In this chapter is addressed the need for the companionship of the opposite sex of the single Muslim man and woman of any age. Single people, by definition, are either the premarried, i.e., those who have never been married and are waiting for their first marriage, or unmarried, i.e., those who were married before and have become divorced or widowed (or somehow separated from their spouses). Of course, I am speaking of both men and women. The premarried may be in the state in which they are both by their choice—as for instance, when they want to finish their schooling and training for a career first—as well as on account of the lack of economic and financial means to marry. In either case, their first marriage is being delayed. Of course, there are also those premarried who both want eagerly to be married as well as have the necessary means to marry, but are unable to find a suitable person or one of their or their parents’ liking to marry. The unmarried, both men and women, include those who are in the state in which they are for a chiefly two reasons, viz., divorce from the spouse or the death of the spouse (assuming that a divorced or widowed man had only one wife). Then there are those who may be physically separated from their spouse for good, bad or indifferent, and/or voluntary or involuntary, reasons. Whatever we may think or however we may judge the matter and the Muslim men and women and the reasons for their being single persons, the fact is that these persons, too, have needs for sexual gratification and the companionship of the opposite sex. This is a very, very serious problem for them, as individual men and women, but also, indeed, more so, to the society as a whole.
Let me restate the essential view of sexuality in Islam by reemphasizing that Islam has a wholly positive view of sexuality and encourages sexual intercourse. A famous Hadith of the Prophet is one in which he said: "A man is recompensed for the sexual act he performs with his wife," and when some of the surprised listeners asked the Apostle of God: "Is the person rewarded for satisfying his passions?" the Prophet answered: "Do you not see that if he were to satisfy it in a prohibited manner he would be committing a sin?" So if he satisfies it in a lawful manner he will be recompensed."107 (I take it that the same applies to a Muslim man’s satisfying his passion with his slave girl, captive of war, or concubine as well, because sexual intercourse with any of them does not fall in the category of "a prohibited manner.")
Qutb, from whom I have quoted above, goes on
What Islam requires of the young people in this respect, is to control their passions without repressing them, to control them willingly and consciously, that is, to suspend their satisfaction until the suitable time. According to Freud, suspension of the performance of the sexual act is not repression. Unlike repression, temporary suspension …for hours, days, years as the need may be…of the performance of the sexual instinct does not overtax the nerves nor does it lead to complexes and psychological disorders.108
The only question the above statement by Qutb—and he speaks for the vast majority, if not all of orthodox, traditionalist, and fundamentalist Muslims—raises in my mind, as to the validity of his construction of Muslim sexuality and its efficacy in our
time, is whether it would prove to be a correct view of sexuality when and if Muslim young men and young women have "to suspend their satisfaction until the suitable time," i.e., their first marriage, which may not arrive for as many as fifteen, twenty years after reaching puberty. We all have to learn to control and/or sublimate our sexual drive for a few or several years in the interest of self-development, society, and civilization, but abstinence for a decade or two is quite something else. If this were a desirable state of being, Islam should just as well have sanctioned celibacy, which it has not. It is sexual deprivation over ten, twenty years after puberty that I see as a problem.
The Prophet’s Solution to the Problem
Let us recall that it was
to solve the problem of the sexual deprivation of the Companions,
soldiers, and other men in the army of the mujahideen of Prophet
Muhammad, physically separated from their wives and concubines and female
slaves left at home—Muhammad himself always had a wife or two of his to
accompany him on his tour of military expeditions—that he permitted his
men to contract mutah, or temporary marriages for pleasure only,
in the manner in which the commanders of the American armed forces grant
furlough to their soldiers to go to the nearby town and get drunk and laid
or lay all the women available for money in the bars and night clubs of
the town. On one of the earliest military expeditions, the Prophet
was approached by his men in which they grieved to him that they did not
know what to do, faced with sexual deprivation on account of being away
from their home base. One report of it in the Hadith, the
record of the actions, decisions, and saying of the Prophet Muhammad, as
narrated by Abdullah bin Masud:
This is a truly extra-ordinary Hadith, or Tradition. Both the Prophet and his men considered the availability of sexual gratification so urgent a need that the repression and/or sublimation of the sexual drive for the weeks while they, i.e., the men, were a way from their wives, concubines, and slave girls, was considered out of the question. Under the circumstances, mutah, or temporary marriage for pleasure only, which had been a prevalent practice in Arabia and which Islam accepted and made a part of the Muslim sex ethic, too, was the only alternative. By permitting mutah, Prophet Muhammad showed, on the one hand, understanding, compassion, and realism for the safeguarding and maximization of the welfare of his Companions, soldiers, and other men in his party of mujahideen, or warriors, in behalf of Islam and, on the other hand, kept the gratification of their sexuality within the bounds of the sexual morality of Islam. We can be certain that the solution that he applied to the problem maintained, even increased the morale of his troops. I am certain, too, that it also sustained and strengthened the faith of the mujahideen, as against those whose faith was weak and who, therefore, engaged in adultery, as Doi has remarked above in his comment on the Tradition under reference.
The Development of Muslim Thinking on Sexuality
Prophet Muhammad is reported in the Hadith to have said that he loved three things, viz., perfumes, prayer, and women. By women, I take it; he meant sex with women. At any rate, he fully understood, realized, and appreciated the need for normal, natural, and regular sexual gratification as a biological, emotional, and spiritual necessity in a well-rounded, happy, and fulfilled life. In this he was absolutely right. Human sexuality is an essential part of the ontology of being human. God, too, wants human beings to be sexually satisfied. All his prophets and messengers were sexual beings in the ordinary sense of the word, with the exception of Jesus, whom, however, God mercifully raised to heaven alive as a young man, so that he did not have to endure his celibacy for long.
I mentioned above the Hadith, or Tradition, in which the Prophet granted permission to his Companions and soldiers and other men in his army to contract mutah, or temporary marriages for pleasure, which permission, I am certain, was availed of by both married, premarried, and unmarried men. I am only surprised that these men readily found women who were ready, willing, and able to offer themselves for sexual intercourse with the men in the Prophet’s army for a charge in cash or kind. But they satisfied the sexual need of the men. The point of it is that the Prophet permitted it and a real and urgent human problem was solved. In the absence of the method of solving the problem that the Prophet used—there was nothing new about it because it had been prevalent in Arabia from times immemorial—there might perhaps have been more of homosexuality than, reported, existed in Arabia at the time. The Prophet’s choice and approval of mutah, or temporary marriage for pleasure, kept the sexuality of his men both within the bounds of nature as well as Islam.
The important moral lesson from this Tradition seems to be that the sexuality and the regular, normal, and natural gratification of all those who are separated from their wives and slave girls, the premarried and/or the unmarried, and/or single for whatever reason, among Muslim men is a serious matter for the Muslim community and its religious, moral, and spiritual leaders to be concerned about and, therefore, to do something about, if the community wants seriously to prevent the moral corruption of the separated, premarried, unmarried, and single men. (Let us, for the moment, defer the question of the sexuality of women in the similar predicament.)
The Consequences of Sexual Deprivation over a Period
Indeed, Islam gives due
recognition to the possibility and potentiality of the physical, emotional,
psychosomatic, moral, spiritual, and social problems that can result from
the sexual frustration and deprivation of the individual—male or female—over
a period, especially over a long period. Muslim interpreters of the
Islamic view of human sexuality are even mindful of the intensity and quality
of the sexual satisfaction that may be adversely affected by such sanctioned
practices as coitus interruptus, or the denial of the ejaculation of semen
inside the vagina on account of the withdrawal of the penis just before
the resolution of sexual intercourse. B.F. Musallam writes:
Musallam adds the following quotation from
Ibn Qayyim to the above statements:
The Rabat International
Islamic Conference on Islam &Family Planning took note of the
delay in the first marriage of Muslims, male and female, too, and discovered,
to its dismay, when told by Shaikh Muhammad Mahdi Shamsuddin of the consequences
of it that:
This situation is apt to
lead to the following contretemps [dictionary meaning: an inopportune and
2. It leads to marriages between couples of widely different ages, which entails disharmony in outlook, and consequently, engenders tension in the family relations between wife and husband.
3. The residue of the experiences of unmarried life usually casts its shadow on the behavior of the couple and on their attitudes to each other and this no doubt precludes to some extent the psychological and emotional cohesion.
I agree with the above analysis. But the man, Shaikh Shamsuddin, who offered it so persuasively, had no solution to the problem of delayed first marriage to offer.
Let me cite one more Muslim
source on the ill effects of sexual deprivation. Marwan Ibrahim Al-Kaysi
the institution of marriage and family, and the society as a whole. In fact, ‘sex is capable of impelling individuals, reckless of the consequences while under its spell, towards behaviour [sic] which may imperil or disrupt the co-operative relationships upon which social life depends’.122
Is the Prophet’s Solution Good Enough for Our Time?
Let us be clear. The Prophet’s solution to the problem of the sexuality of the physically separated, premarried, unmarried, or otherwise single among his Companions, soldiers, and men in his army was mutah, or temporary marriage, for an agreed upon period of time and for an agreed upon wage of hire or remuneration, to be paid in cash or kind, for the purpose of sexual intercourse with her. It was a freely and mutually negotiated and entered into civil contract between a man and a woman, with or without the help of a middle man or woman, i.e., a broker, and did not require any religious officiant for the mutah marriage and, at the end of the contracted and paid for period for wife’s rendering sexual services to the man or his sexual access to her, the contract, i.e., the temporary marriage, was automatically dissolved, and the temporary husband and the temporary wife became strangers to each other and went their separate ways. They could, of course, negotiate and enter into a contract of another temporary marriage. A mutah, or temporary marriage for pleasure, could be entered into for a time-period of minutes or hours, days, months, and years, indeed for as long a period as ninety-nine years. Anyone at all—among men, both married and unmarried, and among women, virgins, widows, and divorcees, but not those currently married—was eligible for a temporary marriage. Unlike the case of nikah, or permanent marriage, in which case a Muslim man may marry up to four women only at a time, there was no fixed maximum for mutah, or temporary marriage, as to how many women a Muslim man could marry at a time. All in all, my understanding is that, whereas permanent marriage in Islam was designed to provide Muslims an opportunity both for sexual intercourse and procreation, the temporary marriage was designed to provide them only an opportunity for deriving sexual gratification as such or a change of the sexual partner, as in case of otherwise permanently and happily married men. It was ideally suited, not only to those away from home on a tour of military duty, but also those away from home on travel for social, commercial, and/or religious, as for pilgrimage to Makkah, reasons. As far as men were concerned, their marital status did not matter. But women, if they were married, were permanently disqualified from contracting a mutah, or temporary marriage, even if they were physically separated for years on end from their husband. Also, after the dissolution of a temporary marriage, even if it was for the duration of a single sexual intercourse with a temporary husband, the woman had to wait for four months and ten days, called the idda in Arabic and iddat in Persian and Urdu, to establish whether or not she was pregnant from her last temporary husband. Obviously given the nature and purpose of mutah, or temporary marriage, both the man and the woman had every motivation to use a contraceptive or birth control method or device to avoid pregnancy, but if pregnancy did occur and a baby was born, the law regulating mutah required that the temporary husband must take the responsibility for providing for the child. As would be expected, it was not uncommon that a temporary marriage and cohabitation, sex that is, led to a relationship and on to a permanent marriage between the temporary husband and the temporary wife, as happens between those who cohabit together, without the formality of mutah, or temporary marriage.
That Islam permits mutah needs defense. The consensus among the Sunni Muslims is that Islam does not permit mutah, or temporary marriage, as I have described above. The argument is that, though the Prophet permitted it throughout his prophetic career, he forbade it at the end of it. Implicit in this opinion is the belief that, because the Qur'an did not permit mutah, the Prophet permitted it and finally forbade it on his own. And he, as the Prophet, could legislate, i.e., declare things halal, or permissible and lawful, and haram, or forbidden and unlawful, as could God. In Islam, the question whether something is moral and/or ethical, is not an independent one. Whatever is halal, or permissible and/or lawful, is moral and ethical, and whatever is haram, or forbidden and/or unlawful, is immoral and unethical.
With the opinion of the Sunni Muslims—that mutah is haram, or forbidden and/or unlawful, therefore immoral and unethical, both because the Qur'an does not permits it and the Prophet forbade it in the end—the Shia Muslims do not agree. In the opinion of the Shia, first, the Qur'an does permit mutah and, second, the Prophet did not forbid it, because it was practiced after his death during the caliphate of Abu Bakr, the first successor of Muhammad at Madinah. The second Caliph Umar forbade it, and there is the obvious question whether he had the authority to forbid, i.e., make unlawful, what was lawful according to the Qur'an and Sunnah. So much for the disagreement between the followers of the two branches of Islam, which came into being upon the death of the Prophet on account of the battle for succession among his Companions, over a matter of historical fact, which, apparently no amount of research can settle today. My personal reaction to this disagreement and the debate over it is simply this. On the one hand, if the historical thesis of the Shia is correct, mutah is, then, halal, or permissible and lawful, and, therefore, moral and ethical. On the other hand, if the Sunnis are correct, the question is why did the Prophet permit it during his entire prophetic career? If he had legitimate reasons to permit mutah for a specific purpose and under certain conditions, then why can we not do the same today for the same purpose and similar conditions? I do not want to leave ambiguity as to my opinion, for whatever it is worth. I think the purpose for which the Prophet permitted mutah was a legitimate one and the conditions under which he permitted it were compelling ones, too. If he did so as the Prophet and Messenger of Allah, then, by presumption, his judgment is to be trusted, for he always allowed the possibility to make an error of judgment as a mere man, like every other man. I do want to believe that, when he permitted mutah, he was doing so as the Prophet and Messenger of God, and further that he could possibly not have gone against the teaching of kalam Allah, i.e., Word of God, or as revealed and recorded in the Qur'an.
Iran’s Imam Khomeini describes Mutah,
or temporary marriage contract, quite simply as follows: "When a woman
and a man themselves want to read the (impermanent) contract’s formula
it is correct if the woman, after determination of the length of period
and the dowry [monetary compensation], says "I married myself to you for
the specified length and the specified dowry" and the man says immediately.
"I accept." And if they deputize another person and the first the
woman’s deputy says to that of the man "I merchandize (make available for
pleasure) my principal to your principal for the specified length and specified
dowry" and then the man’s deputy says immediately "I accept that for my
principal," it is correct.123 According to Shahla
Haeri’s research for her doctoral dissertation, Mutah is defined
Sheikh Abrar Husain discovered the same custom and pattern of mutah, prevalent in the Shia communities in India, except that, instead of pronouncing the offer and acceptance of the contract of temporary marriage in Arabic, in which it should "preferably" be done, it is done in the local language of the people entering into mutah.126
The crucial question is: Does the Qur'an permit mutah, or temporary marriage? According to the Sunnis, No. According to the Shia, Yes. Either opinion is based on the Sunni and/or Shia interpretation of the same verses of the Qur'an. Both are, however, in agreement that the Qur'an permits sexual intercourse with what a Muslim man’s "right hand possesses," meaning a concubine, slave girl, and/or a female captive of war. Again, it is not a question of what is moral, ethical, or in keeping with the dignity of a woman, but what is halal, or permissible and lawful, and what is haram, or forbidden and unlawful, in the Shariah, or Islamic law. Or, whereas a male Muslim may have his slave girl service him sexually, a female Muslim may not have her slave boy service her sexually—doctrinally and lawfully that is. So it is not a question what is fair, just, and reasonable either. Be that as it may, here is the case the Shia imams (included among them the great and well-known Ayatollah Ruhullah Khomeinie, as we noted above, and the distinguished religiously learned men of Iran, where mutah, temporary marriage for pleasure, is widely practiced by men of religion as well as ordinary men, and is encouraged both by the religious and governmental authorities today) make for mutah, or temporary marriage for pleasure, on the basis of the Qur'an.
Allamah Tabatabai and Sayyed
Hossein Nasr, cite verses 22:5-7, 70:29-31, and 4:24 of the Qur'an in support
of their opinion that the Qur'an permits Mutah, or temporary marriage,
as a valid form of Islamic marriage. They write:
My question in this regard is that if tamattau, or sexual intercourse, with a woman, captured in war, even against her will and without her consent, who might even be a married to a man of the enemy, is halal, or permissible and lawful, according to the Qur'an and Sunnah, and, therefore, moral and ethical in Islam, tamattau, or sexual intercourse, with a woman who contracts mutah, a temporary marriage, with her free and full consent should be even more so, i.e., halal, or permissible and lawful, and, therefore, moral and ethical. Perhaps, the only objection that can be leveled against the latter, i.e., mutah, or temporary marriage, may be that the woman might be doing it, though voluntarily, freely, consensually, and contractually, for money or is, at least, accepting money, and she is allowing the man to have sexual access to her and offering herself or her vagina to him and letting him have sexual intercourse with her wholly, largely, or partly—she may want sex just as much as the man—as a matter
of a commercial deal. I think it is this aspect of mutah, which gives it the appearance of what can only be called prostitution. There are devout and learned Shia Muslim men who may be totally convinced religiously and intellectually and preach to their followers that the permission of mutah, or temporary marriage, is the "glorious law" of the Qur'an and Sunnah, and that a Muslim (male or female) who has not enjoyed sexual intercourse, at least, once in life in a temporary marriage has not lived a Muslim life. They also consider it a religious obligation of single Shia women to make themselves available for temporary pleasure marriages to God-fearing, devout, and good Shia men who yearn for a new sexual partner every now and then, besides their permanent wife; who, out of excessive need for sex, cannot get enough sex from one wife or when she is menstruating or pregnant or has just given birth and/or is suckling an infant; who have a taste for variety which even four wives do not provide after so long a time-period of being married to them; or who enjoy sexual intercourse best with young teenagers only, preferably virgin, even when they themselves are of middle age or past middle age; or for whatever other reason or reasons. To deny the opportunity to these men to fulfill themselves sexually is only to drive them into sin, in other words, adultery and fornication. But even these Shia men, as fathers and brothers, do not want to give their own young, teenage, and virgin daughters and sisters, often even the divorced and widowed women of their family, into mutah to other men, who are equally convinced of the glorious law of mutah in the Qur'an and who are as God-fearing, devout, and good as they themselves are or might hold themselves to be. I suppose what it means is that, for mutah to be institutionalized socially and regarded honorable culturally, it has to be accepted as a way of life and living by the whole community (as for instance, premarital dating and sex and cohabitation are regarded in Western society and culture and, because they are so regarded, a boy or girl, or a man or woman, is not considered any the less moral a person because he or she has engaged in premarital dating and sex and cohabits with a member of the opposite sex than one who did not) and the community does not consider the loss of virginity before the first marriage a very, very serious matter and a definite disadvantage for a girl for her first marriage. But, because sexuality in Islam has been constructed socially and culturally along a double standard of morality—hardly any demand of sexual morality for men, but a strictly forbidding and punishing one for women—the same men, who behaved sexually irresponsibly before and after their own marriage and whose sons followed in their footsteps as bachelors demand virgin brides for their sons. This state of affairs has existed in Islam from its very advent and exists today. This is a serious problem and probably an intractable one. I am afraid it has to be taken as a given, akin to the state of nature.
However that may be, according
to Imam Musa Al-Sadr, under the circumstances and given "all the contingent
difficulties" being experienced due to social and cultural change and upheaval,
caused by economic development and modernization in the Muslim societies
and the reality of life in the world around us, mutah is the safest and
most convenient way to handle the problems and predicament of Muslims in
the modern world. His conclusion is:
The Case for Mutah, or Temporary Marriage in Shia Islam
Ayotollah Murtaza Mutahheri speaks for all his learned and lay co-religionists when he says that both boys and girls are ready and desirous of sex at puberty or soon after it and, therefore, they are ready for marriage. Indeed, we saw earlier that the Prophet himself prescribed marriage at or before puberty, so that, as Muslim boys and girls reach puberty, they would already have a sexual partner to have sexual intercourse with. What could be more natural than that? In this sense, Islam is a religion in perfect accord with nature. With this no Sunni learned or lay man or woman would disagree, but says Mutahheri:
In the Shia construction of sexuality, temporary marriage is a perfectly legitimate form of marriage, based on a civil contract of marriage. According to Shia ulama, or religious scholars, imams, and mujtahids, or those who have the authority to rule on problematic issues of religious and moral law, "the objective of temporary marriage is to provide a moral way for Muslim men, and by extension, to unmarried and/or single Muslim women only to seek sexual enjoyment—regardless of whether or not they are permanently married."132 In keeping with the basic double standard of Islamic law and morality, in the case of temporary marriage, too, greater rights are given to men than to women, and this is perfectly acceptable to Shia jurists. Hence, Haeri goes on to state: "Shia jurists justify the permissibility of temporary marriage on the ground of the irresistibility of sexual drives and human (read: male) nature. In their view, the individual (read: man) has the right to conclude as many temporary marriages as he likes. This, the Shia jurists argue, is the only moral and legal way to provide sexual gratification (for men) while at the same time controlling it."133 As to the question of whether an unmarried woman, including a virgin, can contract a temporary marriage without the permission of her father or male guardian, the Shia consensus is that "a mature woman—nine years old or older—does not need her father’s permission to arrange a marriage for herself…[but] obtaining his permission is preferable."134 This consensus was shared/confirmed by Ayatollah Khomeini, too, as follows: "A mature girl who is not a virgin does not need her father’s or guardian’s permission. But if she is a virgin then it is best [ihtiyat-i vajib; note he does not say that it is necessary] that she should secure his permission, unless they prevent her from marrying someone who is of her status and who is willing to marry. In that case, there is no problem if she marries without their [permission]."135
We may raise the question
as to, beyond the Shariah formalism, what common sense justification
do the Shia have for temporary marriage as a means of satisfying the human
sexuality of married or unmarried persons outside the permanent marriage
aimed at procreation? If I understand their point of view correctly,
they justify it on the following grounds. First, temporary marriage
is an alternative to "free love" and premarital fornication, as they observe
these things in the Western society and culture within the context of unrestricted
dating and cohabitation. Compared to this, Shia temporary marriage
is a lesser evil. Second, it is an ideal solution to what the Shia
call the "problem of youth." That the sexuality of youth is at its
peak and most demanding during the teen years and lasting into the early
twenties we all know from our own experience. It "cannot be ignored,
denied, or allowed to get out of hand."136
Hence, even when one questions the need for temporary marriage for married
persons, there certainly is a need for it for premarried and the unmarried
persons. Ayatollah Mutahhari makes this plain in the following terms:
I am not a Shia but, even as a Sunni, I entirely agree with the above reasoning and justificatory arguments in favor of the temporary marriage as a religiously, morally, ethically, and socially approved way of dealing with the sexuality of the young and the permarried and the unmarried in general both for men and women. I think what was objectionable in the practice of mutah even in the time of the Prophet and has been since is that temporary marriage was allowed to married men, separated temporarily from their wives and concubines. The problem really is that of the young and the pre-or-unmarried, such as today college and university students or those who, even if in the workforce and gainfully employed, are yet not in a position to contract a permanent marriage. The fact or the Muslim traditional and social norm of not allowing wives to work outside the home and be a source of income with the husband only intensifies their problem. I think, all in all, thoughtful Shia men and women show a very greater deal of humanity, understanding, and compassion to the predicament of the young and the unmarried than do thoughtful Sunni men and women, who tend to be taqlidi, or orthodox and traditional, to the point of simplicity, insensitivity, and idiocy. They simply fail to see the problem, which stares them in the face, i.e., the problem that delayed marriage in the Sunni society, is creating. To wit, the problem is the deprivation of sexual gratification of men and women who remain unmarried until the ages of late twenties, thirties and more. If anyone thinks that these men and women can abstain from sex until their first marriage, then it was silly for Islam and the Prophet to have ruled out celibacy as unnatural, impossible, and undesirable. Certainly, the Prophet was not inconsistent when he so ruled, because he also laid down as a
law that the father must marry off his son and /or daughter at or before the age of puberty, failing which, if he or she commits a sexual sin, the responsibility of falls upon the father. Understandably, the Prophet permitted temporary marriage even when and if the man was away from his wife, wives, or concubines for a few days. Not only did he never neglect his own sexuality, but he also respected other people’s sexuality. I, for one, have all the respect and admiration for the Shia religious leaders who, out of their understanding, humanity, sensitivity, and compassion for the young and pre-and-unmarried, speak approvingly of temporary marriage. By contrast, I consider the Sunni religious leaders silly, because they show little understanding, humanity, sensitivity, and compassion for the young and pre-and-unmarried, when they resort to platitudes like "If you can afford to, contract a permanent marriage and be fruitful and multiply, or else fast to control your sexuality," as if that will help a young man or young woman to remain chaste and virgin until the late twenties or later when he or she marries for the first time.
Whatever one may think of the reasoning that Mutahheri brings to bear upon the problem of the sexuality of premarried and/or unmarried Muslim teenagers and young people (male and female)—I suppose the vast majority of the Sunni ulama (religious scholars), imams (clergy), and fuqaha (jurists) and lay men and women would reject it out of hand—what I find remarkable is that the Shia ayatollahs, imams, and jurists do actually wrestle with a difficult but urgent problem in an informed, thoughtful, realistic, and practical way. It is quite true that, if you seriously believe, think, expect, or exhort or admonish the young boys and girls in their middle teens to get married or counsel their parents to arrange their marriage-match and marry them a year before reaching puberty, as the Prophet admonished Muslim fathers—otherwise if they, sons or daughters, become involved in premarital sex, the sin of it would be attributed to the father—it would, indeed, be considered a laughable idea in today’s world. To say that in case one cannot marry he or she should "fast" to control his or her shahwah, or libidinal appetite, is even more laughable, when marriages are delayed until thirty or forty years of age. The sad fact is that all the talim-o-tarbiya, or Islamic education and moral instruction and upbringing, has failed over the centuries to produce certainly moral young men, who would keep themselves sexually pure and chaste until their marriage. This is easily visible in the behavior of the Muslim students who go abroad to study. I was at the University of Southern California (USC) for seven years and mixed, mingled, and socialized with great many Muslim students from the Middle East and participated in the activities of the Muslim Student Association at USC. I did not come across a single Muslim student—including those (and among them not even one in his middle or past-middle age) who were married with children and whose wives were waiting eagerly and desperately, in the characteristic Muslim style, back at home in their home country for their return)—who did not date American, particularly white, women. I think this is precisely what we should expect. In this regard, I think Mohammed Arkoun is right when he says: "When the Qur'an appeared in history, it could not modify two essential aspects of entrenched and centuries-old conditions: elementary kinship structures and control of sexuality."140 Without a doubt, Muslim male sexuality has been out of control throughout Islamic history. The double standard of sexual morality has been the most outstanding feature of the history of sexuality in Islam. Be that as it may, what one has to remember and factor into his or her solution to the problem of the sexuality of the young and unmarried is that, whereas we may delay their marriage, because we want, as parents, for them to finish college, graduate school and/or medical, engineering, business, or law school, or the internship for their profession first, nature is not prepared to delay puberty or the sexual urge till they are done with all that and off to a promising and lucrative career. Education and career, Yes, but sexuality, too. Civilization and progress present a cruel dilemma between tradition and modernity indeed, and come with discontent, frustration, and unhappiness on account of insufferable instinctual deprivation, if orthodox Islam will not rethink itself.
For Shia the institutions of polygamy and mutah or sighey go together. The only difference is that the wives taken in nikah are a man’s permanent wives, though he can divorce any or all of them and get new ones, but of whom he can have up to four only at a time. By contrast, wives taken in mutah or sighey are a man’s temporary wives for the mutually agreed upon period only, as contracted with each temporary wife, but he can have as many temporary wives as he wishes at a time. Be that as it may, since both nikah and mutah (or sighey), in other words, permanent and temporary marriages are civil contracts, they are valid forms of marriage and sexual union in the alike fashion. Therefore the rationale or rationalization for both polygamy and mutah is the same. Thus, Hamid Dabashi writes:
In this regard, Haeri writes:
According to the survey
and study of Linda S. Walbridge in the Lebanese community in the United
States, mutah, or temporary marriage, is prevalent in America, too.
The Shaikhs (the imams of the mosques) were reported by young men
to be saying "that the young men could have affairs with American girls
as long as they formed a contract with the girl making her a mut’ee
[i.e., a temporary wife taken under mutah for sexual pleasure only]."146
He also quotes extensively from a book by Shaikh Abdullatif Berri, imam
of a Dearborn, Michigan, Lebanese Shia community mosque, viz., Temporary
Marriage in Islam, which argues in favor of mutah, or temporary
marriage, and justifies its beneficence for Muslims in America. Since,
according to the Shia religious law, a temporary marriage between a man
and a woman, can be contracted by them privately, and outside the American
law, it circumvents the American law, forbidding bigamy as well as polygamy,
too. Hence, there is no bar to contracting any number of temporary
marriages by both unmarried as well as married men. Shaikh Beri writes:
Though Shah Berri "does
not condemn the father who will not permit his virgin daughter to form
a mutah marriage, as long as permission is denied on the grounds
that he is safeguarding her well-being,"148 he does condemn
a brother who, while he practices mutah himself, would not allow
his sister to do the same. He writes:
Shaikh Berri emphasizes that he does not encourage temporary marriage "when continuous [permanent] marriage is available."150
Linda Walbridge came across
one Shia Muslim young woman during her research study, named Khadija, "who
spent her school years in America wearing blue jeans and listening to rock
music," who "lectured me on the virtues of mutah, which she supports
100 percent."151 Khadija defended mutah as
The comparison between the two forms of marriage is inevitable. I have pointed out above that a permanent marriage is contracted with the intent of marrying for life or certainly an indefinite period, for a marriage may be ended by a divorce at any time, and with the further intent of cohabitation, house-keeping, and, above all, procreation. None of it is a part of temporary marriage, whose sole purpose is lawful sexual gratification. For a fuller appreciation, I represent below in a tabular form the principal differences between the two kinds of marriages. The information has been taken and adapted from the table, prepared by Shahla Haeri.
A Comparison of Permanent and Temporary Marriage153
Terms of Contract Permanent Marriage, Nikah Temporary Marriage, Mut'a
|Type of contract||Sale (Analogically)||Lease (Analogically)|
|Number of wives||Four||Unlimited|
|Exchange of money||Brideprice, mahr||Consideration|
|Permission of guardian||Needed||Not needed|
|Virginity of wife||Required for first marriage||Not required|
|Inheritance||Each spouse inherits from the other||Neither inherits from the other|
|Dissolution of marriage||By divorce by either spouse||By expiration of the contract|
|Waiting period for wife||3 months before another marriage||45 days before another marriage|
|Wife's financial support||Husband must provide support||No obligation to support wife|
|Children||Legitimate, husband's responsibility||Same|
|Coitus interruptus||Wife's permission needed||Wife's permission not needed|
Conclusions and Recommendations
I have become convinced that the Qur'an does impart the sense that mutah, temporary marriage, is a permitted thing both for men and women in Islam. To be sure, it comes attached with conditions, as is to be expected. But the essential things are that the Qur'an permits it and the Prophet and the Companions practiced it. Reportedly, Abu Bakr’s daughter Asma contracted mutah, or a temporary marriage, with Zubayr al-Sahabi and, from this union, were born two sons to the couple, viz., Abdallah ibn Zubayr and Urwah ibn Zubayr. Of course, on account of their parents mutah, or temporary marriage, they were no less legitimate than children born of permanent marriages or the Prophet’s son Ibrahim whom he fathered with Maria Qibtiya, his slave-girl, or the children who in the Prophet’s Companions fathered outside marriage with their concubines, slave-girls, and captives of war. Given the doctrinally laid down system of sexuality and, following the doctrines laid down in the Qur'an and Sunnah, the social and cultural construction of sexuality in the history, evolution, and development of the whole thrust of Islamic thought on sexuality, stressing the necessity and rationale of regular, normal, and natural gratification of sexual urges and sexual fulfillment as a fundamental human right, both of man and woman, mutah, or temporary marriage, falls in and fits, quite logically and systemically, with the nikah, or permanent marriage, and the permissibility, too, of tamattau, or sexual intercourse, with concubines, slave-girls, and the captives of war. If anything should have been haram, or impermissible and unlawful, it should have been the latter, i.e., tamattau, or sexual intercourse, with concubines, slave-girls, and the captives of war, which is clearly not only outside marriage, but in which the woman has no say whatever. Certainly, the institution of mutah, or temporary marriage, does give the woman (or her father, brother, or guardian acting on her behalf, especially if she is a young virgin, inexperienced in the ways of men, particularly predatory and sexually exploitative men) the option to accept or refuse a temporary sexual union with any man. If anything, it is mutah which comes closest to what is called consensual sex in Western culture.
In our time for all sorts of reasons—and some of them are perfectly valid reasons, too—delayed first marriages of Muslim boys and girls, and young men and young women, are a fact of life. Notwithstanding the intent and spirit of the Qur'an and the wisdom of the Hadith, or the Traditions and Sayings of the Prophet to arrange the marriages of Muslim boys and girls a year or so before the age of puberty, it is quite unrealistic to expect that we are about to or can, in actual Muslim life and living under the present day conditions of life, arrange their marriages at or before the age of puberty. Indeed, it would be folly to do so, even if it could be possible and practical to do so. Muslim life is no longer lived at subsistence level, as was the case in the villages and small towns of the Muslim world until only half a century ago. Under the conditions of primitive and rudimentary Muslim life and living, it was perfectly feasible, even sensible and wise, to arrange the marriages of boys and girls at or before puberty. Of course, girls were often married off to much older men than they were, and the whole Islamic tradition and way of life favored it, too. When this was done—I remember a number of cases from my growing up days in my village in Uttar Pradesh in India—the marriage-match was invariably justified by the example of the Prophet who, a man in his middle fifties, married Abu Bakr’s daughter Aisha, a girl not yet of ten years of age. Certainly, these two men, Muhammad and Abu Bakr, were and are regarded by Muslims as the two worthiest of Muslims. Rich Arab men in their fifties and sixties or older, i.e., the Gulfies as they are called in Pakistan, from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and other countries, bordering on the Persian Gulf, still go to Karachi, Bombay, and Hyderabad to marry young girls for the dowers of a few hundreds or thousands of dollars, paid to the father of the bride—all perfectly legal, according to the Shariah, or Islamic law—but it is plain that these marriages are only a façade for sex slavery in Islam even in our own day and age. To me, they are far more reprehensible than mutah, of even plain cohabitation of a man and a woman by mutual consent.
There is certainly a problem in the Muslim community today, the problem is how to handle the sexuality of Muslim singles, among whom are included, first of all and most significantly, the premarrieds (those post-pubescent males and females, who are in the high school, college, or university and pursuing their studies to prepare themselves for adult life and career), who must live in and suffer sexual deprivation for years, when their sexuality is most potent and their need for sexual gratification greatest and most urgent. They are also in the greatest danger of falling prey to medical and psychiatric ills, as a result of sexual deprivation between the ages, say, fifteen to twenty-five and to have their lives and careers marred on account of physiological, psychological, and psycho-somatic disease and symptom-formation on account of the unnaturalness of their sexual life. They may resort to opportunistic homosexuality, prostitution, excessive masturbation, illicit heterosexual sex, early and unwise marriage, alcohol, addictive drugs, any other deviancy, or a combination of them. All in all, their neurotic and driven choice may, at the very least, cause them to risk and actually lose the opportunity for education, learning, and training required for later life and decent livelihood, and certainly for building a professional career in the proper sense of the word. Having lived up to and past my middle sixties and seen and known personally more than half a dozen cases of both young male and female Muslims, I can recall in sadness some of the brightest young men and young women who missed out on their opportunities for university and professional education, because they rushed headlong into early marriages. They had all been raised as moral kids and they were, indeed or probably, more moral than was good for them. I say this because they were too moral to engage in premarital sex, get it out of their system, and get back to their schooling. No, they could not do that, so they plunged, head first, into marriage, even though it meant dropping out of school in the first or second year of college, and what with children and all coming soon after marriage, they never went back to college again. But, then, who can say that being "good" and suffering years upon years of sexual deprivation would have been better for them. In this latter category I place myself—pursuing higher education and learning under very, very difficult conditions, suffering sexual deprivation, but still being "good," until the time I was married at 34, you can read about it all in my The Autobiography of an Indo-Pakistani Student—though now I both question the wisdom of it all as well as consider my sexual deprivation to have been unnecessary after all.
Though there was/is a consistency of the world-view and the philosophy of life in the teaching of Islam and the Sunnah of the Prophet that the Muslim’s true calling is a life of obedience and worship of God, observance of piety, early marriage, children, and a simple and subsistent life, and that one need not spend long years in pursuing education and riches and success in the world, the most outstanding fact of life today is that Muslims, both men and women, do pursue education and learning for long years, and we all want to do well and want our sons and daughters to do even better than we. Consequently, delayed marriage is more the rule today. But delayed marriage also means insufferable and illness-inducing sexual deprivation, if one tries to be "good;" and anxiety, guilt, and neurotic pain, if one seeks and engages in socially disapproved and morally castigated practices to derive sexual gratification. Either way, it is a hell to endure.
So what is to be done? I think the solution lies in the religious, moral, and social acceptance of none other than mutah, or temporary marriage, as an ideal, institutional, and ethical framework for the handling of sexuality and the need for regular, normal, and natural sexual gratification of Muslim young and premarried persons—male and female. We should not only allow but also even encourage them to contract mutah, or temporary marriages, within which they can cohabit for short or long periods as sexual partners. We should educate in the permissibility, propriety, and etiquette of it, and the sincerity and seriousness of its purpose, and the sense of responsibility with which they should and must approach it. We should impress upon both our young men and young women the uttermost need for contraception and birth control during the course of temporary sexual union under mutah and the reasons for it but, at the same time, too, impress upon them in the most certain and definite terms that, when and if a child is born of their union, they both shall have the responsibility to raise him or her, as if he or she was born as a result of nikah, or permanent marriage, and also educate and impress upon the Muslim community with all seriousness that the parental families of the young couple, even though temporarily married, would provide the same support to them and their child, as if he or she was born in a permanent marriage of their children.
Outside of some such innovation in Muslim life and living, I can only foresee a disaster in the making on account of the sexual deprivation of our premarrieds—both male and female. At any rate there is a serious problem and Muslims, certainly in the West generally and America particularly, had better devise ways and means and practical solution to the problem.
So much for the Muslim premarrieds.
But what about the postmarrieds, i.e., the divorced and the widowed who are still sexually vital, vigorous, and would like to be sexually active, even if a permanent marriage for them is problematic or out of the question for one reason or another; those who are single by choice; and the elderly—so-called senior citizens—who are alone, maybe even lonely, and still desire the companionship of the opposite sex, if not sexually, certainly conversationally, socially, psychologically, aesthetically, and more. As there is in the Chinese philosophy, so there is in the Islamic philosophy a concept of obligatory filial piety, i.e., respect, concern, kindness, compassion, and love toward the other members of the family. As parents owe filial piety to the young, especially their sons and daughters, and grandchildren; so the young, especially sons and daughters, and grandchildren owe filial piety to the old, especially to father and mother, and grandparents. Consequently, as parents and grandparents have the duty to help their children and grandchildren to find suitable partners in life and make arrangements for their marriages; so grown children and grandchildren have the duty to help their single, i.e., divorced or widowed, parents and grandparents to find suitable companions and make arrangements for their marriage or cohabitation. Loneliness is oppressive to the young and the old just the same. All human beings need companionship and a sense of being in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex in a special way. Just because children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren surround a man or woman in old age does not mean that he or she is not lonely, if and when he or she does not have a soulmate. Especially, in the Islamic context, there arises a problem on account of the segregation of the sexes, too. A postmarried (divorced or widowed) may even have the need of, for example, employing some one of the opposite sex to help him or her with cooking and cleaning, or shopping for groceries, especially when and if he or she is living alone. Under what terms, may an older man retain a live-in maid or an older woman a live-in man-servant, given the impermissibility and strictures in orthodox Islam on the cohabitation or being under the same roof alone, of a man and a woman, including the elderlies? I think under these circumstances, when a permanent marriage between persons in this predicament presents insurmountable problems, a mutah marriage is the ideal arrangement.
All things considered, mutah, or temporary marriage, provides the ideal solution for the need for companionship and cohabitation of the elderly, or our senior citizens, too. As the Muslim family becomes increasingly nuclear—and it will as time goes by—the problems of the postmarrieds, the singles, and the elderly, or senior citizens, are only going to grow and become acute. More and more, they will be expected and forced to care for themselves in the conditions of life that exist in America. Beyond the economic problems, their social, psychological, cultural, and aesthetic problems are only going to become even more trying, even painful. As in the case of the elderly of other communities, loneliness would become their foremost emotional need. Unfortunately, as in the case of the young, so in the case of the old—widowed, professionally retired, socially dis-engaged, virtually abandoned by children, even when and if for the best of reasons and/or the reasons that cannot be helped—permanent marriage is neither usually advisable not desirable. Hence, mutah, or temporary marriage, in their case, too, is the ideal solution.