Actively promoted by senior government figures such as the former interior minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, temporary marriage is legal in Shia Iran. And remarkably easy to arrange: the man and the woman only have to agree how long they want the marriage to last (an hour, or ninety nine years), and the material benefit the man must give to the woman. They can then either make the agreement privately, or register it with a local mullah. It is that simple.
And while reliable figures are hard to come by, temporary marriage, 'sigeh' seems to have been flourishing, probably for economic reasons. In December 2009 a report indicated there had been a 28% rise in registered temporary marriages in Tehran. And the Aftab Yazd newspaper reported there were 15% more sigheh arrangments in 2010 than 2009. Back in 1990 the then president, Hashem Rafsanjani, encouraged people to use sigheh as a way of providing support for war widows, and sexual release for young people who could not afford to marry permanently. It seems his advice has been heeded, to the fury of most women.
Women are furious because the system is utterly unjust. The man is allowed to have as many temporary wives as he wants, along with the four permanent wives he can have. If he uses sigheh wives, he can never be guilty of adultery. The woman though can only have one husband (temporary or permanant), and if she then becomes a temporary wife, she is an adulterer and, as was recently seen in the news, liable to be stoned to death.
All of this is utterly demeaning, underscoring that a woman's worth is not her soul, but her body. The bottom line is that women can be bought. This is why many view sigheh as prostitution with a religious veneer. In 2008 the government's 'Family Protection' Bill, which underlined the legitimacy of temporary marriages, unleashed a storm of protest from women's groups.
However legal temporary marriages are, there is unease about them among ordinary Iranians, neatly summed up by Ziba Mir-Hosseini, an anthropologist and expert on Islamic family law - "Women who enter this kind of marriange never talk about it. That's why i call it a socially defective marriage".
Silence about sigheh is not an option for the growing house church movement, where many members are women. For the historic church of Jesus Christ there is only one word for sigheh, sin. And sin is poisonous. So the matter must be dealt with, and the victims of the system, the betrayed wife and the woman who was temporarily bought, need a touch from the one who restores dignity. And as the church grows in Iran, so this poison of sigheh is being purged.
Temporary wife meets Jesus
This is an eye witness account of a what happened to a woman who had been a temporary wife, and then met Jesus Christ.
If you looked at Faribar’s face a few months ago, you saw a woman whom time had made old and fragile. To provide shelter for herself Faribar had carried the humiliating title of sigheh wife for many years. Then she was befriended by Christians and joined a small house church. She liked her new friends, but found it verypainful to share who she was: a temporary wife.
Faribar became a Christian and began to go to discipleship classes. Here, as the Bible was being taught, she broke down in tears, overwhelmed by a love that affirmed her worth as a woman, and covered her guilt and shame: the guilt of hurting the first wife, and the shame of being with a man who only wanted her body.
Now if you looked a Faribar’s face, you will see her eyes dance with joy. She has repented of sigheh, and has joined the bride of the One whose love is faithful. Her face of fragility has changed forever.