Dialogue on Marriage
Our neighbour, Hussain has invited us to attend the wedding party of his son,
Ali. It will take place at five o’clock in the afternoon of this coming Friday.
We shall be with them on this happy occasion.
* But Ali is still in the prime of his youth. He is only twenty years old.
It is not yet time for him to get married!
- Do I hear that you say it is not time for him to marry! He is as you very
young and active mentally and physically. Because his sexual urge is strong, he
needs to be able to satisfy it. Marriage at an early age is the best defence
against falling prey to that which is sinful. That is because man’s soul is
bent on temptation; “And I do not declare myself innocent, most surely (man’s)
self is wont to command (him to do) evil, except such as my Lord has had mercy
on, surely my Lord is Forgiving, Merciful”, declares The Almighty. (12/53).
I must admit that the moment my father started talking about man’s sexual
urge, I felt embarrassed. Young people at my age feel constrained when it comes
to discussing these matters, although we need to discuss them.
When my father saw me blush, he remarked:
- Are you embarrassed?
* Yes, for talking about sex is not an easy subject.
- And talking of sexual drive is embarrassing. Isn’t it?
- Yet, it is a biological need which every ordinary man and women feels the
urge to satisfy, in the same way hunger and thirst are satisfied.
* Nevertheless, Ali is still young.
- At a certain stage, man must get married.
* Do you mean it is a requirement of the shari’a law?
- Yes, to marry is obligatory for people, whose sexual desire could lead
them to committing that which is haraam.
* So, Ali was courageous enough to decide to marry, while still at a tender
- Brave, and principled. He decided to enter into holy matrimony to ward
off temptations and satisfy his sexual desire. For him, it was a matter of
principle, because his firmness could have been undermined and he could have
been tempted into wrong doing.
For such unsettling experience, Ali preferred to face the problem head on and
approach his father, expressing an interest in marriage, and acting upon the
Prophetic saying, “He who gets married shall safeguard half of his religion; so
he must fear Allah in the remaining half”.
Furthermore, marriage is one of the acts that are loved by God Almighty, “And
one of His signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may
find rest in them, and He instilled in you love and compassion for one another;
most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect”. (30/21). “O
people! be careful of (your duty to) your Lord, Who created you from a single
being and created its mate of the same (kind) and spread, from these two, many
men and women ..”. (4/1).
Traditions extolling the virtue and merit of marriage abound. The Prophet
(s.a.w.) was quoted as saying, “Get married and encourage (your sons and
daughters) to marry”. It has also been narrated from Imam Mohammad al-Baqir
(a.s.) thus, “There has not been created any institution in Islam which is more
favoured and dearer to Allah than wedlock”. And Imam Mousa al-Kadhim (a.s.) had
this to say, “Three (types) of people shall find refuge in the shade of the
Creator’s Throne on the Day of Judgement where there shall be no shade but His:
A man who took it upon himself to set up his brother in matrimony, a person who
did his brethren a service, and a third who did not breach the trust placed in
him by others”.
There are more such hadiths that, beside urging men and women to get married,
stress the revulsion for staying celibate.
* Do I hear that you said, “Men and women”?
- Yes, it is makrouh (a repulsive or repugnant act) for both men and woman
not to enter into matrimony. There are scores of traditions, or hadiths, that
urge women to marry. Imam Abu Abdullah (a.s.) said, “The Messenger of God
Almighty (s.a.w.) forbade women from becoming recluses so that they shun
marriage”. And, “It is blissful not to delay the marriage of women”.
* So, marrying at an early age is a good thing to do. Yet, father, the cost
of marriage nowadays is enormous.
- Maybe, but Islam calls upon us to avoid being extravagant in marriage
* And what about the staggering sums of dowry the families of some would-be
brides ask for?
- It is mustahab to ask for small dowries, and it is makrouh to demand a big
dowry. The Prophet (s.a.w) said, “The best among the women of my umma (Islamic
community) are those who have brighter faces and smaller dowries”.
It is worth noting, however, that our Prophet (s.a.w.) gave his daughter,
Fatima in marriage to Imam Ali (a.s.) for a small dowry - a coat of arms.
* What about a person who does not have a job or a regular income to sustain
- Allah, the Most High, said in His Holy Book, “And marry those among you
who are single and those who are fit among your male slaves and your female
slaves; if they are needy, Allah will make them free from want out of His grace;
and Allah is Ample-giving, Knowing”. (24/32).
In a commentary on this verse, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) said, “Whomsoever
steered clear of the road of matrimony for fear of bearing the extra burden of
starting a family, he has thought badly of Allah, for He said, “Allah will make
them free from want out of His grace”.
* There is the problem, that has been created by some some families of
would-be brides who make it difficult for prospective husbands. They spoil the
chances of their daughters getting married by setting unatainable targets. They
seek to appraise the suitability of the bridegroom against certain criterion
that they deem befitting to their daughters. The result is that many a woman
are left unmarried. This attitude, however, is not new.
- It has been narrated that Imam Mohammad al-Baqir (a.s.) received a letter
from Ali bin Asbat, in which he asked him for advice on how best he could give
his daughters in marriage, because he could not find the right men for them.
This was the Imam’s reply, “I took note of your letter regarding the situation
of your daughters. Do not dwell on your idea, May Allah have mercy on you,
because the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) said: Whoever approached you with the
intention of marrying, you should look at their character and piety. If these
were acceptable, go ahead and give your women in marriage to them. Should you
refrain from that, there shall be discord in the land and great immorality”.
* At this point, my father left me to my thoughts, pondering the array of
harmful social practices that our society has evolved. Such adverse social
customs have nothing to do with Islam and its injunctions that recognize, above
all, good ethical standards as prerequisites for choosing a husband or a
Soon it was time for my father and I to go to Ali’s wedding party.
The atmosphere was full of joy and happiness; people were clad in beautiful
clothes, and bouquets of flowers adorned the tables.
An alim was there to conduct the marriage ceremony. There was a dignified
silence, only to be broken by his voice of addressing the bride, on the other
side of a screen. He was asking for her agreement to act as her proxy in
entering into the marriage contract. After reciting few verses from the Holy
Qur’an and narrating Prophetic hadiths, appropriate to the occasion, he said to
the bride, “Do you agree, O Fatima! that I represent you and declare you wife of
Ali, son of Mohammad for a dowry of five hundred Dirhams? If you agree, say:
You be my attorney”. With a faint voice, revealing some diffidence, Fatima
replied: You be my attorney.
No sooner had she uttered the sentence, the sound of cheering erupted. The
smiles of people were everywhere.
The alim then approached Ali and announced, “I wed you Fatima, daughter of
Ahmed for a dowry of five hundred Dirhams in cash”. Thereupon, Ali responded,
“I Accepted the marriage”.
* However, why is the dowry so small?
- This is the dowry set by the Prophet (s.a.w.), i.e. five hundred silver
* Has Fatima the right to enter into the marriage contract without a third
party, i.e. without someone to officiate?
- Yes, either or both parties to the contract can enter into the marriage
directly, i.e. without appointing agents; it is preferable, though, that the
formula of “assent and acceptance” is adhered to.
- It is, for example, when the woman says, “I give you myself in matrimony”.
The man should say, “I accepted the marriage”.
This is the case in a permanent marriage.
* Is there another form of marriage that is not permanent?
- Yes, there is the fixed-term marriage where a duration and a dowry for the
marriage are fixed. As for the duration, it should not exceed the age of either
party to the marriage contract.
In common with permanent marriage, man and woman can enter into the marriage
contract themselves or through proxies. If both decide to enter into the
contract themselves, the form of words used by the woman should be, “I give you
myself in marriage for (x days, months, years) for a dowry of (x dirhams)”. The
man should respond immediately, i.e. without hesitation or pause, “I accepted
* Does this mean that they become man and wife?
- Yes, except that they do not inherit one another, that the husband is not
obliged to maintain the wife, and that he is free not to stay overnight with
her. Should the duration of marriage expire, the woman should no longer be
halal for the man to have sex with. In permanent marriage, the wife is halal
for the man as long as they live, unless it is terminated by divorce.
However, there are conditions attached to the marriage contract:
1. The verbal proposition of marriage and its acceptance. That is, it is
not sufficient for both parties to agree the marriage, be it permanent or
fixed-term; nor would the written contract alone be sufficient to consummate
2. The intent to consummate the marriage, be it by the man or wife, if they
have performed the contract rite themselves, or their representative.
3. The wholehearted agreement of man and wife.
4. Explicitly identifying both the man and the woman to be wed. Thus, the
contract shall not be valid, if, for example, a man said to another, “I give you
one of my daughters in marriage”.
5. [Performing the verbal formula of contract in Arabic, where
6. The person who conducts the marriage ceremony should be [adult] and
If all these conditions are met, the marriage contract shall be valid and
both its parties shall be man and wife with immediate effect.
* Immediately, even before the wedding party is over?
- Yes, when the contract is complete, both parties become man and wife.
However, you should know that the validity of the marriage of a sane adult
virgin woman is subject to the permission of her father or paternal grandfather
[even if she was independent].
* What about a non-virgin woman?
- She would have independent decision over her marriage.
* If a man married a woman on the presumption that she was virgin, but
discovered afterwards that she was not, has he the right to annul the marriage
- Yes, he has the right to deem the contract null and void.
* Should he decide to waive his right, what would the alternative be?
- He should be able to receive the difference in dowry between that of a
virgin and non-virgin woman.
* Has the man the right to marry any woman he likes?
- Yes, he has such a right, except for certain categories of woman whom he
cannot marry for they are forbidden due to blood relationship. These are:
1. Mother and paternal grandmother.
2. Daughter and his son’s daughters.
3. Sister, her daughters and their daughters.
4. Brother’s daughters and their daughters.
5. Paternal and maternal aunts.
6. Mother-in-laws and their paternal and maternal grandmothers, that is even
the marriage was not consummated.
7. Step daughter of a marriage that was consummated.
8. Step mother and step grandmother.
9. Daughter-in-law and the wife of a grandson.
10. Sister-in-law, at the lifetime of his wife, for it is forbidden to marry
two sisters at the same time.
11. Nursing mother and her daughters by birth and otherwise, who are
forbidden to him because of lineage, since the principle of prohibition is
It is also forbidden for the natural father of the suckling infant to marry
the natural daughters of the nursing mother [and the daughters of the man whose
milk they shared, be they blood related or by way of suckling]. It is to be
noted, however, that not every type of breast feeding necessarily leads to
prohibition of marriage. Some of the parameters that render breast feeding a
source of forbidding marriage are as follows:
a. The suckling must be administered directly from the breast of the woman,
i.e. it is not of a consequence, if the woman’s milk was fed to the baby by a
b. The suckling child should be less than two years old. Breast feeding a
child over two years old is irrelevant.
c. The suckling should contribute to the child’s flesh building and bone
strengthening. If, however, this is unclear, breast feeding of a “full day and
night” or “fifteen suckling sessions” would be considered to have contributed to
breast feeding. If the matter can not be resolved, by applying these limits,
ihtiyat should be observed.
It is to be noted, though, that in applying the time limit of “one full day
and night”, no other source of feeding, apart from the woman’s milk, must be
given during that time. Should the child be prevented from breast feeding for
part of the time, or was given milk from another woman or other food, the
principle would not apply. [It is important that the suckling child is hungry
from the outset, so that he takes its fill, and is contented by its
The fifteen sessions of breast feeding, should form an uniterupted sequence
by one woman. Each suckling session should be complete, in that the baby should
take its fill.
There are more rules regarding breast feeding detailed in jurisprudence
* If a man married according to the dictates of the sacred shari’a law, what
should he expect from his wife?
- Allah The Most High, says in His Holy Book, “Your wives are a tilth for
you, so go into your tilth when you like, and do good beforehand for yourselves
A man can lawfully have sexual intercourse with his wife. That is, she must
not prevent him from doing so, except where there is a valid reason preventing
that. It is forbidden for the wife of a permanent marriage to go out without
her husband’s permission.
A husband should provide maintenance for his wife, by permanent marriage, be
it food, clothes, or accommodation commensurate to his income and lifestyle.
He is not permitted to refrain from having sex with his wife for more than
four months, unless she allows it, or there is a valid reason that could entail
harm or an untenable situation. This prohibition is even more rigorous, if the
wife is young.
* What would happen if the husband did not provide maintenance for his
- He shall be indebted with the cost of maintenance. If he insisted on
withholding it, despite her demand, she is permitted to take it out of his
property, even without his knowledge.
There are, however, other rules that are designed to uphold the moral
1. It is forbidden, for any man or woman, who are not married to each other,
to look or touch one another with sexual desire and satisfaction; this also
applies to children. It is also haraam for people of the same sex, to do this
to one another, if they are men, women, or children.
2. Apart from husband and wife, it is forbidden to look at the private parts
of other people, male and female [including discerning children].
3. It is forbidden for a man to look at the body and hair of a woman to whom
he is not married. It is permissible, though, to look at her face and hands,
provided that the manner of looking does not arouse sexual desire. Likewise,
the woman is not allowed to look at a man to whom she is not married, except for
his head, hands, and feet, provided that this does not arouse sexual desire.
4. Apart from the private parts, and without sexual desire, men and women
can look at the bodies of their counterparts. Likewise, with the exclusion of
private parts and barring sexual gratification, men and woman can look at the
bodies of their maharim. Accordingly, one can look at the body of one’s mother,
sister, aunt, niece, and grandmother.
* What about looking at one’s sister-in-law, and paternal and maternal
- No, it is not permissible to look at them, because they do not fall
within the same category of maharim, i.e. they are alien to him.
5. The woman must cover her hair and body because they are forbidden to be
exposed to the gazes of men [including the boy who is capable of rational
action, if such exposure could arouse his sexual desire]. The face and hands
are excluded from this restriction, provided she was sure of not committing a
sinful act, and that exposing such parts of the body is done with the aim of
enticing men into malicious looking.
6. If a man was committed to marrying a particular woman, he is permitted to
look at those parts of her body such as face, hair, neck, hands, wrists, and
legs, but without sexual desire.
7. A male physician is permitted to look and touch a patient woman’s body,
if the treatment calls for it. This is so, if the woman was forced to seek
treatment with a male physician, because he was more capable of administering
better treatment than a female physician. Conversely, she should seek
treatment with a woman doctor.
8. A Muslim man is allowed to marry a Christian or a Jewish woman on a
* That is despite her not being Muslim nor a believer, and her not believing
in the permissibility of temporary marriage?
- Nevertheless, marrying her on such basis is allowed.
9. A man is not permitted to marry more than four women by way of permanent
marriage. He also has the right to divorce his wives.