In Islam, a marriage is not viewed as a joining of two "soul mates," as in the modern West, but rather as a social contract and a religious duty. Both the husband and wife have particular rights and obligations according to the Sharia, or the code of law that governs Muslim behavior. The interpretations of the laws vary across the different cultures in which Islam is practiced.
Duties and Obligations
A Muslim marriage carries with it, by Muslim religious law, particular rights and obligations. A wife enters into her husband's isma -- dominion or protection -- and therefore he is obligated to provide her with nafaqa, or shelter, food and clothing. The wife loses her right to nafaqa if she disobeys her husband. When an offer or marriage is made, a financial arrangement called mahr or sadaq is made. The husband pays the wife a sum of money that is expressly her property.
Tamkin, or "unhampered sexual access" is the wife's obligation and a husband's right. Islam does not support celibacy within marriage because it can lead to marital problems, and sexual relations outside of marriage are forbidden.
Finding a Spouse and the Wedding Ceremony
Muslim parents typically arrange the marriages of their children to make sure they will have a good partner. Islam prohibits parents coercing their children into marriage, although this has been known to happen. In some Muslim communities, the bride and groom do not see each other before the wedding, though it is recommended. The nikah, or wedding ceremony, usually includes a reading from the Quran and the exchange of vows, though a bride is not required to be present if she sends two people who witness the agreed-upon contract. The presence of a religious official is not required, but an Imam typically presides over the ceremony. Other rituals and practices included in a Muslim wedding are often included according to regional or cultural practices.
Although marriage is seen as the ideal way of life, Islam permits divorce with rules governing the dissolution of a marriage. If one partner does not adhere to the contract that is drawn up, the other partner can seek a divorce. Only the husband, however, can end a marriage at his discretion, and he is not required to obtain his wife's permission or consent. Wives can attempt to modify the terms of the contract or seek a divorce if the husband agrees to an additional marriage contract. The rights to divorce are governed not only by Sharia, but also by regional customs and social stigma.
Islam permits men to have more than one wife. In Sunni Islam, a man can have up to four marriages, and in Shiite Islam a man can have as many temporary marriages as he can afford. The reason for this rule is that at the time the Quran was revealed, polygamy was the norm. Men may only have more than one wife if it doing so does not harm the existing wife or wives. Women are only permitted to have one husband at a time, but they may remarry after divorce or the death of their husband. As with divorce, polygamy is often limited by local social mores.
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