| HOME |
The Sanctity of Sex in Islam:
Is it Wrong to Marry Just for Sex?
It has become commonplace amongst Muslims to believe that entering into marriage relationships (whether temporary or permanent) for the sake of sexual gratification is against the spirit and principles of Islam. Nowhere is this more felt then when it comes to mut'a, temporary marriage. In spite of the fact that mut'a is used as a shibboleth for sectarian Sunni-Shi'a arguments, the actual practice of it amongst Shi'as is generally prohibited by cultural taboos. It is extremely common, especially amongst Shi'a women, to believe that mut'a is a form of legalized prostitution. Many arguments are then brought to counter this accusation, most of them apologetic. One common belief, especially amongst Shi'as from the sub-continent, is that mut'ah can only be contracted if it is to lead towards a permanent nikah. Indeed, this form of engagement is the only way mut'ah is usually used amongst the Shi'as.
Underlying all of this is the idea that it is disgusting and wrong for a man and woman to contract a mut'a solely for the sake for of sex. The fact that money, in the form of a dowry, is given in exchange for this sex makes it seem even more repugnant. Shi'as find it hard to believe that Allah (swt) could condone such a thing, since in such people's minds this activity is considered to be an activity. This demonstrates, more than anything else, the degree to which the lay Shi'a have become estranged from the actual teachings of the Prophet and the Imams (as). For if the Shi'a laity who hold these ideas had any familiarity with the corpus of ahadeeth on the subject of marriage and sex, they would most likely panic. There is no doubt that if any local 'alim in a Shi'a mosque spoke as frankly and openly about these things as did the Prophet and Imams (as), most of the people would storm out in righteous indignation. The Shi'a wonder why their Imam (as) is in Occultation, but it is an easy question to understand when we see the degree to which they already curse and deny the words of the previous Imams (as).
The fact is that, unlike Christianity and many other religions, Islam has never regarded sexual relationships as being in any way obscene or dirty. Much of the Christian world, even since the time of Paul, have considered sex and marriage to be something best avoided by the pious. Recognizing that the whole of humanity could not abstain from sexual relations, and that if people could not marry they would simply fornicate, St. Paul offered the simple statement that it is better to marry than burn. The point remains, however, that sexual relations are a necessary evil at best. Many Gnostic movements forbade sexual intercourse for any of their followers, and we see that more recent movements like the Shakers in America have also forbidden any sexual relations. Beneath all of this is the belief made explicit in gnosticism: That the human soul is a spark of the Divine, but has become trapped in a world of flesh. The soul must seek freedom from that world of flesh, and the ultimate commitment to the corporeal world is the act of sex.
Islam, in its pure form, has never taken this attitude towards worldly existence. Muslims are enjoined to ask Allah (swt): "Our Lord, give us the best in this world, and gives us the best in the next world." The Prophet (s) has remarked that there are those who trade the next world for this, and those who trade this world for the next, but the best are those that take the best from each. Gnostic Christianity has viewed this physical world to be a mistake, created by spiritual entities who went astray from God and brought this world into being without His permission. But the Qur'an makes it clear that this world is a place of encountering Allah (swt), a place where we may see His Signs manifest in all of Creation, and to see His Beauty through the mirror of our physical reality. Allah (swt) says: "We will show them Our Signs in the farthest horizons, and in their own selves, until they know that this is the truth." The world is not evil, for the world is created by God and no evil can from Him. The Prophet (s) says in a supplication that "All the good is in Your Hands." What is evil is not the world, but rather becoming attached to it in a way that diverts the purpose of creation: The remembrance of Allah (swt). The Qur'an says "Whatever good may come to you, it is from God, but whatever evil may come to you, it is from your own selves."
What Islam calls upon us, then, is to follow Allah (swt) when He says of His Exalted Self: "He gives everything its right [haqq]." Human beings, as they move through life, should give everything its due place. The Letter on Rights of Imam as-Sajjad (as) is a discourse on the things that deserve their right, and a number of these things include the bodily organs which have right over the person. The sexual drive of human beings is one of the man things that deserves its haqq, and is never an evil thing that one should attempt to purge from the body.
But it is not enough to say that merely Islam accepts that people should give their sexual drive its appropriate haqq. The sexual act itself is given a high level of sanctity and respect in Islam, which is to be found in few other religions in the world (though there, are of course, notable exceptions, especially in some Buddhist traditions). The Prophet (s) and the Imams (as) did not hide their love for the sexual act. There are several sections in the encyclopedia of hadeeth, called Wasa'il Ash-Shi'a (which collects the narrations found in all the major books of hadeeth) on the religious desirability of frequent sexual intercourse. There are perhaps dozens of such ahadeeth, and the number of them reaches the level of tawatur, meaning that there are so many ahadeeth saying the same thing that one cannot deny that the Prophet (s) or Imams (as) made the statement.
However, when confronted with such ahadeeth, most Shi'as who are uncomfortable with this will simply claim that these ahadeeth are forgeries without any investigation into the issue. This has, sadly, become a common way of denying religious truths: People with no knowledge of the subject at hand will deny ahadeeth simply because they do not like the contents. As such, we opt to present a large number of these ahadeeth in order to point out the absurdity of denying their validity:
Imam Ja'far (as) said: "I do not think that there is a greater increase in a man's faith than his increase in his desire for women."
Imam Ja'far (as) said: "Of all the things for which our love has been made strongest, we have the strongest love for woman and for sweet things."
Imam Ar-Rida (as) said: "Three things are from the sunnah of the Messengers: Perfume, trimming the hair, and many wives."
Imam Ar-Rida (as) said: "In the white rooster there are five traits from the traits of the Prophets: Knowledge of the prayer times, jealousy,1 generosity, bravery, and many wives."
Imam Ja'far (as) said: "It is from the akhlaq (desirable moral attributes) of the Prophet's to have desire for woman."
Imam ar-Rida (as) said: "It is from the akhlaq of the Prophets to be clean, to use perfume, to trim the hair, and to have frequent sexual intercourse. Solomon the son of David had 1,000 woman in a single city...The Prophet (s) had the strength of forty men. He had nine women and he went into all of them every day and every night."
The Prophet (s) said: "I like nothing from your world except woman and perfume."
The Prophet (s) said: "The coolness of my eyes has been made in prayer, and my pleasure is in woman."
Imam Ja'far (as) asked his followers: "What is the sweetest [or most pleasurable] thing?" They said: "It is not a thing." He said: "The sweetest [or most pleasurable] of things are the bodies of women."
The Prophet (s) said: "The coolness of my eyes has been made in my prayers, my pleasure in the world is in women, and my perfume is in al-Hassan and al-Hussain."
Imam Ja'far (as) said: "Men enjoy (or desire) nothing more in this world and the next than women, and this is the statement of Allah (swt): 'Beautified to men is the love of desire from woman, and the desire for [producing] sons.' Indeed, the people of Paradise will not derive greater pleasure from anything except marriage, not food, nor drink."
Imam Ja'far (as) said: "Whenever a man increases in his love for woman, his faith increases even more."
Imam Ja'far (as) said: "The greatest good is in women."
The Prophet (s) says: "I encourage you to have children from slave girls, for in their wombs there is blessing."
Someone asked Imam Ja'far about mut'a, to which he said: "It is not suitable that a Muslim man leave this world and there remains something from the actions of the Prophet (s) that he has not done."
Imam Ja'far (as) said: "Indeed, I hate that a man would die and that he would have left undone one of the actions of the Prophet (s)." To which someone asked: "Did the Prophet (s) do mut'a?" To which he said: "Yes," and he read the ayat "If the Prophet (s) confides to one of his women something in secret..."
Imam Ja'far (as) was asked: "Is there reward for mut'a?" To which he replied: "If by doing this he seeks the face of God, and intends to oppose that we people have denied, then he does finish reciting the words [of the marital contract] until Allah (swt) has written for him the best, and he does not extend his hand towards her except that Allah writes for him the best, and when he moves near to her Allah forgives him his sins through this, and then when he does ghusl Allah will forgive him an amount equal to the water that passes through his hair."
Imam al-Baqir (as) said: "Indeed the Prophet (s), when he was taken on the journey to the skies [the Night Journey], said: 'Jibrail (as) said to me: 'O Muhammad (s)! Indeed, Allah the Blessed and Exalted, has said: 'Indeed, I have forgiven those who do mut'a with woman from your nation!'"
In Al-Wasa'il, it states: "It has been narrated that a mu'min is not complete until he has done mut'a."
Imam al-Baqir (as) said: "The desire of a mu'min is in three things: Mut'a with women, banter with his brothers, and the night prayer."
Imam Ja'far (as) said: "It is desired that a man marry in mut'a, and I do not like that any of you men leave the world until you have married in mut'a, even if only once."
Imam Ja'far (as) asked someone: "Have you done mut'a?" The man said no. Imam Ja'far (as) then said: "Do not leave this world until you have revived the sunnah."
We see, then, that sexual relations are considered a positive, blessed act in Islam, and marrying for the sake of sex is in no way criticized in Islam. All that Allah (swt) has asked is that this be done in a halal fashion, according to the regulations He has set down. Those who say that mut'a can only be done as an engagement, or that it was a barbarous practice that Islam sought to remove, are challenged to present the evidence for such a position. Even after citing twenty two ahadeeth above, there will be many that will continue to deny the validity of such ahadeeth because they don't like them. Such Shi'as are, really, following the sunnah of 'Umar ibn al-Khattab more than that of the Imams and the Prophet (s), for 'Umar was unbothered by the frequency of narration about something, and would make something haram even when it was obvious the Prophet (s) had made it halal. There are even many more ahadeeth than these we've quoted, and many of these narrations we have cited have come down through different chains of narration from many different people. If someone is willing to believe that all the ahadeeth which indicate upon the rewards of the sexual act (especially in mut'a) are forgeries, then one must believe in a vast sexual conspiracy stretching centuries. One must also believe that all the ahadeeth which speak about fasting, praying, zakat, khums, and hajj must also be forged, since the ahadeeth on the virtues of sex have been narrated as much as any of these other issues, if not more. One should believe that even the Qur'an itself has been forged, since clearly there is no amount by which something can be narrated and passed down that would suffice such people to believe. Indeed, no rational person could believe that Islam does not attach great value to the act of sex itself, even (in fact especially) in temporary marriage arrangements in which the couple may never see each other again after the sexual act. If we know that the Prophet (s) and the Imams (as) said anything, we know that they spoke very highly about sex and seeking sexual relations solely for the sake of satisfying sexual desire in a halal way.
In accepting the value of the sexual act, we should realize that, in Islam, one should never go overboard in anything. As stated, everything should receive its due right (haqq), and if one goes to extremes in his sexual relationships than he will naturally lose sight of the remembrance of Allah (swt). Imam Ja'far (as) is said to have said: "Disobedience to Allah the Exalted begins with six things: Love of the world, love of power, love of sleep, love of woman, love of food, and love of leisure." Except for love of power, none of these things are evil in themselves, but when they reach to an excessive degree they will damage someone's faith. We also see that one should always seek as sexual partners those who have strong faith and solid practice, and that it is highly makruh for a person to marry a known fornicator.
Nonetheless, one should be clear from all of these narrations that sex is not considered to be something dirty or wrong in Islam, and that engaging in marriage solely for the sake of sex is not wrong. It is said in a number of these ahadeeth that frequent sexual intercourse is from the sunna of the Prophets and from their ethical nature. It is regarded as something commendable to have (halal) sex frequently. Hadeeths #15-17 cited above demonstrate that the sexual relations of temporary marriage have sacral value in Islam. We see also that it is mustahab almost every day of the week to have sex, and it is mustahab to have sex twice on Thursday. The only condition to this is that one do not exceed the limits (called ifrat in Arabic), by engaging so much in sex that one becomes forgetful of religion and forgets the spiritual aspect of the sexual act.
Furthermore, there is nothing haram about a man paying a woman for sex. How can this be so, since whenever a man has sex with a woman in marriage it becomes obligatory on him to pay a full dowry to this woman. Not only is it not forbidden, it is, in fact, obligatory to pay woman whom one has had sex with. We see as well that it is permissible in Islam for a man to buy slave girls solely for the sake of sexual pleasure, and is in fact even recommended. The only difference between this and what is today known as prostitution is the fact that a female prostitute would have sexual relations without observing the 'idda that is wajib at the end of a permanent or temporary marriage. As we know from the fiqh that if a woman is doing several temporary marriages, then there must be a certain period of time between each one (about two months). This is what makes prostitution haram, for a prostitute would not observe such an 'idda. But if a woman wishes to make a living off of mut'a, so long as she observes the proper 'idda between each mut'a, then there is no harm in it. But without a doubt, the aspect of a man giving a woman money for the sake of sex is not haram, and is in fact ordered in the Holy Qu'ran: "How can you not pay them their dowries when you have gone into them?" If one wants to engage in name-calling by calling this prostitution, than that is something between them and Allah (swt). A non-Muslim could easily call bowing to the Holy Ka'ba an act of idol worshipping as a way of insulting the practice. But name-calling is not the way to prove something halal or haram; one must seek proper evidences in the Qur'an and sunnah.
One thing that is forgotten by most lay Shi'as is that marriage is fundamentally a business contract, involving money. In the fiqh, it is considered to be a business contract like all others, no different than making a contract to buy dates or to fix a house. The woman makes herself halal to the man, in exchange for the man's dowry and (in permanent marriage) daily support for living expenses. If that exchange is being entered into because the man and woman love each other and want to spend the rest of their life together, then this is fine. But if a man and woman seek to do so only for the sake of sex, or even if the man only does so for the sake of sex and the woman only for the sake of money, then there is nothing wrong in this either. Islam does not require a man and woman to want to stay with each other or to love each other in order for them to have sex, and there is nothing wrong with a man contracting a one-time mut'a with a woman for an hour to have sexual intercourse with her, and then never see her again.
As an example, we see in a Sunni hadith that two cousins came to the Prophet (s). They both said that they couldn't get married, and requested help. The Prophet (s) gave one man a carpet, and the other a robe, and told the two men to go out and seek a woman for mut'a. They found a woman they both liked and asked her if she wanted to do mut'a. She asked both of them what she had to offer them. One showed her the robe, and one showed her the carpet. She said that the carpet was nicer, but that the man with the robe as more attractive, and so she opted to do mut'a with the man with the robe. We see the degree to which this entire episode, which was sanctioned and assisted by the Prophet (s), had little to do with anything other than sex on the part of the men and sex and a commodity (the robe or carpet) on the part of the women. We see that the Prophet (s) gave two men his robe and his carpet to go out and find women that they could have sex with in exchange for those items. The Prophet (s) did not say that they must find a woman who they fall in love with and want to create some sort of life-long relationship with; rather he told them to do mut'a, which is temporary marriage, in order to satisfy their sexual desire. How, then, can someone seeking out a member of the opposite sex solely for the sake of sex be reprehensible in Islam, as the Prophet (s) was himself doing everything in his power to help these two men find a woman with which to satisfy their sexual urges?
The idea of seeking out members of the opposite sex solely for sexual relations is part of the whole idea of mut'a, which assumes that the man and woman do not necessarily want to have a life-long relationship with each other, but may very well just desire temporary sexual gratification. We see this idea of mut'a expressed in the concept of al-hajj at-tamat'u. Al-hajj at-tama'tu is the kind of hajj where one does both hajj and 'umra together, but leaves an interval in between. During that interval the kind of sexual relations which are haram during hajj and 'umra are halal, and the idea of al-hajj at-tamat'u (the word tamat'u comes from the same root as mut'a) is that, during that intervening period, men and women would seek out sexual partners in temporary marriage, have sex with each other during the interval between hajj and 'umra, and then return to the pilgramage. The Prophet (s), in fact, encouraged people to do just that. This practice is actually the reason that 'Umar ibn al-Khattab banned mut'a, saying "I do not want people having sex under the trees during the hajj." This statement of 'Umar indicates his attitude that sex was something somehow dirty and should not occur during the time of hajj.
These ahadeth also indicates that polygamy is something recommended in Islam, and we know that the Prophet (s) and Imams (as) all engaged in polygamy and the purchasing of slave women with whom they had sex and had children. The argument that slavery, mut'a, and polygamy were mere cultural practices at the time, but were abominable things that Islam sought to remove, is absurd. There are many things that are permissible but disliked by Allah (swt), and the Prophet (s) and Imams (as) generally avoided such things. It is makruh, for example, to pray while smelling of garlic, even though it is permissible; but the Prophet (s) would never pray in such a state, and in fact avoided garlic all together. If he was concerned enough to avoid garlic because of its makruh smell, then if slavery and polygamy are abominations and only necessary evils, why would he not have avoided that while still letting others engage in it?
In conclusion, then, we see that Islam has encouraged the sexual act, and has sought only to channel it into halal means, so that the rights of both man and woman may be respected, and that their may be no confusion in the nature of that sexual relationship. Islam sees nothing wrong with contracting a temporary marriage solely for the sake of sex, with no commitment beyond the dowry and what is obligatory during the time-limits of the temporary marriage contract. Islam is a religion of profound sexual freedom, and it has had more of a spirit of "free love" than most any other religious tradition. If people were to truly follow Islam properly, they could have full sexual satisfaction, for which they will be rewarded by Allah (swt). They would bring for themselves the best in this life and the next. But as has happened through so much of human history, human beings have rejected the Mercies offered by Allah (swt), and have chosen to prohibit the halal for the sake of the way they think religion should be, as opposed to how it is in the eyes of God.
1In terms of a man being jealous that his wife do not have relations with other men's. This issue has been dealt with in our discussion on polygamy.