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Temporary 'Enjoyment Marriages' In Vogue Again With Some Iraqis

Most Shiites believe that the prophet Muhammad encouraged the practice as a way to give widows an income. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, has sanctioned it and offers advice on his Web site.

Um Ahmed, a 28-year-old woman from Najaf, lost her husband in 2005 when he was caught in the crossfire of a fight between two Shiite militias.

Soon after his death, she had her first mutaa relationship, with a man who was in a permanent marriage. He paid her 50,000 Iraqi dinars upfront -- or $38 -- and gave her money whenever she needed it during their six-month relationship.

She said she needed it often. She is a tailor and the only one in her family of 10 who works.

"When a human being needs money, the need will make a person do anything," she said. "It's better than doing the wrong things. This is religiously accepted."

Many Sunnis believe that the practice is outdated and ripe for abuse. They also see it as more evidence of Iranian influence on Iraqi life. Mutaa is widespread in Iran's Shiite theocratic state.

"It is a big insult to women," said Ibtsam Z. Alsha, a Sunni lawyer and the head of the organization Women for the Common Good of Women.

Women's rights activists also bemoan what they say is an increase in mutaa on college campuses. Some female students do it for money. Others do it for love when their parents forbid them to marry a man from another sect.

Amani, a 22-year-old Baghdad University engineering student, said she is a Sunni but agreed to enter into a mutaa relationship with her Shiite boyfriend because her parents disapproved of him. "I hated my family because they did not allow this marriage," she said. "I did this to spite my family."

Still, she has not told them about the relationship. "If they find out, it will be my end," she said.

A woman cannot terminate a temporary marriage before it expires unless the man agrees, said four sheiks interviewed for this article.

Once the marriage is over, she has to wait at least two menstrual cycles before she can have another relationship so that paternity can be easily determined if she becomes pregnant, they said.


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