An increasing number of Muslims in Britain are reviving the Islamic practice of temporary marriage, according to a recent BBC television documentary focusing on the "taboo subject."
Temporary marriage -- a euphemism for religiously sanctioned prostitution -- is an Islamic custom that unites a man and an unmarried woman as "husband and wife" for a limited period of time (sometimes for less than half an hour).
The proliferation of temporary marriages -- combined with the spike in polygamous marriages -- shows how Muslims in Britain are using Islamic Sharia law with impunity to establish parallel forms of "marriage" that are otherwise illegal for non-Muslims in the country.
The 30-minute documentary examining temporary marriages in Britain is called "Married for a Minute" and first aired on the BBC on May 13.
Called Nikah al-Mutah ("short-term marriage") in Arabic, the union consists of a verbal or written contract in which both parties agree to the length of time and conditions for the marriage. The union can last for a few minutes or a few years and when the contract ends so does the marriage. The "wives" in such unions are not counted toward the maximum of four, and the offspring, if any, are often the exclusive responsibility of the woman.
Also known as a "pleasure marriage," Mutah was established within Islam by the Muslim prophet Mohammed himself as a way to reward his jihadists for services rendered to Allah. Although Mutah is sanctioned by the Koranic verse 4:24, the practice was later outlawed by the second Muslim Caliph, Omar I (634-644), who said he viewed temporary marriage as legalized adultery and fornication.
Because of the informal nature of temporary marriage, there are no official statistics to show how many of these unions there are in Britain. But Islamic scholars interviewed by the BBC say the practice is widespread, and anecdotal evidence suggests it is especially popular among the younger generation of Muslims in England and Wales.
In Luton, a heavily Islamized city situated 50 km (30 miles) north of London, temporary marriage has become so commonplace that it has been referred to as "wife swapping."
Some defenders of Islamic Sharia law, apparently eager to avoid another Muslim-related scandal in Britain, have sought to downplay the scope of the practice by claiming that temporary marriage is limited to only the Shia sect of Islam.
In an interview with the BBC, Khola Hasan, a Sunni Muslim and spokesperson for the Islamic Sharia Council of Britain, says temporary marriage is actually forbidden by Sharia law. "I have never come across a Sunni scholar, throughout history, who declares Mutah marriage to be halal [permissible]," Hasan claims.
Although Nikah al-Mutah is indeed practiced by Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims engage in an even more libertine practice called Nikah al-Misyar (also Zawaj al-Misyar, meaning "traveler's marriage").
The Misyar is not a normal marriage in the sense that the "husband and wife" in this type of union normally live separately and meet only to fulfil their conjugal obligations. The man is usually already married and cannot afford another regular wife. In a Misyar, the man enters into what is essentially a temporary marriage in which the woman has limited rights.
Misyar marriages are often entered into by Sunni Muslim men who are living away from their regular wives in another country. It is also used by Muslim men who are on vacation and want to avoid incurring Islamic penalties for extramarital sex.
Critics of these informal marriages -- with men, both Sunni and Shia -- taking on multiple "wives" for a number of hours -- argue that they allow a Muslim man to have innumerable sexual partners (often underage girls), who are used as an "Islamic cover" for prostitution and the exploitation of women.
According to Khola Hasan, "There is no difference between Mutah marriage and prostitution. There is a time limit on the marriage, and the mahr [payment] given as a mandatory gift [from the man to the woman] is the equivalent as a payment to a prostitute."
The BBC documentary concludes that temporary marriage is often being used simply as a way of religiously legitimizing sex.
In an interview with the BBC, Omar Ali Grant, from London, and a convert to Shia Islam, says that has had around 13 temporary marriages but argues that he was just trying to find the right person to spend his life with. He concedes they could be used as a cover for premarital sex, but adds: "Sex is not haram [forbidden] per se. In Islam sex doesn't have negative connotations; it is not impure and is not dirty. What Islam is saying is sex has to be between consenting adults who are also responsible. Very often it is said that temporary marriage may amount to some prostitution, but it is not that. Prostitution does occur in certain areas of Muslim society, but then again prostitution happens everywhere."
According to the Islamic Scholar Mushtaq Lodi, "Islamic society has evolved ingenious methods to bypass its own restrictions on premarital sex and promiscuity and to help one avoid committing the serious sin of zina -- sex outside of marriage, which is considered illicit and calls for a very heavy penalty. The sole object of the Misyar and Mutah marriages is for sexual gratification in a licit manner. Like most practices in Islamic society, this is also skewed in favor of the male."