Marriage in Islam

by Ata Ullah Kaleem

Ata Ullah Kaleem, The Review of Religions, November 1992

In the beginning I am presenting below the English translation of the Arabic sermon which is delivered on the occasion of the solemnization of a Muslim marriage:

All praise is due to God! We laud Him, we beseech help from Him and ask His forgiveness. We confide in Him; we trust in Him alone; and we seek protection with Allah against the evils and mischief of ourselves and from the vices of our deeds.

Whomsoever God guideth to the right path none can misguide him; and whomsoever He declares misled none can guide him unto the right path; and we bear witness that none is worthy of worship but God. He is alone and has no partner and we bear witness that Muhammad is His Servant and Apostle.

This is followed by the recitation of the following verses from the Holy Quran:

O ye people ! fear your Lord who created you from a single soul and of its kind created its mate, and from them twain spread many men and women; and fear ALLAH, in Whose name you appeal to one another, and fear him particularly respecting ties of kinship. Verily ALLAH watches over you (4:2)

O ye who believe ! Fear ALLAH and say the straightforward word.
HE will set right you actions for you and forgive you your sins. And whoso obeys ALLAH and HIS Messenger shall, surely, attain a supreme triumph

O ye who believe ! be mindful of your duty to ALLAH and let every soul look to what it sends forth for the morrow. And fear ALLAH, verily, ALLAH is Well-Aware of what you do. (59:19)

I would like to give an outline of marriage in Islam. First, however it is essential to know in what esteem woman is held in Islamic society and what rank she has been favoured with by Islam and by its Holy Founder Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

To deal with this important subject I shall keep myself confined to the Holy Quran and the sayings of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), as interpreted by the Reformer of the age, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam. It is indeed a matter of primary importance that eveyone who believes in any sacred scriptures as the revealed Word of God should not, in expounding the doctrines of that religion, go out of the Holy Book or depend upon arguments other than those which that book furnishes. Such a limitation would go far to simplify any dissertation upon a religion. It is the religion of Islam which confers such rights on women and not the society which has afterwards been evolved by it as is the case with other religions. Islam is unique in this respect by endowing a woman with equal rights and placing her on the same level as man. The Holy Quran says in this regard:

And ALLAH has made for you mates from among yourselves…. (16:73)

This verse shows that the Holy Quran has given the same status to men and women as it says that they are both from the same origin and due to this fact women should not be looked down upon men as lower creatures. Consequently they should not be dealt with harshly and roughly, rather men should deal with them in a very mild and soft manner. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has been reported to have said that women should be taken care of as some one takes care of glass products. Glass is liable to break very easily if it is not treated carefully. Men must follow therefore, be careful not to injure the delicacy of women because therein lies their beauty. The Holy Quran declares in another verse:

….And they (the women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in equity; but men have a degree of advantage above them…. (2:229)

From this verse it can be easily deduced that as far as rights are concerned, women are equal with men but as the whole responsibility, according to Islam, of affording the household amenities rests with man therefore he has a rank above them in this respect.

The teachings of Islam make women eligible to inheritance and accordingly they receive their due share as prescribed by the Islamic law. A woman is entitled to individual ownership of property as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, and as a sister. In the words of an American Justice Pierrs Craibites:

Muhammad 1300 years ago assured to the mothers, wives and daughters of Islam, the rank and dignity not yet generally assured to the women by the West

The Holy Prophet exalted the intellectual and spiritual status of women and said that the acquisition of knowledge is an incumbent duty to every Muslim male and female. The Holy Prophet of Islam knew the essential part women had to play in the development of society, so he laid great stress on the upbringing of girls by saying:

A man who has three daughters and brings them up and educates them to the best of his capacity shall be entitled to paradise

Regarding their spiritual status the Holy Quran says:

Whoso acts righteously, whether male or female and is a believer, WE will surely grant him a pure life; and WE will surely bestow on such their reward according to the best of their works (16:98)

In view of such ideal teachings concerning the fair sex how absurd is the assertion that according to Islam a woman has no soul.Turning to marriage in Islam, it is first of all very important to know what is the real aim of marriage in Islam. If we understand it thoroughly, we would then certainly try to acheive it. The Holy Quran says:

And of HIS Signs is that HE has created wives for you from among yourselves that you may find peace of mind in them, and HE has put love and tenderness between you. In that, surely, are Signs for a people who reflect (30:22)

HE it is Who created you from a single soul and made therefrom its mate, that he might find comfort in her. (7:190)

These verses signify that marriage is meant for the attainment of peace of mind and mutual love and affection. Allah has also said that marriage is the means of attaining piety and of guarding one’s chastity. He says:

….They are a sort of garment for you and you are a sort of garment for them…. (2:188)

The Arabic word `libas’ (garment) means a thing which covers another thing. And according to the Holy Quran, a garment serves a threefold purpose: Allah says:

O children of Adam, WE have indeed send down to you raiment to cover you nakedness and to be a means of adornment… (7:27)

And then He says:

….HE has made for you garments which protect you from heat, and coats of mail which protect you in your wars…. (16:82)

Another use of our dress is that it provides protection against heat and cold. Since the Holy Quran has used the word ‘garment’ in respect of both the husband and wife, it proves beyond any shadow of doubt that they hold an equal status; their rights and duties are identical in respect of each other; and both are bound to fulfil their obligations to each other. When God declares each of them to be a garment for the other, He wishes it be known how they should discharge their duties towards each other which are as follows:

  1. To cover up one another’s weaknesses and shortcomings from others.
  2. To act as an adornment and embellishment for one another.
  3. Just as clothes protect us from the severity and inclemency of the weather, so in the same way the wife and the husband should stick fast to each other through thick and at no time should they fall apart in adverse circumstances. Each should serve as a rock of support to the other.

According to the Islamic point of view, marriage is not an ordinary combination of two opposite sexes, nor is it only to quench one’s sexual desires. It is rather holy reunion of two inevitable life companions on whose virtues or vices lies the prosperity or the disaster of human society. Marriage in Islam means laying the foundation of a fabric from which emerges a benevolent and beneficial society and therefore it enjoins upon every Muslim to marry. The first thing in this respect is that what the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has said:

O company of the youth! he who can afford to marry should marry, for it keeps the eyes cast down and keeps the man chaste; and he who cannot afford to marry should take to fasting for it will have a sobering effect upon him.

According to this tradition it is quite clear that the purpose of marriage in Islam, as far as society is concerned, is to keep society chaste, healthy and pure from grossness and immorality. A man who can afford to marry and yet he refrains to marry must definitely be led to immorality and will be a nuisance to society which we today observe clearly as due to the so-called modern civilization. On the other hand when one is already married one would remain content and would not loiter about but would lead a pleasant family life.

The second thing that Islam says in this regard is that marriage has its lasting effects. Primarily it affects the lives of two persons and then comes the question of family and children. As long as the man is responsible for the maintenance of the family and children he will be forced to be away from the house for considerable periods of time and so the children would not be properly looked after and trained. The responsibility of their well-being and training has therefore been laid upon the woman by Islam. If the woman is chaste, pious, and religious, she would bring up the children in a well trained manner and thus the society emerging from these children would be highly moral and respectable. For this purpose the Holy Prophet of Islam said:

A woman is married for four things: (1) for her wealth; (2) for nobility of her family; (3) for her beauty and (4) for her (good) character, so attain success with one possessing good character.

It is evident from this tradition that Islamic marriage is based upon the betterment of the society and therefore the Holy Prophet of Islam left no stone unturned and let no opportunity go in this respect. Consequently he said: bring up the society pure, religious and straightforward the Holy Quran enjoins upon its followers that they should not marry idolaters because by doing so the purity of the worship of God would be adversely affected and the coming generations would become irreligious and estranged from God hence influencing their strength of character and poluting their religious feelings and leading them astrays. The Holy Quran says:

And marry not idolatrous women until they believe; even a believing bond women is better than an idolatress, although she may please you. And give not believing women in marriage to idolaters until they believe; even a believing slave is better than an idolater, although he may please you…. (2:222)

It is clear from this verse that Islam demands a purely religious and moral society in which there would be no godlessness and immorality. The main object of Islam is that purity and piety should be imbibed in the practice of Muslim to such an extent that their characters would become impeccable and faultless.One of the greatest causes of immorality is secret relationship between men and women and then the grave consequences which cause confliction, collision, and ultimately separation. To nip the evil in its very bud, the Holy Prophet of Islam said:

No marriage is legal without the permission of the guardian.

This saying of the Holy Prophet shows that unless the would-be couple is known to the guardian (who is father and in his absence uncles and brothers respectively, or when all the legal guardians are absent, then the qazi (the judge) and unless the marriage tie is agreed upon by them the marriage is not valid.

In Islam when the agreement is reached and when all conditions of marriage are settled, then an announcement is to be made in the mosque or in court before a group of Muslims so that they may stand as witness that this marriage is legal and all its natural consequences are legimate.

The other reasons in the background of this announcement are that should there arise any dispute for which there is no solution except separation, or a child is born and the husband denies its legitimacy, or any other danger arises, then, if the announcement has not been made and both of them had relations secretly, there is the fullest possibility that the woman would be deprived of her legal rights. She can be denied the maintenance for her child; she can be deprived of her personal living or she can have her property given to her by her husband as there stands no witness to support her cause. To safeguard the rights of women, Islam makes its necessary to have the marriage tie announced before a group of people so that in case of such misunderstanding or crisis there would be witnesses and the woman could not be deprived of her rights.

It should be borne in mind that Islam does not allow a guardian to force his ward to accept his choice. The Holy Prophet of Islam is reported to have said:

The widow shall not be married until she is consulted and the virgin shall not be married until her consent is obtained.

Since man has been made responsible for providing sustenance for his wife and is her guardian and protector, it has been made compulsory for him to pay a dowry to his wife as a token of acknowledgement of her role which she has taken upon herself to play as wife. God says in the Holy Quran: And for the benefit you receive from them (women) give them their dowries. (4:25) There are cases, however, where husbands grudge this payment. Allah commands that the dowry must be paid cheerfully and with good grace. God says:

And give the women their dowries willingly. But if they, of their own pleasure, remit to you a part thereof, then enjoy it as something pleasant and wholesome…. (4:5)

There is a tendency of fixing large dowries which in many cases leads to misunderstandings and friction between the two familites and ultimately to the dissolution of the marriage. Islam looks with disfavour upon fixing large dowries except in exceptional circumstances where it cannot be helped, i.e. the necessity to safeguard the bride’s right of inheritance. The Holy Prophet of Islam has said:

Blessed is the marriage which comes about with ease and entails no hardship, it must not entail too heavy a burden of expenses nor should the dowry be too much for the bridgegroom to pay.

As a matter of fact the amount of dowry should be fixed according to the financial standing of the bridegroom and with the consent of both parties. Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad, the second sucessor to the Promised Messiah, was of the opinion that the sum proposed for dowry should range between the bridegroom’s income for six to twelve months. He once said:

Those who fix large dowries, only for show and fail to pay, are guilty of committing a sin. The companions of the Holy Prophet used to pay the dowry money in advance. Hence, the best thing is to pay it up in advance, if possible. Dowry is, in fact, a debt owed by the husband to his wife. (Alfazl 15-1-1918)

I will now proceed to explain the rightful duties of the wife:

  1. She has to look after the comfort of her husband, give him due respect and always have regard for his feelings.
  2. She has to safeguard the honour of her husband.
  3. She has to be the guardian of the property of her husband.
  4. She has to rear and bring up their children properly.
  5. She should treat the relatives of her husband as if they were her own relatives.
  6. She should beautify herself for her husband.
  7. She should bear in mind the tastes of her husband in the matter of food and dress.
  8. She should be ever mindful of her husband’s health.
  9. She should give her most sincere advice when her husband consults her in any of his problems.
  10. She should not make unfair and unreasonable demands on the purse of her husband.
  11. She has to remain loyal to her husband under all conditions and be a source of strength to him in adverse circumstances and stick fast to him through thick and thin.
  12. She should be careful that the dignity and reputation of her husband are not harmed by any of her actions.
  13. Under all conditions her behaviour should be conducive to peace and tranquility in the house.

The rightful duties of the husband are:

  1. He should respect and be very mindful of the susceptibilities of his wife.
  2. He should try to be a source of comfort to his wife and behave in a manner that convinces her that she alone is the centre of his love and affection.
  3. He should provide for all her reasonable needs and keeping within his means and should be disposed to spending in that respect with an open hand.
  4. The husband should participate in the management of the house by giving hand in the household chores of his spouse.
  5. He should look after her health and be always anxious about it.
  6. He should refrain from keeping a close watch over every movement of his wife as if he had no confidence in her and thus making her life miserable.
  7. He should always be disposed to overlooking the minor shortcomings of his wife and be generous in forgiving and forgetting.
  8. He should see that trifles do not lead to a situation in which tempers are lost and threats of divorce and separation are pronounced.
  9. He should shun every act or act which is likely to displease or agonise his wife.
  10. The husband should display a sense of utmost sympathy towards his wife when she is in distress or has met with some misfortune.
  11. He should not object to his wife meeting her relatives provided no mischief is feared from their side. He should also be respectful to them.
  12. He should consult his wife in all family matters of importance and handle the situation as decided by mutual consent.
  13. If there are more wives than one, the husband must treat them all as equal in every respect, in dress, in food, in living accommodation and in the duration of his stay with each of them.

I am confident that the new couple in particular and other Muslim brethren in general will try their utmost to maintain the rights of their spouses as directed by the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet of Islam, thus making their lives happy and successful.

Finally, I would like to advise new wedded couple to repeat often the following prayer in the Holy Quran:

And those who say, `Our Lord, grant us of our wives and children the delight of our eyes, and make us a model for the righteous.’ (25:75)