Marriage in Islam
The institution of marriage and family is pivotal in Middle East societies, both ancient and modern; perhaps the biblical genealogy of the Old Testament is an indication of this fact. Marriage practices, customs and traditions evolved throughout many thousands of years in this central part of the ancient world.
When the Divine Message of Islam was revealed in the sixth century AD, it was a revolutionary reformation of all aspects of human life: economic, social, and political, and of course religious. Among these was the reformation of marriage practices that prevailed in the pre-Islamic times or ages of ignorance (Al-Gahiliah). These reformations included: limiting the number of wives a man can marry to only four after it was unlimited; allowing women to carry their own family name, and have their financial independence, because they were allowed to trade in their own name and maintain their wealth separate from the husband.
Perhaps marriage in Islam is best described in the following two verses from the Holy Quran, the words of the All Mighty:
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِّتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ. ( الروم 21 )
“And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts. Undoubtedly in these are signs for those who reflect.” (30:21)
وَاللّهُ جَعَلَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا وَجَعَلَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَزْوَاجِكُم بَنِينَ وَحَفَدَةً وَرَزَقَكُم مِّنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ أَفَبِالْبَاطِلِ يُؤْمِنُون وَبِنِعْمَتِ اللّهِ هُمْ يَكْفُرُونَ. (النحل 71 )
“And Allah has made for you wives of your own kind, and has made for you, from your wives, sons and grandsons, and has bestowed on you good provision. Do they then believe in false deities and deny the Favors of Allah” (by not worshipping Allah Alone). An Nahl, 72
Please note the emphasis in the first verse on love and mercy, and on the family in the second verse. This in itself was an important reformation, indicating the necessity of Divine guidance as to the very basic elements of successful marriage, and successful human love, and the family.
Islamic marriage laws together with the inheritance laws regulate the relationships in the basic unit of the human society, the family, in a manner that promotes fairness and dignity, as well as the emotional needs of both the woman and the man and all members of the extended family: in-laws and siblings. So Marriage laws in Islam, while they regulate the relation between men and women in a perfect balance, also foster the preservation and welfare of a healthy relationship in the immediate and the extended family, and in society as a whole.
In Islam, marriages are not considered to be ‘made in heaven’ between ‘soul-mates’ destined for each other; they are not sacraments. They are social contracts which bring rights and obligations to both parties, and can only be successful when these are mutually respected and cherished.
It is interesting to note that in most western countries including Australia modern marriage laws adopted the principles of the Islamic Marriages as a social contracts and departed from the 13th century ideas of marriage as sacraments. In fact the system of marriages registration and marriage celebrants was developed in the ninth century Egypt by the Fatimid’s.
Islamic Contract of Marriage:
In Islam marriage is a formal agreement or a contract (Aqqd Azwag, Aqqed Alqran or Nikah) between a woman and a man, which creates the marital relationship. A marriage contract has a number of essential conditions, and also it can include special conditions that the two parties may wish to include and agree upon.
The Prophet (SAW) said that marriage is the most favored institution by Allah (SWT). As such it is the most important agreement a Muslim will enter into in his life.
The formal conditions or requirements for a valid marriage are as follows:
- The Offer and Acceptance (Al Ijaab Wa Qboul):
1.1.The essential requirement of the contract is the Offering and Acceptance known as Ijaab and Qabool. These statements verify the mutual agreement of the parties concerned and create the marriage relationship.
1.2.The Ijaab and qabool should be stated in clear, well defined words, in one and the same sitting, and in the presence of the witnesses. The person conducting the ceremony may help the two parties to say the offering and accepting words.
1.3.Ijaab and Qabool should be in a language understood by both parties. Qabool should be in the past tense to indicate that acceptance has actually happened and has been completed.
1.4.While documenting the marriage contract is not a requirement, yet it is important to document it for future reference and to preserve the rights of the husband and wife.
- Eligibility of Bride and Groom:
2.1.The groom must be a chaste Muslim having attained the age of puberty. He must not be related to the bride by any of the permanently prohibiting blood, breast feeding, or marital relationships, such as his sisters, paternal and maternal aunts, daughters, grand daughters and others.
2.2.He must not be prohibited from marrying the bride for any of the temporary reasons stipulated in the Quran and Sunnah. For example if a man has four wives, then all other women become temporarily prohibited from him (Please Note that marrying more than one woman is prohibited in Australia). Another example of a temporary reason is that as long as a man is married to a particular woman, all of her sisters become temporarily prohibited for him.
2.3.The requirement a bride must fulfill is that she must be a chaste Muslim, Christian or Jew. She must not be married to another man, and must not be related to the groom by any of the permanently prohibiting blood, breast feeding, or marital relationships in addition to not being prohibited from marrying the groom for any of the temporary reasons.
- Bride’s Permission and Consent:
3.1.Without the bride’s permission, the contract of marriage is null and void, or may be invalidated by the Islamic authorities at the bride’s request.
3.2.The minimum required permission may be done by either voicing her approval or through a passive expression such as remaining silent when asked about a potential husband and simply nodding her head, or making any other motion to indicate that she does not object to the marriage.
3.3.The Prophet (S.A.W) said: “A deflowered unmarried woman (i.e. widow or divorcee) may not be married without her expressed approval; and a virgin may not be married without her permission, and her silence indicates her consent.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
- The Woman’s Wali (Male Guardian):
4.1.The next requirement for a valid contract of Marriage is for the protection of the woman’s rights, and that is the approval of the woman’s guardian known as the wali. The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “A marriage (contract) is not valid without a wali.” (Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi)
4.2.Normally, a woman’s wali is her father. If, for any reason, her father is unable to act, her wali would then be her next closest blood relation: the grandfather, uncle, brother, son and so on. The guardian or wali should ascertain the suitability and capability of the prospective husband and review any special conditions and make sure that the bride understands and agrees to it.
4.3.If the bride does not have a Muslim blood-relative as a wali, the Islamic authority, represented by the ruler or judge, would appoint a wali for her. In non-Muslim communities the local Muslim Minister of Religion (Imam) or an elder Muslim can act as the wali of a woman, with her consent.
- The witnesses:
5.1.Another requirement for the validity of a marriage contract is the presence of at least two trustworthy Muslim male witnesses. The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “A marriage is not valid without a wali and two trustworthy witnesses”. (Ahmad, Ibn Hibbaan, and others, Authentic according to al-Albaani)
- The Mahr (Dowry):
6.1.The mahr or Sadaqq (Dowry) is a gift given by the man to the woman, on the occasion of the marriage. Allah (SWT) said:
“وَآتُواْ النَّسَاء صَدُقَاتِهِنَّ نِحْلَةً فَإِن طِبْنَ لَكُمْ عَن شَيْءٍ مِّنْهُ نَفْسًا فَكُلُوهُ هَنِيئًا مَّرِيئًا“
And give to the women (whom you marry) their Mahr (obligatory bridal money given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage) with a good heart, but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it, and enjoy it without fear of any blame (as Allah has made it lawful). (an-Nisaa, 4)
6.2.Allah (SWT) also made a commandment regarding this by saying:
فَمَا اسْتَمْتَعْتُم بِهِ مِنْهُنَّ فَآتُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ فَرِيضَةً وَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِيمَا تَرَاضَيْتُم بِهِ مِن بَعْدِ الْفَرِيضَةِ إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا
6.3. “… so with those with whom you have enjoyed sexual relations, give them their Mahr as prescribed; but if after a Mahr is prescribed, you agree mutually (to give more), there is no sin on you. Surely, Allah is Ever All-Knowing, All Wise”(An-Nisaa, 24).
- Other Conditions:
7.1.At the time of the marriage contracting, either the bride or the groom may wish to set conditions whose violation would invalidate the contract. This is acceptable as long as the conditions do not violate any Islamic principles. An example of a condition may be that a woman stipulates that she remain in a particular homeland or country during their marriage, or that the wife may have the right to terminate the marriage by divorcing her husband.
This is not a comprehensive review of the topic of marriage in Islam, but simply a brief outline of basic knowledge that I think people intending to marry should have.
Mostafa E. Ghandar, JP
Armidale, NSW, Australia 2005