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A pre-Islamic tradition, mut `ah (“temporary marriage”) still has legal sanction among the Twelver Shicis, residing predominantly in Iran. It is often a private and verbal contract between a man and an unmarried woman (virgin, divorced, or widowed). The length of the marriage contract (ajal) and the amount of consideration (ajr) given to the temporary wife must be specified; temporary marriage may be contracted for one hour or ninety-nine years. The objective of mut`ah is sexual enjoyment (istimta’), that of permanent marriage (nikdh) is procreation (tawlid-i nasl) us!, 1964, pp. 497-502; Hilli, 1968, pp. 515-528; Khomeini, 1985, p. 116; Mutahhari, 1974, p. 38).

Presently, mut`ah is a marginal urban phenomenon, popular primarily around pilgrimage centers in Iran. This pattern, however, is changing owing to the Islamic regime’s support of and advocacy for the institution. A temporary marriage need not be registered or witnessed, although taking witnesses is recommended us!, 1964, p. 498). In addition to the four wives legally allowed all Muslim men, a Shi’i Muslim man is permitted to contract simultaneously as many temporary marriages as he desires, a practice disputed by Ayatollahs Ruhollah Khomeini (1982, P. 39) and Murtaza Mutahhari (1974, p. So). A ShN Muslim woman is permitted only one temporary marriage at a time. No divorce procedure exists in a temporary marriage, for the lapse of time specified in the contract automatically dissolves the temporary union. After the dissolution of each temporary union, no matter how short, the wife must undergo a period of sexual abstinence (`iddah); in case of pregnancy, `iddah serves to identify a child’s legitimate father. Herein lies the legal uniqueness of temporary marriage, distinguishing it, in Shi`i law, from prostitution, despite their striking resemblance.

The reciprocal obligations of temporary spouses are minimal. The man is not obliged to provide the daily maintenance (nafdqih) for his temporary wife, as he must in a permanent marriage. Correspondingly, the wife is under minimal legal obligation to obey her husband, except in sexual matters (Haeri, 1989, p. 60).

Mut`ah of women was banned in the seventh century by the second caliph, `Umar, who equated it with fornication (zind). For the Sunni Muslims, therefore, temporary marriage is legally forbidden, although in practice some have resorted to it occasionally (Benson, 1992, pp. 5-8).

The Shi’is have maintained all along the legitimacy of temporary marriage based on the Qur’an (4.24) and on the absence of specific prohibition by the Prophet Muhammad, not withstanding some Sunni hadiths to the contrary. The legitimacy of temporary marriage has continued to be a point of chronic disagreement, passionate dispute, and, at times, animosity between Sunnis and Shi’is (for a contemporary exposition of this ongoing dispute, see Kashif al-Ghita`, 1964; Shafa’i, 1973: Murata, trans., 1987, pp. 51-73).

During the Pahlavi regime (1925-1979) the custom of temporary marriage, though not illegal, was perceived negatively. The Islamic regime (since 1979), on the contrary, has made a concerted effort to resuscitate the custom publicly. Following the ideological legacy of Ayatollah Mutahhari (d. 1979), many of the Islamic regime’s thinkers and theologian/bureaucrats, most notably President Hashemi Rafsanjani (Hashimi Rafsanjani), have lauded the institution of temporary marriage as a desirable approach to relationships between men and women in a modern Islamic society (Tabataba’i, 1977, 1985; Bahunar, 1981). They specifically see temporary marriage as an ethically and morally superior alternative to the “free” relations between the sexes prevalant in the West.

Despite the religious and legal rehabilitation of mut’ah, most urban, educated middle-class Iranians view it with some moral and emotional ambivalence. Mut`ah marriage has never won the unequivocal approval of permanent marriage among the Iranians (Haeri, Law of Desire, 1989).

[See also Inheritance; Iran; Marriage and Divorce, article on Modern Practice; Women and Social Reform, article on Social Reform in the Middle East.]


Bahunar, Muhammad Ja’far, et al. Ta’limat-i dini (Religious Education). Tehran, 198i. A high school textbook, published after the revolution, in which the benefits of temporary marriage for youth was first discussed.

Benson, Linda. “Islamic Marriage and Divorce in Xinjiang: The Case of Kashgar and Khotan.” Association for the Advancement of Central Asian Research 5.2 (Fall 1992): 5-8. On the legitimacy of temporary marriage among Chinese Sunnis.

Gourji, Abu’l-Qasim. Temporary Marriage (Mut a) in Islamic Law. Translated by Sachiko Murata, N.p., 1987. Very competent summary of the major Shl’i sources of jurisprudence on mut`ah.

Haeri, Shahla. Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage in Shi’i Iran. Syracuse, N.Y., 1989. First major ethnography on the institution of temporary marriage.

Hilli, Najm al-Din Abu al-Qasim Jafar. Sahray` al-isldm (Islamic Law), vol. z. Translated from Arabic to Persian by A. Ahmad Yazdi and M. T. Danishpazhuh. Tehran, 1968. Excellent compendium on Shi’i marriage and divorce by the thirteenth-century Shi’i scholar.

Kashif al-Ghip`, Muhammad Husayn. A’in-i and (Our Custom). Translated by Nasir Makarim Shirazi. Qom, 1968. Contains a major chapter on temporary marriage, refuting some of the Sunni allegations.

Khomeini, Ruhollah. “Non-Permanent Marriage.” Mahiuba 2.5 (1982): 38-40. English translation of his position on temporary marriage.

Khomeini, Ruhollah. The Practical Laws of Islam. 2d ed. N.p., 1985. Abridged version of his Tawzih al-masd’il (Clarification of Questions).

Mutahhari. Murtaza. Nizdm-i huquq-i zan dar Islam (Legal Rights of Women in Islam). 8th ed. Qom, 1974. One of the more comprehensive writings on the rights of women in (Shi’i) Islam.

Shafa’i, Muhsin. Mutah va asar-i huquqi va ijtima’i-i an (Mutah and its Legal and Social Effects). 6th ed. Tehran, 1973. Extensive, if apologetic, treatment of mutah.

Tabataba’i, Muhammad Husayn. Shiite Islam. Translated by Seyyed Hossein Nast. Albany, N.Y., 1977. Major contribution to understanding Shi’i theology and philosophy.

Tabataba’i, Muhammad Husayn, et al. Izdivdj-i muvaqqat dar islam (Temporary Marriage in Islam). Qom, 1985. Edited volume on temporary marriage; includes an article by Rafsanjani.

Tillsi, Abu Jafar Muhammad. Al-nihayah. Translated from Arabic to Persian by M. T. Danishpazhuh. Tehran, 1964. One of the four major sources of Shl’i jurisprudence, compiled in the tenth century.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/mut-ah/

  • writerPosted On: December 2, 2014
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