Cleric encourages ‘temporary marriages’ for students


An Iranian bride and groom are reflected in a mirror as they attend a mass wedding ceremony at the country's grand hall in Iran's Interior ministry building in central Tehran August 19, 2007. More than 800 Iranian students were married at the same time.

Article Highlights

  • When Sunni Muslims disparage their Shi‘ite counterparts, they often criticize the practice of sigeh, temporary marriage.

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  • In its inception, the Shi’ite practice of temporary marriage was a mechanism for society to provide for war widows.

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  • In Iranian cities, the age of marriage has steadily been creeping upwards. @MRubin1971

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Editor's Note: FMSO’s Operational Environment Watch provides translated selections and analysis from a diverse range of foreign articles and other media that analysts and expert contributors believe will give military and security experts an added dimension to their critical thinking about the Operational Environment.

Source: رائتی: دانشجويان پسر با زنان بیوه ازدواج کنند “Qara’ati: Daneshjuyan-e Pesar ba Zanan-e Biveh Azduaj Konand” (Qara’ati: Male Students Should Marry Widows),”, 27 September 2012. 

When Sunni Muslims disparage their Shi‘ite counterparts, they often criticize the practice of sigeh, temporary marriage. In its inception, temporary marriage—in which men pay a ‘dowry’ and marry women for a pre-determined period of time, sometimes only hours—was a mechanism for society to provide for war widows. Most Sunnis—and, frankly, many Iranians—see it simply as religiously sanctioned prostitution. The practice received a second wind as a result of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), which killed several hundred thousand young men, leaving behind a multitude of young widows. It has persisted since. That mosques and mullahs profit from sigeh arrangements adds cynicism to the discussion of the phenomenon in Iran.

In Iranian cities the age of marriage has steadily been creeping upwards. It is now not uncommon to find both men and women in their mid- and late-twenties who have never been married. The reason for this is largely financial: high inflation and distrust of banks has led wealthier Iranians to invest in real estate, placing home ownership and even apartment rental outside the realm of possibility for younger Iranians.

While premarital sex is more common in Iran than in many neighboring countries, it is still far less frequent than in Europe or the United States. In a culture which discourages dating and, among certain segments of society, the mixing of sexes, this can exacerbate frustration and social tension. Simply put, unable to pursue relationships, same gender groupings will often talk politics.

Against this backdrop, Hojjat al-Islam Mohsen Qara’ati’s statement is interesting. A leading Quranic scholar, Qara’ati may simply want to address a renewed gender imbalance inside Iran. The number of widows he cites, however, makes little sense: there is no reason why there should have been such a surge in widows over the last several years. Accordingly, his aim may be twofold. First, he might seek to promote sigeh to somehow legitimize the breakdown of traditional sexual mores on university campuses. In effect, he is saying, ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, bless ‘em.’ Alternately, he might seek to use temporary marriage/legalized prostitution in order to channel students’ frustration away from political protest. 


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