"Husband Friend" instead of "Boy Friend"

In Islamic societies pre-marital relations are not allowed. Nelly Ezzat interviewed an Egyptian-Dutch couple that found a way get around this dilemma - the so-called "friend marriage".

​​Islamic societies pre-marital relations are not allowed. Nelly Ezzat interviewed an Egyptian-Dutch couple that found a way get around this dilemma - the so-called "friend marriage".

The legal religious opinion issued by the Yemeni religious scholar and intellectual Sheikh ‘Abd al-Majid al-Zandani on the creation of a new marriage relationship known as “friend marriage” for Muslims who live in the west – instead of the prevailing boy friend / girl friend system – has provoked much debate. Opinions have varied from those who support this new matrimonial experience to those who oppose it.

It is based on a commitment between a young man and woman that is made by means of a religiously recognised legal contract that does not require them to live together. After each meeting, both can return to the homes of their parents after meeting. Such a marriage is aimed at avoiding the evils of moral temptations and at facilitating marriage for young people through appropriate solutions that conform to religious law.

Despite all the controversy surrounding this legal religious opinion, Karim, who is an Egyptian national, and Hillary, who is Dutch, concluded such a marriage, and they affirm that it is a very positive experience. In this interview, Karim and Hillary speak of their experience with this new matrimonial relationship.

What were the reasons that prompted you to opt for a “friend marriage”?

Karim: Actually, I hadn’t intended to get married this way, but I did it because of my difficult financial circumstances – I am a trainee accountant at a bank, and I still haven’t got a regular or steady salary. The salary that I earn is not high enough to enable me to buy a flat and furnish it. I fell in love with Hillary when I met her during a visit to my uncle, who lives in Holland. I did not want to establish an illegitimate relationship with her, one of the “boy friend / girl friend” type. At the same time, I don’t own a house that would have allowed me to marry her when she came to Egypt as I had planned. So “friend marriage” was the best solution available to be married until we are able to buy a house in the future.

Don’t you think that “friend marriage”, which is financially easy, is tempting for a man because it relieves him of any real responsibility, which is why some have attacked it on the grounds that it does not achieve the results intended by religiously legitimate marriage – namely settling down and building up the country – and is merely based on satisfying sexual instincts?

Karim: I think that even if those who attack “friend marriage” consider it to be a way of merely satisfying sexual instincts, that in itself is considered a very good thing, because it entails satisfying an instinct through a legitimate, divine law that is accepted by God, society and the legal system. As for responsibility, I think that an honest intention is necessary for any form of marriage, not only for “friend marriage”. My intention and objective are to establish a home and a stable family life, and I am seeking to achieve that in every way with Hillary.

​​Hillary, don’t you think that “friend marriage” infringes on a woman’s dignity, particularly since you are married to a Muslim, whose religion urges him to take responsibility for you and for a home, even if you are helping him out financially?

Hillary: I don’t think so. This is a legitimate marriage under the law, and when I am with him, I do not feel that there is anything that infringes on my dignity. Then, I must realise, between me and myself, that this is not a conventional type of marriage, but a temporary situation until the conventional pattern can be achieved, and we move in together into a home in which we will share responsibility for everything, not only for financial matters.

Some have called for implementing this type of marriage in Arab societies to facilitate marriage amongst young people, particularly since spinsterhood amongst young women and bachelorhood amongst men in the Arab countries is high. What do you think about that?

Karim: I think that Arab societies are more in need of it than Muslims in the west, because financial problems (in Arab societies) are more pressing and the rate of repression is very high. Arab families might accept their sons and daughters to be together for a short period after marriage. That period would provide them (the couple) with a great opportunity to manage their situation and exert maximum efforts to set up a simple home of their own. A renewal of thought (in our society) is needed, and we must get rid of the artificial traditions of society as long as that does not cause us to depart from the spirit of religion. I was fortunate, thank God, to find Hillary. Perhaps because she belongs to a western culture, she understood and accepted the idea, particularly since she is very well versed in the Muslim religion, reads a lot about it and attends lessons in it, although she is a Christian.

Hillary: I think it is an appropriate solution, both for Arab societies and for the marriage of an Arab man to a western woman, because it spares them from having to resort to relations that are forbidden by the Muslim religion.

Your marriage differs from the recognised form of marriage. What were the things you had to take into consideration when you were married?

Karim: Of course, there were things we had to adapt to. These included the places where we would meet and my family, who accepted the idea and were convinced by it. They allowed us to meet at their home and in some cheap hotels. The most important issue was a psychological one, as I had to understand that I would not be able to come home to find that my wife had prepared a meal for me.

Hillary: Because of my work with the Arab communities in Holland before I settled in Egypt, I learned a lot about the Muslim religion. When I fell in love with Karim, I wished between me and myself that he would pay me a dowry and give me a diamond ring, but my dowry has been a quarter of an Egyptian pound. Despite the very low financial value of my dowry, I was very happy. He didn’t buy me a diamond ring, only a simple wedding ring. He’ll buy me a diamond ring when things get better financially. I also had to accept the objections of some family members and friends in Egypt to the idea and their unpleasant attitude towards us. It was necessary for me to adapt to that within myself before marriage so that it would not affect me.

I can see that your experience has been successful, but what advice would you give to young people intending to wed according to the “friend marriage” pattern as you have done?

Karim: Yes, our experience is successful, and I advocate it. But I do not advise every young man who has financial problems to resort to “friend marriage”. Anyone who intends to take such a step must have certain attributes, the most important of which are a sense of responsibility and honesty. I emphasise both because their existence or absence can be the reason for the success or the failure of the relationship. My advice is that they should not be tempted to remain in such a situation for too long. They must seriously look for a stable home that will bring them together. The young man must not contemplate betraying the young woman after she has married him and chosen to struggle and patiently endure such a situation with him.

Hillary: I advise young women in particular to adopt a culture of patience until they achieve their goal of turning such a temporary situation into the situation she hopes for. But in the end, I want to emphasise that “friend marriage” is nothing more than a new experience that may or may not be successful, like anything else that is new to us.

Interview: Nelly Ezzat, © 2003

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