Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Questions on Islamic law: marriage and divorce

This post is a bit different in style from our usual writings. Here' we are attempting to convey, in a way as concise as possible, the normative rules from the Qur'an and the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him, with regards to both marriage and divorce, as per the Islamic teachings and from the Islamic sources. Any further questions on this article or related subjects can be posted in the "comments" section which appears at the end of this post.

What are the prerequisites for a Muslim marriage?

Obviously, agreement between the two parties. Forced marriages, which does occur sometimes in various communities in the world, is deemed Haraam [not allowed in Islamic law]. There exists many incidents in the days of the Prophet Muhammad wherein ladies would come to him, saying family had forced their hand into marrying, to which the Prophet would reply that choice had to be made.

In addition to the above requirement, we also have [A] Dowry {Mahr}. The dowry is an amount of money or some other valuable item that is to be given to the wife. This assures some level of security for the wife as well as the seriousness of the man. Traditions inform us that the dowry can even be symbolic, as giving clothes or teaching the bride Qur'an. Of course, this issue would have to be hammered out between the parties. [B] Ceremony: actually the most easy part, and already practiced in every human society, in which the Imam will give a sermon basically reminding the parties of their responsibilities, the wife and husband, along with two witnesses, will sign a contract [usually called 'Aqd in Muslim societies] along with witnesses, two being the minimum. The contract will show the agreement of the parties, as well as the dowry information.

What are the responsibilities the parties have to each other?

The most important one-for the man- is that of financial responsibility. The Qur'an places this squarely on the husband in the words Ar Rijaalu Qawwamoona 'alan Nisaa' ["The men are responsible for the maintainance of their ladies.." [Q 4:34].

Responsibilities of mutual support, of fidelity, and emotional security are also required. The Qur'an says " And among His wonders is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind. So that you might incline towards them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you: in this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who think!" [Qur'an 30:21, Muhammad Asad translation]

What about Divorce?

Divorce is seen as permitted in Islam, but there has existed both within the body of Islamic texts as well as practice in tradition the tendency to preserve the marriage. God speaks of the fact that although men may find some qualities they dislike in their wives, there may exist in that very thing something good for the man [Q 4:19]. The Qur'an has also recommended counseling, taking a person from each parties family, to act as arbiters [Q 4:35].

It is well known that the husband has right to pronounce divorce, but what is not all that well known is that the wife has a right as well, especially when the husband has disappeared or has not fulfilled any of the responsibilities, or has abandoned the faith of Islam all together!

In such a case, the religious figure [Shaykh or Imam] can pronounce the marriage dissolved, the only requirement is that- just as in a marriage ceremony- witnesses are present. It's also important to have documentation to this decision, signed by witnesses, the wife, and of course the religious figure.

By no means is this post to be taken as comprehensive or encompassing all aspects of these most delicate issues. Nonetheless, we hope this has been useful.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Ka'bah: a symbol of man's potential


According to the Qur'an [Q 2:127], the Ka'bah was constructed by Abraham and his son, to be a place where God ONLY would be worshiped. Although the Qur'anic description of its origins may be disputed by various critics of Islam, all hands agree that the ancient site has always been seen as a place of prayer, amnesty and security. It was deemed a respected site even by the polytheists.[Ft.1].

Function as focal point of prayer direction [Qiblah]

It is worth mentioning that the Qiblah for the early followers of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, was not the Ka'bah, rather, it was Jerusalem. We are told that Jerusalem was the first Qiblah for about seventeen months.[ Ft.2]

There are two main reasons for this that should be highlighted. [1] Jerusalem can be said to be a center of monotheism. Many of the prophets and teachers known to the world have a direct or indirect connection to this place of peace. Certainly, Jerusalem has many sites deemed sacred to both Jewish and Christian traditions. [2] Tradition tells us that the Prophet Muhammad embarked upon a spiritual journey from a spot in Jerusalem and onto the heavens. [Ft.3]

As we know, eventually the command came forth informing the Muslims that Makkah, specifically the site of the Ka'bah, should be the Qiblah.
"So, wheresoever you are, turn your faces towards the sacred Mosque [Al-Masjid Al-Haram, the site of the Ka'bah].." [ 2:144].

There is a concept of Qiblah present in Jewish tradition. They face Jerusalem, offering prayers three times daily. The idea behind the main function of Qiblah also finds an eloquent speaker in the writer of the Psalms, who asserts:

But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house, in reverence will I bow down towards your Holy Temple. [Psalms, 5:7, NIV]

For Muslims, to face One direction in prayer, this action serves as a point of unity. The same can be rightfully asserted regarding the prayer format, which is the same across the Muslim community worldwide. [Ft.4]

It should be noted that to Muslims, the Ka'bah, although sacred, does not hold any magical powers. It is merely a symbol. The Qur'an itself tells us "So, worship the Lord of this house" [Q 106:3]. It would be a misreading to assert that the Ka'bah was an idol worshiped by Muslims. Indeed, the black cover [Kiswa] has the above mentioned verse written on it. At Makkah, the visitors are praying, invoking God alone, whom they recognize as the one who has created and maintains the universe.


The Hajj is considered the last of Islam's five pillars. Its observance is conditional on the person's physical and financial abilities. The pilgrimage re enacts many of the actions of Abraham, the patriarch. It includes invoking God while circling the symbol. During the pilgrimage season, one sees every profession, class rank, nation and color represented. All are made equal by the donning of the white seamless cloth [Ihraam]. It has the potential to serve as an annual conference on world affairs, where the leaders and public alike can mingle and gain better perspective.


[1] In the days of Prophet Muhammad, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, the Makkan polytheists had corrupted the Hajj practices, and this even extended to the Ka'bah itself. over 300 idols were said to have been placed and venerated at the Masjid Al-Haram.

[2] This is the figure given by Ibn Katheer. See Tafseer Al-Qur'aan al 'Adheem, volume 2, pg 30-33, Aleppo

[3] The Prophet's journey is known as the Israa'. It is briefly mentioned in the Qur'an [17:1], but a more detailed explanation can be found in the Hadeeth literature. For which see Saheeh Al-Bukhari, 8:1, 228, pg 156. Riyadh edition. Also of interest is a discussion which can be found in Muhammad Asad's Qur'an commentary [The message of the Qur'an, Gibralter, 1980].

[4] Different schools and sects exist among Muslims, but in general the prayer format is the same, showing another example of unity. The prayer format includes selections from the Qur'an, in particular the first chapter.