Exchange marriages and miserable endings
I got married two years ago on the basis of an exchange marriage. This was against the wishes of my brothers and parents. I am afraid my marriage has not gone well at all. I recently read that God does not like this type of exchange marriage. Is this true? If so, how can I rectify my mistake? The difficulty is that if I have some problems with my wife and my sister is suffering as well, because she is blamed for our problems.
I have some bad news for you. Your marriage is not valid at all nor is your sister's marriage. This type of marriage is known in Islamic terminology as shighar. Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) forbade shighar which means that one man says to another: ‘Give me your daughter in marriage and I will give you my daughter in marriage’ or ‘give me your sister in marriage and I will give you my sister in marriage’" [recorded by Muslim]. In another rigorously authenticated hadith recorded by Bukhari and Muslim, Abdullah Ibn Amr reported that the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be on him) forbade shighar which means giving a man’s daughter in marriage to another on condition that the other man gives him his own daughter in marriage, without mentioning any dowry. These two hadiths are explicit in forbidding exchange marriages altogether.
It is not surprising that an exchange marriage is forbidden in Islam because it is an exchange deal which views women as though they are commodities that could be bought and sold. When a woman gets married, she is entitled to receive a dowry which becomes her own property and she may dispense with it however she likes. In such an exchange marriage, a dowry is not commonly mentioned. Even if it is mentioned and specified, the condition that the marriage will only go through if the exchange deal goes through is enough reason to invalidate the two marriages altogether.
It is not surprising that you are having problems. You also mention that your sister is having problems as well. May be the reason is due to the fact that both women feel that they were treated like two inanimate objects which were exchanged.
If the marriage is invalid, then there is no way to make it valid. What you have to do is to make it clear to both families that both marriages are not valid. Each of the two women must go back to her family and the two relationships terminated immediately. When this has been done each one of the four parties, meaning yourself, your sister and the other man and his sister are free to marry other people. Similarly, it is up to you to propose to the woman you have described as your wife. Since you have been having problems, most probably you do not wish to do so. This is indeed better. But if you feel that you may have a chance to lead a happy life and you want to marry her, you are to make your proposal as if there has been no relationship whatsoever between the two of you. You are to agree to the terms of the marriage without any reference to the past relationship. You must agree on an amount of dowry, which you have to give her and she is free to dispose of it however she likes. There must not be the slightest hint that when your marriage goes through, your sister will be married to your wife's brother in consequence. Otherwise, you will be back in the same situation and both marriages will be invalid.
Perhaps I should explain that a man may marry a woman as prescribed by Islam and without the intervention of a third party or coercion. Sometime later, it may so happen that one of the wife’s relatives may express his wish to marry the husband’s relative. This is permissible because the two marriages are separate and no condition was attached to the first one that the second one will follow. Any such conditions are not valid and there may be doubt on the validity of the marriage itself.