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The Qur'anic Argument about Mut'a

Adopted from the Book : "Temporary Marriage in Islamic Laws" by : "Sachiko Murata"

1. The Qur'anic Argument

The Sunnis argue that sexual intercourse is forbidden except with one's wife or a slave by reason of the verse: 'Prosperous are the believers ... who guard their private parts save from their wives and what their right hands own.' (23:1-6)1 According to the Prophet's wife 'A'isha and others: ' Mut'a is forbidden and abrogated in the Qur'an where God says: "who guard their private parts ..."2

The Sunni argument continues by pointing out that without question a woman enjoyed through muta is not a slave. Nor is she a wife, for several reasons: If she were a wife, she and her husband would inherit from each other, since God says: ' And for you a half of what your wives leave ... .' (4:12). But everyone agrees that mut'a does not involve inheritance. If she were a wife, the child would belong to the husband, since according to the Prophet: 'The child belongs to the bed.' But again this is not the case. And finally, if she were a wife, it would be necessary for her to maintain the waiting period, since this is commanded by God (2:234); but this also is not the case.

We have already seen that some of these arguments, taken from al-Razi's Great Commentary, do not in fact apply to mut'a as the Shi'is understand it. However this may be, it will be useful to see how the Shi'is answer each of the Sunni claims:

As for the 'abrogation' of the verse concerning mut'a, historical considerations show that this cannot be the case. The verse mentioned as abrogating mut'a was revealed in Mecca, while the verse establishing it was revealed after the Prophet had emigrated to Medina. But a verse which abrogates another verse must be revealed after it, not before it.3

As for the Sunni claim that a wife by mut'a is not a legitimate wife because she does not fulfill the shari requirements for being a 'wife', this also is false. In the question of inheritance, the Qur'anic verse is a general one, and there is no reason to suppose that it may not have certain exceptions. In fact, the specific requirements of mut'a as established by the hadith literature show that mut'a is an exception. Nor is it the only exception, since an unbeliever cannot inherit from a Muslim, nor can a murderer inherit from his victim. In short, inheritance pertains to permanent marriage, but even in permanent marriage it has certain exceptions, so that the verse establishing it cannot be interpreted as nullifying mut'a's validity.4

In the question of the child, there is no reason to claim that it is illegitimate. In mut'a the 'bed' is legitimate, so the offspring is also legitimate.5 The Imam Ja'far was asked: 'If the wife becomes pregnant as a result of mut'a, to whom does the child belong?' He replied: 'To the father',6 i.e., the child is legitimate.

In a similar manner numerous hadith exist to prove that a wife by mut'a must observe the waiting period. Some of these are even related in Sunni sources. For example al-Razi himself quotes a relevant saying from Ibn 'Abbas. He was asked: 'Is mut'a fornication or marriage?' He answered: 'Neither the one nor the other.' The questioner then asked: 'Well then, what is it?' Ibn 'Abbas replied: 'It is mut'a', just as God has said.' The questioner continued: 'Is there a waiting period in mut'a?' He replied: 'Yes, a menstrual period.' 'Do the husband and wife inherit from each other?' He answered: 'NO'.7

Certain Sunnis also argue that mut'a cannot be considered a legitimate form of sexual union because it excludes such things as inheritance, divorce, sworn allegation, forswearing, and zihar. Since these necessary concomitants of marriage do not apply to mut'a, it cannot be considered marriage, so the woman cannot be considered a legitimate wife.

If she is neither a wife nor property, sexual intercourse with her is illegitimate: 'Prosperous are the believers, who ... guard their private parts, save from their wives and what their right hands own ...; but whosoever seeks after more than that, those are the transgressors' (23:1-7). Hence, persons who engage in mut'a transgress God's law.

A typical Shi'i answer to this argument runs as follows: First, the Qur'anic verse is a general statement, and there is no reason why its specific applications may not be clarified by other verses and hadith. Second, it is not true that the above things are concomitants of marriage: there is no inheritance in the case of a non-Muslim wife, a murderer, or a slave-girl. A legitimate sexual relationship may be dissolved without divorce in the case of a wife who is the subject of a sworn allegation, a spouse who leaves Islam, or a slave-girl who is sold. Sworn allegation, forswearing, and zihar are all concomitants of permanent marriage, not of legitimate sexual relationships in general (i.e., they do not apply to sexual relationships with a slave). If we suppose that some proof is found-in the form of a Qur'anic verse or a hadith-demonstrating that these things do in fact pertain to legitimate sexual relationships, then it will be necessary to specify that there are certain exceptions. This is the only way we will be able to combine the Qur'anic verses and the hadith which show that these pertain to legitimate sexual relationships with those hadith which demonstrate that they do not pertain to mut'a.8

1. Ibid.,287.

2. Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Abi Bakr al-Ansari al-Qurtubi (d. 671/1273), al-Jami' li ahkam al-Qur'an, Cairo, 1967 , v, 130.

3. Tafsir al-mizan, Persian version, VIII, 132; Husayn Yusuf Makki, al-Mut'a fi'l-Islam, Persian translation, Tehran, 1342/1963, p.59.

4. Abu'I-Qasim al-Musawi al-Khu'i, al-Bayan fi tafsir al-Qur'an, Najaf, 1375/1955-56, 219.

5. Sharh al-lum'a, v, 277, Note.

6. Wasa'il, XIV, 488, hadith I.

7. Al-Tafsir al-kabir,III, 286.

8. Jawahir, v, 163.

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