Marriage on the Street Corners of Tehran, by Nadia Shahram.
Marriage on the Street Corners of Tehran: A Novel based on True Stories of Temporary Marriage, by Nadia Shahram. Unhooked Books, 2016. (An imprint of High Conflict Institute Press, Scottsdale, Arizona.)
An informative novel about a woman who had ten temporary marriages, allowed by Islam, in order to retain her independence.
Nadia Shahram was born and raised in Iran, and came to Canada to complete her education. The Iranian Revolution thwarted her plans to return to Iran. She now lives in the United States where she practices family law and divorce mediation; her experience spans Islamic as well as U.S. law. She is a major activist for equal treatment of Muslim women. In writing this novel, she interviews a number of women and included their stories. Unhooked Books, which published this novel, is an innovative press with a range of books about marriage, divorce, child-rearing and other social and personal issues.
The narrator of Marriage on the Street Corners of Tehran is Ateesh, an Iranian woman in her thirties who has had ten marriages. She had been a besiqeh, a woman involved in temporary marriages acceptable for Muslims. These involved marriage between a man and woman based with a contract stating the amount to be paid and when the marriage will end, usually a year. Although often abusive for women, Ateesh chose to use this path to support herself while attending college and law school and to retain her independence in face of the gender inequality she witnessed in the Muslim society around her. She kept her private life secret because of the stigma of being a besiqeh.
At the age of twelve, Ateesh was married to a man who abused her in extreme ways. Her mother and grandmother had to work hard to get her a divorce and even then she had to remain invisible in her village. Eventually she was able to go to the University of Tehran. She had little money and needed a way to support herself. Her first temporary husband was a cleric who helped her figure out how to protect herself as a besiqeh. She already knew how to protect herself emotionally by retaining her distance. Because of her precautions, several of her partners were good men, and none were disastrous. Eventually she fell in love and had to choose between staying in Iran where her family was or going to the United States in a permanent marriage. She also became involved in projects to help other Muslim women.
Through Ateesh, readers learn a great deal about the problems that women face in traditional Islamic societies, especially around marriage. But Ateesh is no victim, and her story inspires hopefulness. She uses what is available to be true to herself. She does not glamorize what it means to a besiqeh, but also does not let herself be stopped by guilt. Importantly, she notes that the Quran does not justify the gender inequality and abuse that many Muslims practice.
I recommend this book to a wide range of readers, especially those interested in how Islamic traditions restrict woman and how a woman can thrive in face of them.