Marriage in Islam

Marriage in Islam

Marriage in Islam is an Islamic prenuptial contract (Arabic Katb el-Kitab, Hebrew Ketubah, Urdu Nikah-Nama) between a man and woman to live as husband and wife. It is a formal, binding contract considered an integral part of an Islamic marriage, and outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom and bride or other parties involved in marriage proceedings. It has to be a public declaration and can not be secretive.



It was a Sunnah (custom) of earlier Prophets which the Islamic Prophet Muhammad re-instituted and passed on to his ummah. The Arabic word for marriage is nikah (Arabic: نكاحnikāḥ), which is generally used to refer to Islamic marriages. Marriage in Islam is a contract (containing the standard elements of offer, acceptance and consideration) and not regarded as sacrosanct. It may be terminated (divorce) subject to certain conditions, although Hadith state it should be the last resort when there is no chance of reconciliation. If a divorce is instituted by the husband it is called talaq and may be done unilaterally, if at the behest of the wife it is known as khula and requires the acceptance of it by the husband; failing which a qadi (Sharia court judge) may administer it, subject to certain formalities. Marriage is highly valued and regarded as being half of faith, according to saying of prophet Muhammad. The Prophet of Islam has said: "Marriage is my Sunnah (practice or action of the Prophet) and whoever does not follow my Sunnah is not my true follower." (Ibn Haiah, Babun Nikah). The Qur'an asserts that marriage is the only legitimate way to satisfy one's sexual desire.[1] Islam recognizes value of sex and companionship and advocates marriage as the foundation for families. Islam does not believe in celibacy, and is not a precondition to be appointed any clerical positions.[2]


The Islamic marriage is declared in the presence of people through a responsible personality with great solemnity and gravity after he delivers a sermon to counsel and guide them. Although it may be the norm it is not required that the person marrying the couple should be religiously qualified. The Qur'an tells believers that even if they are poor they should marry to protect themselves from immorality [3][Quran 24:33].

Relations prohibited for marriage

In certain sections of the pre-Islamic Arab tradition, the son used to inherit the wife of his deceased father. The Qur'an has prohibited this practice as well as marrying women who are not divorced from their husbands (i.e. who are already married to someone else). Polygamy, though permitted, is subject to certain conditions and the requirement upon the husband that all wives be treated equally, and the bride to be may stipulate in the marriage contract her conditions such as monogamy. The Qu'ran also restricted pre-Islamic practice of numerous wives to a maximum of four simultaneously. Besides this, marriage is prohibited with women based on three kinds of relationships [4]:

A bride signing the nikkah nama (marriage certificate)

Prohibitions based on consanguinity

Seven relations are prohibited because of consanguinity i.e. kinship or relationship by blood, viz. mothers, daughters, sisters, paternal aunts, maternal aunts and nieces (whether sister's or brother's daughters). In this case, no distinction is made between full and half relations, both being equally prohibited. Distinction is however made with step relations i.e. where both the biological mother and father of a couple wishing to marry are separate individuals for both parties, in which case it is permitted. Secondly, the word “mother” also connotes the “father’s mother” and the “mother’s mother” all the way up. Likewise the word “daughter” also includes the “son’s daughter” and the “daughter’s daughter” all the way down. Thirdly, the sister of the maternal grandfather and the sister of the paternal grandmother (great aunts) are also included on equal basis in the application of the directive.[5]

Cousin marriages are permitted in Islam and practised by Muslims.[6][7]

Prohibitions based on suckling

Marriage to foster relations are permitted unlike the ones through consanguinity, however the English term foster is sometimes erroneously used for want of a more appropriate word to describe the relationship formed by suckling from the breast of wet nurse, this is what is meant by "fosterage" in Islam as in the quotation below. In this case the infant is regarded in Islam as having the same degree of affinity as in consanguinity and therefore prohibited in marriage when he grows up to those related to the wet nurse by the same degree as if to his own mother.

Hadith reports confirm that fosterage does not happen by a chance suckling, it refers to the first two years of a child's life before it is weaned [8][9][10][11] Islahi writes that "this relationship is established only with the full intent of those involved. It only comes into being after it is planned and is well thought of" [12]

Prohibitions based on marriage

The daughter-in-law is prohibited for the father, and the mother-in-law, the wife’s daughter, the wife’s sister and nieces of the wife's siblings, the maternal and paternal aunts of the wife are all prohibited for the husband. However, these are conditional prohibitions:

  1. Only the daughter of that wife is prohibited with whom one has had conjugal contact.
  2. Only the daughter-in-law of a real son is prohibited.
  3. The sister of a wife, her maternal and paternal aunts and her brother's or sister's daughters (nieces) are only prohibited if the wife is in wedlock with the husband.[13]

The above prohibitions are given from the male perspective for brevity; the analogous counterparts would apply i.e. aunt transpose to uncle from the female perspective.


The Qur'an outlines some conditions for a nikah to take place [Quran 4:24]:

  • A nikah should be conducted through a gift – which here refers to the Mahr. Once a mahr has been ascertained with the realization that it is an obligation of a Muslim husband, the groom is required to pay it to the bride at the time of marriage, however he and his bride can mutually agree to delay the time of its payment, or the wife can unilaterally decide to forego it. In 2003, Rubya Mehdi published an article in which the culture of mahr among Muslims was thoroughly reviewed. There is no concept of dowry in Islam, though the English term "dowry" is sometimes used erroneously to translate mahr, which can be misleading, and "marriage gift" is more accurate (see also dower and bride price). Important distinction between mahr (Donatio Propter Nuptias in Latin law) and dowry should be noted as it has become common practice to erroneously refer to the mahr as dowry; whereas the latter is the payment to the groom from the bride's family, and is not an Islamic practice but borrowed from other religions into some Muslim cultures, notably Indian Sub-continent.
  • Another requisite of marriage is chastity. No fornicator has the right to marry a chaste woman and no fornicator has the right to marry a chaste man, except if the matter has not gone to court and the two purify themselves of this sin by sincere repentance.[14][15]
  • Marriage is permitted for a man with a woman from the People of the Book (Arabic - Ahl al Kitab, Christians and Jews) but not to polytheists. For a woman, marriage to any other than a Muslim is prohibited.[16][17]
  • It is customary that marriage takes place with the consent and presence of the elders of the family. However, if the marriage does not take place through the consent of the guardians or the elders of a family, then there must be a solid reason for this. In the absence of such a reason, a Muslim state has the authority to stop such a marriage from taking place [18] Prophet Muhammad made it clear upon the guardians through both his words and the measures he took that they must not take any decision in this regard without the lady's consent. If the lady wants, their decision can be revoked.[19][20] Binti Khudham says that when she became a widow, her father solemnized her marriage. She did not like the decision. So she came over to Muhammad and he gave her the permission to revoke her marriage.[21] Hence forced marriages are against Islamic teachings.

Rights and obligations of spouses

According to Islam, both man and woman have rights when they enter into a marriage contract [22] and the husband is supposed to head the family-unit [Quran 4:34]. This guardianship has two aspects for both partners:

  1. The husband's financial responsibility for the welfare of his wife and any children they may produce. In return, it is the duty of the wife to be obedient with regards to how the husband's wealth should be spent. However if the wife has wealth in her own capacity she is not obliged to spend it upon the husband or children, as she can own property and assets in her own capacity, c.f. some other faiths where the wife and her wealth are deemed the chattel of the husband. An indication of the financial expectation from the husband is in the Mahr given by him to the wife, as per the custom of the society.
  2. The husband's physical and emotional strength and honour. In return, the wife is supposed to guard the secrets of her husband and to be faithful.

Several commentators have stated that the superiority of a husband over his wife is relative and the obedience of the wife is also restrictive.[23] The net import of the Qur'an is to establish a healthy social unit. In order to correct domestic abuse, the Quran advises men that if they are certain of a rebellious attitude by the woman, they should first admonish her, then refuse to share beds, and finally hit her (without leaving a mark and not on the face, as established by the Hadith). This refers to behaviour which is not expected from a sane woman. In explaining this Ibn Abbas gives an example of striking with a toothstick (that at the time of revelation was a very tiny piece of wood, incapable of creating any pain).

Women are also reminded that in case the husband is not fulfilling his responsibilities, there is no stigma on them in seeking divorce [Quran 4:128]. The Quran re-emphasizes that justice for the woman includes emotional support, and reminds men that there can be no taking back of the gifts given to women.

See also

  • Nikah mut‘ah (pre-planned temporary marriage)
  • Mahr (marriage gift or 'donatio propter nuptias'- Latin)
  • Walima (marriage banquet offered by groom day after nikah)
  • Talaq (unilateral divorce at behest of husband)
  • Khula (dissolution of marriage at behest of wife)

External links


  1. ^ [Quran 24:32]
  2. ^ Mohammed, Sherif. "On Marriage in Islam". Jannah.Org. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
  3. ^ Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 5, 400.
  4. ^ [Quran 4:22]
  5. ^ Ghamidi, Javed Ahmad (in Urdu (tr: English)). Mizan: A Comprehensive Introduction to Islam. Lahore: Al-Mawrid. 
  6. ^ "Your views: Cousin marriage". BBC News. 16 November 2005. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  7. ^ Reid, Sue (7 June 2011). "It's time to confront this taboo: First cousin marriages in Muslim communities are putting hundreds of children at risk". Mail Online. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  8. ^ Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 616, (no. 3590)
  9. ^ Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 912, (no. 5102)
  10. ^ Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 619, (no. 3606)
  11. ^ "Every relationship which is prohibited (for marriage) owing to consanguinity is also prohibited owing to fosterage"Malik ibn Anas, Al-Mu’atta, 395-396, (no. 1887)
  12. ^ Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 2, 275.
  13. ^ Malik ibn Anas, Al-Mu’atta’, 341, (no. 1600)
  14. ^ [Quran 24:3]
  15. ^ Abu Da’ud, Sunan, vol. 2, 227, (nos. 2051-2052)
  16. ^ [Quran 2:221]
  17. ^ [Quran 60:10]
  18. ^ Abu Da’ud, Sunan, vol. 2, 236, (no. 2085)
  19. ^ Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 1201, (no. 6968)
  20. ^ Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 596, (no. 3476)
  21. ^ Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 919, (no. 5138)
  22. ^ [Quran 2:228]
  23. ^ Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 2, 291-292

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