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Articles and Essays on Marriage and Family in Islam


Women in Islam

By Dr. Hussein Al-Hussein
Reprinted from the website of the Islamic Society of Stanford University

Islam Introduced Women's Rights

Islam preceded all the exsting systems in introducing women's rights more than fourteen centuries ago. Women were believed to be evil or creatures without souls in so many societies in the world. Women in Islam did not have to fight an endless battle with men to get their rights, nor did they have to give up their femininity, honor, and virtue to get some material rights, as is the case in many non-Islamic societies, and as happened in Europe after the Industrial Revolution. A whole package of new rights was given at once to women by their creator without their having to strive to get them. At the same time their duties were introduced too, as well as the rights and duties of men.

Islam gave those rights to women without making them look to men as if they were their sole enemies on earth. It also made men respect such rights, and abide by such rules, with full consent and happiness, since they were issued by Allah, not by a feminist organization that forced men to recognize them. Abiding by them is considered part of their worshipping Allah, and as the Prophet (s.a.w.) said: The best among you are the best to their wives, and I am the best among you to my wives. (At-Tirmizi and Ibn Majah). He also told the Muslim men to always be kind and fair to women in his last speech before he died.

Allah (s.w.t.) said: Lo! men who surrender unto Allah, and women who surrender, and men who believe and women who believe, and men who obey and women who obey, and men who speak the truth and women who speak the truth, and men who preserve (in righteousness) and women who preserve, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their modesty and women who guard (their modesty), and men who remember Allah much and women who remember - Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward. [Al-Qur'an: Al-Ahzab (33:35)].

Islam prohibited the infanticide of baby girls, and hence gave them the right to live. It also stopped the habit of selling them and inheriting them that was practiced before Islam. It stopped abusing them and using them for entertaining men, and prohibited exploiting them. It gave them the right of ownership and inheritance which they never had before. Islam made them full human beings with rights and duties. They are responsible for their deeds in this life just like men, and will be judged in the hereafter based on what they did.

Islam made women keep their last names, which means that they don't become part of the man's property after marriage. They kept their identities unlike the European women who were named after their husbands. Islam protected them from being cheated on by their husbands by prohibiting adultery. It also protected them from being attacked by ordering the rapists to be killed, and the slanderers to be whipped. Islam made it safe for any woman to walk and go around without being harassed.

Islam equates between men and women concerning judgment by Allah in the Hereafter; hence, each is responsible for his/her own deeds. Nevertheless, Islam made some differences between her duties and his in this life based on the biological differences.

For example, women should not pray or fast during menstruation periods, and during the childbed period, which is the first forty days after childbirth or until the blood stops, whichever comes first. They are not supposed to make up for the prayers they do not pray because of these excuses, but they should make up for the fasting (Muslims in general make up for the prayers and fasting they miss).

Praying the Friday prayer in the Mosques is a must for men (unless they are travelling, sick,...etc) while it is optional for women, and men cannot prevent them from going to the Mosque. The prayer of the woman is better at her home, but the Prophet (s.a.w.) also told the men not to prohibit women from praying in the Mosque.

Women are also excused from going to Hajj if they cannot find a husband, a Mahram, or a trustworthy group of Muslim women (according to Imam Shafi`i) to go to Hajj with. A Mahram is a man that a woman can never marry. It is also appropriate to mention here that women are not allowed to travel over one day without a Mahram or a husband. Many Muslim scholars, however, allowed her to go with a trustworthy group of Muslims or if the environment is Islamically safe like a long flight from the U.S.A. to the Middle East, for example, if he gives her a ride to the airport, and her relatives pick her up at the other end. The word ``trustworthy'' applies to the group and the environment, and one should not misinterpret it and say that he can travel alone with another woman, since she or he is a trustworthy person.

Joining the army is a must for men when there is a need but not for women, unless the status of the Islamic State is threatened where they may have to take more responsibilities in helping defending the state.

Concerning education, the Prophet (s.a.w.) said: Seeking knowledge is a must for every Muslim. (Ibn Majah), and the Qur'an addresses all Muslims (males and females) to think, learn, and seek knowledge. What is required from Muslims to do in this life implies requiring them to know it too. So learning becomes a must for both men and women to be able to abide by the laws of Islam. How else can the children be raised on an educational basis without educated mothers? Education is not only for jobs and titles, nor is it solely measured by degrees.

Islam does not prohibit women from working, nor does it say in detail what work men or women should do. Islam puts general guidelines for that. It is the environment of the job that makes it allowed or prohibited for men or women. These guidelines are strongly affected by the laws of decency introduced by Islam as a protection for Muslims from unlawful relationships.

Muslim men and women are told to lower their gaze and not look at what could tempt them from people they are not married to. Muslim men and women are also ordered to wear decent clothes when going out in public or when with other people. These clothes must not be tight or transparent, and must cover all the parts of the body that are supposed to be covered. Islam also prohibited any man to be in a complete privacy with a woman he can get married to, now or in the future, and prohibited him from touching her. Islam also prohibited the loose and open forms of socialization between men and women.

Different Roles for Men and Women

Men have the leadership in the house, because Allah has made them different from women, and because of their financial responsibilities, as the Qur'an states.

Allah (s.w.t.) said: Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made the one of them to excel to the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah has guarded. [Al-Qur'an: An-Nisa' (4:34)].

It is understood that women who did not grow up in an Islamic environment, and the ones who do not understand Islam may not like giving men the leadership in the house, but Muslim women are happy and comfortable with it, and they understand its importance and benefits for them, since Allah knows best what is good for them. It comes down to what people live for in this life.

Men also have to work and make a living to support the family on one side, and to support the Islamic State on the other hand. Men should help in the house too if they can and if there is a need, and Islam does not say that they shouldn't do anything at home. They have duties in leading their families to a good perspective of life from the Islamic point of view. Their responsibility covers their wives and children here. So their duties are not limited to working outside only.

Raising Children

Men obviously cannot bear babies or breast-feed them. This fact cannot be changed. They also cannot provide the same comfort to the babies as can the mothers. This is also a natural phenomenon in all humans and animals alike. Men also cannot provide the required patience for nursing the babies, and cannot be so attached to them as the mothers. This fact is observed in all societies as well, and it is because of the physiological and biological differences, and not because of some inherited habits caused by continuous male domination, as the feminists claim.

Women, on the other hand, should fulfill the two main duties that men cannot do which are being mothers and being wives. Islam gave those two duties a great attention. It is sad when you ask a man these days about what his wife does to hear him say "nothing.'' Being a good mother is the greatest and hardest job anybody can do.

Raising children is a great mission in this life and should hold a place of high priority. Spending on one's family to cover their essential needs is more rewarding than spending in any other cause.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said: When the human being dies, his/her deeds will come to an end except three kinds: Sadaqah Jariah (continuous charity), beneficial knowledge, and a good child that will pray for him/her. (Muslim).

The Prophet (s.a.w.) also said: A dinar (currency unit from gold) you spend in the sake of Allah, a dinar you spend to free a slave, a dinar you donate to the poor, and a dinar you spend on your family, the most rewarding among them is the dinar that you spend on your family. (Muslim).

The Prophet (s.a.w.) also said: The best dinar a man spends is a dinar he spends on his family, a dinar he spends on his animal, and a dinar he spends on his companions in the sake of Allah. (Muslim).

Whoever offers or loses three or two children in the sake of Allah, they will protect him/her from the Hell fire, as the Prophet (s.a.w.) told us.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said: When three children die for a Muslim the Hell fire will not touch him except for fulfilling the oath. (Muslim). The oath fulfillment refers to the Qur'anic verse that declares that every human being will touch the Hell fire.

Allah (s.w.t.) said: There is not one of you but shall approach it (Hell). That is a fixed ordinance from Allah. Then We shall rescue those who kept from evil, and leave the evildoers crouching in it. [Al-Qur'an: Maryam (19:71-72)].

Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri narrated: A woman from Al-Ansar came to the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) and said: "The men have got all your speeches, so, make a day for us on which we come to you to teach us from what Allah taught you.'' He said: "Meet on such and such day." They met, and he came to them and taught them from what Allah taught him, and then said: "Every woman among you who offers (in the sake of Allah) three children they will be protection for her from the Hell fire.'' A woman asked: "How about two?''. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) said: "And two.'' (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

Raising children, especially girls, is very important in Islam. It is a good way to seek more rewards in the hereafter. Many people tend to discriminate between their sons and daughters, and tend to favor the boys. The Prophet (s.a.w.) emphasized the reward of raising daughters and showed that it is a protection from the Hell fire.

Imam Al-Bukhari narrated these four Hadiths in his book Al-Adab Al-Mufrad (not to be confused with his famous book of Hadith called Sahih Al-Bukhari):

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said: Whoever had three daughters and was patient on raising them, and clothed them from his substance, they would be a protection for him from the Hell fire.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) also said: Any Muslim has two daughters, and be a good companion to them, will enter Heaven because of them.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said: Whoever has three daughters or three sisters and supports them will enter Heaven.

Islam, however, did not restrict women to the two main jobs of being wives and mothers. Any other job is an option for them unless there is a need for women in some jobs in the Islamic State, in which case, the state can request enough number of women to do these jobs if men cannot do them. The rules that guide that are the laws of decency mentioned before which apply to men and women as well. However, the leader of the Islamic State and the judges have to be men in Islam.

Working at home, however, is always better for women, unless there is a need for them to work outside.

Allah (s.w.t.) said to the wives of the Prophet (s.a.w.): O you wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women. If you keep your duty (to Allah), then be not soft of speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease aspire (to you), but utter customary speech.

And stay in your houses, and bedizen not yourselves with the bedizenment of the Time of Ignorance. Be regular in prayer, and pay the poor-due, and obey Allah and His messenger. Allah wants to remove uncleanness far from you, O Folk of the Household, and cleanse you with a thorough cleansing.

And bear in mind that which is recited in your houses of the revelations of Allah and wisdom. Lo! Allah is Subtile, Aware. [Al-Qur'an: Al-Ahzab (33:32-34)].

Although these verses of the Qur'an were addressing the wives of the Prophet (s.a.w.), the rest of the Muslim women would please Allah more if they took after the best ideals of the Muslim women - the wives of the Prophet (s.a.w.).

We should remember that we are talking about general rules that are for everybody, not for some special men or women. It is true that a woman can do a better job than a man in many cases, and at the same time a man can take care of and raise children better than women in other cases. Those women, however, are sacrificing their other two main duties mentioned above, and those men are sacrificing their main duties for the state too.

In Islam, if something were applied to all people, it should not hurt or endanger people in general. For example, celibacy in Christianity, if applied by all people, would mean the end of the Christians in two generations. In Islam, if all women sacrificed their being mothers and wives for their careers, there would be a terrible new generation that would be raised in the streets instead. This would cause more problems as seen in many parts of the world as a result of forcing women to struggle to live. This phenomenon accompanied the Industrial Revolution in Europe when women were like any property men had.

Special examples of female hard workers or females who outperform men do not negate what Islam has taught, since Islam did not state that all men can do certain jobs better than all women. It stated that it is best for the society to be like this. If you can find few women that are better than most men in working outside the house, you can also find a lot more men who are better than most women in that same field.

Now, since Muslim women realize that this is a good mission in this life that takes them to Heaven (which is the main goal of every male and female Muslim), they prefer raising their children to working for a company. Many Muslim women choose to quit their jobs after they have children, since that is their priority. This cannot be understood by an non-Muslim woman who knows very little about the goals of the Muslim woman.

The non-Muslim women are not blamed when they decide to raise only two children, one child, or no children at all, and when they kick them out of the house at the age of eighteen years, or make them pay the rent for example. There is no good reason that these non-Muslim women would go through all the struggling in bearing children and raising them when that is not their mission in this life. According to their belief, that does not help them get anywhere in Heaven, in which most of them don't believe in to start with. There is no good reason for doing that when most children do not treat parents nicely when they are old. The children usually send their parents to the elderly houses to die there slowly. These non-Muslim women make their decisions according to their priorities and their beliefs, and so do the Muslim women.

In Islam, the children are ordered to be nice and kind to their parents in this life even if they were not Muslims, in which case, they should not obey them in disobeying Allah.

Allah (s.w.t.) said: Your Lord has decreed that you worship none save Him, and (that you show) kindness to parents. If one of them or both of them attain to old age with you, say not fie unto them, nor repulse them, but speak unto them a gracious word.

And lower unto them the wing of submission through mercy, and say: My Lord! Have mercy on them both as they did care for me when I was little! [Al-Qur'an: Al-Isra' (17:23-24)].

Allah (s.w.t.) also said: And We have enjoined upon the human being concerning his parents - His mother bears him in weakness upon weakness and his weaning is in two years - Give thanks unto Me and unto your parents. Unto Me is the journeying.

But if they strive with you to make you ascribe unto Me as partner that of which you have no knowledge, then do not obey them. Consort with them in the world kindly, and follow the path of him who repents unto Me. Then unto Me will be your return, and I shall tell you what you used to do. [Al-Qur'an: Luqman (31:14-15)].

Men Bear The Financial Burden

Men are financially responsible for themselves, their children, their wives, their parents (if they are needy), their sisters, their nieces, their brothers, and other close members of the family (if they are needy) while women are not financially responsible for anybody, including themselves. A woman may help her husband financially only if she wants. The husband is responsible for providing her with a house, food, clothes, and the cost of living. He is also responsible for the children, while she takes care of them at home.

The husband does not have any right to deal with the money or property of his wife without an authorization from her. Whatever she makes from a job or trading is hers. Her account is kept separate from his. So in divorce, no need to go to court at all, and lawyers are lousy money makers in Islam. Everyone knows what belongs to him/her and they fear Allah more than each other in taking property that doesn't belong to them.

Even after divorce, the mother has the right to keep the children until they can distinguish unless she is not qualified to raise them Islamically or she gets remarried. At the age of distinguishing (Sin At-Tamyiz), they choose whom to live with unless one parent is not qualified to raise them Islamically (for reasons of being a drunkard, mentally sick, or non-Muslim for example). This age varies from one person to another and is reached when the child can take care of himself or herself, and no longer needs an adult to help him/her eat, get dressed, and clean himself or herself. In the school of thought of Abu Hanifah, it is seven years for the boy, and nine years for the girl. The girl is given a longer time so that she can learn more about the habits of women.

The divorced woman also has the right to give the children to the man if she wants, unless there are no other women who can raise them. If she keeps them, he has to support them and pay her for their custody and for nursing the infants too if she has any.

Allah (s.w.t.) said: The duty of feeding and clothing nursing mothers in a seemly manner is upon the father of the child. [Al-Qur'an: Al-Baqarah (2:233)].

Allah (s.w.t.) also said: Lodge them (the women) where you dwell, according to your wealth, and harass them not so as to restrain life for them. And if they are pregnant, then spend for them till they give birth. Then, if they breast-feed them for you, give them their due payment and consult together in kindness; but if you make difficult for one another, then let some other woman breast-feed for him (the father of the child).

Let him who has abundance spend of his abundance, and he whose provision is measured, let him spend of that which Allah has given him. Allah asks naught of any soul save which that He has given it. Allah will vouchsafe, after hardship, ease. [Al-Qur'an: At-Talaq (65:6-7)].

Women's Rights Are Granted by Allah

These rules could not be from men in a male dominant society as many people in the west say. No man would write all these rules and put all such duties and commitments on himself. These rules are from Allah, and that is why they keep the balance, and what may seem to be unjust or missing in one place is balanced and compensated for in another place, since Islam is a whole way of life.

Women have the right of divorce just like men, and for the same reasons like fighting, incompatibility, inability to support, or cheating. However, Islam made the man capable of divorcing his wife by just saying or writing it without being mad, angry, drunk, astonished, or forced to say that by others. It is assumed in these cases that the man did not realize what he said.

Women need to go to the judge to explain to him the reasons, and he will issue the divorce on accordance. The woman can also obtain divorce if she doesn't like her husband by just paying him back the Mahr he paid her when he married her. This dissolution of marriage is called Khul` in Islam.

A man can also give his wife the right to divorce; in this case, she will be able to issue it just like him, by saying or writing it. This permission could be given to her in the marriage contract or later on.

Islam put a limit of three on the number of divorces between the same man and woman, after which they cannot go back to each other unless she marries another person and then gets divorced not for the goal of going back to the former husband. Allah knows if they do that as a trick to go around the law, which is considered adultery in the sight of Allah. The man has to support her during the first three months after the first or second divorce. If that period is over without their going back to each other, the marriage is over, and he doesn't have to pay alimony.

In the case of testifying for some crimes like adultery, fornication, theft, drinking, and slander, the Qur'an requires two female eyewitnesses for each male eyewitness, except in some cases, like when she claims to have breast-fed a certain baby, or when she accuses her husband of adultery or vice versa. Also in the case of reporting sayings of the prophet or sighting the new moon. Many of his sayings were narrated by his wife `A'ishah, who was a great scholar, and many of the companions of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) learned a lot of the Islamic Jurisprudence from her. The testimony case is due to the emotional part, and to remembering such things.

Non-Muslims always make a big deal of the dress of the Muslim woman, and concentrate on criticizing it as if covering the body were a shameful and harmful thing. It is true that Islam did not give women the right of going out in the nude, nor did it give it to men for that matter. This is something to be proud of instead of looking at it as a critic. Decency has always been an honor, but somehow the standards of people in many societies have changed to the level of considering wearing the least in public a measure of civilization and decency.

Women can wear any fashion and any color as long their outfits are not tempting, transparent, tight, and as long as they cover their bodies except the hands and the face. This is only in public and in the presence of foreign men. Muslim men are also required to not wear tight or transparent outfits in public, and are required to cover from the knees to the navel when they are in public or in the presence of other people. This is rarely mentioned by those who criticize the Muslim women for wearing decent clothes.

The Islamic dresses are not some fashions chosen for Muslim women by some male fashion designers, as is the case in the so-called civilized societies, but are described for them by the one who created them. Male fashion designers in the non-Islamic societies only worry about revealing as much as possible from the woman's body to please every man in the street, and her body becomes a public domain property to amuse as many men as possible.

Allah (s.w.t.) said: Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and to be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do.

And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands' fathers, or their sons or their husbands' sons, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons or sisters' sons, or whom their right hands possess, or male attendants who lack vigor, or children who know naught of women's nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that you may succeed. [Al-Qur'an: An-Noor (24:30-31)].

Women in Islamic societies are not worried, unsafe, or unprotected like most of the non-Muslim women, nor are they degraded by men or used on stage to entertain men. There is no pressure on them to seek illegal ways of making a living such as prostitution, modeling, and acting. They are not exploited like women in many non-Islamic societies, who are not treated as human beings with souls and minds, but as statues of beauty.

Abuse of women in non-Islamic societies is so obvious in the television commercials, fashion designs, television and movie shows, men's entertainment, and even in jobs. Most secretaries are women, even though many of them hold different degrees from prestigious schools and even though men can do this secretarial work as well. Women have to be good looking to be accepted as receptionists and stewardesses in these societies, since it is the looks that count and not what she knows.

The beauty contests are other forms of exploiting women. They are used to entertain men, and they make people compare women based only on their physical looks instead of considering their personalities, morals, and qualifications. Another form of abuse is the use of the cheerleaders in the sports games. They choose some women based on their outlooks, and make them wear the least possible so that they can please the male spectators when jumping up and down. Muslim women are protected from all these silly practices and traditions. The Muslim woman is respected as a sister, mother, daughter, niece, wife, and aunt, instead of just a tool of entertainment.

Even the prices of the women's clothes are much more expensive than the men's, which gives an idea of how women are taken advantage of in the non-Islamic societies. Women in non-Islamic societies do not get equally paid like men when they hold the same job. All this abuse and degradation of women does not exist in the Islamic societies. The femininity of the woman is kept for her husband or future husband, and the masculinity of the man is kept for his wife or future wife, and they are not public domain for everybody.


The Qur'an and Hadith address the family structure in Islam in great detail covering all aspects of family life. Marriage, divorce, inheritance, provision, rights and duties, and marital relationships in Islam are the main issues that are covered in the parts of the Qur'an and Hadith addressing the family structure in Islam.

The family is the main cell in the society, and its structure affects the structure of the whole society. This is why Islam paid so much attention to protecting and taking care of the family. Islam has established rules that govern relationships between different families, as well as guidelines for relationships between members of the same family.

Islam does not allow people to give way to bodily desires or to be dominated, controlled, or enslaved by them. If everyone became a slave to his passions, life would run in the wrong direction, and humans would become like animals. Humanity aims at development and improvement; it can never achieve such aims as long as it is dominated by unruly passions which exhaust all one's energy and lead downward to animalism. Islam prevents people from descending to the level of animalism.

Islam, however, does not advocate repression or support the belief that such passions are dirty in themselves. This would drive people to abstain from even entertaining such feelings in the name of purification and elevation. Muslims are strongly encouraged to get married. Marriage provides Muslims with the comfort and tranquility that help them become better believers and also raise a new generation of believers.

In its treatment of the human soul, Islam recognizes, in principle, all the natural emotions and does not repress them into the unconscious; it permits the practical performance of such instinctive acts, allowing a reasonable degree of pleasure, without causing any harm or injury to the individual or the community.

Marriage to Non-Muslims

Muslim men and women are told to seek faithful spouses with a strong, good belief, and not allow non-Muslim standards of selection influence them.

Muslim men can marry only Muslim, Christian, or Jewish chaste women, while Muslim women can marry only chaste Muslim men.

Allah (s.w.t.) said: This day are (all) good things made lawful for you. The food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. And so are the virtuous women of the believers and the virtuous women of those who have received the Scripture before you (lawful for you) when you give them their marriage portions and live with them in honor, not in fornication, nor taking them as secret concubines. Whoso denies the faith, his work is vain and he will be among the losers in the Hereafter. [Al-Qur'an: Al-Ma'idah (5:5)].

A Muslim man is discouraged from marrying a non-Muslim woman if there is no Islamic State or if he is not living in an existing Islamic state, since the non-Islamic states do not recognize his rights as head of the family to raise the children Islamically. On the contrary, the children will most likely be brought up in their mother's religion, since the Muslim husband does not have his Islamic rights in his non-Muslim wife's country.

There are many tragic examples of Muslim men who tried to take their children to their Muslim countries after they divorced non-Muslim wives. The women in many of these cases succeeded in bringing the children back to be raised in the non-Islamic societies as non-Muslims. The fathers are referred to as kidnappers (of their own children) in the non-Islamic media. Unfortunately, even the governments in Muslim countries these days help the non-Muslim wives to get custody of the children. This is due to the absence of an Islamic state which would protect Muslim children from being kidnapped by non-Muslim wives to be raised as non-Muslims.

Muslim men should consider these issues before they marry non-Muslim women, especially when the man is strongly influenced by her physical appearance. A Muslim man should look to the future and consider his duties toward his children. The cases mentioned show clearly the damage that can be done to children in interfaith marriages, and while a personal sin may be easy to forget and repent from, one may never overcome the problems that arise because his children were raised as non-Muslims as a result of his negligence concerning providing the right spouse and community for them. Children have the right to be brought up in an Islamic environment by good Muslim parents.

The benefits of marrying a non-Muslim woman are minimal when both live in a non-Islamic state. The woman and her relatives would not see how Muslims live as a community, nor would they have close contact with family, should the Muslim man decide to marry her and live outside the Islamic State. Marrying a chaste Christian or Jewish woman in a non-Islamic state should be considered as a last resort and as the only alternative to keep him from falling into adultery. Men, however, should be aware of the fact that most women in non-Islamic societies do not qualify as chaste women in Islam, (i.e. abstention from unlawful sexual activities). Some Muslim men ignore these conditions and ignore the commands of Allah when they are misled and fooled by a smile from a non-Muslim woman.

Abdullah Ibn `Abbas, a famous companion of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and a famous scholar, said that Muslim men should not marry Christian or Jewish women from people who are enemies of Islam.

Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradhawi, a contemporary Muslim scholar, said that the Christian or Jewish women can be married only if the four conditions summarized below are satisfied:

  1. She must be Kitabiyyah, i.e. Christian or Jewish by faith, and not by virtue of birth into a Christian or Jewish family. Many women who live in Christian or Jewish societies today are atheists, Buddhists or Bahai's. These women are prohibited for Muslim men. A woman who commits apostasy, by becoming a non-Muslim after being a Muslim, would not be allowed to marry a Muslim man, since apostasy is much worse than unbelief.
  2. She must be Muhsanah, which means chaste and virtuous. Women who are involved in illicit relationships with men are prohibited for Muslim men. Most non-Muslim women these days do not qualify as Muhsanat (chaste and virtuous women who abstain from sexual activities outside marriage), and Muslim men should fear Allah and keep this condition in mind.
  3. The woman should not be from people who are fighting Islam or are helping others to fight Islam. Since Israel is at war with Islam, all Jews around the world are helping Israel, Muslim men should not marry Jewish women is she is from people who help Israel.
  4. There should be no threat or possible harm from marrying her. For example, if a man's children would not be raised as Muslims, he should not marry her. If the courts in a non-Islamic society would give the children to her in the case of divorce, then he cannot marry her, unless she agrees that he would have the children in the case of divorce.

Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradhawi also said that Muslim men may not marry Christian or Jewish women if the Muslim community is a small minority in a huge non-Muslim society, and such marriages would make it impossible for Muslim women to find Muslim men to marry. This is classified under "limiting the allowed" in the Islamic jurisprudence. Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradhawi used the example that if all people grew cotton instead of wheat, the government would have the right to stop them from doing so, since wheat is a necessary food ingredient, even though growing cotton is allowed in normal cases.

Non-Muslim women who repent and accept Islam are treated as any other Muslim if their acceptance of Islam is sincere and not merely for the purpose of marrying Muslim men. Islam forgives all that was before it. Some people, however, accept Islam by name only to marry a Muslim, without showing the least change in their lifestyles to prove that they are following Islam. One should not marry from such people.

There are many Muslim girls of a marriageable age who are living in non-Islamic countries, and it is the duty of the Muslim men to protect these girls from marrying non-Muslim men, which is absolutely prohibited in Islam. If Muslim men loosely practice their right to marry Christian or Jewish women, the Muslims girls in non-Islamic societies will be forced into unwanted circumstances and Muslim men will be at least partially responsible and will get their share of the punishment from Allah.

In considering marriage to a non-Muslim woman a man should remember that marriage is more than the private marital relationship. A good Muslim woman would provide her husband with total security, comfort, trust, tranquility, and happiness, and would raise the children as good Muslims. A man would not have to see his children taken to a church every Sunday without being able to prevent it or live with the concern that his wife would teach his children un-Islamic traditions. It is much easier to trust a Muslim woman than to trust a non-Muslim woman who does not fear Allah, and know that He is watching her all the time. And certainly a woman who does not fear Allah, who sees and knows everything, will not fear or obey her husband who is only home in the evenings.

Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) said: A woman is chosen as a wife for her wealth, beauty, family, and faith. Win the one that has the faith or you would ruin your life. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

The following verses from the Qur'an beautifully give us the guidelines for selecting the right spouse:

Allah (s.w.t.) said: Do not marry Mushrik women (idolatresses) until they believe; a slave woman who believes is better than a free woman who does not believe, even though (the idolatress) woman may appear very attractive to you. (Likewise) Do not marry (your girls) to Mushrik men (idolaters) until they believe; a slave man who believes is better than an unbeliever, even though he (the Mushrik) may attract you. These Mushriks invite you to the fire, but Allah, by His Grace, invites you to His Jannah (Heaven), and forgives by His leave, and (Allah) makes clear His messages to people so that they might bear them into mind. [Al-Qur'an: Al-Baqarah (2:221)].

Prohibited Marriages

A Muslim man can only marry unmarried chaste Muslim, Christian, or Jewish women who are not among those listed in the Qur'anic verses below. A Muslim woman can only marry chaste Muslim men who are not close relatives. The following Qur'anic verses list the women that a man cannot marry:

Allah (s.w.t.) said: And do not marry those women whom your fathers married, except what had happened in the past (before Islam). Lo! it was ever lewdness and abomination, and an evil way. Forbidden to you are your mothers, and your daughters, and your sisters, and your father's sisters, and your brother's daughters, and your sister's daughters, and your foster mothers, and your foster sisters, and your mothers-in-law, and your stepdaughters who are under your protection (born) of your women unto whom you have gone in - but if you have not gone in unto them, then it is no sin for you (to marry their daughters) - and the wives of your sons who (spring) from your own loins. And (it is forbidden unto you) that you should have two sisters together, except what had already happened (of that nature) in the past (before Islam). Lo! Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.

And all married women (are forbidden) unto you save those whom your right hand possess. It is a decree of Allah for you. Lawful unto you are all beyond those mentioned, so that you seek them with your wealth in honest wedlock, not debauchery. And those of whom you seek content (by marrying them), give unto them their portions as a duty. And there is no sin for you in what you do by mutual agreement after the duty (has been done). Lo! Allah is ever Knower, Wise. [Al-Qur'an: An-Nisa' (4:23-24)].

Allah (s.w.t.) said: This day are (all) good things made lawful for you. The food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. And so are the virtuous women of the believers and the virtuous women of those who have received the Scripture before you (lawful for you) when you give them their marriage portions and live with them in honor, not in fornication, nor taking them as secret concubines. Whoso denies the faith, his work is vain and he will be among the losers in the Hereafter. [Al-Qur'an: Al-Ma'idah (5:5)].

A foster sister is one who was breast-fed from the same mother. Foster mothers are those who breast-fed a foster daughter or son. This means that a person breast-fed from a woman who is not his/her mother cannot marry his/her foster relatives; they become forbidden as if they were direct blood relatives. For example, a foster sister or aunt cannot marry a foster brother or uncle. However, brothers and sisters of the person who was breast-fed from a foster woman can still marry his/her siblings foster relatives.

The above verses show that one is not allowed to marry a woman and her sister, and the Hadith below shows that a man cannot marry a woman and her father's or mother's sister (aunt).

Abu Hurairah reported: The Prophet (s.a.w.) prohibited that a man be married at the same time to a woman and the sister of either her father or her mother. (Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, At-Tirmizi, An-Nasa'i, and Malik).

It is also important to mention here that marrying first cousins is allowed in Islam, since in some non-Muslim societies, this is not allowed.

A man may not marry a woman whom he had divorced three times, unless she marries another man (for the purpose of marriage) and divorces him for a good reason (not for remarrying the former husband). Allah knows well their intentions; it would be adultery if the originally divorced couple tried to go around the laws of Allah by marrying and divorcing in order to marry the first husband again. This is explained in the divorce section in this document.

A man may not marry a former wife if they had gone through the process of Al-Li`an (double testimony concerning accusation of adultery between them), as explained in the section of Al-Li`an in this document.

In addition, a woman may not marry a non-Muslim man, or a Muslim man to whom she is related by one of the relationships mentioned in the above Qur'anic verses and Hadiths.


Another issue to mention when talking about women in Islam is polygamy. The word polygamy means having more than one mate. Having more than one wife in particular is called polygyny, while having more than one husband is called polyandry. A mixture of men and women is called group marriage or communal marriage. Islam prohibits polyandry and group marriages, but allows polygyny with conditions that restrict the number. In this section, the common word polygyny is used, with an explanation of the Islamic conditions which pertain to it.

Islam allows Muslim men to consider marrying up to four wives at the same time, but there is a necessary condition for this permission. The man must be just to them, and must treat them equally in all matters that are under his control; like provision, and the amount of time he spends with each one. If the man cannot provide for them with justice and equality, he must restrict himself to one, as the Qur'an states.

Allah (s.w.t.) said: And if you fear that you will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if you fear that you cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or that your right hands possess. That is more likely that you will not do injustice. [Al-Qur'an: An-Nisa' (4:3)].

Islam restricted the number of wives a man may have to four; people before Islam used to marry many women. When Islam was revealed all Muslim men were ordered to divorce any wives above the limit. Only the Prophet (s.a.w.) was allowed to exceed this limit; this was a special right given by Allah. Polygyny was organized and limited by Islam rather than left open in number and conditions. It should be noted that many prophets before Muhammad (s.a.w.), like Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), had more than one wife.

In polygamy, each wife has the right to have a separate house of equal quality, or separate apartments in the same house. The husband has no right to force them to live in one house with separate bedrooms unless his wives agree.

Many people think that Islam requires every man to marry four women. If people considered this for a moment, they would find that a society of 80% women and 20% men is needed to make this possible.

Islam is a way of life for all people at all times that provides solutions for all problems that arise among those who follow it. Society benefits from polygamy in many ways, and these should be mentioned here, however, the reader should not perceive this as a justification for the permission, as the laws of Allah do not need defense or justification.

A man who wants children may marry a woman who turns out to be barren. In this case, he does not need to divorce her to marry another wife and have children. In a non-Islamic society, the first wife would be divorced, and nobody who wants children would marry her; this leaves her in a worse situation than the Muslim woman who would have the advantage of being able to stay married and be equal to the second wife.

A woman with a permanent illness which prevents her from fulfilling her duties as a wife and a mother, would not be left. The man can remain her supporter and husband, and at the same time marry another wife.

In a non-Islamic society, when a man meets a woman that he likes, he may divorce his wife to have her. Islam, reduces these chances of socializing with other women, but still leaves the door open for a man to marry a second wife without leaving the first wife. Not divorcing the first wife is a privilege for her, though she can still seek divorce if she prefers.

The permission to marry up to four women is also the only alternative to adultery and fornication in wars, where many men die, leaving the ratio of women to men unbalanced. Even in normal societies when there is no war, there are around 3-5% more women than men. How could these women have husbands, security and fulfillment if polygyny were prohibited?

The permission also protects men from adultery, if a man is unable to wait for an allowed time to be with his wife.

Many other benefits exist, but once again it must be emphasized that these are not explained to justify what Allah said. When Allah and then His Prophet decide something, no Muslim believer is left with a choice concerning the matter. The Qur'an states.

Allah (s.w.t.) said: And it becomes not a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided an affair (for them), that they should (after that) claim any say in their affair; and whoso is rebellious to Allah and His Messenger, he verily goes astray in error manifest. [Al-Qur'an: Al-Ahzab (33:36)].

Many people addressing this issue speak as if one is not allowed to marry a second wife unless his case falls in one of the exceptional cases mentioned above. This perspective is wrong, and makes a woman think that if her husband marries a second wife without the existence of one of the situations, then there must be something wrong with her. The first wife has no reason to feel less than the second wife. Islam made it clear that equality is a necessary condition, and the second wife has no privileges the first wife does not also have.

People argue about whether the rule is one and the exception is more, or vice versa. There is no place for such an endless argument here. Marrying one, two, three, or four women is allowed, as long as the condition of justice is satisfied. However, the person should choose whatever serves Islam better, and do what helps him become a better Muslim and enables him to do more Da`wah in a time when we need a lot of Da`wah. Thus much depends on the time and the environment. It may serve Islam better to limit oneself to one wife at certain times, and it may serve Islam better to have more than one wife at other times.

A Muslim man should fear Allah in making his choice, and should not base his decision on his own inclination. Many men these days do not fear Allah and use this permission loosely, forgetting the conditions attached to it. They may leave the first wife in limbo, deprived her of her rights, and treat her differently than the second wife. Even her children may be treated badly compared with the children of the second wife. Such behavior is a transgression against the laws of Allah and is absolutely prohibited.

Many people ask why a woman cannot marry more than one man. Naturally, if it had been a good thing, Allah would have allowed it; and nobody is permitted to allow what Allah has prohibited.

In examining such a situation, we find that (since the man is the head of the family) there would be more than one leader of the family, an impossible situation.

Paternity is very important in marriages and inheritances, and it would be impossible to keep track of this if the woman were married to many men at the same time.

Besides these factors, a woman's marriage to more than one man would not increase the number of children conceived (in cases when they could be needed).

Allah (s.w.t.) said: O people! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain has spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward Allah in Whom you claim (your rights) of one another, and toward the wombs (that bore you). Lo! Allah has been a Watcher over you. [Al-Qur'an: An-Nisa' (4:1)].


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