What Does The Quran Say About Marriage?January 5, 2020 2023-08-08 4:52
What Does The Quran Say About Marriage?
What Does The Quran Say About Marriage?
In our increasingly secular world, divorce rates are at an all-time high. At the time of this writing, it is estimated that just under 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. That number is likely to rise ever higher over the next decade. There are some who view this as evidence that marriage is being taken less seriously than it was in the previous centuries. At times, it can certainly feel as though people make the decision to get married simply to gain a couple of hundred Facebook likes rather than because they intend to spend the rest of their lives together. Many religions detest the idea of divorce and refuse to formally recognize second marriages. Other religions are more open to divorce, particularly those which have been founded in recent decades. But how exactly does Islam feel about divorce? Moreover, what does Islam teach about marriage in general? Muslims couples who are in need of advice ahead of their marriage will find it in abundance in the Quran. Hadith – the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammadﷺ – also contain many tips to ensure a successful marriage. We’re going to be looking at what the Quran and the hadith have to say about marriage and all that it entails in this article. Let’s get started.
Sex Before Marriage Is Not Permitted
Most of the major world religions hold the belief that sexual activity should not be pursued outside of marriage. Islam is one such religion. The difference between Islam and other world religions, however, is that many of these faiths reject sex before marriage as a matter of tradition. The teachings of these religions were developed in extremely conservative societies which prohibited sexual activity before marriage anyway, which made it a natural choice when crafting religious laws. This is not the case in Islam. For Muslims, the commandment to remain chaste until marriage is one that comes directly from Allah. It is made quite clear in Surat An-Nur, the 24th Surah of the Quran. There, Muslims will find the following passage:
“And let those who cannot find someone to marry maintain chastity until Allah makes them rich through His favors.” – Quran, 24:33
This verse is important as it acknowledges the frustrations one may experience if they cannot find a spouse. The natural desire to engage in sexual intimacy becomes more and more difficult to suppress as time goes on, leading those who cannot fight their desires to seek release from whomever they can get it. The Quran understands this, but it also understands the negative impact such behavior can have on the soul. As such, it advises those who cannot find someone to marry to remain steadfast in their chastity and continue their search for a spouse. Even if they fail to find release in this life, Allah will reward them for their immense self-control on the Day of Judgment.
The above passage of the Quran touches on the reward that awaits those who learn to control their carnal desires outside of marriage. In the hadith below, however, the Prophetﷺ discusses the punishment which awaits those who don’t. “The Prophetﷺ said ‘O Mankind! Beware of fornication/adultery for it entails six dire consequences: three of them relating to this world and three to the next world. As for the three that are related to this world, they are the following: it removes the glow of one’s face, brings poverty, and reduces the life-span. As for its dire consequences in the next world they are: it brings down the wrath of Allah upon the person, subjects him to terrible reckoning, and finally casts him in Hellfire.”- Al-Bayhaqi
Muslims who are considering pursuing sexual relations outside of marriage should give careful thought to the Prophet’sﷺ warnings. They can expect to face the consequences of their misdeeds in this life and the next life. We know for a fact the punishments Prophet Muhammadﷺ describes for adulterers in this world do indeed occur. A person who is cheating on their spouse often becomes so concerned with their husband or wife discovering their affair that they live their life in a perpetual state of stress. They are never able to relax and, and as such, the glow disappears from their face. On many occasions, somebody who has made the mistake of cheating on their spouse has been blackmailed by their extramarital lover and fallen into poverty attempting to buy their silence. We also know that an affair can shorten an individual’s life-span by a number of means, such as a crime of passion committed by a scorned spouse or a cardiovascular episode brought on by the stress of carrying the secret of one’s infidelity. Of course, as Prophet Muhammadﷺ outlined in the above hadith, the end of an adulterer’s life does not mark the completion of their punishments. On the Day of Judgment, they will be subjected to the full wrath of Allah, who will show them no mercy when weighing their good deeds against their bad. They will be cast into the Hellfire, where they will pay for violating the laws of marriage outlined in the Quran and the hadith.
Incest Is Forbidden
In pre-Islamic Mecca, it was not uncommon for men to take their sisters and cousins as wives. Today, we know that sexual intercourse and reproduction between individuals who are closely related can result in disastrous genetic mutations, let alone psychological damage and perverted views. At the time of Prophet Muhammadﷺ, however, this was not understood. As such, Allah deemed it necessary to warn His people about the dangers of incest in the Quran. Verses 22 and 23 of Surat An-Nisa, Allah tells us:
“And do not marry those [women] whom your fathers married, except what has already occurred. Indeed, it was an immorality and hateful [to Allah] and was evil as a way. Prohibited to you [for marriage] are your mothers, your daughters, your sisters, your father’s sisters, your mother’s sisters, your brother’s daughters, your sister’s daughters, your [milk] mothers who nursed you, your sisters through nursing, your wives’ mothers, and your step-daughters under your guardianship [born] of your wives until whom you have gone in. But if you have not gone in unto them, there is no sin upon you. And [also prohibited are] the wives of your sons who are from your [own] loins, and that you take [in marriage] two sisters simultaneously, except for what has already occurred. Indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful.” -Quran, 4:22 – 23
This is perhaps one of the most detailed passages in the entire Quran. Not only does it tell us that incest is forbidden by Allah, it covers a wide range of scenarios in which a person could draw Allah’s anger. Allah specifically tells us that our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, and many more are absolutely off limits when it comes to marriage and sexual activity. However, this passage is also noteworthy for it displays Allah’s well-known mercy and understanding. Although He detests marriages of incest, He states in this extract that marriages between relations which were officiated prior to the revelation of this verse will not be nullified. This tells us how strongly opposed Allah is to divorce. As we will discuss in greater detail in just a little bit, Allah permits the separation of a man and wife only in certain circumstances.
A Man May Take Up To Four Wives
One of the most common misconceptions about Islam is that a Muslim man is permitted to marry as many women as he likes and treat them however he likes. This is not the case. While a man is permitted to marry more than one woman, the Quran makes it clear that he may not have more than four wives at any one time. Additional laws regarding polygamy in Islam are outlined in the below Quranic extract.
“And if you fear that you will not be fair in dealing with the orphans, then marry of women as may be agreeable to you, two, or three, or four; and if you fear you will not deal justly, then marry only one or what your right hands possess. That is the nearest way for you to avoid injustice.”- Quran, 4:4
For a comparatively short verse, this gives us a lot to unpack. Its opening reference to “the orphans,” is important, yet it is often overlooked by critics of Islam. In berating the Quran for permitting a man to take multiple wives, they fail to mention that the holy book lists the care of orphans as the primary motivation for doing so. Life expectancy was a lot shorter in the time of Prophet Muhammadﷺ, particularly for men, who were often forced to do battle to protect their clans. This meant that many children living in pre-Islamic Mecca were growing up without a father figure. In order to remedy this situation, Allah encouraged men to marry widows so that their children may grow up with a complete family unit. It is also worth noting that while the above passage does allow men to take up to four wives, it also prohibits them from doing so if they are not able to treat each of their wives equally. Allah advises those who will not be able to provide multiple wives with equal and adequate love, shelter, and nourishment to marry only one woman.
It should be pointed out that while polygamy is permitted (with restrictions) in the Quran, it is not mandatory for Muslims. In fact, many majority Muslim countries have outlawed the practice. Others have limited it, allowing a man’s wife to legally prevent him from marrying anybody else during her lifetime. There are some Islamic fundamentalists who believe this is a violation of their rights as a Muslim. After all, the Quran, the literal word of God, states that a man may marry four wives if he is capable of supporting all four, so why should they be prohibited from doing so by laws made by man? This argument would certainly carry some weight had Allah not also revealed multiple verses encouraging Muslims to adhere to the laws of the society in which they live. One such verse reads as follows: “O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey His Messenger and those who are in authority over you.”- Quran, 4:60
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the above verse is that it is found in An-Nisa, the fourth surah of the Quran, which also contains the passage permitting a man to take up to four wives. As such, a man is obligated to obey the law of the land, even if it forbids him from marrying more than one woman. This is, of course, as long as the land in which the man is living is respectful to the primary religious beliefs of its citizens.
A Muslim Should Not Marry An Unbeliever
Many religions play only a small part in the lives of their adherents. Believers spend an hour or two a week in worship and are then free to go about their business for the next seven days while giving minimal thought to their religion. This is not the case with Islam. Islam is what many theologians may describe as a “high-demand religion.” It expects each Muslim to live a life worthy of Allah at all times and not just during Friday prayer sessions. As such, Muslims are encouraged to surround themselves with Islam in all aspects of their life, from their social circle, to their line of work, to their marriage. To drive this point home, the Quran contains the following passage: “And do not marry polytheistic women until they believe. And a believing slave woman is better than a polytheist, even though she might please you. And do not marry polytheistic men [to your women] until they believe. And a believing slave is better than a polytheist, even though he might please you. Those invite [you] to the Fire, but Allah invites to Paradise and to forgiveness, by His permission. And He makes clear His verses to the people that perhaps they may remember.”- Quran, 2:221
There is some debate as to whom the above passage permits a Muslim to marry. Some feel it only forbids marrying polytheists, meaning a Muslim may marry a Christian or a Jew or a member of any other monotheistic religion. It is important to remember, however, that the Quran was revealed in 7th century Mecca, where the vast majority of people were polytheists. While Christianity and Judaism had a small presence in the deserts surrounding the city, it was extremely unlikely that a Muslim man would ever encounter a Christian or Jewish woman who was eligible for marriage. As such, the Quran focused on the most pressing matter, advising Muslims to avoid marrying idol worshippers, even those they were in love with. Contemporary Islamic scholars apply this ruling to non-Muslims as a whole. Marrying outside of the faith, they say, will present a conflict of interest when it comes to raising children. If the non-Muslim spouse refuses to accept Islam, there is a significant chance the offspring the marriage produces will also refuse to embrace the message of the Quran. This could conceivably hinder the spread of Islam, which is perhaps the most undesirable outcome imaginable.
Spouses Should Support Each Other
Some faiths treat marriage as little more than a means to an end, that end being reproduction. Islam, however, treats marriage with markedly more reverence. While it does indeed encourage married couples to procreate, it also recognizes the importance of a loving and respectful relationship between man and wife. Evidence for this can be seen in the following Quranic extract:
“They (your wives) are a clothing (covering) for you and you too are a clothing (covering) for them.”
– Quran, 2:187
This passage reminds us that a spouse should work to mask the faults of their partner. Just as a piece of clothing serves to cover up sensitive portions of the body, a man may cover up the weaker parts of his wife’s character and vice-versa. A person should strive to support their spouse in their times of need so that they may be stronger as a couple. This will stand for both man and wife in this world and on the Day of Judgment, where a person may seek to offer up a portion of their good deeds to eradicate the misdeeds of their spouse. Several chapters after the above verse, we are again reminded of the role a spouse should play in supporting their partner, when Allah tells us:
“And one of His signs is that He has created for you, spouses from amongst yourselves so that you might take comfort in them and He has placed between you, love and mercy. In this there is surely evidence (of the truth) for the people who carefully think.”- Quran, 30:21
These verses are noteworthy as it tells us that Allah created spouses specifically so that we might have an additional person from whom we can draw support and comfort, contradicting the aforementioned belief of many religions that marriage was introduced by Allah for the sole purpose of multiplying the human race. More conservative male Muslims may take issue with the idea of a man relying on his wife for support. However, this is a case of misguided masculinity which can be put to rest by the history of Prophet Muhammadﷺ himself. When the Prophetﷺ received his very first revelation in the year 610, he was horrified by the experience. Not knowing if he had encountered an angel or something more sinister, Muhammad ran home in a state of panic. There, he cried to his wife, Khadijah رضي الله عنها, and pleaded with her to cover him with a blanket. If Allah’s final and greatest prophet had no scruples about leaning on his wife when he was feeling vulnerable, no man should feel any shame about doing the same thing.
A Loving Wife Is Invaluable
As we mentioned in the previous section, Prophet Muhammadﷺ regularly turned to his wife, Khadijah رضي الله عنها, for support. When Khadijah passed away, the Prophetﷺ took additional wives, an example of how much he valued the company of women. As if his actions were not evidence enough of how highly he viewed women, the Messenger of Allahﷺ spoke on multiple occasions about the unparalleled joy of marriage. Take the following hadith, for example:
“It has been narrated from Abi Abdillah that, ‘A man once came to my father. My father asked him, “Are you married?” The man replied, ‘No.’ My father replied, ‘I would not love to have the world and all that is contained within it if it meant I had to spend one night without a woman [beside me].'”
In this hadith, the Prophet Muhammadﷺ is not just speaking to the young man who approached him, but to all young men. The teenage and young adult Muslim males of today could learn a valuable lesson from it. Just like the young man in this hadith, they often reject marriage and all that it entails. Instead of seeking a wife, they get caught up chasing money and fast cars and social media followers. But the happiness that these things bring is fleeting. As the Prophetﷺ declares in the above hadith, all the riches of the world cannot warm you on a cold night. They cannot calm you down when you are feeling anxious. And there’s certainly no guarantee they will remain by your side as you grow old. This is the kind of support that can only be provided by a loving wife and those who fail to realize that will live this life unfulfilled and experience a faith even worse in the next. In another authentic narration, the Prophetﷺ said: “The world is enjoyment and the best enjoyment in the world is a righteous wife.” (Muslim)
Divorce Is Not Haram
At the beginning of this article, we touched on divorce and the attitude many religions have towards it. As we mentioned, there are some religions in which divorce is absolutely forbidden and there are some religions in which a person can marry and divorce as often as they like without any fear of repercussions. Islam falls in the middle of these two extremes. While it does not entirely forbid divorce, it stresses that it is only permissible in certain situations. In Surat Al-Baqarah, when speaking about the desolation of a marriage, the Quran tells us:
“For those who swear not to have sexual relations with their wives is a waiting time of four months, but if they return [to normal relations] – then indeed, Allah is forgiving and merciful. And if they decide on divorce – then indeed, Allah is hearing and knowing.” – Quran, 2:226-227
This verse is important as it lays a strict set of rules a married couple must adhere to before a divorce is permissible. Under the law of the above passage, a married couple considering a divorce must spend four months apart, during which time they are encouraged to fast and pray and give serious consideration to their future. If they are moved to reconcile during these four months, their marriage will be intact in the eyes of Allah and they may proceed as if their separation never happened. If the couple remains set on divorce even after their four month trial separation, they should be prepared for their decision to come back to them on the Day of Judgment. Allah judges each divorce on a case by case basis, as only he knows the true motives of each former couple.
Muslim couples considering divorce can find further advice in additional Quranic passages, such as the one below.
“If a couple fears separation, you shall appoint an arbitrator from his family and an arbitrator from her family; if they decide to reconcile, God will help them get together. God is Omniscient, Cognizant.”
– Quran, 4:35
This verse encourages Muslim couples experiencing difficulties to consult two separate parties: an individual from the male’s family and an individual from the female’s family. This ensures multiple opinions are voiced, increasing the chances of cooler heads prevailing and a reconciliation occurring. It also ensures both the husband and wife have somebody to fight in their corner and protect their best interests should a divorce take place.
Prophet Muhammadﷺ understood that married couples sometimes hit a rough patch in their relationship. For this reason, he dedicated a significant portion of time to advising his followers in matters relating to divorce. Much of his teachings on divorce are documented in the hadith. There are so many hadith relating to divorce that, in fact, we may have to dedicate an entire article to them in the future. For now, however, let’s finish up with a rapid-fire look at a few of the most notable hadith concerning divorce.
“Ibn ‘Umar رضي الله عنه reported that he divorced his wife while she was in her menses.’Umar رضي الله عنه asked Allah’s Apostleﷺ about that, and he said: Command him to take her back until she is pure and then she enters the second menses and then becomes pure. Then either divorce her (finally) or retain her.'” -Sahih Muslim, Book 9, Number 3481
“AI-Mughira b. Shu’ba رضي الله عنه reported that Sa’d b. ‘Ubada رضي الله عنه said: ‘If I were to see a man with my wife, I would have struck him with the sword, and not with the flat part (side) of it.’ When Allah’s Messengerﷺ heard of that, he said: ‘Are you surprised at Sa’d’s jealousy of his honour? By Allah, I am more jealous of my honour than he, and Allah is more jealous than I. Because of His jealousy Allah has prohibited abomination, both open and secret And no person is more jealous of his honour than Allah, and no persons, is more fond of accepting an excuse than Allah, on account of which He has sent messengers, announcers of glad tidings and warners; and no one is more fond of praise than Allah on account of which Allah has promised Paradise.”‘ – Sahih Muslim, Book 9, Number 3572
“Aisha رضي الله عنها reported that she had bought Barira from the people of Ansar, but they laid down the condition that the right of inheritance [would vest in the], whereupon Allah’s Messengerﷺ said: ‘The right of inheritance vests with one who shows favour [who emancipates] and Allah’s Messengerﷺ gave her the choice [either to retain] her matrimonial alliance or break it. Her husband was a slave. She [Barira also] gave Aisha رضي الله عنها some meat as a gift. Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said: ‘I wish you could prepare for us out of this meat.’ Aisha said, ‘It has been given as charity to Barira, whereupon he said: ‘That is charity for her and a gift for us.’” – Sahih Muslim, Book 9, Number 3590
Islam recognizes that marriage is not simply a method of expanding the human race. It is a means of ensuring the survival of those who are already here. By giving us a loving spouse, Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى gives us a constant source of support and comfort. Should that source of support and comfort run dry, Allah does not compel an unhappy couple to remain together. He understands that a marriage without love is detrimental to the health of everybody involved, and so He permits divorce in situations where it will truly better the lives of the couple seeking separation. This makes Islam arguably the most progressive of the five major world religions when it comes to marriage and divorce. It is important to remember, however, that the Quran and the Prophetﷺ agree there is no greater joy than being married. No amount of riches or good fortune can surpass a single night spent in the arms of a loving spouse.