Temporary marriages, also known as “mutah,” are nothing new; they are a long-standing practice of Shi’ite Islam, justified by the Shi’ite reading of Qur’an 4:24:
And all married women (are forbidden unto you) save those (captives) whom your
right hands possess. It is a decree of Allah for you. Lawful unto you are all beyond those
mentioned, so that ye seek them with your wealth in honest wedlock, not debauchery. And
those of whom ye seek content (by marrying them), give unto them their portions as a duty.
And there is no sin for you in what ye do by mutual agreement after the duty (hath been
done). Lo! Allah is ever Knower, Wise.
Even among consenting adults, mutah falls well short of Western expectations of marriage — including civil marriages, but especially religiously sanctioned marriage. But since the legal age of marriage for girls is nine according to Islamic law, nothing prevents the practice from being an appalling means of exploitation.
“Iranian official backs temporary marriage,” by Ali Akbar Dareini for the Associated Press:
TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s hard-line interior minister is encouraging temporary
marriages as a way to avoid extramarital sex, a stance many in this conservative country
fear would instead encourage prostitution.
A temporary marriage, or “sigheh,” refers to a Shiite Muslim tradition under
which a man and a woman sign a contract that allows them to be “married” for any length of
time, even a few hours. An exchange of money, as a sort of dowry, is often involved.
Although the practice exists, it’s not very common in Iran, a Shiite majority
nation where many consider it a license for prostitution. Others, however, have advocated
institutionalizing the tradition, saying it would help fight “illicit” sex in a country where sexual relations outside marriage are banned under Islamic law.
“Temporary marriage is God’s rule. We must aggressively encourage that,” state-run television quoted Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi as saying.
The minister, who made his comments Thursday, was the first Iranian official to
support the disputed practice in more than a decade. Former Iranian President Hashemi
Rafsanjani raised the issue in the early 1990s but was opposed by the country’s hard-line clerics.
“We have to find a solution to meet the sexual desire of the youth who have no
possibility of marriage,” Pourmohammadi was quoted as saying by local newspapers.
Half of Iran’s population of 70 million is under 30. Taxi driver Reza Sarabi,
23, expressed the frustration of many young Iranian men who can’t afford to buy a house and
“I have no money to set up a matrimonial life. I don’t want prostitutes. What
should I do with my sexual needs?” he said.
The “sigheh” is banned in Sunni Islam, but similar practices can be found in
Sunni countries. One such practice is the “urfi” marriage, an unofficial arrangement that is often kept secret. Although an urfi marriage involves signing a document in front of witnesses, the marriage can be broken by destroying the paper.
In addition, temporary marriage — misyar, or “traveler’s” marriage — is gaining popularity in, for example, Saudi Arabia.
In Iran, temporary marriage has been reported as a way some widows and poor
women help support themselves. But critics of the practice believe such arrangements only
exacerbate the country’s prostitution problem and undermine Iran’s values.
“It will damage the foundation of the family,” said lawyer Nemat Ahmadi, who
argues it gives wealthy men religious cover to have affairs. “This will only promote
Prostitution was banned in Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution but has increased in recent years. There are no official statistics available in Iran on the number of prostitutes, but unofficial figures published by some media outlets put the number at several hundred thousand.