Mohammad, a 40-year old Lebanese Shiite who lives in Hezbollah's stronghold in Beirut's southern suburbs, was holding forth on the virtues of resistance, loyalty, and sex. "You could create the most loyal army by providing political power, social services and fulfilling the desires of your men -- namely, sexual ones," he declared.
"And Hezbollah has been very successful in this regard," Mohammad continued. It is hard to disagree. Hezbollah liberated South Lebanon from Israeli occupation, expanded the Shiite community's political power within the country, and has provided social services, such as health care and education, to its constituency since the 1980s. Today, it is also working to fulfill the sexual needs of its supporters, though a practice known as mutaa marriage.
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. The contract is very simple. 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, those interviewed for this article 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,
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. 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.
According to Shiite writer and activist Lokman Slim, Hezbollah party members are not allowed to practice temporary marriage for security reasons, unless assigned by the party to do so. "We should make a clear distinction between Hezbollah as an organization and Hezbollah as it runs the community's culture and social affairs," Slim said.
But for everyone else, Hezbollah apparently decided to expand its support for this practice after the 2006 war, to maintain its support base and keep the Shiites in Lebanon under its control. "After the 2006 war, Iranian money came to Lebanon in abundance, and money opened the door to sexual luxury that could not be ignored or controlled," noted Slim. "Therefore, Hezbollah decided it is easier to allow sex under certain religious titles in order to keep the control over the community."
The havoc wreaked by the 2006 war and a more difficult domestic political situation also encouraged Hezbollah to shift its position in order to consolidate support. Sheikh Mohammad Ali Hajj, imam of the Imam Ali Mosque in the Sad Bouchrieh district of Beirut, remarked that after 2006, Hezbollah had to strengthen its support among its communities. "They created a military group, The Resistance Saraya, which took in anyone ready to join, religiously and ideologically committed or not," he said. "They had to contain the Shiite community around it with all its aspects, the good and the bad, and found measures to control it, including the temporary marriage," he added.
Hezbollah is in charge of enforcing resolution in the event unpleasant scenarios arise, such as pregnancy or disagreements between couples. "It is only a matter of more control rather than being tolerant," Slim explained.