On marriage in Islam

According to the Qur’anic Revelation a marriage alliance between man and woman is one of God’s main commandments. The fulfillment of this commandment allows man to reach Divine mercy and welfare, experience the delights and advantages of family life and execute God’s injunction on the reproduction of mankind.

   On the will of the Creator marriage was preordained to become one of the most significant social institutions in human history. The blessed marriage of the original man, Prophet Adam (peace upon him) and Eve (Hava), who are greatly honored by Muslims, has proved that at the very beginning of the Creation the Lord attributed an important role to marriage. It was this marriage (the first marriage in history) that was particularly blessed by the Creator, for according to God’s decree Adam (peace is upon him) and Eve became the primogenitors of mankind.

   Islamic law, based on Divine Revelation of the Holy Qur’an and the Prophetic Tradition (Sunna), defines marriage as a spiritual value and a special treaty, commanded by the Creator. According to the definition marital bonds between man and woman are sacred in the name of God.

   “Allah has given you wives from among yourselves, and through them He has granted you sons and grandsons. He has provided you with good things”, - reads the Holy Qur’an (the Holy Qur’an, 16:72).

   A narrow-minded understanding of the family life in Islam, which is widely spread in human society, draws the following picture: a severe husband-polygamist makes his wives tremble at his angry sight and obey him unquestioningly. Regarding such order as the embodiment of an ideal Islamic family means mocking at Islam or simply not understanding it at all. Allah, He is the Most High, commanded man and woman to create family on the basis of love and mutual agreement, without any constraint:”If a woman fear ill-treatment or desertion on the part of her husband, it shall be no offence for them to seek a mutual agreement, for agreement is best... But if you do what is right and guard yourselves against evil, know then that Allah is cognizant of all your actions” (the Holy Qur’an, 4:128).  

   As far as polygamy in Islam is concerned, firm stereotypes do not let many people consider this issue objectively. And although it would seem paradoxical to some people, polygamy in Islam as a monotheistic religion is reduced to four possible marriages.

  According to the Old Testament polygamy was common and widely spread in those times. The canons established by Moses did not limit the number of marriages to any rate (Gen. 29:16-30; 1 Sam. 1:1, 2; 1 Sam. 25:42, 43, etc). Thus, for example, Solomon, according to the Old Testament, had seven hundred wives (1 Kgs. 11:3). The text of the Gospel does not impose any direct prohibition on polygamic marriages. It was only apostle Paul who wrote in one of his messages that “A bishop then must be ... the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2).

   The Holy Qur’an, defining monogamy as the foundation of marriage, at the same time, admits the possibility of several marriages stipulating for specific conditions and limiting the number of marriages to four. Islam does not call for polygamy. But it proposes a flexible machinery for settling this issue, taking into account all possible objective reasons and subjective circumstances.

   “It was He who created you from a single being. From that being He created his mate, so that he might find comfort in her. And when he had lain with her, she conceived, and for a time her burden was light. She carried it with ease, but when it grew heavy, they both cried to Allah their Lord:”Grant us a goodly child and we will be truly thankful” (the Holy Qur’an, 7:189). Every child in family is God’s gift. And children always need special attention and care. The Holy Quran contains a most severe commandment to nomad Arabs, who used to kill their children in pre-Islamic times for fear of not being able to breed them:”Say (O, Muhammad):”Come, I will tell you what your Lord has made binding on you: ... that you shall not kill your children because you cannot suport them (We provide for you and for them)” (the Holy Qur’an, 6:151). This is God’s commandment for people for all times: children are not a burden, but God’s blessing. And a good education of children is a god-given right and great responsibilty of parents before God.

  Harmonious and healthy relations between parents and children, the education of children in the spirit of piety and high morale are the fundamental principles of the Islamic family life.

   “Who say:”Lord, give us joy in our wives and children and make us examples to those who fear you.” These shall be rewarded with Paradise for their fortitude. There they shall find a welcome and a greeting“(the Holy Qur’an, 25:74, 75).

   Respect for parents on the part of the children is the symbol of fortitude and spiritual health of a family. “We have enjoined man to show kindness to his parents. With much pain his mother bears him, and with much pain she brings him into the world. He is born and weaned in thirty months. When he grows to manhood and attains his fourteenth year, let him say”Inspire me, Lord, to give thanks for the favours You have bestowed on  me and on my parents, and to do good works that will please You. Grant me good descendants. To You I turn and to You I surrender myself”[1] (the Holy Qur’an, 46:15).

   “Paradise is under your mothers’ feet”,- said Prophet Muhammad (hadith from Anas; the holy ahadith from al-Hatyb).[2]

   “Your Lord has enjoined you to worship none but Him, and to show kindness to Your parents. If either or both of them attain old age in your dwelling, show them no sign of impatience, nor rebuke them; but speak to them kind words. Treat them with humility and tenderness and say:”Lord, be merciful to them. They nursed me when I was an infant”[3] (the Holy Qur’an, 17:23, 24).

   Thus having established a voluntary and free marriage between man and woman based on mutual agreement and love, Allah, He is wise and just, He is the munificent Giver, enjoined upon the spouses the fundamental principles of family life – faith in God, obedience to the Lord and putting oneself in His Trust, as well as mutual love and agreement, respect for parents and upbringing of good descendants. This is the foundation of a true Moslem family.

  “Of all the permitted things divorce is the most abominable by God”[4],- said Prophet Muhammad (may Allah greet and bless him). The Holy Qur’an enjoins the sanctity and fortitude of conjugal ties. But unlike other religions[5] the Islamic teaching does not insist on the absolute and dissoluble character of marriage. Calling for strengthening family, for patience and mutual agreement Islam, at the same time, admits divorce. Islam is a religion that has a delicate perception of the outer world. It is a religion that does not only call for spiritual heights, but also takes into account everyday needs and hopes of every man in his temporal life. “Allah does not charge a soul with more than it can bear” (the Holy Qur’an, 2:286).

   The above mentioned principles are laid in the basis of the Islamic canonical marriage law. The norms of Fiqh dealing with the issue of marriage were clearly and accurately elaborated as far back as the first two centuries of Islamic history, i.e. the 7-8th centuries. The elaboration of the universal legal system of family-marriage relationships on the basis of the Last Divine Revelation - the Holy Qur’an and the Sunna of Prophet Muhammad, was of primary significance for (a) further development and improvement of the family institution within the framework of the monotheistic tradition and (b) for filling in certain statutory gaps in the field.

   The principles of marriage, coming from the Last Revelation of the Unique and Single God and the Prophetic Tradition (Sunna), were thoroughly developped by prominent theologians and fakihs (lawyers), foundators of legal-theological schools of Islamic thought imams Abu Hanifa, Malik, ash-Shafi’i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, as well as al-Awza’i, an-Naha’i and other scholars. Outstanding mudjtahids have been continuing with the investigation and development of the Islamic law on marriage, referring to the rich heritage of the mentioned theologians.

   The following fatwa “On the consummation of marriage”, “On the marriage between a Muslim and a woman from among the people of the Scriptures” and “On the dissolution of marriage” consider only certain aspects of the Islamic matrimonial law.

   The legal-theological research article “On the consummation of marriage” sets out the legal conditions and order of entering into marriage, as well as the rights and duties of spouses.

   The fatwa “On the marriage between a Muslim and a woman from among the people of the Scriptures” concerns itself with the religious aspect of the Islamic marriage law system. Muslims (just as Israelites and Christians) are forbidden to marry women from among idolaters and pagans.[6]  But the permission for the marriage between a Muslim and a woman practicing Judaism or Christianity is given in the Holy Qur’an[7] and Prophet Muhammad’s Sunna (may Allah greet and bless him). For in spite of certain conceptual dogmatic differences Islam, Judaism and Christianity belong to the Abrahamic tradition of monotheism. Yet the above mentioned Fatwa focuses on the issue of the enactor of the god-given right to such marriage in a modern non-Muslim state.

   The research article “On the dissolution of marriage” establishes the order and conditions for the annulment of marriage and explains the essence of divorce in Islamic law and tradition.

   Undoubtedly the adduced fatwa do not aim at revealing in every detail the propositions of the Islamic marriage law system. Many important issues are not considered in the present research. The publication of these fatwa pursues a less ambitious goal – taking into account a special significance of the issues of family and marriage, we aim at giving a general understanding of the Shariat law on marriage, at explaining some of its precepts that can be implemented in practice both in modern Russia and in the CIS (the Commonwealth of Independent States).

[1] Compare the fifth Commandment given to Moses (peace be upon him) on mount Sinai:” Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Exod. 20:12); as well as apostle Paul’s message to the Ephesians:” Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right” (Eph. 6:1).

[2] See: As-Suyuty Dj. al-Djami’ as-sagyr. P. 221, hadith ¹ 3642, “hassan”.

[3] Compare:” Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old. Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding” (Prov. 23:22, 23).

[4] Compare:” For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment”

(Mal. 2:17; the explanatory translation of the Hebrew text).

[5] According to the Old Testament divorce is a sin that contradicts the Divine decree of marriage as an eternal lifetime alliance. But God allowed people to divorce each other only for the reason of human callousness. The ideal of the eternal alliance in marriage relations becomes again firmly established in the New Testament:” What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark. 10:9; Matt. 19:6). Yet, according to the New Testament tradition Jesus (peace be upon him) permitted divorce  only in case of adultery:” And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matt. 19:9). Apostle Paul permitted divorce in interfaith marriages, when one of the spouses did not believe in God and did not accept marriage ties.

[6] The prohibition to marry women from among idolaters and pagans  is often mentioned in the Old Testament:” And [lest] thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods” (Exod. 34:16); “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly” (Deut. 7:3, 4).

   The New Testament also forbids such marriages:” Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord” (2 Cor. 7: 14-17). Yet apostle Paul wrote on his behalf: ”But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away; ...for the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband” (1 Cor. 7:12, 14). And yet if one of the spouses is not baptised, the Church does not regard such marriage as lawful.  

[7] “Lawful to you are the believing women and the women from among those who were given the Scriptures before you” (the Holy Qur’an, 5:5).

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