In western society, marriage is a paper, but Christianity defines it as a covenant. Despite this, Islam makes marriage a contract. So in a Shia society like Iran, how do they define marriage? How did the Islamic revolution redefine the marriage relationship? Let’s take a look.
Emma, at university, met a young man named Ali. He was from Iran and periodically took trips back to his homeland. When they married, he continued to visit his homeland yearly, but she did not feel safe visiting there. Like any marriage in America, their marriage had its share of challenges. Yet, Ali sometimes expected things that surprised her, often leading to conflict. So what are some possible underlining values that her Persian husband may have?
In Iran, Ali grew up in a Shia family, and despite studying in the West, his pre-suppositions often conflicted with Emma. His view of relationships, rights, and women varied with the Western mindset. What possible ideas did he subconsciously believe? What did he still value from Islam that currently did not come to the surface?
Ayatollah Khomeini greatly influenced Iran since he founded and motivated the Islamic revolution in 1979. As a mullah, statesman, and scholar, he dictated new social norms and redefined marriage. He wrote his thoughts on marriage in his book, Practical Treatise, in which he wrote out the rules, regulations, and rights of marriage. Khomeini, Imam. Practical Treatise (Farsi – توضیح اُلمسائل). Tehran: Imam Khomeini, 1391 SH .
What is Shia Marriage? How do they describe marriage in a country like Iran? Khomeini (1391 SH) titles his section on marriage as “Nikah and Ezdevaj.” Nikah is the Arabic word for marriage, and ezdevaj is the Persian word with Arabic roots. He begins the chapter with this statement: “by means of contractual marriage the woman becomes clean/permissible (halal) to the man. There are two types of contractual marriage: permanent and non-permanent” (Khomeini, 1391 SH, 374). This weighty statement reveals some significant beliefs about marriage in the Iranian worldview.
First, marriage is a contract. The word aghd is consistently translated as contract and is always used in conjunction with “marriage” when referring to the ceremony. The Islamic context never uses the word covenant or oneness to define marriage.
Secondly, marriage is a religious relationship. “Halal” is a religious word unique to Islam, meaning clean or permissible. Its use here places marriage within an Islamic framework, subjecting it to religious rules and recommendations. Marriage is credited with making the woman clean to bring legality to the relationship.
Next, Allah made a woman for marriage and marriage for a man. Marriage benefits both the man and the woman. Khomeini states when a woman marries, she becomes permissible (halal) to her husband, meaning he can have a physical relationship with her. This definition implies that a man is already clean before marriage as the becoming in the relationship stems from the woman’s ability to be clean. There is no mention of what he brings to his wife. The man is the recipient, and the woman the giver.
Also, Khomeini’s definition of marriage draws attention to a critical difference between Shia and Sunni marriages. In Iran, a Shiite country, two types of marriage exist: permanent and temporary. Temporary marriages are unique to Shia Islam, not Sunni Islam, which does not allow them. In Iran, temporary marriage, commonly called “sigheh,” defines a parallel structure to marriage. Khomeini calls it “gheiri-daimi” which means “outside of permanent.” In his statements and later with Iranian Parlement codes on marriage, temporary marriage became a legally established part of Iranian society.
Furthermore, his definition of marriage gives permanent and non-permanent marriages equal status and includes no moral distinction. In both, the woman is considered halal for the man. Although there are several differences between Shiite temporary and permanent marriages, they are defined only in time. “Permanent marriage is a marriage that has no stated period, and the woman is known as the permanent wife” (Khomeini, 1391 SH, 374). The main difference between the two types of marriage is a stated period or the lack of one.
Any marriage in which a husband still links to Iran may incorporate these concepts secretly or openly. These insights guide Emma’s awareness not to be caught off guard if her husband decides to play by Khomeini’s guidelines. What Islamic ideas influence their Western marriage? Marriage is defined and evaluated in the Survey Of Shia Marriage in Iran. The view of marriage in Iran and Persians’ opinions of who married within the Shia social system give insights to those who never lived in Iran.