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Marriage and Divorce Rules from the Quran


Why Should Marriage Exist?

Marriage is a merger agreement (25:54), between a male and a female (42:50, 27:55), who are not blood-related (25:54). It’s neither an obligation, and neither a right. It’s a big privilege and a blessing (43:12-3, 42:12). But why should marriage exist? Why shouldn’t males and females just mate like the animals do without getting married?

Well, the animals also have a process through which they earn the right to mate. It’s called force. For example, two rams will fight, or two giraffes, or two lions, or two stallions, and so on, to earn the right to mate with a female counterpart. And among animals the benefits of this outweigh the damages, because then the offspring will be more fit to survive the harsh environment of this world. And this process of selecting a mate continued even among the human-shaped beings, Neanderthals in Europe, Denisovans in Asia, and the so-called Sapiens in Africa (21:95-96, 18:93-94). But, then God created Adam and Eve in the Fertile Crescent (2:35), independently of the other human-shaped beings (3:59, 55:14), and the only fundamental difference between Adam and Eve compared to the other human-shaped beings was the word which God gave Adam and all his descendants – us (2:37, 2:33, 7:35). This ability for abstract speech enabled us to reach agreements (70:32), and marriage is an extension of our ability to reach and keep agreements. Now, this same ability to reach agreements also enabled the children of Adam to organize in building such deadly weapons, and other far extending skills (14:46), and had they tried to select the mates through force, due to their far extending skills, then the damages would outweigh the benefits, which would be far worse than the mating process among animals (25:44). More men would die during the process of selecting a female, than children would be born, and this is not beneficial for humankind. So, because God’s word which He gave to humans gives them both the ability to reach agreements and be catastrophically deadly when they use force (17:70), then the only way to mate for humans without causing wars is by reaching agreements, which is marriage. All the other methods of multiplying do more harm than benefit to the humankind, even when it doesn’t look like that (25:68, 22:48). So, marriage is a way to prevent fighting and wars between men. This means that in the future, in the last days, when adultery and involuntary celibacy fully dominate marriage (because states will unavoidably fully replace fatherhood (31:33, 12:7-24)), there will be no fate for those people except war (48:28). The last generation cannot escape war. But, while God has still left marriage as a very big blessing among us (16:53), let’s learn about the rules of marriage (75:19).


The Rules of Marriage

The rules of marriages are very simple. All you need is:

  1. Mutual agreement between the man and the woman (4:24), and the permission of her family or the government. (The Arabic Quran demands us to ask the permission of her “ahlihinna” (4:25), which literally means her “people”, which includes either her family or the government, or both, depending on the circumstances. They are all her people; by whom she is protected, depending on her independence level from her parents).
  2. Dowry (4:24), (which may be a financial guarantee for the woman, or a state registered marriage (which is a government guarantee for the woman)).
  3. Two witnesses, at least (2:282, 5:5). (They can be family members preferably, or close relatives, or close friends, or so on, or those government officials as a less preferred alternative, because it is harder to find them again, if you ever need them to testify about your marriage. This means that engagements or marriages can not happen online. The bride and the groom must be there seeing one another for real, and the witnesses must be live. Of course, other people may participate online, if it suits them like that, but they don’t count as witnesses. There is no such thing as online witnessing for such an important matter, or online engagements or online marriage (4:21). By the way, you are also not allowed to keep the marriage a secret (5:5). This is exactly why we need witnesses. The main difference between marriage and adultery is that it is not a secret. If you keep your marriage a secret, that is adultery. On the other hand, if you publicize your adultery, it becomes 1.8 times adultery (24:2, 24:4). But anyway, regarding the witnesses, through whom your marriage becomes a public agreement, and not a secret, when you invite the people to witness the agreement, you owe them lunch or dinner, because you are not allowed to harm the witnesses (2:282), and that is a compensation for their time. If you want to invite 100 witnesses, that is your choice, but you have to give all of them lunch or dinner (33:53), and if they agree to travel from a far, you have to pay their traveling expenses. Or you can do the marriage with only a few witnesses, and then invite the others only as guests, which would be a wedding or dinner after marriage, or you can invite all of them, at the moment when you are getting married, and all of them are guests and witnesses at the same time, which means that the marriage and the wedding happen at the same time. Either way is fine. So, giving food and comfort to the witnesses is the wedding. There is no need to hold a wedding in the style which is understood in certain cultures. Simply giving food and comfort to the witnesses is the weeding, regardless if you call it a wedding or not. And also, you are responsible for what happens at your wedding or marriage. You should not let the people use your wedding or marriage ceremony as an excuse to dress immodestly. Feel free to prohibit them at the door, if they do not fulfill the minimum requirements of dressing modestly, and if you are going to invite non-submitters as well, make sure to remind them beforehand about the dress code, or talk to them somewhere outside without causing any drama, or just don’t invite non-submitters. You can do the marriage pretty much anywhere; at an official marriage state office, or in a restaurant, or in your yard, or in your house.

Contrary to common expectations of religious people, marriages actually should not happen in places of worship. Marriages are important unions approved by God, but at the same time they are worldly business (28:27), and business is prohibited in places of worship. Christians and some recent Muslims have invented the idea of marriages in a places of worship, but none of any people mentioned in the Bible or the Quran ever got married in a place of worship. You may use the yard of the mosque for that, or some adjacent building or the hallway which leads to the mosque, but not the actual prayer area in the mosque which should be used only for worshipping God (72:18).

So, these are the three requirements of marriage, and that’s it. And in most cases today, in state registered marriages, all those requirements are fulfilled automatically, because the state will demand that you sign a document which is the agreement, and they will witness it (or at least give you space to bring more closely related witnesses), and the state will indirectly guarantee the woman’s rights with their own budget, which is her dowry. So, this is marriage.

By, the way, because the rules of marriage are only three and simple, it would be more helpful if we did not impose additional conditions to ourselves and to others through peer pressures, and cultural norms (29:25) – conditions such as certain extravagant wedding celebrations (17:27), or certain culturally imposed expensive dresses, or certain singers, or things like that (17:27). The extravagant are brethren of the devils (17:27). And although, a lot of those cultural norms may be allowed celebrations (7:32), they discourage marriages by putting unnecessary barriers (7:86). If marriages were kept simple and righteous (25:63, 25:67), more people would get married, and more often, and earlier (25:68, 16:112).

Now, the word “nikah” which is used in the Arabic Quran means both marriage and engagement at the same time. It’s the same thing, from the Quranic legal perspective. So, you don’t need to have both an engagement and a marriage ceremony. You may do so, if you wish, or if a certain situation demands it, but just be aware that you would be repeating the same thing. So, in cases when you reach your agreement in the state offices, just call it a marriage. And even in cases where you want to reach the agreement outside of the state offices, it’s still better to call it a marriage, but you may also choose to call it an engagement, if you wish, if you reach the agreement without any concrete plans to move and live together in the near future. In this case, when you call it an engagement, once you move together, or once you have sexual relations, you just switch into calling yourself married, in your social media status, for example, or things like that, and you don’t need to have a second ceremony. Either way is fine.

However, in case your marriage or engagement fails, then you should make sure to use the appropriate words in English, depending on what happened. If you break it up after sexual intercourse, you must call it “a divorce”, regardless of whether you called it an engagement or marriage in the beginning, and if you break it up before sexual intercourse, you must call it “breaking the engagement”, regardless of whether you called it marriage or engagement in the beginning. This may seem like a later retroactive shift of definitions, but because of the incomplete match between the English and the Arabic definitions, it is better to shift the definitions afterwards than to implicitly accuse someone for something which did not happen, because in the English language and culture, if you say that someone got divorced, when they actually did not even sleep together, if we take into consideration what the word “divorce” implies in the English culture, it is sort of an implicit accusation of immorality, or something more than what really happened, and the Quran prohibits that (24:11-18).

Now, marriages are not allowed with certain people.

We are not allowed to marry:

  • Idol worshipers (who openly agree that they worship other than God, or God and someone else) (2:221).
  • People for whom definite proof of adultery exists, unless you are also a proven adulterer (24:3).
  • People of the same gender (26:165-166, 42:50).
  • Women who are already married (4:24, 24:32).
  • Our parents (4:23), (which according to the Quran also includes our grandparents and great-grandparents (2:133)).
  • Our children (4:23), (which according to the Quran also includes our grandchildren and great-grandchildren (2:211).
  • Our siblings (4:23).
  • Our aunts or uncles (4:23).
  • Our nephews or nieces (4:23).
  • Our foster mothers (4:23).
  • People with whom we shared the same foster mother (4:23). (which very often includes our first cousins, because often our mothers and aunts helped each other to raise the children).
  • Our parents-in-law (4:23)
  • Our sons-or-daughters-in-law (4:23).
  • Our siblings-in-law (4:23)
  • Women who were previously married to our fathers (4:22).

Also, if you are a divorcee, there are additional prohibitions regarding whom you can marry, and under which conditions you are allowed to marry again, and these additional prohibitions or limitations emerge from the divorce laws, but before I explain that, let me first talk about divorce in general.


The Rules of Divorce

Both men and women have the freedom to initiate divorce (2:226-227, 33:28). If they divorce before they had sexual intercourse, that divorce is not even a sin (2:236, 33:49), and in that case, they should call it “breaking the engagement”, not divorce. If they divorce after they had sexual intercourse, they should call it a divorce, and that divorce is a tolerated sin. After sexual intercourse, both believing men and believing women should try to avoid divorce as much as they can, and there are rules in the Quran which are designed to prevent unnecessary divorce (4:128). First of all, it is not right to make difficulties for your spouse in order to pressure them to initiate divorce (65:1). A healthy dose of kindness, tolerance, and respect is required from both parties (4:19). And also it is prohibited for others to behave towards couples in such a way to incite one of them to initiate divorce (2:102), especially if the couple are both submitters.

Now, there are two types of divorce:

  1. Sharp divorce which is because of adultery (65:1, 4:19) or incompatible religious differences (4:24, 60:10), and
  2. Soft divorce which happens due to other reasons.

In cases of a sharp divorce, there is no need for consultation with families, and there is no waiting period before the spouse decides to divorce (4:24, 65:1). And after the divorce, the parties do not maintain amicable relations. They should try to the best of their ability to never contact each other again, and never meet each other again. Not even in the street, or their child’s birthday party, or taking trips together for the sake of the children, or things like that. None of that (60:9). And remarrying each-other is prohibited forever for them (24:3), unless the wrong party publicly confesses that they have repented, changed their religious beliefs, and joined the submitters. Otherwise, it’s a permanent divorce with no turning back (60:10, 24:3). Not even children should be a reason to return to friendly amicable relations (60:9-10).  Now, you do not have to divorce someone just because they committed adultery or just because you have religious differences (66:10-11). However, if you do that, then it’s forever, and friendly relations should completely be cut off, not even in social media, and if you see that person in the street, you should continue as if you never knew them. Also, if someone divorces a non-submitter, he or she is not allowed to marry a non-submitter again (6:10).

Now, soft divorce may happen for reasons other than adultery or incompatible religious differences. In case of a soft divorce, there are procedures which need to be followed, depending on whether the husband or the wife wants to initiate the divorce. If the husband wants to initiate the soft divorce, first, the partners should discuss their problems (4:34). If that doesn’t work, they should give each other some individual space for personal reflection, by sleeping in separate rooms, if possible, and try to decrease their time together, maybe the wife can go to her parents for some days, or the husband can go to a short outdoors trip (4:34). If that doesn’t help at all, then they should involve their family members in the discussion, to hopefully help them (4:35). Then, he must stop the sexual relations for four months. Anytime during those four months, he may change his mind and go back to his wife, and continue with the marriage. If not, he then should officially express the divorce at the end of the four months (2:226), in the presence of two witnesses (65:2), or through the state procedures, whichever applies. After the divorce, if the home belonged to the woman, then the man must leave. If the home belongs to both, then they split it, or split the living space, and preferably sell it, take their portion, and move to separate places. If the home belonged to the man alone, and she has nowhere to go, no property, then he is not allowed to exclude her from the house (65:1). She is still allowed to live in the same house or in the rooms in which she lived before as mandatory charity from the man. They are divorced, and they are prohibited for one another, but she is allowed to stay there, or she can leave, if she wants. But, if they are renting, or he does not fully own the house, he is not obliged to do that. The woman may keep the dowry, because he initiated the divorce (2:229), unless she forgives parts of it, to adjust the situation to a fair division, especially if she knows that the state has supported her side more (2:229). And the woman must wait for three months after the divorce, as an emotional detox, and to double check that she is not pregnant (2:228), after which she is free to marry someone else, but if she finds that she is pregnant, she must wait until the end of her pregnancy (2:228). So, these were the procedures when the man initiates the soft divorce.

Now, if the woman initiates the soft divorce, everything is the same as if the husband initiated it, except that the woman can not choose to stay in her ex-husbands property anymore (33:28), because it was her choice to divorce. She must leave, unless it is her property. And she must return the financial dowry, if it was of the financial nature. The soft divorce may be retracted twice (2:229), regardless of who initiated it.

By the way, what happens in a marriage stays in that marriage (2:187). At the moment of divorce, you may give the general reasons why you divorce someone, in front of two witnesses, preferably in a written and signed document, or whatever the state requires, if that is the case, but after that you keep your mouth shut for the rest of your life. You do not reveal anything from that life, or private information regarding your ex-spouse (2:187) – not to your new spouse, not to anyone. If your ex-spouse reveals or publicizes something from your previous private life or private discussions, private pictures, or anything like that, you may respond in the same way, but never do it first (8:58). It’s an extremely bad behavior and a betrayal of those who have previously trusted you (8:27).

Now, regardless of who initiated the divorce, if they had children, it is better not to split up the children, because siblings are used to one another. For each parent, it is wrong to leave their children, so I would encourage both the father and the mother to try to do their best to keep their children, through any reasonable legal means. And that is what any good mother or father would do. However, there are no religious arguments which would be powerful enough to show that the other parent has no right to keep the children. And when the arguments are not powerful enough, power becomes a legitimate argument (26:4). So, in the past, the husband showed his power, and said “I am keeping the children. What are you going to do about it?” So, the show of power is a legitimate argument in this case (26:4), because both parties are right for the same thing. However, the governments these days will show even bigger power, and they might say, “She is keeping the children. What are you going to do about it?” or they might say, “She is keeping the children for 70% of the time or 50% of the time. What are you going to do about it?” And again, power is a legitimate argument in this case (26:4), because no other Quranic arguments exist. However, there are Quranic implications to this. When the mother achieves the keeping of her children, she inherits limitations with it. She, a divorced woman with minor children, is not allowed to marry again, unless she shows or sends to her new husband-to-be a concrete guaranteed plan in writing on how she will be able to fulfill these four conditions in her new marriage:

  1. Not abandon her minor children willingly (66:6).
  2. Never leave the new husband alone with her previous children in private spaces, or put them or him in situations where they are indirectly forced to be alone in private spaces while she is not there.
  3. Never expect financial help from him for them. (This last part is actually almost always enforced by the governments anyway, through child support laws, which consider the biological father of the children to be financially responsible for them, even after divorce.)
  4. Never meet her ex-husband or talk to her ex-husband without the new husband’s permission, even if it has to do with her children (4:34). And the new husband may choose to be there, if he wishes.

And this plan should not rely on the mercy or cooperation of her ex-husband, but she may rely on the cooperation of her family. And, she may also present a plan B which fulfills these conditions, and if she breaks any of these conditions, he is allowed to re-discuss the plan, or divorce.

And these conditions stem from different rules in the Quran, and especially from the fact that the Quran allows foster mothers or stepmothers but it does not allow foster fathers or stepfathers for children whose father is still alive. Children are allowed to be left alone in private spaces only with their family members or close relatives, or a foster mother (33:55, 24:31). Now, the new husband is not any of these, and therefore the mother is responsible to never leave them alone with him at home or in private spaces, without her presence there. There is no such thing as a stepfather in the Quran, only mom’s husband. Also, did you know that about 1 in every 5 girls who grows up with a stepfather is sexually abused by him, and even in cases where it does not happen, it’s because the man has to act like a servant in his own house, which is then emotionally unfair to him. And, even if the child is a boy, it’s still unfair towards the child, because that would technically be enslavement. No one has the right to subject someone’s children to someone else’s authority, while his mother is not there. That’s what the brothers of Joseph did with Joseph. They took him out of their father’s home, and he ended up in another man’s home, while his mother was not there with him. That’s enslavement. Now, if the child is with the mother, that’s not enslavement, but if she leaves the child alone with her new husband, that’s enslavement. It’s not enslavement the other way around, by the way, when a divorced father with children marries a new wife, because even when the children are under the authority of the new wife, she is under his authority (4:34), and therefore all of them are still under his authority – whatever authority still applies these days.

So, because the governments today have empowered the women to keep the children after divorce, they have disempowered them to marry again without fulfilling those four conditions, for which they must have a concrete plan, which they must present to their potential new husband, before they marry. One such plan could be, for example, that from Tuesday to Friday, she keeps the children at home, but she guarantees that she will always leave home after the husband or at the same time, and come back from work before the husband, so that the child is not left alone with the husband, and even when she is home, she should not leave the husband in one room with the child, and go to another room, unless the door is open. Then, on Friday, she sends the children to their grandmother or grandfather. On Saturday, their father picks them up from their grandmother, and returns them back to their grandmother on Sunday or Monday, and then the mother takes them from their grandmother’s place on Monday, and then repeat again next week. This is just one example, but you can have a different plan. Maybe the plan might simply involve owning a bigger house with separate entrances for the husband and the children, or things like that, but as you might be able to imagine, all these plans require additional efforts and additional finances from the wife. And someone might say, “Why does the Quran not mention these rules for widows who are also single mothers, and we know that the Quran allows the men to marry them?” Well, the natural expectation in the Quran is that single mothers should directly jump into a polygamous marriage (one man marrying two divorced mothers with children). Verse 4:3, which mentions this permission, mentions two, three, or four, wives, but skips one, meaning that the idea of marrying only one single mother is not presented there at all. It goes directly to two, because women in the past did not provide for themselves, and it was impossible for them to fulfill these four conditions with additional finances and efforts. So, the only option for a single mother in the past was polygamy. But today, because women work, single mothers might be able to avoid polygamy in a new marriage, simply by investing additional finances into the problem, but still polygamy would be for them the only option which does not require additional finances and efforts, because in that case, the husband stays at the other wife’s home, whenever she needs quality time with her children, and then he comes back when the other wife needs quality time with her children. And no additional efforts or finances are needed from either woman in that case. So, verse 4:3, recommends two single mothers, in cases when we are concerned about the rights of their children, and it recommends one single mother, in cases when we are concerned about the rights of the mother. And generally, in circumstances of poverty, due to incompatible living space, and heavy efforts which are required to make it work, the rights of the children are at risk, but in richer circumstances, in general, due to sufficient space arrangements, the rights of children are fulfilled, which means that the rights of women then should be given priority. So, generally, in cases of a poor single mother, especially if she does not have the help of her family, or the state, then the best option is polygamy, and in case of definitely rich single mothers with sufficient support, the best option is monogamy.

And I understand that this might sound humiliating for the poor women of today, but the humiliation only lasts a few days until she realizes that the husband always comes back, especially if the other woman is a good person who will not try to “steal” her husband. And by the way, this is one among the only four unnatural special cases where the Quran allows polygamy as an admitted problem (4:129), in order to solve a bigger unnatural problem. Otherwise, in all the other natural circumstances, the Quran preaches monogamy (4:1, 7:189, 39:6, 78:8, 49:13, 11:40, 23:27, 51:49, 43:12, 34:46, 3:195, 53:45, 92:3, 4:129), which is the natural way, because from the first day God created one man and one woman.

But, in the case of divorced women with children, it is an unnatural situation, and it may be solved with either polygamy, or with additional efforts and finances by the woman. And admittedly, if you are a single mother, this might be a difficult situation, but think of the women who never get married. We are going towards a world where 50% of the women will never get married, while at least you have a child, which means that you are not completely alone. And even though the Bible says that marrying a widow is a good charitable deed, actually a widow and a divorced woman are not exactly the same thing, and also, these days, the women who are in their thirties and above and did not get married yet are closer to the widows of the past than the divorced women with children.

So, a smart choice for women in democracies would be to marry early and have children slightly later, to reduce the chances of such a situation. Contraception methods may be used (7:32). You can ask the appropriate doctors about that, and if either the man or the woman does not want children, they both should agree not to have children (4:29), or the party who definitely wants children may choose to divorce, but they should not force or scheme children into a marriage. So, because of the existence of contraception methods these days, it is recommended for the potential couples to talk about whether they would eventually expect children in a marriage and how many, to avoid later disagreements. And, of course, ultimately God is in control of everything (42:49-50).

So, this is all you need to know about marriage and divorce, but most importantly, remember this: No matter who comes and goes in your life, or who comes and stays in your life, you should focus on serving God, and don’t let anyone divert you from that. If you can find a submitter and righteous person who will support you in the cause of God, even better. If not, don’t stop striving in the cause of God, on your own.