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Anne Garrels. Outlawed under Saddam Hussein's rule, a Shia custom that allows a man to marry a woman for a short period of time has become increasingly popular in Iraq since the American invasion. But critics say it's nothing more than religiously sanctioned prostitution. Over the centuries, Shiite and Sunni Muslims have developed distinct rituals and customs.
One on which they disagree is the Shiite institution of a temporary, or pleasure marriage known as muta'a. According to Shiite religious law, unmarried women may enter into these temporary marriages with men, married or not, for periods as brief as a few minutes, or as long as a lifetime. Dowries are negotiated. In Iraq, muta'a was outlawed by the Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein.
Now, it's gaining popularity again among Iraq's majority Shiite Muslim population. Fifty-year-old Ferial Jasa Mohammed ph , a plump woman draped in black, sits on the floor of her modest house in the poor Shiite neighborhood of Shula.
As she serves tea, she describes a life of disappointment and struggle. She never finished primary school. Her first marriage to a drunk ended in divorce. I didn't want to go through agony and pain, but I didn't find happiness. You cannot go out freely. People point at you, and the children suffer discrimination, too. Eventually, friends mentioned a well-off married man who was looking for a temporary wife.
The two eventually drew up an agreement that he would help support her for one year, in exchange for sex and companionship. Basically, I needed money, so I had to do it. Ferial says he turned out to be a decent man who cared for her and the children, but he was killed in a car accident before the year was up. She couldn't publicly mourn, because whatever the religious legalities, women who participate in muta'a marriages risk their reputations.