“THE GOATMILK DEBATES” will be an ongoing series featuring two debaters tackling an interesting or controversial question in a unique, irreverent manner.
Each debater makes their opening argument. They can elect to post a rebuttal.
The winner will be decided by the online audience and judged according to the strength of their argument.
The motion: “Temporary Marriage is a valid option for Muslims in the modern age”
Against the motion: Fatemeh Fakhraie
AGAINST THE MOTION: “Sigheh [Temporary Marriage/ Muta’a] Marriage is Sex for Hire”
I support any way that two consenting adults can safely get it on. And so I don’t think sigheh marriage (temporary marriage also referred to as mut’a, or pleasure, marriage) is a bad idea.
In a magical, lollipop-and-rainbows land.
But in the reality where we all live? No. It’s a terrible idea.
See, in magical Lollipop Rainbow Land, men and women are equal. Sexuality is something between autonomous people who are educated enough to make intelligent decisions about their sex lives. Gender roles aren’t rigidly ascribed or enforced, and no importance is placed on virginity. Everyone respects each other and each other’s choices in this fantastical place. Sigheh marriage would be a wonderful thing in Lollipop Rainbow Land.
But, as this grumpy feminist is constantly reminded, we do not live in Lollipop Rainbow Land. We live in a place and time where women are not seen as equals and are still exploited physically, economically, sexually, etc. In this context, sigheh marriage is a sanctioned path to female exploitation—and thus, in my book, a terrible idea.
To be up front, I am an American Iranian Muslim who comes from the Shi’a tradition. Sigheh is a largely Shi’a practice, and the vast majority of my knowledge on it comes from the Iranian context. So that’s where I’m writing from today.
You can read up on sigheh in depth at Wikipedia, but the short definition is that sigheh is a way for two horny people to be quickly and cheaply married (and thus have lawful sex) in some interpretations of Islam. But the reality is that sigheh is also a largely abused practice that is usually exploitative to women.
My two major qualms against sigheh are societal and economic.
Economically, “[sigheh marriage] is largely the prerogative of wealthy married men, and the majority of women in sighehs are divorced, widowed, or poor.” In this nuanced Mother Jones’ article on sigheh, we meet Habib, who says, “I do sigheh with women who need financial help. Instead of giving money for charity, I marry them in this way and financially support them.”
But this isn’t charity; it’s a transaction. The sigheh dowry (provided he does pay it) may buy her a new stove or he may pay her rent, but she isn’t getting this for her companionship or a few kisses. A man is essentially paying a woman to be her husband in the physical capacity: he is paying for sex with her, whether she desires him or not. This is prostitution. Even if she desires him for him, in certain situations, the economic imbalance remains.
Socially, many people except clerics who extol its virtues often look down on sigheh marriage. Despite its practical legal and Islamic uses, there’s the fact that sigheh is often equated with prostitution—and who wants to be thought of as a whore?
Whether you’re a Muslim woman in Tehran or Los Angeles, your virginity is seen as one of your major virtues. Sigheh marriage “is an advertisement that a woman is not a virgin.” In Muslim communities, virginity is protected, prized, and vastly preferred—advertising the fact that you’re not a virgin is tantamount to letting everyone know you’re not “pure” enough to be considered for “permanent” marriage, which is a pretty insulting idea. As I’ve stated before, I’m not a fan of reducing women to their body parts, especially their hymens.
Another major issue I have with sigheh is its sleazy loopholes. A man (married or not) can contract as many sigheh marriages as he wants without the consent of his wife or his temporary wives (who cannot have any sigheh marriages of their own while married). You can slap any title on this you like, but when someone who is married has sex outside of that marriage, I’m always going to define it as cheating. The fact that sigheh can be used as a loophole to allow cheating is something that just doesn’t sit well with me.
This may seem a grim assessment of gender relations. “But,” you protest, “what about sigheh between two consenting adults with no economic imbalances or power struggles or virginal hangups?”
Well…then I’d have no problem with it at all. Like I said, I support any way that two consenting adults can safely get it on. As long as both parties are fully informed on their options and decide that this is the best option for them, who am I to judge their decisions?
My main issue is that there are too many chances for abuse. I freely admit that this is a textbook case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater (even though sigheh babies are considered legitimate children, who are entitled to a share of the father’s inheritance).
Sigheh marriage has a lot of practical uses (see the Wikipedia link for all the rules and regulations and loopholes), but it’s overwhelmingly abused. From where I’m standing, the mistreatments outweigh the benefits.
In a perfect world, everyone would follow the rules and treat each with kindness and respect. But in the world we live in, sigheh more often than not enables men to treat women as little more than hookers for hire.
Fatemeh Fakhraie is the founder and editor of the influential blog, Muslimah Media Watch