A Primer on Islam
Prepared by the students in
HON 313 Justice in Islamic Thought
Fall 2004 - Nazareth College of Rochester

Five Central Beliefs

Five Pillars

Hadith and Sunna


Marriage and Divorce

Daily Roles of Women



  "Marriage and Divorce in Islam"

by Megan Tudi


Muslim Women as Wives
Muslim women are considered equal partners in a marriage. Like their husbands, Muslim women are allowed to own property, participate in business dealings, and choose their own spouse (Al-Sheha).  Interestingly, for example, women own one third of the land in Saudi Arabia (Bowker 120).

While women do possess these rights, there are expectations that follow. Women in Islam are not allowed to be dressed indecently in public, act in a sexually provocative way, etc (Al-Sheha 5). However, these expectations are not unique to Muslims. Most religions do not condone sexual behavior or dress.

According to (Shahid), "Our Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said, "The honored women before Allah are those who are obedient to their husbands and remain within the boundaries of their homes."

If one is to take this statement literally, it would seem to suggest that women are confined to their homes and must serve their husbands. However, Islam has actually opened many doors for women. Before the time of Muhammad, women were considered material objects; they could not remarry if they were divorced by their husbands, and could not choose their life partner (Al-Sheha 17).

There are specific roles that Muslim wives are supposed to fulfill in their marriages and families. Shahid states a woman is:

"A loving wife, mother, responsible homemaker, devoted daughter, caring sister, and reliable friend neighbor.
She is an educator, nurse, facilitator, and councilor. It is her responsibility to see that her family's needs are
attended to…Towards her husband, a Muslim lady is friend, lover, advisor confidante, help-mate, and supervisor
of his home. She is this way, because sheher husband will obey the command from Almighty God to love,
maintain, and protect her at all costs."

Muslim Men as Husbands
There are many misconceptions about Muslim husbands. A common belief is that men are masters over their wives and possess all the power in the household. This misconception is not entirely incrrect, but it is lacking the complete truth. While Muslim men do make most of the decisions in the household, the husband is supposed to confer with his wife before making such decisions that will impact the household and family.

Because men are stronger than women, it is their duty to protect and support their wives (Shahid).  Men and women are supposed to complement each other in their marriage, which includes overlooking the faults and weaknesses their spouse may possess.

According to the Qur'an, a husband has daraja or rank over his wife. However, this rank is generally viewed as a leadership role, rather than a strict authority figure (Bowker 124). This leadership role is followed by expectations and responsibilities a man has in regards to his wife. A husband must take care of the basic needs of his wife including providing food, clothing, and shelter (Bowker 124).

While men are the caretakers of their wives, their authority in the family allows them to beat their wives. Husbands are entitled to beat their wives if they feel she is acting inappropriately, and have already warned her of her illicit behavior. However, a man is not allowed to harm the face of his wife, and is not supposed to leave marks of injury (Bowker 128).

Some people may view this as condescending and abusive, but the purpose of wife beating is intended to be symbolic rather than physical. A reflection of this symbolism is reflected in the fact that a husband is not allowed to verbally abuse his spouse. By verbally abusing his wife, he is intentionally harming her emotional health and being disrespectful to the woman he has vowed to respect.



Polygamy in Islam
A right that a husband possesses that a woman does not is the right to marry up to four wives.  The reason behind this seemingly sexist practice is that the mother's identity is always known, since she is the child-bearer.  If a woman were to take several husbands, the paternal identity of the child would be difficult to distinguish.  However, if a man takes more than one wife, the identity of the father would be known. In Islam, paternal lineage is very important, which requires the paternal identity of a child to be known (Bowker 131).

To prevent problems among the wives, a husband is required to treat each of his wives with equal love, respect, and care (Al-Sheha 45). According to the Apostle of Allah, "the most complete believers in terms of faith are those who possess the best morals, the best of you are those best to their wives" (Al-Sheha 47).
While the idea of wife-beating and polygamy may seem horrifying and out-dated in modern American society, this Islamic way of life has run smoothly in most Muslim families for hundreds of years. Even though a Muslim man may have several wives and may use force as a last resort to contain her indecent behavior, this same man loves, respects, and cares for his wife/wives in the same manner that generations of Muslim men cared for their wives before him.


Islamic Wedding Ceremony (Nikah)
In Islam, nikah (marriage) is viewed as a contract between two people and usually their families. This contract is know as an aqd and is reflects the "respectability and dignity of the woman" (Islamic). Both parties must take oaths to remain loyal, and to treat each other with respect (Al-Sheha 71). At the time of the marriage, the man presents the wife with a dowry, usually in the form of money. This dowry is for the woman alone to be used at her discretion, unless she permits her husband or anyone else to use it. It is returned to the woman in the case of a divorce.

While not all Islamic marriages follow the same set of guidelines, there are basic aspects that are recommended, as well as aspects that are haram or forbidden. Traditionally, music is not supposed to be played during the ceremony, and women are supposed to be dressed in proper hijab, or clothing (Islamic).  

During the ceremony itself, there are certain words the husband and wife must say to each other. The Shariah states the woman must say: "An Kah'tu nafsaka a'lal mah'ril ma'loom" meaning "I have given away myself in Nikah to you, on the agreed Mahr."  The man responds with: "Qabiltun Nikaha" meaning, "I have accepted the Nikah" (Islamic).

Once the ceremony has been completed, the husband and wife may sleep with each other for the first time. It is traditional for the groom to wash his wife's feet and sprinkle the rest of the water around the room as a blessing (Islamic).


Divorce in Islam
In Islam, the process of divorce is unique from the process of divorce in mainstream American culture. If a man wishes to divorce his wife, he must announce the word talaq (I divorce you), on three separate occasions in the presence of a witness. Each time a talaq is given, the husband must wait a period of at least one month before repeating it. This time frame is to ensure that the woman is not pregnant. The talaq also cannot be given during the women's menstruation because it represents a time of impurity (Bowker 127).

There are three different initiations of divorce: initiations by the husband, wife, and the court. Once a husband says his third talaq, the husband and wife are no longer allowed to reside with each other. If a women wishes to divorce her husband, she must go to a qadi, or judge. While a qadi may suggest that the husband and wife work out their problems, he has the power to issue the woman a divorce (Bowker 133). Not nearly as many women as men initiate divorce, often because they do not know they possess this right.

Once a husband and wife divorce, the wife is entitled to her dowry from the marriage. The husband is not allowed to take back the dowry unless he has permission from his wife (Al-Sheha 41). This protects the financial interests of Muslim women.  While divorce is permitted in the Islam, both the husband and wife are encouraged to salvage their marriage. Divorce is viewed as an absolute last resort to a marriage that cannot be reconciled.

Muslim Women as Mothers
The mother-child relationship is viewed as extremely important and essential in Islam. This importance stems from Muhammad saying that you must honor your mother above all but Allah (Bowker 119). The mother is in charge of her children's growth and development from birth until the early teens (Al-Sheha 32).  Muslim women are allowed to work outside the home, but many choose to occupy themselves with maintaining the home and caring for the children.

Muslim Men as Fathers
There is very little information on the roles that Muslim men play as fathers in their families. Raising children is primarily the mothers' responsibility. Until children have reached puberty, it is the mother that cares for their physical and emotional needs. It is the father's role to tend to the material needs of his children. Typically being the wage-earners in the family, Muslim men provide food, clothing, and shelter for their children.

It is difficult for men to spend as much time with their children as their wives do because they are not in the home as much due to their work schedules. However, men are often viewed as being responsible for the reputation of the family. Muslim fathers must ensure that their daughters are modest to prevent them from bringing shame and dishonor upon the family name.


Sources Cited
Al-Sheha, Abdul Rahman. Woman in the Shade of Islam. King Fahd Library.

Awde, Nicholas. Women in Islam: An Anthology from the Qur'an and Hadiths. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Bowker, John. What Muslims Believe. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1995.

Gordon, Matthew S. Islam: Origins, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Persons, Sacred Places. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

"Islamic Marriage Handbook for Young Muslims." <www.ezsoftech.com/omm/handbook.asp>.  Cited on 2 October 2004.

Rizvi, Sayyid Muhammad. "Marriage and Morals in Islam." <http://www.al-islam.org/ m_morals/index.htm>. Cited on 2 October 2004.

Shahid, Aisha Atiq. "The Muslim Lady: Her Role and Her Honor." <http://www.geocities.com/~abdulwahid/women.html>. Cited 2 October 2004.