Nikah or Muslim Marriage

Nikah (the term for Islamic marriage) literally means “sexual intercourse Islam is totally opposed to monasticism and celibacy. Marriage is an act of sunnah in Islam and is strongly recommended.

The most common and recognized types of marriage at this time consisted of: marriage by agreement, marriage by capture, marriage by mahr, marriage by inheritance and “Mot’a” or temporary marriage.

Prior to Islam, in the Arab world, women could not make decisions based on their own beliefs and had little control over their marriages. They were never bound by contract for marriage or custody of children and their consent was never sought. Women were seldom allowed to divorce their husbands and their view was not regarded for either a marriage or divorce. If they got divorced, women were not legally allowed to go by their maiden name again. They could not own or inherit property or objects, even if they were facing poverty or harsh living conditions. Women were treated less like people and more like possessions of men. They, however, could be inherited and moved from home to home depending on the wants and needs of their husband and his family. Essentially, women were slaves to men and made no decisions on anything, whether it be something that directly impacted them or not. If their husband died, his son from a previous marriage was entitled to his wife if the son wanted her. The woman had no choice in the matter unless she was able to pay him for freedom, which was, in most cases, impossible.

One of the most extraordinary practices that took place was that if a husband died, his son could inherit his wife (his own mother) to be his own wife. Marriage by inheritance, and incestuous relationships between a son and his own mother was “a widespread custom throughout Arabia, including Medina and Mecca”. If the son of a deceased husband (his deceased father) did not want his wife (own mother), the woman was forced to leave her home and live in a hut for one year. The hut that the women lived in was kept dark with very poor air circulation. After one year, the woman was allowed to come out of the hut, and people were permitted to heave camel excrement at her. People in Makka would blame her for refusing to sleep with her own son.

Marriage by agreement

The first of the four common marriages that existed in pre-Islamic Arabia was marriage by agreement. This consisted of an agreement between a man and his future wife’s family. This marriage could be within the tribe or between two families of different tribes.

Some women were forbidden from marrying outside of their tribe and had to either marry another member of the tribe or a stranger who would agree to live with the tribe.

In the case that involved a man and woman of two different tribes, the woman would leave her family and permanently reside with her husband. The children of these marriages were considered part of their father’s tribe, unless a different arrangement had previously been made which returned the children to their mother’s tribe.

The reason for intertribal marriages was to ensure the protection and possession of the children the couple would produce. Women in intertribal marriages had more freedom and retained the right to dismiss or divorce their husbands at any time. The women had precise rituals they used to inform their husbands of their dismissal, such as this: “if they lived in a tent they turned it around, so that if the door faced east, it now faced west, and when the man saw this, he knew that he was dismissed and did not enter”.

Marriage by capture

The second of the common marriage practices that existed in pre-Islamic Arabia was Marriage by capture. Most often taking place during times of war, marriage by capture occurred when women were taken captive by men from other tribes and placed on the slave market of Mecca. From the slave market these women were sold into marriage or slavery. In captive marriages, men bought their wives and had complete control over them. Women in these marriages had no freedom and were subjected to following their husbands’ orders. These women became their husbands’ property and had no right to divorce or dismissal of their husbands. They thus completely lost any freedom they may previously have had. Her husband had absolute authority over her, including the exclusive right to divorce. The husbands in these marriages were classified as their wives’ lords or owners and had complete control to his wife and her actions.

Marriage by Mahr

The third of the common marriage practices that existed in pre-Islamic Arabia was “marriage by Mahr.” This was a more traditional marriage practice. These marriages consisted of the groom or groom’s father paying the bride “Mahr”, to marry them. (Mahr is very important in Islamic marriage. Allah has used the word “faridah” for it. It means something fixed, decided and obligatory. It is obligatory on the husband to pay mahr to his wife unless she expressly by her own will without any pressure forgives him or returns the amount of mahr to him. Mahr belongs to the wife and it is to be given to her only. It is not the property of her parents or her guardian. No one can forgive the husband to pay the Mahr except the wife herself or, in case she did not go to her husband and the marriage ended without consummation, then in that situation her guardian can also forgive the mahr on her behalf. If a husband dies without paying mahr to his wife, it will be an outstanding debt on him and it must be paid before the distribution of his inheritance among his heirs. It helps the women during the time of divorce).

Marriage by inheritance

The fourth of the common marriage practices that existed in pre-Islamic Arabia was “marriage by inheritance”. When a man died, his son inherited all his wives except his own mother. Such “marriage” was “a widespread custom throughout Arabia, including Medina and Mecca”.This practice also involved the possessions of a deceased man’s wife being passed to his son. In such a case, the son could keep his father’s other wives for himself or arrange the above-described marriages by Mahr. In these cases, as in the majority of marriage practices at this time, the woman had few or no rights and was required to follow the orders of her inheritor.

Reforms after Islam

The rules of “marriage by agreement (marriage through consent)” was reformed and a strict set of rules and regulations were put in place. The practices of “marriage by inheritance” was forbidden. Several chapters and verses from the Quran were revealed which banned such practices.

A married woman also had rights over the husband as stated by Muhammad that “You have your rights upon your wives and they have their rights upon you. Your right is that they shall not allow anyone you dislike, to trample your bed and do not permit those whom you dislike to enter your home. Their right is that you should treat them well in the matter of food and clothing.”

The husband is financially responsible for the welfare and maintenance of his wife or wives and any children they produce, to include at a minimum, providing a home, food and clothing. In return, it is the duty of the wife to safeguard the husband’s possessions and protect how wealth is spent. If the wife has wealth in her own capacity she is not obliged to spend it upon the husband or children, as she can own property and assets in her own right, so the husband has no right for her property and assets except by her will. A pre-marital agreement of the financial expectation from the husband is in the mahr, given by him to the wife for her exclusive use, which is included as part of his financial responsibility.

Several commentators have stated that the superiority of a husband over his wife is relative, and the obedience of the wife is also restrictive. The Quran advises men that if they are certain of a rebellious attitude by the woman, they should first admonish her, then refuse to share beds, and finally beat (“darab”) her, This refers to serious breaches of behaviour such as being promiscuous according to renowned 20th-century scholar . which is not expected from a dutiful wife, and not for simple disobedience to the husband.

Marriage to what are sometimes described as foster relations in English are not permitted, although the concept of “fosterage” is not the same as is implied by the English word. The relationship is that formed by suckling from the breast of a Wet nurse. This is what is meant by “fosterage” in Islam in the quotation below. In Islam, the infant is regarded as having the same degree of affinity to the wet nurse as in consanguinity, so when the child grows up marriage is prohibited to those related to the wet nurse by the same degree as if to the child’s own mother.

Only the daughter of that wife is prohibited with whom one has had conjugal contact.

Only the daughter-in-law of a real son is prohibited.

The sister of a wife, her maternal and paternal aunts and her brother’s or sister’s daughters (nieces) are only prohibited if the wife is in wedlock with the husband.

Prohibition based on religion

Quran states “Do not marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe: A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever, even though he allures you. Unbelievers do (but) beckon you to the Fire.

Prohibited marriage partners

Marriage between people of the same sex

Marriage between a man and his sister, half-sister, foster sister, mother, stepmother, foster mother, wife’s mother, aunt, grandmother, great aunt, great-grandmother, etc.

Marriage between a woman and her father, stepfather, husband’s biological father, uncle, grandfather, great uncle, great-grandfather, etc.

Marriage of a man with women who are sisters or stepsisters or foster sisters of each other (except if marrying one who was separated from her husband by divorce or death)

Sororal polygyny is forbidden. A man cannot marry:

two sisters

a woman and a descendant of her sibling

a woman and sibling of her ancestor


A Women cannot marry after divorce or death of her husband for a certain period. This period is known as iddah..

A divorcee cannot marry for three menstrual cycles after divorce

A divorcee who has no courses cannot marry for three months

A pregnant woman cannot marry until laying her burden

A widow cannot remarry for Four months and ten days

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