An-Nisa · Juz 5 · Qur'an Tafseer

The Unlawfulness of Mut’ah

The root of the Arabic word, اسْتَمْتَعْ  istimta is meem-ta-ain which means to derive benefit. Any benefit derived from a person or from wealth, property, assets etc. is called istimata. According to Arabic grammar, the addition of the letters sin and ta to the root of any word fives the meaning of seeking. Based on this lexical explanation, the simple and straight sense of the Qur’anic expression اسْتَمْتَعْتُمْ  you have benefited, as understood by the entire Muslim Ummah from the revered early elders to their successors and followers, is just what we have stated a little earlier. But, a sect says that it means the conventional mut’ah and according to its adherents, this ayah proves that mut’ah is halal. Therefore, it is pertinent here to give a brief account of mut’ah and its unlawfulness.

Mut’ah which was in vogue before the advent of Islam was a temporary contract between a man and a woman for having sexual relationship between them for a specified period in exchange of money or a specified kind offered by the man to the woman. This type of contract, which was never meant to create permanent rights and obligations of marriage, was clearly prohibited by the Qur’an and Sunnah, however, this particular sect claims it is still halal. They sometimes seek support to this claim from the present ayah just on the ground that the word mut’ah has been derived from the same root wherefrom the word اسْتَمْتَعْتُمْ used in this ayah has been derived. Obviously, this argument is too far-fetched, and the present ayah itself is sufficient to refute it, because before the word the Qur’an has used the words مُّحْصِنِينَغَيْرَمُسَـفِحِينَ  desiring chastity not lust which clearly prove that the sexual relationship approved by the Qur’an is the only one which aims at chastity through the permanent bond of marriage, and not a relationship based on satisfying lust for a temporary period which has been termed by the Qur’an as flowing water.

Now, it is obvious that the contract of mutah has nothing to do with this concept. It neither creates permanent rights and obligations, nor does it bring about a family set-up, nor does it aim at having children and maintain chastity. It is nothing but to satisfy the sexual desire for a short period of time.   

As a result, the woman with whom mutah is done is not given even the status of a wife who could inherit from her very pragmatic counterpart who for that matter, does not even have the grace to count her among his recognized wives. The reason is very simple as the purpose here is nothing but sexual gratification, an attitude which drives men and women to keep hunting for ever-new sex partners in a temporary setting. If this be the state of affairs, mut’ah can never be taken as the guarantor of modesty and chastity; it is on the contrary its very enemy.

Therefore, the Quranic words مُّحْصِنِينَغَيْرَمُسَـفِحِينَ  are more than enough to rule out the possibility of mut’ah being meant by the present ayah.

The author of hidayah has attributed to Imam Malik that according to him, mut’ah is permissible. But, this attribution is totally incorrect as clarified by the commentator of Hidayah and other respected scholars who say that the author of Hidayah has attributed this view to Imam Malik inadvertently.

However, there are some of those who claim that Ibn Abbas radhiAllahu believed in the lawfulness of mut’ah right up to his later years, although this is not so. Imam al-Tirmidhi, devoting a chapter to mut’ah has reported two ahadith. The first one is as follows:

“Ali ibn Abi Talib radhiAllahu anhu reports that the Prophet sallallahu aalyhi wa sallam on the occasion of the battle of Khyber, prohibited mut’ah with women and from (eating) the meat of domestic donkeys.”

This hadith appears in al-Bukhari and Muslim as well. The second hadith reported by Imam al-Tirmidhi is given below:

Ibn Abbas radhiAllahu anha says, “Mut’ah was there only in the early period of Islam until the ayah إِلاَّ عَلَى أَزْوَجِهِمْ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَـنُهُمْ(70: 30) was revealed.” Then he said, “All private parts other than these are unlawful (that is other than those of the legally wedded wife and the bondwoman one may come to have.”

Nevertheless, this much has to be said that Ibn Abbas took mut’ah to be permissible up to a certain time. Then it was on the good counsel of Ali radhiAllahu anhu (Saheeh Muslim, v.1, p. 452) and under the chastening impact of the ayah   إِلاَّ عَلَى أَزْوَجِهِمْ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَـنُهُمْ that he revoked his earlier position, as indicated in the narration from Tirmidhi.

It is very strange that the sect which believes in the lawfulness of mut’ah – despite its claim to love and obey Ali RA elects to oppose no less a person than him on this particular issue.

The author of Ruh al-Ma’ani reports from Qadi Ayad that mut’ah was lawful before the battle of Khyber, but it was made unlawful during it. After that, it was declared lawful on the day of the conquest of Makkah, but it was after three days that it was proclaimed as unlawful forever.

There is yet another point worthy of our attention. The Qur’anic statement: وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِفُرُوجِهِمْ حَـفِظُونَ – إِلاَّ عَلَى أَزْوَجِهِمْ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَـنُهُمْ فَإِنَّهُمْ غَيْرُ مَلُومِينَ And those who guard their private parts, save from their wives or from their bondwomen, then, they are not blameworthy is so explicit that it admits of no other interpretation. It shows the unlawfulness of mut’ah very clearly. Seeking flimsy support from some rare and unauthentic readings is absolutely incorrect.

To sum up our earlier submissions, there is no absolute proof to support the view that the Qur’anic word, اسْتَمْتَعْتُمْ  you have benefited refers to conventional mut’ah. This is just a remote possibility which can never override the absolute proof contained in إِلاَّ عَلَى أَزْوَجِهِمْ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَـنُهُمْ  citied above. Specifically, keeping in view the well-settled principle of Islamic jurisprudence, that where two arguments or two interpretations are equally possible, the one supporting prohibition is always preferred.


Like mut’ah, a time bound marriage is also unlawful. A time-bound marriage (termed in Islamic jurisprudence as al-nikah al-muwaqqat) is a marriage entered into for a fixed time. The difference between the two is that mut’ah is done by using the words of mut’ah. A time-bound marriage is done by saying the word, nikah which is normally used for regular marriage.

وَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِيمَا تَرَاضَيْتُمْ بِهِ مِن بَعْدِ الْفَرِيضَةِ  And there is no sin on you in what you mutually consent to after the initial settlement: This sentence in the ayah means that mahr or dower which has been fixed mutually is not in the real sense, absolute and definite and something to which nothing could be added or deleted. On the contrary, a husband can add something on his own accord on the fixed mahr and the wife too, if she so desires, willingly and happily can forgo a part of her mahr, or the whole of it. The generality of the words also allows a situation where a woman willingly agrees to defer the payment of a dower which was originally settled to be prompt.

 إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيماً حَكِيماً  Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise: The addition of this sentence towards the end of the ayah tells us two things. Firstly, that Allah knows. He is aware of everything. His injunctions are there to be compiled. If somebody acts against these and even if a judge, a ruler, or any other human being ever gets to find out about it, Allah, in His most exalted state of being, knows all about this and everything else. One must keep fearing Him under all circumstances. Secondly, that the commands He has revealed are all basd on hikmah or wisdom. In essence, hikmah (Allah’s wisdom) is too deep to be understood by everyone. The commands concerning what is unlawful and lawful as given in these ayaat, whether or not one understands their cause, reason or justification, must be believed in, accepted and obeyed. This is because, even though we may not know the raison d’etre, the cause, reason or justification, it hardly matters, for the Creator and the Master of the Command, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala certainly knows it all, being the All-Knowing, the Wise.

There are many people, educated but ignorant, visibly spread out in our contemporary Muslim and non-Muslim societies, who go about gopher-like, searching for the causes of Divine commands. When they fail to find any, they side-track the need to comply with the command by saying that the word of Allah was, God-forbin, contrary to the requirements of the modern age, or worse still, unsuitable. The words of the ayah have silenced such people forever by telling them: “You are ignorant. Your Creator is All-Knowing. You lack understanding. Allah is All-Wise. Do not make your reason the touchstone of the Truth.”

(Taken from Maaruf-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani)


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