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Urfi marriages a national crisis, says Grand Mufti
Published in Daily News Egypt on 13 - 03 - 2009

CAIRO: In Egypt, financial and social obligations imposed on marriage are, to say the least, a burden for young couples. Although they have found a loophole, instead resorting to common law, or urfi marriages, a proposed law threatens to penalize this practice.
Member of Parliament Ebtsam Habib, former head of the real estate publicity department, presented to the People's Assembly a proposed law that would force couples to officially register their marriage contracts. Failing to abide by the proposed law would be punishable by fines and imprisonment.
Habib made this proposal in an attempt to put an end to this type of marriage, which has reached an all-time high of 30 percent among university students.
In the proposed law, all parties involved in the urfi marriage are punished.
The couple is sentenced to at least one year in prison and has to pay a fine ranging from LE 1,000 to LE 10,000. The person who wrote the contract and those who acted as witnesses are also subject to punishment.
Over the past few years, an increasing number of young couples have chosen this controversial method: All they need is a documentation of their union and two friends acting as witnesses to consider themselves married in the eyes of God.
The marriage is kept secret between the couple and their friends; with each going about their regular routines in front of their families at home. Many couples resort to urfi marriage as a temporary solution until they can afford an official one, but more often than not, the woman is left victim of the unofficial union.
Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that Egypt's Grand Mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa objected to Habib's proposed law, saying that he did not see the necessity of officially registering the marriage. Rather, he highlighted the importance of the family as well as the educational institutions' role in raising children.
Gomaa said that the issue of urfi marriages is important and has to be examined carefully, adding that the victim is always the woman. This, he said, is why there must be solutions that are both legal and in compliance with Sharia to combat this growing trend, especially among university students.
"The secret urfi marriages among college students is a major disaster and people must be aware of its atrocious consequences.[the solution] is not only through a law but through the way these children are raised, the Grand Mufti said.
Gomaa cited a 1931 law that punishes couples who don't register their marriages by six-month jail sentences. However, hardly anyone abides by it, he said.
Some girls also resort to urfi marriage to keep receiving the pension of their deceased husbands or fathers from the government.

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