Understanding Muslim Marriages


The legal bond between a Muslim man and woman differs in many ways from Christian and Jewish marriages. A marriage in Islam is defined by sharia or Islamic law. The marriage contract imparts certain rights to the man and woman, and divorce is only applicable under certain circumstances. This article will outline the religious path to matrimony and how a marriage can be annulled under Islamic law.

Types of Marriage

  • There are two types of marriage that are mentioned in the Qu'uran. The first type, "Nikah," is more analogous to matrimony in popular Western traditions. A legal contract is signed when entering the marriage, the couple inherits each other's possessions, and the arrangement is intended for life. By contrast, the Nikah Mut'ah is a temporary marriage (often for a pre-set period) that does not impart the same rights as a traditional Nikah and the woman may have more freedom within it. It is generally limited to Shi'ite communities, these days; Sunni Muslims outlawed the practice years ago. In this type of marriage, men are not financially responsible for their wives, and the woman can leave her home as she pleases.

Inside the Marriage

  • Marriage is seen as a religious duty for Muslims. In the Koran, Muhammad is quoted saying, "Marriage is my tradition who so ever keeps away there from is not from amongst me." The bride's parents play a very large role in the selection of the bridegroom, who must provide a dowry ("mahr"). However, the woman must be consulted throughout the process. Traditional marriage roles--with a man supporting a woman, and a woman maintaining the home and rearing the children--still prevail in Muslim marriages.

Arranged Marriage

  • Arranged marriages are permitted under Islam but with a catch. Both parties must agree of their own volition to the arrangement upon entering the marriage contract. If the a woman or man is somehow coerced into the marriage, this can be grounds for an annulment.


  • While sharia law permits Muslim men to have up to four wives under traditional Nikahs (more wives can be added via Nikah Mut'ah), polygamy is a contentious issue in the Muslim world. The practice is banned outright in Tunisia but is encouraged in Sudan.

Divorce in Islam

  • In the Sunni tradition, a man has the right to nullify his marriage contract by simply saying "I am divorcing my wife" three times. He must do this after his wife has finished menstruating and before having sexual intercourse with her, so she is in a state of "cleanliness." A three-month waiting period begins after the divorce has been announced during which time the couple can reconcile without needing to remarry. During this period, the woman and man must sleep in separate rooms, but the man is still responsible for her welfare. At the end of the period, if the marriage has not been reconciled, the divorce is complete and the woman rejoins her family. The Shi'ite tradition is more legalistic and requires a public announcement. By contrast, the right of women to unilaterally divorce their husbands is severely limited in the Middle East. A woman must engage in a court proceeding and convince a qadi, or Sharia judge, to grant the divorce.

Marrying Outsiders

  • Islam generally discourages Muslims from marrying unbelievers. A rationale is that marriage compels both partners toward a relationship of tremendous love and trust, and if an observant Muslim marries a non-believer, he may be swayed from the faith. Under Sharia law, a Muslim woman is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim under any circumstances. By contrast, a Muslim man may marry a "chaste" Jew or Christian, assuming she is devout in her beliefs.

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