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"Pleasure Marriages" of as short as 1-hour regain popularity in Iraq

"Pleasure Marriages" of as short as 1-hour regain popularity in Iraq
USA Today 5/5/05 Highlights

The 1400 year-old practice of muta'a - "ecstasy" in Arabic - is as old as Islam itself. It was permitted by the prophet Mohammed as a way to ensure a respectable means of income for widowed women (and of course pleasure for men). Pleasure marriages were outlawed under Saddam Hussein but have begun to flourish again.

The contracts lasting anywhere from one hour to 10 years, generally stipulate that the man will pay the women in exchange for sexual intimacy. Now some Iraqi clerics and women's rights activists are complaining that the contracts have been less a mechanism for taking care of widows than an outlet for male sexual desires.

Shites and Sunnis both permit men to take more than one permanent wife, but the rival branches of Islam are deeply split over the pleasure marriages. Most Shiite scholars today consider it religiously legal. Shiite lawmakers want Iraq's new constitution to give muta'a formal legal protection as under Sharia, or Islamic law. Sunni Arabs and Kurds, who are mainly Sunni, oppose the idea. But the practice is growing among Sunnis and Shiites alike.

Sunni scholars fear that giving official sanction to pleasure marriages - many of which are only verbal agreements between the couple - are little more than legalized prostitution that could lead to a collapse of moral values, especially among young people. "We have reports about one-hour pleasure marriages that are flourishing among students,: says a Sunni imam.

A woman agreeing to a pleasure marriage that involves a one-time encounter might be able to count on about $100. For a muta'a that runs longer, she might be paid $200 a month, though amounts vary widely. (A women) says, "All my friends who have done this have told me they got married in this way just to meet their sexual desires, but later on they started to love that man, and he does not accept to get married permanently....Most of the men, at the end of the contract, feel contempt towards the women."

Contracts for pleasure marriage strongly favor men. Married women can't enter into a muta'a, although a married man can. (Dave notes just like in biblical Christian times, a married man was not committing adultery if the other women was single. It was a property fight issue of the husband of the other women, not a sexual issue.) Men can void the contract at any time; women don't have that option unless it's negotiated at the outset. The couple agrees not to have children. The women who unintentionally gets pregnant can have an abortion but must then pay a fine to a cleric.

To many pleasure marriages are legitimate in God's eyes. They bring responsibility and formality to what would otherwise be squalid and sinful, As one said, "There is a noble goal in this kind of marriage, it's to eradicate moral corruption."

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