Lit. “Usufruct, enjoyment.” A marriage contracted for a limited period, and sometimes for a certain sum of money. Such marriages are still legal amongst the Shi’ahs, and exist in Persia (Malcolm’s Persia, vol. ii. p 591) to the present day, but they are said to he unlawful by the Sunnis and the greater Islamic community. They were permitted by the Arabian Prophet at Autia, and are undoubtedly the greatest stain upon his moral legislation; but the Sunnis say that he afterwards prohibited a mut’ah marriage at Khaibar. (Vide Mishkat, book xiii. ch. iv. pt. 2.)
The Shi’ahs establish the legality of mut’ah not only upon the traditions, but also upon the following verse in the Qur’an, the meaning of which, according to the commentary Tafsir-i-Mazhari, is disputed. Surah iv. 28: “Forbidden to you also are married women, except those who are in your hands as slaves. This is the law of God for you. And it is allowed you, beside this, to seek out wives by means of your wealth, with modest conduct, and without fornication. And give those with whom ye have cohabited their dowry. This is the law. But it shall be no crime in you to make agreements over and above the law. Verily, God is Knowing, Wise!”
According to the Imamiyah Code of Jurisprudence, the following are the conditions of Mut’ah, or “temporary marriages” There must be declaration and acceptance, as in the case of nikah, and the subject of the contract must be either a Musalimah, a Christian, or a Jewess, or (according to some) a Majusi; she should be chaste, and fine inquiries should be made into her conduct, as it is abominable to enter into contract with a woman addicted to fornication, nor is it lawful to make such a contract with a virgin who has no father. Some dower must be specified, and if there is a failure in this respect, the contract is void. There must also he a fixed period, but its extent is left entirely to the parties: it may be a year, a month, or a day, only some limit must be distinctly specified, so as to guard the period from any extension or diminution. The practice of ‘azl (extrahere ante emissionem seminis) is lawful, but if, notwithstanding this the woman becomes pregnant, the child is the temporary husband’s; but if he should deny the child, the denial is sustained by the law Mut’ah marriages do not admit of divorce or repudiation, but the parties become absolutely separated on the expiration of the period. (Baillie’s Digest.)
There is a court account of a discussion at the Court of the Emperor Akbar with reference to the subject of Mut’ah marriages In the ‘Ain-i-Akbari (Translation by H. Blochman, M.A., p. 173). At one of the meetings for discussion, the Emperor asked how many free-born women a man may legally marry. The lawyers answered that four was the limit fixed by the Prophet. His Majesty thereupon remarked that, from the time he had come of age he had not restricted himself to that number, and in Justice to his wives, of whom he had a large number, both free-born and slaves, he now wanted to know what remedy the law provided for his case. Most of the Manlawis present expressed their opinions, when the Emperor remarked that Shaikh ‘Abdu ‘n-Nabi had once told him that one of the Mujtahids had had as many as nine wives. Some of those present said that some learned men had allowed even eighteen from a too literal translation of the second verse of Suratu ‘n-Nisa’ in the Qur’an. [MARRIAGE.] After much discussion, the learned men present, having collected every tradition on the subject, decreed, first, that by mut’ah a man may marry any number of wives; and, secondly, that mut’ah marriages were sanctioned by the Imam Malik; but a copy of the Muwatta, of the Imam Malik was brought, and a passage cited from that collection of traditions against the legality of mut’ah marriages.
The disputation was again revived at a subsequent meeting, when at the request of the Emperor. Bada,’oni gave the following summary of the discussion: “Imam Malik, and the Shi’ahs are unanimous is looking upon mut’ah marriages as legal: Imam ash-Shafi’i and the great Imam Abu Hanfah look upon mut’ah marriages as illegal. But should at any time a Qazi of the Malaki sect decide that mut’ah is legal, it is legal, according to the common belief, even for Shafi’is and Hanafis. Every other opinion on this subject is idle talk.” This saying pleased the Emperor, and he at once appointed a Qazi, who gave a decree which made mut’ah marriage legal.
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam