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West London Islamic Centre & Jamia Masjid

Islamic Guide

Marriage: The Sacred Institution

"O mankind, reverence your Guardian-Lord Who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from them both scattered (like seeds) countless men and women - fear Allah, through whom you demand your mutual rights, and reverence the wombs that bore you: for Allah ever watches over you." [Al-Qur'ran 4:1]

Islam considers marriage a bedrock of society, as such there are many authentic narrations of the Prophet (pbuh) that encourage adults and especially the youth to marry as is when practicable and not to delay unnecessarily. The Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said,

"When a servant of Allah marries, he has completed half of his religious obligations, and he must fear Allah in order to complete the second half." [al-Baihaqi]

Narrated 'Abdullah: We were with the Prophet  while we were young and had no wealth whatsoever. So Allah's Apostle said,

"O young people! Whoever among you can marry, should marry, because it helps him lower his gaze and guard his modesty (i.e. his private parts from committing illegal sexual intercourse etc.), and whoever is not able to marry, should fast, as fasting diminishes his sexual desire." [Sahih Bukhari]

What does Islam say about Marriage?

Marriage in Islam is a legally-binding agreement between a man and a woman establishing their intention and mutual commitment to live together according to the teachings of the faith. They must remember their duty to Allah (swt) and to each other at all times, and that they have mutual rights and responsibilities.

The selection of marriage partners between Muslims is often regarded as old-fashioned by non-Muslims. Because Islam emphasises chastity and modesty, there is normally little social contact between young Muslim men and women, especially of the kind which is regarded as perfectly normal in society today. For practising Muslims there is no such thing as dating or premarital intimacy of any kind. In Islam, intimate relations are only for those within the security of a leagal marriage. There should be no sexual experimentation or lewdness before marriage and fidelity within marriage is essential.

Arranged Marriages not Forced Marriages

Although young people are at liberty to express their preferences and state what they are looking for in a prospective partner, it is not the usual practice for them actively to seek a partner for themselves, though it is becmoing more common. This is mostly done by their parents or other elders within the family. In other words, it is usually an 'arranged marriage'. Arranged marriage must fulfil the basic condition of the freely given consent of both the bride and the groom. A 'forced' marriage, where consent has not been given by either the bride or the groom, or is given only under excessive pressure or duress, is a different matter; this would be contrary to the teachings of Islam, and would immediately call into question the validity of the marriage.

Islam abolished forced marriages deemed as a practice of the pagans. In a well-known hadith documented in Sahih Bukhari, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:

“A previously married woman shall not be married without being consulted and a virgin shall not be married without her consent.”

This statement clearly establishes the principle of the female’s right to choose a marriage partner. Neither the legal guardian nor anyone else can coerce a female (or male) to marry against her wishes, since Islam emphatically disallows forced marriages.

This is clear from an incident in the life of the Prophet (pbuh) were Ibn Abbas reported that a girl came to the Messenger of Allah, (pbuh), and she reported that her father had forced her to marry without her consent. The Messenger of Allah, (pbuh), gave her the legitimate choice of either accepting the marriage or annulling it... (Ibn Hanbal No.2469). It is recorded that the girl said: "Actually I accept this marriage but I wanted to let women know that parents have no right (to force a husband on them)." [Ibn Majah, No.1873]

Interestingly, Saudi Arabia banned forced marriages, warning fathers and male relatives of the victimised brides that they would end up in prison. The Head of the Council of Scholars at the time Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah Al-Sheikh (ra) said. “Those following this pre-Islamic and distasteful tradition will not be released until they change their minds”

It's a shame that small sections of the Muslim community still practice this unIslamic culture, giving large sections of the media fodder to malign Islam with and to blur Islam's clear cut and agreed upon stance on this issue.

There is not a single Islamic scholar (Alim) in the world that argues it is allowed, because it is such a clear issue of sin. Those Muslims that practice this don't envoke Islamic evidences to justify forced marriage, but refer to localised cultures from where they originate. This distinction, we believe, is purposefully perpetuated by some quarters, to vilify Islam. Fortunately help is at hand for potential and real victims of  forced marriage with a government initiative called the Forced Marriage Unit

It is noted however that some Muslim parents do place undue pressure on their children, especially their daughters, in the choice of partner for marriage; in particular, greater emphasis is given to 'family honour and ties' than to the welfare and happiness of their children. It is a practice that should not be continued. Open and frank discussion between parents and their children would help avoid misunderstandings and unreasonable exercise of parental authority.

Arranged marriages, then, are still a general custom among Muslims as the best way to find, vet and meet potential husbands or wives within the overall context of the Islamic way of life. Once a potential match is arranged, the most important Islamic requirement is the freely given consent of both the prospective bride and groom; without this, the marriage should not proceed. Arranged marriages are not, of course, unique to Muslims; other religious groups use similar matchmaking methods and such marriages are generally more stable and less prone to divorce than marriages based on premarital, emotional and sexual experimentation or experience.

The main quality to look for in a potential partner in marriage has been given by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh):

"A woman is married for four things: her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman (otherwise) you will have lost. " [Sahih Bukhari]

"Do not marry only for the sake of beauty, as perhaps the beauty will become the cause of moral decline. Do not marry for the sake of wealth, as perhaps the wealth will become the reason for disobedience. Marry rather on the grounds of devotion. " [Ibn Majah]

The other vital part of a marriage agreement is the mahr (dowry) which is paid by the man (not the reverse as in some other cultures) and is for the use of the woman alone unless she decides otherwise. This can be cash, jewellery or even something simple such as a copy of the Qur'an. It is against the spirit and intention behind the mahr for it to be set at such an exorbitant rate that poor people can not afford to marry.

Islam recognises that there are physical and mental differences between men and women. Husbands and wives are companions for each other, and they have clearly defined roles within the family. The husband is responsible for the economic maintenance of the family, and the wife is responsible for the management of household affairs. The family responsibilities are shared between them.

Islam recognises the leadership of men over women, but it does not recognise the domination of one over the other. Even if her wealth is greater than her husband's, the wife is under no obligation to maintain the family financially, although, of course, she may if she wishes through employment, as long as this does not interfere with her responsibilities towards her children and home. She should support her husband at all times unless he specifically asks her to disobey Allah. The husband must be considerate towards his wife and concerned for her welfare. At all times, both husband and wife must reserve their sexuality exclusively for each other.

A Muslim woman, married or single, is a person in her own right; she is not merely an adjunct to her husband, father or brothers. Islamic law preceded modem Western law by thirteen centuries in granting women the right to own property and have their own earnings (even after marriage), something she can share with her husband or not; the decision is hers.

The stereotype image of Muslim women as servants forever in the house cooking and cleaning, with no spirituality, personality, interests or personal life, has no basis in Islamic teachings. Men and women are completely equal in terms of accountability to Allah. However, equal doesn't mean 'the same' - physical differences and capabilities alone should demonstrate that - but both have the same religious obligations and, as Allah states in His Book, the same rewards in this life and in the Hereafter.

It is common for critics of Islam to try to 'prove' that Islam does not treat men and women equally by quoting the inheritance laws, by which men inherit a greater share of an estate than women. But if we consider the point mentioned earlier about the responsibility men have of looking after the women in their household, it should be clear that a larger inheritance helps to defray such an additional financial burden. What the women don't get as a direct legacy, they get indirectly through the inheritance of the male responsible for their upkeep.

There are many sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that entreat men to show kindness and consideration for women. Muslim men should always show great respect, honour and tenderness to their wives.

Both men and women have the freedom to contribute to society in keeping with their own particular skills and interests, providing they maintain their personal dignity and modesty, and keep within the limits set by Islam. Women can fulfil many essential roles in society (e.g. in education, vocation and social work). At the time of the Prophet (pbuh) women were active against paganism. Prophet Muhammad's wives (may Allah be pleased with them) were consulted by many people (men and women), among them A'ishah was an expert on the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) and Islamic jurisprudence.

The tone for the marriage relationship is set by Allah in the Qur'an:

"And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them and He has put love and mercy between your hearts: verily in that are signs for those who reflect." [Al-Qur'an 30:21]

Thus, there should be mutual respect, kindness, love, companionship and harmonious interaction between husband and wife.

Although, in practice, women generally do the domestic work in a Muslim home, this is not a legal (Islamic law) requirement; it usually stems from the respective working roles of the husband and wife, one outside the home (usually, but not necessarily, the husband), the other within the home, looking after children and familial affairs. Men should, however, help their wives in household chores, following the example of the Prophet (pbuh) who helped his wives and mended his own clothes when the need arose.

The Need for Fidelity

In a Muslim marriage, both husband and wife have a responsibility to meet one another's sexual needs. There should be no extramarital sexual activity for married Muslims (or, as stated earlier, premarital intimacy for unmarried Muslims). Adultery and fornication are not only very serious sins but also - under Islamic law - they are considered serious crimes and carry strong punishments.

Though the burdens of proof both evidential and legal are especially high, so as to reduce actual instance, false accusations or injustice. The spirit of the decree being interpreted to relay the contempt of such acts in the sight of God and to act as a deterrent . The reason is obvious when you look at the disruption to family and society in general as a result of adulterous behaviour.

Any act that destabilises marriage will also destabilise and un-knit the very fabric of society. Hence, the Islamic punitive decrees for such acts are severe. The punishments for fornication and adultery (Zina) also fall within prescribed limits (Hudud).
The Prophet (pbuh) discouraged anything that might lead to promiscuity, saying:

"The zina of the eye is the look; The Zina of the tongue is the word; The Zina of the foot is walking towards the desires." [Abu Dawud]

It is interesting to note Biblical sayings on this subject:

"You shall not commit adultery". [Exodus 20:14]

"When a man is discovered lying with a married woman, they shall both die, the woman as well as the man who lay with her. You shall rid Israel of this wickedness. When a virgin is pledged in marriage to a man and another man comes upon her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them out to the gate of that town and stone both of them to death; the girl because, although in the town, and she did not cry for help, and the man because he dishonoured another man's wife; you shall rid yourselves of this wickedness." [Deuteronomy 22:22-24]

"Do not commit adultery." [Matthew 19:18, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20]

Limited polygamy in Muslim Countries 

Islam, as a comprehensive way of life that builds community life on the basis of giving all people the opportunity to be part of a stable and caring family structure, has allowed polygamy. There may be widows (particularly in times of war) or divorced women with children to look after for whom the possibility of finding unmarried men to marry is remote.

By allowing limited polygamy, Islam ensures that such women are not destined to struggle in life as 'one-parent' families and offers the chance of a secure home with all the rights of a wife. If a woman is unable to have children, her husband may consider taking another wife, rather than the common Western practice of secretly taking a mistress.

However, there are strict conditions laid down in the Qur'an for this allowance: the husband must try to look after his wives equally in every respect, something the Qur'an points out is not possible to do fully; he must also maintain them independently, in separate homes (not under the same roof), dividing his time equally between them. Polygamy (having more than one wife at the same time) was actually limited by Islam to four wives, there previously being no limit to the number of wives a man could have at anyone time.

Polyandry (having more than one husband at the same time) is forbidden in Islam; one reason for this is that in a society where inheritance and the laws relating to the persons eligible to marry one another are important, it is vital to know who the father of a particular child is; if a woman has more than one husband at anyone time, such a distinction could be almost impossible to prove, even using the latest medical techniques such as DNA testing.

Unlike marriages in the West, where premarital love and intimacy are considered to be almost indispensable, the basic ingredient for a successful Muslim marriage is a shared set of values upon which to build a life together. A firm shared belief in Islam can often bind couples together in their relationship which can then withstand many of the pressures which force other couples apart.

A Muslim marriage is seen as a very real relationship between two individuals who will not be 100% immune from the stress and strain of everyday life. However, their shared faith will help to cushion a Muslim couple from the worst effects of such things. Nevertheless, Islam is a very practical way of life and is realistic enough to prepare couples for the possibility that they might not be able to carry on together as husband and wife, for a variety of reasons, and so divorce - although disliked - is allowed when all conciliatory efforts have failed. It is essential that a marriage should be harmonious and not injurious to the life and health of the couple and their families and, ultimately, society at large.

Narrated by Anas (RA) I served the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) for ten years, and he never said to me even a 'Uf' [a minor harsh word denoting impatience] and never blamed me by saying, 'Why did you do so or why didn't you do so?'[Related in Bukhari]