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The Sermon of 'Umar

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

2. The Sermon of 'Umar

In a famous sermon1 the second caliph 'Umar banned mut'a with the following words: 'Two mut'a were practiced during the time of the Prophet [i.e. temporary marriage and mutat al-hajj],2 but I forbid both of them and will punish anyone who practices either.' Al-Razi summarizes the Sunni interpretation of 'Umar's words by saying that they were pronounced in a gathering of Companions and no one protested. Therefore, the situation must have been as follows: either (1) everyone knew that mut'a was forbidden, so they remained silent; or (2) they all knew that it was permitted, yet they remained silent out of negligence and in order to placate 'Umar; or (3) they did not know whether it was forbidden or permitted, so they remained silent since the matter had just then been clarified for them, so they had no reason to protest.3

Al-Razi continues by saying that the first possibility is what he is trying to prove. If we maintain the second possibility, then we must call 'Umar and the Companions who were with him unbelievers. For they knew that the Qur'an and the Prophet had permitted mut'a, yet 'Umar went ahead and banned it without the Qur'anic verse permitting it having been abrogated. This is unbelief (kufr); and those who knew 'Umar was wrong without protesting shared in his unbelief. But such a supposition requires that we call Islam a religion of unbelief, which is absurd.

The third possibility-that 'Umar's listeners had not known whether mut'a was permitted or forbidden-is also absurd. For, if we suppose that mut'a was permitted, then people would need to have knowledge of that fact in their everyday lives, just as they need to have knowledge about the permissibility of marriage. So mut'a's legal situation must have been known, just as everyone knew about mamage.

Al-Razi concludes that as soon as we see that the second and third possibilities are in fact absurd, then we know for certain that the Companions remained silent only because they all knew that mut'a had already been abrogated.

The Shi'is answer al-Razi's arguments as follows:4 'Umar's sermon demonstrates that during the lifetime of the Prophet mut'a was permitted. The reason 'Umar attributed the banning to himself is that he wanted to show that he was expressing his own view. If the Prophet himself had prohibited mut'a, or if its permissibility pertained only to a specific period in time, then 'Umar would have attributed its prohibition to the Prophet, not to himself.

Another saying concerning muta is also attributed to 'Umar: 'God permitted for His Prophet what He willed, and the Qur'an has been revealed in its entirety. So complete the hajj and the 'umra as God has commanded you. But avoid marrying these women, and do not bring before me any man who has married a woman for a specified period, or I will stone him.'5 The Shi'i ulama' point out that without question stoning as a punishment for having performed mut'a could not be permissible, even if we were to accept that mut'a is forbidden. For stoning can only be a punishment when a man has committed fornication with a married woman. Hence 'Umar had no basis for laying down this statute.6

Al-Razi answers this line of reasoning by saying that perhaps 'Umar only mentioned stoning to intimidate his listeners and make them think more seriously about the consequences of temporary marriage. Certainly such intimidation is permissible. The Prophet himself said: 'If anyone from among us fails to pay his alms (zakat), I will take it from him along with part of his property. ' But it is not permissible in Islam to take a part of someone's property in punishment for not paying his alms. The Prophet only said these words to press his point and to frighten his listeners.7

Concerning 'Umar's two sayings banning mut'a, the Shi'is argue as follows:8 If his prohibition was based on 'independent judgment' (ijtihad),9 then it is baseless, since all ulama' agree that independent judgment can never gainsay the Qur'an or the hadith. As for the Qur'anic basis of muta, we have already seen that-as far as the Shi'is and certain individual Sunnis are concerned-the Qur'an permits it in the chapter on Women, verse 23. As for its basis in the prophetic hadith, many traditions have been related in the standard Sunni collections, such as the words of 'Umar himself in his sermon: 'Two mut'as were practiced during the time of the Prophet ... .'

Concerning 'Umar's 'independent judgment', one of the contemporary Shi'i ulama' argues as follows: ' Umar may have made his judgment completely on his own initiative and in direct contradiction to the words of the Prophet; or he may have based his judgment on a prohibition issued by the Prophet himself. If the first case is true, then 'Umar's judgment is groundless, as noted above. And the second case cannot be true, since a number of the Companions have given witness to the fact that mut'a was permitted during the lifetime of the Prophet and up until the time of his death.10

In general the Shi'is argue that if 'Umar's prohibition had been based upon the words of the Prophet, then other Companions would have known about it. How is it possible for the Prophet to have forbidden mut'a, yet, during the rest of his life, the period of Abu Bakr's caliphate and the beginning of 'Umar's caliphate, for prohibition to have remained unknown to everyone but 'Umar? Moreover, if his prohibition were based upon the words of the Prophet, why did he not attribute it to him instead of to himself?11

Al-Razi answers these arguments by claiming that none of them disproves his original contention. None of them proves that mut'a had not already been abrogated when 'Umar made his sermon. Moreover, there remains the question of the transmission of the hadith abrogating mut'a : Was 'Umar the only person to have heard the Prophet ban it, or had others heard him as well? Perhaps some of the Companions had heard the prohibition from the Prophet and had then forgotten. But when 'Umar mentioned the prohibition in a large gathering, everyone knew he was speaking the truth, so they remained silent.12

As for the fact that 'Umar attributes the prohibition to himself, al-Razi answers by pointing to his earlier argument: If 'Umar meant: ' Mut'a has been permitted by the shari'a up until now, but now I have banned it', then it becomes necessary for us to consider not only him, but also everyone who heard his pronouncement and did not protest, as an unbeliever. It becomes necessary to consider even the Imam of the Shi'is, 'Ali, as an unbeliever, since he was present and remained silent. But no one wants to make such a claim. Hence we can only conclude that what 'Umar meant was ... Mut'a was permitted during the time of the Prophet, but I have forbidden it, since I know for certain-as you know-that the Prophet abrogated it.'
The Shi'is reply to al-Razi's arguments as follows: First, it is impossible to imagine that all of the Companions other than' Umar had forgotten that muta had been forbidden, considering its everyday importance. People need legitimate sexual relationships almost as much as they need food and water. Second, the fact that no one protested against 'Umar's pronouncement cannot be considered proof that the Prophet himself had forbidden mut'a. For 'Umar threatened the people with stoning, and considering his fabled severity, no one would have dared to speak against him. If 'Ali had been able to protest against 'Umar, he would not have remained because of the circumstances he had no choice but to have patience and to bide his time. The case of mut'a is similar. For was it not 'Ali who said: 'If 'Umar had not prohibited mut'a, no one would commit fornication except the wretched'?13

Shi'i authors also point out that 'Umar banned the two kinds of muta together, whereas everyone-Sunnis and Shi'is-agree that the hajj al-mut'a is permissible. Hence the muta pertaining to women should also be permissible.14

Finally, another Sunni view on this subject deserves mention: Other hadith are recorded in reliable sources according to which 'Umar does attribute the banning of muta to the Prophet and not to himself. So it is probable that here we do not have an exact quotation of his words, but a paraphrase. Even if we accept the Shi'i claim that these are truly 'Umar's exact words, then it is clear that by his words: 'I forbid them both', he meant: 'I am clarifying their situation for you; or: 'I am putting into practice the view of the Prophet.' For it is well known in the science of jurisprudence that prohibition and permissibility are often attributed to him who clarifies the statute. Thus, for example, when it is said that Shafi'i forbids hadith but Abu Hanifa permits it, no one imagines that Shafi'i and Abu Hanifa are establishing these injunctions as their own. What is meant is that they are explaining the injunction on the basis of their own understanding of the Qur'an, the sunna, etc.15

1. Ahmad b.Hanbal, al-Musnad, Beirut, n.d., 1,52.

2. Pilgrims who come to Mecca for the hajj from a long distance and want to perform the 'umra before the hajj are allowed to enter into a state of consecration (ihram) for the 'umra and then to leave it until they re-enter it for the hajj. During the intervening period they can 'enjoy themselves' (tamattu') with the activities of everyday life that are forbidden in the state of ihram. This tamattu' before the hajj is known as mut'at al-hajj.

3. Al Tafsir al-kabir, III, 287.

4. Majma' al-bayan, III, 32.

5. Muslim, al-Sahih, Cairo, 1334/1916, IV, 38 (chapter: al-mut'a bi 'l-hajj wa 'l- 'umra).

6. Jawahir, V, 161; al-Bayan, 229.

7. Al-Tafsir al-kabir,III, 287.

8. Sharh al-lum'a, V, 182-83; Jawahir, v, 161; al-Bayan,229.

9. Those who have attained the capacity and necessary knowledge of jurisprudence to make independent judgments (ijtihad) on cases concerning which they are consulted are called mujtahids. In contrast to Shi'i law, in Sunnism the 'door of ijtihad' has been closed.

10. Al-Bayan,229.

11. Sharh al-lum'a, v, 283; al-Bayan, p.229; al-Mut'a, 68.

12. Al Tafsir al-kabir, III, 290.

13. Al-Mut'a, pp.68-69.

14. Majma' al-bayan, III, 33.

15. Muhammad Shaykh al-Islam Kurdistani, Rahnama-yi madhhab-i Shafi'i, Tehran, 1337/1958, I,429-30.

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