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Customary marriage also known as common law marriage is a Marriage that is without a civil or religious ceremony and is based on the parties' agreement to consider themselves married and usually also on their cohabitation for a period of time. It is this marriage existing by mutual agreement between a man and a woman, or by the fact of their cohabitation, without a civil or religious ceremony.

In most of the circumstances, the Customary Marriage is legally recognized but it is conducted without any registration and license. It is considered an alternative to the conventional marriage. However, neither any ceremony is performed nor details of marriage contract are finalized. In other words, such marriages can be termed as secret marriages. In Islamic terminology, common law marriage is known as Nikah Urfi.


In most of the Muslim countries, customary marriage (urfi marriage) is not recognized as legal. As the process goes, the common law marriage is conducted by a cleric who is not registered for such activities. The couple says before him that, “We are married and pledge commitment to Allah”. Two persons witness the marriage. The cleric issues a certificate of urfi marriage. There are no details mentioned of dower, maintenance and other contractual obligations in such marriages.


Status of Urfi Marriage in Islam

According to Salih Al Munajjid – the supervisor of the website "", there are two types of Nikah Urfi or customary marriages:

1. Where the woman is married in secret? without the agreement of her wali (guardian). If that is the case then it is a haraam marriage contract, which is not valid, because the agreement of the wali is one of the conditions of the marriage contract being valid.

2. Marriage with the agreement of the woman and her wali, but without announcing the marriage publicly, or registering it in the Shariah or civil courts, but there are witnesses. If this is the case, then it is a valid marriage from the point of view of having met the necessary conditions, but it goes against the Islamic command to publicize the marriage. Not having the marriage officially documented may lead to the wife missing her rights with regard to the dowry and inheritance, and if the marriage leads to children, how will this child be recorded in official documents? How will the woman defend her honor in front of people?" You know no marriage is valid in Sunni fiqah without witnesses. The Prophet Muhammad - Peace be upon him - quoted in a Hadith as, “Announce your marriage”. Following this Hadith, some of the jurists consider publicizing the marriage is one of the conditions of it being valid. Other jurists argue that witnessing of marriage by two independent witnesses is sufficient to meet the requirements of this Hadith. As discussed above, some jurists believe that Islam does not recognize marriage without the consent of the wali.

Generally, a valid marriage in Islam  requires that:

1-The parties are capable to marry as per Qur'an and Sunnah.


2-Male is Muslim and female is either a Muslim or from among the people of the Book (Jews and Christians).


3-Both are adults.


4-There is clear-cut proposal and acceptance.


5-There are at least two Muslim witnesses.


6-There is contract for dowry (mahr).


7-The husband is bound with the maintenance of wife and children.


8-Wife and children are entitled for inheritance in case of death of the husband.

Customary Marriage (Nikah Al-urf) does not meet all these conditions. However, it is still popular amongst university students, economically weak singles and tourists in Egypt.

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