Marriage in Islam
By Reem Sultan
In order to assess marriage in Islam it seems essential to discuss marriage forms which existed before Islam. In those days many kinds of different marriages existed; there was no limit on the number of wives that any one man could have. Of the many forms of marriage in pre-Islamic Arabia, only one is sanctioned in the Qur'an, which is marriage by contract.
Forbidden Forms of Marriage
The forbidden forms include:
Concepts of Islamic Marriage: the Mystery of Pairs
Marriage in Islam is an act that follows the order of Allah on this earth, and a system that is followed by many.
"Glory to Allah, who created in pairs all things that the earth produces as well as their own (human) kind, and (other) things, of which they have no knowledge." (Qur'an Sura 36, aya 36).
This verse clearly establishes the fact that the whole universe and its various life-systems are created by Allah. The mystery of pairs is the key to the continuous survival of all creation. It runs in man, in animal life, in plant life and in other forms of life of which we have no knowledge. The proton and electron present in the atom, which is the smallest form of matter itself, thus seem to have pairs of opposite energies.
The dominance of the fact of pairs is made clear, with the emphasis that nothing in this world is created without the miracle of sex. It also explains that the grace and beauty of colors in nature in various forms are the consequence of the joint working of the pairs. All these manifestations and scenes of beauty and marvels would come to an end without it. Man would lose all motivation, as well as moments of peace and tranquillity, without women. Many aspects of life, which only the tender and beautiful hands of woman can fulfill, would remain incomplete without her. And many areas of her life would not reach their fulfillment without the strong and loving hands of man. She is the answer to many of his instinctive demands and natural questions. And likewise, without him, the habitation of womanhood would remain desolated and empty. He is the life of the world of her emotions and the remedy for her restlessness and fruitlessness.
This means that the universe is so adorned by its Creator that every element of it becomes a means of completion and perfection of the others. The law of sex is one of its comprehensive and perfect forms. In other words, everything in this world, for the expression of some of its intrinsic capabilities and generic qualities, is dependent on one other area, and the opposite sex provides this area. This is one kind of relation that is found between the pairs, and since both equally need the other there is no question of disgrace or honor.
Marriage is an Exclusive Relationship
Marriage is a solemn contractual agreement between an eligible man and an eligible woman, concluded in the presence of witnesses, whereby they become acknowledged as husband and wife. A liaison between a marriageable couple without a duly witnessed contract is adulterous.
Marriage alternatives, widely talked about in recent years, and becoming features of the so-called "sex revolution" - cohabitation contract, open marriage, swinging couples, swapping, and a variety of some other unhealthy loose morality- cannot be recognized as legitimate life styles. Sex relations through these arrangements are unethical and illegal from an Islamic point of view. Christianity and Judaism, for that matter, also agree. These deviant types of relationships are simply adulterous violations. Marriage implies the exclusive right of each mate of the couple to the sexual favors of the other, and its contract has to conform with well-defined prerequisites, which include a vow made by the marrying couple in front of lawful witnesses.
Thus the marriage contract as conceived of by Muslims is a legal commitment sanctioned by Allah and acknowledged by society. Since the Islamic faith attaches religious values to all types of human behavior, the marriage contract is both a civil agreement and a religious commitment which should be respected and should endure as far as possible.
Significance of Marriage
Reproduction in an organized wholesome manner is admittedly the ultimate objective in the institution of marriage. Yet Islam puts great emphasis on the almost equally important function of marriage as a means of providing companionship and fulfilling other fundamental needs.
The Qur'an, in speaking of this basic function of marriage, draws attention to the Divine wisdom in creating bisexual species, reproduced through mating between two members of the same species but of different sex. It reads:
"And one of His signs is that He created for you, of your species, spouses that you may repose in them; and He has set between you love and mercy. Verily in this there are signs for a people who reflect." (Qur'an sura 30, aya 21)
Here mankind is stated to be created as a dioecious being (a species of two sexes), reproduced through the mating of two genetically similar parties, one to fertilize and the other to conceive.
Allah could have created mankind as a monoecious (monosexual) being, reproduced naturally without need for mating or in such a way as to reproduce through mating without a member of another species. Yet, Allah has chosen to create man as a dioecious being, reproduced through mating with members of his own species. The Qur'an states that the purpose of creating man in this dioecious pattern is to let each mate provide comfort, companionship and a feeling of true care and concern for the other.
Such comfort, companionship and feeling of mutual care and concern could not be afforded in the absence of easy communication. Between two communicating members of humanity, there can be reactions and interactions and cooperation and mutual understanding. These actions, reactions and interactions lead to fulfillment of the mental and psychological needs of the mating couples.
And when they are committed believers, they realize that their love of each other is derived from their commitment and loyalty to obedience to Him. Their mutual love is therefore more durable and heavenly. Even in their act of love they feel a deeper and more enduring joy, resembling their anticipated delight in Paradise when they are closer to their Creator.
Under the Islamic law, it is undesirable for a marriageable person to remain single, even when the intention is to be free to concentrate on prayers and on similar religious ordinances. The monastic attitude has no place in Islam, as declared by the Prophet Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam .
Men and women are urged to marry early; and fear of poverty should not be a discouraging factor. The Qur'an assures that Allah shall provide for them from His unbounded favors.
Careful search for a compatible spouse should make marriage failure an exceptional phenomenon. After all, our adventures in life are hardly free from the elements of risk. The crucial steps of the procedural process of marriage are the selection of a spouse and the marriage contract. According to the Islamic law, the role of the bride in these two steps is essential to the validity of the marriage.
Is Marriage Obligatory?
In Islam, marriage is a form of worship of Allah and obedience to His word. Its most important function is that it is an act of piety. The Prophet Mohammed Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam has said: "When a man marries, he has fulfilled half his religion; so let him fear Allah regarding the remaining half."
As a religious duty, marriage becomes obligatory for who are able to fulfill its obligations and responsibilities. Allah created mankind, both sexes, out of one living soul, and told them to marry and have children, and to follow the righteous path, although there are some differences between the different schools of Fiqh. According to Imams Abu Hanifah, Ahmed bin Hanbal and Malik bin Anas, although marriage in this origin may be deemed to be desirable, in cases of certain individuals, it becomes obligatory (waajib).
According to Islam, marriage is obligatory for a man who has the means to easily pay the dowry and maintain a wife and children, and who is healthy and fears that if he does not marry he may commit fornication. It is also recommended for a person who has a strong will to control his sexual urge and not to fall prey to the temptations of Satan but whose only aim is to have children. However, marriage is supererogatory for a person who can control his sexual desire; who has no wish to have children and who feels that marriage will not keep him away from his devotion to Allah.
However, according to the Maliki school, if any of three conditions is met then it is obligatory for a Muslim to marry even though he may not be in a position to earn his living. These three conditions are:
Some jurists disagree on this point, and suggest that if he cannot procure lawful livelihood, he must not marry. If at all he married without any hope of getting lawful bread, he will commit theft. Thus in order to avoid one evil, he will be a victim of another.
The Hanafi school considers marriage obligatory on the following four considerations:
Marriage is then forbidden to a man if he does not possess the means to maintain his wife and children or if he suffers from an illness serious enough to affect his wife and his progeny. It is undesirable (makruh) for a man who possesses no sexual desire at all or who has no love for children, or who is sure to be slackened in his religious obligations as a result of marriage, to be married.
Functions of Marriage
A Natural Condition of Life
Islam is a practical religion based in reality, and as such, recognizes the human sexual urge as a natural condition of life. It supports neither the extremes of celibacy (as in monasticism), nor non-marital or extra-marital sex. The Muslim culture does not allow dating between unmarried couples. Marriage is seen as a moral safeguard, a means of legal sexual gratification, tension reduction and legitimate procreation.
A Social Necessity
In addition, marriage is social necessity, for the family is the basis of the Islamic society. As well as preserving and continuing the human race it strengthens the support networks within and between families and communities giving support of a social, as responsibility and induces men to increase their earnings in order to care for their dependents.
Maintaining a Proper Lineage
In addition to what has already been mentioned, other functions of marriage also exist. Maintaining a proper lineage is crucial in Islam and is one of the main functions of marriage. By this Godly system each newborn can be identified by both a mother and father with no difficulty. This is a mean of maintaining an order in society that cannot be crossed.
One might ask, why would the lineage be of such an importance? In Islam there are numerous laws of inheritance, which are based on the lineage and the relationship of the deceased to the heirs. If there were no true laws of lineage established, such rules of inheritance could not be exercised. This explains why Allah has objected to giving one's name to an adopted son or daughter; this would give them the right to inherit that which they are not lawfully entitled.
A Strong Wall Against Corruption
Marriage stands as a strong wall in the face of all which is ill in society. Without the bond of marriage many crimes would be committed. There would be no order in the world whatsoever. Humans would thus behave like animals who have no laws governing their actions. In order to picture what might happen if the laws of marriage did not exist, one should only take a closer look into some existing societies that do not abide by these rules. It is evident that many problems occur in these societies such as the problem of identifying who is the real father, incurable and deadly sexually transmitted diseases, and many other problems that are not found in societies which follow Allah's Word with respect to marriage.
Thus to summarize the main functions of marriage:
Qualifications of Marriage
Allah has given the marrying couple a period of trial in which they can get to know one another a little better (in the presence of a relative). This period is known as the engagement period. The Prophet Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam encouraged those who are thinking of marriage to make use of this period to insure that they are right for each other and so that no major problems arise. If the couple find they are compatible to one another, marriage may then follow.
There are certain qualifications in marriage that have to be met before the contract is valid; the first of which is the age of both the husband and wife. The husband has to be a mature individual capable of supporting a family and carrying the job of both a husband and a father. The wife has to have reached the age of puberty and be capable of maintaining a household.
A Muslim male is allowed to marry a Christian or a Jew (people of the Book) but not an unbeliever, while a Muslim female is only permitted to marry a Muslim male. Allah has a wise reason behind this difference. A Muslim man may marry a woman from the People of the Book on the same terms as he would marry a Muslim woman: he must give her an economic and moral status, and must not be motivated merely by lust or physical desire. A Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim man, because her Muslim faith would be affected; in most cultures, even today, the wife ordinarily takes the nationality and status given by her husband's law.
Any man or woman, of any race or faith, may, on accepting Islam, freely marry any Muslim woman or man, provided it be from motives of purity and chastity and not of lewdness.
It is well established that children out of a marriage carry their father's name, nationality and religion. Thus if a Muslim lady marries a Christian (for example), her children would not be Muslims, Islam would have lost those children, and how difficult must it be on the mother for her children to be away from the right path as she knows it! This explains the reason why a Muslim female is only allowed to marry a Muslim male.
A Muslim man is guaranteed that his children will carry his name. Thus, he is allowed to marry from the People of the Book. Possibly, because of his kind treatment to his wife she may decide to convert to Islam (she cannot be forced, since there is no compulsion in religion).
Note that in both cases males and females are not allowed to marry unbelievers. Marriage is a most intimate communion, and the mystery of sex finds its highest fulfillment when intimate spiritual harmony is combined with the physical link. As religion is a real influence in life to both parties or to either party, a difference in this vital matter must affect the lives of both more profoundly than differences of birth, race, language, or position in life. It is therefore only right that the parties to be married should have the same spiritual outlook. If two persons love each other, their outlook in the highest things of life must be the same. Note that religion is not just a mere label or a matter of custom of birth. The two persons may have been born in different religions, but if, by their mutual influence, they come to see the truth in the same way, they must openly accept the same rights and the same social brotherhood/sisterhood. Otherwise the position will become impossible individually and socially.
There is a group of people to whom marriage is prohibited:
22. And marry not women whom your fathers married, except what has already passed; indeed it was shameful and most hateful, and an evil way.
23. Forbidden to you (for marriage)
are: your mothers, your daughters, your sisters, your father's
sisters, your mother's sisters, your brother's daughters, your
sister's daughters, your foster mother who gave you suck, your
foster milk suckling sisters, your wives' mothers, your step
daughters under your guardianship, born of your wives to whom
you have gone in - but there is no sin on you if you have not
gone in them (to marry their daughters), - the wives of your
sons who (spring) from your own loins, and two sisters in wedlock
at the same time, except for what has already passed; verily,
Allâh is Oft&SHY;Forgiving, Most Merciful.
By reason of consanguinity a man cannot marry any female ascendant or descendant of his, or the daughter of any ascendant, however high, or of any descendant, however low. On the ground of affinity he is debarred from marrying a woman who has been the wife of any ascendant of his. This is another reason behind the importance of lineage; a person could potentially marry a prohibited mate if his/her lineage was not clearly identified.
If a boy or girl is fed from the breast milk of a wet nurse when the child under two years old, the wet nurse becomes the milk mother of the baby, and her husband becomes its milk father. This leads to a series of marriage prohibitions on the same lines of prohibitions resulting from blood relationship. The parents of the milk parents become the baby's milk grandparents, end so forth. The children of the milk parents, either by birth or by milk feeding, become the baby's brothers and sisters, and their offspring are the baby's nieces and nephews, and so forth. However, the prohibition does not extend to the baby's own brothers, his parents or grandparents or the offspring of these. They remain strangers to the baby's milk parents and to their relatives.
However, the prohibition of marriage on account of breast-feeding applies only on the following conditions:
The matrimonial relationship is the most intimate and close relationship between the sexes and is also fundamental to the structure of society, the family being the primary unit of human civilization. In this relationship, the status of men and women is equal and both play an equally important role, though different ones, in the establishment and maintenance of the marriage relationship, as well as in its severance. This is fully supported by the teaching and practice of the Prophet and his companions. Women have a full choice as to whom they marry and cannot be married without their free consent.
Abu Hurairah reported Allah's Messenger Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam as saying:
"A woman without a husband must not be married before she is consulted about it, and a virgin must not be married before her permission is obtained."
The same right is given to a woman who was previously married, and is now widowed or divorced and wants to remarry. It is narrated by Ibn Abbas that the Prophet said that a women without a husband has a greater right to (make decisions about) her person than her guardian has.
The Woman's Rights
These two sayings of Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam confirm that Islam has given complete freedom of choice and refusal (or repudiation) to woman in the matter of her marriage. The previous ahadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) show that women enjoy equal status and equal rights with men in deciding their contract of marriage. Any marriage which is forced upon any woman widow or divorcee is invalid and can be revoked by the courts.
Another very important point that should be emphasized is that in Islam the wife keeps her identity and legal personality after marriage. She does not lose her identity, as is the case in the western world, where a woman person is amalgamated with her husband and she is called and known by the name of her husband. This is evidence that women are respected and honored in Islam more so than in any other religion which exists now days.
To further support the previous comment the concept of dowry should be discussed. The Qur'an makes it obligatory on the man to offer the woman a dowry as a gesture of goodwill and a sign of his honoring her as a member of the household and a full partner in life. This is an objective expression of the husband's desire to honor her, to recognize her rights and to welcome her into his home as a full partner in building their family life together. Islam has taken all possible measures to insure that a woman is not provision (Zawaj.com editor's note: this seems to be a misprint, and I cannot guess what the author was trying to say) for her maintenance if she does not intend to remarry. And it has strictly forbidden men to take back, at divorce, anything they may have given to their wives by way of dowry, even if it was treasures of gold and silver.
"But if you decide to take one wife in place of another, even if you had given the latter a whole treasure for dower, take not the least bit of it back." (Qur'an sura 4, aya20).
These protections for women do not exist in other religions.
Prior to Islam wives were stripped away from their right of dowry and of future protection in case of divorce or death of the husband. It is thus clear that Islam has protected the interests of the wife and never did put her in a state of oppression as claimed by uninformed individuals.
There is no doubt that polygamy is the most controversial issue in Islam, an issue that the West has considered to be the worst setback for the Islamic religion, partly because of the lack of understanding of the main reason and the holy wisdom behind making it permissible to men.
Polygamy is allowed for many important reasons. There are social, physical and economic reasons for polygamy, such as the following:
Polygamy, or marrying more than one wife, is not a new phenomenon. It has always been with mankind from time immemorial among different people in various parts of the world. The Arabians were polygamous even before the advent of Islam and so were other people on most parts of the world during that time. The Jahiliyya Arabs used to marry a large number of women and considered them chattel.
With the advent of Islam, limitless polygamy was restricted to four wives and with a number of rules attached to it. It is interesting to mention that there is only one single verse that refers to and permits polygamy; it reads:
"If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry the women of your choice, two, or three, or four. But if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with them, then only one." (Quran sura 4, aya 3).
This verse was revealed after the Battle of Uhud when the Muslims were left with many orphans and widows. The treatment was to be governed by principles of greatest humanity and equality. The verse not merely limited to the orphans but it has a general application about the marriage laws in Islam. The Muslim jurists, therefore, have laid down the following conditions if someone wants to take more than one wife:
An important verse in the Quran is the one in which Allah says that husbands will not be able to treat all wives justly even if they tried. He says:
"You will not be able to deal equally between (your) wives, however much you wish (to do so). But turn not altogether away (from one), leaving her as in suspense. If you do good and keep from evil, lo! Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful." (Quran sura 4, aya 129).
This means that polygamy is not recommended in Islam because it is hard for husbands to be equal to all wives. This argument should be kept in mind when discussing polygamy and thus polygamy should not occur unless there is an important reason and a real need for it.
At the end of the discussion about polygamy it is important to say that Allah created men knowing that to some, one spouse is not enough, some need more than one to satisfy their natural desires. Thus, for their benefit Allah has allowed for more than one wife. This nature in men is not only present in Muslim men alone; it also exists in the west. Many men have mistresses, meaning many of them commit adultery. Allah, being All Knowing and All Merciful, wanted to insure that the rights of the women and the children that result from polygamous relations be preserved.
Marriage is a Serious Commitment
Because Islam considers marriage a very serious commitment, it has prescribed certain measures to make the marital bond as permanent as humanly possible. The parties must strive to meet the conditions of proper age, general compatibility, reasonable dowry, good will, free consent, unselfish guardianship, honorable intentions, and judicious discretion. When the couple enter into a marital contract, the intention must be clear to make the bond permanent, free from the casual and temporary designations. For this reason, trial marriages, term marriages, and all marriages that appear experimental, casual, or temporary are forbidden in Islam. In one of his most unequivocal statements, the Prophet Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam declared that condemned are the men and women who relish the frequent change of marital partners, that is, the "tasters" who enjoy one partner for a while, then shift to another, then to a third and so on.
However, to insist on the permanent character of marriages does not mean that the marital contract is absolutely indissoluble. Muslims are designated by the Qur'an as a middle nation and Islam is truly a religion of the golden mean, the well-balanced and well-integrated system. This is particularly clear in the case of marriage, which Islam regards as neither a sacrament nor a simple civil contract. Rather, marriage in Islam is something unique with very special features of both sacramental and contractual mature. It is equally true that the alternative to this casual or temporary extremity is not the other extreme of absolute indissolubility of the marital contract. The Islamic course is one of equitable and realistic moderation. The marriage contract should be taken as a serious, permanent bond. But if it does not work well for any valid reason, it may be terminated in kindness and honor, with equity and peace.
With piety as the basis of mate selection, and with the earnest satisfaction of the conditions of marriage, the parties should be well on the way to a happy and fulfilling married life. However, Islam goes much further than this in setting the course of behavior for husbands and wives. Many are the statements of the Qur'an and Sunnah that prescribe kindness and equity, compassion and love, sympathy and consideration, patience and good will. The Prophet Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam goes as far as to declare that the best Muslim is the one who is best to his family, and the greatest, most blessed joy in life is a good, righteous wife.
The Obligations of Marriage
The consummation of marriage creates new roles for the parties concerned. Each role is a set of equitable, proportionate rights and obligations. The role of the husband revolves around the moral principle that it is his solemn duty to Allah to treat his wife with kindness, honor, and patience; to keep her honorably or free her from the marital bond honorably; and to cause her no harm or grief. The role of the wife is summarized in the verse that the women have rights even as they have duties, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree over them. This degree is usually interpreted by Muslim scholars in conduction with another passage which states, among other things, that men are trustees, guardians, and protectors of the women because Allah has made some of them excel others and because men expend of their means.
This degree has been misunderstood by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The verse does not say men are better or worse than women.Nor does it say what excellence really refers to, let alone identify it with manhood or womanhood. This degree may be likened to what sociologists call "instrumental leadership" or external authority in the household due to the division of labor and role differentiation. It does not, however, mean any categorical discrimination or superiority of one sex to the other.
The Husband's Obligations
Translated into rules of behavior, these ethical principles allocated to the wife certain rights and corresponding obligations. Because the Qur'an and Sunnah of the Prophet Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam have commanded kindness to women, it is the husband's duty to consort with his wife in an equitable and kind manner. One specific consequence of this divine command is the husband's responsibility for the full maintenance of the wife, a duty which he must discharge cheerfully, without reproach, injury, or condescendence.
Maintenance entails the wife's incontestable right to lodging, clothing, nourishing, and general care and well being. The wife's residence must be adequate so as to provide with the reasonable level of privacy, comfort, and independence. The wife's material rights are not her only assurances and securities. She has other rights of a moral nature; and they are equally binding and specific. A husband is commanded by the law of Allah to treat his wife with equity, to respect her feelings, and to show her kindness and consideration. She is not to be shown any aversion by her husband or subjected to suspense and uncertainty. A corollary of this rule is that no man is allowed to keep his wife with the intention of inflicting harm on her or hindering her freedom. If he has no love or sympathy for her, she has the right to demand freedom from the marital bond, and no one may stand in her way to a new life.
This appears to be an appropriate place to mention the Prophet Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam as a husband; he was very just to his wives, and he was not a burden to them. He used to sew his clothes and repair his shoes by himself. He also used to help in the daily chores around the house, especially when his wives were sick. The Prophet Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam was by far the best husband. He has set his Sunnah, which is being followed by many in the Islamic world, and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.
The Wife's Obligations
The main obligation of the wife as a partner in a marital relationship is to contribute to the success and blissfulness of the marriage as much as possible. She must be attentive to the comfort and well being of her mate. She may neither offend him nor hurt his feelings. Perhaps nothing can illustrate the point better the Qur'anic statement, which describes the righteous people as those who pray: "Our Lord! Grant unto us wives and offspring who will be the joy and comfort of out eyes, and guide us to be models or righteousness." (Qur'an sura 25, aya 74)
This is the basis on which all the wife's obligations rest and from which they flow. To fulfill this basic obligation, the wife must be faithful, trustworthy, and honest. More specifically, she must not deceive her mate by deliberately avoiding conception lest it deprives him of legitimate progeny. Nor must she allow any other person to have access to sexual intimacy, which is her husband's exclusive right. A corollary of this is that she must not receive or entertain strange males in her home without his knowledge and consent. Nor may she accept their gifts without his approval. This is probably meant to avoid jealousy, suspicion, gossip, etc., and also to maintain the integrity of all parties concerned. The husband's possessions are her trust. If she has access to any portion thereof, or if she is entrusted with any fund, she must discharge her duty wisely and thriftily. She may not lend or dispose of any of his belongings without his permission.
With respect to intimacy, the wife is to make herself desirable; to be attractive, responsive, and cooperative. A wife may not deny herself to her husband, for the Qur'an speaks of them as a comfort to each other. The wife is not permitted to do anything that may render her companionship less desirable or less gratifying. To insure maximum self-fulfillment for both partners, the husband too is not permitted to do anything on his part that may impede her gratification.
In conclusion, it is apparent that Islam has made the marriage bond to be an intimate and a very respected bond between two individuals. Islam has protected the interests of both spouses, and even made divorce permissible (although not recommended) to the husband, while khul' is permissible to the wife. Since family is the center of Islamic society, a great deal of importance has been assigned to marriage and marriage laws. It is evident that one of the most important Islamic objectives is equality to both husbands and wives.