Marriage in Islam is a strong binding contract based on the intention of both partners to live together permanently in order to attain, as individuals, the benefit of repose, affection, and mercy mentioned in the Qur’an, as well as to attain the social goal of the reproduction and perpetuation of the human species. Almighty Allah says: “And Allah has made for you spouses of your own nature, and from your spouses has made for you sons and grandsons….” (An-Nahl 16:72)
Now, mut`ah marriage (marriage for the sake of sexual gratification) is a marriage that is contracted by the two parties for a specified period of time in exchange for a specified sum of money. While the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) permitted mut`ah marriage during journeys and military campaigns before the Islamic legislative process was made complete, he later forbade it and made it haram (prohibited) on a permanent basis.
It was initially permitted because the Muslims were passing through what might be called a period of transition from Jahiliyyah (the pre-Islamic period) to Islam. Fornication was widespread among the Arabs before the advent of Islam. After Islam, when Muslims were required to go on military expeditions, they were under great pressure as a result of being away from their wives for long periods of time. Some of the believers were strong in faith, but others were weak.
The weak in faith feared that they would be tempted to commit adultery, which is a major sin, while the staunch in faith, on the contrary, were ready to castrate themselves.
Ibn Mas`ud narrates: “We were on an expedition with the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) and did not have our wives with us, so we asked Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) ‘Should we not castrate ourselves?’ (The reason for this request was the desire to preserve their chastity, which was in danger of being affected by their unmet needs.) He forbade us from doing so but permitted us to contract marriage with a woman up to a specified date, giving her a garment as a dowry (Mahr).” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Thus, mut`ah 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 wine and usury, as these two evils were widespread and deeply rooted in the pre-Islamic society. In the same manner, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) adopted a gradual course in the matter of sex.
First, he permitted mut`ah marriage as an alternative to zina (fornication and adultery), and at the same time coming closer to the permanent marriage relationship. He then prohibited it absolutely, as all and many other Companions reported. Muslim reports this in his Sahih (Authentic Collection of Hadiths), mentioning that Al-Juhani was with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) at the conquest of Makkah and that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) gave some Muslims permission to contract mut`ah marriages. Al-Juhani said: “Before leaving Makkah, the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) prohibited it.” In another version: “Allah has made it Haram until the Day of Resurrection.”
The question arises: Is mut`ah marriage 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 in case of dire necessity, the necessity in this case being the fear of committing zina?
The majority of the Companions hold the view that after the completion of the Islamic legislation,mut`ah marriage was made absolutely haram. However, Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) holds a different opinion, permitting it in case of dire necessity.
A person asked him about marrying women on a haram 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.” (Al-Bukhari)
Later, when Ibn `Abbas saw that people had become lax and were engaging in haram marriages without necessity, he withdrew his ruling and retracted his previous opinion. (Zad Al-Ma`ad, vol. 4, p. 7)
Allah Almighty knows best.