The Muslim Marriage
Marriage, in Islam, is defined as a sacred contract between a man and a woman, and it requires three components to make it legal. These are: the agreement of both the bride and the groom; the presence of two witnesses; and the giving of mahr (dowry). Any alliance between a couple that does not have all three is invalid. Let us now take a look at various types of marriage and how they are viewed by Islam.
A Muslim is not permitted to enter a marriage, where it has been agreed that the marriage will last for a fixed period of time only. This type of marriage (mut`ah) is not valid in Islam, where marriage is regarded as a life-long commitment.
Islam allows the concept of arranged marriage as it is tradition that parents play an important role in finding a compatible marriage partner for their son or daughter. However, an arranged marriage is only valid if it has been agreed to by both the bride and the groom.
The Offer and Acceptance (Al-Ijab wal-Qubul) part of the nikah (marriage ceremony) ensures that this is the case. Each party is asked whether they consent to the marriage and the ceremony can only continue if both agree. It is important to note that the bride’s silence is understood to mean her agreement.
Forced marriage should not be confused with arranged marriage. It is true that in both cases the parents of the couple find a partner for their son or daughter; however, if the bride or groom (or even both) does not agree with the marriage, then it is classed as a forced marriage.
Islam strongly disapproves of this. All individuals have the right to decide upon a marriage partner; no one can make that decision for them. The Islamic marriage is based upon, among other things, understanding and compatibility. This is what keeps a marriage strong and ensures that the bond between spouses lasts a lifetime.
This problem may arise where sons or daughters are not able to speak up against their parents’ wishes. It is a sin to force marriage upon someone for whom you have responsibility and it is also a sin to allow the marriage to go ahead if, as the bride or groom, you do not agree with it. Perhaps by involving other family members or an Imam, who are able to speak to the parents on the bride or groom’s behalf, then the marriage can be avoided.
This is not solely a problem in Islam; it is a phenomenon that other religions, such as Hinduism and Sikhism, also experience. If a brother or sister has been forced into marriage, then the union is invalid and should be annulled.
Although they are recognised by Islam for fulfilling all the necessary requirements of nikah (consent of both parties, two witnesses and mahr), secret marriages are strictly disapproved of. They can even be haram if the parents of the bride or groom (or both) are against the marriage. In Islam, the will of the parents is highly respected and, whilst it is recognised that sometimes parents may need to be steered in the right direction, there are ways of doing this without resorting to marrying in secret.
Again, asking relatives or an Imam to mediate can give the desired outcome without the couple having to go against Islam. A secret marriage that is not blessed by the parents can only lead to problems and it will not experience the true extent of comfort and tranquility that characterizes an Islamic marriage.
Love marriages, which come about when a man and woman fall in love, are accepted by Islam, but the behaviour of the couple before the marriage takes place is, in the majority of cases, against the laws of Islam. Just as happens in Western culture, a man and a woman meet and begin a relationship before deciding that they want to marry.
Dating is prohibited in Islam and so the couple must realise their wrong-doing and marry immediately or they should separate and repent. Parents of the couple, if they are aware of the relationship, should investigate the compatibility of the couple and ensure that marriage or separation takes place as soon as possible.
Polygamy (having more than one spouse) is possibly one of the most misunderstood aspects of Islam, especially amongst followers of other religions. There are two types of polygamy: polygyny (having more than one wife) and polyandry (having more than one husband). According to the laws of Islam, limited polygyny is permissible whereas polyandry is forbidden.
The Qur’an is the only religious book to state that a man should “marry only one”. Before the introduction of the Qur’an, polygyny was commonplace and it was not unheard of for a man to have hundreds of wives. The Holy Qur’an places a limit on the number of wives a Muslim man may have, which is four, as shown in the quote above.
However, Islam does not recommend marrying more than one woman. Men are advised that they should only have more than one wife if they can afford to keep them comfortably and that they are able to deal with each wife fairly, spending equal amounts of time with them and equal amounts of money on them, and not favouring the offspring of one wife over another. The Qur’an warns: “You will not be able to deal equally between (your) wives, however much you wish (to do so). But turn not altogether away (from one), leaving her as in suspense. If you do good and keep from evil, lo! Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.” [Qur’an 4: 129]
There are several arguments for polygyny which should be addressed in order to better understand this practice.
- Life expectancy
Women have a higher life expectancy than men; they have fewer accidents and fewer female lives are lost in times of war.
- Population issues
Women outnumber men and so, if polygyny were not permitted, there would be many women who could not get a husband.
- Protection of modesty
Being able to marry a man who is already married allows a woman, who would otherwise not find a husband, to enjoy a respected position in society and to receive the protection that marriage grants to wives.
- Inability to conceive
The primary aim of marriage is to produce children in order to ensure the continuance of Islamic society. In other societies, a husband may divorce his wife if she is unable to conceive. In this case, the woman would be seriously disadvantaged as few men would want to marry someone who is infertile. By allowing the husband to take another wife, the first wife retains all her marriage privileges with an equal status to the second wife.
- Illness/old age
If a woman develops a permanent illness, or has reached old age, and is unable to carry out her duties as a wife, then she can continue to receive the love and support from her husband if he is able to then marry a woman who is able to support her in these duties.
- Sexual appetite
The husband’s sexual appetite may be much stronger than his wife’s, leaving her unable to fulfill his desires. In this case, the husband may take another wife in order to satisfy his sexual urges.
Each wife is entitled to her own house of equal value to those of her husband’s other wives, or to a private apartment in the same house. A husband cannot insist on his wives living in the same house where they have only a room to themselves unless the wives are in agreement.
Interfaith marriages are permitted between a Muslim man and a Christian or Jewish woman under the same conditions as he would marry a Muslim woman. In addition, it is essential that she is Muhsanah (chaste) and that she refrains from sex before marriage. She must also be practising her religion at the time of the nikah.
The Qur’an reports that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Taala سبحانه و تعالى) 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 honour, 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]
However, a Muslim man is not encouraged to marry a non-Muslim if he is not living in a Muslim state. This is because his right to bring up his children according to the teachings of Islam is unlikely to be recognised.
In contrast, Muslim law does not allow a Muslim woman to marry any non-Muslim man as it would compromise her faith. Her children would naturally bear the name and religion of their father and, as a consequence, would not be Muslims.
A Muslim man or woman may marry a partner who has accepted Islam, regardless of their race or their previous faith. However, their intentions must be pure and the acceptance of Islam must not be a temporary measure in order to secure his or her desired partner.
Marriage to a Kuffar (non-believer)
Neither Muslim males nor females are permitted to marry a non-believer. If marriage is desired, then it is essential that the atheist man or woman accepts Islam before a nikah can take place. Islam teaches us both the physical and spiritual importance of marriage. True harmony can only be achieved when both spouses have the same point of view with regard to religion as it plays such an influential role in their everyday lives.
While a proliferation of same sex relationships takes place in other societies, some of which allow same sex “marriage” in the form of civil partnerships, study of the Qur’an and the ahadith show that there is no place for homosexual relationships in Islam.
Under Islamic law, committing a homosexual act is haram and is indeed regarded as a punishable crime. There is no set punishment (hadd) in the Shariah; rather it is decided at the discretion of local authorities on Islam. To demonstrate how seriously Islam views homosexual practices, suggested punishments for the perpetrators include stoning and death, with the death penalty enforced in five officially Muslim states. Both the Qur’an and the ahadith condemn sexual relations between members of the same sex. However, some Muslims question the authenticity of these ahadith.
As we have already learnt, the family unit is the sound base of Islam. Marriage sets up this family unit, into which, Insha’Allah, children are born and then brought up in the Islamic way. A marriage is defined as a contract between a man and a woman, thus leaving no leeway for the acceptance of civil partnerships from which no children can be borne. Also, as Islam forbids sexual relations outside of a marriage, any sexual acts carried out by homosexuals are therefore strictly haram.
The Islamic Marriage Ceremony and Beyond