Fatiha Marriage Debate Rages in Morocco with New Viral Case

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Rabat – The case of Leila, a 24-year old Moroccan woman, has stirred debate across Morocco as to whether the young mother is a victim or perpetrator. 

Leila has turned to social media to clear her name in a controversial case that is splitting public opinion in Morocco

After being in a relationship with her fiance, lawyer and politician Mohamed Tahari, for five years, the young woman discovered that Tahari had no intention of marrying her or legally registering the birth of their daughter, leaving Leila open to prosecution for sex outside marriage. 

The case grew more complex after Leila discovered that Tahari was already married. Police arrested the young woman for adultery and blackmail after Tahari’s wife filed a complaint against her. 

Leila tried to convince Mohamed’s wife that they were in a consensual relationship through a fatiha marriage, a religious marriage ceremony conducted without a written contract.

The wife, F.Z, asked Leila to send evidence of the relationship with photographs. She also asked for a meeting.

Leila, accompanied by her sister, went to meet F.Z. and was shocked to find that the police were there to arrest her for blackmail and adultery.

She had to pay a MAD 5000 ($521) to secure her release from prison.

Leila has received legal support from human rights NGOs and lawyers, who helped her to secure her release from police custody after 48 hours.

Fatiha marriage

Leila and Tahari lived as a married couple since 2015, sharing a consensual sexual relationship. During that time Leila says she did not know he was already married and had children with his wife.

“When I started receiving insults from his wife, I decided to leave the country when I found out he is married,” she told the press.

She then went to Turkey to live with her sister, but began receiving calls from Tahari and his sister, begging her to come back to Morocco.

“He told me he will get a divorce and that he had issues with his wife,” she said.

Leila said that Tahari had promised to marry her legally once he was divorced. 

“He came to my house and we got engaged,” she added.

During the engagement ceremony, the couple also had a “fatiha” marriage. The form of religious marriage is still common in Morocco, especially in rural areas.

Tahari has been providing for Leila financially.

“He rented me a house in Berrechid and he was also renting me cars and giving me money,” she said.

During this period, Leila gave birth to Tahari’s child, a girl who is now eight months old.

When she realized that Tahari had no intention of marrying her legally, nor registering their child, she asked for legal help.

“I filed a lawsuit in October 2019, but the court told me that I don’t have enough evidence against him as I only submitted photos of the engagement party,” she narrated.

Leila tried to find more evidence and filed receipts of the money Tahari had sent her.

“I even submitted more photos of us traveling. But he has been telling me that I’ll get nothing. He never showed up to trial. I appeared before the judge six times without him showing up,” she said.

Because of the lack of evidence, the court asked Leila to bring twelve witnesses to corroborate her story. The witnesses, the court explained, must not be related to either Leila or Tahari.

“I did not know what to do, and I did not have enough people to bring to the court. I started receiving threats and insults from his wife,” she said.

Courts or police stations in Morocco have the right to ask victims to bring witnesses for testimony in case of a lawsuit.

In a statement to Morocco World News, lawyer Hafida Makssaoui explained the concept of a 12 witness testimony. The testimony consists of a legal document signed by twelve people and seeks to help the victim to prove the accusations against the suspect.

The document has to be officiated and legalized by an “adoul,”or notary, before being signed by a judge.

“The legalized document is sufficient in this case and there is no need for all witnesses to be there in court with the victim,” the lawyer told MWN.

Makssaoui explained that Leila’s lawsuit against Tahari pertained to the registration of their child.

Speaking about the prevalence of fatiha marriages, the lawyer said that it is “still very common” in Morocco, especially in remote areas where it is hard for victims to ask for justice.

The lawyer said that Leila could win the case if she has witnesses who attended the ceremony and if she has photographs of the marriage.

A photo of the couple at an engagement ceremony has already gone viral.

“It is the court that should decide in this case after evaluating all the evidence,” the lawyer concluded.

Islamic experts find that marriage in fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] is valid if it meets several conditions. These conditions include consent, mahr (dowry), and witnesses.

Mohamed Samir, an expert in Islamic Law, told MWNs: “What I mean by consent is not the contract, but it is the fact that both parties should mutually accept the marriage.”

The expert, however, warned that fatiha marriage is still against the law in Morocco.

“Marriage should be documented. It is the right way to preserve rights. Think about children,” he warned.

Support from the press, legal activists

Leila has turned to the press and spoken out about her case, asking the public to side with her and help her.

Leila said that her only request was to register her child after what she has been through.

“I am ready to undergo a DNA test,” she said.

Leila’s case comes in the wake of the scandal and controversy surrounding the fatiha marriage of journalist Hajar Raissouni, a case that drew global attention to the issues surrounding religious marriages.

Moroccan police arrested Raissouni in 2019 for sexual relations outside marriage. The journalist, however, was married to her fiance through a traditional fatiha marriage.

The couple said that they were still waiting for some documents to make their marriage legal as Raissouni’s fiance is a Sudanese national.

Raissouni eventually received royal pardon. Months after her release, photos of Raissouni at her marriage ceremony went viral on social media.

Raissouni’s case, and the international attention it received, brought the issue of fatiha marriages and sex outside marriage into the realm of public debate.

The case also led some activists and human rights groups to urge Morocco’s judiciary system to preserve individualism and to decriminalize sexual relations outside marriage within the penal code.

As the debate on consensual sex outside marriage rages on across Morocco’s social media networks, it remains to be seen whether the judiciary system will view Leila as a victim or perpetrator.

Source: moroccoworldnews.com