Marriage in Islam is a strong bond and a binding contract, based on the intention of both partners to live together permanently in order to attain, as individuals, the benefit of the repose, affection, and mercy which are mentioned in the Qur’an, as well as to attain the social goal of the reproduction and perpetuation of the human species:
“And Allah has made for you spouses of your own nature, and from your spouses has made for you sons and grandsons… ” (An-Nahl: 72)
Now, in temporary marriage (known in Arabic as mut’ah), which is contracted by the two parties to last for a specified period of time in exchange for a specified sum of money, the above-mentioned purposes of marriage are not realized.
While the Prophet (pbuh) permitted temporary marriage during journeys and military campaigns before the Islamic legislative process was complete, he later forbade it and made it haram forever.
The reason for its permission in the beginning was that the Muslims were passing through what might be called a period of transition from Jahiliyyah to Islam.
Zina was very common and widespread among the pre-Islamic Arabs. After the advent of Islam, when the Muslims were required to go on military expeditions, they were under great pressure as a result of being absent from their wives for long periods of time. Among the believers were some who were strong in faith and others who were weak.
The weak ones feared that they would be tempted to commit adultery, a major sin and an evil course, while the strong in faith, on the other hand, were ready to castrate themselves, as stated by Ibn Mas’ud: “We were on an expedition with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and did not have our wives with us, so we asked Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), ‘Should we not castrate ourselves?” He forbade us to do so but permitted us to contract marriage with a woman up to a specified date, giving her a garment as a dower (mahr).”
Thus temporary marriage provided a solution to the dilemma in which both the weak and the strong found themselves. It was also a step toward the final legalization of the complete marital life in which the objectives of permanence, chastity, reproduction, love, and mercy, as well as the widening of the circle of relationships through marriage ties were to be realized.
We may recall that the Qur’an adopted a gradual course in prohibiting intoxicants and usury, as these evils were widespread and deeply rooted in the society of Jahiliyyah.
In the same manner, the Prophet (pbuh) adopted a course of gradualism in the matter of sex, at first permitting temporary marriage as a step leading away from fornication and adultery, and at the same time coming closer to the permanent marriage relationship.
He then prohibited it absolutely, as has been reported by ‘Ali and many other Companions. Muslim has reported this in his Sahih, mentioning that Al-Juhani was with the Prophet (pbuh) at the conquest of Makkah and that the Prophet (pbuh) gave some Muslims permission to contract temporary marriages.
Al-Juhani said, “Before leaving Makkah the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) prohibited it.” In another version of the hadith we find the Prophet’s own words, “Allah has made it haram until the Day of Resurrection.”
The question then remains: is temporary marriage (mut’ah) absolutely haram, like marriage to one’s own mother or daughter, or is it like the prohibition concerning the eating of pork or dead meat, which becomes permissible under real necessity, the necessity in this case being the fear of committing the sin of zina?
The majority of the Companions held the view that after the completion of the Islamic legislation, temporary marriage was made absolutely haram.
Ibn Abbas, however, held a different opinion, permitting it under necessity. A person asked him about marrying women on a temporary basis and he permitted him to do so. A servant of his then asked, “Is this not under hard conditions, when women are few and the like?” and he replied, “Yes” Later, however, when Ibn Abbas saw that people had become lax and were engaging in temporary marriages without necessity, he withdrew his ruling, reversing his opinion.)