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The Qur´an uses two words to designate the marriage contract: zawaj (meaning marriage) and nikah (meaning wedlock). The word nikah is the most frequently used one in the Sharia. It denotes four things in the Qur´an, according to the experts of Islamic fiqh: marriage, sexual intercourse, bestowal, and marriageable age. As to the first meaning, the Qur´an says, "Do not marry idolatresses until they believe" (Sura al-Baqara 2:221). The same meaning is found in Sura al-Nisa´ 4:25, where it says, "So marry them, with their people's leave," and Sura al-Nisa´ 4:3, "Marry such women as seem good to you....." Also in Sura al-Nur 24:3, "A fornicator may only marry a fornicatress."

The second meaning of the word nikah, which is sexual intercourse, occurs in Sura al-Baqara 2:230, "Until she marries another husband." In this verse the actual sexual intercourse between husband and wife is meant.

The third meaning, marriage of bestowal, is found in Sura al-Ahzab 33:50, "And any woman believer, if she give herself to the Prophet, and if the Prophet desire to take her in marriage, for thee exclusively, apart from the believers." This sort of bestowal is lawful only for the Prophet.

The fourth meaning, marriageable age, is in Sura al-Nisa´ 4:6, "Test well the orphans, until they reach they reach the age of marrying."(1)

Jurists are in unanimous agreement on the fact that nikah means sexual intercourse and that it is used to denote the marriage contract as a figure of speech because the marriage contract is the legal means for having intercourse.(2) Nikah is permissible only after the marriage contract, concluded between the bridegroom and the bride (al-`aqidan), and the bride's guardian in the presence of at least two witnesses. Nikah has two elements without which it cannot be fulfilled: the first is al-´ijab (response), which is the utterance coming from the guardian or his substitute, and the second is qubul (consent), which is the utterance coming from the husband or his proxy. Then the husband has to pay a bridal gift and a marriage portion.(3) The consent of the bride's guardian is essential for making the marriage contract legal, because "Wedlock cannot be concluded except through a guardian."(4) The subject of the marriage contract will be treated in detail later on. Marriage is not a sacrament in Islam as it is in the Catholic church; rather it is a solemn agreement or binding compact that should not be tampered with. The Qur´an says, "You have had intercourse with each other, and they have made a solemn agreement with you" (Sura al-Nisa´ 4:21). Wedlock in Islam is based on civil contract, which need not be recorded in writing.(5)


The Rights a Man Acquires over his Wife

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Jurists have dealt with the rights of husbands and wives over each other and emphasised the rights of the husband over her wife. Evidence of this fact is the statement of al-Shafi`i: "Wedlock is a sort of bondage [slavery]." She is his slave. A wife ought to obey her husband absolutely in everything he asks of her concerning herself, provided it does not entail disobedience to God.(1) There are Hadiths supporting this position: "God does not regard a woman who does not thank her husband, since she cannot do without him."(2) "It is not permissible that humans should bow down before humans. If humans were permitted to bow down before humans, the wife would have been commanded to bow down before her husband because of his great right over her."(3) `A´isha narrated: "I asked the Prophet, 'Who among people has the greatest right over the woman?' He answered, 'Her husband.' I asked, 'Who has the greatest right over the man?' He answered, 'His mother.' "(4) In Ihya´ `ulum al-din, we read, "There was once a certain man who set out on a journey after having covenanted with his wife that she should not come down from upstairs to downstairs. Her father was downstairs. When he fell ill, the woman sent for the Messenger of God asking his permission to go down to see her father. The Messenger of God said, 'Obey your husband.' The father died. She tried again to get permission from him to see her father, but he said again, 'Obey your husband.' Her father was buried. The Messenger of God sent a message to her that her father was forgiven on account of her obedience to her husband."(5) In al-Ghazzali's opinion, the obedience of the wife to her husband is one of the pillars of faith. "If the woman performs her five [prayers], fasts her month, keeps her genitalia [remains chaste] and obeys her husband, she enters the heaven of her Lord."(6) Al-Ghazzali attributes this narrative to Muhammad. In another narrative, `A´isha said, quoting Muhammad, "A girl asked the Messenger of God, 'O Messenger of God, what right does a husband have over his wife?' He said, 'If he was covered from the parting [of his hair] to the bottom of his feet with matter [or pus], and she licked him, she still has not thanked him enough.' "(7) Ibn Abbas narrated, "A woman from Khath`am came to the Prophet of God, and asked him, saying, 'I am not a virgin, and I want to be married off. What is the right of the husband [over the wife]?' He answered, 'The right a husband acquires over the wife is that she should not keep herself away from him [even] if they were on the back of a camel and he desired her and tried to take her. It is his right that she should not give anything belonging to his house except by his permission; if she does so [without his permission], she will be guilty and he will get the reward. It is his right also that she should not fast voluntarily except by his permission; and if she fasts and goes hungry and thirsty, it will not be accepted of her. If she goes out from his house without his permission, the angels curse her till she comes back to his house or repents.' "(8) In a weak tradition Muhammad is said to have stated that "the woman is nearest to her Lord's Face when she is in the innermost part of her home. Her prayer in the courtyard of her house is better than her prayer in the mosque, and her prayer in her home is better than her prayer in the courtyard of her house, and her prayer in her chamber is even better than her prayer in her home."(9)

Perhaps this stress on keeping the woman confined to her chamber stems from the statement of the Prophet of Islam: "The woman has ten nakednesses; when she marries the husband covers one nakedness, and when she dies the grave covers all ten of them."(10)

Al-Ghazzali lists the rights a husband acquires over his wife as follows:

The rights a husband acquires over his wife are numerous. The most important are two: The first is protection and covering, and the second one is desisting from demanding anything that is beyond the needful, and refraining from what he earns if it were from an unlawful source. This was the way of women in the past. When a man would go out of his home, his wife and daughter would say to him, "Beware of ill-gotten gain; we can endure hunger and hardship, but we can by no means endure the Fire." A man in the past went on a journey. His neighbours resented his departure, and said to his wife, 'Why do you consent to his travelling although he left you no provision?" She replied, "I have known my husband as an eater, not as a provider, and I have a God that provides for me. The eater will perish and the Provider will remain." One of the duties of the wife is not to squander his money but keep it. The Messenger of God said, "She is not allowed to feed [people] from [the provision of] his house except by his permission, barring damp food that is about to rot. If she feeds by his approval, she receives the same reward as he. If she feeds without his permission, he receives the reward and she the guilt." Her parents have the obligation to teach her good conduct and pleasant treatment of the husband.

Some of the rights he acquires over her are:

She should keep her husband's honour in his absence, seek his pleasure in all her affairs, not deal unfaithfully with him in terms of herself or his money, and not go outdoors except by his permission. When she goes out by his permission, she should be shabbily dressed and should seek secluded areas, keeping away from the streets and the market-places, and should be careful not to let a stranger hear her voice or recognise her. On her errands, she should not let herself be known to her husband's friends, but rather conceal her identity from anyone she thinks knows her or vice versa. Her main concern ought to be how to mind her affairs and manage her home, eager to perform her prayer and her fasting. If her husband's friend happens to ask for permission [to come in] while her husband is not there, she ought not to inquire or answer his question out of jealousy over herself and her husband. She should be content with the provision God gives her husband, promoting her husband's rights over her own and her family's rights, observing cleanliness of her body, ready always to let him enjoy her whenever he desires, having compassion for her children, being protective over them, refraining from cursing the children or contradicting her husband. Muhammad said, "Both I and a woman with burnt cheeks, such as these, will be in heaven-- a woman who was hated by her husband, locked herself up, and tended to her daughters until they married [or died]." He also said, "God has forbidden all mankind from entering heaven before me, yet I will look to my right and behold a woman will go ahead of me to the gate of paradise. Then I will say, 'Why is this one going ahead of me?' And it will be answered, 'O Muhammad, this is a fair and beautiful woman who cared for orphans and was patient with them till they reached their destiny, and God thanked her for this.' " The accepted standard of behaviour from her is that she should not boast over her husband for her beauty, or despise him for his ugliness. Then I knew she was a godly woman who had a husband for whom she adorned herself.

She should practice good behaviour and keep herself secluded in her husband's absence, and to return to playfulness and exhilaration [which bring pleasure] in her husband's presence. She is not to hurt her husband by any means. Mu`ads Ibn Jabal narrates, "The Messenger of God said, 'Whenever a woman hurts her husband, his wife of the wide-eyed houris says, "Do not hurt him. May God fight you [or damn you]! With you he is a passer-by, who is about to leave you to come to us.' "(11)

The Hanafite jurist al-Kasani sums up man's rights over his wife in this statement: "He has the right to look at her and touch her in her lifetime, because intercourse [which is established already as his good right] is beyond looking and touching. And since it [i.e. intercourse] has been established as lawful, then looking and touching are established as so after the same manner. It is disputable, however, whether to take pleasure in her apart from the sexual organs when she has her menstrual period or in child-birth. Among these rights is "the possession of pleasure", which means that the husband has the exclusive right to all of her body for the purpose of pleasure, or the possession of herself or her soul as a right for self-gratification, an opinion which is agreed upon by all our theological leaders, for the purposes of intercourse cannot be fulfilled without these.(12) Among these rights is keeping her locked and confined, which means the right to forbid her from going out in public. This is based on God's command to "house women" (Sura al-Talaq 65:6). The command to "house" them actually forbids a woman from going out and showing herself in public, because the command to do a certain thing forbids one from doing its opposite. Were she not forbidden from going out in public, she would be a temptation, and parentage of the children would be in doubt, for this makes a man suspicious and causes him to deny his parentage.(13) The man has the right to forbid his wife and daughters from going out so that there should be no temptation, and because of the danger of "the disorder of parentage."(14)

At the end of this chapter I would like to present a list of a woman's duties to her husband as quoted from a book recently published in Arabic. These are the things she should not do:

  1. She should avoid standing on the balcony.
  2. She should conceal herself while welcoming men at the door.
  3. She should not go out after she has used perfume.
  4. She should wear her dresses long and not imitate unbelieving women.
  5. She should not speak in a loud voice.
  6. She should not walk in the middle of the road.
  7. She should not mingle with men or shake hands with them.

The author then lists in brief what she should do in the following:

  1. Speak softly and honourably when you are walking.
  2. Walk by the side of the road, and keep away from the middle.
  3. Beware of standing by the door to welcome guests.
  4. Do not go out of your home frequently for unnecessary things.
  5. Do not lower your veil outside your house under any circumstances whatever.
  6. When you stand in the balcony, take care what you wear.
  7. Beware of shaking hands with strange men. Don't travel without a guardian relative. These two actions are abominations and are the pitfalls of the women of our time.
  8. Watch not to waste your time uselessly; so praise [God] and ask for His pardon frequently in an inaudible voice.
  9. Avoid turning around and always look down.
  10. You are weak and in need of your Lord's mercy; so raise your hands up to Him constantly asking for His pardon for your guilt, and for health for your good deeds.(15)


The Rights a Woman Acquires over her Husband

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Muhammad said in his final address, "And now, people, you acquire certain rights over your wives, and they do you. The right you acquire over them is that they should not let someone you hate sleep in your beds, and not to commit a manifest obscenity [or adultery]. If they do [commit it], then God has given you permission to leave them alone in their beds and give them a beating, though not too hard. If they give over, they get their provision and clothing with kindness; I command you good-will for your wives, for they are your captives(1) that do not own anything of their own. You have taken them by the faithfulness of God, and made their sexual organs lawful for you by the words of God."(2)

`Abdullah Ibn `Amr Ibn al-`As narrated: "The Messenger of God said to me, 'O `Abdullah! Have I not been informed that you fast daily during the day and offer prayers every night throughout the Fast?' `Abdullah replied, 'Yes, O Messenger of God!' The Prophet said, 'Don't do that; fast for few days and then give it up for few days, offer prayers and also sleep at night, as your body requires, and your wife has her rights.' "(3) Hakim Ibn Mu`awiya al-Qushayri, quoting his father, said, "I said, 'O Messenger of God, what is the right that the wife of any of us acquires over him?' He replied, 'To feed and clothe her, if you yourself have food and clothing. Do not slap her on the face, nor utter obscenities to her, nor desert her except inside the house.' "(4)

Protection by the husband is one of the rights that the woman acquires. Muhammad said, "I warn you about the right of the two weak ones: the orphan and the women."(5) Sexual intercourse is another right she has over him, because it is the duty of the husband as long as he has no excuse. Malik holds this same opinion.(6) If he travels for any reason or for any necessity, she must forego this right no matter how long his journey lasts. But if he has no substantial excuse, and makes excuses for not having intercourse several times, then they can be separated [by law].(7) If he has a free woman for wife, he has to sleep with her once every four nights, and if he has four wives, each of them receive one night every four nights.(8) He should treat his wives justly. Muhammad said in the Hadith, "If a man has two wives, and he shows favour to one against the other, he will come on the Resurrection Day with a limp."(9)


The Importance of Marriage in Islam

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Marriage, according to the Qur´an, is a desirable thing: "Marry the spouseless among you, and your slaves and handmaidens that are righteous" (Sura al-Nur 24:32). It is the religious tradition (sunna) of the Prophet Muhammad: "Wedlock [nikah] is my tradition in religion; whoever does not apply my law has no part with me. Marry, because I will vie the nations in number by you. Whoever has the ability to marry, let him marry, and whoever has not the ability, let him resort to fasting; for fasting is as good as castration."(1) Marriage is also half of the faith: "When the servant marries, he completes half of his religion; so let him fear God in the remaining half."(2) According to the jurists it is an obligation when one has a strong desire; namely one is guilty if he has a desire for a certain woman, is financially able to fulfill it (in marriage), but does not marry. He has committed a cardinal sin.(3)

Muhammad has prohibited celibacy.(4) In Hadith we read: "There will be none in paradise but have two wives; he will be able to see their legs even if they are behind seventy garments."(5) In Musnad of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, it says, "Our tradition [sunna] is wedlock. The most evil among you are those who are celibate, and the vilest among your dead are those who are celibate."(6) Muhammad once asked a man named `Akaf if he was married, the man replied, "No, by God." He asked, "Do you have a concubine?" The man answered, "No." Muhammad asked, "Are you well off?" He said, "Yes." Muhammad said, "You are, then, a brother of the devils. And if you are a Christian, you are also their brother.(7) But if you are one of us, our life-style is giving in marriage."(8) Muhammad aroused men's interest in marriage because women bring blessing and wealth: "Marry women because they bring possession"(9) and "Two prostrations by a married man are better than seventy by someone who is single."(10)

We learn from the stories of tradition that marriage is not only the law of Muhammad, but the law of all the prophets, as well. "Whoever embraces my religion, and the religion of David, Solomon, and Abraham let him marry so long as he can; otherwise let him fight for the cause of God. If he is martyred [dies in war], God will wed him to the wide-eyed houris. The only exception to this is that if he attends to his parents or if he is under binding obligation to people."(11) So the one who does not marry exposes himself to the curse of God and the angels: "The curse of God and of angels and of all the people is upon anyone who lives in celibacy-- there is no celibacy after John, the son of Zachariah."(12)

The most important reason for marriage is bearing children. Jabir narrated, "While we were returning with the Messenger of God from a certain incursion, I started driving my camel fast, as it was a lazy one. A rider came behind me... Behold the rider was the Prophet himself. He said, 'Why are you in such haste?' I replied, 'I am newly married.' He asked, 'Did you marry a virgin or matron [a previously married woman]?' I answered, 'She is a matron.' He said, 'Then, [seek to beget] children! Children, O Jabir.' "(13)

It seems that in oriental societies it is a tradition and a part of their history to despise and suspect celibates! Anyone who does not marry exposes himself to all sorts of accusations. Ibrahim Ibn Masarra narrated, "Tawus said to me, 'Get married or else I will say to you what `Umar said to Abu al-Zawa´id: "The only thing that keeps you from marrying is impotence or lasciviousness." ' "(14)


The Importance of Marriage from the Viewpoint of the Jurists

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The jurists say: "The only worship that has been instituted since the time of Adam till now, which will continue in paradise, is wedlock and faith."(1) Ibn Humam says about the relationship of wedlock to worship, "It is the closest thing to worship; so that occupying oneself with it is better than abandoning it for mere worship."(2) The importance and high position that the jurists place on wedlock (nikah) lie in its being "A cause for the existence of Islam and the Muslim." It is, therefore, preferred to worship and fighting (Jihad). It is the cause of the existence of the Muslim and Islam, while Jihad only furthers Islam.(3) In Radd al-muhtar, the author says, "It has been preferred to Jihad. Both of them are the cause of the existence of the Muslim and Islam, because the result of the marriage of one single Muslim is much more than the result of fighting. In Jihad you only kill and subdue non-Muslims."(4)

Moreover, there are "other interests regarding wedlock, such as keeping women and oneself from fornication. Wedlock is the only means of obtaining pleasure."(5) There are others, as well, who claim that wedlock is a religious obligation just like fasting, praying, and the other requirements of faith; so that any who abandon it, being capable of paying the marriage portion, supporting a wife, and having intercourse, is considered guilty of sin. Shafi`i, however, thinks it is merely permissible, just like selling or bargaining. They infer that it is a religious duty or obligation from the fact that one is enjoined to abstain from fornication. They say, "Since abstaining from fornication is a religious imperative, and since this can only be attained by wedlock, then that which is the only means to attain to a religious imperative, is also an imperative."(6) The jurists, however, think that nikah cannot possibly mean lust; if it were so, they argue, the Prophet, who married more than one wife, should have sufficed himself with one wife.(7) Yet, it seems that there is no real agreement among the jurists that nikah is a religious obligation or duty. Those who disagree on the issue of having to marry as an incumbent religious obligation quote Sura Al Imran 3:39, "The angels called him [Zachariah] while he was standing praying at the shrine: 'God gives news of John, who will confirm word from God, masterful yet circumspect [hasur, i.e. celibate], and a prophet [chosen] from among honourable people.' " "This Qur´anic statement points out the celibacy of John as a merit worthy of praise. Hasur means someone who does not have sexual relations with women in spite of being able to do so. If nikah was a religious obligation, then John wouldn't have been praised on the account of abandoning it; since abandoning an obligation is worthy of blame rather than praise."(8) Al-Sarakhsi rejects this view and argues that "nikah is the tradition of Muhammad, while celibacy was the tradition of John. A Muslim has to follow the tradition of Muhammad."(9) The consensus of jurists agree that the increase of the nation is for the public good, since Muhammad will boast over the rest of the nations on the Day of Resurrection because of the large number of his nation."(10)

go to CHAPTER 9 - Marriage from the Viewpoint of the Sufis

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