Muslim Matrimonials and More

Articles and Essays on Marriage and Family in Islam


Marriage in Islam

Part Five

By Adil Salahi

Subject Index
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight

Marriage with first cousins: rulings without basis

Q). During my visit to India, I met a scholar who says that marriage with first cousins is not allowed in Islam, and that a special concession was given only to the Prophet. He quotes Verse 50 of surah 33, "Al Ahzab", in support of his claim. If this were true, it makes millions of marriages illegal and millions of children illegitimate. Please explain.

M.A.Khan, Buraidha

A). It is strange that this person, whom you describe as a scholar, cites in support of his view a verse which starts with the following words: "Prophet, we have made lawful to you ..." This is to say that the verse is concerned with permission, not prohibition. I would have thought that his view, which tries to restrict certain marriages, should seek in evidence a verse, which outlines prohibition of certain marriages. It is well known that prohibited marriages are outlined in detail in Verses 22, 23 and 24 of Surah 4, entitled "Women", or "An Nisaa." The first of these verses starts with a clear order: "Do not marry women whom your fathers had married...The second begins with a simiclear prohibition: Forbidden to you in marriage are your mothers, daughters, etc. When the list is complete, the third of these verse states: And lawful to you are all women beyond these, for you to seek out, offering them of your possessions, taking them in honest wedlock, and not in fornication, etc." Moreover, such marriages are lawful according to the practice of the Prophet who married his own daughter, Fatimah, to his cousin, Ali. Had there been any restriction on the marriage of cousins, the Prophet would not have allowed such a marriage to go through. Your "scholar" is, therefore, out on a limb when he makes such a claim.

Now let us look at the verse he quotes in support of his argument. Its meaning may be given in translation as follows: Prophet! We have made lawful to you your wives to whom you have paid their dowers, as well as those whom your right hand has come to possess from among the captives of war whom Allah has bestowed upon you. And We have made lawful to you the daughters of your paternal uncles and aunts, and the daughters of your maternal uncles and aunts, who have migrated with you (to Madinah); and any believing woman who offers herself freely to the Prophet and whom the Prophet might be willing to wed: this being but a privilege for you, and not for other believers. We have already made known what We have enjoined upon them with regard to their wives and those whom their right hands may possess.

This verse is certainly meant to outline to the Prophet certain privileges. It may not be construed. However, as restricting to other Muslims what Allah has made lawful to the Prophet except in the case where He specifies so. It is significant that the verse tells the Prophet that his wives have been made lawful to him. This is not a superfluous statement, because Allah does not use any superfluous words. This is simply a reminder to the Prophet of the grace Allah has shown him. As for his cousins, the Prophet was allowed only those of his cousins who migrated with him to Madinah. It is reported that he could not marry Umm Hani a cousin of his who had not migrated to Madinah.

The verse certainly includes a special privilege given to the Prophet and not given to any other believer. But this privilege is restricted to one case, namely, that of a woman who may offer herself freely to the Prophet. He may marry her without the need to give her a dower. It should be said that several women made such an offer to the Prophet, but he married none of them. Some of them he recommended to some of his companions, and such marriages went through in the normal way, with the Prophet asking the prospective husband to pay a dower to the woman he is marrying and with a marriage contract made in the normal Islamic way.

When we say that this is a privilege to the Prophet only, we mean that it is not permissible for a Muslim woman to offer herself freely to any man. Such a restriction is operative in order not to allow any abuse of the marriage system. If a woman makes such an offer to a believer, she does not become his wife unless a marriage contract is made between them in the presence of her father or guardian and at least two witnesses, and a dower is specified to be paid by the man to her.

Unacceptable marriage offer

Q). I have had a relationship with a non-Muslim girl, but when I proposed marriage to her, her parents refused on account of my religion. She agreed with them. Am I in a position of deception?

(Name and address withheld)

A). I am surprised that you are more worried about a breach of a promise than an illegitimate relationship involving a cardinal sin. You should be more concerned about what you did with this woman in the past and regret it genuinely so that you may stand a chance of being forgiven by God. Now that you have a chance of a final break with her, you should revise your attitude and determine to improve your adherence to Islamic moral values. If you do not, then you may very well expose yourself to God's punishment which is severe indeed.

As far as your relationship with that woman is concerned, you have offered to marry her, but she and her family have refused. That means that you have done the honorable thing and shown your willingness to look after her. However, they have declined the offer, and you should be glad. She is not the sort of mother you want for your children.

She is neither a Muslim nor keen on morality. So you should take this opportunity and mend your ways before seeking to marry a chaste, religious Muslim woman who may be a good mother.

Validity of Marriage

Q). Some people question the validity of the marriage of a friend of mine to a divorced woman. Her brother filled the official forms of marriage, signing himself as her eldest brother and guardian (because her father is dead) and his signature was entered in the official books as a witness. A non-Muslim friend signed as the second witness. Both the bride and the bridegroom signed acceptance. Is this marriage valid?

N.A.Razvi, Jeddah.

A) Some scholars are of the view that non-Muslims may not be called as witnesses of transactions between Muslims.

They consider that to be a witness exercise some aspects of patronage and it is not permissible that patronage over a Muslim be exercised by a non-Muslim. However, other scholars disagree, stating that being a witness means no exercise of patronage whatsoever. Hence, a non-Muslim may be a witness to any transaction between Muslims. This is probably a more accurate view.

The requirements for a marriage contract to be valid from the Islamic point of view is that it should be made in the presence of the bride's guardian and two witnesses. These two witnesses are the minimum needed for proper publicity. In this case, the guardian is present, because the woman's guardian is her eldest brother, since her father is dead. That he signed his name in the space provided for the first witness is neither here nor there, provided that there were two witnesses. These were indeed present, because one of them signed the form and the other is the officer in the Registrar's Office who received the form. It is not necessary from the Islamic point of view that witnesses should sign any form or contract, or indeed that the contract should be written. All that can be done verbally. The fact that the marriage contract was conducted in front of two people or more is sufficient for it to be valid. If there were none other than the officer in the Registrar's Office, the contract would still have been valid.

A marriage that is against Islamic teachings

Q). I understand that I am a Christian, I cannot marry my Muslim fiancée unless I become a Muslim, while a Muslim man may marry a Christian woman who is allowed to retain her faith. May I know the reason behind this? There are several reasons, which prevent me from embracing Islam, yet I wish to marry this lady whom I have been supporting when she was studying. What happens if I require my fiancée to convert to Christianity? On the other hand, what is the likely solution if we get a civil marriage? May I further ask whether I can consider the money I have paid for her studies as her dower?

(Name and address withheld)

A). It is true that a Muslim woman may not marry a follower of any religion other than Islam. A Muslim man may marry Christian or a Jewish woman. The reason for the difference in the rules is two-fold.

Islam recognizes that it has a common area with the other two religions, and it requires its followers to respect the beliefs of other religions, Hence, if a Muslim man marries a Christian or a Jewish woman, he may not put her under any pressure to convert to Islam. Indeed he should allow her freedom of worship and respect her religious observances. It is not guaranteed that followers of other religions would do the same if they marry Muslim women. There are other considerations relating to the status of the children and the perceived weakness of women in many cultures and societies.

You are certainly entitled to maintain your faith, but you may not insist on a chaof Islamic rules to fulfill your purpose. The Islamic rules make your marriage to a Muslim woman impossible unless you become a Muslim. This must be a genuine conversion to Islam, not a mere pretension to satisfy certain formalities. If you want to contravene these rules, your marriage is not valid. Of course you can arrange for a civil marriage, and the civil law in your country may sanction such a marriage, but your "wife" would not be lawfully wedded to you from the Islamic point of view. If the woman in question converts to Christianity, she is considered an apostate. The Church may sanction the marriage, but she would remain an apostate. Her family is highly likely to disown her completely in either of these situations.

If you marry her legally, which means that you become a Muslim, you should know that Islamic marriage requires the presence of her father or guardian, two witnesses and the payment of a dower. The contract itself consists of a commitment and acceptance. The dower must be something that brings the woman a certain benefit. Your support of her studies may be offset against the marriage if that support was in the form of a loan. If it was a gift, no Muslim is allowed to claim back a gift he had given. However a dower need not be any large amount. You may agree with your future wife to give her one riyal as a dower. If this is acceptable to her, well and good.

A marriage that is questionable

Q). My sister-in-law, who is also my maternal cousin is married to a man working abroad. All of a sudden we heard that she got married to my nephew without having been divorced by her husband and without the knowledge of their parents or relatives. Is this marriage valid?

S.R. Ali, Madinah

A).We have to separate two issues involved here: The relationship between the two persons concerned and its effect on their marriage, and the circumstances in which they got married. To start with, your nephew may marry your wife's niece who is also his cousin. As I understand, she is a more distant relative of his than your wife is related to you. Her father is the maternal uncle of his mother. So there is nothing wrong with this marriage if the two partners were free to get married and the marriage is done in accordance with the appropriate Islamic rules. However, you say that the woman is already married to someone else who is working abroad. If so, how can she get married again without a divorce-taking place first? It may be that the woman could have applied to a court of law for dissolution of her marriage to her first husband. If she has done that and got dissolution from court on the basis of her husband being away for a very long time, then we hope that the basis of the dissolution has the backing of some school of thought. I cannot tell you that without more detailed information about the case. If no dissolution had been ordered by a court and no divorce had taken place, then that woman is still married to her first husband who is working abroad. Her relationship with the other man, who is her cousin, is adulterous. She must stop it immediately.

Marriage to a non Muslim

Q). My friend wants to marry a Hindu girl who says that she would convert to Islam after the marriage. Can he do that?

(Name and address witfiheld)

A). If your friend wants his marriage to be valid, his intended wife must adopt Islam before the marriage contract is done. Otherwise the marriage cannot go through. It is not possible for a Muslim to get married to a woman who follows any religion other than Islam, Christianity or Judaism. Since this woman does not follow any of these religions, her marriage to your friend is not valid. If she adopts Islam first, she is no longer a Hindu. She will then be a Muslim and as such, there will be no hindrance to prevent her marriage to your friend.

As for the second part of your question it is not true that consummation of the marriage must take place on the first night, I am surprised that some people would suggest that this is an Islamic requirement for the validity of the marriage. There is no such requirement.

Having said that, I may add that it is better for the bride and her family that the marriage should be consummated as soon as possible after the wedding. But this is a matter of preference, not a duty.

Privacy in martial life

Q). A man who has two wives lives in a one-bedroom flat, and as such he and his two wives are forced to share the same bedroom. He has been advised to move to a larger house or make different arrangements so that the three do not use the same bedroom. He feels that this is not necessary because the three of them get on well together and there seems to he no need for separation. Please comment.

(Name and address withheld)

A). It is certainly bad to sleep with the two wives in the same room, because there is a special intimacy between a man and his wife, which they would rather keep to themselves. When such intimacy is exposed to another person, although she may stand in the same position to the man as his other wife, the element of modesty, which is a virtue in the Islamic sense of values, is lost. It is far more preferable that this person should change the arrangement in his home so that his two wives use separate bedrooms. If his home is too small for that, he may convert the sitting room at night to a bedroom for one of them. That is much better for everybody concerned.

Having said that, I wish to add that if there is no possibility whatsoever of the man being able to provide such an arrangement for his two wives, and he can only afford to have only one room, then he must observe a strict code of conduct in his martial relationship with his two wives.

Of course he must always treat his wives fairly, giving each the same standard of living as the other. It is acceptable that he cannot do much about that because feelings are not always within our control, but fairness is required in everything a person can control and determine.

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