NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 1, 2009

Mutaa is a form of "temporary marriage" only acceptable within Shiite communities, one that allows couples to have religiously sanctioned sex for a limited period of time, without any commitments, and without the obligatory involvement of religious figures.  In conservative Muslim societies known for their strict sense of propriety, mutaa offers an escape clause, says Foreign Policy's Hanin Ghaddar.

The contract is very simple, say Ghaddar:

  • The woman says: "I marry myself to you for (a specific period of time) and for (a specified dowry)" and the man says: "I accept."
  • The period can range between one hour and a year, and is subject to renewal.
  • A Muslim woman can only marry a Muslim man, but a Muslim man can temporarily marry a Muslim, Christian, or Jewish woman, as long as she is a divorcée or a widow.
  • However, some have confirmed that Hezbollah -- the "Party of God" -- has allowed the practice to spread to virgins or girls who have never married before, as long as the permission of her guardian (father or paternal grandfather) is obtained.

Temporary marriage has long been practiced by Shiites around the world.  However, it has recently become more commonplace in Lebanon, notably within Hezbollah strongholds in Beirut's southern suburbs and in southern Lebanon after the 2006 war with Israel, says Ghaddar.

Hezbollah's recent encouragement of this phenomenon highlights the compromises it had been required to make in order to remain the preeminent force among its domestic Shiite constituency, says Ghaddar.  As the party gained strength due to its effectiveness in fighting Israel, it was forced to cope with the reality that many Lebanese Shiites did not share the Iranian-inspired religious beliefs of Hezbollah's leaders.  They came to dominate a community that was shaped by the secular leftist trends of the 1970s and 1980s, and the cosmopolitan culture embodied by Beirut. 

Today, Lebanese Shiites are exposed to pop icons such as sexpot singer Haifa Wehbe, countless Western advertisements and programs, and technological innovations such as online dating.  Allowing these Shia to balance their sexual desires with their support for the "Resistance" against the "Zionist entity" is a vital ingredient to Hezbollah's staying power, says Ghaddar.

Source: Hanin Ghaddar, "The Militarization of Sex: The story of Hezbollah's halal hookups," Foreign Policy, November 25, 2009.

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