Monday, March 15, 2010

Married for a Minute

Is Iran's mullah-backed system of temporary marriage a godsend for the sexually frustrated—or religious prostitution?
Remarkably, Iran's Shiite clerics not only tolerate sigheh, but actively promote it as an important element of the country's official religion. "Temporary marriages must be bravely promoted," the interior minister said at a clerical conference in Qom in 2007. "Islam is in no way indifferent to the needs of a 15-year-old youth in whom God has placed the sex drive." Yet the Iranian mullahs' efforts to rehabilitate sigheh have met a stubborn core of resistance—particularly from feminists, who decry the practice as a kind of "Islamic prostitution." Which is it—an empowering possibility for women, or a back door to exploitation? How Iranians answer that question provides a glimpse into the surprisingly fluid attitudes toward the authority of the clerics who back President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
AT THE TIME of the prophet Muhammad, in the late sixth and early seventh centuries, temporary marriage was already common in Arabia, and many Islamic scholars believe he recommended it in circumstances such as pilgrimage, travel, and war. Most Shiites go a step further, maintaining that the practice is endorsed by the Koran. The second caliph, Umar, banned temporary marriage, but Shiites reject his authority because they believe he usurped Muhammad's rightful heir, his son-in-law Ali.

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