By Farangis Najibullah, Kayumars Ato, RFE/RL
Mosque sermons in Tajikistan tend to focus on issues that affect people's everyday lives. These days, the hot-button topic of many sermons in Dushanbe has been temporary marriages -- a phenomenon that was almost unheard of in Tajik society until recently.
Recently, at a gathering following Friday Prayers on June 8, prominent Dushanbe Imam Eshon Abdul-Basir Saidov warned women against entering into temporary marriages, which religious leaders say have become a trend in Dushanbe over the past two or three years.
Echoing concerns voiced by his fellow imams, Saidov says dozens of Tajik women have fallen victim to "Iranian-style temporary marriage," known as mut'a.
Fairly widespread, and legally approved in predominantly Shia Iran, mut'a is a fixed-term marriage in Shi'a Islam which automatically dissolves upon the completion of a term agreed upon by both parties prior to the marriage.
Mut'a is not recognized by Sunni Islam, which is followed by the majority of Tajik Muslims.
Nevertheless, says Zurafo Rahmoni, the head of the Culture Department of Tajikistan's Islamic Revival Party, "nowadays we increasingly hear about Tajik women entering into mut'a matrimony with Iranian citizens living here."
'No Rights Or Protection'
Tajikistan has a sizeable Iranian community, the majority of which reside in Dushanbe and other major cities.
"These women are ultimately being left with no rights or protection both during and after their so-called marriages," Rahmoni says. "In all cases, the men eventually leave the country, leaving their temporary wives behind. The most painful part is that sometimes children are born into such unions."
Rahmoni blames the trend on the "dire" economic situation that prevails in Tajikistan.
"Many Tajik men have left the country for migrant work," he says. "There are foreign men coming to work in Tajikistan, and that's why the [mut'a] practice is on the rise in Tajikistan. Social and economic hardship are contributing factor to the rise of this phenomenon in recent years."
There are no official statistics about Tajik women who enter mut'a unions, but Rahmoni puts the number at "hundreds."
When contacted by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, however, the Iranian Embassy in Dushanbe said it had never received any complaints from Tajik citizens in connection with such unions involving Iranian nationals.
Tajik imams have dubbed mut'a "un-Islamic" and "contradictory to Tajik religious beliefs and traditions."
"Mut'a is an attempt to legalize prostitution," says Imam Saidov. "It shouldn't be recognized as a religious matrimony, and we consider it a sin."
In his Friday sermon, religious leader Saidov said Tajik women's "naivety and lack of awareness of their religious and civil rights" was to blame for their falling victim to temporary marriages.
For Maya, a 25-year-old hairdresser from Dushanbe, her temporary marriage was initially "love at first sight" with a man from a foreign culture.
Maya, who declined to give her full name, said she met her former partner -- an Iranian businessman -- a year ago in a city restaurant popular with well-to-do foreigners.
A marriage proposal came "surprisingly swiftly," and Maya accepted. She says the religious marriage ceremony was conducted by a friend of the groom, with two others attending as witnesses.
"He mentioned something about short-term marriages, but I didn't quite understand it, I thought he was just being cautious," Maya admits. "But he left six months later. I live with my baby daughter. I don't get any support from him, financial or moral."
To prevent such cases, Tajik imams are calling on women not to enter into religious matrimony with foreigners -- namely followers of Shi'a Islam -- without officially registering their marriages with the secular authorities and even signing legal, prenuptial contracts protecting women's rights in marriage and/or divorce.
Tajik laws do not recognize religious marriages -- temporary or otherwise. As a measure aimed at curbing polygamy, Tajikistan has banned mullahs from performing Islamic marriages, or "nikah," unless the couple presents their official marriage certificate.
Polygamy is a criminal offense in Tajikistan which carries a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.
Written and reported by Farangis Najibullah, with additional reporting by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Kayumars Ato in Dushanbe
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