I grew up in a cult and was married at 12 — in Texas


My mother was a liberal feminist; my father was a religious zealot who left the family to live by the cult leader.

Two months before I married, I had my first period. I still wore a training bra. I was 12 and had never kissed a boy, never fathomed marriage. “Repeat after me: I, Habiba, take you, Ali, to be my husband for the duration of 90 days,” Ali*, my new husband, said.

Within seconds, I was married. In an Islamic Temporary Marriage, the marriage isn’t nulled with a divorce, but rather a specific period is set — in our case, 90 days. No witnesses are needed, and unlike traditional Islamic marriages, the man doesn’t need to support the woman. But if the girl or woman gets pregnant, the baby isn’t considered illegitimate.

After my parents divorced when I was five, I spent the school year in Tucson, Arizona with my Jewish mother, and summers and holidays with my Muslim father in a cult in Texas. The cult leader didn’t live with the members but lived an hour away on a hill with his three wives and multiple children. Polygamy is allowable in Islam, and a man can marry up to four wives.

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