Other spelling: mutaa
There are indications of temporary marriage in the Koran 4:24, regulating how a man exchanges one wife with another. It is clear from such indications aya that the gift handed to the first wife cannot be retracted. This understanding forms the basis for later definitions of temporary marriage in Islam.
Some sources indicate that mut'a was practiced in the time of Muhammad. From the sources it has even been claimed that mut'a formed a central part of hajj. Some traditions indicate that Muhammad himself practiced mut'a on some occasions.
According to some traditions, Caliph Umar forbade mut'a, and defined it as fornication. But it would take about a century before most orientations of Islam aligned themselves with Umar's prohibition. But in the emerging group of Shi'is, mut'a was not forbidden.
Sunni scholars came to redefine mut'a so that it would automatically be treated as a normal marriage the regulation about a temporary period of time was deemed as invalid.
Mut'a is practiced in Shi'i Islam today. It is common in modern Iran and, since the fall of President Saddam Hussein in 2003 (after the US/British-Iraq War), has also become a legitimate practice in Iraq.
It bears the main characteristics of prostitution, but gives clear rights to the woman, and involves little social degradation.
When a man and a woman enter into temporary marriage, or "sighe" as it is called in Iran, they make an irrevocable contract stating the period and the recompense to the woman. The period may vary from one day to many weeks, months and even years. Many make contracts lasting for 99 years, i.e. for life.
What size the recompense takes may vary. The obligations for the man is limited to fulfilling the recompense. He is obliged to provide neither home nor food for the woman.
The contract needs no witnesses, nor any qadi, provided that those involved understand the procedures.
Mut'a only allows a man to be the initiator , and non-Muslim men are not allowed mut'a. A Muslim man can however arrange mut'a even with a Jewish or Christian woman. In older times, mut'a could be arranged with a slave girl if the master allowed it. The woman can enter mut'a without the consent of others, but she must be unmarried. A Virgin can only enter mut'a with the consent of her father.
A mut'a marriage cannot be automatically prolonged. If there is a wish to prolong the marriage, a new marriage must be contracted, with new recompense for the woman.
After the end of a mut'a marriage, the woman is quarantined before arranging a new mut'a marriage with another man, in order to see if she is pregnant or not. This period is generally set at 45 days. If there is a child, the custody passes to the man.
Some passages from Shi'i traditions indicate that mut'a is not only a worldly act. Hurru l-Amili indicate that "The believer is only perfect when he has experienced a mut'a". Other passages indicate that whoever has performed at least 4 mut'as is secured a place in Paradise.