the marriage actually has no legal standing with the Egyptian government or any foreign government. Basically put, the orfi marriage is designed so that a man can have sex with the female of his choice and leave her when he’s finished, no strings attached.
A recent article on a French-language Tunisian website (see below for link) shed more light onto fake marriages in the Middle East, albeit in a completely different manner. In Tunisia, the practice of orfi marriages exists the same as in Egypt, but with several twists. Firstly, both parties know that the marriage is not binding nor long-lasting; secondly, both parties are usually Muslim (and sometimes of the more penitent type); and thirdly, it has not only become socially acceptable, but fundamentalist Salafis actually support le mariage coutumier.
The article on lustful Tunisians shocked me, mostly for it’s hypocrisy. Although I once again understand the logic behind two young people who want to have sexual relations but can’t because they are not married nor can be married, the fact that both the man and the woman are usually Muslim was kind of hard to grasp, since unlike in the case of the Egyptian marriages both parties knew that was they were doing was “wrong” and in some cases the girls were the religious type who were veiled! Religion is complicated, but I don’t really see how one could consider herself so “close to God” that she must hide her body from men, but yet she willingly submits to a non-blessed marriage (the article called these marriages ‘halal’ but I think not) just because she wants to have sex? Oh, the hypocrisy?
The hypocrisy of course extended to the fact that the extreme fundamentalist Salafi group actually encourages couples to engage in orfi marriages. This statement was not expounded upon, which I greatly would have appreciated, as it seemed to jar with everything that Salafis stand for along with the other commentary that the article provided, such as the fact that orfi marriage is still illegal under law. The article did point to the fact that many of the orfi participants are young, poor and relish the ability to enjoy an aspect of marriage “sans pour autant en supporter la charge financière, généralement très lourde.”
The “charge financiere,” or financial burden, points to a very interesting comparaison between the evolution of a Christianity and Islam. The Christian bible also states that sexual relatons should only be between a husband and wife, yet there are plenty of people nowadays who call themselves Christian but who engage in premarital sex, among other previously “forbidden” practices. Orfi marriage in the Muslim world suggests that some Muslims are challenging the rules that are suggested in the Qu’ran like their Christian counterparts before them. Orfi marriages suggest that even Islam, often seen as a stalwart and stubborn bulkhead to modernity, adaptation and change, is not completely immune to our rapidly changing world. Marriages cost money, and not everyone has money in these harsh economic times. Thus, even those who believe strongly in God have thought realistically and come to the conclusion that they don’t want to end up as the 40-year old virgin.
Will custom be overtaken by personal desire, lust and opinion in Tunisia? The citizens of this tiny country have already proved themselves as trendsetters of the Middle East (hello, Sidi Bouzi and the Arab Spring!) so let’s see if they can start a more cultural, liberal revolution.
1. “Tunisie – Le sexe hors mariage, désormais « halal » grâce au mariage « coutumier »” by Synda Tajine. 27 January 2012. http://www.businessnews.com.tn/Tunisie—Le-sexe-hors-mariage,-d%C3%A9sormais-%C2%AB-halal-%C2%BB-gr%C3%A2ce-au-mariage-%C2%AB-coutumier-%C2%BB,520,28998,3
2. Photo copyright: weddings.divanee.com