Monday, March 22, 2010

Feminist Political Scientist, Fatemeh Sadeghi, Condemns “Temporary Marriage” as Exploitation

Translator’s note: Fatemeh Sadeghi has a PhD in political science and has taught at the Islamic Azad University of Karaj near Tehran. Soon after the publication of her controversial article “Why We Say No to the Compulsory Hijab” [] in May 2008, she was suspended from her teaching post at the university. Below are extended excerpts from an article which she recently published in Alborz, a site devoted to a critique of political economy. In this article, she critiques both conservatives and Religious Revisionists who defend the practice of temporary marriage. To find English equivalents for certain terms, I consulted the glossaries in Shahla Haeri’s Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage in Shi’i Iran (Syracuse University Press, 1989) and Janet Afary’s Sexual Politics in Modern Iran (Cambridge University Press, 2009). Following Daryoush Ashouri’s advice, I have translated the term no-andishan-e dini as Religious Revisionists. My glosses are interpolated in square brackets. This translation was originally published by Tehran Bureau on March 15, 2010 (

“Temporary Marriage” and the Economy of Pleasure
By Fatemeh Sadeghi
Translated by Frieda Afary

In Iran, “temporary marriage,” which was originally called sigheh [a renewable contract of marriage for a defined duration] or mut’a, [Arabic term for a temporary marriage] has long been one of the challenging aspects of the culture of Ithnā‘ashariyyah' Shi’ism in contrast to other branches of Islam, whether Sunni or Shi’i. [Ithnā‘ashariyyah', or Twelver, Shi’is believe in twelve divinely ordained leaders, or imams]

During the first decade after the [1979] revolution, problems such as young people’s sexual needs and delayed marriages due to economic difficulties prompted some officials to renew and promote “temporary marriage” as a solution for the problems of the youth. At that time, this issue prompted opposition from many women. They expressed their views in journals such as Zan-e Rooz [Today’s Woman] and Zanan [Women] and the newspaper Salam. Many of these women considered the revival of the custom to be harmful to women and their rights in society.

During the past few years, the ninth government [Ahmadinejad’s first administration, 2005-2009] and the seventh and eighth parliaments have turned the revival of this custom and its promotion as “temporary marriage” into one of the foundations of their sexual politics. The government and the parliament went so far as to ratify the new family law bill despite women’s strong opposition. This bill gives legal justification to conditional polygamy, including multiple [permanent] wives and sigheh. It no longer even requires permission from the first wife.

The opponents of the practice of sigheh, as well as its supporters, have criticized it from a variety of perspectives, both intra-religious and extra-religious. Here, I do not intend to engage in a critique of the defenders of sigheh in the manner of scientific articles and from a specific perspective. More than anything, my goal is to raise questions related to this topic in our society today. Therefore, I will make use of different perspectives without directly citing them.

First, it needs to be said that the use of the expression “temporary marriage” for sigheh is in fact new. More than anything, this expression has been used to sanctify the custom. Based on jurisprudential views that defend this custom, the goal of sigheh or mut’a is only sexual pleasure. The philosophy of marriage, however, goes beyond sexual pleasure. In the beginning of this article, I put temporary marriage in quotation marks, in order to emphasize this point. In the rest of this article as well, I will continue to use the term “sigheh” instead of temporary marriage.

In summing up the views that defend sigheh, several attitudes can be discerned. Some defend sigheh from the vantage point of men’s sexual rights, and some defend it from the vantage point of women’s sexual rights. The latter view has defenders in Iran as well as other Muslim countries. The recent statement of a Saudi Arabian woman who asks why women cannot have multiple husbands if men can have multiple wives attests to this point. After summing up the viewpoints inside Iran, three distinct attitudes can be discerned:

First, traditional Twelver Shi’i jurisprudents defend this custom and believe that Islam has designated certain rights for men in the Qur’an, one of which is mut’a or sigheh. Basing their position on certain verses and interpretations, they believe that the prophet [Muhammad] considered this custom permissible for men.

The second group consists of some Religious Revisionists who claim that “temporary marriage” can even be interpreted in such a way as to observe women’s sexual rights.

The third group consists of some members of the political elite. Many statesmen and members of the current parliament fall into this group.

Each of these attitudes is based on different foundations. Therefore, in order to offer a critique, I will base myself on the very foundations upon which these viewpoints rest. Nevertheless, given that all of these views reach a common conclusion, I will end by critiquing the general attitude that pervades these viewpoints. I shall begin with the first viewpoint.

Traditional Jurisprudence and Sigheh
Based on the assessments of some traditional Twelver Shi’i jurisprudents, sigheh is permissible based on religious teachings. This viewpoint is rare among Muslims. Not only the majority of Muslims [Sunnis] but also the many branches of Shi’ism, with the exception of the Twelvers, are opposed to it. Even among Twelver jurisprudents, there is no agreement on whether this custom is considered marriage or mut’a. Therefore, many of them do not consider it permissible...

First, if sigheh is considered marriage, then the conditions of marriage need to apply to it. In other words, based on the text of the Qur’an, polygamy has been limited to four wives, provided that all are treated equally. Therefore, if sigheh is a type of marriage, it cannot be unlimited. However, if sigheh is not considered a type of marriage, what will become of all the verses and interpretations [of the Qur’an] that speak of piety and self-restraint. It seems that both situations produce contradictions that traditional jurisprudents cannot explain.

Of course other criticisms are also in order here. For instance, concerning why traditional jurisprudence gives men more rights than women. Traditional jurisprudents have no clear and convincing answers about the patriarchal discourse of jurisprudence. Instead they turn to identity statements. Some argue that men have a God-given and innate right to be favored over and to have more rights than women. Others argue that women are bearers of men’s sperm and [sexual exclusivity] is necessary to determine paternity.

Both of these answers are problematic. Concerning the jurisprudents’ patriarchal defense of men, the following critique has been issued: If Islam is supposed to speak to all human beings in all times and all places, how can it be patriarchal and presume the innate or legal superiority of men over women? And if it is true that men have greater God-given rights than women, how can we explain the verses stating that women and men are made out of the same act of creation and are equal? The argument offered by traditional jurisprudence concerning bearing a man’s sperm also seems invalid. Today, technology can determine paternity.

Aside from these issues, it seems that the Achilles’ heel of traditional jurisprudence in its defense of polygamy consists of its lack of concern for ethics. If religion is to be reduced to a set of rites in which the believers (men) find a variety of ways to make permissible the satisfaction of their libido, then the question is the following: What place do ethical attitudes have in religious law and jurisprudence?

Religious Revisionism and Women’s Sexual Rights
As the second group of defenders of sigheh, Religious Revisionists attempted to respond to some of the misgivings that traditional jurisprudence has not been able to resolve. In the opinion of some Religious Revisionists, sigheh is permissible. They believe that a dynamic jurisprudence and exegesis can turn sigheh into a progressive policy. This group believes that sigheh is one of the most progressive principles of Islam and addresses needs that other religions have ignored. According to some of these thinkers, based on this practice, even women will benefit from sexual rights that tradition has taken away from them. Others go even further and interpret [Islam’s] commandments as a type of sexual freedom for women and men.

Some Religious Revisionists believe that tradition and common law have denied sexual rights to unmarried women. Therefore, sigheh is considered one of the solutions that would allow women to also benefit from these rights. On the other hand, according to the views held by some of these thinkers, limitations that derive from sigheh, including the ‘idda requirement [waiting period for a woman after divorce or husband’s death] can be overcome through the use of technology.

First, according to many Religious Revisionists who defend this practice, Islamic jurisprudence, if based on exegesis that takes into consideration contmeporary problems, can offer progressive solutions to society’s ills. However, experience and knowledge have still not proved that jurisprudence is essentially capable of solving social problems.

On the other hand, those Religious Revisionists who defend sigheh mostly ignore the legal, social, and cultural aspects of the policy. In our society, women are not equal to men from a legal or social standpoint. The legal system and common law do not consider them equal to men. In such a society, the additional sexual rights for which Religious Revisionists give sigheh credit are more formal than real.

For example, in our society many women agree to become sighehs mostly because of distress due to economic pressures and the inability to provide their own means of subsistence. When a woman becomes a man’s sigheh under such circumstances, she is in essence engaging in a fundamentally unequal exchange. It is her distress over providing her means of subsistence that forces her to agree to become a sigheh. On the other hand, given the disagreeable character of sigheh in our culture, many of these women are compelled to keep the relationship a secret from neighbors and family members. It is even worse when an unwanted child results from the relationship.

Therefore we can say that what is being interpreted as women’s sexual rights is, more than anything, an unequal and unreliable relationship in which women agree to be subjected to sexual exploitation because they lack economic rights and a sense of security.

So long as women are not considered legally equal to men and do not receive the economic benefits and legal rights that men enjoy, so long as they are not backed by the law and the government, sexual rights are reduced to a useless appendage from which only men benefit. On the other hand, even if we consider that not all the women who agree to become sighehs are economically impoverished, the problem of the decline in social status associated with sigheh remains. A practice that is mostly judged negatively by society cannot simply be repackaged and forcibly sold.

Furthermore, the approach of the Religious Revisionists, similar to the first approach, leaves the questions regarding foundational ethics unanswered.

The Principle of Pleasure in Politics
The third group of defenders of sigheh are statesmen who not only consider the practice as the solution to the “problems of the youth” but also encourage it among their co-thinkers and colleagues in a way that reveals the intervention of the principle of pleasure in politics. They write laws and ratify amendments to promote the practice. In contrast to the first two groups, it seems that the statesmen’s defense of the practice is based on a different set of principles and foundations. The conservatives’ approach in other areas reveals that their goal is not in any way a defense of women’s rights. Furthermore, considering the pressures to which young people have been subjected during recent years, and considering the violation of their rights by the statesmen, one can hardly attribute the statesmen’s defense of sigheh and polygamy to addressing the problems of the youth. It seems that their aim is on the one hand the granting of a privilege to their fellow men, and on the other hand the humiliation of women.

Based on the above, the customer-centered approach of the current ruling establishment cannot be simply explained as the granting of economic privileges to their supporters and the possible trickle-down effect among the economically disadvantaged masses. The customer-centered approach includes the granting of privileges in the economy of pleasure. Specifically, we need to consider the fact that a large portion of managers, ministers, statesmen, members of parliament, heads of security forces, etc. have turned sexual wealth into a way of life and expect their representatives in the polity to leave them unrestrained both in the realm of the economy and the realm of the economy of pleasure.

The strong efforts made by political institutions to ratify the family law bill and promote polygamy seem to be tied to similar efforts in the arena of economic privileges and redistribution for the purpose of preserving the interests of the ruling establishment. This assumption mostly arises from the fact that women from a variety of social classes, groups, and beliefs, surveyed in many studies of women performed over the past few years, have strongly opposed the principle of polygamy. They have continued to demand that the government limit the practice and defend women whose rights are violated through polygamy. The persistent efforts of the supporters of sigheh to ignore women’s demands cannot be attributed to a lack of awareness...

Final Observations

Most women in our society have long been opposed to sigheh and polygamy. They have only accepted the practice out of distress and necessity. Among families, traditional as well as modern, religious as well as secular, and among women as well as men, sigheh has always been associated with shame and regarded as a stigma. It seems that this will continue to be the case in the future. Opposition to the practice has been reflected clearly in various studies that have been conducted during the past few years by governmental institutions and independent researchers...

In other words, public opinion in our society considers sigheh to be an unethical behavior that falls under the category of the economy of pleasure. Although some practice it, sigheh is not considered sanctifiable. Therefore, defense of the practice of sigheh, under any justification or basis, represents an undemocratic and patriarchal attitude contemptuous of the demands of the majority of Iranian women and the ethical judgment of society...

If we subscribe to the arguments presented in defense of sigheh and ultimately base ourselves on the economy of pleasure, then we can revive any obsolete practice and make it palatable, using aesthetic and even beautiful feminist justifications and modern rationalizations, in order to make women believe that the only path to emancipation is through the Harem. If that is the case, then why not revive slavery in order to free all of humanity from the misery that it suffers on a daily basis for the sake of being free?

January 9, 2010

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shadi Sadr Dedicates Her Award to Imprisoned Women's Rights Activist

Iranian Feminist attorney and human rights activist, Shadi Sadr has decided to dedicate her Women of Courage Award to Shiva Nazar Ahari, an imprisoned women's rights activist. Sadr chose not to travel to Washington D.C. on Wednesday March 10 to receive the award from U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Instead she sent a recorded message to be braodcast at the awards ceremony. The U.S. Department of State decided not to broadcast Sadr's message during the ceremony. Below is the full English text of her message, which was published on the website of Women Living Under Muslim Laws.

Shadi Sadr's Speech for the International Women of Courage Award Ceremony

March 9, 2010

I am honored to be selected as one of the ten recipients of the International Women of Courage Award, which I consider as yet another opportunity for me, and other human rights activists, to bring to the international community’s attention the efforts of Iranian women on a global level. This award also enables me to publicize the systematic human rights abuses in Iran, particularly the crackdown on civil society activists in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential elections.

This Award, as is evident by its title, is given every year to women all across the globe that have illustrated exceptional courage in defense of women’s rights, social justice and human rights. For this exact reason I would like to dedicate my award to Shiva Nazar Ahari, a young activist that is currently imprisoned in Iran for her women’s rights and human rights activism. I dedicate this award to her since I believe her courage has been exceptional and deserving of worldwide recognition.

Shiva, who since her youth has been an influential activist, founded the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, a university student group that provides important and objective reports concerning human rights abuses in Iran. She has also been actively involved in the women’s rights movement, never for a moment ceasing her efforts on behalf of human rights and democracy.

Unfortunately, shortly after the elections, Shiva was arrested and kept for months in solitary confinement and subjected to extreme interrogations. After spending more than 100 days in prison, Shiva was released on a $200,000 bail for only three, brief months. Shiva, who had re-started her activism immediately upon her release from prison, was arrested once more in December 2009 along with other members of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters. Since her arrest, the authorities have placed her under extreme pressure in order to make her confess to the crime of ‘acting as an enemy of God’, which carries the death penalty under state law. They kept her for a long period in a cage-like cell so small that she could barely move her limbs. Despite such extreme torture, Shiva has not, even today, accepted that her peaceful activism in promotion of Women’s rights and democracy are acts of terrorism, and consequently has faced even more abusive treatments.

Shiva, one of the world’s most courageous women, who herself worked tirelessly in defense of the rights of political prisoners, is herself in a small prison cell, and deprived of having even a pen and paper or meeting with a lawyer, and is kept blind-folded.

To be honest, since the Iranian regime declares that all human rights activists and civil activists are spies and puppets for the West, particularly the United States, I initially worried that to dedicate this award to Shiva alone might increase the pressure and hostility of her interrogators and the judicial forces and make matters worse for her.

However, I eventually arrived at the conclusion that the Iranian government will still accuse all activists of being spies, similar to the way they accused me of selling myself to America for receiving this award (calling me a “servant of the United States”), so that it really makes little difference. As Shiva is not with us and cannot attend this award ceremony, I will also refrain from attending with the hope that my absence will turn the attention of the international community to her dire situation. I would like to request that you all take any measures available to you to help to free Shiva along with other human rights activists and journalists in Iranian prisons.

Thank you.

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A Response to Danny Postel’s Call for Critical Solidarity with Iran

Danny Postel’s “The Specter Haunting Iran” is a welcome call for “critical solidarity” with the Iranian democratic opposition movement. Unlike those on the Left who have been wary of characterizing the current democratic movement in Iran as a progressive phenomenon, Postel has supported this movement as a completely new and progressive phenomenon or what he calls “a deep-seated shift in the consciousness of millions of Iranians in their ways of seeing and perceiving their political reality.” . . . Given Danny Postel’s grasp of the “deep shift in consciousness” that has taken place in Iran, I am surprised to see him offer Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian economic experiment as an alternative . . .

By Frieda Afary
Source: Tehran Bureau
February 24, 2010

Danny Postel’s “The Specter Haunting Iran” is a welcome call for “critical solidarity” with the Iranian democratic opposition movement. Unlike those on the Left who have been wary of characterizing the current democratic movement in Iran as a progressive phenomenon, Postel has supported this movement as a completely new and progressive phenomenon or what he calls “a deep-seated shift in the consciousness of millions of Iranians in their ways of seeing and perceiving their political reality.” In his previous writings, he has also attempted to demonstrate that the non-violent and pluralistic features of this movement are related to the deep interest in philosophy, and specifically rationalist philosophy, that has emerged in Iran during the past 20 years.

I would add that the feminist movement in Iran which has offered thoughtful and courageous arguments on women’s rights and the issue of sexuality, is also a manifestation of the philosophical awakening that has characterized Iranian society. Readers who have had the opportunity to read Fatemeh Sadeghi’s “Why We Say No to the Compulsory Hijab” ( or Shadi Sadr’s recent challenge to Ayatollah Karroubi ( will know that Sadeghi and Sadr are not only activists but also deep thinkers and theorists.

There is no doubt that poverty and economic inequality is a major concern of the mostly young participants in the current opposition movement. Iran’s university students, of whom sixty percent are women, face unemployment or poverty wages that pay less than $250 per month and offer no benefits. According to the World Bank and the Iranian government, the absolute poverty line has been set at $2 per day per person, which means that a minimum of $240 per month is needed to support a family of four. In fact, according to the Centarl Bank of Iran, the general poverty line for a family of four in 2006 was no less than $400 per month. The newspaper Sarmayeh (Capital) has admitted that the poverty line in Tehran is $800 per month for a family of four.

The question of alternatives to economic inequality and specifically alternatives to capitalism however have not been theorized by the Green movement. Whereas the Islamist movement of Ayatollah Khomeini and Ali Shariati’s brand of Islamic socialism in the 1970s used the promise of economic justice to gain adherents, the leaders of the Green Movement, Karroubi and Mousavi advocate one or another form of market capitalism.

In face of this reality, I appreciate the following statement from Danny Postel:

I want to suggest to Iran's Greens that they take a close look at the cases of Eastern Europe and South Africa. The democratic movements that by and large formed the post-Communist governments of the former Warsaw Pact countries faced a similar situation -- different from Iran in many regards, to be sure, but similar in the crucial respect that their focus was political in nature and their platform consisted mainly of democratic principles and negative liberties. It was presumed that these were the most pressing matters and that economic issues would get worked out in due course. But what happened? To make a long story short, shock capitalism happened, and it brought the kinds of dislocations, dispossessions, and disfigurations that are its global trademarks. Because the democratic-movements-turned-governments hadn't given much thought to questions of economic structure or policy, they were unprepared to respond to the convulsions induced by neoliberalization.

In fact, Iranians have already experienced “the convulsions induced by neoliberalization.” Ahmadinejad’s government has recently approved a plan for “targeted monetary subsidies” which will gradually phase out existing government subsidies on basic food items and petroleum. In addition to having banned independent trade unions, the Iranian government has been promoting the two-tier wage system which has practically meant that a large percentage of Iran’s workers are contract workers without any benefits.

Mohommad Maljoo, an Iran-based professor of economics, has also addressed these questions in a recent interview in which he refutes “trickle down economics” and argues that the accumulation of capital will not necessarily improve the conditions of the lower classes. (

Given Danny Postel’s grasp of the “deep shift in consciousness” that has taken place in Iran, I am surprised to see him offer Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian economic experiment as an alternative in order to take the terms of the economic discussion beyond capitalism.

First, Postel admits that Hugo Chavez has been a strong supporter of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. Although Postel limits Chavez’s support to the political realm, in fact Chavez’s involvement with the Iranian regime is deeply economic. The Iranian regime has made large investments in Venezuela. Chavez in turn has been providing the current government with petroleum to reduce the impact of the western governments’ sanctions on Iran. The separation made by Postel between Chavez’s political practice and his economic practice is indeed not true.

Furthermore, Iranian labor activists have attempted to make a distinction between Chavez and the Venezuelan labor movement by issuing statements in which they appealed to Venezuelan workers to support them in their struggle against the current regime. In January 2007, on the occasion of Ahmadinejad's trip to Venezuela to meet with his friend, Chavez, the Bus Workers’ Union sent an open letter to the Venezuelan Workers Syndicate and demanded that they confront Ahmadinejad and defend Iranian workers (, 1/17/07).

Not only would I argue that Chavez’s political and economic support for the current repressive government of Iran flow from his economic views. I would further argue that Chavez’s economic views, examined in isolation, do not offer much more than a state- controlled version of capitalism. Indeed, the very article which Postel cites as evidence of the achievements of Chavez’s economic programs, offers important critiques of the glaring contradictions in Chavez’s brand of socialism. Below are two passages from this article, “Venezuela’s Cooperative Revolution,” by Betsy Bowman and Bob Stone:

Zaida works seven hours a day, five days a week, and is paid $117 a month, the uniform income all employees voted for themselves. This is much less than the minimum salary, officially set at $188 a month. This was "so we can pay back our [government start-up] loan," she explained. Venezuela Avanza cooperativistas have a monthly general assembly to decide policy. As in most producer co-ops, they are not paid a salary, but an advance on profits. Workers paying themselves less than the minimum wage in order to make payments to the state was, Zaida acknowledged, a bad situation. "We hope our working conditions will improve with time," she said. . .

And even if all of the country's current cooperativization programs succeed, will that struggle—and it will be a struggle—result in socialism? . . . the history of co-ops from the Amana colonies of Iowa to the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation in the Basque country shows that even when they start out with a community-service mandate, individual co-ops, or even networks of co-ops, tend to defensively re-internalize capitalist self-seeking and become indistinguishable from their competitors when made to compete alone against an array of capitalist firms in a capitalist economy.

As this article indicates, workers’ self-management, in the context of a capitalist world can simply not transcend capitalism. I would add that that the combination of a massive oil income, state supervision and worker’s self-management for capitalist profit sharing can also not be posed as an alternative to capitalism.

While most members of the global Left continue to offer uncritical support for the political and or economic programs of Chavez, there are a growing number of youth associated with the new Left in Iran who do not see Chavez’s programs as an alternative but are also interested in developing alternatives that can transcend capitalism.

Unlike the period preceding and immediately after the 1979 Revolution when the vast majority of the Iranian Left consisted of the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party or the Maoist advocates of guerrilla warfare, there is now a growing new Left in Iran that challenges the old Left’s legacy of support for the former Soviet Union or Communist China under Mao. This new Left is completely aware of the collaboration of the pro-Soviet Tudeh with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 in the name of anti-imperialism. It welcomes critiques of Stalinist and Stalinist-Maoist brands of thinking. It has welcomed new translations of Marx’s 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts as well as Marx’s Capital. (See the English translation of Hassan Mortazavi’s preface to the new Persian translation of Marx’s Capital volume I. ( It is fascinated by discussions on G.W.F. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind. This new generation of youth is also the product of the deep interest in philosophy that has characterized Iran during the past two decades. It is challenging the economic and ideological views of the old Left which continues to exist but cannot offer new ideas.

After the Ashura protests, the Iranian government accused the democractic opposition movement of having been instigated by “enemies of God and Marxists.” This statement was indeed surprising even to Iranian socialists who did not think that their influence had been widespread. Since then, many of those associated with the new Left have been arrested. These thinker-activists include Omid Montazeri, a 24-year-old law student, journalist and writer for the online youth journal, Sarpich, who was forced to “confess” during show trials after the December 27 Ashura demonstrations. Omid Mehregan, editor of the online journal Rokhdad and co-translator with Morad Farhadpour of Theodor Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment was released on February 19. Many others remain in prison.

I agree with Danny Postel’s call for a critical solidarity that is based on addressing economic alternatives to capitalism. Those who are interested in this call can begin with defending the members of the Iranian new Left who are languishing in prison. We need to hear their views and learn from their experiences and questions in order to engage in critical solidarity with the Iranian democratic opposition movement.

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