“Temporary/ Muta’a Marriage is Sex for Hire”: THE GOATMILK DEBATES

THE GOATMILK DEBATES” will be an ongoing series featuring two debaters tackling an interesting or controversial question in a unique, irreverent manner.

Each debater makes their opening argument. They can elect to post a rebuttal.

The winner will be decided by the online audience and judged according to the strength of their argument.

The motion: “Temporary Marriage is a valid option for Muslims in the modern age”

Against the motion: Fatemeh Fakhraie

AGAINST THE MOTION: “Sigheh [Temporary Marriage/ Muta’a] Marriage is Sex for Hire”

Fatemeh Fakhraie

I support any way that two consenting adults can safely get it on. And so I don’t think sigheh marriage (temporary marriage also referred to as mut’a, or pleasure, marriage) is a bad idea.

In a magical, lollipop-and-rainbows land.

But in the reality where we all live? No. It’s a terrible idea.

See, in magical Lollipop Rainbow Land, men and women are equal. Sexuality is something between autonomous people who are educated enough to make intelligent decisions about their sex lives. Gender roles aren’t rigidly ascribed or enforced, and no importance is placed on virginity. Everyone respects each other and each other’s choices in this fantastical place. Sigheh marriage would be a wonderful thing in Lollipop Rainbow Land.

But, as this grumpy feminist is constantly reminded, we do not live in Lollipop Rainbow Land. We live in a place and time where women are not seen as equals and are still exploited physically, economically, sexually, etc. In this context, sigheh marriage is a sanctioned path to female exploitation—and thus, in my book, a terrible idea.

To be up front, I am an American Iranian Muslim who comes from the Shi’a tradition. Sigheh is a largely Shi’a practice, and the vast majority of my knowledge on it comes from the Iranian context. So that’s where I’m writing from today.

You can read up on sigheh in depth at Wikipedia, but the short definition is that sigheh is a way for two horny people to be quickly and cheaply married (and thus have lawful sex) in some interpretations of Islam. But the reality is that sigheh is also a largely abused practice that is usually exploitative to women.

My two major qualms against sigheh are societal and economic.

Economically, “[sigheh marriage] is largely the prerogative of wealthy married men, and the majority of women in sighehs are divorced, widowed, or poor.” In this nuanced Mother Jones’ article on sigheh, we meet Habib, who says, “I do sigheh with women who need financial help. Instead of giving money for charity, I marry them in this way and financially support them.”

But this isn’t charity; it’s a transaction. The sigheh dowry (provided he does pay it) may buy her a new stove or he may pay her rent, but she isn’t getting this for her companionship or a few kisses. A man is essentially paying a woman to be her husband in the physical capacity: he is paying for sex with her, whether she desires him or not. This is prostitution. Even if she desires him for him, in certain situations, the economic imbalance remains.

Socially, many people except clerics who extol its virtues often look down on sigheh marriage. Despite its practical legal and Islamic uses, there’s the fact that sigheh is often equated with prostitution—and who wants to be thought of as a whore?

Whether you’re a Muslim woman in Tehran or Los Angeles, your virginity is seen as one of your major virtues. Sigheh marriage “is an advertisement that a woman is not a virgin.” In Muslim communities, virginity is protected, prized, and vastly preferred—advertising the fact that you’re not a virgin is tantamount to letting everyone know you’re not “pure” enough to be considered for “permanent” marriage, which is a pretty insulting idea. As I’ve stated before, I’m not a fan of reducing women to their body parts, especially their hymens.

Another major issue I have with sigheh is its sleazy loopholes. A man (married or not) can contract as many sigheh marriages as he wants without the consent of his wife or his temporary wives (who cannot have any sigheh marriages of their own while married). You can slap any title on this you like, but when someone who is married has sex outside of that marriage, I’m always going to define it as cheating. The fact that sigheh can be used as a loophole to allow cheating is something that just doesn’t sit well with me.

This may seem a grim assessment of gender relations. “But,” you protest, “what about sigheh between two consenting adults with no economic imbalances or power struggles or virginal hangups?”

Well…then I’d have no problem with it at all. Like I said, I support any way that two consenting adults can safely get it on. As long as both parties are fully informed on their options and decide that this is the best option for them, who am I to judge their decisions?

My main issue is that there are too many chances for abuse. I freely admit that this is a textbook case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater (even though sigheh babies are considered legitimate children, who are entitled to a share of the father’s inheritance).

Sigheh marriage has a lot of practical uses (see the Wikipedia link for all the rules and regulations and loopholes), but it’s overwhelmingly abused. From where I’m standing, the mistreatments outweigh the benefits.

In a perfect world, everyone would follow the rules and treat each with kindness and respect. But in the world we live in, sigheh more often than not enables men to treat women as little more than hookers for hire.

Fatemeh Fakhraie is the founder and editor of the influential blog, Muslimah Media Watch


40 thoughts on ““Temporary/ Muta’a Marriage is Sex for Hire”: THE GOATMILK DEBATES

  1. =This could theoretically be an interesting (i.e. controversial) discussion but I wonder if it will mostly break down along Sunni/Shia lines. (although the first post is clearly a counter-example).

    -I wonder if there would be more back-and-forth if we discussed polygamy.

    -I remember reading an anecdote about a Shia man who wanted to marry a woman from the People of the Book and apparently there was a religious or family objection to a standard marriage with her so as a solution they did muta… with a term of 100 years!

    – Here is an interesting article on muta from a Shia perspective: http://www.al-islam.org/al-serat/muta/

  2. @ HijabMan: Alternatives? Getting to know someone in a group setting. Masturbation. Like I said…everyone has to do what’s right for them. If sigheh works for two people, then fine.

  3. @HijabMan Why couldn’t the alternative be permanent marriage with one other person? If you’re not emotionally, mentally, and financially ready for a permanent marriage, you’re not ready for a physical relationship and all that comes with it. So if they’re not, then yes, they should keep their paws to themselves. The recommended action for a man who is unable to marry is to fast.

    • First many Sunni Religious leader also do it for like 100 years which is petty permanent, let say the man and woman really love each other but the families hate each other and will agree to than marriage or make unreasonable command like the man must make 1 billion dollar ayear than paid 100 billion dollar for her. Our Founder did than temp marriage for just than reason I believe.

    • “If you’re not emotionally, mentally, and financially ready for a permanent marriage, you’re not ready for a physical relationship and all that comes with it.”

      Based on…??? Because you say so? You can indeed be ready for a physical relationship without being ready for marriage. Marriage is far more complex than two consenting adults being physical with each other. Whether or not you *should* be in a physical relationship outside of marriage is another matter.

      “The recommended action for a man who is unable to marry is to fast.”

      That might be suitable for a brief flare up of arousal, but it’s neither realistic nor helpful for young/single men or women over any prolonged period of time.

      Instead of spouting platitudes, we really ought to be trying to empathize and offering pragmatic, constructive advice.

  4. Fatemeh’s logic is terribly flawed and stems from typical ignorance about Mut’a and its process.

    It’s like dismissing the institution of marriage because some married couples abuse one another then get divorced.

    Or dismiss Islam because Saudis chop people’s heads and hands off.

    There is no celibacy in Islam. God has clearly said in the Holy Qur’an that sexual desire is put in us by Him.
    Is God that sick to make us “horny”, then forbid everything that would provide relief?!

    There is nothing wrong about being horny, it’s nature unless if someone has some sort of a sexual disorder.
    What’s wrong is that how that “horny”ness is carried out: with rape? or fornication? Or full time marriage? or temporary marriage? or whatever?

    Also, many people that I know who practice Mut’a is for non-sexual relations so that they could become Mahram.

    If Mut’a or “Sigheh” is practiced correctly, it can actually lead to healthy long term marriages.

  5. I cringe at the notion of being identified as Sunni or Shi’i. My ‘ibadaat are according to Malik, I do not observe 12er, Zaidi, or Ismaili authority, while agreeing with the Alid position re: Ghadir al-Khomm, so not sure what that makes me. In principle I also generally agree with the permissibility of mut’a and reservedly agree with the various qualifications outlined in the post (I don’t personally practice it). If constructed artfully, mut’a can relieve a lot of the psychological stigmata for a wider swath of the Muslim community, especially when compared to misyar (which involves more psychological duplicity/hypocrisy – imho).

    The problem I have with both mut’a and misyar, from my perspective as a non-Middle East Muslim, is that they are both artifices designed to empower ME males and their needs, with secondary/tangential/derivative benefits to the contracted women. In Sunni law artifices such as a high mahr mu-akhkhar were designed to give greater leverage to the bride, and so I can’t imagine a reason why other similar conventions can’t be developed in this case. I’m thinking of standard or conditional requirements such as contraception, mutual nullification, pay-for-play clauses, no-or-low iddat, blood and AIDS test requirements, etc.

    There might be an immediate negative and visceral reaction to the last three suggestions, and Sunnis might reason them into evidence of the practice’s similarity to prostitution or low moral standards. But people who live in misyar houses need not throw stones. Contemporary morality dictates the protection of both contracting parties.

    • Salaams, I’m curious about how you arrived at your position (Maliki but Alid) and wonder about what that means practically. What kind of community do you practice in? What kind of “authorities” do you consult? Did Malik prohibit mu’ta.

      As for me personally, I would consider my self Sunni-Hanafi but I like Tahir ul-Qadri’s explanation that Ali (ra) inherited a spiritual form of leadership while Abu Bakr (ra) inherited a political form of leadership and both are valid.


  6. Saudic Arabria have they own version of this which is worst. In SA than wealth man who see than petty 5 year old female can marry her temp but after the state killed her for unlawiful sex. May-be both Sunni and Shia needed to get along with each other than say both way are valid. I can see than 100 year temp marraige can help than couple who really love each other but the parents are both opposose to this marriage or the parent of the woman set too hight of than price for her like 1 trillion america dollars. Some Sunni Religious leader use this temp marriage to marry couple who really love each other but families are being unreasonable with each other.

  7. Masturbation is not an alternative. It does not provide the spiritual and emotional need that goes in a relationship.

    What’s interesting is that Mut’a is “forbidden” and considered “sick”, so is dating, and many parents don’t even bother finding a spouse for their children until they are out of college by the age of mid-20’s. Some even get married later.

    So what do people do in the meantime? Become monks and masturbate?!

    Or get involved in a healthy relationship under a contract until the means of permanent marriage are feasible?

    The choice is yours.

  8. If the situation is temporary as in the case of some hormonally challenged teens, then obviously the marriage institution cannot be cheapened to just focus on providing a legal avenue for sex. (Although the Classical scholars – both Sunni and Shia – do view marriage as a contract for legal sex ala Kecia Ali).

    Many people get married in late twenties to early thirties as opposed to marrying younger (in previous ages). But once again the situation is temporary.

    Having said that, we know of cases of many adults where the situation seems permanent, some whose finances or circumstances like frequent travelling et al. do not allow them to afford marriage, what solution might work for them?

    Should they be asked to:

    1) Remain celibate as we ask of gays/ lesbians
    2) Have temporary contracts as in Shia traditions
    3) Have marriage wherein the financial part is taken care of in that both can decide perhaps not to have children or share financial obligations equally.

  9. A few years ago, a good but immature friend of mine got married, though he obviously wasn’t ready for it. When I asked him why he was getting married, he said it’s because he wanted to have sex every night. A few year later, he and his wife split up. When I asked him why he was getting a divorce, he said it’s because he wanted to have sex every night.

    I don’t think relationships purely for the purpose of sex are very healthy, regardless of the arrangement. Marriage is more than just sex – it’s an emotional, psychological, financial and spiritual investment – and it is a lot of work – in talking, listening, and understanding. If you don’t think communication is work, it is the number one reason why marriages fail.

    If prayer or fasting or masterbation fail to take care of the urge, I’m not so sure marriage (temporary or otherwise) will resolve the underlying problem. And God knows best.

  10. This is very interesting, especially to someone of Sunni background. After reading about this, I would’nt necessarily classify it as ‘prostitution’. However, there can be cases where this can be used by men to exploit poor women, widows, or under-age girls. Having the freedom to enter several temporary marriages could also mean that men would be less willing to commit to a permanant marriage.

    At a time where there is increased risk of STD’s how can this be considered a safe practice? I also agree with some of the commentators above that entering into a permanent marriage solely for this purpose is a mistake since marriage is an emotional, finanical, and familial bond. So, there’s a lot to be discussed.

  11. STD is a lame debate. In such case marriage and divorce should also be Haram because of STD.

    All of these criticisms come from people who have no idea about the rules of Mut’a:

    1- Married men cannot do Mut’a (so funny how 4 wives is okay though!)

    2- Virgins cannot do Mut’a, they can do so only by the consent of both parents

    3- Mut’a is a marriage contract, it has the same financial, familial, and emotional bond. Funny how some say “masturbate” then argue about “financial emotional bonds”

    4- If Mut’a is prostitution, so is getting married and divorced. Mut’a expiration has the same rules of divorce.

    5- God has allowed it in His book. The only reference for Prophet (pbuh) forbidding it is in the Bukhari, and Bukhari references that as “Mu’allaq” which means “hanging” which means it has no chains.

    6- Sexual relationship is allowed only in a contract between a man and a woman (not a man and a man, a man and a chicken, a woman and a dog, and so on). That contract can be temporary or permanent with the option of divorce. Either case, there is no guarantee that it will last until “death does them apart” (which is a Catholic notion). Divorce is always an option, so no marriage is ever permanent.

    • I agree with you. Too many families of muslim want they daughter to marry medicate doctor or engineerer only. Why not than pumbler who have good character and treated woman well.

    • regarding 4 I both agree and disagree. There are some fiqh with some really skeezy conceptualizations of marriage and says outright that marriage is a transaction where the man pays mahr and in exchanged receives the right to have sex.

      But at the same time, the same books still distinguish between mahr and “permanent marriage” and if the couple tries to insert a time limit in the marriage contract then the marriage isn’t valid.

  12. I cannot believe anyone can defend this “marriage”, it is simply set up for legal prostitution. Which is fine, as far as I am concerned but don’t call it marriage. Don’t take something out of the trash and call it any other than what it is – trash.

    • Temp marraige wasnot fround in Islam other culture have it also. Common Law marriage was never recognite as than legal marriage by the Roman Carthority Church and was call nothing but Prostitution by the church. Common law marriage was for the poor man and woman who didnot have the wealth need to get marraige by the church than they marriage was recognite by the local christian lord and town as than marriage it enable poor people to form stable families and have childern who where recognite as legimate childern.

      • This is a total sham, and to just point the finger at someone else and say their doing it too doesn’t make it right or in anyway better. To me it is a horrible practice and is just away of making prostitution and adultery legitimate under islamic rule. In addition to treating women badly and as second class citizens.

    • Leyla,
      This kind of “marriage” is just another example of the widespread system of hypocrisy in Islam, just like Islamic banking and the ramadan (a very unhealty system of fasting by with most moslims gain weight instead of losing it)
      -Allah ( an imaginary being) forbids all sex out of the wedlock and has ordered harh punisments for adultery and fornication.
      -But what to do with our sex urge?
      -Well, lets mary for a few hours!
      Everyone is happy with this legalised prostitution: the man ( of course) the woman because she earns a little money and also the Imam who is paid to make the marriagecontract.
      Is this the religion that will rule the world?
      Over my dead body!!!

      • Temp Marriage can last 100 year which is pretty permanent on human lifetime scale. You God Hater needed to believe when the Day of Judgement come.

  13. In the history of Islam, The Prophet (saw) allowed muta’a twice in his lifetime. The first time the Prophet (saw) allowed it for three days, at the war of Khaiber, and after three days it was made haram. Once Ali argued with a man who believed in Muta’a and told him that the Prophet made muta’a and the meat of donkey haram on the day of Khaiber (Bukhari vol. 7, pg. 287 and vol. 4 pg. 134). This hadith can also be found in shiya hadith books, which I will mention later.

    The second time the Prophet (saw) allowed it was at the conquest of Mecca, for three days, and then he made it haram again till the day of Judgment (Muslim vol. 4 pg. 133). Notice, the practice of
    muta’a was then made haram till the Day of Judgement.This is confirmed with the hadiths in the following books: Imam Ahmed’s Musnad vol. 16 pg. 192-193, Muslim vol. 4, pg. 132, Bayhaki vol. 7 pg. 293-294.

    Understandably we you want to argue thats it’s legal and limit the other end of the debate to (it’s hurts women”. There its a no brainer and their you can win on the mutah marriage.

    But the truth is the Prophet(PBUH) only allowed it for a few days in Islam and that banned it. So fear Allah, InshaAllah he will give us faith, cause us to die as Muslims and get us into Jannah where we ill get whatever we ask for. And that means sex with women who are for us if it be in Allah’s will.

    • What bout the Saudic Prince fround guiely of murdering his homosexual lover in the UK. Some brother tell me it very common in the royal family they are too strict about seperation of male and female there than they are unable to talk with weoman and female.

      • Assalamualaikum wa rahmartullahi wa barakatuh

        What he did is his own fault. One wrong doesn’t justify another.

  14. This discussion is kind of pointless. Mutah isn’t a valid option for sunnis while it is for shias. Unless this discussion is solely intended for the shia audience its rather meaningless.

  15. I know of two instances where this “Temporary Marriage” was misused in the USA. Men ask women to marry them and the woman agrees, not knowing that it is a temporary marriage. She is new Muslim Convert and does not know it. The serimony is done in Arabic or Persian and she is none the wiser. One girl even got pregnant.

    When a Saudi male student does this it is even worse, because, he can not take an American girl back to KSA with him per the student agreement.

    Saudi Male students sometimes have an awful reputation around the University because of all this.


    • Some Christian church do the samething married than illegal alien to than america citizen so the illegal alien can stay here legality. I met some nice Saudi male and female it is than shame that they government is too strict.

      • I was Christian until I converted to Islam. No Christian church would do as you say.

        What you speak of is called “Green Card Fraud”, and is illegal. Still, an American Girl who thinks she is in love with a man from another country is likely do do it if he can stay in the US, to be with her. The men often prey on the soft nature of the girl. This is Haraam. This is a problem with men from the Middle East. I have had a man ask this of me twice.

        Ma Salaama


  16. I think it’s always important to address underlying issues. If temporary marriage is being practiced because the couple is unable to marry (any other reason simply does not cut it for me- i.e you’re married but fell in love with someone else, you feel ready for physical relations but not for responsibilities of marriage, etc).

    So, if the underlying issue is that youth are unable to marry, then that is where the problem lies, if this was somehow eased and facillitated for the youth then discussions as such would become almost redundant. If you’re a parent who is uncomfortable with allowing your child to marry but somehow believe the will be fine in a temporary marriage, i think you need to re-evaluate your priorities. And if your a youth who claims to be emotionally/financially ready for marriage but somehow fine with temporary marriage (which is nearly exactly the same thing minus the social recognition/full-fledged commitment/responsibilities) then I think you also need to re-think your priorities.

    The only thing that makes a temporary-marriage ‘temporary’ is some ill-conceived belief that you seek something from this relationship that is ‘temporary’. Quite frankly human beings can’t deal with that. Have a relationship with someone to that emotional/physical degree and expect all emotions to cease after expiry date? Hmmm…

  17. Brian Hoff mentioned Common Law Marriage:

    It was used on the American Fronteer extensively when settlers were often more than a day’s ride to any settlement, and religious officials were extremely scarce. Also, many people were fearful of leaving their property because interlopers might come and rob or even take over their property.

    I am not saying it was good, but this is what they did in the 18th and 19th century in fronteer America. It is still legal in America, but only for civil purposes.


    • Common law marriage start in Medival England an spead to rest of europe as it allow people without lots of wealth to marry outside the church an dirose is allow as it was than civil common law action which the cival court can end. Many wealth people took advange of it do to the possible of ending than bad marriage.

  18. As a Shia, i am very conflicted about Mutah use in todays society/or context. i think as a man, the greatest temptation in life is desire, desire for women. And yes, that desire for women does not go away after marriage. To control our inate desire, as we control our hunger, and thirst and other primitive desires, we learn self control in Ramadhan. Problem is some men can not control this desire, which leads them to other sins:

    1- Masturbation (forbidden in islam)
    2- Pornography – leads to masturbation.

    soo, to use mutal for sexual desir eis not different then going to a prostutute. You pay her a dowry for her hourly service, and go on your way.

    However, if you are “really” using Mutah to help another women out, so that she is Mehram ” not unlawful for you to be with”, then God knows your intentions. If you just want to get it off and refer to your girls as Mutah’s and as sexual objects, god knows that you are weak, have no self control, and perhaps will be forgiven if you tried self constraint, but I woul dthink we all know deep inside ourselves… what our intetntions are. Conclusion, Mutah is a license to get laid without having the guilt of doing so unless it is used to help a women/ and/or be in the company of a non mehram women.

  19. From my personal experience with it, the American girls who fall victim to this do not understand what it really means. They think they are getting married and as soon as they can go home to his country it will be permanent. I regard it as the most vile kind of sexual slavery imaginable and very damaging to the victim. Masturbation for the man is much less offensive to Allah SWT than victimizing girls.

    • Sexual Slavery is practive in america and europe also where mostly men called primp enslave women and now teenager girls as young as 13 year old to have sex with other men for money.

      • Don’t kid yourself, it happens in the Middle East and Asia just as much as any where else. Lots of Middle Eastern guys come to America with the attitude that American girls are sluts. At the University where I live, especially Saudi guys are bad news to the girls that are wise. I hate this. I am Muslim and it gives us bad reputation.

  20. I would say it’s better to have consensual sex between two consenting mature adults rather than getting into the nitty gritty of “marriage”. I think marriage (never mind permanent or temporary) is a highly over-rated institution of bondage with its own set of bigotries, inequality, exploitation and abuse of power or privilege, especially concerning women. In that, I totally agree with Fatemeh. The institution of permanent marriage has bigger problems for Mut’ah to be given a positive nod.
    As per the Feldstein Family Law group survey on divorce around the world, 66% of the divorces are initiated by women, and prominent reasons for divorce are usually infidelity, emotional, physical and psychological abuse and other reasons include falling out of love, midlife crises, communication breakdown, unreasonable behavior and financial problems.
    At the same time, I refuse to adopt a moralistic stance on Mut’ah, because polygamy exists in permanent marriage as well, and it is widely practiced in families wanting to bear children, or simply, for pleasure. The allegory of Hagar and Sarah in the Biblical context is an excellent example illustrating abuse of privilege, class relations, slavery, and the birth of antisemitism. I don’t even want to debate polygamous marriages in the present day Persian Gulf (ugh).
    In this day and age, where women are working hard to reclaim their reproductive rights and take control of their own bodily autonomy and integrity, even the “thought” of “polygamy” incites *anger*. But that does not mean that “polyamory” deserves to be demonized as well. In Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, a tortured girl in an abusive marriage finds true companionship in another woman, a companionship that helps her to break free from decades of silence on physical, emotional and psychological abuse/rape inflicted by her husband, and father. A corollary to this would be a man finding companionship in another man or a woman to help him break free from decades of abuse and torture (gays go through that a lot, by the way) but haven’t seen that many examples of the corollary in real life. So, is it really necessary to view “relationship” or “companionship” under the guise of marriage (be it permanent or temporary)?
    Also, something to think about: as the divorce rate increases around the world amongst straight couples, there is an increase in the rate of marriage amongst same-sex couples (from Rainbow land), brought to you by the Feldstein Family Law group.

    Thank you for writing, Wajahat and Fatemeh.

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