One of the subjects through which occidentals very often attack the Oriental and ridicule him, having made and still making films and writing plays on the topic, is the matter of harems, of which the east has had the misfortune to provide more examples.
The life of some of the caliphs and sultans of the eastern countries is reckoned to be the peak of indulgence in this matter, and the keeping of a harem is presented as the fullest and the most complete manifestation of the sensuality and voluptuousness of the man of the east.
It is said that accepting the permissibility of fixed-term marriage is tantamount to conceding the maintenance of a harem, which is a weakness and a source of shame for the east before the west. It is as good as licensing sensuality, and licentiousness, which can take any form and assume any shape, is against morality, and is the means and cause of downfall and ruin.
Now, in fact, the same thing has been said in respect of polygyny. The permissibility of polygyny is seen as permission to maintain a harem.
We shall discuss the question of polygyny separately. At present, we shall particularly confine ourselves to the question of fixed term marriage.
This problem must be studied and tackled from two points of view. First, to see which factor it was that, from the aspect of its social nature, brought about the formation of harems, and whether the law of fixed-term marriage led to the formation harem in the east.
Second, whether the object of making fixed-term marriage religiously permissible was, in a way, to legalize licentiousness and the keeping of a harem for a certain social class.
Social causes for harems:
Firstly, the creation of harems was due to two factors, operating together.
The first and principle factor that brought about the creation of the harem was the virtue and chastity of woman. That is to say that the condition of morality and the social environment were such that women did not have license to have sexual intimacy with any other man when she already had such relations with a particular man. In these conditions, a wealthy, sensuous and lustful man saw no other antidote than to collect a group of women around him and establish a harem.
Obviously, if moral and social condition had not counted chastity and purity as necessary for women, and if women could have gratuitously and easily given themselves to any man, and every man could have indulged his desires with any woman at any time, if the means of sexual gratification had been available every where, at every time, under every kind of condition, this kind of man would not have given himself the trouble to establish a large harem at great expense.
The other factor was the absence of social justice. When there is altogether no social justice and one person drowns in a sea of riches, while another is stuck in a boat, a boat of poverty, want and misfortune, while a vast number of men are denied the possibility or establishing a family and having a marriage partner, in such social conditions the number of unmarried women exceeds the number of men and this paves the way for the establishment of harems.
If there is social justice and there are means for everybody to establish a family and choose a marriage partner, naturally every woman will be found associated with a particular man and the circumstances favorable to promiscuous and lascivious behaviour and the keeping of a harem will not obtain.
Anyway, it is inconceivable that the number of women could be so much in excess that when all men of age are settled in marriage there may even then remain a chance to keep a harem for every man who had the ways and means.
It is the habit of historians to relate the intrigues of the harems and courts of the caliphs and sultans and to narrate with lurid details their luxurious and pleasure-seeking activities, but they remain silent when it comes to referring to the deprivations, and never explain and describe the humiliations, failures and mortifications of those who were buried alive under the walls of the forts of the caliphs and sultans. Social conditions did not allow them to choose someone in marriage, while tens and hundreds of women out of those detained in harems remained deprived of some of their basic instinctive needs and lived as virgins till the ends of their lives.
Certainly, if society were under the rule of an infallibly just and unerringly virtuous ruler, chastity would have been deemed an essential requisite for a woman and sexual satisfaction, would have been impossible except within the frame-work of a marriage (permanent or temporary); economic and social inequality, too, would have been done away with, and for all persons of age the possibility of satisfying the most natural and instinctive human right of having partner would have been attained, and the setting up of harems would have been an impossibility and an absurdity.
Even a merely cursory look at history is enough to show us that in the formation and establishment of harems fixed-term marriage has not been in the least instrumental. Of the Abbasid caliphs or the Ottoman sultans, the most notorious figures of all times, none subscribed to Shi’ism.  None of them can be said to have taken advantage of it.
The Shi’ite kings, despite the fact that they could have used it as an excuse, never reached the degree of the ‘Abbasid caliphs and Ottoman sultans. This alone, shows that there were other special social problems which were at the root of this matter.
Is the provision of fixed-term marriage a license for promiscuity?
In everything, there is some cause for doubt, but it is beyond all reasonable doubt that revealed religions take a stand against promiscuity and licentiousness. It is for this reason that, for the followers of most religions, the effacing of desires that lead to promiscuity and licentiousness is taken to be the purpose of practicing strict self-discipline.
One of the clear and admitted principles of Islam is to struggle against promiscuity. The noble Qur’an has placed promiscuity on a level with idolatry. In Islam a man who has an inordinate desire for women, that is, a man who aspires to have all sorts of women, to experience them, is declared to be a man cursed and condemned by Allah. When we discuss the subject of divorce, we shall quote the text of the Islamic commandments on this matter.
The distinction of Islamic commandments as compared with the laws of many other religions is that Islam does not permit asceticism and the mortification of natural and instinctive physical needs, but neither does it allow promiscuity According to Islam, all instincts, sexual or other, should be satisfied within the limits of necessity and experience. Islam however, never allows a person allows to raise the heat of his instinctive passions into a state of insatiable thirst. So if anything takes to itself a tinge of promiscuity, cruelty or injustice, it is enough to condemn it as against the spirit of Islam.
It is, however, irrefutable that the motive of the Law-giver was never to make fixed-term marriage source promiscuity, a reason for the establishment of the harem by lascivious persons, and a means of misfortune and homelessness for women and scores of children.
The forceful encouragement and exhortation of the leaders of Islam to fixed-term marriage has a special philosophy which we shall explain shortly.
Harems in the present world:
Now let us see what the world of today has done about the setting up of harams. The world of today has abolished the custom of harems. The world of today considers the maintenance of harems disagreeable and has eliminated the factor which brought them into existence. Now the question is which factor? Is it social inequality that has been eliminated, and as a result all young persons have the chance to marry, and thus the main, cause of the existence establishment of harems has been abolished?
No, it has done something else. It has campaigned against the foremost factor, the chastity and virtue of women, and has thus done the greatest service to the male sex. The virtue and chastity of a woman in so far as it enhances her worth and makes her dear and precious, is considered an obstacle for man.
Today’s world has done one thing which has relieved the sensuous man of this age from the necessity of maintaining a harem with all the expenses and that involves. For a man of today, through the blessings of western civilization, there is a harem everywhere. A man of today does not consider it necessary to have financial resources like Harun ar-Rashid and Fadl ibn Yahya al-Barmaki, so that he may enjoy any variety of women in all the various ways and styles.
To keep a motor-car and to have an income of two to three thousand tumans is sufficient for a modern man to facilitate his sensual pleasure to an extent that even Harun ar-Rashid did not dream of. Hotels, restaurants and cafeterias are advertised as being equipped already with all facilities in place of a harem for the modern man.
A young man like Adil Kutuwali gives in this century detailed, vivid descriptions, and claims to have kept twenty-two lovers with different characteristics, and of different appearances at one time. What is better than that for a modern man? Modern man, through the blessings of Western civilization, does not miss anything of the harem except its enormous expense, trouble and inconvenience.
If the hero of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ were to raise his head from underneath the ground and see the possibilities of all sorts of amuzement and frivolities, and the cheapness of women today, he would never dream of having to establish a harem with all its expenses and disadvantages. He would thank the west for having saved him all the trouble of maintaining a harem. He would forthwith proclaim that polygyny and fixed-term marriage were all hereby annulled, because these laws create responsibilities and liabilities for men as much as they do for women.
In this battle of the sexes, both in the past and in the present, we know which sex is the winner. Unfortunately we must say that the looser, both in the past and in the present, is that trusting and open-hearted creature we call the female.
Prohibition by the Caliph of fixed-term marriage:
Fixed-term marriage is one of the distinctive features of Shi’ite jurisprudence. No other school of Islamic jurisprudence allows it. I never like to enter into the controversies between the Shi’ahs and the Sunnis, so I shall only briefly refer to a part of the history of this problem.
All Muslims unanimously believe, and have consensus of opinion, upon the fact that in the first period of Islam, fixed-term marriage was permissible, and the Holy prophet during one of his journeys, when the Muslims were away from their wives and passing their time in much discomfort, gave them permission for fixed-term marriage. It is like wise agreed amongst the Muslims that the second Caliph, during the period of his caliphate, prohibited fixed-term marriage. The second Caliph, in his well-known and oft-repeated words said, “There were two things that were permissible in the days of the Prophet which I do hereby prohibit today, and I shall punish anyone who practices them: the mut’ah of women and mut’ah of hajj.”
A section of Sunni Muslims believe that the Prophet himself, at a later stage of his life, prohibited fixed-term marriage and the Caliph’s prohibition was actually the commandment of the prohibition of the Prophet carried out by the Caliph in his stead. But as we know, in fact, the actual words of the Caliph are against this interpretation.
The correct interpretation of it is what the great scholar ‘Allamah Kashif al-Ghita’  took it to mean. He said that the Caliph assumed the authority of annulling mut’ah under the impression that the matter of mut’ah was also included in the subjects who were within the realm of his authoritative control as the ruler and guardian of the affairs of the Muslims. Every ruler and delegate of power may, under his own authority, and deeming appropriate according to the exigencies of the times and circumstances, make such changes.
In other words the prohibition of the Caliph was a political or an administrative prohibition, and not a religious or a legal prohibition. According to what history tells us, the Caliph made no secret during his reign of his campaign against the companions becoming dispersed and settling in newly conquered parts of the Muslim State and intermixing with communities who were newly converted to Islam. He was against their scattering beyond Medina as long as he lived. He was of the opinion that they should not enter into blood relationships with the newly converted Muslims before these had a deep Islamic education. He thought untimely intermingling with them would be dangerous for the coming generation. It is evident that it was not more than a temporary reason. The fact that the Muslims accepted this prohibition of the Caliph without a protest also shows that they considered the ordinance of the Caliph to be based upon political and temporal reasons, for, otherwise, it would not be possible for a ruling Caliph to say that the Prophet had prescribed one rule and that he prescribed another rule, and for them to accept it without a murmur.
However, long afterwards, due to certain incidents and circumstances, the sirah (way of life) of the previous Caliphs, especial the first two, was accepted as a permanent model programme of life. This fanatical bias was extended to such lengths that it acquired the authority of the original law of Islam. So, the charge against our Sunni brothers is more justified than it is against the Caliph himself. Because the Caliph issued a temporary prohibition ordinance based on political exigencies (as with the prohibition of tobacco within our own times)  in respect of fixed term marriage, others should not have assigned to it a permanent character.
Obviously when ‘Allamah Kashif al-Ghita presented the above view, the did not deal with the question as to how far this interference of the Caliph was justified, and also as to whether the law of fixed-term marriage is or is not within the category of such things in which the ruling authority has a right to interfere and proclaim prohibitory orders, however temporarily. He simply traced the historical stages as to how and in what name and in what manner the prohibition began and saw whether it was because of that reason alone that the Muslims as a whole did not react and did not protest against the prohibitory order.
However, the influence and personality of the Caliph, the bias of the people in following his way of life, and his policy of administration, were the cause of relegating this law to the shadows of neglect and oblivion. This Sunnah of the Prophet, that is, fixed-term marriage, which is complimentary to permanent marriage and does away with hardships, has been forsaken for ever.
This was the situation when the holy Imams, who are the guardians of the faith, greatly encouraged and persuaded people to remember it so that this Islamic Sunnah might not be forgotten and abandoned. Imam Jafar as Sadiq (a.s.) said, “One of the matters about which I shall never keep precautionary silence (taqiyyah) is the matter of mu’tah.”
Thus it was that a secondary cause, in addition to the first cause of temporary marriage being permissible, was added. This was an effort to revive the Sunnah of the Prophet. In my opinion when the holy Imams forbade already married persons to enter in to a fixed-term marriage, it was on account of the first cause of this law. They wanted to say that the law was not in the interest of people who did not need it. Just as Imam Musa al-Kazim (a.s.) said to ‘Ali ibn Yaqtin, “What have you to do with fixed-term marriage, when Allah has made you able to do without it” and to another person he said,” This thing is permissible for a man whom Allah has not made independent of it, but any person who is already married can have recourse to it only when he cannot reach his wife”.
Where the holy Imams encouraged and persuaded people generally, it was due to the relative secondary cause; namely so as to revive the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet which had been wrongly forsaken. In such it was necessary to make the people as a whole to know and understand the real position of the shariah. Encouragement of only those who were actually in need of it was not sufficient. This can be clearly deduced from the Shi’ite traditions and narrative sources.
It is, anyhow, clear that the intent and purpose of the first law-giver, in the explanation and commentary of this law, and the purpose and aim of the holy Imams in encouraging and persuading people to act according to it, was never meant to make it a source of promiscuity and licentiousness and a reason for keeping a harem by cruel persons, or a source of helplessness for a number of forsaken women and of creating children without guardians.
A tradition from ‘Ali (ibn Abi Talib):
Mr. Mahdavi, the writer of the forty proposals, writes in issue No.87 of Zan-e ruz:
“In the book al-Ahwal ash-shakhsiyyah (Personal statutes) compiled by Shaykh Muhammad Abu Zahrah  it is quoted from Amir al-muminin that:
“(Mr.Mahdavi has translated it thus): ‘whenever I come to know that a person ‘not worthy of it’ has concluded a mut’ah marriage, I shall penalize him for adultery, and sentence him to be put to death by stoning.”
“Firstly, if we seriously intend to follow the sayings of Amir al-muminin faithfully, why should we avoid all those, narrations which are recorded in Shi’ite and non-shi’ite sources in respect of mut’ah, and cling to this one narrative quoted by a Sunni writer who did not even mention his source?
One of the valuable sayings of Ali (a.s.) is the following: “If ‘Umar (ibn al-Khattab) had not proceeded in taking such an initiative, and had not prohibited mu’tah, no-one, excepting those who were of a perverted nature, would have committed adultery.’
In other words, if the temporary marriages had not been prohibited, nobody would have been compelled to commit adultery for the satisfaction of his instinctual drives. Only those who always relish and prefer an unlawful act to a lawful one would have committed such an act.
Secondly, the meaning of the above expression is “whenever I come to know that a man who is permanently married has concluded a mut’ah marriage I shall sentence him to be death.”
I do not know why Mr. Mahdavi has translated the word muhsin which, means a permanently married man as “not worthy of it”.
Moreover, the purport of the narration is that permanently married men have no right to marry temporarily. If the intention had been that nobody had the right, the condition “who is permanently married” would have been redundant. So, this narration, if at all reliable, supports the view which can be expressed thus:
“Legal permission for mut’ah has been provided by the shari’ah for those who are in need of a wife, that is, bachelors or those whose wives are not with them.”
So, the narration supports its being permissible, and not its prohibition.
 See the heading “Prohibiton by the Caliph of fixed-term marriage.”
 Shaykh Muhammad Husayn ibn Shaykh ‘Ali al-Kashif al-Ghita’, (1294/1877 – 1373/ 1954), one of the most renowned scholars of the religious scholars of an-Najaf al-Ashraf (Iraq).
 The granting of an exclusive tobacco monopoly to a private British company by Nasiru’d -Din Shah in 1890 in exchange for handsome bribes but no payment resulted in a successful protest movement (1891 — 1892). Instrumental in this was the fatwa issued by the then, leading Shi’ite mujtahid Mirza Muhammad Hasan Shirazi prohibiting the smoking of tobacco. This protest movement was a fore- runner of the later Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911).
 A contemporary Egyptian religious scholar.