Let’s Talk About Mutah, or Temporary Marriage in Islam

Mutah. Sigeh. Temporary Marriage — easily in the top 5 most controversial Islamic topics.

(Just a mini preface: It is normal to be confused by topics such as these. Four wives, Mutah, and maybe even the hijab has got you all twisted. But the way I see it, my faith is rooted in the Wisdom of God and that of His messenger. So with that in mind, I pray that I can speak about this topic with justice and bring about the understanding of His wisdom.)

Mutah is a touchy subject because not only is it unusual, it has also been distorted and misused throughout the years. In the Muslim world, the concept is more well-known in the Shia sect, as they believe it is lawful and allowed. However, when the concept was first introduced, all Muslim sources show concurrence.

Mutah is a touchy subject because not only is it unusual but it has also been distorted and abused throughout the years.

In pre-Islamic Medina, men used to “seek enjoyment” with women for a short period of time and pay them — which used to be called istimta. And so using that word, this verse from the Qur’an was revealed:

وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ إِلَّا مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ ۖ كِتَابَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ ۚ وَأُحِلَّ لَكُم مَّا وَرَاءَ ذَٰلِكُمْ أَن تَبْتَغُوا بِأَمْوَالِكُم مُّحْصِنِينَ غَيْرَ مُسَافِحِينَ ۚ فَمَا اسْتَمْتَعْتُم بِهِ مِنْهُنَّ فَآتُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ فَرِيضَةً ۚ وَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِيمَا تَرَاضَيْتُم بِهِ مِن بَعْدِ الْفَرِيضَةِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا

“And [also prohibited to you are all] married women except those your right hands possess. [This is] the decree of Allah upon you. And lawful to you are [all others] beyond these, [provided] that you seek them [in marriage] with [gifts from] your property, desiring chastity, not unlawful sexual intercourse. So for whatever you enjoy [for marriage] from them, give them their due compensation as an obligation. And there is no blame upon you for what you mutually agree to beyond the obligation. Indeed, Allah is ever Knowing and Wise. (4:24)”

All the sahaba, or companions of the Prophet (PBUH), agreed that this verse was revealed about Mutah. However, there was a split in agreement after the death of the Prophet (PBUH); whereas the Shia believe that the Prophet had declared it permissible, while Sunnis believe that it was refuted in Surah Mu’minun (23:1-6):

Prosperous are the believers … who guard their private parts safe from their wives and what their right hands own.” 

But more sources say that Mutah was banned during the Khilafat, (ruling) of the second Khalifa.

An important point to note is that, at least in the beginning, all Muslims agreed that the Prophet (PBUH) allowed it.

With this generation of serial dating, tinder and other social apps, it’s easy for young Muslims to get swept up in relationships -— and so with the ruling and law of Mutah, it has assured that rules and regulations are placed, with contracts and proper dowry as protection for women.

Okay, having given you some background, two questions come to my mind when it comes to Mutah: 1. Why was it allowed? and, 2. How does it fit in today?

Why was it allowed?

Let’s get real blunt for a second. According to text, masturbation is haram (forbidden,) in Islam. Masturbation, or self-pleasing is not allowed and so when you have men going off to war away from their homes, there would come times where they would *ahem* want to be with someone.

One such time, a companion of the Prophet (PBUH), Abdullah ibne Masud narrates: “We were on an expedition with Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) and we had no women with us. We said: Should we not have ourselves castrated? He (the Holy Prophet) forbade us to do so. He then granted us permission that we should contract temporary marriage for a stipulated period giving her a garment.” (see Sahih Muslim book 8:3243).

Since adultery, or zina, is forbidden, here we see the birth of Mutah.

Some people might say Mutah is basically adultery. But here’s the important difference: Mutah comes with a set of rules and regulations. There is a process where you have to think about God because there is a contract, and dowry and every “what if” is answered (i.e., if you get pregnant, then what, etc.)

There are laws with Mutah. Asking the woman’s guardian for example, just as you would with a permanent marriage. One hadith from the Ahlul-Bayt of the Prophet, says to avoid Mutah with those who commit adultery or those who do not care if the Mutah is recited or not.

Another law says a married man must ask permission from his wife if he wishes to do Mutah with certain women. There are also hadith that say if you know that it will affect your first marriage, then don’t do it. And then you can go on and find that there are women you can and cannot do Mutah with, similar to the list of women you can or cannot married to (Surah Nisa; 22-23.) One must really understand and correctly abide with the rulings of Mutah to engage in it.

So how does that fit in with the world today?

We often hear about people abusing Mutah. There was a whole documentary by CBC called Mutah/Prostitution in Iran.

You have boys who think Mutah can be done real quick after they pick up someone from the club or a party, but they forget that everything leading to that point is haram, and thus the act of Mutah in that situation is also haram.

If a man is jumping from partner to partner, guess what? He’s doing it wrong! There is a time and a place for Mutah and one must really take time to understand the logic here.

When is Mutah okay?

Today, Mutah is used for various situations. People who get engaged will perform Mutah first so they can speak to each other, hang out and get to know each other with conditions set by the woman and her family. Relationships could be forbidden if pursued, so performing Mutah under a contract for a set period of time with a dowry protects the woman.

A divorced woman can engage in relationships through Mutah before deciding if she does or does not want to remarry another man.

There are many ways Mutah can be used today and it’s not only the Shia who do it. In the Sunni sect, Mutah is practiced but through a different name, Nikka misyar. This practice is established in a way to empower the women for their own protection. It is not used solely for sex, people.

There is still a lot of stigma surrounding the topic of temporary marriage even within the communities where it is agreed upon. However, more and more people are becoming open to it, understanding the responsibility that comes along with the contract.

Mutah essentially allows for consensual relationships between genders who want to get to know each other and/or become mahram (lawful) to one another. When used with correct knowledge and abiding by the rules, Mutah makes sense and can even be empowering for some.