Temporary marriage, or mut’a, is the practice of entering into a marriage with a time limit: the couple is married only for a night, or a week, or whatever time period their agreement specifies. So in other words, it is prostitution under the guise of morality. Temporary wives are found in large numbers in seminary towns where young clerics-in-training are away from home and lonely.
This is a Shi’ite concept that mainstream Sunnis ostensibly reject; the Shi’ites point out that Muhammad allowed it, while the Sunnis maintain that he later abolished the practice. Shi’ites also justify it by reference to Qur’an 4:24, which says: “And those of whom ye seek content (by marrying them), give unto them their portions as a duty. And there is no sin for you in what ye do by mutual agreement after the duty (hath been done).” They see in that reference to “what ye do by mutual agreement” the allowance of a time limit.
“I do… for now. UK Muslims revive temporary marriages,” by Shabnam Mahmood and Catrin Nye for the BBC, May 13:
The temporary marriage, or nikah mut’ah, is an ancient Islamic practice that unites man and woman as husband and wife for a limited time. Historically it was used so that a man could have a wife for a short while when travelling long distances. So why are young British Muslims adopting the practice now?
“It allowed us to meet without breaking the bounds of Sharia [Islamic law]. We both wanted to date, to go out for dinner or go shopping and just get to know each other better before getting married, which we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise,” says Sara.
She is a 30-year-old pharmacist from Birmingham, a Shia Muslim of Pakistani heritage.
‘It’s basically a contract’
Sara was temporarily married for six months before committing to a full marriage to her partner.
“It’s basically a contract. You sit down and stipulate your conditions – for a girl who hasn’t been previously married, you do need the father’s permission,” she said.
“We stipulated the duration, my father’s conditions, and I requested what you would call a dowry where the guy gives a gift to the girl. It’s simple, straightforward and doesn’t take long at all,” Sara added.
She is one of a significant number of young British Muslims using a temporary marriage as a way of balancing their religious beliefs with their modern Western lifestyle.
Because of the informal nature of the union there are no official statistics to show how many temporary marriages there are in the UK. But a number of senior Shia Muslim scholars and Muslim student organisations told BBC Asian Network there is something of a revival.
There is a sectarian divide among Muslims on temporary marriage. The mut’ah is practised by Shia Muslims while Sunni Muslims generally consider it haram – forbidden.
The mut’ah is particularly popular on university campuses and, according to Omar Farooq Khan, president of the Ahlul Bayt Islamic Society at Bradford University, the practice is on the increase among Shia students.
“Definitely nikah mut’ah is on the rise now due to students becoming more aware about it. Students are educated people so obviously they look around for a solution to their problems from an Islamic perspective,” said Mr Khan.
“What else are they going to do? They can’t just have a cold shower because it doesn’t work and otherwise they just end up doing the haram thing and having a girlfriend or boyfriend. Many people won’t talk about it though, because it is still a taboo subject,” he added.
‘Strictly not allowed’
Khola Hassan, a Sunni Muslim and spokesperson for the UK Islamic Sharia Council, says the practice is strictly not allowed. She says it is equal to prostitution because of the time limit applied to the union.
“I have never come across a Sunni scholar, throughout history, who declares mut’ah marriage to be halal,” said Mrs Hassan.
“There is no difference between mut’ah marriage and prostitution. There is a time limit on the marriage, and the mahr given as a gift [from the man to the woman] is the equivalent as a payment to a prostitute,” she added.
The nikah mut’ah consists of a verbal or written contract in which both parties agree the length of time and conditions for the marriage.
The union can last for a few hours, days, months or years and when the contract ends so does the marriage.
It can include stipulations such as “no physical contact” – or “no funny business”, as one parent put it – and the procedure is completed with the mahr.
Sayyad Fadhil Milani, spiritual leader at the Al-Khoei Centre in Brent, north-west London, is widely regarded as the UK’s most senior Shia Islamic scholar and has written about the mut’ah marriage in his book Islamic Family Law.
“At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, it was practised widely, especially when men were travelling away from home on business or at war,” he said.
Ayatollah Milani said: “Islam does not permit relationships like those between a boyfriend and a girlfriend. So a nikah mut’ah gives them an opportunity to get to know each other before committing themselves to a full marriage.”
He admits there is a sectarian divide over the issue: “Umar [ibn al-Khattab, the second Caliph of Islam], himself said that the mut’ah was lawful at the time of the Prophet but he banned it and said he would punish everyone who does it.
“So some Muslims [in this case Sunni Muslims] are against it because they follow the interpretation and the suggestion made by the second Caliph. The Shias say that we stick to the Koran and the practices of the Prophet.”
Although nikah mut’ah is a Shia concept, other types of informal marriages are practised by Sunni Muslims, such as misyar and urfi.
Misyar allows a couple to live separately through mutual agreement while urfi is done without the public approval of the bride’s guardians. Neither of these, however, has time limits as with nikah mut’ah.
Way of legitimising sex
Critics of these informal marriages, both Sunni and Shia, argue they allow a person to have multiple sexual partners and are used as an “Islamic cover” for prostitution or the exploitation of women, with men taking on multiple “wives” for a number of hours….