FATHI, Nazla "To Regulate Prostitution Iran Ponders Brothels," New York Times, August 28, 2002.

by Robert Brow  (www.brow.on.ca)

Nazla Fathi reports from Iran that the Islamic revolution of 1979 demolished the brothel area of Teheran, and any women caught offering prostitution, or men using their services, were to be lashed. But according to official figures, about 300,000 prostitutes currently work on the streets of the capital, which has a population of 12 million. One of them said she had twice been given lashings but found them more bearable than the way she was treated at home.

Evidently the closing of the red light district did not solve the problem for Islam, and now prostitution has become a main cause of AIDS. The newspaper Entekhab recently reported that two sisters, ages 16 and 17, had infected 1,100 people with H.I.V. A conservative newspaper, Afarinesh, said that two government agencies, which were not identified, had proposed legalizing brothels, under the name of "chastity houses", as a way of providing safe sex for the men of the city. Predictably "the government denied that such a plan was in the works".

In her New York Times article Fathi quotes Ayatollah Muhammad Moussavi Bojnourdi in the journal Etemad. "I would not have supported chastity houses had it not been for the urgency of the situation in our society. If we want to be realistic and clear the city of such women, we must use the path that Islam offers us." The path proposed is "the practice of temporary marriage, or sigheh, which is permitted in the Shiite branch of Islam, which predominates in Iran. Such marriages, which can last for a few minutes or 99 years, are especially recommended for widows who need financial support."

Fathi then explains that "Temporary marriage has been publicly approved since early 1990's by Iranian officials, particularly Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was president then, as a way to channel young people's sexual urges under the strict sexual segregation of the Islamic republic. The practice allows a couple to marry for an agreed-on period of time by reciting a verse from the Koran. The oral contract does not need to be registered, and the verse can be read by anyone. Women normally receive money for entering the contract."

The objection to the proposed "chastity houses" by women's groups in Iran is not that temporary marriages are wrong for young people who need to enjoy sex together, but that they legalize the practice of women earning a living by prostitution.

Neither Islam or Christianity has ever managed to eradicate prostitution in any country. When I was a boy I remember walking through the red light district in Brussels between our family business and the Gare du Nord. And here in Canada the practice of "temporary marriage" among young people does not even need a verse from the Qur'an or the Bible. Kids shack up for a night or two, and tear each other apart for the next experience, as easily as changing from MacDonald's to Tim Horton's.

My concern is not to make rules to prevent prostitution or sleeping around, but to recommend the vision of the sacredness of sex that the New Testament offers. It is a model shift from legalism to the good news of God's kind of love. Paul views a visit to a prostitute as a temporary marriage. "Do you not know that he whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said,  'The two shall be one flesh.' Shun fornication" (an unhelpful translation for porneia which means engaging in temporary marriages, commonly called sleeping around). By quoting the marriage text from Genesis 2:24 Paul makes clear that sexual union is a marriage (1 Corinthians 6:16). When it is ended half an hour later a woman is paid cash as a prostitute, and when it is ended by sleeping around the girl is paid in a coinage which never translates into the genuine love of a permanent marriage.

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