Iraq: Temporary Marriages Boom in South
Samira Abdullah Shehim, a mother of three, could not believe her ears when she was approached by her late husband’s friend with a proposal she never imagined to hear one day. "He was offering me a temporary marriage in exchange for a good gold piece and some monthly income," the 32-year-old widow from the southern city of Najaf told IslamOnline.net. "He told me that it was going to be a marriage for pleasure and he could end it any time he wanted," she explained.
The period of a temporary marriage, known as Mut`ah, may range from hours to months or a year.
Women get payments that vary from $100 to $1,000 per month, in addition to receiving a gold gift or its equivalent in money on the first day of marriage.
Sunni scholars concur that such relations are prohibited and that a marriage should not be limited to a certain period of time.
Shiites consider Mut`ah permissible.
"I felt absolutely offended," said Shehim, who struggled for months to find a job to feed her children.
"I got so shocked that I screamed at him and asked him to leave my home."
But in only few weeks, helpless Shehim phoned her husband’s friend.
"I asked him to excuse my behavior and accepted his offer."
Temporary marriages are on the rise in Iraq’s mainly-Shiite southern provinces, especially in Karbala, Najaf, Muthana and Basra.
Though there are no official numbers, local organizations estimate some 200 temporary marriages take place daily in the southern provinces.
"Usually I make at least three temporary marriages on daily basis," Abdel-Rahman Hassan al-Halaf, a Shiite cleric in Basra, told IOL.
Mut`ah marriages were banned under Saddam Hussein and were punishable by fines or prison.
But after the 2003 invasion and under the Shiite government, the phenomenon picked up steam.
Shehim did not know that by accepting the proposal, she would be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Taking advantage of her situation, the man came back offering half of the monthly income he had initially offered.
During the six months of marriage, she was forced to lock her children in the bathroom whenever he came.
But the situation got even worse when she became pregnant.
He forced her into abortion and broke the agreement, leaving her to suffer alone without any support, and to bear the stigma of sex-worker in her neighborhood.
Rights activists are complaining that helpless and poverty-stricken women are always the losing party in such relations.
"Women who accept temporary marriages are of two main groups," notes Rana Khalid Mussawi, a women activist in Basra.
"Either widows and divorcees who get married desperately because they need to feed their children, and this group is the majority, or women who want easier lives."
Mussawi complained that women like Shehim lack any kind of protection under the Iraqi law.
"They are being used as sexual objects under the protection of the religion that has been misunderstood by the majority."
Even Halaf, the Basra Shiite scholar, who conducts such temporary marriages is growing weary.
"In the past months I have become worried as some women have come back to me after they were left by their temporary husbands, sometimes after a week or even days of marriage," he said.
"Sometimes it is hard to give them some protection as even the parents are keen to the temporary marriage looking after the money they will come up with."
Mahmoud al-Rabia’a, a Baghdad Sunni scholar, condemns temporary marriages as a camouflage to legal prostitution that destroys the moral values of marriage in Islam.
"I want someone to show me of a recent temporary marriage that had the aim to help a widow or a divorced woman," he told IOL.
"They are all done with only one aim: sexual pleasure. And it is unacceptable in a Muslim society."
By Afif Sarhan, IOL Correspondent