MARRIAGE & DIVORCE
All sexual relationships for Muslims must be formally contracted through marriage between a male and female. Pre-marital sexual intimacy is strictly prohibited.
Traditionally, Muslim men may marry women who are of the “People of the Book,” generally defined as Christians and Jews. In this case, a Muslim husband must guarantee the right of his Christian or Jewish wife to worship the Creator according to her religious beliefs.
The reverse, i.e. a Muslim woman marrying a man outside her religion, has traditionally not been allowed, on the grounds that her husband might not guarantee her the right to practice her religion, since he may not to have the same obligation to respect her religion that a Muslim has towards his Christian or Jewish wife. Therefore, for the protection of her freedom of religion, a Muslim woman has traditionally been required to marry a man who will give her the right to practice her faith—that is, a Muslim.
Marriage ceremonies among Muslims, like marriage ceremonies everywhere, vary widely in different localities and cultures. However, the actual Islamic marriage ceremony generally includes the bride and groom, the bride’s father or guardian, an officiator, and two witnesses. The ceremony includes the marriage proposal and acceptance and the presenting of a gift called mahr by the groom to the bride. The wedding celebration after the ceremony varies widely from culture to culture, but generally involves food, special clothing, and some form of celebration. In some societies, there may also be several days of celebration leading up to or after the wedding.
Partners are usually found by a variety of methods within the family and community, widely known as an “arranged marriage” but varies widely depending upon the culture one is dealing with.
If by “arranged marriage” one means simply that a couple first meets through referrals by family or friends (“matchmaking”) and then is free to choose to marry or not, this is still a common practice among Muslims, although increasingly young Muslims, like young people of any other religion, are meeting in school, at work, or online.
If, however, “arranged marriage” refers to a situation in which a person (this can impact both the man or the woman, but is generally associated with the woman) is forced into a marriage against his or her will, then many contemporary Muslims cite prophetic sayings that uphold a woman’s right to accept or reject a marriage proposal. Forced marriages have never been allowed, consent should always be sought.
Monogamy is the normal ideal situation in a marriage, as reflected in the Creator’s creation of life in pairs of male and female, according to the account given in various Qur’anic verses.
The Qur’an does, however, allow a man to marry more than one wife, with the condition that he treat all wives equally, a standard that even the Quran warns is difficult to achieve, clearly implying a preference for monogamy.
The Qur’an declared polygamy permissible 1400 years ago under certain unique circumstances, such as in the context of war, when caring for orphans was a major concern; polygamy in this situation was supposed to assist widowed women with children who otherwise would have been left to fend for themselves.
Polygamy was not peculiar to the Arabian Peninsula; it was widespread in many cultures for centuries, including that of ancient Israel as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible, where many of the Patriarchs are described as having multiple wives and Israelite kings had harems numbering in the hundreds.
Since polygamy was initially permitted to provide for widowed women and their children, this purpose would not be served by polyandry, i.e. the marriage of a woman to more than one man, so it was not permitted.
Divorce is allowed but discouraged strongly, and the Qur’an describes the different steps in a divorce, there is a hadith (prophetic saying) describing divorce as “the most hated lawful thing,” because it breaks up the family. The Qur’an also urges couples considering divorce to first make use of counselling and mediation. However, if these attempts fail, divorce as a last option is allowed and may, in some situations, be the best outcome. Either male or female partners are allowed to instigate the divorce procedures if necessary.