On Temporary Marriage in Islam

In at least some interpretations of Islamic law, there exists the concept of “mut’a” or “pleasure” marriage, a temporary arrangement the duration of which the parties specify in advance. As I understand it, mut’a marriage is limited nowadays to certain schools of Shi’a Islam; Sunni scholars by and large reject it. A new book from Rowman and Littlefield, Marital and Sexual Ethics in Islamic Law: Rethinking Temporary Marriage, explores the present-day understanding of the concept from a variety of Islamic perspectives, including feminist perspectives. The author is Roshan Iqbal (Agnes Scott College). Here’s the publisher’s description:

Roshan Iqbal traces the intellectual legacy of the exegesis of Qur’an 4:24, which is used as the proof text for the permissibility of mut’a (temporary marriage) and asks if the use of verse 4.24 for the permissibility of mut’a marriage is justified within the rules and regulations of Qur’anic hermeneutics. Iqbal examines seventeen Qur’an commentaries, the chronological span of which extends from the first extant commentary to the present day in three major Islamicate languages. Iqbal concludes that doctrinal self-identity, rather than strictly philological analyses, shaped the interpretation of this verse. As Western academia’s first comprehensive work concerning the intellectual history of mut’a marriage and sexual ethics, this work illustrates the power of sectarian influences on how scholars have interpreted verse 4:24. This book is the only work in English that includes a plurality of voices from minor schools (Ibadi, Ashari, Zaidi, and Ismaili) largely neglected by Western scholars, alongside major schools, and draws from all available sub-genres of exegesis. Further, by revealing ambiguities in the interpretation of mut’a, this work challenges accepted sexual ethics in Islamic thought—as presented by most classical and many modern Muslim scholars—and thus opens up space to theorize Islamic sexual ethics anew and contribute to this crucial conversation from the perspective of Muslim feminism.