When Fariba Met Habib

And speaking of religion and the religiously-inclined and the contortions they can make to save the phenomena…There is this CBC documentary about two Iranian women who survive via prostitution. Homa Arjomand sent me the link. Homa gets busier all the time, with media and speaking engagements. Let’s hope there will soon be more and more women sharing the workload.

For over a year, director Nahid Persson filmed the everyday lives of two young female prostitutes as they eked out a living in a country where the profession is banned. The filmmaker often took great risks to follow Minna and Fariba as they sought out customers-men who would often marry them briefly, so as not to violate the laws of the Koran by having extramarital sex. The two women are good friends and neighbours, who have experienced the widespread mistreatment of women and the double standards that permeate Iranian society today.

That’s nice, isn’t it? Touching. The men marry the women ‘briefly’ (briefly meaning, presumably, for fifteen minutes or so [to allow time for the amenities, and unzipping the fly]) so as not to violate the laws of the Koran against exploiting women. Oh I’m sorry, that’s not what it says, is it. Fancy that.

So is Allah fooled, I wonder? Is he mollified? Does he think this is a good system? Does he sit up there gloating happily, beaming down on darling Iran? ‘Oh look! How pure my beloved Iran is, with no extramarital sex or fooling around. That is so good and heartening and wonderful! No sex outside of marriage! Yay! Of course, the place is full of dirt-poor women being treated like toilets by their hahahaha ‘husbands’ all the same, but who cares about that?! Everybody in Iran who has genital-to-genital contact is spliced! That’s all I give a rat’s ass about!’ Is that what he says? Is that what his submissive subjects think he says? I mean, are they kidding? Or what. Oh who knows. People convince themselves that if they ‘pray’ then God will do what they ask whereas if they don’t he won’t, and at the same time that he is perfect and everywhere and kind and all-knowing, so whatever.

In the ’80s, documentary filmmaker Nahid Persson fled Iran for Sweden. When she returns 17 years later, she finds the divisions between the classes greater than ever, unemployment has skyrocketed…Putting herself at great risk, Persson manages to film Minna and Fariba’s customers…Many of the women’s customers find a way to buy sex and still comply with Muslim law: they marry with the women in what is called ‘sighe’-a temporary marriage legal in Shia Islam. ‘Sighe’ can last from two hours up to 99 years. In the documentary, both Minna and Fariba undergo ‘sighe’ with customers. Habib offers his perspective on temporary marriages: to him, ‘sighe’ is a way of helping miserable women-an act of mercy done in the name of Allah.

Oh, two hours. I was being grossly cynical in thinking they could get away with fifteen minutes. Two hours. Man, that’s some pretty heavy commitment. Pretty good marriages, are they? Do they fit the whole thing into that two hours? Shared housework, visiting the in-laws, sending Ramadan cards, cozy chats over Horlicks at midnight? Doesn’t it sound sweet. But I have a suspicion that’s not how it goes. I’m thinking that actually the guy runs off after fifteen minutes to go hang with his homies, and then comes back when the two hours are up, sticks his head in the door (or the hole in the wall) to say ‘I divorce you I divorce you I divorce you, bye, it was fun!’. I’m just guessing though. Maybe the two lovebirds are really happy together for that two hours. She teases him about always throwing his socks on the floor, he teases her about the way she dresses (you know, like a prostitute and all). Kind of a ‘Mad About You’ scenario but speeded up. Could be cute. Could have legs. Kind of Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn-slash-Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan type thing. Somebody call Hollywood.

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