Temporary Marriages – Women
& Family – Socio_Cultural Council
Compiled by Engineer Afsaneh Cooper
a realistic and practical religion. Divinely inspired, it fits human nature
like a glove. It does not exalt, as ideals, ways of life which are contrary to
nature. It therefore rejected the doctrine (which the Christian Church had
promulgated during its first six centuries) that celibacy was a desirable or
meritorious way of life, estimable as a work of supererogation (i.e. adding to
the store of merit which could be shared amongst the saints and even turned to
the salvation of sinners for whom they prayed) while marriage, though not an
unlawful state, falls in a moral category called "makruh" which lies halfway'
between the "mubah" or "indifferent" and the
"haram" or totally forbidden.
Popes and Catholics tend to follow this doctrine to this day, as also do the
higher ranks of the Orthodox hierarchy. It was one of the Catholic doctrines
against which Luther and his Protestants revolted, and it is forming a great
source of controversy within the Church of Rome at this very date at which we
write. After long discussions at a Vatican Congress, it was decided that
"marriage is still less meritorious than celibacy. And no alteration in
the Church's doctrine can be allowed on this point."
The sexual instinct has the deepest roots in human nature. Unless it is
properly catered for and regulated, it avenges itself. It responds to
suppression by psychological explosions that can be volcanic in their effect if
they take place simultaneously in large numbers of people. It might well be
held that the disastrous breakdown of the family institution in the West is
precisely such an explosive reaction against Christian attempts to suppress the
sex instinct instead of sanctifying and sublimating it in its natural channels.
Christians must ask themselves whether they have not committed the very sin of
which their Lord and Master accused the Pharisees of His day that of
"binding on men's backs burdens too heavy to be borne." Like caged
beasts escaping from captivity; the people of the West dash forth from the
bondage in which Christianity had tried to hold them, and in an equal and
opposite reaction go much too far in the other direction.
Islam makes a proper marriage, when a man and woman reach adult hood, a merit
and a virtue. Thus it turns the God-implanted instinct to its correct operation
in the strengthening of society. It bans bestial abuse of the instinct, but
exalts its truly human use in accordance with the way in which God has made
mankind. A man was made to love a wife and children. This is acknowledged in
every race in every clime.
It is written in Sura 3: Al-i-Imran -"Imran's Family" (verse 14, in
part): "Fair in the eyes of men is the love of objects which are the
desire of their instinct, women and sons. . . .."
Islam during the 14 centuries of its existence has done its utmost to end the
scandal of prostitution which takes such a heavy toll in family and social
life, and degrades both the women who are compelled to practise it and the men
whose incontinence exploits them. The law of "the temporary marriage"
(ezdevaj-i-muwaqat or muta'a) by the formula (or seeghe) laid down in it, was
instituted to establish conditions under which a man who was compelled by the
necessities of his business or for other causes to be away from home for long
periods, or who desired to give temporary assistance to a woman whose life had
fallen into difficulties, could undertake a union for a specified period under
strictly controlled conditions.
Remember that this beneficent piece of legislation was produced through the
Prophet of Islam in the environment of those "days of ignorance" when
men walked in darkness; and when illicit relationships were as common as other
types of immorality in those generations of unregenerate and unenlightened
persons. Most places had official "red-light districts" and houses of
ill-fame as a matter of course. To raise the thinking and living of men, and to
put an end to illicit sex, the Prophet of Islam brought in this law of
"temporary marriage", to canalise the sex instinct in sound channels.
The chapters on "Temporary Marriage" in the book "Vassa'el"
report that the Prophet posted an edict in the streets and bazaars which read:
"O people! God's Apostle has made temporary marriage permissible for you,
for the quenching of the fires of the sex instinct, and for turning it to sound
uses, that ye may not be the slaves of sexual licence, fornication or illicit
relationships." By this law the man and woman enter upon a marriage, not
of permanence, but of a limited time, and live as man and wife until the expiry
of the stated period. The only difference in this type of marriage is that it
does not carry with it the same rights of inheritance, nor does the man have to
continue to provide the woman's food, clothing and shelter after the
termination of their relationship. But to preserve proper order all the other
rules that govern permanent marriage must also be observed in the temporary
A woman who enters such a contract is counted as the man's real wife and can
claim all the rights which are legally specified as such. As it is written in
Sura IV. Nisa'a-"The Women" (verse 24): "To women whom you
choose in temporary and conditional (muwaqat and muta'a) marriage, give their
dowry, as a duty."
The only difference between permanent marriage and temporary marriage, so far
as its social status is concerned, is its duration. If the contract specifies a
definite and limited period, that is a temporary marriage. But the wife is as
much a wife as if the contract had specified "a permanent and unlimited
period." The children of the temporary marriage are recognised on
precisely the same footing as those of a permanent marriage, and enjoy all the
legal and canonical and customary rights of children whose paternity is
One reason for prostitution is that some men find it not within their reach to
enter upon a permanent marriage, either because their personality or their
finances prevent them undertaking the heavy lifelong responsibility, or because
their stay in any one place can only be short. Merchants, soldiers, students
and even tourists find themselves in these conditions. It is the realistic
recognition of these facts, and Islam's consistent "yes!", to life,
which have produced the institution of "temporary marriage".
What better solution could there be? Properly practised, this institution is a
powerful antidote and preventative of ills like prostitution and other social
ailments. It blocks the way to women's selling themselves, raises the general
tone of public morality, and gives needed assistance to women who, through no
fault of their own, either by the death of their husband or some other
disaster, have fallen on bad times. We say "properly practised",
because there are licentious and ignorant persons who abuse this law, including
opponents of Islam who make misuse of it a basis for false propaganda and
Temporary marriage preserves the aspect of purity and saves people from sin.
That something right can be misused by wicked persons exposes those persons'
wickedness, but does not invalidate the right institution. The answer is to
change them by replacing their wickedness with piety of spirit and absolute
moral standards. The Prophet of Islam was "sent to bring about the
excellences of virtue", and it is to this end that all Islam's efforts are
There exists no law anywhere in the world which is not twisted by the wicked to
their own ends and against its original purpose. This is true of laws which are
of the greatest benefit to society. The law of "temporary marriage"
is one such. It should be backed with the full authority of the state. Those
who misuse it should be punished. Those who use it right should be supported
and aided in their righteous living.
In the "Temporary Marriage" chapters of the book "Vassa'el"
it is reported that the Fifth Imam said, quoting the Imam Ali: "If the 2nd
Caliph had not prohibited temporary marriages, no Muslim, save perchance a few
utterly degraded lewd fellows of the baser sort, would have ever committed
fornication." Close attention to the words of Omar (the 2nd Caliph) as
reported by the learned Islamic leaders and Ulema, and reflected in both the
Sunni and the Shia Feqh, leaves no doubt that in the time of the Prophet
himself "temporary marriage" was both permitted and frequent : but
Omar, for reasons which are not clear, towards the close of his Caliphate
prohibited it in the notorious phrase: "There were two dispensations which
were both legal and frequently practised during the time of the Prophet of God
(on Whom be blessing), both of which I cancel, annul, prohibit and will punish:
and they are (1) the dispensation permitting enjoyments prohibited to wearers
of Ehram (Hajji's white garments) during the interval between 'Umra' ('little
pilgrimage') and the full Hajj: (2) the dispensation allowing 'temporary
marriage' in particular circumstances."
Sunni Feqh gives more information. But it is clear enough that in this
proclamation Omar was acting merely on a personal viewpoint, which was far from
carrying with it the assent of other companions of the Prophet, who both held
,hat temporary marriage is a true Islamic institution, and also practised it
themselves in many instances.
Division is the hallmark of our age. Our magazines, newspapers, films and
television are filled with meretricious pictures: our radio with salacious
stuff: our hoardings with posters of erotic enticement, while our women dress
seductively and go around half-naked. The whole ambience entices youth off the
path of virtue. Those who wish to be chaste are in grave danger all the time.
People of poor background, and little knowledge of Islamic law, criticise the
law of "temporary marriage" in foolish and illogical ignorance and
prejudice; and this lays a further obstacle before the feet of our young
What then should we do? We can hardly expect even the best to master a total
control of themselves and stem this powerful flood so stimulating to sexual
instincts, which, in the critical age of youth, are so close to the surface and
so impatient of outward control. Even if we imagined that the ideal is the
real, and that every one of our youth is endowed with what amounts to a supernatural
self-control, will this not of itself annul the purpose of the creation of this
instinct within humankind. prevent the continuance of the race, prevent the use
of that vital sperm, prevent the spirit and teachings of Islam being truly
practised, in accordance with the law proclaimed in Sura XXII:
Hajj-"Pilgrimage", (verse 78): "Strive in God's cause as ye
should; for He has chosen you, and has in His religion not laid a difficult or
insupportable task upon you"?
Should we now return to the low morals of our pre-Islamic past, and to that
dirty habit of prostitution, with all the social ills and personal misfortunes
with which it has filled the Western world? Shall we leave humanity to fall
into that confusion of passions which is the law of the jungle and the
behaviour of brute beasts?
It is written in Sura II: Baqara - "The Heifer" (verse 61):
"Remember O Israelis, that ye said: 'O Moses! We cannot keep on with only
one kind of food; so pray thy Lord to give us vegetables!' And he replied:
"Will ye exchange the better for the worse? Go down to Egypt and there
find what you want!. They were covered with humiliation and misery, for they
had drawn upon themselves the wrath of God.-. We should merit Moses’rebuke if
we, who have been shown that is good, preferred to return to fleshpots of our
own past and the West's present. Shall we barter a heritage of glory for a mess
It is to prevent precisely this disaster that the law of "temporary
marriage'' was introduced. What better way could there be to rescue millions of
women, who are divorced or unmarried or widowed, from the pressure to keep
alive in wrongful ways and to prostitute their sex to meet the cost of living?
Some might be able to get a job and so a livelihood. But can that satisfy a
woman's inmost feelings and spiritual needs? Can it satisfy the emptiness left
in her soul by the loss of a husband's love and nearness? And what of her
innate emotions and her instinct of motherhood? Are not all these temptations
to lead her astray unless proper provision is made?
Men and women have taken up temporary marriages in the West without legal,
social or religious sanctions - and their society has been cast into chaos. The
West's thinkers are feeling after an institution like Muslim "temporary
marriage" to end this chaos.
Thus Bertrand Russell writes: "Modern social and financial difficulties
put obstacles in the way of youthful marriages, contrary to our liking. A
century or two ago the student completed his studies between the ages of 17 and
20; and, when the pressures of instinct and the age of puberty made him
marriageable, he was able to enter that state. Very few remained unmarried
until they were 30 or 40. But today students only enter on their serious
studies after the age of 20 and proceed to their specialisation in industry or
science. Even after they have got their degree and left college, they have to
spend quite a period securing their means of livelihood; so that they may be 35
before they can afford to get married and found a family The long gap between
adulthood and marriage causes emotional and instinctive upheavals in the sexual
life and drives the victims to find relief where they had better not. Would it
not be better for the sake of the proper order of human society that we should
end this touchy problem by finding some proper outlet for the sexual instinct
and the marital urge to replace or to fill in that lengthy gap, and so
safeguard public health, posterity, morality, the principles of communication
between men and women? Some sort of temporary marriage for our girls and boys
would be a solution and prepare them for a permanent marriage later when they
can afford it, saving them from the corruptions of illicit sex and the
spiritual pangs of conscience which follow that type of wrongdoing as well as
from the venereal diseases which only too often result"
Wilhelm van Loom "Matrimonial Health as seen by Islam" (p.175) wrote:
"Psychology has confirmed that when men pass early marriageable age
without getting wed, tendencies to homosexuality or other forms of sexual
satisfaction beset them. Statistics show that some 65% of men who have wives
are unfaithful to them. To lessen their burdens the government ought to
introduce legislation making temporary marriage by consent of both parties
legal, with definite regulations and a proper form for them to sign and