A holy city with rampant prostitution. How temporary marriages are made in Mashhad

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You can also listen to the interview in the audio version.

“Sometimes a woman has her period, sometimes she’s sick, she can be traveling…” This is how she explains at the beginning of the documentary Nila’s dream of living in the Garden of Eden a well-known Iranian cleric the need for temporary marriages.

The film, which was presented at the One World festival by director Niloufar Taghizadeh, describes the problems and hardships of the children who are born from them.

In an interview with Seznam Zprávy, Taghizadeh admits that the decision to shoot a documentary set in the holy city of Mashhad was the most difficult in her life. She said she realized that after the film was released in her native country, she wouldn’t watch it right away.

In the end, however, the desire to help six-year-old Nile won, whose story the film tells. Only thanks to the document did Nila and her mother get a visa to Germany and thus leave Iran. “Many people die or are in prison during anti-regime actions, I just won’t be able to come back, it can’t be compared,” says the director.

Because of the successful documentary, she faced pressure to prevent the film from being distributed: “I’ve already had some guys call me who didn’t know the main character, didn’t know anything about the film, but tried to stop it.”

Your film captures the phenomenon of temporary weddings in Iran. How was filming in your country? The regime certainly does not like to see such critical documents…

It was very complicated. I think I flew to the country seven or eight times. I took everything with me and was always filming something different – if they caught me, they could understand what the film was about. Once I filmed only in the mausoleum of Imam Reza, the second time only at home… It’s very dangerous. It’s one thing if you express some criticism about politics, it’s another thing if you also talk about religious matters. This is a huge taboo.

Mashhad is a special place, Khamenei is from there (supreme Iranian leader, editor’s note) and a number of other political figures. Therefore, it must be perfect in the eyes of the public, no one should feel lonely in it and they should feel safe.

Niloufar Taghizadeh

Photo: SZ – Milan Rokos

Niloufar Taghizadeh

She was born and raised in Iran. She came to Germany in 1996 and then studied theater and film directing at the Athanor Academy for Performing Arts.

In 2006, she returned to her native country, where she worked as a screenwriter. At the same time she started hers journalistic work as a producer alongside Middle East correspondent Ulrich Tilgner at ZDF-Studio in Tehran.

In 2012, she returned to Europe and continued her work in 2016 Vienna. Between 2018 and 2019, she wrote a script for a documentary for ZDF television Bittersweet Iran – the journey of countries of opposites on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. In 2019 founded Windcatcher-Productions based in Heidelberg with the aim of producing film projects by independent authors as well as their own films.

Compared to other Iranian cities, is Mashhad specific when it comes to temporary weddings?

Yes, he is famous for it. Everyone knows it, but no one talks about it. People only talk about it in private and joke that they will take a break for a temporary marriage. Many religious people from all over the world come to the city every year and pray together in each mosque. The city has a holy and soothing atmosphere.

However, a huge number of marriages are concluded and ended around the mausoleum of Imam Reza. Just sit back for a few hours and watch what’s going on. You will see a large number of young women wearing chadors, but underneath you can see jeans and clothes that are not suitable for prayer.

Did the main character of the film tell you how her engagement was? He mentions it a little vaguely in the movie…

It wasn’t an engagement. She only said that to the clerks so they wouldn’t judge her right away. You must say that you have entered into a temporary marriage, because love affairs are completely illegal. And being pregnant with a man out of wedlock? They would kill her, it’s a serious crime. It’s a never-ending problem – either the girl has a father and he has the right to her, or she doesn’t have a father and then the mother is seen as a prostitute.

So how does it work in practice?

There are offices where you can sign a temporary marriage. If you then have a document about him and a child is born, it’s fine. In Mashhad, however, it is done quite simply. Like if you said here: “For this glass of water, I want you for ten minutes.” I would accept and we would already be in a temporary marriage. It’s easy. Well, after ten minutes I could say, “If you want to continue, you pay another $100 and we’ll be together for two days.”

For example, widows who have five children and cannot provide for them use it… Then they see a rich man and say to themselves: “Maybe once a month we can be married for a day.” But Leila was very young, she had a bad experience in the past, and she said yes because she hoped , that it will be a normal marriage. But when she and her husband left the apartment, a few minutes later the woman’s phone rang and she found out how it was.

How women live in Iran

Protests in Iran have weakened significantly. Kathy no longer believes in the continuation of the revolutionary movement: “Protests are probably not the right way, we have already lost too many lives.” We have no power against them and no country supports us. Maybe it needs a gradual change of governance, that seems more logical to me than protests,” he thinks. According to her, the protests changed only two things: Everything became radically more expensive, and women and girls now dare to go without the hijab.

Iran is a very religious country. How do the authorities view this phenomenon – de facto prostitution?

When you say you are in a temporary marriage, they look at you as a second class woman. But young people also use it to be lovers. They want freedom. If women are not married and pregnant – I know a lot of them from school – they have to go somewhere for an abortion because no one would accept it.

Do you have any idea how many babies born like this live in Iran?

No one knows that, but there are many. 13 million pilgrims come to Mashhad alone every year… Of course, not for sex, but for Imam Reza, but still, many children are born from these journeys.

Many of them then live on the street, selling flowers or something else… Each of them has a different story and since childhood they keep hearing: “You’re a bastard, you’re a bastard, you’re a bastard.” They hear it from teachers at school, from men on the street, in short, always. You came into the world from prostitution and that’s where you’ll end up, they tell them.

Protests for women’s rights in Iran

Protests have erupted in Iran over the death of a woman arrested for not following the rules on wearing a hijab. “The whole nation is mourning and feeling anger,” says reporter Golnaz Esfandiari. Can the demonstrations force the regime to make concessions?

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At the beginning of your film, one of the imams explains the need for temporary marriages – women are menstruating, sometimes they are sick, sometimes they are traveling…

The funny and funny guy was seen every day on the first program of state television. He is one of the most important imams in Iran, he is very close to Khamenei. It is unbelievable. He says it like it’s funny, but you hear these things every day right after the children’s shows. It has nothing to do with Islam.

I know a lot of religious Iranians who hate these circles. It was important that this archival material be made into a film so that Europe knows what kind of waste it is dealing with. In Iran, these Islamists have over 80 million hostages, it’s unbelievable and crazy.

The protests in Iran after the death of Mahsa Aminí have been waning in recent months, they are no longer talked about. Do you see any hope for your home country?

Yes, I see great hope. The protests haven’t gone away, people are just doing other things. There are various anti-regime groups that work in secret, so we don’t hear anything about them. It’s still going on. But all revolutions in the world last for many years.

The death of Mahsa Aminíová was not the first thing, there were protests before and they are gradually packing up like a snowball. At the end, there will be a big change and the young people will achieve what they want. And it will come when we least expect it. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m not afraid of the price we’ll pay for it. The last few years have been very brutal and bloody, and it will be difficult in the future as well. It’s like a cancer that you have to deal with or you just can’t.

The article is in Czech

Tags: holy city rampant prostitution temporary marriages Mashhad

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