Sometimes we read of so-called "Urfi" (Orfi)-marriages in Tunisia, which are concluded before a religious clergy. However, even among Muslims, there is often a serious lack of knowledge about what it is about, because neither is an Urfi marriage like the other, nor is every type recognized in every Islamic country (in Tunisia, for example, none of these marriages are legally recognized).
This article will provide a short overview, taking into account the situation in Tunisia.
Most marriages, commonly referred to as "Urfi marriages", have it in common that they are solely closed to free the husband from all obligations (alimony) and certain rules of faith (eg. adultery).
For this reason, this type of marriage is, contrary to popular belief, not even recognized in most Islamic countries. Urfi marriages (and their siblings, see below) are mostly used by men, especially from Saudi Arabia, to enable them to have contacts with muslim prostitutes without coming into conflict with the islamic faith.
This is, of course, known to islamic scholars and quite a few of them regard this type of marriage as un-islamic.
First, it must be pointed out that all the just-religious marriages are illegal in Tunisia.
Tunisia recognizes only and exclusively the marriage concluded in accordance with the provisions of the Tunisian personnel status code (Personal Status Law), ie. a marriage must take place before an official of the state (notary).
Consequently, it is not possible to reap any rights or benefits from an illegal marriage in Tunisia, even if it is, in fact, according (only) to islamic law.
It is also important to note that the wife of a Urfi marriage gains (by state law) no rights or support for the event of divorce, neither for herself nor for her child, and that such a marriage does not bear any significance in court.
However, in some islamic countries, such as Egypt, an Urfi marriage may effectively block further (lawful) marriages of a woman, because it will constitute then the offense of polyandry (the husband, on the other hand, may marry several women).
Not in Tunisia, though, because such a marriage is, as stated above, of no legal significance whatsoever!
Nikah Urfi (Orfi)Is normally not closed in Tunisia.
The term "Urfi" means something that can be described as "customary". An Urfi marriage is thus a marriage that is customary closed and, actually, does NOT need to comply with the requirements of Sharia, because, in principle, the term includes both, islamic "valid" and also islamic "invalid" marriages.
One type of Urfi marriage, for example, is the simple agreement between the spouses that they are now married. They simply write down this sentence and sign it both - without the presence of an imam or witness.
Then there is a variant, in which, although the majority of conditions of the Sharia are being followed and although an imam performs the marriage ceremony, the marriage remains "secret", so no one, except the Imam, the witnesses and the couple know about the wedding. This form of marriage is not recognized by most islamic scholars as a marriage must be made public.
Finally, there is a form in which the bride does not receive the father's consent to the marriage - this, as well, is illegal in the eyes of most scholars because of their opinion that a woman may not marry without the consent of the parents (warden).
The important thing here is to look at the difference in the law schools - while in one country such consent is dispensable, in another, which belongs to a different school of law, it is even compulsory.
For example, while in Egypt, an Urfi marriage may even be recognized by the state (but by far not all of them!), in Tunisia, an Urfi marriage is always considered to be illegal.
Nikah Misyaar (travel marriage)This type is being concluded in Tunisia (although it is illegal by state laws).
Many people think that an Urfi marriage is an Urfi marriage, but in reality, at least in Tunisia, almost all the local "unofficial" marriages are no Urfi-, but Misyaar marriages.
In Tunisia, Misyaar marriages are as illegal as Urfi marriages and neither is recognized by the state in any way.
Historically, this marriage was concluded when a wife kept living with her parents and was supported by them, or when a husband was travelling on long a trip or was away from home and did not want to give up on women during that time (and thus married additional women).
The travel marriage is thus a form of marriage in which husband and wife agree on giving up certain rights. Usually, the woman gives up on her right to be supported by the husband and the husband gives up on his right that the wife lives with him and takes care of his household.
This agreement may be revoked by the wife at any time, whereupon the husband has to take her in with all rights - or gets divorced from her. The husband, one the other hand, may, at any time, terminate the marriage by divorce.
Nikah Mutah (Shiites)This form of marriage exists only in the Shiite islamic faith.
One must differentiate the Urfi/Misyaar marriage from the (only in the Shiite faith existing) Mutah marriage, because the Mutah marriage is a marriage that is closed only for a certain period of time, eg. for a few hours or days, usually for the period in which men and women (for the man without consequences, since no support obligation) want to have fun.
Islamic Maliki faith schoolTunisia is, like almost all the countries of North Africa, except Egypt (Hanafi, Shafii) ruled by maliki school of islamic faith.
While, in principle, the faith schools have only small deviations from each other, in detail, there can be quite significant differences.
It is, for example, essential in the Maliki school, that a wedding cannot take place in secret and that the guardian of the bride (usually the father) must agree to the wedding.
Marriages that violate even one of these rules, are, in the maliki school of faith, considered to be not valid.
In Tunisia, therefore, a marriage even valid in only religious terms, cannot take place in secret and without the consent of the father of the bride. This renders most?? of the "unofficial marriages" invalid and expose them as what they really are: a mechanism that endorses un-islamic acts (adultery, premarital sex) to wash away doubts in the eyes of the faithful (which succeeds, though, only with the most ignorant or young natives, people of low social classes ... or with gullible foreigners).
Salafists and Muslim marriageWith the rise of Salafism in Tunisia, apparently, the calls to close an islamic marriage have increased.
This is, at least for believers, actually not a problem - as long as the conditions for a valid islamic marriage is met, including the approval of the father of the bride and the publication of the wedding (eg. by a public wedding party).
However, if these conditions are met, then nothing speaks either against concluding a "real" marriage that is recognized by the state and bears a protection for the woman as well.
Without any exceptions, only-islamic marriages are illegal in Tunisia and have no legal benefits or advantages that can be derived from them. The couple will legally be considered "unmarried" in all regards whatsoever!