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October 01 - October 06, 2000
This page contains news for
the period October 01, 2000 through October 06, 2000.
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October 4, 2000
Temporary marriage is a path
to legal sex in Iran
A story published today in the International Herald Tribune reports
that a little-known religious procedure authorizing temporary marriages is by some
unmarried couples as a way to have sex without getting in trouble with the law.
An example is Maryam, a hairdresser, and Karim, a home appliance
salesman, who for five years carried on a love affair, meeting secretly at the house where
Karim lived with his parents. The young couple's relationship was officially sanctioned by
Iran's Islamic Republic, even though unmarried couples who have sex or even date and hold
hands can be arrested, fined, even flogged. That is because Maryam and Karim were married.
They had a valid contract of temporary marriage.
The story explains that Iran is a country where rules are fluid, where people of all
classes and degrees of religiosity pride themselves on finding loopholes in the Islamic
system. Temporary marriage, or sigheh, is one of the oddest and biggest.
The practice of temporary marriage is said to have existed during the lifetime of the
Prophet Mohammed, who is believed to have recommended it to his companions and soldiers.
The majority Sunni sect in Islam banned
it; the minority Shiite sect did not.
Historically, the practice was used most frequently in Shiite-dominated Iran by pilgrims
in Shiite shrine cities like Meshed and Qum. Pilgrims who traveled had sexual needs, the
argument went. Temporary marriage was a legal way to satisfy them.
Maryam and Karim chose temporary marriage for a practical reason.
''We went out a lot together, and I didn't want to get into trouble,'' said Maryam, 31.
''We wanted to have documents so that if we were stopped on the street we could prove we
weren't doing anything illegal.''
Their ''marriage'' ritual was simple. Even though they could have sealed the contract
privately, they went to a cleric in a marriage registry office in Tehran with their
photographs and identity papers.
Maryam had been forced into a hollow marriage at 15 to an opium-smoking, womanizing
factory owner nearly two decades her senior who divorced her nine years later; so she
brought along her divorce decree. If she had been a virgin, she would have needed her
father's permission to marry.
The couple could have become married for as short a time as a few minutes or as long as 99
years. They could have specified whether and how much money Maryam would be paid as a kind
of dowry, or how much time they would spend together. Instead, they decided on a
straightforward contract of six months, which they renewed again and again.
What was unusual about Maryam's situation was her willingness to talk about it. Despite
its religious imprimatur, temporary marriage has never been popular in Iran. Tradition
dictates that women be virgins when they marry; even when they are not, they should
pretend to be. Many Iranians regard sigheh as little more than legalized prostitution,
especially since it is an advertisement that a woman is not a virgin.
But now an unusual mix of feminists, clerics and officials have begun to discuss sigheh as
a possible solution to the problems of Iranian youth. An extraordinarily large number of
young people (about 65 percent of the population is under 25) combined with high
unemployment mean that more couples are putting off marriage because they cannot afford
it. Sigheh legally wraps premarital sex in an Islamic cloak.
''First, relations between young men and women will become a little bit freer,'' said
Shahla Sherkat, editor of Zanan, a feminist monthly. ''Second, they can satisfy their
sexual needs. Third, sex will become depoliticized. Fourth, they will use up some of the
energy they are putting into street demonstrations. Finally, our society's obsession with
virginity will disappear.''
Even conservatives like Mohammed Javad Larijani, a U.S.-educated former legislator, favor
temporary marriage. As he put it: ''What's wrong with temporary marriage? You've got a
variation of it in California. It's called a partnership. Better to have it legal than
have it done clandestinely in the streets.''
Advocates of temporary marriage also point out that children of such unions are legitimate
and entitled to a share of the father's inheritance. But the popular response has not been
favorable. After ''The Hope of Youth,'' a weekly, ran an article in favor of sigheh,
readers called and wrote in with attacks.