The unlawfulness of Mut’ah

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By Hadhrat Mufti Shafi (RA)

Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:
(And also prohibited are) the women already bound in marriage, except the bondwomen you come to own. It is has been written by Allah for you. All except them have been permitted for you to seek (to marry) through your wealth, binding yourself, (in marriage) and not only for lust. So, whoever of them you have benefited from, give them their due as obligated. And there is no sin on you in what you mutually consent to after the (initial) settlement. Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. (Surah an-Nisaa, Ayat 24)

The root of the Arabic word, istimta' is م - ت - ع (meem, taa, ‘ain) which means to derive benefit. Any benefit derived from a person or from wealth, property, assets, etc. is called istimta’. According to Arabic grammar, the addition of the letters س (seen) and ت (taa) to the root of any word gives the meaning of seeking. Based on this lexical explanation, the simple and straight sense of the Qur’anic expression, Istamta’tum (you have benefited), as understood by the entire Muslim ummah from the revered early elders to their successors and followers, is just what we have stated a little earlier. But, a sect[1] says that it means the conventional mut’ah and, according to its adherents, this Ayat proves that mut’ah is halaal (lawful). Therefore, it is pertinent here to give a brief account of mut’ah and its unlawfulness.

Mut’ah, which was in vogue before the advent of Islam, was a temporary contract between a man and a woman for having sexual relationship between them for a specified period in exchange of money or a specified kind offered by the man to the woman. This type of contract, which was never meant to create permanent rights and obligations of marriage, was clearly prohibited by the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah; however, this particular sect claims that it is still halaal. They sometimes seek support to this claim from the present Ayat just on the ground that the word mut’ah has been derived from the same root wherefrom the word Istamta’tum used in this Ayat has been derived. Obviously, this argument is too far-fetched, and the present Ayat itself is sufficient to refute it, because before the word, Istamta’tum, Allah uses the words “binding yourself in marriage and not only for lust,” which clearly prove that the sexual relationship approved by Allah (in the Holy Qur’an) is the only one which aims at chastity through the permanent bond of marriage, and not a relationship based on satisfying lust for a temporary period which has been termed by the Holy Qur’an as flowing water.

Now, it is obvious that the conract of mut’ah has nothing to do with this concept. It neither creates permanent rights and obligations, nor does it bring about a family set-up, nor does it aim at having children and maintain chastity. It is nothing but to satisfy the sexual desire for a short period of time.

As a result, the woman with whom mut’ah is done is not given even the status of a wife who could inherit from her very pragmatic counterpart—who, for that matter, does not even have the grace to count her among his recognized wives. The reason is very simple as the purpose here is nothing but sexual gratification, an attitude that drives men and women to keep hunting for ever-new sex-partners in a temporary setting. If this be the state of affairs, mut’ah (referred to as temporary marriage[2]) can never be taken as the guarantor of modesty and chastity; it is, on the contrary, its very enemy.

Therefore, the Qur’anic words, Muhsineena ghayra musafiheen, are more than enough to rule out the possibility of mut’ah being meant by the present Ayat.

The author of Hidayah has attributed to Hadrat Imam Malik (Rahmatullahi ‘alaih) that, according to him, mut’ah is permissible. But, this attribution is totally incorrect as clarified by the commentator of Hidayah and other respected scholars who say that the author of Hidayah has attributed this view of Hadrat Imam Malik inadvertently.

However, there are some of those who claim that Sayyidina Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas, radiyallahu ‘anhu, believed in the lawfulness of mut’ah right upto his later years, although this is not so. Hadrat Imam Tirmidhi (rahmatullahi ‘alaihi), devoting a chapter to mut’ah, has reported two Ahadith. The first one is as follows:.
Hadrat Ali ibn Abi Talib (radiyallahu ‘anhu) reports that the Holy Nabi, sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, on the occasion of the battle of Khyber, prohibited mut’ah with women and from (eating) the meat of domestic donkeys.

This Hadith-e-Sharif appears in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim as well. The second Hadith reported by Hadrat Imam al-Tirmidhi is given below:
Hadrat Ibn Abbas (radiyallahu ‘anhu) says: Mut’ah was there only in the early period of al-Islam until the Ayat—Illaa ‘alaa azwaajihim awmaa malakat aymaanuhum—was revealed. Then, he said: All private parts other that these are unlawful (that is other than those of the legally wedded wife and the bondwoman one may come to have).

Nevertheless, this much has to be said that Sayyidina Ibn ‘Abbas (radiyallahu ‘anhu) took mut’ah to be permissible upon a certain time. Then, it was on the good counsel of Sayyidina Ali, radiyallahu ‘anhu (as in Sahih Muslim, volume 1, p. 452) and under the chastening impact of the noble Ayat—Illaa ‘alaa azwaajihim awmaa malakat aymaanuhum—that he revoked his earlier position, as indicated in the narration from Imam Tirmidhi.

It is very strange that the sect which believes in the lawfulness of mut’ah—despite its claim to love and obey Sayyidina Ali ibn Abu Talib (karramallahu wajhahu)—elects to oppose no less a person that him on this particular issue.

The author of Ruh al-Ma’ani reports from Qadi Ayad that mut’ah was lawful before the battle of Khayber, but it was made unlawful during it. After that, it was declared lawful on the day of the Conquest of Makkah, but it was after three days that was proclaimed as unlawful forever.

There is yet another point worthy of our attention. The Qur’anic statement:
“And those who guard their private parts, save from their wives or from their bondwomen, they are not blameworthy.”
Is so explicit that it admits of no other interpretation. It shows the unlawfulness of mut’ah very clearly. Seeking flimsy support from some rare and unauthentic readings is absolutely incorrect.[3]

To sum up our earlier submissions, there is no absolute proof to support the view that the Qur’anic word, Istamta’tum (you have benefited) refers to the conventional mut’ah. This is just a remote possibility which can never override the absolute proof contained in the Ayat cited above. Specifically, keeping in view the well-settled principle of Islamic jurisprudence, that where two arguments or two interpretations are equally possible, the one supporting prohibition is always preferred.

Like mut’ah, a time bound marriage is also unlawful. A time-bound marriage (termed in Islamic jurisprudence as al-nikah al-muwaqqat) is a marriage entered into for a fixed time. The difference between the two is that mut’ah is done by using the words of mut’ah. A time-bound marriage is done by saying the word, nikah which is normally used for regular marriage.

“And there is no sin on you in what you mutually consent to after the [initial] settlement”: This sentence in the Ayat that Mahr or dower which has been fixed mutually is not, in the real sense, absolute and definitive, and something to which nothing could be added or deleted. On the contrary, a husband can add something on his own accord on the fixed mahr, and the wife too, if she so desires, willingly and happily, can forgo a part of her mahr, or the whole of it. The generality of the words also allows a situation where a woman willingly agrees to defer the payment of a dower that was originally settled to be prompt.

“Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise”: The addition of this sentence towards the end of the Ayat tells us two things. Firstly, that Allah knows. He is aware of everything. His injunctions are there to be complied with. If somebody acts against these and even if a judge, a ruler, or any other human being ever gets to find out about it, Allah in His most exalted state of being, knows all about this and everything else. One must keep fearing Him under all circumstances. Secondly, that the injunctions He has revealed are all based on Hikmah (Allah’s Divine Wisdom—cannot be translated). In essence, Hikmah is too deep to be understood by everyone. The injunctions concerning what is unlawful and lawful as given in these Ayats, whether or not one understands their cause, reason or justification, must be believed in, accepted and obeyed. This is because, even though we may not know the raison d’etre, the cause, reason or justification, it hardly matters, for the Creator and the Master of the Command, Allah Almighty certainly knows it all, being the Aleem (the All-Knowing), the Hakeem (the Wise).

There are many people, educated but ignorant, visibly spread out in our contemporary Muslim and non-Muslim societies, who go about gopher-like, searching for the causes of Divine injunctions. When they fail to find any, they side-track the need to comply with the injunction by saying that the Word of Allah was, God-forbid, contrary to the requirements of the modern age, or worse still, unsuitable. The words of the Ayat have silenced such people forever by telling them: “You are ignorant. Your Creator is All-Knowing. You lack understanding. Allah is All-Wise. Do not make your reason the touchstone of the Truth.”

  1. I.e., the Shi’ah, currently operating this concept under the name of Ja'fari Fiqh or Ja'fari Madhhab

  2. The term used in America is contractual relationship.

  3. Very common is the practice of forging lies against the venerable name of Hazrat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq, rahmatullahi ‘alaih.

Article taken (with Thanks) from MOA Fiqh Page


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This page was last updated on June 14, 2003 .