Marriage in Iran, as everywhere else in the world, is a contract guided by individuality, religion, culture, and politics. Although Islam is the dominant religion and its impact is universal, when it comes to marriage requirements, procedures, and ceremonies, different ethnic and religious groups might have their own special considerations and arrangements. Today, Islamic Shi‘ite laws are the basis of personal and family law in Iran, but their influence has never been absolute or universal. Non-Muslims and non-Shi‘ites are allowed to follow their own religious practices in such matters. Starting from the 1930s onward, civic laws were established governing marriage, custody, and male-female relationships. The basis of these laws was religion, various ethnic and cultural traditions, and modern Western laws. While government attempts to register marriages were relatively effective, the attempt to implement uniform family laws was not always successful, especially among pastoral groups, ethic minorities following their own traditions, and religious minorities who married according to their own religious rules. More importantly, what is written down in Islamic law is not what is actually practiced by all Muslims. There is always a gap between the real and ideal culture. Prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979, family interactions and confl icts were subject to civil laws. As mentioned before, after the revolution, the Family Protection Act was annulled and the Shari‘a became the source for decisions about marriage, divorce, and custody. This book discusses only dominant laws and norms emanating from Islamic tradition. Readers are advised to look elsewhere for the specifics of marital rules and norms among ethnic and religious minorities. The first requirement of marriage is a legal contract stipulating the conditions of the marriage and its dissolution. Islamic law requires the consent of the woman at the time of the contract and that the contract be witnessed by two men, or one man and two women, of the groom’s family. Women marrying for the first time, thus being virgins, require parental permission for marriage. Both Islamic law and the cultural tradition give the father ultimate say over whom his daughter is allowed to marry. A previously married woman is free to consent to marriage to her suitor, even if her parents might not agree. Going against a parent’s wishes would be difficult because parents often bear much of the economic burden of marital ceremonies; without their cooperation, it would be nearly impossible for a woman to proceed, unless she was wealthy and willing to cope with the consequences of her family’s dissatisfaction. In many cultures, the marriage union is accompanied with various forms of exchanges: goods, money, and favors. The essential component of a marital contract under Islamic law in Iran is the bride price, or mahriyeh. Mahriyeh is stipulation in a prenuptial agreement signifying the bridegroom’s right to his bride’s sexual and reproductive organs in return for a monetary commitment to her. Though the woman has a right to ask this amount at any time in marriage, it is customary that mahriyeh is only asked at the time of divorce or the husband’s death. In the latter case, the amount is deducted from his estate before the inheritance is divided according to religious law. Some families perceive mahriyeh as a form of insurance against a man’s arbitrary decision to dissolve marriage, thus demanding a higher sum in cases where the family senses a higher degree of unpredictability about the groom’s character and future plans. Though the amount of mahriyeh refl ects the social status of the bride’s family, it varies depending on a couple’s social class, educational level, tribal customs, kinship traditions, and regional norms. Some families treat mahriyeh as a status symbol, demanding a higher amount as a sign of high status for their daughter. In recent times, to protect against infl ation, mahriyeh is specifi ed in valuable fi xed objects such as gold. For instance, a girl’s mahriyeh might be 250 gold coins. Since these coins have a fi xed weight, they will appreciate in value as infl ation devalues the national currency. Prior to the revolution, the Pahlavi Coin, now called the Âzâdi (Freedom) Coin, is the denomination used. Another outdated and rarely practiced custom is the giving of money by the groom to bride’s family, known as shir-bahâ (nursing fee). This was a tradition among poorer families where the groom’s family offered the bride’s mother a mutually agreed upon amount as compensation for her having nursed the bride. In fact, the money was a form of financial assistance to the bride’s family in order to be able to fund the dowry ( jahâz ), thus maintaining the ability to support their daughter with some means of living as she started her new life—a very important practice for maintaining one’s social status in the community as well. Mahriyeh is also tied to the dowry ( jahiziyeh ) or household items brought into marriage by the woman. The wealthier the woman’s family, the higher the probability of demanding a higher mahriyeh and offering a more extensive jehâz, as it is often called. The responsibility to provide jehâz at the time of a daughter’s marriage is a major financial burden for parents. People jokingly offer sympathy to men who happen to have more girls or only girls in their families. In classical Islamic law, another requirement of marriage is that both the bride and the groom have reached puberty. Although the law technically defi ned puberty as age 12 for boys and age 9 for girls, this was not often used in practice for determining a suitable age for marriage except perhaps in remote rural areas and among very poor religious families. But even in those cases, prior to the revolution of 1979, such marriages were not recorded formally because the offi cial marriage age set by the Family Protection act was 20 for boys and 18 for girls. After the Islamic Revolution, these ages were reduced to 9 for girls and 14 for boys. The reformists in the Sixth Majles introduced a bill to raise these legal ages, but it was rejected by the Guardian Council—an offi cial body of religious experts who oversee all the laws made by the parliament. Still, the legal age does not reflect the realities of the actual marriage age. In 2004, the average age of first marriage was 26.7 for men and 23.9 for women (up from 24 for men and 20 for women in 1986). As a general rule, rural, less educated, and poorer families usually marry off their children sooner than educated, middle- to upper-middle-class families. A major factor contributing to the increase in marriage age is the financial burden of marriage in an economy with a high rate of unemployment. It should be noted that the age differential between the man and woman has also been declining. Traditionally, men married women much younger than themselves. The rise of public awareness about the negative impacts of such marriages has made both parents and young women hesitant to accept suitors much older than the woman. Though polygamy is recognized by the Koran (up to four wives), and it has been an ancient tradition predating Islam, it is not widely practiced, and Iranian society generally does not approve of it. The instances are rare and mostly limited to traditional, wealthy men and poorer and widowed women. Traditional Islamic law states that the wives must be treated equally, and current laws require that existing wives agree to their husband’s new marriage. A man who is determined to marry a new wife, especially when he does not have convincing reasons for asking permission of his first wife, often fabricates her permission or marries the new wife without declaring his first marriage. These cases are often the subject of television shows and comedy films. Homosexuality, although it exists underground, is illegal; those found in such a relationship, male or female, are severely punished as adulterers since the Koran forbids same-sex intercourse. Although not all religious scholars agree on the type and extent of punishment, in Iran, homosexual partners found in actual intercourse, with the testimony of four witnesses, would be sentenced to death. Since 1980, Iran has executed many individuals charged with homosexual acts. Though Islam allows a Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim woman as long as she believes in one of three religions recognized by Islam as “religion with a scripture” (Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism), a Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim man unless he converts to Islam first. Given the fact that the number of Iranians marrying non- Muslims has increased due to the postrevolutionary emigration of over 3 million Iranians to foreign countries, the the law has become hard to implement and has not been enforced with regularity. Modern marriage is supposed to be based on love. However, not all marriages are based on individual love. Although arranged marriages occurred more in the past, still there are reasons other than family arrangements or personal love influencing the decision to marry. Criteria used for selecting a wife vary depending on social class, level of education, and religious devotion. Although physical attraction, personality, chastity, and decency are primary factors, wealth, family obligations, ethnic considerations, and religious devotion play a role in many cases. Marriages also stem from curiosity or a desire to escape a restrictive family environment and achieve a modicum of status and autonomy in society. In general, premarital sex and intimate relationships are prohibited. However, this rule is often applied to girls rather than boys, and socializing between boys and girls is not uncommon among middle- and upper-class families, especially in major cities. Historically, dating has been taboo in Iran by most standards. Even today, where women have the chance to meet their prospective husbands in college or at work, a combination of social and administrative restrictions basically negate one-on-one cross-gender socialization. Women’s autonomy in making marriage choices is signifi cantly dependent on socioeconomic class and education. Uneducated women with no income are economically dependent on their parents and in most cases live with them, thus having no choice but to agree to their wishes regarding timing and the suitability of a prospective husband. In a gender-segregated society, it is no exaggeration to say that most women are naïve about men, relationships, courtship, or even how to interact with potential suitors. Women’s perspectives on arranged marriage range from complete resistance to complete acquiescence. Having married as a way to escape from an unhappy home environment, some women do not know the personality and temperament of their husbands until they live under the same roof. The same is sometimes true of men in arranged marriages in traditional settings. Most divorces are reported to be based on personality incompatibility. Marriage requests are always initiated by the groom’s family. A woman might be interested in a man and make her wishes known to him privately if the two have premarital contact at work or school. However, a formal request for marriage comes from the groom’s side. Women do not lose their surnames by marriage. There is no social or legal requirement to change their names after marriage. Even those women who use their husbands’ last names do so symbolically because the legal change of names is almost unheard of. Those women who do use their husbands’ last names are often married to high-ranking officials or well-known public fi gures. Also, legally, and by religious laws, women are allowed to maintain their own wealth and continue to add to it if it generates profi ts or income. However, in reality, most women of the lower and middle class come to their marriage with little assets, except their jahiziyeh. In recent years, modern, educated working women with independent occupations have acquired better social and legal status in keeping their own earnings for themselves. Once married, a woman is expected to bear children and be loving, loyal, trustworthy, tender, giving, and gracious. She is responsible for raising children, preparing food, and taking care of the primary needs of the whole family (hygiene, clothing, family gatherings, etc.). Rural and nomadic women have the additional tasks of taking care of animals and helping with farming. The husband is also expected to respect his wife and her family. However, given the patriarchal and patrilocal nature of the family, it is the man’s family that demands a lot more from the new daughter-in-law than the bride’s family from the son-in-law. Iranian mothers-in-law have often been stereotyped as being controlling and demanding. As time has passed and women have become educated and economically independent and often do not live with their in-laws anymore, the mother-in-law has lost her power over the daughter- in-law. In case of infertility, in most cases women are confronted with the choice of either divorce or acceptance of their husband’s decision to marry a second wife (known as havu ). Women and children are not permitted to leave the country without the father’s or husband’s permission. A wife’s power or influence within the family depends on a host of factors: her personality, parental status, education, occupational skills, and age. In addition, a married woman’s power over a lifetime is variable. Educated and professional women often do not settle for a traditional arrangement in which men make all decisions. While some women remain submissive and relatively powerless for their whole lives, others become the more influential spouse over time, especially when buffered from a husband’s authority by adult children. Generally, having children gives women more say in the family, and as children grow and develop strong bonds with their mothers, women gain more leverage over their husbands. While having children adds to a wife’s responsibilities, for traditional women, it gives them more power over their husbands’ arbitrariness and unpredictability. Having children often obligates a husband to a family, thus preventing him from possible infi delity since men are expected to provide for their family and protect their children. Although infi delity is not tolerated in Iranian culture, it does happen, and it is found more among men than women. Women found in extramarital affairs are severely punished and often denied social standing. Men who have extramarital affairs or who keep concubines have to go through many efforts to conceal their infi delity, because, when exposed, it would bring them shame and in some cases severe punishment.