Is temporary marriage lawful or unlawful?
By: Abdul Adheem al-Muhtadi al-Bahrani
Question : Is temporary marriage lawful or unlawful? If it is lawful, then why do people dislike it? And if it is unlawful, then why is it unlawful? Would you please answer frankly? Thanks a lot.
The answer : Permanent marriage is the basis for this answer. The sexual instinct is the strongest in man after the instinct of living. This instinct must be satisfied in the below-mentioned cases; otherwise, it will cause bad complications. Temporary marriage can be practiced under the following conditions:
1. the inability to secure a permanent marriage because of financial difficulties or not finding a qualified spouse
2. the impossibility of making love with the wife because of her illness or something else 3. traveling or being away from one’s homeland
Since the view of Islam of the needs of man is a real, curative, and purposeful view, Islam therefore has made temporary marriage lawful according to this clear Qur’anic verse, (And those of whom you seek content (by marrying them temporarily), give unto them their portions as a duty. And there is no blame on you in what you do by mutual agreement after the duty (hath been done). Lo! Allah is ever Knower, Wise)1.
It suffices us to ponder on the two words “Knower, Wise” to see that there is a wisdom behind the lawfulness of temporary marriage in Islam, for Allah is aware of the actual need of man and He is wise in making things lawful or unlawful. The end of the next verse confirms what we have said. The verse reads, (This is for him among you who fears to commit sin)2. He who fears to fall into sin because of his lust should practice temporary marriage though patience is better for one who can be patient. The next two verses confirm this meaning where Allah shows His great mercy and accurate wisdom on the one hand, and on the other hand, He uncovers the mean goals of those who prohibit the lawful blessings of Allah. Allah says, (And Allah desires that He should turn to you (mercifully), and those who follow (their) lusts desire that you should deviate (with) a great deviation. Allah desires that He should make light your burdens, and man is created weak)3.
Man has been created weak when it comes to his lusts and desires. It has been declared by the Creator, Who is aware of what benefits man and what corrupts him when He makes one thing lawful and prohibits another. Things are declared lawful to satisfy man’s weakness before those lusts and desires, and things are declared unlawful to protect him from what weakens him and destroy his happiness. Umar bin al-Khattab has confirmed the lawfulness of temporary marriage at the time of the Prophet (S) when he prohibited it according to his personal opinion. He has announced, as mentioned in the sources of our Sunni brothers, ‘Two pleasures were permitted at the time of the messenger of Allah, but I prohibit them and will beat people for practicing them.’4
In our sources, his saying has been mentioned as the following: ‘Two pleasures were lawful at the time of the messenger of Allah, but I prohibit them and will punish for them.’5
Jabir bin Abdullah al-Ansari, the great companion of the Prophet, in the Sunni sources likewise, has said, ‘we practiced temporary marriage at the time of the Prophet (S), of Abu Bakr, and Umar, and then Umar prohibited it.’6
Imam Ali (a.s.) has commented on Umar’s decision by saying, ‘If Umar had not prohibited temporary marriage, no one would have committed adultery except a scoundrel.’7
This is an accurate social analysis, which every researcher in sociology and psychology arrives at. Because of these proofs, the followers of Imam Ali (a.s.) did not pay attention to Umar’s decision in order to not fall into adultery, wretchedness, and psychological and physical diseases of suppression, while most of those who heeded Umar’s decision and disliked practicing temporary marriage, whether from the Sunni or the Shia, fell into those sins and diseases. Consequently, the result of prohibiting and disliking temporary marriage is that the sexual lust forces some people to commit adultery and forces others to suppress their lust and face psychological diseases, except those whom Allah has protected and they are very few. How odd it is to see that in Muslim societies, people do not consider adultery, ballrooms of the naked, scandals of the hotels, cabarets, and buildings in whose rooms are practiced all kinds of perversion as ugly while they consider temporary marriage, which Allah has made lawful and which Muslims have practiced during the time of the Prophet (S), Abu Bakr, and a period of Umar’s caliphate and which the Muslims who disregarded Umar’s prohibition have practiced, as ugly! Who do you think is behind this silence or this encouragement of corruption and open debauchery? Who is behind denying the lawful blessing that Allah has determined as a mercy for Muslims and as a protection from falling into sins?
Is it not shameful recklessness and mockery at the Qur’an and the Sunna? Who is responsible for that and who should defend the Qur’an and the Sunna?
“It would be better for those who look for the welfare of man to have had freedom as ibn Umar has had. Ibn Umar often practiced temporary marriage. He was blamed for that. It was mentioned to him that his father (Umar bin al-Khattab) had prohibited it. He said, ‘I just have followed the saying of my father because he has said, ‘Two pleasures were lawful at the time of the Prophet (S), but I prohibit them and punish for them.’ I abide by his tradition and leave his own opinion to him.” A lesson must be taken from this saying of ibn Umar. The Ulama’ should not emulate anyone having an opinion opposed to the Qur’an or the sayings of the Prophet (S). Fanaticism should not lead them to turn their backs on the Book of Allah and the Sunna of the Prophet (S), for they will spoil the general welfare and cause corruption. This does not befit any one, especially not the people of knowledge. If some people of the Middle Ages were so, the people of this age, in which freedom of speech is of the highest value, must be far above such conducts. They should not be like the judge Yahya bin Aktham, about whom Ibn Khillikan has cited in his book (Wafiyyat al-A’yan) some verses of poetry that were composed to censure the Abbasids for their employment of Yahya as their judge: “I do not think oppression will end as long as there is a ruler from the Abbasids for the umma.
They bring Yahya to run their politics, while Yahya is not a politician. He determines punishment for adultery, while he considers a sodomite as not to be blamed.” It has been reported that once al-Ma’mun (the Abbasid caliph) saw Yahya play with a beautiful young Turk boy, insert his hand between the boy’s clothes and body, and do other things to him saying, ‘Had you not been there, we would have been faithful.’ Then al-Ma’moon commented on this event by reciting: I wished I saw justice spread everywhere, but after my hope, I became desperate. When shall the world and its people be good, while the judge of the judges of the Muslims commits sodomy?”
Yahya was so bad and was infamous for committing sodomy. However, when al-Ma’moon announced that temporary marriage was lawful and addressed Umar by saying, ‘Who are you�to prohibit what the messenger of Allah has made lawful?’, Yahya bin Aktham resisted him (al-Ma’moon) and began roving in the countries to incite people against him and to criticize him because he had permitted what Umar had prohibited. This dullness and blind fanaticism lose sight of the general welfare, bring corruption, and deny the mission of Prophet Muhammad (S) as the last of missions, because belief in the last prophethood and last mission of Prophet Muhammad (S) means believing that it is a sufficient Sharia to rule human beings and to satisfy all their needs however much they and their lives change. Thus, the Ulama’ should be like ibn Umar. They should not emulate just anything. They should give fatwas according to the Qur’an and the Sunna of the Prophet (S), even if they have to oppose their fathers. They should not be like those who say, (We found our fathers on a course, and surely we are guided by their footsteps)8. The rulers of the Muslims should also be brave like al-Ma’moon for the sake of the general welfare. They should legislate laws according to the Qur’an and the Sunna, even if they contradict the laws of those who have preceded them. Thus, goodness will spread and corruption will be denied.9”
Hence, we have confidently confirmed our clear opinion:
1. Temporary marriage is lawful according to the Qur’an and the Sunna and according to the confession of Umar that it was lawful at the time of the Prophet (S) but it was he who had prohibited it. Perhaps, he might have meant to prohibit it during his rule only, and so it was a temporary prohibition. Then, for what is this insistence on following this prohibition while the Qur’an and the Sunna have declared the lawfulness of temporary marriage? Is it to keep the doors of adultery wide open before furious lusts?
Many faithful men and faithful women live suppressed between their natural lusts and the suffering of difficulties and pains in order for it to not be said that they have practiced temporary marriage! Is this not ignorance that the believing men and women have been afflicted with?
For us, the Shia, temporary marriage is lawful. Once, Imam al-Baqir (a.s.) was asked about temporary marriage and he said, ‘Allah has made it lawful in His Book and through His prophet (S). It is lawful until the Day of Resurrection.’10 And this refutes the false sense of its unlawfulness.
2. Temporary marriage is recommendable. It is reported that Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) said, ‘It is recommended for a man to practice temporary marriage. I do not like for any man of you to leave this world without having practiced temporary marriage at least once.’11 This also refutes the false impermissibility of temporary marriage. To confirm the recommendations of temporary marriage, it has been narrated in traditions that the fall of the drops of water with which one performs ghusl12 after having slept with his wife in a temporary marriage is an excuse for his sins to be forgiven. It is also mentioned that Allah has prohibited alcohol for this Umma and has instead permitted temporary marriage13.
3. The abuse of temporary marriage by some people is possible, but this does not justify prohibiting it or considering it ugly. Because there are many legal verdicts that people of weak faith can exploit for the sake of their bad personal benefits, is it right to annul these verdicts just because of this reason? Certainly not! These verdicts must be practiced according to their Islamic rules and morals to be lawful in the full sense of the word.
4. As for the one who has a wife in a permanent marriage, it is hated for him to omit her rights for the sake of the wife of a temporary marriage. It may be unlawful in this case if temporary marriage causes him to neglect his wife of permanent marriage and usurp her rights. Therefore, Imam ar-Ridha (a.s.) said, ‘It (temporary marriage) is absolutely lawful and permissible thing for one who is unable to get married. Let him protect himself through temporary marriage. If he is able to get married, it (temporary marriage) is permissible to him when he is absent from his permanent wife.’14
In short, temporary marriage is legally and rationally permissible in all cases unless it leads to disregard for the permanent wife, which means ignoring her sexual rights. Though temporary marriage is permissible, it is not appropriate for one to practice it excessively until he becomes famous for it among people. One should pay careful attention to the moral aspects. He should be moderate and avoid indecency. Let us be realistic and not follow our fancies to establish verdicts against the verdicts of Allah. A pious one never does that. I ask the readers, who are protective of their religion, to follow what Allah and His messenger have permitted because we are in an age where adultery is desired by many people and where looking lustfully at girls and women by non-mahrams has become the adultery of the eye, which causes problems of another kind.
However, even with all these recommendations and confirmations of the lawfulness of temporary marriage, I do not invite people to practice it except those who are in dire need of it, and then they must follow the juristic and moral conditions of it.
1 Holy Qur’an, 4:24.
2 Holy Qur’an, 4:25.
3 Holy Qur’an, 4:27-28.
4 Kanzol Ummal, vol.16 p.521
5 Tafsir Majma’ al-Bayan, vol.3 p.32.
6 Kanzol Ummal, vol.16 p.523.
7 Tafsir Majma’ al-Bayan, vol.3 p.32.
8 Holy Qur’an, 43:22.
9 Islam is the way of Happiness and Peace, by Sheikh Muhammad al-Khalisi, p.186-188
10 Usul al-Kafi, vol.5 p.449.
11 Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 103 p.305.
12 Ghusl is ritual ablution required after making love or having a wet dream.
13 Safeenat al-Najat, chap. MATA’A.
14 Usul al-Kafi, vol.5 p.45, Wassa’il ash-Shia, vol.14 p.449.