What is Nikah Mutah in Islam and Iran

nikah mut'ah

In Iran, the practice of temporary marriage, known as sigheh or mut’ah also called nikah mut’ah, has long been condoned on moral and religious grounds. Sigheh is a fixed-term marital contract prescribed in Shia jurisprudence to permit sexual relations between unmarried men and women in certain situations, while mut’ah more broadly refers to the concept of temporary enjoyment of something. However, the modern use of sigheh and mut’ah marriage has strayed from its origins. A thoughtful examination of the sociocultural drivers and real-world impacts reveals that temporary marriage in Iran today leads to substantial harm and exploitation, necessitating thoughtful reforms centered on regulation, rights, and education to protect the vulnerable.

Drivers of Temporary Marriage

Proponents argue temporary marriage offers a religiously sanctioned outlet for sexual desires when permanent marriage is difficult. However, the modern motivations behind sigheh are more complex.

For men, sigheh often satisfies a desire for sexual variety and freedom to pursue relations with multiple partners. Conservative norms in Iran prohibit extramarital affairs, so married men use temporary marriage to religiously legitimize their polygamous impulses. Single men also exploit sigheh for casual sexual experimentation in a loose “Halal dating” framework.

Women frequently turn to temporary marriage for economic and emotional reasons. With high unemployment and job discrimination, financially struggling women may become temporary wives to secure some income and housing. Widows and divorcees also seek emotional comfort and fulfillment.

Some young, traditional couples use sigheh as a way to explore intimacy before permanent commitment. But often their families pressure them into the arrangement, transgressing personal consent. Parents even force temporary marriages / Sighe Mahramiat on children ) to be upgraded to formal marriage later) to control their behavior, contributing to child marriage.

These diverse motivations reveal how drivers of sigheh have strayed far from its idealized religious origins. It now serves as a vehicle for male promiscuity, female economic survival, and violation of youth autonomy.

Harms and Consequences

While some defend temporary marriage on moral grounds, the real-world consequences reveal a dark side. Sigheh poses substantial risks and harms, particularly for women and adolescents.

Child marriage is perhaps the most disturbing consequence. Parents arrange temporary marriages for young daughters, some as young as nine, to protect family honor. But early marriage derails girls’ education and exposes them to marital abuse and early pregnancy complications.

Women in temporary marriages also uniquely lack basic rights. They have no claim to inheritance or alimony if abandoned by their husbands. Men can also easily divorce their sigheh wives without much obligations. Laws give women little recourse if exploited, harassed or coerced.

Sigheh also leads men to develop warped attitudes about women and marriage. When men can easily use women for temporary sexual gain, they start to see females as commodities rather than humans deserving respect. Men lose interest in permanent marriage, causing breakdown of families.

Because temporary marriages are rarely registered officially, women have no much protection. Couple normally use verbal marriage contracts among themselves. To many women right activists this creates a slippery slope toward quasi-prostitution or sexual slavery under the cover of sigheh.

Far from safeguarding virtue, temporary marriage facilitates exploitation. It may harm women and children already facing discrimination. These consequences make reforms utterly imperative.

Recommendations for Reform

Iranian policymakers should take action to curb abuses of temporary marriage while respecting religious norms. Possible reforms should include:

  1. Raising the minimum legal age for sigheh/ Sighe Mahramiat to 18 to help prevent child marriage. Global standards recognize child marriage as a human rights violation needing eradication.
  2. Requiring mandatory official registration of all sigheh contracts to improve regulation and oversight. This provides legal protection and transparency.
  3. Restricting men to one temporary wife at a time to reduce polygamy and exploitation. Limiting sigheh for both parties restores the idea of commitment.
  4. Granting women equal rights to inheritance, alimony and divorce to improve equity. Women need protection from abandonment and abuse.
  5. Providing mandatory counselling on sexual health and risks before sigheh to prevent disease and abuse. Informed consent is critical.
  6. Creating public awareness campaigns via media, schools and mosques to educate youth on the dangers of unregulated sigheh. Better information can empower smarter decisions.
  7. Encouraging senior Ayatollahs (model religious authority) to advise narrow, conditional use of sigheh to curb casual abuse. Religious guidance can help reform cultural attitudes and norms.
  8. Increasing equal economic and educational opportunities for women to reduce financial pressure motivating temporary marriages. This empowers financial independence.

The path forward requires nuanced understanding and thoughtful reforms. Iranian anthropologist Kameel Ahmady’s research provides valuable insights. His pathological analysis of temporary marriage presented at an academic conference examines the sociocultural drivers and consequences. His chapter on child marriage in Iran in the book “Temporary and Child Marriages in Iran and Afghanistan” elucidates the complex factors perpetuating the practice. Most critically, Ahmady’s seminal book “Echo of Silence: A Comprehensive Research Study on Early Child Marriage in Iran” documents the experiences of women married as children and proposes actionable policies for reform. By considering available’ scholarly contributions, Iranian leaders can craft reforms addressing the nuanced realities surrounding temporary and child marriages. With education, empowerment and enhanced rights—especially for women and youth— Iran’s society can end exploitation in relationships and progress towards guaranteeing dignity for all.


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