Friedl Erika 1994
In the Eye of the Storm,
Syracuse Univ. Pr., Syracuse NY ISBN 0-8156-2634-7
From: Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran: A Feminist Perspective
The history of Iranian women is bound inextricably to the history of Shii Islam and to the myths that emotionally and intellectually sustain it. As a practical philosophy of life, contemporary Shii Islam is a product of a historical process and, like all historical processes, has gone through many changes. The ruling clerics, however, present it as timeless dogma. By presenting it ahistorically, they suggest that Islam is qualitatively different from other religions. Islam, they argue, defines all aspects of life and the Quran, as God's Word, prescribes for all time the proper pattern of relationships within and among all social institutions. Furthermore, what Islam has prescribed as the word of God, they say, corresponds to the order of nature.2 This is particularly stressed in the case of women and their position relative to men in the household and in society. Major Islamic 'myths'-the sunna or the custom of the Prophet and the hadith, the compiled sayings of the Prophet and Imams3-were designed to uphold this particular interpretation of 'reality' and in the course of time the interpretation itself, as content and process, was established as the center of historical reality. Consequently, Shiism is now what the Shii clerics who dispose of political and moral power say it is. The ulema defined early and, over the years, precisely the proper place of woman in Iranian society. The late Ayatollah Morteza Motahhari (d. 1979), one of the more enlightened Iranian Shii clerics and probably the foremost authority on contemporary Shii jurisprudence regarding women, provides a modern example of the Shii formulation of woman's proper place. He argues the naturalness of the differences between the sexes and the conformity of Islamic law with the purpose of divine (natural) creation.4 From the idea of purpose and order in the process of divine creation he deduces, among others, formally structured criteria of justice and beauty and concludes what amounts to the proposition that God, in His encompassing wisdom and justice, formally wills woman's subordinate position in accordance with the requirements of nature. This 'natural' position for women has been asserted by all patriarchal religions throughout history. Indeed, the process of the subjugation of women appears remarkably similar in all cultures. The originary myth usually treats man and woman more equitably, but once the historical process begins, woman is reduced to a vehicle of procreation-the axis around which woman's history as myth or religion is organized.5 The theology of procreation emphasizes the family. Within the family, woman achieves value primarily as mother, and secondarily as wife, daughter, or sister. The more society grows, differentiates, and becomes structured, the more the originary concepts yield to systems of mores and regulations that define woman's subordinate place in increasing detail. In time, her contact with the larger society is totally mediated by man. In the originary Zoroastrian sources, for example, the Gatha, the Yashts and other early religious texts as well as in parts of the Matikan-e Hazar Datastan (The Digest of a Thousand Points of Law), a later text compiled during the Sasanian period, woman is treated with respect, if not quite as an equal of man.6 Women in Iranian epics-Sindokht, Rudabeh, Tahmineh, Gordafarid, Manijeh, and a host of others whose names are perpetuated in the Shahnameh-are invariably brave, aggressive, and full of initiative.7 By the middle of the Sasanian period, however, under a dominant Zoroastrian clergy, women had lost many of their rights and privileges.8 Abrahamic religions also accord woman an important position in originary sources. Genesis, in fact, seems to treat Eve as the more resourceful of the first pair, man and woman, created in God's image. If human history is said to have begun with the fall of Adam, then Eve, in the act of leading Adam to the forbidden fruit, may be said to have taken upon herself the burden of a civilizing mission. In the Talmudic tradition, however, the laws apply only to men because in the course of time the Israelite woman was relegated to 'a dependent eydstence derived from that of her father or her husband.'9 In the Gospels, the very 'idea' of Christ suggests a leveling of inequities that to be meaningful must have included women. After Paul, however, Christianity steadily moved toward the affirmation of patriarchy and by the second Christian century the patriarchal interpretation had become, for all practical purposes, established dogina.10 This pattern is repeated in Islam. In few religions have women played so significant a role for or against prophetic pronouncements as in early Islam. Two of Mohammad's wives, Khadija and Ayesha, were as important actors in giving shape to the Muslim community as any of Mohammad's male followers. I 1 Hind, Abu Sufiyan's aristocratic wife, was one of the most effective opponents the Prophet confronted.12 Zaynab, the Prophet's granddaughter, bravely confronted Yazid, the powerful Umayyad caliph under whose order the house of Hosayn had been martyred in Karbala, in order to save the life of Hosayn's son Ati Zayn al-Abedin. The first part of the revealed text, the Meccan verses, spoke for equality. Knowledge was to be gained by both man and woman. Women attended the mosque and participated in the debate and fought on the bafflefield alongside the men. In time, however, a combination of authoritative statements by the Prophet and his successors, economic and political inequities, and law and custom supporting a patriarchal hierarchy within the family increasingly separated women from the business of society. Woman's insulation was legitimated by an effective socialization process that inculcated in her the idea that she was created to serve God and Man by being an obedient wife and a good mother. Thus, over the centuries, women were effectively reconciled to their lot by an ethics of womanhood, derived from the presumed pronouncements of the Prophet and Imams and codified within an impenetrable discourse, created by an elite of male clerics and guarded by a system of exclusive rules. Thousands of hadith, whose authenticity is determined by a set of arcane rules on most of which there is no solid agreement, are adduced to keep women in their place. Examples of such sayings are legion. A prototypical prophetic hadith states that 'A woman does not have one-hundredth of the rights that a husband has over his wife.' And, according to another, the Prophet declares, 'If I could order any person to prostrate [sujdehl before anyone except God, I would command that women prostrate before their husbands.'13 Major challenges to the Shii institution in Iran originated outside the Islamic tradition in response to secular trends that began and grew in the West and in time confronted not only Christianity, but also other religions in other societies. Secularism was closely bound to the idea of social contract, an important function of which is to present society not as a natural or divinely ordained phenomenon, but rather as an artifact of human will. By emphasizing the individual and challenging the notion of a religion-based community, secularism weakened the legal and ethical web that bound women to the patriarchal norms. The Enlightenment's ethos encouraged male and female equality, despite the prevailing socioeconomic conditions and cultural and religious tradition that opposed it.
From: Commoditization of Sexuality and Female Labour Participation
Islam and Female Sexuality
In order to examine the impact of the Islamic legal system on commoditization and regulation of female sexuality, these concepts need to be clarified. An object that is voluntarily bought and sold at an agreed price is a commodity. Once the sale transaction is completed, the original owner loses ownership, and the buyer becomes owner of the commodity. The most popular definition of regulation consists of governmental actions to control price, sale, and production decisions of firms in a presumed effort to prevent private decision-making that would take inadequate account of the 'public interest.'13 As the government is empowered to grant or condition the right of a company to provide service, regulatory agencies have been established for certification and licencing. With few modifications, the concepts of commodity and regulation can be used for the discussion of female sexuality in Islam: sexuality is an integral part of a human being and not a lifeless object; the private decisions in question are not those of firms, but of individual women; regulation as defined above is a twentieth-century phenomenon, while most Islamic rules concerning sexuality have their roots in early and medieval Muslim societies; the clergy, ulema, the group in charge of making and interpreting religious rules, historically have been an integral part of the ruling elite in Muslim countries, but they have not always been synonymous with government. Thus, the regulators may not always be government agencies. Finally, 'public interest' in the case of female sexuality assumes a broad spectrum of social and religious mores. For our case, the relevant areas of regulation are: the sale or lease of female sexuality; marketing procedures; conditions of maintenance; procedures for the return of the commodity should it be deemed undesirable; and rules concerning control and maintenance of the product of sexuality, that is, children. Islam originated in the mercantile and exchange economy of Mecca, and Muslim legal theory was strongly influenced by this mercantile tradition. The city of Mecca, however, had grown out of-and coexisted with-a nomadic tribal rural economy. Thus, legal theory was also influenced by tribal tradition.14 Military conquests transformed the Muslim state into an empire, and legal theory thus was influenced by the non-Islamic traditions in the empire and the interests of central administration. Medieval Islamic society became subject to nomadic conquests and rules, and the interpretations of the jurists were influenced by these conquests. In summary, Muslim legal theory was a by-product of different socioeconomic systems, but the mercantile tradition left a strong impact on it. Muslim social rules are affected by the mercantile influence. Rules concerning transactions and contracts, aqd, are an important part of the teachings of Islam and the tradition of Islamic jurisprudence, fiqh. The various passages in the Quran that deal with marriage in essence treat female sexuality as a tradeable object. In a Muslim marriage the buyer (the man) and the seller (the woman or her guardian) should agree voluntarily on the terms of the contract and on the price for female sexuality, mehr.15 Although in some Muslim countries-notably Iran-the common practice has been for the man to pay the mehr at divorce, legally mehr is a price for female sexuality, and is due as soon as the marriage is consummated. Where mehr is not paid to the woman, it is considered to be something that is owed to her, and she has the legal right to claim it. At the death of the husband, mehr is treated as one of his liabilities. It has to be paid before the dead man's assets are divided among the heirs. In Shii Iran, half of the mehr is due if the marriage contract is signed, but the marriage is not consummated. In a marriage contract, the buyer is also responsible for the expenses related to the upkeep of the commodity in question, nafaqeh.16 Once the transaction is completed, the owner has complete and monogamous right to the object. At least in a Shii marriage, the wife should always consent to her husband's demand for intercourse, tamkin. Tamkin is generally viewed to be the counterpart of nafaqeh. Because the man pays for the upkeep of the woman, he is entitled to her sexual services. In the Quran an analogy is drawn between wives and landholdings in terms of ownership rights: just as an owner has unlimited rights to his landholding, a man has unlimited rights over his wives. 17 just as it is in the interest of the owner to look after his land, women should be treated well by their husbands. In the Quran, there are some injunctions that advise men to refrain from unjust and harsh treatment of their wives, to treat them with justice, adl.111 Should the buyer find the commodity unsatisfactory, he can dispose of it-he can divorce the woman.19 In this case, if the commodity has already been consumed and if no proof of a violation of the monogamous sale of the sexuality is available, the man has to pay the agreed price, mehr.20 The products of a marriage (children) belong to the man. At a divorce, or at the death of the husband, the wife has no right to the children. A man-but not a woman-may undertake sexual transactions with more than one partner simultaneoUSly.21 In the Quran, no explicit limitations are placed on the number of female sexualities a man may consume.22
While the Sunni sects do not recognize the validity of temporary marriage but limit the number of women a man may marry simultaneously to a maximum of four permanent wives, in Shii Iran temporary marriage, sigheh, is legal. Thus, the two categories of permanent and temporary marriage can be viewed as sale and lease options for the consumption of female sexuality. There are no legal limitations on the number of sighehs a man may marry. Thus, in contrast to the commoditized treatment of female sexuality, men are viewed as consumers. Parallels can be drawn to the perception of unlimited human wants and needs for material resources in economic theory. As consumers of female sexuality, men make decisions to get the best utility-satisfaction derived from consumption-from sexual transactions, subject to budget constraints. As is customary for other commodities, willingness and ability to pay are the basis for purchase decisions. Note that in a Muslim marriage only sexuality is subiect to sale. The woman is not subject to total sale. Her position is not reduced to that of a slave. At least in theory, she maintains many independent personal rights, though with an explicit assumption of inferiority to men.23 For example, women have the right to own property, but are discriminated against in inheritance. Their share is about one-half of that of their male co-heirs. Women also maintain the right to enter contractual agreements on non-sexual matters. With the possible exception of the legal profession,24 there are no explicit Quranic rules prohibiting women from participating in the labor market. Indeed, the Quran is explicit on the entitlement of women workers to fair wages. Nevertheless, in a Muslim marriage female sexuality including reproductive labor is sold. As sexuality is an integral part of women, married women lose full ownership and control of their own selves. Although not prohibited from selling her labor in the job market, the sale of her sexuality limits the freedom of a married woman to do so. For example, the Quran explicitly states that because men pay their wives' living expenses, they are superior to women, and as husbands are entitled to demand obedience from wives.25 This can be interpreted to mean that a woman should seek the approval of her husband on non-sexual matters including employment, or that a woman's most important duty is inside the home. Thus a woman's choice of occupation is severely limited. Finally, because the husband has full rights over a wife's reproductive labor, the woman may have no control over the time spent on childbearing and -raising. Her ability to allocate time for market activities becomes subject to limitations that are controlled by the husband.26 Ahmed has demonstrated that in the early Islamic society women enjoyed more rights than in the subsequent Abbasid (750-1258) period. At times they stipulated favorable conditions in their marriage contracts, and to a limited extent participated in sociopolitical and economic activities. This is attributed to the pre-Islamic tradition of jahiliya in Arabia in which women enjoyed more sexual autonomy than they did in Islam.27 I suggest that another source of this relative autonomy was the mercantile spirit of the early Islamic society which promoted voluntary contracts. In essence, a marriage contract was viewed as voluntary, and women could negotiate favorable terms, including the condition of monogamy for the husband, and the right to divorce for the wife. During the Abbasid period, the political system was characterized by absolute rule and central administration, and women became subject to greater oppression. Although the jurists had to work within the mercantile and contractual context of Islamic law, interpretations were designed to accommodate the absolutist patriarchal state, and oppressive rules were included. In this period, three of the major orthodox Islamic schools, Shaf i, Hanbali, and Maliki, considered a man's unilateral right to divorce and'his right to marry four wives simultaneously to be essential marital rights that could not be altered contractually.28 Muslim conquests, and the fact that the wives and children of those who fought the Muslim armies were treated as booty and sold as slaves, created a very flourishing female slave market. Many elite Muslim men preferred concubinage to marriage,29 because a concubine was almost completely commoditized and had hardly any legal rights. The status of many women was thus reduced to that of slaves, and the limited rights of free women were considerably curtailed.30 By contrast, in the twentieth century many women stipulate monogamy, the right to divorce, and other egalitarian conditions in their marriage contracts. As a gesture of protest to the notion of the sale of female sexuality, some emancipated women in Iran refuse to accept more than a nominal price, mehr, at marriage. Thus the commoditization of their sexuality is considerably modified. In summary, the extent of the commoditization of female sexuality depends on the socioeconomic, historic, and political characteristics of a Muslim society, and on the socioeconomic conditions of the individual woman who enters a contractual agreement with a male partner. However, in essence, the contract is based on the sale of female sexuality for a set and agreed price, mehr.
The commoditization of female sexuality in Islam is subject to regulations. Licensing and contract are required for male-female sexual relations. The monogamous aspect of the sale of female sexuality for the duration of the contract is non-negotiable. Childbearing is subject to regulations. There is a compulsory waiting period for women between two successive marriages in order to identify the father of a potential child. After a divorce, a childbearing or a breastfeeding woman is entitled to payments for these labors by the child's father.31 However, she is not required to breastfeed the child, and if she refuses, the father has to find a substitute. A divorced woman has neither a right nor a responsibility toward the children she has borne; they belong to the father. The woman, thus, does not have a right to her reproductive labor. Another important regulation is the requirement of veiling for women.32 The male-female relationship is assumed to be highly sexual, and male sexual desire is considered to be undeniable, eruptive, and potentially disruptive. The religion provides rules that are aimed at promoting social order by preventing men from being aroused. One such preventive rule i ' s that women have to be covered. A woman can be seen unveiled only by other women, by the legitimate owner of her sexuality, or by those men with whom she can only have a sex-neutral relationship. Veiling has implications on the marketing of female sexuality. It prohibits the direct and visual advertising of female sexuality. Thus, marketing and advertising require the involvement of intermediaries such as family or matchmakers. If a woman assumes autonomy in advertising her sexuality by a full or partial removal of her veil, she is considered to be shameless and morally decadent. Except for the wives of the Prophet Mohammad,33 there is no direct reference to segregation in the Quran. However, the requirement of veiling, and the sociohistorical and political conditions of the classical and medieval Islamic societies have given rise to the ideology of segregation. This ideology can be used to reinforce occupational segregation and other forms of discrimination against women in the job market. In summary, the Quran does not contain many explicit and clear discriminatory rules concerning the participation of women in the job market. However, the status of women as quasi-commodity, quasihuman, with accompanying regulations, has created considerable ambiguity in the non-sexual rights of women. As this position lends itself to the reinforcement of male authority, the interpretations of the ambiguities are likely to be discriminatory against women. Thus, emancipation of female labor in Muslim societies requires liberation from commoditization and regulation of sexuality in the family, as well as women's equal and non-discriminatory access to the job market and to education.
Gender and the Labor Process in Iran, 1960-90 Background In Iran, state and religion have never been fully separated. Most laws concerning family and other gender-related issues are Islamic. However, under Pahlavi rule (1925-79) the state pursued secularization policies, whereas the integration of state and religion has intensified after the Islamic revolution in 1979. For example, in 1936, Reza Shah (1925-41) forced women to unveil. After his abdication in 1941, unveiling was no longer forced, but a large number of women continued to appear unveiled in public. By contrast, in 1980, the Islamic regime forced these women to re-veil. The moderate changes in favor of women in marriage, divorce, and child custody in the Family Protection Law of 1967 were also reversed by the Islamic government. The Islamic government, however, did not reverse the enfranchisement of women that was introduced in 1963. Participation of women in the electoral process was not considered contradictory to Islamic regulations concerning women. A discussion of the factors that contributed to the Islamic revolution is beyond the scope of this study.34 However, a few remarks are relevant to gender issues. In general, the forced unveiling of women was viewed by many-including non-traditionalists-as a symbol of Pahlavi absolutism, and was thus resented. More importantly, however, the clergy and many other traditionally-inclined people considered unveiling as contrary to Islamic regulations, and viewed the unveiled and made-up women as shameless. Unveiled women were criticized for excessive preoccupation with make-up and fashion, and many argued that the presence of these women in government and private agencies threatened to undermine the stability of the institution of the family. Although the secular leftist opposition as well as many secular intellectuals did not directly question the morality of unveiling, they considered unveiling a transformation of women into sexual commodities, kala-ye jensi. We may note that this view overlooks the long history of commoditization of female sexuality. Unveiling did not comoditize female sexuality but creatdt he possibility for visual advertisement, and a potential for women to assume relative autonomy in marketing thier sexuality.
In this chapter, I have used economic concepts to examine the legal treatment of female sexuality in Islam. I have argued that female sexuality in Islam is treated as a regulated commodity, and have examined the impact of the commoditization of sexuality on the female labor process. I have demonstrated that in a Muslim marriage female sexuality, including reproductive labor, is sold to the husband. As sexuality is an inseparable part of a woman, a married woman loses full self-ownership. Although Islam does not contain many explicit legal barriers to the participation of women in the labor market, the sale of female sexuality in marriage reduces the autonomy of women to make labor-related decisions. I have also argued that the commoditization of reproductive labor reduces the autonomy of women in decisions to allocate labor time between the job market and childbearing and -raising. The regulations concerning female sexuality, especially veiling, also reduce the autonomy of women, and are highly conducive to the creation of occupational segregation and to discrimination against women in the job market. Intentionally, I have kept the conceptual and the empirical parts of this chapter separate in order to develop a general conceptual framework for the impact of Islamic legal theory on gender. This framework is especially relevant to the case of contemporary Iran, as nearly fifty years of secularization policies were followed by more than a decade of strong emphasis on Islamic values. I have not rigorously examined the gender philosophy of the Pahlavis in this study, but have examined specific policies regarding women enacted by these rulers, and the impact which the state's efforts in modernization, westernization, and economic growth have had on gender issues. I have demonstrated that the impact on decommoditization and deregulation of female sexuality and participation of women in the job market was significant and positive. By contrast, the recent emphasis on Islamic philosophy has accentuated gender inequality in the family, and has had negative implications for the participation of women in the job market. This negative impact is more apparent among blue-collar rural and urban female workers than among white-collar urban women, and is likely to have a greater impact on the position of poor women in the family than that of the more affluent. Although the ideology of segregation has created some job opportunities for women, it has also induced occupational segregation. Where positive tendencies in the participation of women in the job market are observed, they can be attributed to factors other than Islamic ideology. In Iran, women have not been full owners of their own selves because of a long history of commoditization and regulation of female sexuality. Female labor has never enjoyed full legal freedom. The recent emphasis on Islamic ideology and law in Iran has increased occupational segregation and discrimination against women, commoditization and regulation of female sexuality, and coercion of female labor. Our conceptual framework is designed as a methodological tool for studying gender economics, especially women and development, in Muslim societies. However, this approach may have useful applications in the study of gender economics in other, non-Muslim, societies as well.
Temporary Marriage: an Islamic discourse on female sexuality
Shahla Heari is the authoress of Law of Desire, a complete study on temporary marriage in Iran whose conclusion follows this article. This article is constructive towards attitudes to muta as a form of 'Islamic modernity', but one should also her comments about the way this has subsequently been used to authenticate religious prostitution under the veil: "Dr Shahla Haeri, an anthropologist at Harvard and author of Law of Desire, says conservative clergy are behind a campaign to preserve enjoyinent marriages. She cites one of Iran''s leading imams, Jafar El Sadek, as declaring 'partners in enjoyment in marriages are especially blessed. When they bathe, every drop of water turns into 70 angels who will testify on their behalf on the Day of Judgment' "
On a cold November day in 1990 the Iranian President, Mr Hashemi Rafsanjani, stunned his huge audience by a speech he delivered as his Friday sermon. Perhaps for the first time in the history of Islam, in clear, deliberate, and unambiguous terms, a politicavreligious leader formally acknowledged female sexuality, and suggested that women should feel secure enough to initiate a relationship when they felt the need. From the public pulpit of Friday Prayers, by far the most influential public forum in post-revolutionary Iran, where some of the most crucial policies are announced, President Rafsanjani reviewed the suppression of female sexuality by placing it within an Islamic framework. He said: 'Take, for example, the sexual instinct that God has given us. Some think that if we abstain from satisfying our needs and deprive ourselves from sexual gratification, then this is very good. Well, this is not so. It is wrong. It is anti-Islamic.' Elaborating on this, he said: 'If we had a healthy society, then the situation of all these widows we now have (that is, the women widowed in the Iran-Iraq war] would be very different. Then, when they [widows] felt the [sexual] need, niaz, they could approach one of their friends or relatives from a position of confidence and invite him to marry them temporarily, ezdevai-e movaqqat. This they could do without fear of being shamed or ostracized by others.'i Having first invoked the divine blessing, Mr Rafsaniani then appealed to nature for further legitimacy: 'Going against nature [one's natural,' he said, 'is absolutely wrong.12 Mr Rafsanjani underscored these themes when he turned his attention to youth and argued:
Nowadays, in our [modern] society young people mature at the age of 15, and sexual needs are awakened in them ... Our college students are constantly exposed to the opposite sex in the schools, universities, parks, buses, bazaars and the workplace. They are continuously stimulated (by proximity), but have no recourse. Who says this is right? Presently, in our society for our youth to remain pure and honorable, and to respect the societal norms [of chastity and virginity] implies remaining unsatisfied until they are 25 or 30 years old [before they can marry permanently]. They will have to deprive themselves of their natural desires. Deprivation is harmful. Who says this [deprivation] is correct? Well, God didn't say that this need should not be satisfied. The Prophet didn't say so. The Quran doesn't say so. The whole world doesn't say so either. Besides, if one is deprived, then harmful psychological and physical consequences will follow. Science has proven this. To fight nature is wrong.3
Admonishing some unnamed self-righteous zealots, who make it their business to set people on the right path, he went on: 'We ourselves create wrong cultural perceptions in our heads and think that this is the right way. The whole thing is in our heads. And we assume [wrongly] that this [sexual relation] is shameful for all.14 Mr Rafsanjani then proposed a solution that apparently left many people confused and at odds with their long-held moral values and cultural expectations. He suggested that the young men and women who might feel shy about going to a mulla5 to register their temporary marriage need not do so. They can agree among themselves-that is, in a private contract-'to be together for a month or two.' If the performance of the marriage ceremony in Arabic is difficult, he suggested, 'the young couple can recite the formula in Persian and in the absence of a mulla or other witnesses.16 By upholding the efficacy of private and verbal contracts at this level, Mr Rafsaniani effectively, but indirectly, challenged issues of parental authority and virginity, thus transgressing sanctioned cultural boundaries. Mr Rafsanjani's provocative public speech made news headlines in Iran and abroad. It set off a lively debate in the local press, and heated arguments in public and private gatherings both inside and outside of the country. It resulted in an outpouring of printed texts and public discussions that expressed contested views on the institution of temporary marriage, female sexuality, marital fidelity and stability, and the sexuality of youth, subjects that have never before been so publicly, intensely, and persistently debated in the Iranian press. Prominent men and women were interviewed and their opinions solicited. It took an event of the magnitude of the Persian Gulf war to overshadow the growing public discussion of sexuality in Iran. What are the issues involved here? Is Mr Rafsanjani more 'progressive', or'modern' than the Shah? How is it that the politicavreligious leaders in Shii Iran seem to champion the right of women to sexual satisfaction, and attempt to revolutionize the relationship between young men and women? How does the issue of women's virginity, one of the most sacred cultural values, figure in this new formulation of gender relations? Are Rafsanjani's comments inconsistent with Islamic tradition in general and that of the Shies in particular? Is he giving a new interpretation to the institution of temporary marriage, or is he simply following a well-established but little understood Shii Islamic tradition?
My objective in this chapter is to render Mr Rafsanjani's apparently surprising comments culturally meaningful. I will do so by referring to the historical interaction between the competing discourses of 4 modernity' and 'Islam' under the Pahlavis (1925-79) and the Islamic regime in Iran respectively. Focusing on the state's rejection of, or support for, the institutions of temporary marriage and veiling, I will draw attention to the different ideologically supported interpretations of veiling and female sexuality each regime advanced. In the process I will attempt to dispell the monolithic perception of female passivity and of uniformity of sexual ethics in Iran. I will argue that although Mr Rafsanjani's statements may sound surprising, given the projected puritanical image of the state, they are not a radical departure from the Shii Islamic tradition.
Contested Sexuality: State vs the Public
The range of reactions to Rafsanjani's proclamations clustered, for the most part, around two diametrically opposed poles: those who supported temporary marriage and the president's interpretation of it, and those who objected to both. The leading Iranian 'feminist' magazine, Zane Ruz (Modem Woman), took the lead in opposing Mr Rafsanjani's recommendations. In an editorial, Zane Ruz vehemently objected to the president's comments, arguing: 'One cannot of course deny human drives. But if men and women agree to get together for one, two, or three months, then what is the difference between this and male-female relationships in the West? Besides, what kind of human beings will they turn Out to be, those men and women who keep making contracts of temporary marriage?17 Zane Ruz further criticized the president for ignoring the role of 'love', 'eshq, in marriage. 'Should repressed needs in our society be considered only in their sexual dimension?' they queried. 'What will happen to children born of such marriages? How are we to respond to the psychological, moral, and hygienic problems associated with this form of marriage?'8 Zane Riiz was deluged by mail and telephone calls from its readers who expressed support for, or opposition to, the institution of temporary marriage and the president's comments. On the opposite side, the editorials of the daily newspaper Kayhan welcomed Mr Rafsanjani's proposals and argued:
If, on the one hand, we accept the fact that we cannot and must not leave sexual desire unfulfilled, and if, on the other hand, we accept the fact that we must fight hard against all the corruption and decadence that lead a society into disaster, then we have no choice but to propose correct ways for the gratification of unavoidable sexual needs. Blocking such solutions will mean leading our society toward decadence.9
This newspaper also provided a public forum for debating the subject, and carried a series of articles and letters sent in by readers. One correspondent wrote:
We regret that this solution has been suggested for college students. How can an educated youth who has understood the real meaning of marriage agree to make a contract of temporary marriage merely to satisfy his'o sexual desire-and only for a short period of time? Wouldn't it have been better [for Rafsanianij to have referred to the Prophet Mohammad who has said: 'O youth, whichever of you can marry should do so, and he who does not have the means should fast, and fight his concupiscence.' Before [the publicity granted to temporary marriage], if we were suspicious of illegitimate relations between a couple we could conduct an investigation to discover the truth. But now all options are blocked, and merely by saying that we now have [permitted] temporary marriage' the problem is perceived to be resolved.'
Identifying temporary marriage as promiscuity, he went on: 'Has promiscuity reached such a level in this Islamic society as to necessitate a discussion of temporary marriage? If this is so, then what is the difference between our Islamic society and the West?'il Readers not only reacted to the president's comments, but also challenged each other's positions. They argued against long-held Cwrong' assumptions and misunderstandings. In a rebuttal to a letter entitled: 'Temporary Marriage: the Problem or the Solution', a reader made the following statement in support of temporary marriage. 'First of all,' he wrote, 'a young couple who have become intimate with each other can use their mutual knowledge and understanding, something lacking in permanent marriage, to change their temporary marriage into a permanent one.' Challenging the view that maintains temporary marriage is a cloak for illicit male-female relations, he continued: 'Even if we assume that this [temporary marriage] is a form of corruption, fesad, with all those rules and regulations it is much more restricted and reasonable [than prostitutionl.' Appealing to human nature, he further argued, 'NVhich law or what religion has the right to prevent or suppress this very basic human right and human instinct (to fulfillment of sexuality)?112 The significance of this ongoing debate on temporary marriage, mut'a (sigheh in colloquial Persian), should be understood within the context of the history of westernization and modernization in Iran. The modern Iranian nation-state gradually emerged as a result of European imperial penetration, interaction with the West, internal intellectual developments and sociopolitical changes that culminated in the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-6. In the process, the intimate relationship that traditionally existed between the state and religion-imaginatively conceptualized as 'ventriloquial' by TavakoliTarghii3-was fundamentally restructured. Since the mid-nineteenth century the two discourses of modernity and Islam have existed in dialectical tension in Iran. They have concurrently acted and reacted against strategies adopted, and policies formulated and implemented by the other. Through their respective religious, political, and intellectual rhetoric they have defined and redefined themselves vis-A-vis the other, formulating meanings and constraints within which they operate. In the course of the twentieth century the discourse of modernity gradually became hegemonic, forcing the Islamic discourse to 'lie low' and become, eventually, a 'counter-discourse.' After the revolution of 1979, however, the Islamic discourse regained its long-standing earlier hegemony, but with a difference. Responding to a new configuration of relations of power (and knowledge), this new Islamic discourse has passed through the prism of modernity and has emerged, like everything else in the society, transformed, restructured, and reconstructed. The pace of modernization was accelerated by the Pahlavi regimes (1925-79) which tried to westemize the society, to secularize its legal and educational institutions, and to unveil its women. From 1936, when the state mandated removal of the veil, until the revolution of 1979, when the state required them to put the veil back on again, many Iranian women took advantage of the relaxation in the veiling law and began to appear unveiled in public. The growing numbers of unveiled women in public and the increasing visual representations of them in the media generated hardly any well coordinated and recognizable public debate or discourse on female sexuality or on gender relations. Issues of women's welfare and changes in family law gradually began to be discussed in parliament and a few select magazines, but there was an overall silence-even discouragement-on the subject of sexual needs. There was little discussion and suggestion for ways to meet these needs, which in the case of men were used as justification for polygyny. Increasingly, young men and women were participating in coeducational colleges and schools, had greater opportunities to socialize in public, and were frequenting the same social space. In a society in which 'proper' social contact between men and women-outside of the limited boundaries of blood or marital relations-is religiously problematic, urban men and women were left without culturally legitimate role-models. The issue of female virginity was (and is) so important that women who took the risk of becoming intimate with a male friend would seriously compromise their chances of marriage-particularly with the same man. Consequently, despite the apparent public tolerance of the association between the sexes, an undercurrent of resentment and disapproval persisted, particularly among a segment of the clerics and their followers. Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, the new religious/political elite has redefined the male-female relationship in ways that made reveiling mandatory and the institution of temporary marriage proper and desirable. This has become a subject of intense and open discussion, often shocking the sensibilities of middle-class urban men and women who had grown accustomed to the 'desexualized language'14 (but not the 'sexualized' image) of modernity.
Temporary Marriage: The Erotic Discourse
Before describing the boundaries of the institution of temporary marriage it is instructive to note the Islamic attitude toward marriage and sexuality. The Shii Islamic discourse celebrates marriage and sexuality as positive and self-affirming.15 Marriage is maintained to be an act of piety, while celibacy is considered evil and unnatural. Islam, according to the majority of Shii-and Sunni-jurisconsults, is a divine religion anchored in human nature, fttrat. Its objective is to minimize human suffering and to provide legitimate means to satisfy various human desires. Of particular importance, in their view, is the fulfillment of sexual desire. Both Sunni and Shii jurisprudence, however, share a textual inattentiveness to female sexuality as such. Although Shii legal texts devote extensive attention to such matters as marriage, divorce, custody of children, and the reciprocal obligations of husband and wife, they have remained virtually silent on issues of female sexuality. 16 Male sexuality, on the other hand, is accommodated by polygyny, slave concubinage, and, for Shies, temporary marriage. Legally unique to Shiis, temporary marriage is perceived to be a legitimate alternative to that of permanent marriage. The objective of temporary marriage, from a Shii point of view, is sexual enjoyment, estemta', whereas that of permanent marriage is procreation, towlid-e nasl. Underscoring the futility of fighting the sexual instinct, gha-rizeh, Shii legal scholars attempt to contain and control it by situating it in a morally acceptable structure, namely temporary marriage. Until very recently, however, the sexual discourse centered on male sexuality, and could be characterized as a male erotic discourse. With the increasing pace of modernization and borrowing of ideas and technology from the West, and the rise in public consciousness regarding women's issues, Shii clerics, ulema, were obliged to rethink Islamic personal law and its underlying assumptions. They were challenged to offer new, and more 'modern,' or contemporary, interpretations of these laws. Among those, temporary marriage has been singled out for special attention. The contemporary Shii ulema uphold temporary marriage as an institution that is not only compatible with its western counterpart of 'free' gender relations, but that is more progressive and morally superior to it. While allowing a degree of autonomy and free choice to a couple, temporary marriage presumably contains sexual relations within a legal framework. Temporary marriage, mut'a, was apparently a matrilineal form of marriage, and one among several forms of marriage, practiced in pre-Islamic Arabia.17 It has been legally permitted and religiously sanctioned among the Twelver Shies, most of whom live in Iran. Etymologically, mut'a means enjoyment or pleasure. The custom of 'mut'a of women,' as it has been called, was outlawed in the seventh century by the second caliph, Umar, who equated it with fornication. Among the Sunnis, therefore, temporary marriage is forbidden, and in theory they do not practice it, although in reality some do.18 The Shies, however, continue to consider Umar's command as legally and religiously invalid. They argue that temporary marriage is legitimated in the Quran 4:24, and that it was not specifically banned by the Prophet Mohammad himself.19 Temporary marriage has remained a point of chronic disagreement, passionate dispute, and at times animosity between Sunnis and Shiis.20 My discussion here concerns onlv the beliefs and practices of Twelver Shii Muslims. fn its present form, temporary marriage is a form of contract in which a man (married or unmarried) and an unmarried woman (virgin, divorced, or widowed) agree, often privately and verbally, to marry each other for a limited period of time, varying anywhere from one hour to 99 years. The couple also agree on a specific amount of brideprice, to be given to the woman.21 Unlike permanent marriage, temporary marriage does not oblige a husband to provide financial support for his temporary wife. A Shii Muslim man is allowed to make several contracts of temporary marriage at the same time, in addition to the four permanent wives legally allowed all Muslim men. Women, however, may not marry either temporarily or permanently more than one man at a time. At the end of the mutually agreed period the couple part company without a divorce ceremony. After the dissolution of the marriage, no matter how short, the temporary wife must observe a period of sexual abstinence22 in order to prevent problems in identifying a potential child's legitimate father. The children of such unions are accorded full legitimacy, and, theoretically, have equal status to their halfsiblings born of a permanent marriage.23 Although children inherit from their parents, temporary spouses do not inherit from each other. Moreover, a contract of temporary marriage is renewable for as many times as the partners wish, in contrast to only three times in the case of a permanent marriage.24 The Shii ulema perceive temporary marriage as distinct from prostitution, despite structural similarities. For them, temporary marriage is legally sanctioned and religiously blessed, while prostitution is legally forbidden, religiously reprehensible, and therefore challenges the social order and the sanctioned rules for the association of the sexes. Prostitution is viewed as detrimental to the society's general health and welfare by violating its ethics and ethos. On the contrary, the ulema argue that temporary marriage, while performing a similar sexual function, indicates obedience to the law and social order. Those who resort to it, therefore, are perceived to follow a divinely recommended way to satisfy 'natural' urges. Not only is temporary marriage not considered immoral from a religious and legal perspective, it is actually considered to prevent corruption and prostitution. Although the details of the social history of temporary marriage are obscure, it is probable that the custom has existed in Iran for centuries and has thrived in some social circles (for example, the Qajar royal family). Identifying temporary marriage as an archaic aspect of religion, however, the Pahlavi regime discreedy attempted to push the practice to the margins of society. Fear of a religious backlash prevented the government from banning the custom outright. The Family Protection Law of 1967 made no reference whatsoever to temporary marriage. By remaining silent on the issue, the state effectively diffused a concerted religious objection to the law and was able to move the family reforms through the parliament. It also led the public to believe that temporary marriage had been banned. As a result, the institution of temporary marriage under the Pahlavi regime lost much of the little respectability it had enjoyed previously. The state's disapproval of temporary marriage led to the custom being cloaked in a veil of secrecy. Consequently, many who contracted a temporary marriage often hid it from their friends and family. This kept the specifics of temporary marriage unclear and enigmatic to many Iranians, including some of the men and women who actually made use of the custom. Despite attempts to revive temporary marriage in present-day Iran, it is still a marginal and stigmatized institution, associated with many conflicting moral values. Its practice has put religion and popular culture at odds. Whereas there is no religious restriction preventing virgin women from contracting a temporary marriage (and Mr Rafsanjani's comments are in accord with the theological tradition here), popular culture demands that a woman be a virgin at the time of her first permanent marriage. While the more westernized and educated urban Iranian middle-class women, and some men too, perceive temporary marriage as legalized prostitution, the more religiously inclined Iranians, particularly the clerics,25 view it as a divinely sanctioned and 'rewarded' activity, preferable to the 'decadent' western-style promiscuity and 'free love.126 Recent ethnographic research on the institution of temporary marriage suggests that not only are rumors of the demise of the institution grossly exaggerated, but that the institution is alive and well among the lower socioeconomic strata in the society. Women who contract temporary marriages tend to be primarily young divorced women from lower-class backgrounds, but middle-class women occasionally do so as well.27 Contrary to the popular image of prudish Muslim Iranian women, research reveals that temporarily married women are not only aware of their own needs and their sexual appeal to men (which they enjoy) but that they also often initiate a relationship.28 By specifically acknowledging female sexuality independently, and proposing temporary marriage as an alternative to marriage and to living together, the Islamic regime has rendered the Shii erotic discourse 'androgynous.' Women of various classes and backgrounds are becoming increasingly aware of it, and publicly or secretively take part in it. At least theoretically it is no longer primarily a male erotic discourse or a male prerogative (and, indeed, may never have been just that).
Unveiled Women, Veiled Sexuality: Discourse of Modernity
The pace of modernization and the adoption of western customs and manners gained momentum with Reza Khan's military coup in 1921 and his eventual ascent to the throne in 1925. Following the lead of Ataturk in Turkey, Reza Shah set out to modernize the country by westernizing it. He issued an imperial order in 1936 that made veiling unlawful for women in Iran.29 The law posed considerable difficulties for those women who did not wish to leave their homes unveiled, and for men who could not bear to allow their women to appear unveiled in public30 because to them the forced unveiling of women implied dishonoring men. The unveiling was not only uncomfortable, but was unprecedented and incomprehensible to the majority of Iranians. Until then, it had been forbidden, even sinful, for unrelated men to occupy the same space with women who were unprotected by the prophylactic shield of a veil. Unveiling exposed women to the male gaze, and rendered both men and women insecure and uncertain in each other's company.31 The unveiling law was not relaxed until after Reza Shah's removal by the Allied Forces in 1941. His son, Mohammad Reza Shah, who ascended the throne in the same year, granted women freedom to choose whether or not to wear a veil. Many of the women in the slowly growing urban middle class continued to appear bare-headed in public, but rather self-consciously so. Women of the bazaar, merchant and lower classes, however, resumed veiling, though perhaps not as strictly as before. In 1963, the state granted women the right to vote and to be elected to parliament.32 The Family Protection Law was passed in 1967,33 and although polygyny was not categorically outlawed, Iranian women were given the right to sue for divorce in the event their husbands took a second wife. In 1976, the first woman minister for women's affairs, Mahnaz Afkhami, was appointed to join the cabinet,34 and by 1979, the year of the Islamic revolution, women occupied several seats in the parliament and the senate. It might be assumed that the secularization of the judicial system, the westernization of the political structure, and the unveiling of women, would be accompanied by parallel development to accommodate this new configuration of male-female positioning in social space, and hence to effect a change in the public perception of sexuality. But this did not happen much, at least not overtly and consciously, and where it did it seems to have taken a negative form. Precisely because of the appearance of unveiled women in public, a compensatory tendency developed to repress any public discourse on sexuality, including that of temporary marriage. Elsewhere I have argued that within the contractual structure of marital exchange, women are symbolically conflated with sexuality, and are thus perceived to be its very embodiment.35 A veil covers not only the object of desire, but protects men by blocking from their view that very object.36 By the same logic, the mere presence of an unveiled woman communicates a sexual message that is culturally inappropriate and morally confusing. The challenge for the policy-makers in the Pahlavi regime was thus to keep a balance between the requirements of modernity (for example, unveiling women), and respect for the public's religious beliefs and sentiments. Changing the public perception of women as sex objects involved a de-emphasis-or silence-on sexuality itself. The state-directed silence thus functioned as a veil to protect unveiled women. Such a policy could also be interpreted as a reaction on the part of the state and of women to the negative attitude expressed by the religious establishment toward unveiling. To counter any hint or accusation of 'prostitution' by some members of the religious establishment, unveiled middle-class Iranian women adopted prudishness, placing great emphasis on chastity and decorous comportment in public. Within this changing configuration of gender relations and the emerging new consciousness, contradictions and tensions began to manifest themselves in complex forms and on several levels. Under the spotlight of Iranian National Television, for example, male and female singers exhibited the tensions in gender relations in modernized urban Iranian society. While performing duets, male and female singers assiduously refrained from looking each other directly in the eyes, even if the song was about love, lust, and desire, as most popular Persian songs are. Female singers would be particularly evasive. They seemed to wish to communicate 'proper' images of uninterested and chaste women, lest viewers assumed the love song was an expression of a 'real' relationship.37 With the removal of the tangible barrier of the veil that ostensibly protected both men and women from temptation, other means of protection had to be devised, means that would be nationally perceived as more compatible with the requirements of the modern age. Respectability and chastity were no longer automatically associated with the veil, nor was the veil universally accorded the high moral value it had previously enjoyed. Morality and respectability were reorganized, and had to be internalized and maintained in the absence of the veil. Female chastity, effat, nejabat, now was held to be a woman's invisible shield. As the signifiers of sexuality, unveiled women had to be taught to behave appropriately in public, and the public had to be silenced on the topic of sexuality. Secular mass education, as distinct from traditional education at religious centers, was an effective means by which both boys and girls could be socialized to exercise self-control and restraint,38 requirements of the new era in Iran. Against this background, temporary marriage with its explicit objective of sexual enjoyment was not a topic for discussion. It was not included in educational textbooks (unlike now in the Islamic state), and was excluded from debates and discussion in schools, universities, and other institutions run by the state. The silence of the state on the subject of female sexuality was reinforced by a negative attitude toward sexuality fostered by some of the clergy who consistendy opposed what they labeled as an 'imported' or 'West-toxicated' model of women's emancipation. Iranian urban middle-class women, including those who were struggling to further women's rights, made a concerted effort to underscore the distinction between veiling and chastity. They also used this distinction as a way to neutralize the negative publicity given to unveiled women within religious circles.39 Thus, for example, when in the late 1960s the Family Protection Law was debated in parliament, some women, including one of the leading women senators, Mehrangiz Manuchehrian, objected to a clause in the civil law that required married women to obtain their husband's written permission to travel abroad. According to Mahnaz Afkhami, 'Professional women who demanded the removal of this clause were faced with such vehement opposition from the clerics that they had to withdraw their demands. The clerics' reasoning was that such women wanted to go to Europe without their husband's permission only to prostitute themselves.140 Perceiving temporary marriage as a backward male prerogative to exploit women, Senator Manuchehrian and other women objected to its legal existence. Women's magazines, such as Zane Ruz,41 equated temporary marriage with legalized prostitution and carried several articles in which they enumerated the actual and potential abuses inherent in this form of marriage. When they called for its abolition, however, the response of the religious leaders in Qom and Tehran was swift and sharp. The late Ayatollah Motahhari (d. 1979) accused those who opposed temporary marriage of being mindlessly westernized and hopelessly unaware of the progressive nature of this Islamic law.42 Most middle-class Iranian women perceived temporary marriage as degrading and a threat to the security and stability of the family. Many divorced lower-class women, however, perceived it, though not without ambivalence, as a way to escape their marginal, restrictive, and unfavorable status as either divorced or widowed women. Given the stigma attached to divorce, many of these women are not welcome back in their own natal families and often have nowhere to go. They are vulnerable and marginalized. Temporary marriage, therefore, provides them with some relief, with an 'escape,' as an informant put it. The motivation of many divorced women for engaging in this form of marriage is not so exclusively to find a source of economic support, as has been maintained by Shii juridical texts and in orthodox Shii circles, but a desire for love and affection, for human companionship which was lacking in their broken permanent marriages. In 1978 many middle-class Iranians in Tehran assumed that temporary marriage was an obsolete institution, that it was no longer relevant in the modern age, that it was no longer being practiced, and that even if it existed, it was primarily contracted by lowerclass women. These assumptions proved to be wrong, for since the establishment of the Islamic state, temporary marriage has re-emerged in full force, with the blessing of the state. The temporary hegemony of the discourse of modernity during the Pahlavi regimes, therefore, was not uniform and all-inclusive. In the realm of family relations the Islamic discourse had maintained its vitality among the lower classes, the merchants and the more religiously-inclined groups; this vitality eventually reasserted itself in the revolution of 1979.
Veiled Women, Unveiled Sexuality: Islamic Discourse
With women required to veil again, the Islamic regime has attempted to revive the institution of temporary marriage, to remove its negative connotations, and to reintroduce it from a new perspective. The topic is extensively discussed in an educational religious textbook (1980/81).43 Initially, the state's concerted effort to revitalize temporary marriage had to do with the plan to reassert indigenous Islamic institutions. It also supported the attempt of Ayatollah Motahhari and his followers to show Islamic institutions to be inherently progressive and advanced. Following the same tradition, Rafsaniani has reaffirmed the hegemony of Islamic discourse, a discourse that, although momentarily repressed, was articulated in response to challenges of modernism while opposing the Pahlavi regime's efforts to westernize the country. By drawing on a distinctly Shii discourse to periodically discuss the institution of temporary marriage, Rafsanjani brings to the public's attention the moral 'superiority' of this form of sexual relation over its 'chaotic' and 'decadent' western counterparts. Is President Rafsanjani thereby merely following a trend? I argue that he is saying something new, and that he is providing a re-reading of an ancient tradition within a modern social context. This particular interpretation, however, is not without its history. Ayatollah Motahhari is to be credited with first conceptualizing the institution in its modern form. In his book, The Legal Rights of Women in Islam,44 he shifted the long-standing Shii strategy from defending the legitimacy of temporary marriage against Sunni opposition to that of upholding it as a socially relevant and psychologically functional modern institution. He referred to it as 'one of the brilliant laws of Islam', timeless and universal, devised for the welfare of humankind.45 Specifically, he proposed that young adults, as opposed to married men and divorced women, ought to benefit from the advantages of this uniquely Islamic (read Ship institution. The argument he made in his book has since become a popular refrain:
The characteristic feature of our modern age is the lengthening of the span of time between natural puberty and social maturity, when one becomes capable of establishing a family ... Are the young ready to undergo a period of temporary asceticism and put themselves under the strain of rigid austerity till such time as there may arise an occasion for permanent marriage? Suppose a young person is prepared to undergo temporary asceticism; will nature be ready to forgo the formation of the dreadful and dangerous psychological penalties which are found in the wake of abstaining from instinctive sexual activity and which psychiatrists are now discovering? [Trans from the source.]46
His reformulation of the philosophy of temporary marriage, echoed repeatedly in the conversations I had with mullahs in Iran in 1978 and 1981, is that the concept of temporary marriage is one of the most advanced and far-sighted aspects of Islamic thought; it indicates Islam's relevance to human society (modern or ancient) and Islam's understanding of the nature of human sexuality.47 Following the same line of reasoning, however, Rafsaniani brought up a point that was not given much attention by Ayatollah Motahhari in his scheme of sexuality, namely that of female desire. Although Ayatollah Motahhari uses the generic term 'youth' to refer to a young person, male or female, in the Persian language the term for youth, javan, has been associated primarily with males. By specifically acknowledging female sexuality, and publicizing it during his Friday sermon, Mr Rafsanjani pushed his mentor's argument to its logical conclusion.48
It was this public recognition of an autonomous female sexual desire, independent of its male counterpart, and the recommendation of an active female role in initiating marriage by the Republic's president, that seems to have set off the controversy. The most vociferous opposition to Rafsanjani has come from urban middleclass women, who maintain that such official approval of temporary marriage threatens the stability of their marriages.49 They have been categorical in their condemnation of the institution, and suspicious of the state's support for it.50 Indeed, beyond promoting the advantages of temporary marriage, the state does not have any well coordinated plans to minimize the loopholes in the law and to educate the public, particularly women. For that matter, most middle-class women conceive of the institution of temporary marriage in its traditional configuration as a male prerogative. This certainly has been the case in the past, but with the changes spearheaded by the Islamic regime it may not remain so. However, a majority of middle-class Iranian women seem to be hesitant to seize the moment and actually rethink issues of virginity, gender relations, and sexuality, and to offer fresh interpretations of these institutions and relations. A vast majority of middle-class women, as represented in Zane Ruz, have been thus less open to consider other possibilities than their lower-class sisters, who have resorted to temporary marriage for a variety of reasons, though not always to their advantage. Given that permanent marriages are arranged and one's choice of a life partner is limited, one could imagine, as indeed some lower-class women do, that prior to their actual permanent marriage, women might demand a short-term temporary marriage in order to get to know their future spouse-however minimally. Presently, however, women who resort to temporary marriages reduce their chances of a permanent one. A contract of temporary marriage, with its specific objective of exchange of money for sexual pleasure, offends the sensibility of modernized urban Iranian middle-class women-and some men-who have gradually adopted the idea of 'love' marriages. Indeed, under the Pahlavi regime representatives of women in the parliament as well as the media (such as Zati-e Ruz and Ettela'at-e Banovan) objected to the payment of brideprice, mehr, in a permanent marriage. They perceived such payment as degrading to women. The middle-class opposition to valorizing temporary marriage seems to be inspired by the pre-revolutionary discourse of modernity as westernization. Despite their increasingly sophisticated dialogue with the regime, Iranian middle-class women have refused, or been reluctant, to look at male-female relationships within the new configuration of temporary marriage suggested by Rafsanjani. Once again we encounter the clash of modern and Islamic discourses. The irony of it is, however, that Mr Rafsaniani, though a cleric and a political leader, is talking about sex in the name of modernity, not so much in its 'western' form, but within an Islamic framework. Although in line with Shii tradition, Mr Rafsaniani seems to be operating within the parameters of a new discourse, one we may call 'Islamic modernity.'
From: Shala Haeri
1989 Law of Desire,
Syracuse Univ. Pr., Syracuse NY ISBN 0-8156-2483-2
The female subject ... in on the
basis of her
gender automatically excluded from all current
discursive fellowships ... She is consequently
deprived of the power and knowledge which those
fellowships imply, and is incapable of occupying
anything but the position of a spoken subject - that is
of having anything but a passive relationship to
discourse as long as she "plays by the rules".
Kaja Silverman The Subject of Semiotics (105)
No one can deny that most, if
not all married men have
had sexual relations, legitimate or illegitimate, with other
women. Is it wise then to forbid married men from having
relations with other women? Is such a law just and in
accordance with human nature? Of course not. Such law
has not been practical and will not be so!
A A Muhajir "Polygamy and Mut'a (153)
ANALYZING THE CONCEPT OF CONTRACT and the marriage exchange, I have sought to provide insight into the way the Shi'i ideology perceives social order and social control in general and male-female relationships in particular. I have argued that the root of the legal and ideological ambivalence toward women is to be sought in the contractual structure of the permanent and temporary forms of marriage. I have also demonstrated that the tension between the religious acceptance of temporary marriage and its cultural disapproval (because of its close association with prostitution) translates into a widespread moral ambivalence toward the institution and the women, btit seldom toward the men. Consequently, those who practice it tend to keep their activities secret. Several pertinent themes recurring throughout my analysis merit further examination, to bring into better focus our understanding of the institution of temporary marriage, of the women and men in Iran.
AMBIVALENCE TOWARD WOMEN
The Shi'a doctrine projects a double image of women through the contractual laws of temporary and permanent marriages. We may ask here, What is a woman from a Shi'i perspective? Is she a precious commodity that may be owned, bought, or leased? Is she a person created like a man who can be in charge of her own life, negotiate contracts, control their outcome, and exchange gifts? Is she a decision-making adult or a minor? Looking at the women's status developmentally, and through a discussion of the different forms of Shi'i marriage contracts, I have shown that at any given point in her life cycle a Shi'i Muslim woman may be perceived to be all or some of the above simultaneously.
Such legal ambivalence is reflected in a variety of vastly popular binary images of women. Images of women as controller/controlled, seducer/ seduced, cunning/gullible, and pious/adulterous, all hive wide currency in the Perso-Islamic literature. In one of the most fascinating literary treasures of the Middle East, the tales of A Thousand and One Nights, the superimposition of many of these binary images is elegantly portrayed. indeed, the whole story is I)ased on one such dominant binary opposition: that of order/ disorder. Through the cunning of an adulterous queen, society is brought to the brink of disorder. But the mediation of another woman, Shahrzad, restores order to society and sense to the king. The underlying ambivalence toward women is not reflected just in literature and folklore. The Qur'an itself conveys this ambivalence toward women as well. In the Holy Book women are sometimes depicted as objects to be treated kindly or harshly, and at other times as persons created of the same material as men (compare suras of Women 34 and the Cow 223 with the Private Apartment 13). Many hadiths and sayings of the Prophet, the imams, and other Muslim leaders further underscore this ambivalence. For example, the Prophet Muhammad is frequently quoted as having said: "Women are the trappings of Satan" (cited in Burhan-i Qat' 1951 63, 2:681; Razi 1963 68, 350). In another context, however, he is alleged to have stated: "From your world I do not like anything but women and perfume" (quoted by Ayatollah Mishkini 1974, 118). Such ambivalence finds its resonance in the following popular adage in Iran: "Women are a pain, bala. May no house be without it." A sigheh woman especially is a target of cultural and legal ambivalence. Personally, she might be more mature and experienced than other women (because she has married at least once and divorced), and legally, she is freer than married and virgin women to negotiate on her own behalf, choose her male partner(s), and exercise her own decision-making power. She is her own person, as it were. A divorced woman's status is the closest that a Shi'i Muslim woman can come to having legal autonomy Autonomy, however, is not a trait socially approved of for women in Iran. Although some men may welcome it, and even I)e fascinated by the alluring autonomy of women, as is apparent in the "sigheh myth," they are at the same time fearful of the arbitrariness implied in it: just as they may I)e selected for a treat, they may be let go unceremoniously. Because temporary marriage is a contract of lease and its objective is sexual enjoyment, sigheh women are seen not only as objects of exchange (indeed, they are referred to as the ol)ject of lease, [email protected]) but also as temporary sexual partners. There is thus a cl()se structural association with prostitution. Conse(luently, the custom of temporary marriage and its propriety involve cultural questioning and conflicting fec!ings, and women who make use of it are also perceived with moral ambivalence. Much to women's disappointment, temporary marriage often bestows them neither with the masculine protection nor with the social prestige they so earnestly seek.
AMBIVALENCE TOWARD MUTA MARRIAGE
Tuba, one of my women informants, said, "First I thought only bad women sigheh. Now I regret why I did it in the first place. Both times I thought they were going to marry me. Both swore to the Qur'an that they would live with me, and both tricked me." The structural similarities between temporary marriage and prostitution escape no one but confuse many The moral tension between the two institutions was time and again stressed not only by people who do not contract temporary marriage but by many whom I interviewed, including some of my female informants. Tuba's statement is a telling example. Some people associated temporary marriage with prostitution and therefore perceived it to be a potential threat to a woman's honor and reputation. Others, though approving of the institution on principle, doubted its implications for women who actually make use of it. Confused by the official rhetoric, many divorced and widowed women, including some of my informants, made a contract of temporary marriage thinking that it would be similar to a permanent marriage and hoping that it would be lasting and secure. For example, Iran was perfectly willing to be Amir's lover, in which case she would have not become pregnant and would have been spared the ambiguities of statias and personal confusion that were a result of her temporary marriage. Her disillusionment with her sigheh marriage had left her bitter. "It is an absurd thing," she said, "because no one makes a commitment." The popular ambivalence also leaves young virgin women in a sort of cultural double bind. If they do marry on a temporary basis, or even make a nonsexual arrangement as a trial marriage, they may risk their reputation and their chances for a proper permanent marriage and a desirable marriage settlement. If they do not do it, it is also likely that they may end up in an unsatisfactory marriage. In a culture where virginity is treasured, no woman canafford to gamble with her "symbolic capital" without running the risk of tarnishing her reputation and greatly diminishing her chances for a desirable permanent marriage. It is important to contemplate the issues ot male obligation, responsibility, and commitment in a temporary marriage. Here is where ambiguities abound in the marriage contract. On the one hand, the contemporary ulama recommend temporary marriage because of its minimal reciprocal responsibilities, emphasizing the easy condition for contracting it and recommending its use for the young generation. On the other hand, they ignore implications of the lack of responsibility in this form of marriage - for example, the relative ease with which paternity can be denied. Viewed in relation to each other, and in practice, the incompatibility of these injunctions becomes clear. In other words, although there is a legal framework for temporary marriage-and this is emphasized by the ulama-legal loopholes and stratagems also abound. That the contract is private, requiring no witnesses or registration (despite some efforts to change this), that men can leave their temporary wives any time they want to, and that legally men can deny their children without being put through an oath-taking procedure (required in a contract of permanent marriage), all are evidence of the ambiguity of the law and its blurred boundaries. The ulama insist that because of the contractual form of mut'a, conditions agreeable to both partners may be negotiated initially. In the Ayatollah Najafi Mar'shi's reasoning, "Nobody forces women to agree to a contract of temporary marriage" (personal communication, summer 1978). What is lacking in such masculine Shi'i reasoning is the fact that men and women negotiate from a position of inequality: legally, economically, psychologically, or socially. It is true that some women initiate a relation leading into a contract of temporary marriage, but beyond their immediate needs, many men are not interested in committing themselves, and they do not have to. The extreme temporariness of a contract of mut'a marriage, its stated objective of male erotic enjoyment, and the contemporary ulama's emphasis on its minimal responsibility are some of the factors contributing to difficulties in making a mutually beneficial contract of temporary marriage (see note 3, below). Save for a few shrewd ones (Mahvash and Fati), sigheh women, whether through their own confusion about the objective of temporary marriage, their fear of losing a prospective husband, their desire to love and to be loved, or other sociocultural pressures, are in a vulnerable position to begin with. They can hardly -afford to demand any commitment or concessions from men who would be marrying them for only two hours, two nights, two months, or even two years. Iran, Tuba, and Shahin assumed -or, rather, were misled into thinking -that there is some security in this relationship, and that they would be provided for by the men who confessed "love" for them. Not being familiar with the law, they learned about its specifics from the men who persuaded them to turn a vague idea into practice. Some were genuinely surprised and hurt to find out that they were "tricked," in Tuba's words, and simply let go once they fell out of favor, or when they no longer fulfilled what their temporary husbands had married thein for. Furugh and Nanih, being a bit older, were somewhat resigned to their destinies. Apparently, they had realized that as long as they did not make any demands on their temporary husbands, their relationships would hold.
AMBIVALENCE TOWARD FEMALE SEXUALITY
We may finally ask, What is female sexuality from a Shi'i legal perspective, and how is it being represented ideologically? How is it being perceived by women and men who make use of a contract of temporary marriage? Having its roots in the contractual structure of marriage, the ideological ambivalence toward women is inevitably and inextricably intertwined with ambivalence toward female sexuality. In the Sbi'i ideology the man is assumed to be driven by his sexual drives, to bave "animal" energy The woman, on the other hand, is perceived to be the source of energy, to be the nature itself, something like water, so self-evident that it does not need representation or explanation; something that is life giving and life threatening, frightful and fascinating, necessary and superfluous at the same time. Unlike male sexuality, for which there are several sociolegal frameworks from a Shi'i perspective, not only has female sexuality escaped representation being as self-evident as it presumably is-but because of its "nature" it is necessarily reactive to male sexuality. If men are not present, women have presumably no need of sex (they are in possession of it, or are it), but in the presence of men, women are perceived to become sexually insatiable. in other words, in each other's presence a man cannot help btit want to have sex, while a woman cannot help but yield. This may partly explain the obsession with veiling and covering women: to disguise, veil, disfigure, and cover this simultaneously fascinating and frightful being before whom men are presumably reduced to their bare instincts. According to such masculine understanding of the nature of female sexuality, women are perceived either to be "free" from or "enslaved" by their own sexuality They are free from it because as objects of desire they cannot desire that which they already possess. Even within permanent marriage where one can legitimately assume that recreation and procreation converge, the Shi'i official view of female sexuality is foggy. Except for the woman's every-four-month right of intercourse, a right that has more to do with allowing women a chance to conceive, no provision is made for female sexuality Women are perceived to be "enslaved" by their sexuality because by "nature" they cannot refuse to yield; it is in their nature to want to be taken. Female sexuality thus escapes representation because it is not recognized as a phenomenon in and of itself. For that matter, it is perceived as neither positive nor negative, neither passive nor active. It becomes associated with these adjectives only in relation to male sexuality. The erotic passivity and activity of women make sense only within the context of women's life cycle, and in relation to male sexuality. Fear of female sexuality, from the Shi'i vantage point, becomes meaningful therefore not so much within the context of marriage (where women are presumably controlled), but outside of it, when women are divorced and least subject to male control (legally or actually), but more susceptible to giving in to the forces of "nature" that propel them to action. The ethnographic data presented here challenge such an understanding of male-female relations and sexuality The diversity of women's experiences with sigheh marriage and their articulation of their sexual desire and personal needs bring out not only the differences in the perceptions of the women and the lawmakers, but among women themselves. All my female informants, with the possible exception of Ma'sumih, were aware of their sex appeal to men who married them temporarily, and they communicated a clear sense of their own desires and needs. Not only that, having gone through one or more marriages, they learned to choose, to take initiative, and to turn men into their object of desire. Men, too, contrary to the ideal masculine model, welcomed the women's approaches and allowed themselves to be objects of women's desire and fancy. Further, the accounts given by male informants dispel the myth of female sexual passivity and throw doubts on the popular misconception of the class backgrounds ofwomen who contract a sigheh marriage. Frequently, these men were approached by women who not only were attracted to them physically but who were financially secure enough to offer to pay them some money. I
MALE-FEMALE PERCEPTIONS OF MUTA MARRIAGE
Rosen has commented, "One of the most intriguing problems raised for anthropologists is how the members of a single society, though sharing in a broad set of cultural assumptions, may nevertheless possess diverse interpretations of reality" (1978, 561). Not surprisingly, as members of the same culture, Iranian men and women share a general understanding of law and ideology. When we compare the accounts of my male informants with those of the women, however, it becomes apparent that the structure of sex segregation and the patterns of the genders'access to public knowledge and other resources have contributed to Iranian men's and women's different interpretations, perceptions, and expectations regarding the institution of temporary marriage, themselves, and the other. The inherent masculine bias in the Islamic concept of contract is self-evident and appears natural to Iranian men. Most of my male informants concurred with the dominant Shi'i official view, appearing not to have any confusion about the legal objective of the temporary marriage for themselves, or about their own role in it. Women's understanding of the law and of their role vis-A-vis men is more complex, covering a broad spectrum of views. At one end of the continuum there are women who manifest piety in their behavior and claim to be religiously motivated. They articulate essentially the existing dominant, male-biased ideologies, which are internalized as their own. Whether or not they are aware of the dual conception of women in the law, they pay lip service to the law and view it as enhancing the women's cause. Some may object to the institution of temporary marriage on a personal ground, but not on principle. Others claim to approve of the institution on both grounds. Some of the female supporters of the Islamic regime whom I interviewed (see note 16, Introduction) fall in this category On the other hand, there are women such as Mahvash and Fati who also pay tribute to the law but do so for a different reason. They are aware of the legal conceptualization of sex-as-an-object, and its irresistible power to men. Unlike the first category of women, however, they appropriate the religious ideology, subverting it to achieve their own objectives. They have no illusions as to the purpose of temporary marriage, though they may feel uncertain about their own role within it. Nor do they express any feelings of regret, disillusionment, or guilt. Whether or not they feign obedience to law, or "masquerade" it, or are really pious, they indulge in religious glorification of the institution of temporary marriage, emphasizing its religious reward. Like the women in the first category, Mahvash and Fati project public images of themselves that are skillfully constructed in the image of the dominant 11 other" of women. Time and again these two informants stressed their piety in terms of their obedience to law, which in their view upholds men's need for multiple sexual partners. Like their male counterparts, these two informants perceived temporary marriage as a positive and necessary social institution. Fati and Mahvash suffered unhappy childhoods and marriages, and both felt abused by their family of orientation. However, forced to rely on their own resources so early in life, and being from religious backgrounds and semiliterate, they discovered the underlying assumption of sex-as-anobject in the marriage law and manipulated it for their own benefit. Evidently, these two women clearly perceived the nature of the exchange in a mut'a marriage. They seemed to know exactly what they wanted -as far as their marital life was concerned and how to go about obtaining it. They viewed their activities as legally appropriate and religiously rewarding. They learned how to "market," kasibi, in Fati's words, a commodity that is much sought after in their society. However, although their portrayals of their selfimages were closely modeled after the Shi'i image of the ideal Muslim woman (obedient, veiled, and passive), the picture that emerged from their descriptions of their activities clearly reflected the tension between the ideal and the real. While paying tribute to the religious law, these women acted autonomously, chose their own partners, and almost fatalistically accepted the implications of their behavior. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those women who are also aware of the objectification of women through marriage but, unlike those who manipulated it, objected to such a conceptualization and were disappointed to discover themselves victims of it. Not only did Iran, for example, object to the image of woman as an object, she rejected the ideal of the passive woman and acted autonomously. She, however, assumed that she could have more control over the outcome of her relationship. Being educated, with a secular worldview, Iran emphasized mutual love as an object of exchange. She found the whole idea of brideprice ridiculous and found it meaningless in reality (she was not able to collect it in her first marriage). Awakened to the ambiguous legal structure of temporary marriage, despite all vows of reciprocal commitments and love, she cried foul, rejected mut'a marriage, and perceived it to be demeaning to and abusive of women. Between these two perspectives rest the views of other sigheh women. These women had little knowledge of the law before their temporary marriages, and because of this, perhaps, they neither completely accept the institution on purely ideological grounds nor do they totally reject it on personal and experiential grounds. Some, like Shahin and Tuba, exhibited a confused perception of mut'a and an ambivalence toward their own role in it. Others, such as Furugh, Nanih, and Ma'sumih, maintained an attitude of unquestioning resignation toward mut'a and their own fates. Women in the last two categories do not share the underlying Shi'i assumptions that women are the contractual objects of pleasure in a mut'a marriage. Rather, they view themselves as individuals interested in establishing meaningful and mutual interpersonal relationships, which they had apparently not enjoyed in their failed permanent marriages. Awakened to the second-class status of temporary marriage in Iran, its close public association with prostitution, and the stigmatized role of a sigheh woman, they philosophized about their decision for choosing the less culturally valued temporary marriage. With the exception of Furugh and Nanih, and perhaps Iran, they suffered uncertainty in their status and felt insecure about not being married permanently. Iranian men and women, in other words, expressed different perceptions of reality, construed on the basis of their different positions on the social structure and based on their own particular needs. Whereas my women informants expected or hoped for a meaningful and perhaps lasting relationship, men viewed a sigheh marriage as primarily a pleasurable sport one necessary for their health or religious merit-making. Whereas the women here expected their temporary husbands to facilitate their transition from their liminal states (as divorced women), the men viewed women as provisional objects who would satisfy repressed needs and would take them away from their daily routines and structured life. Whereas sigheh women often perceived their temporary husbands as their main sustenance, the men viewed women as supplementing their lives. Whereas women articulated a sense of self-dotibt, a gullible self, men appeared to project strong self-concepts, a desirable self True to the logic of marriage contract, men and women, however, shared the popular perception of the "other's" motivation for contracting a sigheh marriage. This is to say, men generally assumed a financial motivation behind women's temporary marriages, despite the fact that some of them had been approached by women for other reasons. And women, likewise, believed that men sigheh primarily because of sexual reasons, despite the fact that some were disappointed to find their temporary husbands interested in their domestic services, rather than their sexual companionship.
CHOICE AND AUTONOMY
Men and women also concurred on the excitement and novelty of choosing one's own sexual partner(s), something they apparently missed in their segregated lives and arranged marriages. As in the tales of A Thousand and One Nights, physical barriers of walls and veils, as well as cultural ones of modesty and prudishness, seemed to mean little when a man or a woman wanted to communicate a message of desire to the opposite sex. The institution of temporary marriage, as we learned, greatly facilitates various forms of communication and relationships between men and women. I was surprised to discover that in spite of all the rules and etiquette of modesty, veiling, and segregation, many men and women who desire to approach each other do so directly and unceremoniously. Shrines are particularly conducive places for such erotic meetings. In addition, there are mutually understood verbal and nonverbal signals and techniques for communicating with a member of the opposite sex. Frequently, men told me that if they wanted to sigheh a woman -who would signal her availability through subtle cues-they would simply walk over to her and express their intention to her. Women, though a bit more discreet, conveyed their intentions to men in coded but relatively transparent verbal comments or mutually understood nonverbal gestures. Observers of the Middle East have commented on the nature of social control of women and the rigidity of the social structure (e.g., Vieille 1978). From the material presented here, it is evident that such control and segregation may appear to an otitside observer to I)e more immutable, uniform, and static than they really are. Viewed developmentally, as I have pointed out, such control and rigidity are more applicable to the two categories of young virgins and married women. Divorced (and widowed) women, though subject to cultural stigmatization, do legally and actually have greater autonomy and control over their own lives than do women in the other two categories.
MARRIAGE: THE DRAMA OF GENDER RELATIONS
In chapter 4 I argued that the most significant atid culturally meaningful role of the institution of temporary marriage, in both its sexual and nonsexual forms, is to legitimize as "marriage" the ever improvisational variations of gender relations. It enables the sexes to cross boundaries of sex segregation and to associate unencumbered by moral dilemmas, guilt, and the physical and symbolic barriers of a veil. In a marriage contract is contained the drama of gender relations in Iran. The life stories of men and women presented here bring into focus the fundamental and focal value of marriage in society and the overwhelming desire of Iranian men and women to be married. It is the most significant rite of passage in Iran, and not only does it confer status and prestige on men and women, it also establishes the only legitimate channel for association between the sexes, erotic or nonerotic. The absence of alternative male-female relations, on the one hand, and the structure of sex segregation in Iran, on the other hand, culminate in the investment of all the genders'expectations, hopes, and desires in the institution of marriage. Men and women, with little familiarity with each other's worlds, bring into the relationship socially upheld and idealized images of the other, reified as a result of their long-segregated lives. The climax of all these emotions in the institution of marriage, however, renders the institution brittle, and the drama inevitable. It makes the marital relation tense, insecure, and potentially -and, as we learned, actually-a disappointing one, especially in the case of temporary marriage. Given the legal and economic structure of the marriage contract and its social significance, a woman's realization of her proper place in society is possible only through her association with a man, most particularly with her husband. She finds personal validation and public recognition through marriage. It is through a culturally appropriate permanent marriage that a woman's cultural value and social status are established, because her husband has paid a brideprice for her and acknowledged her desirability by choosing her to become his wife. He has given her the opportunity to reach the next stage of her life cycle motherhood. In marriage, the point of a woman's life is resolved, at least momentarily
Almost all my female informants, those whose stories have been presented in detail, as well as others, expressed a desire to be married permanently, even those who had apparently no problem in frequently manipulating sigheh marriage contracts to their own advantage. After going through two disappointing temporary marriages, Tuba believed that she would prefer to marry a "blind man" than to be a sigheh, and Mahvash wished she could marry permanently, but that in its absence she was willing to sigheh for "at least three to four months" (i.e., to achieve a longer and more secure marriage). Confused by the rhetoric of the contemporary Shi'i ulama as to the absence of any fundamental difference between temporary and permanent marriage, many women contract a temporary marriage to escape the liminality and the stigma of their status as divorced women, only to realize that just as much ambivalence is associated with temporary marriage, if not in fact more. For men, too, marriage is the only legitimate channel for establishing a sexual relation with a woman. However, they are not restricted to one woman at a time. Economic security through marriage is most often not an objective for men, nor is their status enhanced significantly by marriage, though a socioeconomically advantageous marriage may help. Men do not suffer the stigma of divorce and escape the marginality that is so often the fate of divorced women. Through marriage, men confirm and validate the social structure and ensure its continuity without sacrificing their personal autonomy or desires.
CONTINUITY AND CHANGE IN THE INTERPRETATION OF MUT'A MARRIAGE
Throughout my discussion I have attempted to bring to light continuities and changes in the interpretation of the institution of temporary marriage in contemporary Iran. I have argued that so long as the Shi'ites' significant other remained the Stinnis, the ulama endeavored tojustify mut'a as a form of marriage. Challenged by secularly educated urban Iranian women and men and by the West, the contemporary ulama have been called upon to address themselves to the implications of this custom for modern Iranian society, to respond to the charges that mut'a is legally equivalent to hire or lease, that it is abusive of women, and that it is in fact legalized prostitution. A 1974 editorial critical of mut'a marriage, which appeared in an Iranian women's journal, asserted that mut'a was a form of hire and was demeaning to women. This drew the following response (reprinted several times since) from the Ayatollah Mutahhari:
What does it [mut'a] have to do with hire and a fee? Is the time limit in this marriage the cause of its being excluded from the definition of marriage and acquiring for itself a form in which "fee" and "hire" are appropriate terms? And is it only because it is explicitly ordained that the nwhr (dower) must be "fixed" and "definite" that this inahr is being depicted as the rental charge? We ask whether, if there were no dower and the man did not place anything before the woman, she would then regain her human dignity. (1981, 54; original transiation)
Responding to the same charges, Makarim Shirazi writes: "Is not temporary marriage but a reciprocal marriage contract, but for a specified period, and with the observance of all the other conditions? Does this reciprocal contract, paynwn-i du janibih, differ legally from any other agreements and contracts?" (1968, 376). Acknowledging the popular ambivalence toward temporary marriage, the contemporary ulama have used various innovative strategies to defend the institution. They have used a language that is less indicative of its objective, using a term that closely resembles that of permanent marriage, that is, izdivaj-i muvaqqat, "temporary marriage," instead of mut'a or sigheh, and n-tahr, "brideprice," instead of ajr, "Consideration." This, in addition to confusing many about the objective of mut'a marriage, is aimed at 11 purifying" it from some of its negative connotations. After the revolution of 1979 and the coming to power of the Islamic regime, the ulama's tactics have shifted from the defensive to the offensive. While criticizing the "decadent" Western-style "free" male-female relationship, they propose temporary marriage as its equivalent, with the difference that because the latter is legitimate, it is morally superior. Islamic law (many Shi'i commentators refer to Islamic law when they mean Shi'i law), the Ayatollah Mutahhari argues, had the foresight some fourteen centuries ago to provide a legal and moral solution for its youth without forcing them into a period of "asceticism" or abandoning them into the chaos of "sexual communism" (1981, 54). Improvising on the nonsexual provision in a contract of temporary marriage, the ulama have offered a radical interpretation of the custom in the form of trial marriage: one that in their view is appropriate for, and applicable to, the requirements of a modern society, and one that theoretically allows a young man and woman to marry temporarily while preserving the woman's virginity. Unwittingly, however, while the ulama vehemently object to referring to mut'a as a contract of lease, to the money exchanged as consideration, and to the thesis of "objectification" of women through marriage contract, they have laid their stress squarely on the contractual aspect of mut'a marriage in order to provide supporting arguments in defense of the custom and its implications for women. At the same time that the ulama continue to emphasize the legitimacy of the form, they have shifted their arguments from the negative and rigid connotations of the contract to its positive and negotiable aspects. Their argument, though not new, is much more focused and forceful than that of their predecessors. They say, since mut'a is a contract, women can therefore insert favorable provisions into it to safeguard their own rights.' What they neglect, however, is that precisely because marriage is a contract, men have to agree to its terms, too. Should they find some clause undesirable, they can simply refuse to sign the contract and call off the agreement altogether. The ability to marry more than one woman at a time gives men the upper hand; if one contract is not agreeable, if a woman is too demanding, there is always another one. Unless there are real incentives, or a man really very badly wants a marriage contract, he can decide to sign or not to sign; it is his prerogative. As far as men are concerned, it is not very difficult to refuse to sign a marriage contract; neither their reputation nor their chances are jeopardized the way a woman's is by calling off a marriage contract. Sigheh women are already in a precarious situation, socially, psychologically, and often economically. Although initially they are a partner to the contract, and sometimes they instigate one, ultimately they are abused by the same structure, a structure that conceptually and legally relegates them to the status of an object of lease. As such, they cannot afford to rock the boat, as it were. Besides, as we learned, the ulama's argument makes little sense in light of the prevalent misinformation regarding temporary marriage and women's general ignorance of even the most rudimentary aspects of the law. The continuities and changes in the official interpretations of mut'a imply not only a basic ideological ambivalence toward mut'a, they also indicate the fluidity of the current events, the permeability of sexual boundaries, and the dynamics of the situation. At the level of ideology Islamic law is believed to be ahistorical and unchanging, but at the level of practice, as I have demonstrated, it interacts with other socio-historical phenomena, and it changes in response.