Iran practices strict rules on sex and relationships. Porn sites and Facebook are blocked and you’re advised not to show too much affection in public, let alone kiss your lover in the streets of Tehran.
However, a website that promotes temporary marriage, accepted in the Shia Islam but frowned upon by many Iranians, has gained more than 22,000 members since it was set up less than five months ago. Hafezoon, with a homepage presented in a remarkably similar style and colour to Facebook, has fewer than 1,000 female members, while the rest are men. Only a very small number of them use profile pictures.
The site is essentially a matchmaking service that gives users a platform to meet and then marry for a fixed period of time. While it is free to sign up, fully-fledged members must pay to send messages to each other or see and display contact details. One month’s membership costs 50,000 rials (about three euros) and an annual subscription sets users back 120,000 rials (around seven euros).
In its ‘About us’ section, the site’s creators say they want to unite men and women for whom, for financial or other reasons, permanent marriage is not practical. It allows these people, the site claims, to enter into a relationship according to the Sharia instead of forming illicit street friendships or worse, being drawn into promiscuity.
When registering for Hafezoon, members are asked to provide their height, weight, marital status, skin colour, ethnicity, religion, and education. They are also required to rate their degree of “beauty” and “handsomeness” on a scale of 1 to 5. Married people are not allowed to join and the site doesn’t permit “man-seeking-man” or “woman-seeking-woman.”
“The website is a virtual community and its managers do not introduce anyone for temporary marriage,” according to an e-mail from the site’s support staff in response to questions. There are other websites active in the field, but Hafezoon has attracted attention because it offers “a new quality of service”, the e-mail said.
Hafezoon is an Arabic word that means ‘those who protect or guard.’ The site’s homepage displays a line from the Koran that translates as “and those who guard their chastity except from their wives.” One page presents the Ayatollahs’ advice on temporary marriage, while another is a price list for various types of membership and how the payment process works.
The owners of the website have tried the State Welfare Organization and the National Organization of the Youth to apply for permits, but were told that such permits did not exist, according to the e-mail. No postal address or phone number is given for the site’s offices. A request for a phone number or an interview with one of the managers was declined.
An official at the National Organization of the Youth said her office has been working on establishing bureaus that offer marriage counselling as well as matchmaking services. She spoke on condition of anonymity. There’s no mention of temporary marriages in the proposals, she added.
euronews correspondent in London