Weekly Feature

2010-04-14 / Lifestyles

Amherst professor turned author launches first novel

by KATE MOCKLER Reporter

Shahram Shahram Nadia Shahram is a familiar face to many in the region. Some know her as their professor at the University at Buffalo Law School, where she teaches courses on Islamic family law. Others may have seen her quoted on CNN about issues affecting Muslim women and about the recent murder of Aasiya Zubair Hassan in Orchard Park.

But now, people will know her in another way: as an author, with the recent release of her first novel, “Marriage on the Street Corners of Tehran.”

The novel highlights the practice of “temporary marriage,” which is unique to Iran. Under temporary marriage, any man (regardless of his marital status) may temporarily marry as many single women as he pleases. The man and woman work out a contract, with an agreed-upon sum of money and an expiration date.

Temporary marriage is based on what Shahram describes as a misinterpretation of Muslim law and is a way to get around the prohibition on prostitution. Many women who engage in temporary marriage do so because they have fled an abusive situation or been cast out of their families. Shahram first became aware of the practice of temporary marriage after the attacks on Sept. 11.

“It really shook me up about Islam,” she said. “My quest into my religion began with Sept. 11.” Shahram began reviewing the Quran and other Islamic texts and made a trip to Iran to learn more. There, she became interested in how women were affected by Islamic law.

“The more I got into it, the more I came to know about other practices that we don’t hear about in America,” Shahram said.

She was determined to raise awareness of some of these practices, especially temporary marriage. Shahram recalls being “shocked” at the openness of the practice of temporary marriage.

“I saw ads for temporary marriage in leading newspapers. I saw women walking around in different sections of town and men just approaching them,” she said.

“Marriage on the Street Corners of Tehran” is a carefully researched novel. Shahram interviewed hundreds of women, buying their time in exchange for their stories. She has been working on the novel since 2004 and completed it earlier this year.

“In fiction, you can speak the truth but dramatize at the same time. You don’t see the passion, the human suffering in research papers,” Shahram explained.

This past weekend, Shahram held a reading and book signing at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Buffalo. She has another reading planned at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 28, at Canterbury Woods, 705 Renaissance Drive, Amherst. This summer, she will travel to California, not only to promote the book but also to meet with film studios about a possible movie deal.

“My hope is that by putting not just this practice, but numerous practices that hurt women on the table, it will stop,” she said. “I’m hoping that religious people will revisit Islam and see that this is a misinterpretation, and women are suffering from it.”

“Marriage on the Street Corners of Tehran” is available at Talking Leaves Bookstore, at the University at Buffalo bookstores and online at www.nadi ashahram.com.

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