MUTAAH FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A SHIA REFORMIST
The issue of temporary marriage is a very thorny, contentious and divisive issue in the Ummah today, and it has been so for quite some time. Even though I was born into a Shia household and grew up on a staple diet of Shia books of Tafseer, Haadith, and Fiqh, I always felt there was something fishy about Mut’ah, because it seemed to me like the whole Ummah had developed a consensus that it was Haraam, with the Shias being the odd ones out. Indeed, this is one of the issues in which the Shias have isolated themselves from the rest of the Ummah, and taken a stance which the rest of the Muslims view with considerable contempt and disgust.
The Sunnis are firmly opposed to Mut’ah, whereas the Shias are equally firm in their support for it, with some Shia scholars exaggerating and going so far as to make it something so Mustahabb and so desirable that they say every man must do it even if he doesn't have any real need for it so as to fulfil the Sunnah – which is a really weird idea, not to mention morally repugnant and disgusting.
No one – not even the Shias – has ever claimed that the Prophet (Saww) or any of the Imams practically performed Mut’ah, so how can it be a highly recommended and desirable Sunnah if the Prophet (Saww) and the Imams (as) themselves never opted for it? What kind of Sunnah is this?
In any case, after renouncing all the sects, and choosing to stick to Islam as it was during the time of the Prophet (Saww), these are the conclusions I have reached.
At first, when I dug deeper into Shia sources I discovered some compelling evidences against it, and in light of those, I concluded that it must be Haraam. (Of course, I don’t hold on to this view with certainty anymore. I consider it possible and probable that it might have been forbidden by the Prophet, but the evidence against it is not as 100 per cent solid as we need it to be before we can declare it Haraam. On the other hand, the evidence for its permissibility is equally dubious and flimsy, so it’s really a grey area that we cannot be too sure about. I think it’s good that we have uncertainty about this matter because that way we are inspired to be more cautious and not opt for Mut’ah unless it is really required by the situation we find ourselves in.)
04: 24 reads:
“And also (forbidden to you in marriage are) married women, except for those you have taken in war as slaves. This is what Allah has prescribed for you. Apart from that He has made all other women halal for you provided you seek them with your wealth in marriage and not in fornication. So whatever you enjoy (in marriage) from them, then give them their give them their due financial compensation (i.e. Mahr). There is nothing wrong in any further agreement you might come to after the obligatory Mahr has been given. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” (04: 24).
This verse has the phrase فما استمتعتم به منهن "Fama'stam'ta'tum bihi minhunna" (which literally means "so whatever you enjoy of them", and it is obviously referring to the enjoyment men get from the companionship of the women they marry. Scholars of Arabic will tell you that Is'tam'ta'a (seeking or acquiring or deriving pleasure) is derived from the root word متعة Mut'ah (pleasure, enjoyment).
So what is the verse saying?
I don't think there is anything complicated here. It's very simple.
In verse 23 (i.e. the verse before this), Allah mentioned the women which men are not allowed to marry such as their mothers, sisters, daughters.....etc.
Then in verse 24 Allah added one more category, which was obvious, but the Quran doesn't take any chances in such matters, or perhaps it mentioned this category as a way to highlight the exception attached to it… Allahu Aalamu… in any case, the Quran mentions this additional category of women which men are not allowed to marry, and that is: women who are already married.
Then the Quran gave the only exception to this rule by saying: except war captives.
So if Muslims acquired war captives who are married, they could marry them according to the international law of the time which stated that the previous marriage of a woman got dissolved as soon as she become a captive. Thus men could have sexual relations with such captives after a certain waiting period had elapsed or if they wanted they could also set such captives free and then marry them.
This seems like a very questionable practice today but in those days it was considered perfectly normal because that was the international law of the time.
Once married women were taken as captives, they became slaves, and slavery meant that they were now the property of their masters, and as such, any other relationship they had pre-slavery was void. That was the international law, and the Quran always accommodated and respected international law, and rarely ever went against it. There is a message in this for us today, and that is: we should also respect international laws and conventions, and we should not go against them except when we have no option or when we have some very compelling or overwhelming reason to do so.
Slavery, which is so morally repugnant, was not unilaterally abolished by Islam because it was an international norm.
Yes, if international laws are unjust and morally wrong, we can try and build consensus against them, and that's exactly what the Prophet (Saww) tried to do. But we cannot unilaterally repeal them.
In any case, coming back to the verse, verse 04: 24 is simply telling men: look, you are not allowed to marry any of the women prohibited in 04: 23 as well as married women as mentioned in 04: 24, unless they are war captives. Besides these forbidden categories, the verse says, you can marry any woman you want PROVIDED (1) you gift her a substantial gift (which is mutually agreeable to the both of you) from your wealth/property, and this gift is called Ajr (reward/wage) in Quranic terminology, and Mahr (dower) in Fiqhi terminology, and (2) you seek her with إحصان i,e. the intention of building a fort around yourself.
This concept of "building a fort or fortress" is a truly amazing and unique expression that the Quran introduced in the context of marriage. Notice, how the Quran is essentially comparing marriage to a fort which protects those inside it from the dangers outside. Marriage is designed to protect both the man and the woman from the dangers and evils of the outside world.
If men are not provided a Halaal channel for the physical enjoyment that they need to satisfy their sexual urges, they will inevitably fall in Zinaa. So the Quran offered men Istim'taa (enjoyment) inside the fortress of marriage so that they shouldn't have to go searching for it outside of the fort.
Similarly, women have similar sexual needs, and on top of that, they have human needs such as food, clothing, shelter, etc., so the Quran made it mandatory for men to provide for all these needs inside the fort of marriage, because if these needs of women are not met, they might be inclined go searching for them outside the fort of marriage, and this may lead to Zinaa, as it has in the case of so many women, past and present, who have sold their bodies just to make ends meet and earn a livelihood.
However, Allah didn’t want His female servants to have to go around selling their bodies to strangers just to satisfy their basic needs. So He gave them the institution of marriage which is mutually beneficial to both the man and the woman. The man gets the physical and other forms of pleasure his body and soul craves for and needs, and in return, the woman gets financial compensation as well as an undertaking from the man that he will look after her and provide for all her legitimate needs thereby giving her financial security, physical protection and satisfaction, as well as emotional stability and warmth. The children born inside this awesome fort also enjoy the protective care that comes along with it, and the future of the Muslim community is thereby secured.
This is at least how the Fuqahaa project the legal aspect of Nikaah in Islam. It may sound quite unromantic or may be even anti-romantic to many…..but the Shariah is very practical and clinically dispassionate in such matters. This is not to say that love and romance and spiritual platonic love and what have you are not important, but it’s just that these are matters of the heart, and Fiqh/Shariah doesn’t seek to regulate more than the body. Regulating the heart and mind is the domain of Akhlaaqiyyat (Islamic ethics and morality), so those matters are left to ethics. That’s why if you ask a Faqih: if I fall in love with a woman before marriage or even after, is that Haraam?
The Faqih will tell you: falling in love is not Haraam, because it is a matter of the heart, and Fiqh does not place restrictions on the heart. So yes, you can fall in love, but you can’t do anything about it outside marriage. The Shariah only kicks in when the body gets involved……so if a person falls in love, and then acts on it, and starts spending time with his beloved in secret or engages in a sexual relationship with her outside of marriage, then that is where the Shariah will step in and hold the person accountable.
In any case, verse 04: 24 is describing the Fiqh side of things and it’s saying: you can have a sexual relationship (i.e. Nikaah) with a woman under these two conditions: (1) If you give her Mahr that she agrees to and approves of. And (2) If you approach her with the intention of building a fort.
The Quran insists on this idea of إحصان (building a fort) almost every time it talks about marriage. This is the phrase from which we derive the idea that marriage is supposed to be a long-term thing. Remember, in the Arab context, the fort was the opposite of a tent. A tent was a temporary protection - you pitch it for one night, and the next day you're off to some other place. A fort, on the other hand, is not built to last one night, or one month, or even one year. A fort is built to last a lifetime, in fact, several lifetimes. Historically, forts have lasted for centuries. So marriage is supposed to be a durable, permanent, enduring and long-lasting source of protection for both the man and woman. The Quran refers to married men as Muhsineen (builders of forts) and married women as Muhsanaat (fortified women, i.e. women inside forts).
Thus if the Quran insists that marriage is supposed to be a fort, then that naturally means it must be long-term and permanent by default, because logically speaking, a fort is not built for a short-term period.
Compared to the fort of permanent marriage, Mut'ah (especially the Shia version of it) seems like a flimsy tent. That is why it was discouraged and generally only allowed under very special and extraordinary circumstances. It is true that a tent is not a desirable place to live in, but when a man finds himself trapped in a desert, with no hospitable accommodation in sight, and fears being torn apart by the forces of nature, he has no option but to pitch a tent to achieve some degree of protection for himself. It was most probably for such exceptional cases that the fortress rule was relaxed, and men were given the option of making do with the tent-like temporary arrangement that is a Mut'ah marriage.
In any case, after laying out the two conditions which are absolutely necessary to make a marriage legal in the sight of Allah, namely (1) Mahr, and (2) the intention of fortification (as opposed to fornication or mere temporary bodily/physical enjoyment) - after laying out these two conditions, Allah Said there is no blame on you if either one of you or both of you add some more conditions to your marriage contract apart from the first two which Allah laid down in His Template contract.
That's all the verse says.
But then the Shia came in...........and as is their habit, they were always desperate to justify their sectarian claims by using Quranic verses....the permissibility of Mut’ah was indeed a claim they embraced as a very important part of their sectarian Fiqh….but when they had debates with other sects, they were asked to present proof….and so they started by searching the Quran for it......and when they came to 04: 24, they were like: bingo! This is it! The verse uses the verb Is'tam'ta'tum (i.e. you enjoy) which is derived from Mut'ah (which is a generic term in Arabic for enjoyment and pleasure in general). But the Shias ignored the generic use of the term Mut'ah in this verse....ya'ni....they ignored the fact that this verse was not referring to the kind of Mu'tah they were proposing, i.e. temporary marriage, rather the verse is most likely talking about the enjoyment and pleasure every man enjoys inside the fortress of a permanent marriage. Because Allah is telling the men: in lieu of the pleasure and enjoyment you enjoy inside the fortress of marriage, you have to make a substantial and reasonable payment (i.e. Mahr).
That's all. There is NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING in the verse that indicates that the pleasure/enjoyment being talked about in the verse is temporary in nature. We also admit, at the same time, that the verse doesn't explicitly mention "permanence" as a condition, but it does imply it through the use of the word إحصان.
The naughty Shia Ghulaat realised this: i.e. they realised that there is NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING in the verse that indicates that the pleasure/enjoyment being talked about is temporary in nature.
So now they had a problem.
So what do they do now, and how do they solve it?
By now, this question should not be such a difficult one to answer for members of this group.
The Ghulaat of the Shia resorted to their favourite stratagem: inventing lies, fabricating Ahadith, and attributing them to the Imams, and this is precisely what they did.
So the first claim they invented to solve their problem was to allege Tahreef.
The Shia claimed a phrase in this verse was missing.
They claimed the original verse 04: 24 as recorded in the Mushaf of Ubaay bin Kaab and Abdullah bin Abbas read فماستمتعتم به منهن إلى أجل مسمى
meaning "so whatever you enjoy of them for a fixed period of time, then give them their due compensation…………..."
Yup.....they claimed that the original verse had the phrase "for a fixed period of time in it", and on this basis, they said the verse proves that Mut'ah is legal. Now if this were true, and if this extra phrase had been transmitted with the kind of Tawaatur that the rest of the verse has been transmitted with, we would have certainly accepted it and declared Mut’ah to be a recommended Quranic option. However, this phrase was not transmitted with Tawaatur. In fact, it was only transmitted by the Shia Ghulaat, which means that we would never even dream of accepting it as being the Hadith of an Imam, much less being a part of a super-Mutawaatir book like the Quran. For even a syllable to be considered a part of the Quran, it must be transmitted through Tawaatur of a very high level.
So it turns out this claim of theirs was bogus........completely bogus.
The Quran has been transmitted with an overwhelmingly and astonishingly high level of Tawaatur, and Allah Protected it from Tahreef as He Promised it 15: 09.
If the Ghaali claim is true, and a crucial part of 04: 24 did get omitted, then that means 15:09 of the Quran is a lie and a false promise, which cannot be the case.
We would trust 15: 09 of the Quran over any Ghali claim any day of the week - even if we had to bet out lives on it.
However this Ghaali claim is very valuable and precious for us because it proves that even the worst among the deviant Ghulaat realised and understood that 04: 24 as it reads in the Mushaf today without their added phrase of "for a fixed period of time" DOES NOT prove the validity of their version of Mut'ah.
Why else do you think they felt the need to add the phrase "for a fixed period" to the verse? If the Istim'taa mentioned in the verse refers to Mu'tah (as in temporary marriage, why would they need to add "for a fixed period"?
Answer: because they realised that the verse - as it is - does not prove the validity of Mut’ah, because Istim'taa in Arabic means deriving pleasure irrespective of whether you do it through the means of a permanent marriage or whether you do it through a temporary marriage or even if you do it through forbidden means such as Zinaa.
Thus, by adding the phrase "for a fixed period", the Ghulaat tried to confine the otherwise generic term Istim’taa to a specific Mut’ah type marriage, and thereby offered us further proof that the verse, as it is, cannot be used to justify Mut'ah, and that's why they had to go the long route of alleging Tahreef, and adding a whole phrase (i.e. "for a fixed period"), to get the verse to do what they wanted to make it do, i.e. justify Mut'ah.
Unfortunately, even great Shia Mufassireen such as Allama Tabarsiyy fell for this and readily bought the claim that the actual verse must have had the omitted phrase of "for a fixed period" in it, conveniently ignoring the actual Arabic of the verse, as well as the fact that we cannot prove that something was part of the Quran on the basis of a few individual claims. To prove that something has been revealed by Allah and is part of the Quran, the minimum proof is Tawaatur, i.e. widespread transmission by numerous, independent witnesses to the fact - and their number has to be so large, and their independence from each other has to be so established as to leave no scope for the possibility that the transmitters may have invented the speech themselves.
The claim that the phrase "for a fixed period" was part of 04: 24 is an isolated individual claim, which later became an isolated sectarian claim, and does not come even in the neighborhood of Tawaatur, and therefore it cannot be accepted.
Alhamdulillah, Shia scholars today have come to realise the falsity of this claim, and they don't promote it as much as the past Ulama did, but it is not uncommon to find Qummis, and sometimes even Najafis, who seem inclined to entertain it. Occasionally, they may even cite this as a bonus point.
Apart from alleging Tahreef, the Ghulaat also invented narrations saying the Imams said 04: 24 was revealed to legalise Mu'tah, and that the Isti'tim'taa used in the verse doesn't mean pleasure or enjoyment of the general kind a man enjoys in a permanent marriage......rather it means....Mut'ah marriage.....i.e. enjoying a woman temporarily, and that is how this verse came to be inextricably linked with Mut'ah in the Shia mind, so much so that great classical Shia Mufassireen like Allama Tabarsiyy and even the more recent reform-oriented Shia scholars like Ayatullah Sayyid Mohammad Husain Fadhulullah came to see in this verse a justification and sanction for Mut'ah marriage.
It seems to me that living under the roof and influence of the Shia sect, it did not occur to them that this verse should be extracted from the sticky web of Ghaali narrations and interpretations that have surrounded it from all sides in Shia literature, and that it should be studied independently from the point of view of classical Arabic.
The verse doesn't use Mu'tah in the particular sense of temporary marriage as the Shia do. Rather it uses it in the general sense of enjoyment and pleasure.
The Quran itself uses the exact same word (Istim'taa) to refer to the act of enjoying the other pleasures of this worldly life (See 09: 69).
Thus in the language of the Quran, Istim'taa refers to the act of deriving pleasure in the most general sense. Thus, when a married man derives pleasure from his wife, that is Istim'taa in the language of the Quran. When an adulterer commits adultery and derives pleasure from the act of fornication, that is also Istim'taa. In 09: 69, when the Kuffaar (unbelievers) enjoy the pleasures of this life, that is Istim'taa, and when believers enjoy the pleasures of this life that is also Istim'taa. Of course, when a person enjoys the company of a woman through Mut’ah, that also comes under Istim’taa, but there is nothing in the verse or even outside it that categorically proves that the Istim’taa used in the verse refers to enjoying women as part of a temporary marriage.
Thus Istimtaa in the language of the Quran means pleasure and enjoyment irrespective of how long it lasts or how it is done.
In 04: 24, it seems pretty clear that Allah is talking about Istim'taa (enjoyment) within the fort of a permanent marriage.
What is our basis for saying that?
Answer: Because in 04: 24 Allah only mentions Is'tim'taa AFTER laying out the two conditions for a valid marriage: i.e. Mahr and Ihsaan. So clearly the Quran is talking about normal permanent marriage, and it is in that context that Istim’taa is mentioned, so it stands to reason that the Istim’taa being referred to is the specific enjoyment and pleasure that men derive from women inside the fortress of a permanent marriage.
Then when explaining the rationale behind the first condition of Mahr, the verse says that it is a compensation for the Istim'taa (enjoyment, pleasure) the man derives from the woman's company.
Thus as you can see there is nothing in this verse that can be used to justify the Shia argument for Mut'ah, because there is no mention or indication of temporariness in it - unless you buy the Ghaali claim that the original verse had the phrase "for a fixed period" in it. Short of this claim, there is no other intrinsic indicator in the verse which can be said to be suggestive of temporariness.
In fact, it may be argued that the use of the word محصنين (building forts) signifies that a marriage contract is supposed to be permanent like a fort, and not a temporary tent-like arrangement such as Mut'ah.
In any case, 04: 24 cannot be used to prove the validity of temporary marriage by any stretch of imagination, because the Mut'ah mentioned in it is most likely a reference to the generic pleasure and enjoyment that every man enjoys in a permanent marriage, and in lieu of which he has to pay Mahar to the woman. To say that Istim'taa in the verse refers to temporary marriage is like saying that the Quran made mention of atoms 1400 years ago when it said: "Fa man ya'mal mithqaala zarratin..." "whoever does a zarrah-worth of good/evil...." but the reality is that Zarrah didn't mean atom in classical Arabic, even though it does mean atom in modern standard Arabic. The classical Arabs used the word Zarrah to refer to a very tiny ant or a spec of dust only visible in sunlight. So to connect it to a meaning that came later doesn’t seem right, except if one does it metaphorically.
Similarly in the Prophet's time, Istim'taa referred to enjoyment in general, and when it was used in the context of a temporary marriage, the phrase "ilaa ajalin musamma" "for a fixed period" was always added. No wonder the Ghulaat tried to insert it into 04: 24 to strengthen their case.
In conclusion, 04: 24 can neither be used to prove the validity of Mu'tah style temporary marriage nor can it be used to disprove it.
So we go back to our methodology which is: if something has not been explicitly and categorically forbidden in the Quran, then we can't say it’s Haraam. So temporary marriage is not absolutely Haraam.
But this much we know: the Quran doesn't look very favourably on marriages that don't have the element of إحصان (fortification) in it.
I find it very interesting that in the very next verse after 04: 24, i.e. 04: 25, Allah gives a solution for poor men who were so poor that they could not afford to marry free women. Remember, marrying a free woman was not an easy proposition in those days, because the Mahr of a free woman used be very high. On the other hand, there were men who were not financially capable of affording such high mahr, but at the same time, they were in desperate need of marriage – so much so that they feared that if they didn’t get married, they would run the risk of falling into Zinaa.
So what solution did Allah prescribe for them?
One would have thought that this would be the perfect case to apply the relaxation of Mut'ah. But NO. It seems the Quran is very insistent on its first two conditions, i.e. Mahr and Ihsaan. And Mut'ah fails on Ihsaan, because Mut'ah is a tent-like marriage structure, whereas Allah desires marriage to be a fort-like structure that endures the test of time.
So Allah offered a solution to this problem in 04: 25. Normally when a solution is offered, some relaxation is made, but it seems Allah is so insistent on His two conditions of Mahr and Ihsaan that He made sure the solution He was offering met His first two conditions and at the same time relieved the men of their hardship.
SO WHAT IS THE SOLUTION
The solution was not temporary marriage.
Rather, the solution was: marry believing slave girls who belong to other people. The Mahr of slave girls was very reasonable and not high at all. It was such that many poor people could afford it.
In 04: 25, Allah opened the door for Muslim men to marry Muslim slave girls who were the property of other men, of course, with the permission of those other men. But the Quran made it clear that this provision was only for those who (1) genuinely couldn't afford to marry free Muslim women, and (2) those who genuinely feared that they couldn't wait for Allah to improve their financial situation until they were capable of marrying a free woman and affording her Mahr (because those who can wait for that have been instructed to wait with chastity in Surah Noor, see: 24: 33), but there were some who really feared that if they didn't get married asap, they would certainly fall into great difficulty, hardship, and adultery, so for them, the Quran said: okay, you can marry Muslim slave girls who belong to other people. But after saying that, the Quran immediately added: "but if you exercise patience (and wait till Allah makes you financially capable of marrying a free woman), then that is better for you."
WHY IS IT BETTER?
Because according to the international law of the time, if you married someone else's slave girl, the children you would have would automatically become the slaves of the master who owned the mother. The Quran did not want to increase the number of slaves in this world. But this kind of marriage would only increase the number of slaves. That's why the Quran did not favour it, but it allowed it for those people who felt they would otherwise fall into Zinaa. In other words, an increase in slavery was considered more tolerable than an increase in Zinaa.
So you can see, even for such people Allah allowed a less desirable type of marriage (i.e. marriage to slave girls which increased the number of slaves), but He didn’t recommend Muta'h.
In fact, for marriage with slave girls, Allah again repeats His Two most important conditions (even though He had already mentioned them in 04: 24, but nonetheless, He Still repeated them in 04: 25....(1) Give them Mahr (so yes, even though these men were poor, they were still required to offer whatever they could afford as Mahr, and (2) that the marriage to these slave girls be with the intention of إحصان i.e. building a fortress, and not just physical satisfaction. Also the Quran ruled out the permissibility of having covert/secret relationships/friendships with slave girls by adding "wa laa muttakhidhaati akhdaan", i.e. you can’t take them as girlfriends or mistresses in secret.
So even when the Quran came up with a plan for poor people like these, the plan involved all the critical components which make a marriage acceptable in the sight of Allah, i.e. payment of Mahr, coupled with the intention to build a lasting fort whereby a man undertakes to provide for all the legitimate needs of the woman on a permanent basis till her death in lieu of her satisfying his needs, and not a temporary self-gratifying relationship based purely on bodily pleasure and enjoyment nor a secret romantic relationship of the kind men had with their lovers, girlfriends, and mistresses. Marriage in Islam is about building strong fort-like homes which can serve as nurturing grounds for the children of the future, and not like Mut’ah which, in the Shia version, can be a one-night stand, or a one-week stand.
That being said, we still don’t consider it absolutely and eternally Haraam as the Sunnis do. Rather, we say it is not desirable or recommended under normal circumstances. But there might be exceptional, abnormal, and exigent circumstances in which it may become permissible, just as the flesh of the pig becomes Halaal when you fear for your life. But even in that situation, there are some conditions which attach, so temporary marriage is permissible provided it is done the right way, i.e. when it is done out of a genuine fear on the part of the person opting for it that if he doesn’t do it, he will fall into Zinaa or unbearable hardship, and also provided he enters into such a contract for a reasonably long term, and in public.