Rafed English

Fixed-Time Marriage I

One of the glorious laws of Islam, from the point of view of the Ja'fari (Shi'ite) law, is that there are two kinds of marriage, a permanent and a fixed-time marriage.

Some of the effects, which flow from these two kinds of marriage, are the same and some others are different. There are two distinctive features between them. One is that in a fixed -time marriage, a man and a woman enter into a contract to marry each other for a fixed period, on the expiry of which, if they wish, they can extend it, otherwise they separate.

The other distinguishing feature is that there is a greater freedom of choice in fixed-time marriage. The contracting parties may stipulate any conditions they like. For example, in a permanent marriage the husband is bound to maintain his wife and meet her daily expenses. Besides, he has to provide for her clothing, housing and other necessities of life like medicines and medical treatment etc. But in a fixed-time marriage everything depends on the terms of the contract. It is possible that the husband may not be able or may not be willing to bear the expenses of his wife, or the wife may not like to utilise her husband's money.

In the permanent marriage the wife has to accept her husband as the head of the family and obey him within the limits of family interest, but in a fixed-time marriage this also depends on the terms of the contract. In the case of a permanent marriage wife and husband inherit from each other, but this is not so in a fixed-time marriage.

However, in the fixed-time marriage after the formula has been pronounced the couple is recognised as lawful wife and husband and they can then have intimacy but before that they are strangers and it is prohibited for them to have any kind of sexual relation.

The main difference between a fixed-time and a permanent marriage is that a fixed-time marriage places less restrictions upon the spouses. Its terms depend upon their will and choice and the agreement concluded between them. Its very nature gives a sort of freedom to both the parties, for it puts the fixation of its duration into their own hands.

In a permanent marriage neither the husband nor the wife can use any contraceptive methods without the consent of the other, but in the fixed-time marriage such a consent is not necessary. This is, in fact, another kind of freedom given to both the husband and the wife.

The child born from a fixed-time wedlock is in no way legally different from the child born as a result of a permanent marriage.

Dower (mahr): The marriage portion given by the husband to his wife. The dower must be specified and fixed at the time of marriage, but its actual payment may be deferred with the mutual consent of the parties concerned.

'Dower' is necessary, both in the case of a permanent and a fixed-time marriage, with the only difference that the non-specification of dower at the time of marriage makes the fixed-time marriage void (batil), but does not affect the validity of permanent marriage. If no dower is specified at the time of permanent marriage, then the wife is entitled to the dower, customarily fixed for the females.

In a permanent marriage, the husband is debarred from ever marrying the mother or daughter of the wife and the wife is permanently debarred from marrying the father or son of the husband. Similar is the case with regard to fixed time marriage As it is forbidden to propose to a permanently married woman, similarly, it is not allowed to give an offer of marriage to a woman who is married under fixed-time marriage rules. As adultery with the permanent wife of someone else permanently debars a person from marrying her, the same restriction is imposed in the case of adultery with the fixed-time wife of someone else.

After getting a divorce, just as the permanent wife has to pass through a period of probation (iddah), during which she cannot marry again, the fixed-time wife also, after the expiry of the marriage term or the termination of marriage earlier with mutual agreement, has to pass a period of probation. The only difference is that in the case of a permanent wife the iddah is three monthly periods, whereas in the case of a fixed-time wife it is two periods or 45 days. To have two sisters as wives at the same time is prohibited both in the case of a permanent as well a fixed-time marriage. This is what is meant by a fixed-time marriage, according to the Shi'ite law.

Obviously we support this law with the prescribed conditions and specifications. If some people misused it in the past or are still misusing it, that has nothing to do with the legal system as such. The abolition of this law, as suggested by some modernists, can serve no useful purpose, as, with its abolition, malpractices will not stop, but will only take a different shape. Moreover, the abolition of this law will give rise to many other evils. What is required is that, instead of finding fault with the law, people should be reformed and correctly educated.

Now let us see why it is necessary to have the institution of a fixed-time marriage side by side with that of a permanent marriage. If a fixed-time marriage is necessary, is it compatible with the present day conditions and modern-ideas of human values? We propose to discuss this question under two headings:

(a) Present day life and a fixed-time marriage

(b) Faults and evils of a fixed-time marriage

Adapted from the book: "Woman and Her Rights" by: "Shahid Murtaza Mutahhari

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