Debate On the Quranic Verse of Mut'a

Some 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." (23:14).

According to the Prophet's wife Aisha and others: 'Mut'a is forbidden and abrogated in the Quran where God says: "who guard their private parts..." (al-Jami' li Ahkam al-Quran, by al-Qurtubi, v5, p130).

The Sunni argument continues by pointing out that without question a woman enjoyed through Mut'a 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 Fakhr al- Razi's Commentary, do not in fact apply to Mut'a as the Shia understand it. It is the Ijma' of the Shia scholars that the child born of Mut'a belongs to the husband and that the woman is obliged to observe the waiting period after the expiration date of the marriage. However, it will be useful to see how the Shia answer each of the above Sunni claims:

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

It is also well-known that the Prophet allowed the companions to practice Mut'a in Medina, and if Mut'a had already been illegalized in Mecca (before Hijra) by Quran, then the Prophet would not have allowed his companions to practice it after the migration. (Tafsir al- Mizan, by al-Tabatabai, v3, p132).

As for the Sunni claim that a wife by Mut'a is not a legitimate wife because she does not fulfill the religious requirements for being a 'wife', this also is false. In the question of inheritance, the Quranic 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 a non-Muslim cannot inherit from a Muslim, nor can a murderer inherit from his victim.

Also if a man is sick and marries a woman, but dies due to that sickness before consummating the marriage, the woman will not inherit from his husband. Thus being husband and wife (even in the permanent marriage) does not always necessitate the inheritance. Quran usually provides the general rules and he was the Messenger of Allah who clarified the exceptions as well as the conditions for applying the rule.

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 the validity of Mut'a.

Also inheritance is possible in the temporary marriage as long as it is made condition at the time of contract. (See Asl al-Shia wa Usuliha, by Kashif al-Ghita', p116; al-Bayan Fi Tafsir al-Quran, by al-Khoei, p219)

In the question of the child, there is no reason to claim that it is illegitimate. In Mut'a the "bed" is legitimate, so is the offspring. (Sharh al-Lum'a, v5, p277)

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," i.e., the child is legitimate. (Wasa'il al-Shia, v14, p488)

In a similar manner numerous traditions exist to prove that a wife by Mut'a must observe the waiting period of two months. Some of such traditions are even documented in the Sunni sources. For example Fakhr al-Razi himself quotes a relevant saying from Ibn Abbas that:

Ibn Abbas 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." He was also asked: "Do the husband and wife inherit from each other?" He answered: "No."

Reference: Tafsir al-Kabir, by Fakhr al-Razi, v3, p286

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 Bihar. 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, people who engage in Mut'a transgress God's law.

A typical Shia answer to this argument runs as follows: First, the Quranic verse is a general statement, and there is no reason why its specific applications may not be clarified by other verses and the traditions. 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 Bihar 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).

Even if we suppose 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 Quranic verses and the traditions which show that these pertain to legitimate sexual relationships with those traditions which demonstrate that they do not pertain to Mut'a. (Jawahir, v5, p163).

Debate over the Sermon of Umar

In a famous sermons the second caliph Umar banned Mut'a with the following words: "Two Mut'a were practiced during the time of the Prophet: Mut'a of women and Mut'a of Hajj, but I forbid both of them and will punish anyone who practices either."


  • Tafsir al-Kabir, by Fakhr al-Razi, v3, commentary of verse 4:24
  • Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v1, p52

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.

Reference: al-Tafsir al-Kabir, by Fakhr al-Razi, v3, p287

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 Quran and the Prophet had permitted Mut'a, yet Umar went ahead and banned it without the Quranic 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 the legal situation of Mut'a must have been known, just as everyone knew about marriage.

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

The Shia answer Fakhr al-Razi's arguments as follows: 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. (Majma' al-Bayan, v3, p32).

Another saying concerning Mut'a is also attributed to Umar: "God permitted for His Prophet what He willed, and the Quran has been revealed in its entirety. So complete the Hajj and the Umrah 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." (Sahih Muslim, Arabic version, 1980 Edition Pub. in Saudi Arabia, v2, p885, Tradition #145. For English version see: v2, chapter CDXLII, Tradition #2801)

As for 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 and harsh temper, no one would have dared to speak against him.

If Ali had been able to protest against Umar, he would not have remained silent. But 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 it was Ali himself who said: "If Umar had not prohibited Mut'a, no one would commit fornication except the wretched!" (Sunni commentaries of Quran by Tabari, Tha'labi, Qurtubi, Fakhr al-Razi, Suyuti, Ibn Hayyan, Nishaboori, and Jassas. As for Shia, see al-Mut'a, by al-Dizfuli, pp 68-69).

The Shia scholars also 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 married man has committed fornication with a woman. Hence Umar had no right for laying down this edict. (Jawahir, v5 p161, al-Bayan, p229).

Fakhr 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. (al-Tafsir al- Kabir, by Fakhr al-Razi, v3, p287).

Concerning Umar's two sayings banning Mut'a, the Shia argue as follows: If his prohibition was based on "independent judgment" (Ijtihad), then it is baseless, since all scholars agree that independent judgment can never gain or contradict the saying of the Quran or the traditions. (Sharh al-Lum'a, v5, p182-183; Jawahir, v5, p161; al-Bayan, p229).

As for the Quranic basis of Mut'a, we have already seen that as far as the Shia and certain individual Sunnis are concerned, the Quran permits it in the chapter of Women. As for its basis in the prophetic Hadith, many traditions have been related in the standard Sunni collections which proves the permissibility of Mut'a of women at the time of the Prophet.

Concerning Umar's "independent judgment", one of the contemporary Shia scholars 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 demise. (al-Bayan, p229).

In general the Shia 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 the Prophet instead of to himself?

Fakhr al-Razi answers that it might be that beside Umar, some other Companions had heard the prohibition from the Prophet, but they forgot it later. But when Umar mentioned the prohibition in a large gathering, everyone knew he was speaking the truth, so they remained silent.

The Shia reply to the argument of Fakhr al-Razi as follows: It is impossible to imagine that all of the Companions other than Umar had forgotten that Mut'a had been forbidden, considering its everyday importance. People need legitimate sexual relationships almost as much as they need food and water. They could not have forgotten when they continued practicing Mut'a after the demise of the Prophet till the time of Umar's rule.

The Shia authors also point out that Umar banned the two kinds of Mut'a together, whereas everyone, Sunnis and Shia agree that the Mut'a of al-Hajj is permissible. Hence the Mut'a pertaining to women should also be permissible. (Majma' al-Bayan, v3, p33).

Debate on the Controversial Reports

In the Sunni sources few traditions have been attributed the Prophet showing that he banned Mut'a during his lifetime. In most of the Sunni "sound" collections (Sihah), it is related from Ali that he said: "Verily the Prophet of God banned the Mut'a of temporary marriage and the eating of the meat of domesticated asses on the day of Khaibar."

Ibn Sabra relates from his father the following: I came upon the Prophet of God who was leaning against the Ka'ba. He said: "O People! I commanded you to seek enjoyment (Istimta'a) from these women, but now God has forbidden that to you until the Day of Resurrection. So if you have a temporary wife, let her go her way; and do not take back anything of what you have given her."

Another Hadith is related from Salama Ibn al-Akwa'. Through his father he reported that the Prophet of God permitted Mut'a in the year of Autas (8/629) for three days; but then he prohibited it.

Shia do not consider these three traditions of any authority. To illustrate how they reject them, we can summarize the arguments of al-Khoei. The Hadith attributed to Ali cannot be authentic, since all Muslims agree that Mut'a was permitted in the year Mecca was conquered.

So how could Ali have claimed that Mut'a was banned on the Day of Khaibar (close to two years before Mecca's conquest)?! Because of this obvious discrepancy, some of the great Sunni authorities have maintained that the words "on the day of Khaibar" probably refer only to the meat of domestic asses.

But this is absurd, for two reasons: First, it is counter to the rules of Arabic grammar: if the phrase referred only to asses, the verb would have to be repeated. Thus, in Arabic one says: "I honored Zaid and Amr on Friday", or one says: "I honored Zaid and I honored Amr on Friday", thus making it clear that "on Friday" refers only to Amr.

If the adverbial phrase referred only to the meat, the text of the Hadith would have to read: "Verily the Prophet of God banned Mut'a, and he banned the eating of the meat of domesticated asses on the Day of Khaibar." In short, since everyone agrees that Mut'a was permitted when Mecca was conquered, the Prophet cannot have banned it three years before that. Hence the Hadith is not authentic. (al- Bayan, pp 222-224).

The second reason that the "Day of Khaibar" cannot refer only to the meat of domesticated asses is that this clearly conflicts with Hadith related by al-Bukhari, Muslim, and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (three of the authoritative Sunni collections). For their versions of Ali's Hadith is as follows: "The Prophet banned the Mut'a of marriage on the Day of Khaibar, as well as the meat of domesticated asses."

As for the tradition related by Ibn Sabra from his father, al-Khoei points out that although his Hadith has been related by many chains of authority, they ALL go back to Ibn Sabra himself, and thus the Hadith is of the type known as Wahid, i.e., it derives from a single companion.

And a Quranic verse cannot be abrogated even by the most authentic kind of Hadith, and thus by far, it can not be abrogated by a relatively weak one. Moreover the very content of the Hadith shows that it is not correct.

It is hardly conceivable that the Prophet could have stood before the Ka'ba in front of a large group of Muslims and ban something until the Day of Resurrection, and that then only one person Sabra should have heard him or related his words.

Where were those Companions who recorded even the gestures and the glances of the Prophet? Certainly they should have joined Sabra in reporting the prohibition of Mut'a until the Day of Resurrection.

And where was Umar himself? He certainly should have known about the prohibition so that it would not have been necessary to attribute the banning of Mut'a to himself.

Finally, there are discrepancies in the various versions of the Hadith of Sabra. In some versions the prohibition is said to have occurred in the year of the victory of Mecca (8/630), in others in the year of the Farewell Pilgrimage (10/632). This discrepancy makes the Hadith even more untrustworthy.

Shahid al-Thani points out another problem concerning the Hadith of Ibn Sabra. He mentioned Ibn Sabra himself is the only source for his father's words, but no one knows anything about him. He is not mentioned in any of the books on Hadith as a transmitter, nor has any other Hadith been related from him.

For this reason al-Bukhari the most famous Sunni authority, and generally considered the most reliable for the Sunnis, left the Hadith of Ibn Sabra out of his collection. (Sharh al-Lum'a, v5, pp 264-282).

As for the Hadith of Salama Ibn al-Akwa, al-Khoei remarks that again it is a saying related from only one Companion (Wahid) and cannot abrogate a Quranic verse. In addition, if it is an authentic Hadith, it is strange that it remained unknown to such important Companions as Ibn Abbas, Ibn Masud, and Jabir Ibn Abdillah.

How is it possible for the Hadith to be authentic, while Abu Bakr did not forbid Mut'a during the whole period of his caliphate and Umar only banned it towards the end of his own? (al- Bayan, pp 222-223).

There are many sayings of the Companions which indicate that Mut'a was permitted up until the time of Umar's prohibition. Three of the most famous are those of Ali, Ibn Abbas, and Imran Ibn al-Husain. As we have already seen, Ali said: 'If Umar had not prohibited Mut'a, no one would commit fornication except the wretched.' This is the most famous form of a saying reported in numerous sources and a number of different versions.

The above version is derived from Sunni works; a Shia version is related from the fifth Imam, al-Baqir: "If it were not for that [i.e., Mut'a] with which [Umar] Ibn al-Khattab preceded me, no one would commit fornication except the wretched."

The saying related from Ibn Abbas is reported by the tenth/sixteenth century Sunni scholar al-Suyuti in this form: "God have mercy on Umar! Mut'a was naught but a mercy from God, through which He showed mercy to Muhammad's community. If Umar had not banned it, no one would need fornication except the wretched." (al-Durr al-Manthoor, by al-Suyuti, v2, p141).