Karen Ruffle

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:

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A practice that predates Islam, mutʿa is a form of temporary marriage. Indications exist that Iranian Zoroastrian auxiliary marriage as well as the various forms of temporary marriage pre-Islamic Arab tribes practiced contributed to the institution of Islamic temporary marriage. In describing mutʿa, scholars often use the analogy of a rental contract. In the context of mutʿa, a man and a woman agree to be married for a set period of time, and the husband pays the wife a form of wage (ajr) in exchange for lawful sexual relations with her during the contract period. When the contract expires, the temporary marriage is complete, and the woman is free to enter into another mutʿa after a forty-five-day waiting period (ʿidda). Any children born from a temporary marriage are legally considered legitimate and have the right to inherit, though in practice some fathers reject the paternity of offspring born from mutʿa. The principal purpose of mutʿa is the fulfillment of sexual pleasure, and procreation is typically not the couple’s objective. Mutʿa is distinctive to Shiʿism and is permitted by the Jaʿfari school of law. The schools of Sunni law prohibit mutʿa based on the Sunna (lived tradition and example) of the Prophet Muhammad, who declared after the battle of Khaybar in 629 ce that temporary marriages were no longer valid. The second caliph ʿUmar reaffirmed Muhammad’s prohibition of mutʿa, which became law through a process of consensus (ijmaʿ) after a period of debate among the early Islamic community. Imam ʿAli (d. 661) rejected the prohibition of mutʿa, which the Imams maintained as a lawfully permissible form of marriage. After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, mutʿa underwent a revival, and an official state campaign to legitimize the practice in Iranian society emerged. Estimating the frequency of mutʿa in Shiʿi communities is difficult, because many people consider it a religiously sanctioned form of prostitution, and men and women who contract such temporary marriages do so in secrecy. Although mutʿa is prohibited by Sunni schools of law, several types of nonpermanent marriage exist, including misyar (ambulant) marriage, which has gained official state sanction in Saudi Arabia, and ʿurfi (customary) marriage, which is becoming increasingly popular in Egypt.

Article.  7509 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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