Monday 29 April 2013

What kind of woman is willing to share her husband?

Farzana is a senior nurse, 36, attractive, selfpossessed and articulate. “I have begun to consider polygamy,” she tells me at a matchmaking event in central London for divorced and widowed Muslims interested in marrying again. “When you think about love in an Islamic way, the co-wife idea makes sense.”
According to Mizan Raja, who set up the Islamic Circles community network and presides over the east London Muslim matrimonial scene, women are increasingly electing to become “co-wives” – in other words, to become a man’s second or third wife. As I reported last year in the New Statesman, Raja gets five to ten requests every week from women who are “comfortable with the notion of a part-time man”. He explained: “Career women don’t want a full-time husband. They don’t have time.” So couples live separately, a husband visiting his wives on a rota.
A dapper City boy listening to Raja whispered to me: “Actually, that’s not right. In late twenties a girl is considered past it, so this arrangement is the best she can get.”
If you’re divorced, widowed or over 30 and Muslim, finding a husband in this country can be a challenge. Does polygamy, or more specifically polygyny (a man taking more than one wife, as opposed to a woman taking more than one husband), as sanctioned by the Quran, offer a possible solution?
Aisha (not her real name), a divorced single mother with two children, recently chose to become a second wife. She was introduced to her husband by a friend. She says that at first she was hesitant. “I was like, ‘No, I can’t do it. I’m too jealous as a person. I wouldn’t be able to do it.’ But the more that time went on and I started thinking about it, especially more maturely, I saw the beauty of it.”
They agreed on the terms of the marriage by email, covering details such as “how many days he’d spend with me and how many days he’d spend with his other wife, and money and living arrangements”. They then met twice, liked each other, set a date and were married. Her husband now spends three days with Aisha and her two children from her previous marriage and then three days with his other family, unless one of them is ill, in which case he stays to help but has to make up the missed time to his other wife.
She confesses that “if he was to stay all the time I’d love it”, but says that having time off “is definitely beneficial in some ways as well”. She has “more freedom” to see her friends and her family, and it is a relief “not having a man in your face half the time, when you are cranky, and he can go somewhere else and you can manage the kids on your own”.
As a divorcee, bringing up children on her own for three years before remarrying, she built up an independent life for herself: “It’s hard to let your goals go for a man all over again.” Although she concedes they have had a “few teething problems” and that it took his first wife “some time to come to terms with it”, now, she says, they “have come to an understanding . . . We are finding our feet.” Both sets of children are aware of the new situation and have accepted it. In fact, she says that her husband’s daughter from his first marriage “can’t wait to meet second Mummy” and her own son, who now has a father figure and “role model” that he was previously lacking, is “really happy with it”. They have yet to experience “a big family get-together”, but Aisha says she is “hopeful that will happen soon . . . I’ve spoken to her [the first wife] a couple of times. She seems really lovely. I would really like for us to become good friends . . . for there to be that kind of bond of sisterhood between us.”
The main obstacle to happiness, according to Aisha, “is the sense of ownership” and jealousy. “But that’s something that you’ve just got to use your wisdom to get past . . . It’s more important for me to have a father for my children . . . to have a helping hand when I need it.” She insists that problems arise only when the husband does not treat both wives equally, as explicitly mandated in the Quran, or when the wives are not mature enough to rationalise and accept the situation.
Anecdotal evidence, in the absence of the statistical kind, suggests that polygamy is on the rise in Britain. And according to a poll conducted over a week by, 33 per cent of men and 9 per cent of women would choose to be part of a polygamous marriage. Because such marriages take place through an unregistered marriage contract, they do not constitute bigamy, a criminal offence in the UK.
The reasons for polygamy are complex. Aisha says that, from her point of view, “Single mums don’t have the pick of the bunch . . . [Polygamy] is there so we can still have the benefits of marriage, so we don’t have to be left on the shelf, so our children can still have role models, father figures, and so we can still have that emotional stability, financial stability and security.”
The stigma of divorce, as well as later marriages and the importing of foreign brides (15,500 women were admitted to the UK in 2011 as wives of British men, according to Home Office figures), have all exacerbated the problem for Muslim women looking for a husband. 
Aisha tells me that her husband saw polygamy as his religious duty. “A lot of people think it’s just about sex but . . . sex goes out the window after a while. If you don’t want your husband marrying someone else, what would happen to these single mums, then, and these divorcees? Is it fair that they just stay on the shelf? We should be looking after our community. Islam is all about community and society and we should look after our brothers and our sisters equally, otherwise it’s every man for themselves.”
Kalsoom Bashir, the project manager of the Muslim women’s rights organisation Inspire, and Khola Hasan of the Islamic Sharia Council in Leyton, east London, both believe that forced marriage is another reason for polygamy. British men are forced into marriages, often with cousins imported from “back home” with whom they have nothing in common. “For a man who has been in the difficult situation of being forced into a marriage, and the numbers are huge in Britain, absolutely huge . . . for many of them, polygamy is a good way of being happy and keeping the family happy,” Hasan explains.
The Quran instructs Muslim men to “marry women of your choice two or three or four”, but warns that “if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly [with them] then only one or [your concubines]. That is more fitting so that you do not deviate from the right course.” The Prophet Muhammad said, “Whosoever has two wives and he inclines towards one to the exclusion of the other, he will come on the Day of Judgement with his body dropping or bending down.”
In other words, “It is mission impossible,” according to Mufti Barkatulla, a senior imam and sharia council judge in Leyton. He firmly believes that there is no place for polygamy in modern Britain. “There are a number of cases we have come across and there is hardly a case where a man can balance all the duties required in a polygamous situation . . . In today’s industrial society, it is impossible to observe the conditions laid down by the scriptures.” Polygamy, he points out, predates Islam and was permitted in Islam in the context of war to offer protection to war orphans and widows. Many of the Prophet’s 11 wives were widows.
Sara (not her real name) is a 40-year-old Muslim convert. She accepted the practice of polygamy as part of her religion and when she fell in love with a married man, she was the one who suggested that she become his second wife. “I was busy and studying. I felt I could cope with not having someone around all the time,” she tells me.
In reality, though, Sara now says, their marriage was more like a religiously sanctioned affair. “Because of the social taboos against [polygamy], it had to be secret from the community and I couldn’t have any children . . . because then it will be known that he has a second wife.” Although she met her husband’s first wife, going on holiday with her once and even offering to babysit her children, the first wife never fully accepted the situation. “I really had this idea that we somehow would eventually find some way of getting on . . . I was imagining it would be like these stories I have heard of where it works, so I thought it would just be a matter of time and we were destined to be together.” Eventually, after six years, Sara sought a divorce.
In his 25 years presiding over thousands of divorce cases at the Islamic Sharia Council, Mufti Barkatulla has heard many similar stories. Between 2010 and 2011, 43 out of the 700 applications for divorce to Leyton’s sharia council cited polygamy as the main reason.
Mufti Barkatulla and Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the former director of the Muslim Institute, devised a Muslim marriage contract – in effect, a religiously sanctioned prenup, to be signed at the time of the nikah, or religious ceremony – that sought to address the imbalance in Muslim marriages, giving women equal rights to divorce, allowing them to feel safe from rape or abuse, and preventing husbands from taking a second wife. It also states that the nikah must happen in conjunction with a civil ceremony, for extra protection.
He tells me the story of a woman whose husband “had agreed to a civil ceremony but because dates and everything were not agreed the husband kept on delaying it”. One day when she got home, she found a notice on the door: “Everything is over. Collect your things from my sister’s house.” The woman told him that she felt as though she had been “on trial” but eventually was discarded.
An estimated 70-75 per cent of Muslim marriages in the UK are not registered under the Marriage Act, unlike Christian and Jewish marriages, which are registered automatically. Mosques have the legal right to register to conduct civil weddings, but only about one in ten have chosen to do so. A nikah or Muslim marriage can be performed anywhere, even using proxies or on Skype. When a marriage is not registered and the relationship breaks down, the unregistered wife has no rights to spousal or child support and can even be left homeless, denied her due share. In the event of the husband’s death, the registered wife and her children will inherit and the unregistered wife and children will not.
If Muslim marriages are unregistered, and take place outside of the jurisdiction of this country, there is no automatic recourse to justice through the British courts. Instead, an aggrieved party must go to an unregulated sharia council for mediation. The crossbencher Baroness (Caroline) Cox is concerned by this clash between sharia and civil law. “There is now operating in this country a kind of parallel quasi-legal system and that goes against the fundamental principle of liberal democracy of one law for all.” Of polygamy, she says: “To have more than one wife is not acceptable in the UK and people . . . must accept the laws of the land they choose to live in.” In 2011, she introduced the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, which had its second reading in the House of Lords last October and “would make it illegal for any person or contacts to be established which would operate as a kind of alternative legal system. Anyone purporting to operate in that way in a judicial capacity would actually be committing a criminal offence that could [be punished with] a prison sentence for this alternative legal system.” The bill will be re-tabled in the next Parliament. 
Khola Hasan of Leyton’s sharia council believes that forcing mosques to register all nikahs, and thereby banning polygamy, will only make Muslims feel more persecuted. “The Muslim community in Britain already feels victimised,” she says, and it will inevitably force the practice underground, leaving women more vulnerable. She argues that, rather than banning polygamy, which she views as a “solution to many complex and difficult situations”, the practice should in fact be recognised by British law.
According to the poll, 61 per cent of Muslim men and 28 per cent of Muslim women agree with Hasan that British law should be changed to permit polygamy. “Britain is refusing to accept that polygamy takes place,” she says. “It’s a reality and I think the British legal system is going to have to open its eyes and accept that it’s a reality in Britain.
“Polygamy is not going to go away.” Source

Wednesday 24 April 2013

India woman speak out on “sex marriages” with wealthy Arabs

Geeta is 19-years-old. She is attending a local university in Varanasi, but she is unmarried and her family is not well off. As a result, she became the victim of what has been described in the country as “sex marriages” with wealthy Arab men, who come to the country on business trips and purchase Indian women to be their wives for a certain period of time.
She recently sat down with to discuss her ordeal with who she described as a “Saudi Arabian man” who had paid her family some $2,000 for one month of “services.”
“I couldn’t go through with it after the first week. It was horrible,” she said, asking that her surname remain anonymous.
For her, it began in February, when a man appeared at her house, offered money to her family and then had a “Qazi” – or Muslim cleric in charge of marriages – come to the house to marry the couple. In the contract, she said, there would be an automatic divorce after the man left the country.
“I was taken away to a hotel where he forced me to have sex with him repeatedly for days. It was rape and I didn’t know what to do,” she revealed.
After only a week with the man, forced to remain in the hotel as he went to business meetings, she packed her few belongings and fled, finding refuge at a friend’s house. There, she has remained, refusing to speak to her family and seeing a psychiatrist on a regular basis to help overcome the anguish and struggle she was forced to endure.
“I will never speak to my family after what they did. I was a sex worker and forced to do things against my will. I am shocked and so sad that this happened. I know other girls who are forced into similar things and it is wrong that our police and government do nothing,” she argued.
Women’s rights activists in the country have pointed out that these short term “contract marriages” are illegal in India and supposed to be illegal in Islamic law, but they are increasing across the country. In a recent Telegraph report, Hyderabad is becoming the central location for the marriages, as wealthy Arab businessmen come to the city in search of girls and young women to “service” them for their stay in India.
In a similar case, Inspector Vijay Kumar reported that one man “had paid 100,000 Rupees (around £1,200) to the girl’s aunt Mumtaz Begum, who in turn paid 70,000 Rupees to her parents, 5,000 Rupees to the Qazi, 5,000 Rupees to an Urdu translator and kept 20,000 Rupees herself. The wedding certificate came with a ‘Talaknama’ which fixed the terms of the divorce at the end of the groom’s holiday.
“The next day he came to the house of the victim girl and asked her to participate in sex but she refused. She is a young girl and the groom is older than her father,” Inspector Kumar told The Telegraph.
It is part of an ongoing debate over women’s issues in the country and one that is seeing young girls and women being used by families suffering from poverty. For social workers in the country, from Varanasi to Hyderabad to Mumbai and Delhi, they are seeing a rise in these marriages.
“We are having to deal with women and girls coming to our offices on a regular basis seeking help and we have to keep it silent for fear their families will force them again to go into these situations,” one social worker told in Delhi. “We just want the government and police to arrest these men and family members who are forcing their daughters into sex work.” Source

Monday 22 April 2013

The Misogyny of Salafist Doctrine

There is a rising misogynist Salafist discourse within the political changes going on in the Arab countries experiencing tumult. This discourse derives its exclusionary energy from the male-biased doctrine established by some Muslim imams.
The Salafist movement seeks to isolate women from public life and limit their role in the family. It considers women to be a source of discord and grants them no political rights beyond the right to vote, and only in a way that seems like a “pledge of allegiance.” Regarding women’s right to hold public office, the Salafists consider it unacceptable because they favor the concept of “stewardship” over the concept of the state. Contemporary Salafists hold basic premises that limit full citizenship for women.

The 14th century jurist Ibn Taymiyyah is a good example of how Salafists seek to marginalize women. He was very influential on the Salafists of his time. He held views about various women-related issues, such as alimony, menstruation, prayer and dowry. He was concerned about the growing influence of women, so he decreed that whoever obeys women destroys his country.
In his book "Al-Tawhid," Sheik Ibn Uthaymeen explicates the hadith reported by Sheik Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab (1703–1791) as follows: “Some use the term sayyida [feminine of sayyid which means mister] when referring to a woman. For example, they say that some things are specific to men and other things to sayyidas. But this is a distortion of reality because only a man is deemed asayyid. The Prophet said, 'The women are your helpers,’ which means that they are captives, and he said that a man is the ‘shepherd of his family and responsible for his flock.’ So the singular form should be imra’a [woman] and the plural form should be nisa’ because only a man is a sayyid and women are men’s captives. So calling a woman sayyida is a distortion of reality.”

The Arab Spring Salafists went beyond the early Salafists’ teachings. They not only sought to isolate women socially and politically, but some Salafists — particularly the Egyptian Salafist Abu Islam — issued peculiar fatwas justifying the rape of the women in Tahrir Square under the pretext that it was punishment for them unveiling themselves. Salafist Sheikh Abu Ishak al-Hawini likened a woman’s face to her genitals, thus indicating that women are required to wear the niqab [full face veil]. The Salafists consider women to be sex objects that are a permanent threat to society.
But is this Salafist discourse a reflection of the growing female public presence? And why can’t the Salafists accept women’s changing role in society?

It goes without saying that the Salafist movement is not prevalent in the Arab world, although it controls many satellite channels that influence its followers. We also cannot overlook the Islamic interpretive battles that were fought by Islamic reformers such as Rifa’a al-Tahtawi, Imam Muhammad Abdu, Tahar al-Haddad and other Muslim revivalists.
Throughout Islamic history, Muslim women played a role and never lived in complete isolation. If we go back to the overlooked history of Islamic translations, we find that women played important roles in various fields, including religious knowledge. Muslim jurist Fatima al-Samarqandi, who lived in Aleppo in the 2nd century AH, studied the Islamic Hanafi doctrine from her father and memorized the hadiths that her father had collected. They issued religious edicts together.

There are many more women in Islamic history. Some women who lived in the 16th century knew Islamic law, one of them reaching the rank of Islamic jurist. Also, the Damascene Sufi Sheika Aisha al-Ba’oniyyah bint Youssef (d. 1516) went to Cairo, where she was allowed to issue doctrinal opinions and teach. Hajima bint Hayyi al-Awsabiyyah (d. 701) was described as one of the most important female jurists in Damascus. She taught many men and enjoyed the trust of Caliph Abdul Malik bin Marwan, whom she regularly met in the Damascus mosque.

So while historical evidence confirms the role of women as Islamic jurists, it seems that the Salafists wish to ignore the fact that women’s conditions have changed. Perhaps because it threatens their masculinity. So they are turning more and more toward male-biased jurisprudence to control women. It is difficult for the Salafist discourse to change. They are haunted by the supposed sedition present within the female body and seek to reduce and control it by means of religious edicts.
In the Egyptian Salafist scene that followed the January 2011 revolution, there was a controversy regarding the running of veiled women for parliament. Several Salafist parties nominated women on their electoral lists based on a fatwa issued by Yasser Burhami, the head Salafist in Alexandria. He said that while “nominating women is negative, it is less negative than allowing into parliament those who wish to change Article 2 of the constitution. Moreover, the election law requires every electoral list to include at least one woman ... In principle, this is not allowed. But fatwas in modern times are not absolute. We have said that Islamist parties, including the Al-Nour party, are not forbidden from nominating women in order to ward off the evil of leaving parliament for liberals and secularists, who would write a constitution that would fight Islam, restrict the Islamic call, and even prevent and punish it.”

The Salafists are obsessed with women and are trying to exclude them from public space because women have been increasingly active in the Arab revolts, especially in Egypt and Tunisia. The “phobia” against active women are making Salafists tighten their control over them by using the Islamic concepts of halal and haram. Most fatwas issued in Arab countries are directly related to women’s bodies, which constitute fertile ground for Salafist imagination.
The Salafists have broken with the notion of equality promulgated in the Quran. They have misinterpreted Islamic texts and are going against the enlightened reformist jurisprudence regarding women. This “Bedouin Islam,” as described by Sheikh Mohammed al-Ghazali, cannot deal with historical changes because it is bound by an exclusionary vision.

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Thursday 18 April 2013

Where are the Girls in this Mosque?

 I was shopping in another part of Toronto the other day, accompanied by my siblings, and it was time for the Maghreb prayer. There was a big mosque nearby and we drove there. There was one entrance called "Sisters' Entrance", my sister entered from there, while my brother and I walked around the mosque to enter via the main entrance - aka the "brother's entrance".

It was a very nice, huge, ornate, well designed mosque. It was also quite new; the mosque used to be two portables fitting around 40 people before, now this was a proper mosque accomodating thousands. The main prayers were over; so my brother and I prayed by ourselves. The main prayer hall was divided into two sections - a glass barrier separating the dimly lit "private" space from the main hall - this is where we prayed. The sisters' area was upstairs.

As we finished praying, I noticed there was a dars (a lesson) going on. I sat down and listened for a bit. The speaker was an old bearded man, he sat in the centre of the main hall surrounded by kids and adults, and he was speaking in flawless English. The topic of the speech was taking lessons from the life of the Prophets and applying it to modern times. As I listened, I realized the speaker was really good, and the speech was excellent. The kids listened with rapt attention.

And yet ... take a look at the picture below.

Everyone shown around the speaker is a male. The adults were male, the kids were male, and of course the speaker was male. Where are the females.

"Oh, they are upstairs, listening too," Answered someone, when I asked them. "We have speakers and close circuit TV."

This is the problem, the big problem, in today's Muslim organizations. If you take a look at this picure, there is a LOT of empty space behind the men, in the MAIN prayer hall. Why can't girls sit here, in close proximity to the speaker, so they can personally ask him questions, or be inspired in way that only a face-to-face conversation can? Sitting behind the men will satisfy any requirements that orthodox Muslims can throw at them, and not to mention, teaching women this way is actually a sunnah.

I remember going to these classes, sometimes as a kid, often as an adult, when a well known speaker would come to the mosque, and being inspired by the Islamic knowledge imparted. If my sister or wife would attend, sometimes I would wonder why they were not similarly impressed. Hard to be impressed when you are looking at a curtain, I think!

I was reading Cartoon Muhammad's article "The Need for Muslim Women Leaders". He is on the mark on how certain segments of the mosque community (let's be candid - it's the more "religious" folk) who construct barriers (literally and figuratively) against Muslim women speakers.

However, the problem that I saw in this mosque, in this dars, prevent women from seeking knowledge in the first place. Muslim Student Associations all across Canada talk about Israel Apartheid, but we have to be honest and admit there remains an Apartheid system in many of our mosques that discriminate against half our community - the girls.

Contrast this to the times of Caliph Umar (the Caliph of the Muslim empire!) being corrected by a woman during a Friday Khutbah! Or even contrast this with the Sayeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. When I was there, the first few rows were occupied by men, and the next few rows were occupied by women. Sisters conversed with the imam (who was standing, in person, a mere 50 feet away from them). And this was no progressive "flaky" imam, this was Imam Hamid Slimi who also teaches at the prestigious Islamic Institute of Toronto.

If you are a woman, which mosque would you go to?  Source

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Afghanistan: Breaking the Cycle

Once an abuser himself, Ali Shahidy is now an ally for women and an outspoken advocate against gender-based violence in his homeland.
By Ali Shahidy
Gender violence plagues Afghanistan and my family is no exception. The patriarchal structure of our culture makes it rampant. The pervasive silence makes it everlasting. The pain of gender violence is a nightmare that haunts many Afghan families. My most tragic childhood memories are ignited every time my dad raises his voice in a violent way. The fear of seeing my mom beaten in front of my eyes incites panic. I was raised in a culture of violence. War was only part of it.
I wasn't only the son of a victim and an abuser. I became an abuser. The cycle of abuse continued as I began to beat my sisters and harass girls in the street. I used to restrict my sisters' mobility, their appearance, their associations, and more. Afghan customs taught me that the honor of my family was more important than the physical and psychological wellbeing of my sisters. I made vulgar comments and gazed salaciously at random girls in the street. I was following accepted cultural norms without shame.
During the same time, my younger sister, Roya, was forced to abandon school and marry against her will. She became another victim of domestic violence in her wretched and abusive marriage. Living in Iran, her life was a silent prison of suffering and pain. Her husband beat her during her pregnancy, threatened their infant son with a knife, and tortured her on a regular basis. His drug addiction fueled his rage. The scars on her hands and her drastic weight loss were the only things that spoke of her horror. Like my mom and many other Afghan women, Roya quietly and dutifully accepted her fate.
When we learned about the five years of Roya's suffering, we immediately took action. To rescue her, we were confronted with torrents of challenges -- financial difficulties, distance, laws that maintain gender norms, social stigma, and relatives who opposed and condemned us. These obstacles made me realize how wrong and devastating our culture was. It was the first time I studied about women's rights. I had to fight with Mullahs and our elders. I had to struggle with practices, beliefs, and values that filled my life since birth. When Roya's husband discovered our plans, the intensity of his violence escalated. Concerns about Roya's safety filled my thoughts at work, at home, and during my studies. Her life was in danger and I was her only hope.
I doubled my efforts, saved more money, learned more about women's rights, and gained the assistance of more friends. Finally, we brought Roya and her baby home. She was safe... and my world view had changed forever.
Reading and studying more about the plight of Afghan women, I realized that gender discrimination and inequality are wrongly ingrained in our culture. Everywhere I went I saw women like Roya -- women quietly accepting their fate. I knew I had a responsibility to fight for their rights and rescue them from their prisons. All women should have the same freedom as my sisters. Women should not be viewed as servants, property, or sexual commodities. Men are blind and need to be healed. Women's mouths are sealed and those seals must be broken. Violence is not a woman's fate.
I am strongly involved in advocacy work and fighting for women's rights. I am a vocal opponent of violence against women. I actively support victims and encourage people to talk about violence. Through speeches, global digital action campaigns, public awareness events, community discussions, and more, I am encouraging people to break the cycle of violence. Step-by-step, I am removing barricades and changing men's views towards women. Through tears and determination, my sisters and I changed our fate. We broke the cycle of abuse in our family.
Together, men and women will stand hand-in-hand, raise their voices, and challenge the dominant and parochial beliefs of our culture. Together we will end violence against women. Source

Prophet Moses in the Quran by Nouman Ali Khan

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Women Victimized by Yemeni ‘Exchange Marriages’

SANA'A -- Women living in areas of rural Yemen are increasingly losing their say regarding whom they marry as they become caught-up in the widespread phenomenon of ‘exchange marriages,’ in which money and family ties outweigh romance.

The expression rises from the phenomenon of spouses from two families being traded in what is essentially more of a business arrangement than a traditional marriage, Dr. Abdul-Baqi Shamsan, professor of sociology at Sana'a University, explained.
Shamsan told The Media Line that the main victim of this type of marriage is the woman. “In such exchange marriages, the women are dealt with as commodities by the family’s or group's elders, who strip them of their right to choose their life partners,” he said.
Poverty and tribal traditions push many people into marrying-off their children this way in order to avoid paying unaffordable high dowries or to strengthen ties between the families involved. But the prospect of these marriages ending in divorce is very high because usually if one couple breaks up, the other would most likely follow suit. Even if they don’t, the family-members from the second couple often intervene to end the second union as well.

So when Maha Saleh Al-Kawlani, 25, came home in tears and told her brother Mohammed that her husband Fuad had divorced and but kept their 18-month-old son with him, her family, which considered the divorce to be an act of ultimate disrespect to them, reacted with outrage.
Just a few days after his sister Maha’s divorce, Mohammed, seeking to get even with his brother-in-law for dishonoring his family, divorced his wife and Fuad's sister Jamila, keeping their two-year-old daughter with him. "From the time we got married, the family problems never stopped…Our marriages were dependent upon each other," Mohammed told The Media Line.
Their exchange marriage, which had been arranged by Mohammed's father Saleh Al-Kawlani and his father-in-law three years earlier, according to Shamsan never stood much of a chance because, he said, “exchange marriages are not based on acceptance, love and respect. Whenever one couple doesn't get along and breaks up, the other part of the business deal is that the other couple will likely break up as well.”

A similar story exposing the hazards of exchange marriages was told by translator Abdusalam Rajeh, 35, who married his cousin twelve years ago, and in turn, two of his cousins married two of his sisters. Rajeh said his father and uncle arranged their marriages, but nevertheless asked the would-be brides and grooms for their opinions.
“Unfortunately, most of the family problems that my wife and I experienced stemmed from external factors. For instance, if my sister and her husband quarreled, our marriage would be affected,” Rajeh recounted.
The father of six, Rajeh said his wife was taken forcibly from him by her father to her father's house more than once after Rajeh's sister went to Rajeh's family's home because of quarrels with her husband.
"Sometimes we had problems and the other couple was adversely affected," he said, adding, "Indeed, problems from the exchange marriage sent my marriage to the verge of collapse more than once.”
Things became so bad that he divorced his wife four years ago. "But my love for my kids and my wife; and my determination not to break up this family," led him to take her back, he explained to The Media Line.
According to Islamic law, a husband can be re-married to his ex-wife if he divorced her once or twice, but after the third divorce she must first be married to another man in order for her original husband to marry her again. This time, Rajeh said he took no chances, making an agreement with his uncle and brother-in-law that if one couple had problems, this must not have any effect at all on the other couple.
"However, I still feel that my marriage is not based on a firm foundation and is therefore prone to collapse at any time," Rajeh rued. “Though the interference of families in our marriages has significantly decreased since the agreement, it still sometimes comes into play."

Rajeh’s wife, 30-year old Shams Ahmed, told The Media Line that, "Exchange marriages simply mean unending problems [usually] resulting from other people's actions which we have nothing to do with.”
While there are no statistics on how many people are involved in exchange marriages, Abdulmalik Salah, a sociologist at the Yemen Center for Social Studies and Research Labor, told The Media Line that, "According to our knowledge of Yemeni society, we can say it's a widespread phenomenon in the rural areas, especially in poverty-stricken ones." Such areas constitute around 70 percent of the country.” According to Salah, some 60 per cent of couples marrying this way end up divorcing.
Salah said that the factors behind this widespread phenomenon include the harsh economic conditions, the high illiteracy rates among people in the rural areas, and their lack of religious understanding. Exchange marriage is actually prohibited in Islam, so Salah says that some people agree to pay low dowries to each other in order to get around this religious prohibition. For example, what might have been an expected dowry of $5,000 might instead end up no more than $100, according to Salah.

Shamsan agreed with Salah, adding that, "Some tribal people adopt this form of marriage in order to strengthen the bonds between their families; or uses it in an attempt to extend their influence." However, he said this often backfires as the relationship between the two groups or tribes involved in the exchange marriage turns sour when because of the divorce of one or both of the couples.
Indeed, Mohammed's father, Saleh Al-Kawlani, told The Media Line that, "The good relationship that I used to share with my cousin Ali turned into animosity after we married our children in an exchange marriage. Now, we don't even say ‘Hi’ when we cross the road.”
Mohammed himself hopes to put the whole experience behind him by marrying again, but stressed he would “never, ever marry or let any members of the family get married in an exchange marriage.”
His father agreed, saying, “I should never have arranged such marriages for my children. I had heard a lot about the ill-effects of exchange marriage, but I did not believe them before. I would never accept my children marrying in this way -- ever again.”