Sunday, January 27

Contracting Marriages

As part of their matchmaking initiative, my local held their first "marriage seminar" today. It was split into two parts; the first was about the rights and obligations a person has due and over their spouse, while the second covered the Islamic concept of the Marriage Contract. As usual, I arrived fashionably late and only participated in the latter topic, and so that is all I will write about today.

The structure of the (half) session was pretty accessible: after a (bit too brief) introduction on marriage contracts we were asked to form mixed groups in which to discuss and list hypothetical stipulations we'd like to see in one. After a few minutes doing this each group had to then present to the others, ending with an aggregated list for us all to talk about. It was all fun and amicable and not as awkward as it could have been, although unfortunately, judging by the performance of my group and the feedback of others, I'm not quite sure that the concept of an Islamic marriage contract had been fully grasped by us.

In my mind a generic contract in Islam is an arbitrary (so over and above those provided by the religion) set of terms decided upon by both parties (with the use of negotiation, compromise and prioritisation) which become law in the context over which the contract presides. In this case, that context would be a marriage, the idea being that if a contract could not be agreed upon then the union would not go ahead.

So stipulating things like "they have to look after me" or "they have to treat me well" are a bit of a redundancy when placed in a marriage contract. A contract is not a shopping list either; you're writing this contract for someone you already know and are tailoring it for them so there's no point in saying they have to be funny or smart or dreamy.

What it can include are things like "you cannot remarry" (for a bloke) or specify the distribution of wealth (both during marriage or post divorce). Other good examples were asking a partner to quit smoking, whether pets would be allowed or not, modifying the conditions of a possible divorce and specifying how much space and freedom each partner could have. You can also state the number of holidays you would require, or how you would expect the other to dress.

There really aren't any limitations here (provided of course that you don't require anyone to do anything un-Islamic) and one is free to go nuts and ask for as much as they think they can get away with (at the ultimate cost of getting nothing at all).

In theory I think it's a great idea - not because of the actual final list of must-haves that results (which is handy in itself in a evidential sense) but because the actual negotiation process required both parties to think about what marriage is about and what their respective expectations are.

The list of "demands" of a person asks for is a good indicator of what they're like too, and in terms of safety both sides would have ample opportunity to walk away if they're not satisfied. For example, if a guy asked for a weekly massage to be included in their marriage contract (off, uh, the top of my head), then the woman would be in a good position to walk away laughing while thanking her lucky stars she had gotten out when she did.

But despite the obvious advantages listed above, I don't quite think I'd be taking advantage of a marriage contract if I ever happen to be in the position to create one. The romantic side of me just won't allow it - it's a bit like needing an instruction manual or process written down in order to function as a husband. However I will try to go through the communication processes behind forming one since the discussion itself would be just as effective as any signed paper could be - so a verbal marriage contract if you will.

Provided a couple each know what the other expects and assess their own ability to provide for those, then they should be able to work out whether a marriage between the two of them will work or not. And as long everyone is honest and transparent about these things before and during marriage not much can really go wrong. Of course, that's all easier said than done sometimes and in those cases a list of reminders signed, witnessed and dated just can't be a bad idea.