Marriage is a universal institution which is recognized and respected all over the world. As a social institution, marriage is founded on and governed by the social and religious norms of the society. Consequently, the sanctity of marriage is a well accepted principle in the world community.

Marriage could either be monogamous or polygamous in nature. A monogamous marriage has been described as ‘…the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others’. A polygamous marriage on the other hand can be defined as a voluntary union for life of one man with one or several wives. The plurality of wives does not affect the character of the marriage


In Islam, marriage is a social and legal relationship intended to strengthen and extend family relationships. Islamic marriage begins with a search for an appropriate partner, and ends with an agreement of marriage, the contract, and the wedding ceremony.

The laws that govern an Islamic marriage are the Qur’an and Hadith. Islam recognizes value of sex and advocates marriage. Islam does not believe in celibacy. Allah has commanded the Muslims to marry for the Qur’an says:

“And marry those among you who are single….”

In Islam, marriage is essentially a contract. However, the distinction between sacred and secular was never explicit in Islam. Any action or transaction in Islam has religious implications. It is not quite accurate, therefore, to designate marriage in Islam simply as a secular contract. The appropriate designation of marriage could be a “Divine Institution”.

The general purpose of marriage is that the sexes can provide company to one another, love to one another, procreate children and live in peace and tranquility to the commandments of Allah.

For a valid Islamic marriage, the following conditions must be satisfied:

a. There must be a clear proposal.

b. There must be a clear acceptance.

c. There must be at least two competent witnesses.

d. There must be a marriage gift, little or more, by the bridegroom to the




The choice of a partner should be the one with the most piety. The prophet recommended the suitors see each other before going through with marriage. It is unreasonable for two people to be thrown together and be expected to relate and be intimate when they know nothing of each other. The couples are permitted to look at each other with a critical eye and not a lustful one. This ruling does not contradict the verse of the Holy Qur’an which says that believing men and women should lower their gaze. The Prophet (PBUH) has said,

“When one of you asks for a woman in marriage, if he is able to look at what induced him to marry her, he should do so.”  [Narrated in the book of tradition of Abu Daud]

However, it is not permitted in Islam for a man to be alone with a woman in the name of selection of spouse.

There is no concept of courtship in Islam as it is practiced in the west. There is no dating or living in de facto relationship or trying each other out before they commit to each other seriously. There is to be no physical relationship what so ever before marriage. The romantic notions that young people often have, have proven in most cases to be unrealistic and harmful to those involved. We only have to look at the alarming divorce rate in the west to understand this point. e.g. the couple know each other for years, are intimate, live together and so on yet somehow this does not guarantee the success of the future marriage. Romance and love simply do not guarantee everlasting bond between two people.

Arranged marriages on the other hand, are based not on physical attraction or romantic notions but rather on critical evaluation of the compatibility of the couple. This is why they often prove successful.


It is the girl’s right to make decision concerning her marriage and her father or guardian has no right to over-ride her objections or ignore her wishes. The Prophet (PBUH) has said,

A woman who has been previously married has more right concerning her person than her guardian and a virgin’s consent must be asked about herself, her consent being her silence.” [Narrated in the books of tradition of Bukhari and Muslim]

The choice of a partner by a Muslim virgin girl is subject to the approval of the father or guardian under Maliki School. This is to safeguard her welfare and interests. The prophet said “the widow and the divorced woman shall not be married until she has consented and the virgin shall not be married until her consent is obtained. The prophet did revoke the marriage of a girl who complained to him that her father had married her against her wishes.

As far as the consent of guardian is concerned, it can only be dispensed with if the guardian is simply refusing to give consent for considerations other than Islamic, in which case the bride can apply to an Islamic court and the judge can authorize the marriage after having followed the due process. If, on the other hand, such is not the case and no attempt was made to ascertain the consent of the guardian, then such a marriage would be considered void and, therefore, unacceptable in Islam.


This is necessary to exclude illicit sex and to safeguard legitimacy of progeny. It is recommended that marriage should be widely publicized. It should never be kept secret as it leads to suspicion and troubles within the community. The requirement is at least two upright Muslim witnesses.


Dowry or marriage gift by bridegroom to the bride is a symbolic expression of the groom’s cognizance of the economic responsibilities of marriage and of his readiness to assume all such responsibilities subsequent to marriage.

The wife is entitled to a marriage gift that is her own. This may be prompt or deferred depending on the agreement between the parties. A marriage is not valid without mahr. It does not have to be money or gold. It can be non-material like teaching her to read the Qur’an. “Mahr” is a gift from the groom to the bride.

This is the Islamic law. Concerning the dowry, Almighty Allah says:

“And give women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they, of their own

good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it and enjoy it with right good

cheer” (An-Nisaa’: 4)

He went further to say:

“Those among them (i.e., your wives) whom you enjoy give them their dowers as

determined. But there is no blame on you, if after a dower is determined, you

mutually agree to vary it” (An-Nisaa’: 24)

According to the Shari`ah, the mahr should also be reasonable. There is no fixed amount of mahr in the Shari`ah. It should be given according to the financial status of the husband and according to the time and place. We cannot apply the mahr of the 7th century in the 20th century, nor can the mahr of Nigeria or India be applied in the United States and Canada. As the financial conditions of the people in different times and places change, so the amount of mahr can be determined accordingly. However, it is a principle of the Shari`ah that the mahr should not be too expensive. It is wrong to declare a large amount of mahr at the time of marriage to show off or to boast.

Sometimes the bride’s family puts pressure on the groom and his family for a large amount of mahr so that they may show their pride to their relatives and friends, boasting that their daughter was married for a big mahr. Sometimes the groom declares a big amount and secretly thinks that this is just a commitment on paper. People are often heard saying, “Write whatever you want, no one asks and no one pays.” This is a play with the rules of Allah. Muslims should only commit what they are really capable of paying and what they intend to pay.

Once the above conditions have been fulfilled, the marriage will be deemed as valid; but if these conditions are not fulfilled, then it will be considered as being null and void.



It is permanently prohibited for a Muslim to marry a woman of the following


a. Father’s wife, whether divorced or widowed,

b. The mother including grand mothers,

c. The daughter including grand daughter,

d. The sisters including half and step sisters,

e. The paternal aunt, whether real, half or step sister of the father,

f. The maternal aunt, whether real, half or step sister of mother,

g. The brother’s daughter and

h. The sister’s daughter.

The rational behind this prohibition seems to lie in the fact that there is the need to increase trust among close relations by prohibiting incestuous relations, increase love and affection among close relations, expand family ties beyond close circle etc.

In Islam marriage is also prohibited with foster mother who has suckled him during the period of weaning and with foster sisters, foster aunt and foster nieces. Islam has also prohibited marriage with mother in law, the stepdaughter, and the daughter in law. Islam has also forbidden having two sisters as co-wives.

It is also prohibited to marry a woman who is a Mushrik (Someone who worships idols or associates other deities with Allah). Allah says the Quran:

“And do not marry Mushrik women until they believe.” [Quran 2:221]

“It is not permissible for Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men.”  [Quran 60:10]

Islam has allowed man to marry more than one woman but has put serious restrictions on this. It requires agreement of the new wife, his ability to maintain more than one wife, equality among the wives, etc. It is for this reason that few Muslim men marry more than one woman. Islam has allowed this to man to curb illicit sex.


It is true that the nikah ceremony can be performed by any Muslim, but in order to organize this serious legal contract, in Muslim countries some people are authorized by the governments to perform the nikah or to register the nikah. These people are called ma’dhun shar`i or qadi, etc. In America, the imams of the Islamic centers or someone authorized by the Islamic centers should officiate the nikah.

Some states in the United States and some provinces of Canada require that the person who performs the marriage must be a justice of the peace, or a judge or a licensed clergy. In some states it is illegal for an unlicensed person to perform marriages.

In the United States and Canada it is also required for the couples who intend to get married to take a license before their marriage. The person who performs the marriage then signs this license along with two witnesses. After that the license is sent to the Registrar of Marriages. The Registrar’s office then issues a marriage certificate. No marriage in the US and Canada is recognized as a legal marriage unless it is registered.

Some Muslims do not follow these procedures. They say that in an Islamic marriage, paper work is not necessary. Or they say that they only care for what is halal and want to marry according to the Shari`ah; they do not care whether the marriage is legally recognized here or not. However, there are some cases where Muslim women have suffered greatly due to these unregistered marriages. Some Muslim men marry without any legal papers and then they leave their wives. These women do not know what to do and how to get divorce from their husbands who abandon them.

In the US for example, such a woman cannot obtain divorce apers because the local laws, they are not considered married. These women have no proof of their marriage and the courts have no marriage record of these women. If they go to the local Islamic centers in the US, the centers cannot help them because the laws in the country do not give the right of divorce to anyone except to the local superior courts.

To avoid problems like these in non Islamic States, it is important for Muslim men and women to have their marriages and divorces properly documented.

Islam teaches fairness and justice in all cases.

Now coming to the issue of contracting marriages in a society where Islamic laws are not enforced or recognized, it is also highly crucial to get the legal papers before marriage contract; for legal purposes, the marriage must be solemnized by someone who has been authorized by the law of the land to perform marriage. In the absence of such legalization, there is no guarantee of legal protection for anyone in the event of a dispute. Apart from this, Islam teaches us to do what we do as efficiently, methodically and professionally as we can. The Prophet (PBUH)


“Allah loves you to do your work as best as you can.”

BY: Olanike Sekinat Odewale, Mrs


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