Debates over mut‘ a (pleasure) marriage

Shi‘i Muslims base their acceptance of mut‘a on a particular verse of the Qur’an: “Other women are lawful to you so long as you seek them in marriage, with gifts from your property, looking for wedlock rather than fornication.”  (4:14) Chapter 4, Verse 14. Sunni Muslims have a different reading of this verse, hence the variance ofopinion. Why this difference should be so heated is another story; for more on mut‘a spats between Sunnis and Shi‘a in recent history, see “Normes religieuses et loi du silence : le mariage temporaire chez les chiites du Liban”[“Religious norms and the law of silence: temporary marriage among the Shi‘a of Lebanon”] in Les Métamorphoses du Mariage au Moyen-Orient by Sabrina Mervin.

Mut‘a was practiced by Muslims during the time of the Prophet, for newly minted fighters far from home, but it was an on-again-off-again provision, having been allowed, then revoked by the Prophet three times. The rule was finally abrogated by ‘Umar, one of the Prophet’s companions and the third caliph, or leader, of the newly minted Muslim community in the 7th century; Shi‘i Muslims, who follow another early leader, Ali (who was also the Prophet’s son-in-law) rejected this prohibition. It’s been bone of contention between the sects ever since, and a source of some envy among young Egyptians I know who wish their brand of Islam allowed such expediency. For more on the debate over the permissibility of muta‘ a marriage in Sunni Islam, see Hayrat Muslima [Confusion of a Muslim Woman] by Olfa Youssef.