The man’s face in the photo is computer-generated by Mission: Investigate and does not belong to a real person. Foto: SVT

Revealed: Shia Muslim imams in Sweden conduct weddings in which women are bought for sex

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Shia Muslim imams in many parts of Sweden conduct wedding ceremonies in which women are bought by men for casual sexual relations, Mission: Investigate reveals. Often the imams charge a fee for this. Called “pleasure marriages” in Arabic, the aim of these ceremonies is to make casual sex halal, i.e. permitted in Islam. After the disclosure, the Islamic Shia Associations of Sweden is freezing the membership of several of its associations. 

“If I were heading the investigation, I'd probably establish a report of human trafficking,” says Petra Stenkula, police commissioner in Malmö.  

The Arabic name is “pleasure marriage”. A fixed-time marriage, for money, which can last a month, a week, or only an hour. At the end of that time, the marriage is over.   

It is a Shia Muslim custom that some clerics claim is supported by the Koran. Others condemn it and call it prostitution in the name of the religion. 

Mission: Investigate has been in touch with several women who talk about their own experiences of Shia Muslim clerics in Sweden taking money for conducting these weddings.  

“This is like abusing his power. Abusing everything this situation gives him. And abusing a vulnerable woman. So it is disgusting, and he is in the business of prostitution. He's acting like a pimp,” says “Maryam”. 

Fake identities and hidden camera  

To investigate how widespread the phenomenon is in Sweden, Mission: Investigate contacted about 40 of the over 60 Shia Muslim mosques in Sweden. In total, Mission: Investigate was in touch with 26 Shia Muslim heads of congregation. Our Arabic-speaking employees, a man and a woman, used fake identities, a hidden camera and a scenario that was described by one of the women we talked to.

The female employee spoke to 14 mosque representatives and said she was in dire financial straits. She was contacting a cleric to enter into a temporary marriage in return for money. She said that she didn’t really want to do this, but that she saw no other way out. 

The male employee spoke to 12 mosque representatives and said that his wife is still in his home country in the Middle East and he wants a temporary marriage until she comes to Sweden. 

“What you want to do is illegal in Sweden” 

A total of 15 Shia Muslim clerics offered to help set up a “pleasure marriage” for SVT’s two undercover employees. Some of them were interested in the woman for themselves. Others referred unknown men to her. Seven of those contacted were aware of and understood the arrangement, but did not want to or were not able to help. 

Of the 14 heads of congregation and clerics the woman talked to, four clearly indicated that this is completely unacceptable. Some of them call it prostitution:  

“Hello, sister. What you want to do is illegal in Sweden, unacceptable in society and illegal in Islam. It is forbidden to sell your body. Allah will help you. Unfortunately, I cannot”, one of the heads of congregation in Luleå texted. 

“Could definitely be considered buying sex” 

A police commissioner and a judge that Mission: Investigate talked to say that these “pleasure marriages” can be a criminal offence. Both as regards the man who pays and the imams who conduct the ceremony and thus may be facilitating the buying of sex – that is, procuring.

But the phenomenon of temporary “pleasure marriages” does not just occur among Shia Muslims in Sweden. Back in 2019, the BBC uncovered a religious sex trade in Iraq, where Shia Muslim clerics provided children and vulnerable women to men who wanted “pleasure marriages”.  

Mission: Investigate’s female employee also called and got offers from Shia Muslim clerics in cities such as Leipzig in Germany, the Hague in the Netherlands, Oslo in Norway, Copenhagen in Denmark, and London in the UK. Clerics who refer the women to men and who are themselves interested in a temporary marriage with the woman.  

The chair responds 

Of the mosques in Sweden that Mission: Investigate looked into, all but one were member associations in the umbrella organisation the Islamic Shia Associations of Sweden. Together they’ve received over SEK 14 million in funding from the government and local authorities in the past three years. 

“I'm going to take this very seriously. Those who are guilty, who have disgraced themselves this way, cannot remain in their position. We'll also have to discuss with SST, the agency, about their funding, what we should do with them. At the least, their funding should be frozen until we have investigated them”, says Haider Ibrahim, chair of the Islamic Shia Associations.

After the interview, Haider Ibrahim tells us that all associations guilty of misconduct and wrongdoing will have their membership in the Islamic Shia Associations of Sweden immediately frozen and their funding stopped. An internal investigation has been initiated and all clerics found guilty will be banned from lecturing or participating in the Islamic Shia Associations’ member associations until the investigation is completed. 

Prior to publication, Mission: Investigate contacted all of the heads of congregation and informed them about the investigation. None of those who offered their help in officiating a “pleasure marriage” returned our calls. 

15 mosque representatives who agreed to officiate a temporary marriage: 

Al-Wela förening (Angered)  

Al-Hadi kulturförening (Kristianstad)  

Alwehde förening (Kristianstad) (1 cleric)   

Al Rassol kulturförening (Karlskrona) 

Al-Jawadein kultur och idrottsförening (Stockholm)  

Ahel-Al Jana Turism förening (Stockholm)  

Imam Ali Islamiska Center (Järfälla) (4 clerics)  

Mahdi Al Muntazar förening (Karlstad)  

Al-Zahra kulturförening (Eskilstuna)  

Al-Hawraa Zainab förening (Västerås)  

Al Muntadar (Malmö)  

Växjö Integrationsförening (Växjö) 

7 mosque representatives were aware of the arrangement, but did not want to or could not help: 

Al-Zahra förening (Västerås)  

Islamiska förening (Gävle)  

Vimmerby afghanska förening (Vimmerby)  

Al-Noor förening (Gävle)  

Ahl al-Beit center (Örebro)  

Imam Ali Islamiska Center (Järfälla) (1 cleric)  

Alwehde förening (Kristianstad) (1 cleric)   

4 mosque representatives who rejected the idea of officiating a temporary marriage: 

Afghansk kulturcenter i norra Sverige (Luleå)  

Arabiska Familj sällskapsförening (Helsingborg)  

Södra Dalarna Islamiska Kulturcenter (Avesta)  

Al-Noor förening (Angered) 

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