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Temporary Marriages

by: Ayatullah Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari
Islam is 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 subliminating 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 marriage.
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 recognised.
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 misrepresentation.
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 directed.
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 people.
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 of pottage?
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 veneral 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 register."

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