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Marriage and Family Life

  1. Marriage and Family Life
    • Prohibition of Approaching Adultery and Fornication
    • Prohibition of Privacy between a Man and a Woman
    • Looking at the Private Parts of Others
    • Sexual Perversion
  2. The Purpose and Goals of Marriage
  3. Men and Women To Be Preferred in Marriage
    • Recommended Steps
    • Prohibited Proposals and ‘Idda for Women
    • The Girl’s Consent
  4. Women to Whom Marriage Is Prohibited
    • Marriages Prohibited by Reason of Fosterage
  5. Temporary Marriage (Mut‘a)
  6. The Marriage Contract (Nikah)
    • Mahr (Dowry or Bridal-Due)
    • Fulfilling Agreements
    • Wedding Ceremony and Feast
  7. Mutual Love, Mercy, Respect, Understanding, and Thankfulness
    • The Wife’s Rights
    • The Husband’s Rights
    • Housework
    • Sex
    • Contraception
    • Abortion
    • Artificial Insemination
  8. Polygamy
  9. Inheritance and Women
  10. Divorce
    • Repeated Divorce
    • Appointing Arbitrators
    • Reconciling Honorably or Separating with Kindness
    • The Divorced Woman’s Freedom to Remarry
    • The Woman’s Right to Demand Divorce
  11. Adoption

Marriage and Family Life 1
God has created humanity as His vicegerent on Earth in order that human beings might populate and rule it. Obviously this purpose cannot be realized unless humanity perpetuates itself, living, thriving, cultivating, manufacturing, building, and worshipping its Creator. Accordingly, the Creator has placed certain appetites and impulses in humanity so that its members are impelled toward activities that guarantee humanity’s survival. The Qur’an declares:

Men innately feel a passionate attraction toward women, children, treasures of gold and silver (money hoarded), branded horses, cattle, and plantations. Such are the enjoyments of the life of this world; yet with God is the best of the goals to pursue. (3:14)

God has inculcated such impulses in human nature so that humanity could survive on Earth and evolve spiritually and mentally by disciplining them to transform each one into a virtue in order to develop into being a true, perfect human from being only potentially human. Humanity is not like other species, for it has been created with a different disposition, multiple potentialities, and various mental and spiritual faculties. So, there must be a significant purpose behind its creation. To realize this purpose and being perfected require selfdiscipline. Islam is the name of the set of principles for that selfdiscipline.

According to Imam al-Ghazzali, Islam’s legal principles seek to protect and secure five basic values in human life, namely, religion, life, intellect, personal property, and reproduction, and forbid acts that will nullify them. When we consider the Divinely established prohibitions (e.g., unbelief, hypocrisy, associating partners with God, apostasy, killing a person, taking intoxicants and drugs, usurpation, theft, adultery, fornication, and homosexuality), we can deduce that they have been given to protect and secure those values. In order to secure these values for a virtuous life based upon justice, the observation of mutual rights, mutual helping, and righteousness, we also see that Islam has taken some measures and precautions. As regards marriage and family life, we can point to the following:

Prohibition of Approaching Adultery and Fornication. Islam prohibits illegal sexual relationships, for they lead to a confusion of lineage, child abuse, family breakups, bitterness in relationships, the spread of venereal diseases, and a general laxity in morals. Moreover, it opens the door to a flood of lust and self-gratification. God’s command: And do not approach adultery and fornication; indeed, it is an abomination and an evil way (17:32) is absolutely just and true.

Prohibition of Privacy between a Man and a Woman Who Are not Married to Each Other. Islam prohibits a man and woman who are not married to each other from being alone together in a private place where there is no fear of being interrupted by someone else. This is done to prevent such illicit sexual activities as touching, kissing, embracing, or having sexual intercourse.
Looking with Desire at the Opposite Sex. Islam prohibits people from looking lustfully at people of the opposite sex, for the eye is the key to the feelings, and the look is a messenger of desire. The Qur’an declares:

Tell the believing men that they should lower their gazes and guard their chastity; that is purer for them. God is wellacquainted with what they do. And tell the believing women that they should lower their gazes, guard their chastity, and not display their adornment, except that which is apparent of it, and that they should draw their head-coverings over their bosoms. (24:30-31)

Looking at the Private Parts of Others. Islam defines “the private parts” as those parts of the body that must be covered in front of others. For men, this is the area between the navel and the knees, which other men and women are not allowed to see. For women, this area is her whole body, except her face, hands and, according to some scholars, her feet. This prohibition applies to all men who are allowed to marry the woman in question.

Muslim, Abu Dawud, and al-Tirmidhi report from God’s Messenger: “A man should not look at the ‘awra (private parts) of another man, nor a woman of a woman, nor should a man go under one cloth with another man, nor a woman with another woman.”
Islam equipped and adorned Muslim men and women with chastity, dignity, selfrespect, and modesty, while most of the men and women of the “ages of ignorance” were and have been vain, showy, and anxious to display their attractions.

Sexual Perversion: A Major Sin. Islam, while regulating one’s sexual drive, has prohibited illicit sexual relations and all ways that lead to them, as well as homosexuality. Homosexuality is considered a reversal of the natural order, a corruption of male sexuality, and a violation of the rights of women. The spread of this unnatural practice disrupts a society’s natural life. It also makes those who practice it slaves to their lusts, thereby depriving them of decent taste, decent morals, and a decent manner of living. The Qur’anic account of Prophet Lut’s (Lot) people should be sufficient for us.

No Monasticism. Although Islam is against sexual license, and thus prohibits fornication and adultery and blocks all ways leading to them, it does not seek to suppress the sexual urge. Therefore, it encourages people to get married and prohibits renunciation and castration.

Muhammad Abu Zahra, a modern scholar, defines marriage as follows: “Marriage is a contract that results in the man and woman living with each other and supporting each other within the limits of what has been laid down for them in terms of rights and obligations.” Ibn Uthaymin adds: “It is a mutual contract between a man and a woman, whose goal is for each to enjoy the other, become a pious family and a sound society.”

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The Purpose and Goals of Marriage
Like anything a Muslim does, marriage should be undertaken only after gaining an understanding of what God has prescribed in terms of rights and obligations, as well as gaining an understanding of the wisdom behind this institution. Nearly all peoples and societies practice marriage in some form, just as they practice business. ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab used to expel people from Madina’s marketplace if they did not know the Islamic rules of buying and selling. Likewise, Muslims should not engage in something as important as marriage without understanding its purpose or having a comprehensive understanding of the ensuing rights and obligations.

One of marriage’s most important purposes is to continue and increase the Muslim community’s population. Clearly, this goal could be achieved without marriage, but when actions are undertaken in disobedience to God, they do not receive His blessing and corrupt society. The goal is not just to produce children for the next generation, but to produce righteous children who will obey God, serve the people, and be a source of reward for their deceased parents.

Islam takes humanity’s natural instincts and needs into consideration. It is not like the human-made (or modified) religions or systems that place unnatural constraints on people or set them free without any restrictions. Men are inclined toward women, and women are inclined toward men. Marriage fulfills this desire and channels it in ways pleasing to God and befitting humanity’s honor and mission in life.

The desire of men and women for each other needs to be fulfilled. If left unfulfilled, it will be a source of discord and disruption in society. For this reason, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, ordered all men who can meet the responsibilities of marriage to get married: “Whichever of you is capable should marry, for it will aid him in lowering his gaze and guarding his body (from sin). As for one who is not capable, fasting is his protection.”

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Men and Women To Be Preferred in Marriage
Making sure that Muslims are well-matched to their spouses is a most important matter. Those who want to get married must have their priorities straight and be clear on what characteristics are most important in ensuring a marriage’s success. Many characteristics are important in a husband or a wife, but some are far more important than others. God’s Messenger said: “A woman is married for the excellence of her religious belief and life, her wealth or her beauty. You must prefer the one with an excellent religious belief and life.” (Canan, a.g.e., 17:190) Thus, the first thing to be sought for in a potential spouse is excellence of religious belief and life.

Character is of extreme importance, and goes hand in hand with belief and piety. The Messenger described it as the purpose of his mission: “I have only been sent to perfect good character or morality” (Tabarani, Mu'jam al-Awsat, 7:74) and “That which will weigh the heaviest in the Balance in the Hereafter is good character” (Tirmidhi, 61, HN:2070). Believers with the most perfect belief are those with the best character.

God’s Messenger advised marrying childbearing women and preferring virginity, and said that a virgin woman is more likely to be pleased by a man and less likely to be devious and deceiving. Scholars stress that this good attribute applies to both the husband and the wife. Especially if it is each person’s first marriage, both the man and the woman should be virgins.

Beauty has a certain undeniable role to play, since one of marriage’s purposes is to keep both spouses from sin. The best way to do this is to have a strong attraction between the spouses. However, this is something that surely grows over time, and in some cases first impressions can become an obstacle to a successful marriage.

Recommended Steps. The following are important steps for those who want to get married and for those seeking to facilitate a marriage.

  • The entire process, in order to be successful with God’s blessing, should be proper and consistent with the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunna.
  • Both spouses should seek to get married purely for God’s good pleasure, fulfill the purpose of marriage, and put their full trust in God.
  • If they do everything properly and in accordance with the rules of Islam, God will grant them a successful marriage.
  • Both the man and the woman are allowed to see their perspective spouse before taking further steps.

Prohibited Proposals and ‘Idda for Women. A divorced or widowed woman cannot remarry during her ‘idda (the waiting period during which she is not allowed to remarry) and a man cannot propose marriage to such a woman, for this waiting period is part of the previous marriage and must not be violated.

A pregnant woman’s ‘idda ends when she delivers the baby. If she is widowed but not pregnant, her ‘idda is 4 months and 10 days. If she is divorced and it is not known if she is pregnant, her ‘idda is three menstrual cycles. This ‘idda relates to women who have menstrual periods; for women who do not menstruate, the ‘idda is 3 months.

The Girl’s Consent. A girl has the right to decide about her marriage, and her father or guardian cannot override her objections or ignore her wishes.

Women to Whom Marriage Is Prohibited
Muslim men cannot marry women who belong to one of the following categories: The father’s wife, whether divorced or widowed (this prevents any sexual attraction between the son and his stepmother, who should develop a relationship of respect and honor between themselves), the mother (including grandmothers on both sides), the daughter (including granddaughters from the son or the daughter), the sister (including half- and stepsisters), the paternal aunt (whether she is the father’s real, half-, or stepsister), the maternal aunt (whether she is the father’s real, half-, or stepsister), the brother’s daughter (his niece), and the sister’s daughter (his niece).

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Marriages Prohibited by Reason of Fosterage. These are as follows:

  • The foster mother: Muslim men cannot marry women who suckled them during their infancy, even if it was only for one time. Although some jurists opine that in order for such a woman to be forbidden she must have suckled him five or even seven times, in order to avoid committing a sin they must not be allowed to marry each other.
  • Foster sisters: Just as a woman becomes a mother to a child by virtue of suckling, so do her daughters become his sisters, her sisters his aunts, and so on. Tirmidhi (Rada, 1) reports from the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, that: “What is forbidden by reason of genealogy is forbidden by reason of fosterage.” Thus, marriage to fostersisters, foster-aunts, and foster-nieces is forbidden.
  • In-Law Relationships. These are as follows:
    • The mother-in-law: Marriage to the wife’s mother is prohibited from the time a man marries a woman, whether he and his wife have engaged in sexual intercourse or not. The act of marriage itself gives the mother-in-law the same status as the mother.
    • The stepdaughter: A man cannot marry his stepdaughter if he has had legal sexual intercourse with her mother (his wife). However, if a man divorces his wife before consummating the marriage, he may marry his stepdaughter.
    • The daughter-in-law: This woman is the wife of the real son, not of the adopted son. In fact, Islam abolished legal formalized adoption, because it is contrary to fact and reality, and results in prohibiting what is essentially lawful and permitting what is essentially forbidden.
  • Sisters and Aunts as Co-Wives. As opposed to the pre-Islamic practice, Islam forbade taking two sisters as co-wives and being married at the same time to a woman and her maternal and paternal aunt.
  • Married Women. A woman can only be married to one man at a time. She may marry another man only if her husband has died or she has been divorced, or if she has completed her ‘Iydda (the period of waiting before remarrying).
    Female Idolaters. Muslim men cannot marry women who practice idolatry (associating partners with God in His Divinity or Lordship).
  • Marrying Women of the People of the Book. Islam allows Muslim men to marry Jewish or Christian women, for they are considered People of the Book (Jews and Christians), or people whose tradition is based upon a Divinely revealed Scripture.
  • Prohibiting Muslim Women from Marrying Non-Muslim Men. Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslim man, regardless of whether they belong to the People of the Book or not.
  • Women Who Engage in Fornication. Islam forbids marrying women who are engaged in prostitution, adultery, and fornication. If one has engaged habitually in such activities or is a prostitute, other people are forbidden to marry them. But if one has committed it only once or twice and is not a prostitute, it still is highly advisable not to marry them. However, it is not forbidden to do so. God permits Muslims to marry chaste believing Muslim, Jewish, or Christian women. Similarly, He has made marriage lawful to men on the condition that they seek it in honest wedlock, not in lust (4:24).

Temporary Marriage (Mut‘a)
Islam considers marriage a strong bond and a binding contract based upon both partners’ intention to live together permanently in order to attain, as individuals, the benefit of the repose, affection, and mercy mentioned in the Qur’an. In addition, its purpose is to attain the social goal of reproduction and perpetuation of the human species:

God has made for you spouses of your own kind, and has made for you from your spouses children and grandchildren, and has provided you with pure, wholesome things. Do they, then, believe in falsehood and associate partners with God in denial of His blessings? (16:72)

Temporary marriage (mut‘a), which is contracted by two people to marry for a specified period of time in exchange for a specified sum of money, does not realize the above-mentioned purposes of marriage. Thus, there is no room for it in Islam.

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The Marriage Contract (Nikah)
Islam views marriage as a contract. Thus, as with any contract, several elements are considered essential to its existence. Each of these should be understood properly to ensure that the marriage is performed properly and that each spouse receives his or her full rights.

All the scholars agree that one essential act is the “offer and acceptance,” for no marriage contract is valid without it. Either party can initiate this process. The presence of two witnesses and the dowry paid by the husband are necessary elements as well.
Conditions for a Sound Marriage Contract. These conditions are as follows:

  • The woman cannot be one of those forbidden to the man by relation, nursing, or any of the other preventing factors mentioned above.
  • The offer and acceptance is permanent and certain. If anything in the contract indicates something of a temporary and uncertain nature, the marriage is invalid. This is why the words of acceptance must be in the past tense, which expresses certainty.
  • Two credible witnesses must be present, and the marriage should be announced and publicized.
  • Both parties have willingly accepted the marriage.
  • The bride and groom are identified and known.
  • Neither of the contracting parties are in the state of ihram.
  • The parties and witnesses are not bound to keep it quiet.
  • The presence of the woman’s guardian or representative (waliy). The waliy is a Muslim man charged with marrying a woman entrusted to his care to a man who will be good for her.
  • The man and woman must be legally competent (i.e., adult and sane). If they are not, the marriage is invalid. The woman cannot be from any category of women that her intended spouse cannot marry. For example, suppose the couple get married and he then learns that they had been breastfed by the same woman. In this case, the marriage becomes null and void, because their breast-milk relationship disqualifies them from marrying each other.

The offer and acceptance of the contract must be done in one sitting. In general, this means that the response must be immediate. The acceptance must correspond to what is being offered, and the marriage must be effective immediately.

The bride must receive a dowry (bridal-due [mahr]).

Mahr (Dowry or Bridal-Due). The groom gives the mahr only to the bride to honor her, show his respect for her, his serious desire to marry her, and his sense of responsibility, obligation, or effort to her. The Qur’anic injunction: Give to the women (whom you marry) their bridal-due all willingly and without expecting a return (4:4) is addressed to either the husband (because it is his duty to give it) or to the guardian (because before Islam came they used to keep a woman’s dowry for themselves). This verse shows that this particular pre-Islamic custom was no longer permitted. The exact amount of the dowry has not been determined, for the groom should pay it according to his capacity or wealth. The region’s customs also are considered in determining its amount.

Fulfilling Agreements. Generally speaking, Muslims must comply with any agreements that they make. God says about the believers: They fulfill their covenant when they have engaged in a covenant (2:177) and orders them: O you who believe, fulfill the bonds (you have entered in with God and people) (5:1). God’s Messenger mentioned breaking one’s promise and covenant as among the signs of hypocrisy.

Wedding Ceremony and Feast. It is permissible, even advisable, to arrange a wedding ceremony within an Islamic framework. The husband is required to sponsor the wedding feast, which can last for 3 days, after the marriage contract.

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Mutual Love, Mercy, Respect, Understanding, and Thankfulness
The Qur’an declares:

O humanity, avoid disobedience to your Lord, Who has created you from a single original human self, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them scattered abroad a multitude of men and women. (4:1)

The original expression translated as “a single original human self” is nafs wahida (literally, a single self or soul). Nafs has two cardinal meanings: a being’s self, and the animating energy or faculty that is the source of each person’s and jinn’s worldly life. Considering both meanings together, nafs wahida is understood to mean a single original human self.

This point is very important to understanding the nature of the male-female relationship. The Qur’an points out this very point: And of His signs is that He has created for you, from your selves, mates, that you might repose in them, and He has engendered love and mercy between you (30:21); God has given you, from your selves, mates, and He has given you, from your mates, children and grandchildren (16:72); The Originator of the heavens and Earth; He has given you, from your selves, mates, and from the cattle mates (42:11). What these refer to by your selves is the human kind, self, or nature. In addition, they indicate that everything in the universe was created in pairs: And everything We have created in pairs (51:49).

However, these verses do not mean that by being the two halves of a perfect unit, men and women are identical or the same. While a woman’s rights and responsibilities are equal to a man’s, they are not necessarily identical with them. Equality and sameness are two quite different things. This difference is understandable, because men and women are not identical but are created as equals. Bearing this in mind, there is no problem. In fact, it is almost impossible to find even two identical men or women.

This distinction between equality and sameness is vital. Equality is desirable, just, and fair; but sameness is not. People are created as equals, and not as identical to each other, and so there is no basis to consider a woman to be inferior to a man. There is no reason to assume that she is less important than he just because her rights are not identical to his. Had her status been identical with his, she would have been no more than a duplicate of him, which she is not. The fact that Islam gives her equal – but not identical – rights shows that it takes her into due consideration, acknowledges her, and recognizes her independent personality.

In: And of His signs is that He has created for you, from your selves, mates, that you might repose in them, and He has engendered love and mercy between you (30:21), the Qur’an stresses that male-female relations are – and must be – based upon mutual love and mercy. What satisfies the needs of a human being the most is having an intimate life companion with whom one can share love, joy, and grief. However, we should acknowledge that a woman’s heart is the most compassionate, loving and generous of all hearts. This is why the Qur’an stresses men’s inclination toward and attachment to women, rather than the other way. In fact, it states that the most beautiful blessing in Paradise for a man will be a pure woman.

On the other hand, the Qur’an also says: Men (who are able to perform their responsibilities) are the protectors and maintainers of women, for God has endowed some of the people with greater capacity than others (in some respects) and that they (men) spend of their wealth (for the family’s maintenance) (4:34). This verse is highly significant with respect to male-female relations and family law, and draws attention to the following cardinal points:

God has not created all people exactly the same in all respects; rather, He has given each superiority in some respect to others, as required by social life, the division of labor, and the choice of occupation. Although it is not true to the same degree for all men and women, as He has created men superior to women in some respects, He also has given women superiority over men in others. For example, God has given men greater physical strength, endowed them with a greater capacity for management, and has charged them with the family’s financial upkeep. This is why He has made men the head of the family. However, this does not mean that men have absolute authority over the family, for this authority must be exercised according to the Prophetic principle: The master of a people is he who serves them. In addition, responsibility is proportionate to authority and authority is proportionate to responsibility.

In short, Islam proposes a male-female relation based upon mutual love, mercy, understanding, and respect. It also exhorts the couples to be thankful to each other for their kindness and efforts to please each other. Such things should be fundamental in any marriage. Each spouse should acknowledge the other’s efforts, show them gratitude, and repay them with kindness.

Islam is primarily concerned with enabling people to attain the status of true humanity or perfection. Its legislation is based upon this cardinal point, and it considers legal rules or laws only as a means of reinforcement.

The Wife’s Rights. These are as follows: receipt of a dowry, support or maintenance, kind and proper treatment and due respect, marital relations, privacy, justice between multiple wives, to be taught Islam, defense of her honor, and not revealing their secrets to others.

The Husband’s Rights. These are as follows: enjoying due respect for being responsible for bringing up and maintaining the family, and marital relations. In addition, she must not allow in the house anyone of whom he disapproves, leave the house and go to places of which he disapproves without his permission, or undertake a voluntary fast without his permission. She also must defend his honor and not disclose their secrets to others.

Housework. The above-mentioned rights are noncontroversial and agreed upon by scholars. The wife’s duties in the house (e.g., cooking, cleaning and generally serving her husband in the house), however, have been the subject of debate. While this has been the traditional Muslim custom, given that the man is obliged to look after the entire family, it is considered as ihsan (good treatment and excellence) for the wife to do the housework and meets her husband’s needs (e.g., sewing, ironing, cooking, and taking care of the babies).

Sex. The Qur’an does not neglect humanity’s sensual aspect and the married couple’s sex life, for it guides humanity to the best path and enables them to fulfill their sexual urges while avoiding harmful or deviant practices.

It is reported that the Jews and Zoroastrians would go to extremes in order to avoid any physical contact with menstruating women. For example, Jewish laws and regulations are extremely restrictive in this regard. The Old Testament considers a menstruating woman unclean and impure. Moreover, her impurity “infects” other people, for whoever or whatever she touches becomes unclean for a day (Leviticus 15:19, 23). Thus a menstruating woman was sometimes banished to the “house of impurity” so that no contact with her would be possible during this time. The Talmud considers a menstruating woman “fatal,” even without any physical contact, whereas Christians will have sex with such women. The pre-Islamic Arabs would not eat, drink, or sit with menstruating women and would send them to separate dwellings, just as the Jews and Zoroastrians did.

When some Muslims asked the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, about menstruating women, God revealed:

(O Messenger,) they also ask you about (the commands concerning) the monthly course (of their wives). Answer (them): “Menstruation is a state that causes suffering and ritual impurity, so avoid women during menstruation and do not approach them until they are cleansed. After they are cleansed, (you can) come to them as required by the inherent urge that God has implanted in your nature and within the rules that He has established. God loves those who turn to Him in sincere repentance of their errors and improve themselves, and try their best to cleanse themselves.” (2:222)


What is meant by avoid women is sexual intercourse or benefiting from their genitals. Thus a man can fondle and enjoy his menstruating wife, avoiding only the place of hurt. Islam’s position, as in all other matters, is a middle one between the two extremes of banishing a menstruating woman from the house and of having sexual intercourse with her.

Islam has established no rules concerning the way or position of intercourse. However, it has forbidden anal sex.

Contraception. Marriage’s primary objective is to preserve humanity through continued reproduction. Accordingly, Islam encourages large families and blesses both boys and girls. However, family planning is allowed for only valid reasons and recognized necessities. At the time of the Prophet, the common method of contraception was coitus interruptus (withdrawing the penis from the vagina just before ejaculation, thereby preventing the influx of semen). The primary valid reason for contraception is that the pregnancy or delivery might endanger the mother’s life or health. Past experience or a reliable physician’s opinion should guide the couple in such matters.

Abortion. While Islam permits preventing pregnancy for valid reasons, it does not allow terminating the pregnancy once it occurs. Muslim jurists agree unanimously that abortion is forbidden after the fetus is completely formed and has been given a soul, which is, according to the hadiths, about 6 weeks after contraception (Muslim, “Qadar,” 3). This is considered a crime under Islamic law, for it is an offense against a complete, live human being. Jurists insist that blood money (diyat) must be paid if the baby was aborted alive and then died, and that a lesser amount must be paid if it was aborted dead. There is only one exception, according to the jurists: If, after the baby is completely formed, it becomes clear that continuing the pregnancy will cause the mother’s death, the couple has recourse to the general Islamic legal principle that the lesser of the two evils should be chosen. In such a case, the fetus must be aborted.

Artificial Insemination. Islam safeguards lineage by prohibiting adultery and fornication (zina) and legal adoption, thus keeping the family line clear and “uncontaminated” by any foreign element. Thus, artificial insemination is forbidden unless the donor is the husband.

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Polygamy
Islam is a way of life consonant with human nature, provides human solutions to complex situations, and avoids extremes. This characteristic can be observed most clearly in the issue of polygamy, which Islam allows only to resolve pressing individual and social problems. Many peoples and religions prior to Islam permitted marriage to as many women as one desired. Islam, on the other hand, laid down definite restrictions and conditions.

Some people criticize Islam wrongly as being polygamous. However, such criticisms are not justifiable for several reasons, as follows:

  • Polygamy is an ancient practice found in many societies. The Bible does not condemn it, and the Old Testament and rabbinic writings frequently attest to its legality. King Solomon and King David had many wives and concubines (2 Samuel 5:13). According to Father Eugene Hillman in his insightful book, Polygamy Reconsidered: “Nowhere in the New Testament is there any explicit commandment that marriage should be monogamous or any explicit commandment forbidding polygamy.” Moreover, Jesus did not speak against it, even though it was practiced by the Jews of his society. Father Hillman stresses that the Church in Rome banned polygamy in order to conform to the Greco-Roman culture (which prescribed only one legal wife while tolerating concubinage and prostitution). The Qur’an, contrary to the Bible, limited the maximum number of wives to four and mandated equal and just treatment for each wife. The Qur’an does not encourage polygamy or consider it an ideal. Rather, it tolerates or allows it and no more, for the following reason: There are places and times in which there are compelling social and moral reasons for polygamy. Islam, as a universal religion suitable for all places and all times, could not ignore such compelling obligations.
  • In most societies, women outnumber men. For example, America currently has at least 8 million more women than men. What should be done about such unbalanced sex ratios? There are various solutions, such as lawful polygamy or celibacy, female infanticide (which still happens), or sexual permissiveness (e.g., prostitution, extramarital sex, and homosexuality). This problem becomes truly problematic at times of war. Native American Indian tribes used to suffer highly unbalanced sex ratios after wartime losses. Their women, who enjoyed a fairly high status, accepted polygamy as the best protection against indulgence in indecent activities. After WWII, there were 7.3 million more women than men in Germany (3.3 million of them were widows). Many needed a man for companionship as well as to provide for the household in a time of unprecedented misery and hardship. What is more dignifying for a woman: to be an accepted and respected second wife or a virtual prostitute? In 1987, a poll conducted by the student newspaper at the University of California at Berkeley asked students whether polygamy should be permitted as a way to deal with a perceived shortage of marriageable men in California. Almost all of the students polled approved of this idea.
  • Polygamy continues to be a viable solution to some of the social ills of modern societies. In his provocative Plural Marriage for Our Time, Philip Kilbride, an American anthropologist of Roman Catholic heritage, proposes polygamy as a solution to some of America’s social ills. He argues that plural marriage may be a potential alternative for divorce, in many cases, in order to obviate divorce’s damaging impact upon children.
  • Polygamy is quite rare in many contemporary Muslim societies, for there is no large gender imbalance. In fact, one can say that the rate of polygamous marriages in the Muslim world is far less than the rate of extramarital affairs in the West. In other words, Muslim men are far more monogamous than their Western counterparts.

    Billy Graham, the eminent Christian evangelist, has recognized this fact:

    Christianity cannot compromise on the question of polygamy. If presentday Christianity cannot do so, it is to its own detriment. Islam has permitted polygamy as a solution to social ills and has allowed a certain degree of latitude to human nature but only within the strictly defined framework of the law. Christian countries make a great show of monogamy, but actually they practice polygamy. No one is unaware of the part mistresses play in Western society. In this respect Islam is a fundamentally honest religion, and permits a Muslim to marry a second wife if he must, but strictly forbids all clandestine amatory associations in order to safeguard the moral probity of the community. (Abd alRahman Doi, Woman in Shari'a, London 1994, 76.)

  • There are even psychological factors calling for polygamy. For example, many young African brides, whether Christian, Muslim, or otherwise, prefer to marry a married man who has already proved himself to be a responsible husband. Many African wives urge their husbands to get a second wife so that they do not feel lonely. A survey of over 6,000 women, ranging in age from 15 to 59, conducted in Nigeria’s second largest city showed that 60 percent of them would be pleased if their husbands took another wife. In a survey undertaken in rural Kenya, 25 out of 27 women considered polygamy better than monogamy and felt that it could be a happy and beneficial experience if the cowives cooperated.
  • Modern civilization rejects polygamy as unwise and harmful to social life. As observed even in animals and plants, the cardinal purpose for and wisdom in sexual relations is reproduction. The resulting pleasure is a small payment determined by Divine Mercy to realize this duty. Marriage is for reproduction and perpetuation of the species. Being able to give birth at most once a year, to become pregnant during half of a month, and entering menopause around 50, one woman is usually insufficient for a man, who can sometimes impregnate until the age of 70 or more. That is why, in most cases, modern civilization is obliged to admit prostitution. Even if the purpose of marriage were sexual gratification, polygamy would be a lawful way to realize it.

    The condition that Islam lays down for permitting polygamy is that the husband be able to treat each wife equitably as regards food, drink, housing, clothing, expenses, and spending time with them. Any man who feels that he cannot fulfill such obligations justly cannot have more than one wife: But if you fear that you will not be able to do justice (among them), (marry) only one (4:3).

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Inheritance and Women
Since Biblical days, Judaism has given no female members of the household, including the wife and daughters, the right to inherit any part of the family estate. In the more primitive inheritance process, the women of the family were considered part of the estate and as remote from any legal personality of an heir as was a slave. Under rabbinic law, daughters could inherit if there were no male heirs. However, even in such conditions the wife could not inherit anything. Why were the women of the family considered part of the estate? Because of the attitude: “They are owned – before marriage by the father, and after marriage by the husband.”

Christianity followed suit for long time. Both the ecclesiastical and civil laws of Christendom barred daughters from sharing with their brothers in their father’s patrimony. Wives also had no inheritance rights. These laws survived until late in the twentieth century.

Among the pre-Islamic Arabs, inheritance rights were confined exclusively to the male relatives. Islam also made a great revolution in this respect, for the Qur’an declared:

For the male heirs is a share of what parents and near kindred (who die) leave behind, and for the female heirs is a share of what parents and near kindred (who die) leave behind, whether it (the heritage) be little or much – a share ordained by God. (4:7)

This short verse contains the basic principles of the Islamic law of inheritance and a significant warning:2

  • Both women and men have a share in the inheritance.
  • A deceased person’s property is inherited, whether it be little or much.
  • It makes no difference whether the inherited property is movable or immovable.
  • The survivors (e.g., parents, grandparents, and nearest relatives) can inherit. If there are any “nearest kindred,” “collateral relations” cannot inherit.
  • Heirs cannot be deprived of their share of the inheritance.


The significant warning is: Women in pre-Islamic, idolatrous, Christian, and Jewish societies could not inherit. By mentioning female heirs separately, but in the same words as it mentions male heirs, at the risk of repetition and emphasizing that the estate’s size does not matter, the verse warns that women cannot be deprived of their share of the inheritance on such pretexts as “the estate is too small.”

Then, the Qur’an details the laws for inheritance (4:11-12). Its basic principles and standards were laid down, and its precise details were established on these standards, the Prophet’s practice, and that of his Companions.

With the exception of the parents, and the siblings in some cases, a son receives twice as much as a daughter, a brother twice as much as a sister, and a husband twice as much as a wife. This has been the target of unjust objections. However:

  • First, it should be noted that Islam is not a religion that answers objections, for whatever it decrees is right and just. Therefore, all other religions, systems, and ideologies must design themselves according to the Islamic precepts. So while explaining Islam’s position in matters to which objections have been raised, we intend to illuminate sincere minds.
  • Second, the verses present Islam’s law of inheritance as God’s absolute command, and in their conclusive pronouncements declare that they are based on God’s Knowledge and Wisdom. So we should try to find the instances of Divine wisdom in them. Breaching them means disobeying God and His Messenger, while rejecting them amounts to unbelief.
  • Third, Islam is universal and thus considers and addresses the conditions of all ages and communities. Its worldview is holistic and deals with particular matters in its universal frame. So while viewing its law of inheritance, we should consider such psychological and sociological factors as the psychology of women and men; their positions and financial, familial, and social responsibilities; and their contributions to the economy. As the matter is never a matter of equality between men and women, we should evaluate every matter with respect to its own nature and context.

In order to understand the rationale behind Islam’s giving a woman half of a man’s share, one must remember that the man’s financial obligations far exceed those of a woman. A groom must provide his bride with a marriage gift, which then becomes her exclusive property and remains so even if she is divorced. The bride is under no obligation to present any gifts to the groom.
Moreover, the husband must maintain his wife and children. The wife, on the other hand, is not obliged to help him do so. Her property and earnings are for her use alone, except for what she may offer to her husband voluntarily. Besides, one has to realize that Islam strongly advocates family life, encourages young people to get married, and discourages divorce. Therefore, in a truly Islamic society, family life is the norm and single life is the rare exception, for almost all marriageaged women and men get married. In light of these facts, one would appreciate that men generally have greater financial burdens than women, and that the inheritance rules are meant to offset this imbalance.

When a woman receives less than a man, she is not deprived of anything for which she has worked. The property she inherits is not the result of her earning or endeavor, but something coming from a neutral source, something additional or extra. Thus it is a type of aid, and any aid has to be distributed according to the needs and responsibilities, especially when the distribution is regulated by God’s law.

The Qur’anic injunction of inheritance is a perfect mercy for women, in addition to its being perfectly just, for a girl is delicate, vulnerable, and thus held in great affection by her father. Her father, in turn and thanks to the Qur’an, does not see her as a child who will cause him any loss by carrying away some of his wealth to others. In addition, her brothers feel compassion for her and protect her without feeling envious, as they do not consider her as a rival in the division of the family’s possessions. Thus, the affection and compassion which the girl enjoys through her family compensate her for the apparent loss in the inheritance.
Some still object on the grounds that a woman’s share of the inheritance should be equal to that of a man so that there would be no need to compensate her through a dower and maintenance by her husband.

Those who make this objection think that the dower and maintenance are the effects of women’s peculiar position with regard to inheritance, whereas the real position is just the reverse. Further, they seem to be under the impression that the financial aspect is the only consideration. If this were so, there would have been no need for dower and maintenance or for any disparity between the shares of men and women. As in every other case, however, Islam has considered all aspects connected to the individual’s nature and psychology. It has considered women’s unique needs arising out of their procreative function. Moreover, a woman’s earning capacity is less than a man’s, and her consumption of wealth is usually more. In most cases, in her parents’ house her contribution to the family income is far less than her brother(s). In addition, there are several other finer aspects of their respective mental makeup. For example, a man always wants to spend on the woman of his choice. Other psychological and social aspects that help consolidate domestic relations also have been considered. Taking all of these points into consideration, Islam has made dower and maintenance obligatory.

Thus it is a severe injustice, not a kindness, to give a girl or woman more than her due out of unrealistic feelings of compassion – unrealistic because no one can be more compassionate than God. Rather, if the Qur’anic bounds are exceeded, women may become vulnerable to exploitation and tyranny in the family. As for the Qur’anic injunctions, all of them, like those pertaining to inheritance, prove the truth expressed in: We have not sent you (O Muhammad), save as a mercy unto all beings.(21:107)
Modern civilization wrongs mothers more than girls by depriving them of their rights. Being the purest and finest reflection of Divine compassion, a mother’s affection is the most revered reality in creation. A mother is so compassionate, self-sacrificing, and intimate a friend that she sacrifices all she has, including her life, for her children. For example, a timid hen, whose motherliness represents the lowest degree, has been observed to attack a dog to protect her chicks.

Islam does not approve of wealth circulating only among a few people; rather, it wants wealth to be distributed among as many people as possible. In inheritance, considering that God’s grace and bountifulness have a share in it, it strongly advises and even orders that distant relatives, orphans, and the poor should also benefit from it.

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Divorce
Christianity abhors divorce, and the New Testament unequivocally advocates the indissolubility of marriage. Judaism, on the other hand, allows divorce without cause. The Old Testament gives the husband the right to divorce his wife if he just dislikes her (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

Islam, which rejects and is free from all extremities, occupies the middle ground between Christianity and Judaism with respect to divorce. It considers marriage a sanctified bond that should not be broken except for compelling reasons. Couples are instructed to pursue all possible remedies whenever their marriages are in danger. Divorce is not to be resorted to except when there is no other solution. In a nutshell, Islam recognizes divorce and yet it discourages it by all means. For example, the Qur’an warns: And consort with them in kindness, for if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike something in which God has placed much good (4:19).

God’s Messenger emphasizes: “Let a believing man not dislike a believing woman. If something in her is displeasing to him, another trait may be pleasing”; “Among all of the permitted acts, divorce is the most hateful to God” (Abu Dawud, “Talaq,” 3); and: “The most perfect believers are the best in character, and the best of you are the kindest to their families” (Canan, ibid., 17:212).

However, Islam recognizes that there can be circumstances in which a marriage will be on the verge of collapse. In such cases, a mere advice of kindness or self-restraint is not a viable solution. So, what should be done to save the marriage in such cases? The Qur’an offers some practical advice for the spouses, takes some measures, and gives the spouses the possibility to reconsider their decision.

No Divorce during Menstruation. A man cannot divorce his wife at any time; rather, he must wait for a suitable time. According to the law, the suitable time is when the wife had cleansed herself after her menstrual or post-childbirth bleeding periods and before they resume sexual relations, or when she is not pregnant.

The reason for prohibiting divorce during menstruation or post-childbirth bleeding is that since sexual intercourse is forbidden during such periods, a hus-band is given the time and opportunity to withdraw his decision by waiting until his wife is clean and there can be a new atmosphere of love, understanding, and reconciliation between them. Divorce is also forbidden between menstrual periods (i.e., “the period of purity”) if the husband has had sexual intercourse with his wife after the end of her previous period.

Repeated Divorce. A man is given three chances on three different occasions to divorce his wife, provided that each divorce is pronounced during the time when his wife is in “the period of purity” and he has not had intercourse with her.

He may divorce her once and let the ‘idda pass. During that time, the divorced wife must stay in her home (i.e., her husband’s house). She cannot move somewhere else, and her husband cannot evict her without a just cause. During ‘idda, he must provide for her. This requirement leaves the way open for reconciliation. They have the option of reconciliation without having to remarry. If, however, this waiting period expires without reconciliation, they are considered divorced and therefore each former spouse can marry someone else or remarry each other. If they decide to remarry, a new marriage contract is required.

If they remarry, the husband has one more chance to divorce his wife, as in the first instance. But if he divorces his wife for a third time, they can no longer turn to each other unless the woman marries another man and divorces or is divorced by him in normal conditions.

Appointing Arbitrators. The Qur’an advises that two arbitrators be appointed if dissension occurs between the two spouses and its source cannot be determined. One arbitrator should be from the husband’s family and the other from the wife’s family. If that is not possible, other people may be appointed, depending on what is in the best interest of those concerned. They also agree that when a possible resolution has been devised to reconcile the spouses, it should be implemented. However, if they disagree, their opinions are not to be implemented.


Imam al-Shafi‘i records in his book al-Umm from Ubayda al-Salmani, who said:

A man and a woman came to ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, each of them accompanied by a group of people. ‘Ali told them to appoint a male arbitrator from his family and one from her family. Then he said to the arbitrators: “Do you know what your responsibilities are? If you find that you can bring them back together, do so. If you find that they should be separated, do so.”

Reconciling Honorably or Separating with Kindness. If any reconciliation does not occur and the period of ‘idda ends, they have two alternatives if only one or two instances of divorce have occurred: either to reconcile honorably (i.e., to remarry with the intention of living in peace and harmony), or to free the woman and part with her in kindness, without argument and harsh words, and without setting aside any of their mutual rights.

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The Divorced Woman’s Freedom to Remarry. After a divorced woman’s ‘idda ends, her ex-husband, guardian, or anyone else cannot prevent her from marrying anyone she chooses. As long as she and the man who proposes to her follow the procedure required by the law, no one has the right to interfere.

The Woman’s Right to Demand Divorce. If the wife chooses to end the marriage, she may return the marriage gifts to her husband. This is a fair compensation for the husband who is keen to keep his wife, while she chooses to leave him. The Qur’an instructs the man not to take back any of the gifts he has given to his wife, unless she chooses to end the marriage (2:229).

Once, a woman came to the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, seeking to dissolve her marriage. She said that she had no complaint against her husband’s character or manners, but that she honestly disliked him so much that she could no longer live with him. The Prophet asked her: “Would you give him his garden (his marriage gift to her) back?” she said: “Yes,” she replied. The Prophet then instructed the man to take back his garden and accept the dissolution of the marriage (Tajrid al-Sarih, HN: 1836).

In some cases, a wife might want to keep her marriage but find herself forced to seek divorce for a compelling reason (e.g., cruelty, desertion without a reason, non-fulfillment of his conjugal responsibilities). In such cases, the Muslim court dissolves the marriage.

As another case, a husband can confer the power of divorce on the wife. This delegation of power can be general or limited to certain specified circumstances. To make it irrevocable, it is included in the marriage contract as a binding clause that empowers the wife to dissolve the marriage based upon the agreed-upon specified circumstances.

Adoption
Islam has abolished the type of adoption that makes an adopted child a member of the family, which would give him or her full rights of inheritance and to mix freely with other members of the household, and prohibit him or her to marry certain women or men, and so on.

But the word adoption is also used in another sense, one that is not prohibited by Islam. In this context, adoption means bringing home an orphan or an abandoned child to rear, educate, and treat as his own child as regards protection, feeding, clothing, teaching, and loving. However, he does not consider the child to be his own and does not give the child any of the rights that Islamic law reserves for natural children.

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1. This section is taken from various parts (edited and summarized) of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam, trans. Muhammad Siddiqi (ASIN: 1999).

2. Prof. Suat Yildirim, "Kur'an-i Hakim ve Açiklamali Meali" ("The Wise Qur'an Inter-preted with Explanatory Notes"), Zaman newspaper, Istanbul, 1998, 77

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Recommended Readings:

Marriage and the Home

Children

The Rights of Children

The Rights of Parents

Marriage in Islam

Divorce in General and with respect to Islam

The Status of Woman in Islam

Financial Security and Inheritance Laws of Women in Islam

Prophet Muhammad and his wives

God's Messenger and children

Affection toward and Respect for Parents

Last Updated on December 15, 2004

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