Muslim wedding in India
In the Muslim world, marriage is regarded as a religious duty and generally carried out in accordance with religious laws and customs rather than secular ones. Men have authority over women and are expected to be a provider and a “protector of women.” Muslim schools of law stress that “equality” of marriage or that the bride and groom be of similar rank and position.

Marriage is viewed as a process of acquiring new relatives or reinforcing the ties one has with others. To participate fully in society, a person must be married and have children, preferably sons, because social ties are defined by giving away daughters in marriage and receiving daughters-in-law. Marriage with one's father's brother's child is preferred, in part because property exchanged at marriage then stays within the patrilineage. The relationship between in-laws extends beyond the couple and well past the marriage event. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Families related by marriage exchange gifts on important occasions in each others lives. If a marriage is successful, it will be followed by others between the two families. The links thus formed persist and are reinforced through the generations. The pattern of continued intermarriage coupled with the occasional marriage of nonrelatives creates a convoluted web of interlocking ties of descent and marriage. *

The Judeao-Christian-Islamic traditional places great significance on marriage and give it high symbolic value. Marriage is not meant to be taken lightly and breaking up a marriage is regarded as something that must be avoided at all costs. By contrast in some societies (mostly small isolated communities) men and women simply live together, and no great fanfare, is made about their union.

Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood wrote for BBC: “In Islam, not every person consummates their marriage physically straight away; sometimes the girl may be very young, and it is considered more suitable to wait until she is older. Sometimes the couple may not be able to live together for some reason. A wedding contract may be arranged, signed and witnessed without the bride actually being present, or intending to live with the spouse straight away.” [Source: Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, BBC, September 8, 2009]

Websites and Resources: Islam ; Islamic City ; Islam 101 ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance ; BBC article ; Patheos Library – Islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg ; Islam from UCB Libraries GovPubs ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary frontline ; Discover Islam;

Arabs: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Who Is an Arab? ; Encyclopædia Britannica article ; Arab Cultural Awareness ; Arab Cultural Center ; 'Face' Among the Arabs, CIA ; Arab American Institute ; Introduction to the Arabic Language ; Wikipedia article on the Arabic language Wikipedia

Muslim Marriage Laws and Traditions

signing the nikah (the Muslim marriage document)

Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood wrote for BBC: “There are certain things which are basic to all Muslim marriages. Marriages have to be declared publicly. They should never be undertaken in secret. The publicity is usually achieved by having a large feast, or walimah - a party specifically for the purpose of announcing publicly that the couple are married and entitled to each other.” [Source: Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, BBC, September 8, 2009] In the Qur’an Allah told men: "And of His signs is this: he created for you helpmates from yourselves that ye may find rest in them, and he ordained between you love and mercy." Muhammad went on to say: "Do not marry only for the sake of beauty; may be the beauty becomes the cause of moral degradation. Do not marry even for the sake of wealth; maybe the wealth becomes the reason of insubordination. Marry on the grounds of religious devotion."

On marriage, the Qur’an says: “They are your garments/ And you are their garments,” which according to Nadira Artyk, an Uzbekistan-born women’s rights journalist,” implies closeness, mutuality and equality.”

Under Islamic law a marriage cannot be validated without the consent of both the bride and groom; a bride needs permission of her father or male relative to get married; and the bride and groom are supposed to know each other's families and social and economic background before they are allowed to get married.

In many Muslim societies, a father or male guardian has the right to declare the marriage of a woman null and void. In some Muslim countries, fathers have wedding certificates annulled because their daughters eloped with their boyfriend without the father's consent and the annulments have been upheld in court.

Bedouin Marriage, Weddings and Dating

Traditionally, marriages have been between the closest relatives permitted by Muslim law. Cousin marriages are common, ideally between a man and his father’s brother’s daughter. Traditionally, a father’s brother’s son has first dibs on his female cousin, who has the right of refusal but needs permission of that son to marry anyone else. Although marriages to first cousins are desired, most marriages are between second and third cousins.

Marriages outside the extended family have traditionally been rare, unless a tribal alliances was established; and women were expected to be virgins when they were married. In a marriage it is important for the families to be of the same status. Having lots of children is considered a duty because the more members a tribe has the stronger it is. Polygamy is allowed but only rarely practiced. Generally, only older, wealth men with enough money to support multiple household can afford it.

Traditionally, women family members have acted as matchmakers; old brothers worked out the brideprice paid by the groom’s family and the details of the marriage contract; the bride and groom had to offer their consent; and escape routes had be worked out to save face if one of either the bride or groom backs out. If the marriage is between cousins the brideprice has traditionally been relatively small.

At weddings, Bedouins prepare a feast of goat meat and rice and other foods. The featured dish is often a cooked camel, stuffed with a whole roasted sheep, which in turn is stuffed with a chicken stuffed with fish filled with eggs.

In a traditional Bedouin wedding a camel is sacrificed and a marital tent is set up to signify that a couple can live with each other. At sunset the bride is escorted by female relatives of the groom. After the groom arrives the relatives depart. No presents are exchanged. The following morning the couple is congratulated. The bride then joins the groom’s family in their tents while the grooms does various chores to earn enough money to pay for the bride price.

Among some tribes boys and girls are encouraged o explore their romantic feeling for one another at an early age, even 12. When other family members are working they can be alone in a tent. When it is cold the can hang out by a campfire. If a couple decides they want to marry the young man tells a friend and the friend asked the girl’s father for permission to marry. If approval is given, a tribal elder negotiated the bride price.

Divorce is fairly common and can be initiated by the man or women according to Muslim traditions. When it occurs the woman generally returns to live her parents

Marriages Between Muslims and Non-Muslims

a harem
Marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims are discouraged. However, a Sunni Muslim man is allowed to marry to non-Muslims without the wife converting to Islam. A Muslim woman is unable to marry non-Muslim man because Islam is passed down through the male line and non-Muslim fathers would not possess the faith. The man must convert to Islam before a marriage can occur. Islam differs from Judaism, in which lineage is passed down through the mother.

According to the Qur’an, Muslim men can marry Jewish and Christian women or a slave that doesn’t belong to them but they can not marry Buddhist or Hindu women because Judaism and Christianity are monotheist religions “of The book” like Islam while Buddhism or Hinduism are not.

The Qur’an states that a Muslim man may marry a Jewish or a Christian woman as long as she is chaste. “A believing maid is better than a idolatrous woman,” the Qur’an states. In the old days it was common for Muslim men to marry women of other religions and for their children to carry on the religion.

Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote in the Washington Post: “Under Islamic law men are allowed to marry out of the faith — as long as they marry a Jew or Christian, referred to as “People of the Book.” Behind this rule is the notion that Islam is passed down patrilineally (unlike Judaism, which is matrilineal). So, no matter whom a Muslim man marries, his children will be considered Muslim. [Source: Naomi Schaefer Riley, Washington Post. April 12, 2013. Naomi Schaefer Riley is the author of “’Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage Is Transforming America.” \~]

Michelle Boorstein wrote in the Washington Post: “Interfaith marriage is a huge topic with wide cultural ramifications. Because Islamic tradition, not law, holds that a Muslim man can intermarry but not a woman, a substantial gender gap in the dating pool has opened as children and grandchildren of immigrants have grown up. [Source: Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post, May 27, 2008 ||||]

“The Qur’an says for Muslims to marry "believers," the meaning of which has long been the source of great debate but has been widely interpreted to include Christians and Jews. Although the Qur’an does not address the gender issue directly, tradition has held that women are more easily subjugated, and therefore a Muslim woman in an interfaith marriage could be forced by a Christian or Jew to live and raise her children outside of Islam, while a Muslim man in an interfaith relationship would be able to control the household's faith.” ||||

Intermarriage Among American Muslims

In a Pew Research Center poll of Muslim Americans released in 2007, 54 percent of women said interfaith marriage is acceptable, compared with 70 percent of men. Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote in the Washington Post: ““Although estimates of interfaith marriage among small population groups such as Muslims are hard to pin down, a 2011 Pew Research Center study found that about 16 percent of Muslims who are married or living with someone have a non-Muslim spouse or partner. That was the first year Pew studied whom Muslims married, and it’s one of the only organizations to do so. Muslims intermarry less often than other faith groups with longer histories in the United States, such as Catholics and Jews, but they do so more often than Hindus (10 percent) and about as often as Mormons (17 percent), according to a 2007 Pew study. [Source: Naomi Schaefer Riley, Washington Post. April 12, 2013. Riley is the author of “’Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage Is Transforming America.” \~]

wedding of Rita Hayworth and Aly Khan

“Steve Mustapha Elturk, an imam in Troy, Mich., says that his first marriage was to a Catholic Filipina woman. The couple sent one of their children to Catholic school, while Elturk taught him the Qur’an at home. Elturk said that he did not place enough emphasis on the Muslim faith when his children were young and that it affected their decisions as adults. He believes that things went much more smoothly with his second wife, a Muslim, and that his children from their marriage received a stronger Muslim upbringing. \~\

“According to a nationally representative survey I commissioned in 2010 of almost 2,500 people, children in interfaith families are more than twice as likely to adopt the faith of their mother as the faith of their father. If Muslim men continue to marry outside the faith at such high rates, the women left behind will be more inclined to do so as well because there will be fewer available Muslim partners. Meanwhile, families where the mother is Muslim and the father is not are less likely to be accepted in the Muslim community because technically their marriages are forbidden. \~\

“Other forces push Muslims toward intermarrying as well. Religious rules often prevent Muslims of the opposite sex from socializing with one another, and because most Muslims work and go to school with non-Muslims, it’s often easier for them to meet and get to know potential partners outside the faith. For example, Qanta A. Ahmed, a Muslim physician in New York, wrote in a USA Today op-ed last year that Muslim women “frequently lack intellectually and professionally equal Muslim partners” and that Muslim men often choose younger, less career-focused Muslim women of the same nationality. “These forces drive Muslim women to either select suitable marriage partners from outside the faith or face unremitting spinsterhood.” \~\

“And even when a non-Muslim man converts for a Muslim fiancee, he often does so merely to placate the bride’s family, and not out of deep conviction. Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine, author of “Before the Wedding: 150 Questions for Muslims to Ask Before Getting Married,” says she has seen many cases in which a significant other becomes a “token Muslim.” He or she will say the shahada, the declaration of faith, Ezzeldine says, but if the Muslim half of the couple is not very observant, the non-Muslim is often merely doing the conversion “for the sake of having a Muslim marriage.” Part of the problem, Ezzeldine says, is that conversion to Islam is not a long or arduous process. There is no curriculum to master, no test of religious knowledge. Rather, Islam is similar to some strains of evangelical Protestantism in which people can say they were moved by the spirit and they are instantly “born again.”

Muslim Married Life

wedding party in Pakistan
A Muslim bride traditionally moved into the house of her husband’s family and was expected to do everything she was told by her mother-in-law. If the bride was strong willed and refused to play the servant role to her mother-in-law all hell could break loose. This arrangement and conflict still exists today.

According to Muslim law, a wife must be obedient to her husband and is expected to turn over all the money she makes to him but in return she has the right to suitable clothes, living conditions and sexual intercourse with her husband. Muslim tradition often affords near total discretion on matters of marriage, family and divorce. Wife beating, for example, is considered a private matter that authorities should keep out of.

Newly married couple have traditionally lived for some time in the home or village of the husband's father. "Until a son is two years old, or a daughter is seven, the child is in the mother's care. Then the child enters the custody of the father or a “ wali” , a legally appointed guardian. The father or wali has full power over children in arranging their marriage or divorces."

Shazia Mirza, a Pakistani-British comedian said: “My mum would admit she’s had a dreadful life...Of course she had an arranged marriage. She’s been depressed, oppressed, regressed...Women are meant to be grateful. My father was a chauvinist. That was normal...I’d go to houses of my aunties and uncles and all the women would be in the kitchen.”

If a marriage becomes intolerable, the Qur’an states that two arbiters should be appointed, one of each of the spouse’s family, to work out the couple’s problems

Polygamy in Islam

20120510-Harem Antoin_Sevruguin_harem.jpg
Harem by Antoin Sevruguin
Based on Muslim law, which turn is based on the Qur’an and the Hadiths, Muslim men can have four wives but women are allowed to have only one husband. It is widely believed that polygamy was tolerated for social reasons: so that poor women could find someone to take care of them. The Qur’an was written at a time when many women lost their husbands in wars, tribal clashes and for other reasons. Activists and women's groups say modern polygamy is cruel and has deviated from its original purpose in Islam, which was to protect widows and orphans.

Before Islam, women could have several husbands. If one fell out of favor she spurned him by facing her tent doorway away from him. Until recently some Arab sheikhs and eastern potentates often sired 500 children or more. Polygamy is not nearly as widespread as it once was and is rare among educated people. In some Muslim countries, a man seeking to marry another wife needs approval from a local court and consent of his other wives. Approval is usually granted within minutes if the man can prove he has the means to support more than one family. In some places women can be force into polygamy.

Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood wrote for BBC: “At the time of the revelation of the Qur'an it was normal procedure for men to have more than one wife, up to the limits of their ability to support them. Also, powerful and wealthy women also had marital arrangements with more than one partner. One difference between Islam and other faiths is that to this day a man may have more than one wife, up to the limit of four wives simultaneously - so long as it is not done to the detriment and hurt of the existing Muslim partner(s). [Source: Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, BBC, September 8, 2009 |::|]

“The refusal to hurt or abuse another Muslim is a basic requirement in Islam, and is assumed in polygamous marriage considerations. If a man feels unable to treat all parties with kindness, love and scrupulous fairness, he is ordered by God not to take more than one wife. Muslim women are required to have only one husband at a time - they may still marry more than one man in a lifetime, but consecutively. |::|

Polygamy, Muhammad and the Qur’an

20120510-HaremPool and eunuch.jpg
Western view of a Turkish
harem pool and eunuch
The passage in the Qur’an that is used to justify polygamy goes: “If ye fear that ye may not justly by the orphans, then marry of the women who are lawful to you in twos, threes and fours.” Muslim scholars are careful to point that "two and three and four" women means a man can have a maximum of four wives not nine of them. Muhammad once met a man with ten wives and instructed him to keep four and divorce the other six. The prophet also instructed a man married to a pair of sisters that he had to divorce one of them. According to Muslim law, a man can have as many slave concubines as he likes.

Muhammad had 11 wives. Most of them were older. He married many of them for political reasons, mostly to forge ties with other tribes, and endorsed the polygamy as way of supporting widows. The Prophet set very high standards for husbands with multiple wives. He insisted that each wife was be treated equally and required that a husband divide his time among them equally, spending the night with each one the same number of nights. Generally, only men who were relatively wealthy could afford to take care of multiple wives and large families.

In old days polygamy was not only regarded as permissible but was regarded as desirable because it was way of making sure that all women and children had a male to take care of them. Those opposed to polygamy say the old reasons for endorsing polygamy no longer apply in the modern work and achieving the Muslim law requirements that all women in a polygamous marriage be treated equally is impossible to achieve. Muslim law also states that a man may take female slaves as concubines and children born to them are free and have a right to inheritance.

Muslim Men and Polygamy

Explaining the rational behind polygamy one Egyptian man told the Los Angeles Times, “The Arab is not faithful to one wife, never. He has many relations.” Polygamy allows his philandering to be legal. If a groom looks nervous some Muslim men say: “It’s his first wedding. The second, third, and forth marriages are much easier.”

An Iranian man living in London with three wives and 12 children echoed this sentiment. He told The Time of London: “Polygamy is a very natural thing. Men are born like this. It is in man’s nature to take more than one wife.” He said he decided to take his second wife after feeling guilt over having an affair. “I think that 95 percent of divorces occur because the man has a woman somewhere else. Men have that type of mentality.”

“I’m living in good harmony,” the Iranian man said. “We live together very well, the women have no jealousy. They understand Islam and I have to respect their feelings. They know I have enough love for all of them.”

In August 2007, the United Arab Emirates newspaper Emirates Today ran a story about 60-year-old , one-legged man who had 78 children and said his goal was to have 100 by the time he turned 68 in 2015. The newspaper ran picture of the man, Daad Muhammad Murad Abdul, surrounded by his children with oldest 36 and the youngest 20 days. Two of his three wives at the time were pregnant. At that point in time he had had 15 wives overall, divorcing some as he went along to saty within the four limit, and had two more lined up to reach his goal.

Muslim Women and Polygamy

Harem Scene with Mothers and Daughters
In polygamist families, the first wife has traditionally been the senior wife, ordering the others around. The others treat her like a mother. At least to observers on the outside there is often surprisingly little jealousy between the women. The first’s wife’s position can be undermined if her husband prefers one of the other wives much more. Some women live with the fear that when they get older their husbands will dump them in favor of a younger wife.

The first wife is often caught be surprise by her husband's desire to take a second wife. She is often in a position of weakness as she needs her husband's permission for a divorce and child support. Some first wives live alone with their children after the second wife moves in with the husband. The first wife can be punished very severely, even by death, if she takes a lover or husband.

Arab men have traditionally said that their wives appreciated have another wives around to help with cooking, housecleaning and child-rearing duties. Many women have also said they like the arrangement because it means they have less work to do.

Poor Muslim with Four Wives and 17 Children

Reporting from northern Nigeria, Robyn Dixon wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “To enter Muhammad Umar’s mosquito-infested house, you step over a gutter brimming with sewage. At dusk two wives and 13 children are crammed in a small dark corridor with no ceiling. Charcoal smoke permeates the air and stings the eyes. The latest baby, Adam, 2 weeks old, moans restlessly; another child coughs incessantly and the call to prayer rings out from a nearby mosque. [Source: Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2017]

“Umar is a humble bricklayer in a city with few jobs — but he has four wives, two homes he rents to accommodate them and 17 threadbare children. They spend their long days hungry, waiting for him to bring home a small pocket of money for food. Umar leaves his small cinder-block house in northwestern Nigeria’s Kano city at dawn and returns late at night, often with just a couple of dollars to feed his family. Then he starts over. He has borrowed for survival, is sinking in debt and, with no money for rent, faces likely eviction.

“Even when I get a job, the money’s not enough to support the family,” he says. “Every time I go to sleep, the thought of the debt comes into my mind, and I can’t get back to sleep.” When the children get sick, there is no money for medicine. A 2-month-old daughter, Hauwau, died in 2015 because he couldn’t pay a few coins to transport her to a hospital. Struggling to breathe, she slipped away one night. Umar’s inability to feed his wives and children adequately could taint them for the rest of their lives. Nearly 80% of children in Kano are stunted, the result of persistent, ongoing malnutrition, which will affect their brain development, learning capacity and, ultimately, the jobs they will have.

20120510-harem Two_Ladies_and_a_Child_Reposing_in_the_Harem.jpg
Two Ladies and a Child in the Harem
Umar has 17 of his own children and supports an 18th, from his third wife’s previous marriage. She sent four children from that marriage to an uncle, but kept the youngest. She has two boys ages 3 and 5 with Umar. His wives gave birth to all but two of their children at home. The two cases where wives went to the hospital involved life-threatening complications. Umar fears his children will end up as he did, begging for food on the streets. They already beg from neighbors. “The older ones can endure, but the younger ones go to neighbors and beg for food because they cannot endure it. There’s a limit to what they can bear,” he says.

Samaila, Umar’s fourth wife, recently walked out with her two children. Umar still takes money to her parents’ village and pleads with her to come home. “Aisha didn’t have the same patience and endurance as I and the other wives. She’d complain all the time,” said Idris, who lived in the next room from her. “She kept saying, ‘There’s no food. I just can’t live with hunger.’ We’d always try to appeal to her common sense, that nothing lasts and the situation might change.”

If the family is evicted, Umar will try to send his wives back to their parents with the children, although none has the space nor the food to go around. “That’s what we worry about, day in, day out. What will we do?” says his first wife, Shuaibu. “We are just hoping something will happen. Maybe a big job will come. “It’s tough as a mother. The younger ones cry when they have no food. My children are starving with nothing to eat.”

Polygamy: Tolerated But Frowned Upon

Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood told the BBC: “Men and women can have as many spouses as they can fit into a lifetime; but this is not generally approved. Women are requested to have only one husband at a time (there is evidence that wealthy Arab women were polyandrous before the coming of Islam - certainly wealthy men were polygynous), and men are limited to four at one time, whereas previously there had been no limit, and a wealthy and generous man was expected to cater for as many women as he could afford (in the absence of a welfare state). [Source: Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, BBC, September 3, 2009 |::|] “Allah sent the proviso that no Muslim was ever to deliberately cause hurt or harm to another Muslim, so a man might not take extra womenfolk into his home if it would cause upset and distress (it was recommended when there were lots of widows after warfare, if the women were willing to be generous to bereft 'sisters'). Also, if a man could not provide equal treatment of his wives - equal food, clothing, money, living quarters, time spent with - he was refused permission for polygamy. |::|

“Equal sexual activity was not ruled on, however. Some wives had no sexual relationship with their husbands at all after a while, or if they came into the household as widows of relatives. Don't forget that most widows also came with their children. When the Prophet married the widow Sawdah he took on six of her children, and with Umm Salamah another four, for example. |::|

Muslim Divorce

Malaysian wedding seats
Under sharia a man has an automatic right to divorce but a woman does not. A man may divorce his wife by merely declaring his intension three times without any judicial authority. The right is confirmed by several passages in the Qur’an and they don’t specify any reasons or justifications for doing so. The rights of women is more restricted. They generally can not initiate a divorce through simple declaration but are required to get a approval of her husband and this often requires her ro hand over part of her bride price if she is the initiator of the divorce.

Divorces can be obtained by a woman in a Sharia courts if a husband refuses to divorce her. In some case the wife can get an annulment based on her husband’s failure to pay a dowry or maintain her. A common way for married women to protect themselves these days is to include various stipulations in the marriage contract along with a statement the wife can divorce her husband and receive compensation if the obligations are not met. These days, many countries allow stipulations that forbids the husband from taking multiple wives even though it contradicts the Qur’an.

Explaining the reason behind some divorces an Islamic scholar told the Los Angeles Times, “If a man can’t satisfy his wife she may commit adultery and that may open the door to prostitution. To project her against sin if he can’t satisfy her, she has the right to divorce.”

Surveys among Muslims show that they are more than twice as likely to disapprove of divorce than people in Western countries. Shia practice differs from that of the Sunnis concerning both divorce and inheritance in that it is more favorable to women. The reason for this reputedly is the high esteem in which Fatima, the wife of Ali and the daughter of the Prophet, was held.

Muslim Divorce Process

Muslim couple in London
The divorce process is started when the man (and in some cases the woman) utters the words, "I divorce you" or "I divorce" or "I divorce thee." This should be said only once, not three times as some people believe. If it is said three times it implies a triple repudiation of the marriage which means that it is forbidden for couple to remarry. The words can also written down, said over the telephone, or mailed in a letter. Muslims regard both marriage and divorce as verbal contracts. [Source: Arab News, Jeddah]

Men and women are not allowed to divorce each other if the woman is having her period or if sexual intercourse has taken place. After a divorce has been declared there is a waiting period that lasts for three months or three menstruation periods. During this time the woman continues to live in her husband's house, but she doesn't have to any housework.

If the couple wishes to be reunited they can do so at any time within the waiting period without a new marriage contract. If the couple decides they do not want to get back together after the waiting period is up the divorce is then complete and the woman moves in with her family or some other place agreeable to the former husband. A new marriage contract is required is the couple get back together. A divorced couple is allowed to get back together a second time but not a third time unless each has married someone else and divorced them. [Source: Arab News, Jeddah]

Muslim law carefully defines the divorce procedure, allowing time for reconciliation. For three months after a divorce a woman can not marry anyone other than her ex husband. This is done to allow for reconciliation and determine paternity in cases of a pregnancy. During this time the husbands has to support his ex wife and she must live in a place agreeable to him.

Women and Muslim Divorce

Islam gives women rights to child custody and alimony. After a divorce a woman is given half of all property and/or is entitled to get dowry. On the matter of divorce the only thing the Qur’an states is that husbands who “decide to take one wife in place of another” must pay their ex-wives full dowries, and that wives who fear “cruelty or desertion” by husbands are entitled to seek an “amicable settlement.” The father or his family typically gets custody of boys over six and girls who have reached puberty but the laws vary from place to place and differ between the different legal schools.

Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt and one of the highest-ranking clerics in Sunni Islam, was asked by a man what he should do if his wife wanted a divorce but he didn’t want to grant it. The mufti told him, “set her free, You have neglected some part of your duty, and she doesn’t want you any more. That’s it.”

The Qur’an doesn’t say anything about divorce being easier for men than women which is often the case in practice. Men can typically divorce their wives on a whim and without justification — Muslim law allows a man to abandon a childless wife or unilaterally end a marriage without recourse — while women need a good reason (insanity of the husbands, impotence or denial of the wife’s rights).

Many women stay in bad marriages to avoid poverty and keep their children. Women who seek divorce and child support from husbands who regularly beat them are often denied legal action because their husbands don't show up in court and no one forces them to.

After a divorce women are sometimes stigmatized and discriminated against because they have no husband and they are no longer virgins. One Muslim woman told Time, “Islam supposedly gives me the right to divorce. But what about my rights afterwards?”

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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