Iran's interior minister has faced criticism from women activists after advocating the practice of temporary marriage as a way to meet the needs of young people in the Islamic state, which bans extramarital sex.
"Is it possible that Islam is indifferent to a 15-year-old youth into whom God has put lust?" newspapers quoted Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi, who is also a cleric, as telling a religious seminar this week.
Temporary marriage, or sigha, is an agreement between a man and a women to get married for a specified time, even for just a few days. It has long been practised by Shi'ite Muslims, who are dominant in Iran, even though it is unclear how common it is.
Sunni Muslims say it is illegal and akin to prostitution, but some Shi'ites scholars say it reflects the reality of human nature and provides for the rights and responsibilities of both the man and the woman.
"Although temporary marriage has always existed in our law, it is considered improper by Iranian culture," Shadi Sadr, an Iranian activist for women rights, told the ISNA news agency.
Pourmohammadi spoke last week in Qom, Iran's religious centre, and his comments were carried mainly by reformist dailies. They also published reaction, mostly from opponents of the practice but also from some clerical backers.
"Islam is a comprehensive and complete religion and has a solution for every behaviour and need and temporary marriage is one of its solutions for the needs of the youth," Pourmohammadi said according to the Sharq daily.
"For fulfilling the sexual desires of the youth who do not have the possibility to get married, a decision should be taken."
A temporary marriage is easy to arrange. A couple will agree on how long they will get married - it's usually anywhere from a day to months - and on financial matters.
Couples often go to a Shi'ite cleric for approval of the contract. The practice is believed to have pre-dated Islam among the tribes of the Arabian peninsula.
"A great number of women who agree to have temporary marriage do it because of their problems and financial need," another women activist, Fatemeh Sadeghi, told ISNA.
The Ham Mihan daily quoted a receptionist at a hotel in Tehran as saying it accepted couples with documents showing they were temporarily married and that it had about 100 such guests per week. "Our clients are young men with older women," he said.
Both Sunni and Shi'ite scholars agree that the Prophet Mohammad did at certain times allow it. But Sunni scholars say the Prophet later banned it. Most Shi'ites say he didn't.
"In this kind of marriage there is no force, therefore we can not say it is violating women's rights," one Iranian cleric, Hojjatoleslam Ahmad Ghabel, told Sharq.
But a female former parliamentary deputy, Fatemeh Rakei, suggested that entering into a temporary marriage made it difficult for young women to later find permanent husbands and also expressed concern about the future of children from such marriages.
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