(CNSNews.com) – Reports about a fatwa urging young girls to travel to Syria to provide sexual services for jihadist rebels are causing a stir in Tunisia, while also drawing attention to the Islamic concept – little-known in the West and controversial among Muslims themselves – of “temporary marriage.”
Girls as young as 14 are counted as eligible for the “sexual jihad,” and around a dozen young Tunisians are believed to have taken up the call, attributed to an influential Saudi scholar, Sheikh Mohamed al-Arifi.
The pan-Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper reported this week that a video circulating on social media sites in Tunisia showed the parents of a girl younger than 18, saying she had recently returned from Syria after being convinced by Salafist fellow students to travel to the conflict-torn country “to support the mujahideen there.”
It quoted Tunisian religious affairs minister Noureddine al-Khadimi as repudiating such fatwas (religious rulings), stressing Tunisians were not obligated to adhere to them.
Although al-Arifi reportedly is now disowning the fatwa, Arab commentators seem skeptical.
“Sources close to the sheikh denied that he had issued any such fatwa,” the pan-Arab news service Al-Bawaba said in a report Thursday. “Then again, one might backtrack, standing accused of selling young innocents to militant Muslims.”
Al-Bawaba called the notion “indecent.”
“Promiscuity among teenage girls getting the seal of approval from the most puritanical quarters of Islam is a turn-up for the holy books,” it commented.
Al-Hayat said irrespective of the origin of the fatwa, it appears to have resonated with at least 13 Tunisian girls. It also pointed to a report of a young Tunisian man having divorced his wife before both traveled to Syria, to enable her “to engage in sexual jihad with the mujahideen.”
Al-Arifi is no stranger to controversial fatwas, including one telling a daughter not to wear revealing clothing or sit alone with her father lest she incite his lust.
Last December, an Iranian news service reported that al-Arifi had issued a fatwa saying Syrian rebels can “temporarily marry” Syrian girls as young as 14, and promising “paradise” to the “wives” concerned.
(Some Arabic reports say that the fatwa controversy is being stoked by elements supportive of Syrian President Bashar Assad, in a bid to tarnish the opposition rebels.)
The fight against the Assad regime has witnessed the emergence of radical Syrian Salafist groups – such as the al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusrah Front – and an influx of jihadists from Arab and European countries. (British Foreign Secretary William Hague in a speech last month noted that “Syria is now the number one destination for jihadists anywhere in the world today.”)
It is these fighters, mostly young men, who would presumably be the beneficiaries of any such “marriage” rulings.
Earlier this month the North African news service Magharebia (which is sponsored by the U.S. Africa Command) interviewed the head of the Tunisian League for Human Rights, Balkis Mechri-Allagui, about Tunisian youth in general being lured to the jihad in Syria.
The interviewer touched briefly on the “sexual jihad” issue, citing the al-Arifi fatwa “that permits fighters to marry few hours with girls as young as 14,” and asking how widespread the problem was.
“Although the number of young girls involved is small, we are not concerned by numbers as much as we are concerned with the presence of this case in our society,” Mechri-Allagui replied.
“What we know is that there are girls being attracted to go to Syria for jihad, and therefore we must stand up against this problem,” she said.
A cover for abuse, prostitution
Scholars say the concept of “temporary marriage” (muta’a) – an agreement to be “married” for anywhere from an hour to a year – is a Shia one, shunned by Sunnis.
In Iraq, for example, muta’a was outlawed under the Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime but has become more prevalent since its toppling. Iraq is majority Shia.
“Muta’a is a form of ‘temporary marriage’ only acceptable within Shi’ite communities, one that allows couples to have religiously sanctioned sex for a limited period of time,” Lebanese journalist Hanin Ghaddar wrote in a 2009 article for Foreign Policy magazine.
He said the practice had become commonplace in strongholds of Hezbollah, the Shi’ite terrorist group that styles itself “the resistance” against Israel.
Ghaddar wrote that allowing young Shia who have been exposed to modern media influences “to balance their sexual desires with their support for the ‘Resistance’ against the ‘Zionist entity’ is a vital ingredient to Hezbollah’s staying power.”
Although the practice is purportedly frowned on in Sunni Islam, according to State Department reports on sex trafficking, temporary marriages also occur in some Sunni countries, including the Gulf states and Egypt, often as a cover for prostitution and abuse.
“Some Saudi men used legally contracted ‘temporary marriages’ in countries such as Egypt, India, Mauritania, Yemen, and Indonesia as a means by which to sexually exploit young girls and women overseas,” said the June 2012 report, which covered the previous year.
In Syria, it said, some Iraqi refugees were “placed into temporary ‘marriages’ to men for the sole purpose of prostitution.”
In Egypt, “wealthy men from the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait reportedly continue to travel to Egypt to purchase ‘temporary’ or ‘summer marriages’ with Egyptian females, including girls who are under the age of 18.”
“[T]hese arrangements are often facilitated by the females’ parents and marriage brokers who profit from the transaction,” the report continued. “Children involved in these temporary marriages suffer both sexual servitude and forced labor as servants to their ‘husbands.’”
In Iraq, the report said, “some women and girls are trafficked within Iraq for the purpose of sexual exploitation through the use of temporary marriages (muta’a), by which the family of the girl receives money in the form of a dowry in exchange for permission to marry the girl for a limited period of time.”
Amid reports in 2009 that Saudis were entering into such arrangements with women in other countries, the kingdom’s grand mufti, Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, declared that temporary marriages are forbidden.
“The concept of marriage involves settling down and making a home and temporary marriages do not allow this to happen,” Saudi Arabia’s Arab News quoted him as saying in a television message.
The report drew a distinction between temporary marriage and polygamous marriage, which it said Sunni Islam does permit. Islamic law (shari’a) allows a Muslim to marry up to four wives.