Women in Islamic Law

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Women are legally disadvantaged by Islamic law in several domains of life. Particularly, women are disadvantaged in matters of sexual, domestic, legal, financial, sartorial, and physical autonomy. According to Islamic legal theory, while not all of Islamic law necessarily has a perceptibly rational basis, legal restrictions on women may be due to their supposed intellectual deficiency, which was pronounced by Muhammad according to Sahih Bukhari.

The writings of Professor Kecia Ali are renowned regarding the historical and modern Islamic approaches to women. Before her, Women and Gender in Islam by Leila Ahmed was also regarded as a seminal book on the subject. Ali's book Sexual Ethics and Islam is particularly wide-ranging.[1] She argues that the Quran is androcentric in terms of almost always addressing men and privileging male sexual agency.[2] Ali also notes in her book the "very real dissonance between the cultural assumptions undergirding the classical edifices of jurisprudence and exegesis and the modern notions influencing Muslim intellectuals and ordinary people everwhere".[3] Throughout the book she critiques feminist and modernist interpretations while noting where they may have merit, as well as apologetics that misquote, mistranslate, or side step difficult issues. She also criticises some aggressively patriarchal and indeed misogynist interpretations. While warning against blind optimism on the prospects for transformation, she suggests the importance of rejecting medieval interpretations and not taking the Quran and hadiths as a repository of regulations to be applied at all times and places.[4]

Genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is obligatory in the Shafi'i madhab[5] and encouraged by the remaining three madhabs, namely the Hanafi, Hanbali, and Maliki. Salafi scholars also encourage the practice. In universally conceiving of FGM as being either an obligatory or favorable practice, the schools of Islamic law agree that prohibiting FGM altogether would not be acceptable, as this would be tantamount to contravening God's laws and preferences. Views on the specific type of FGM required or permitted vary within and between the madhhabs. Some prominent modern Islamic scholars have dissented from the favorable consensus of the Islamic tradition and ruled it to be unlawful.

Obligatory (on every male and female) is circumcision. (And it is the cutting-off of the skin [qat' al-jaldah] on the glans of the male member and, as for the circumcision of the female, that is the cutting-off of the badhar [qat' al-badhar, badhar or بَظْرٌ either means the clitoris or the prepuce of the clitoris; Lane says that the precise usage was confused at some point in history[6]] (and this is called khufad))
Reliance of the Traveler [Umdat al-Salik], Section e4.3 on Circumcision

The Islamic legal tradition, while differing on its implementation, embraced FGM wholeheartedly, and, In the hadith literature, Muhammad is recorded as tacitly approving of the practice (Sahih Muslim 3:684) , prescribing circumcision in general without specifying the requirements thereof per gender (Sahih Bukhari 7:72:777), and commenting generically on its implementation (Sunan Abu Dawud 41:5251). No where is Muhammad recorded prohibiting the practice.

In 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood worked to decriminalize FGM. According to Mariz Tadros (a reporter),"the Muslim Brotherhood have offered to circumcise women for a nominal fee as part of their community services, a move that threatens to reverse decades of local struggle against the harmful practice [...] Many of the Brothers (and Salafis) argue that while it is not mandatory, it is nevertheless mukarama  (preferable, pleasing in the eyes of God)."[7]


Restrictions on choice

Prohibition on marrying non-Muslim men

Islamic law prohibits Muslim women from marrying disbelievers. If a Muslim woman converts to Islam, her marriage to a non-Muslim husband is nullified. If a Muslim woman's husband apostatizes, their marriage is also nullified.

This ruling, derived from verses in the Qur'an, has enjoyed legally-binding scholarly consensus (ijma)[8][9][10],

Wed not idolatresses till they believe; for lo! a believing bondwoman is better than an idolatress though she please you; and give not your daughters in marriage to idolaters till they believe, for lo! a believing slave is better than an idolater though he please you. These invite unto the Fire, and Allah inviteth unto the Garden, and unto forgiveness by His grace, and expoundeth His revelations to mankind that haply they may remember.

In a verse about the treaty of Hudaybiyyah (before the conquest of Mecca), believing women and disbelieving men were declared unlawful for each other.

O ye who believe! When believing women come unto you as fugitives, examine them. Allah is Best Aware of their faith. Then, if ye know them for true believers, send them not back unto the disbelievers. They are not lawful for them (the disbelievers), nor are they (the disbelievers) lawful for them. And give them (the disbelievers) that which they have spent (upon them). And it is no sin for you to marry such women when ye have given them their dues. And hold not to the ties of disbelieving women; and ask for (the return of) that which ye have spent; and let them (the disbelievers) ask for that which they have spent. That is the judgment of Allah. He judgeth between you. Allah is Knower, Wise.

After the conquest of Mecca, Muslim men, by contrast, were given fewer restrictions and were permitted to marry Muslim women and people of the Book (this includes Jewish and Christian women).

This day are (all) good things made lawful for you. The food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. And so are the virtuous women of the believers and the virtuous women of those who received the Scripture before you (lawful for you) when ye give them their marriage portions and live with them in honour, not in fornication, nor taking them as secret concubines. Whoso denieth the faith, his work is vain and he will be among the losers in the Hereafter.

In recent times, some Islamic modernists have argued that the classical view does not necessarily follow from the Qur'anic verses and that Muslim women should be given more freedom, though in both the scholarly and lay communities this remains a fringe view vis-a-vis the traditional view.[11]

Child marriage

A father or guardian must ask the consent of his virgin daughter before offering her in marriage, based on a well known sahih hadith. However, according to the same hadith, if she remains silent when asked, offering no explicit acceptance, this counts as consent (Sahih Muslim 8:3303, Sahih Muslim 8:3305). As a result, while women have the decision as adults to decide whom they marry, young girls may be married off before they are physically (or, much less, mentally) capable of providing anything in the way of consent. The Quran, in providing guidelines on the procedure for divorce, states what must be done in the case of wife who has not yet reached puberty. Child marriage was practiced by Muhammad himself, who married Aisha at the age of six and copulated with her at the age of nine, while he was in his fifties.

[speaking of the prescribed waiting period for a divorce] And those of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the 'Iddah (prescribed period), if you have doubts (about their periods), is three months, and for those who have no courses their 'Iddah (prescribed period) is three months likewise.
Narrated Hisham's father: Khadija died three years before the Prophet departed to Medina. He stayed there for two years or so and then he married 'Aisha when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumated that marriage when she was nine years old.
'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) married her when she was seven years old, and he was taken to his house as a bride when she was nine, and her dolls were with her; and when he (the Holy Prophet) died she was eighteen years old.

Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian Shi'ite religious leader, married a ten-year-old girl when he was twenty-eight. Khomeini called marriage to a prepubescent girl "a divine blessing," and advised the faithful: "Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house."

Today, child marriages occur all over the world, but the practice is especially common in Muslim-majority countries, particularly in those that practice Shari'a. The UN regards child marriage as a human rights violation and aims to eradicate it by 2030. The girl is vulnerable to spousal abuse and childhood pregnancy which greatly jeopardizes her health and future.

Polygamy (four wives per husband)

Islamic law permits men to marry up to four wives (alongside an unlimited number of concubines), while women are restricted to a single husband and are prohibited from any other form of sexual activity. Modern Islamic scholars differ on whether or not a bride may stipulate as a condition of her marriage that her husband remain monogamous. Some argue that this is permissible while others maintain that such a restriction cannot be justified as it impedes on rights that God has given men (where accepted, this practice is implemented through what is known as a talaq al-tafwid, or 'delegated divorce'). Quran 4:3, which permits Muslim men to take up to four wives, also demands that they do 'justice' to their wives. According to most Muslim scholars, this is does not prohibit any sort of romantic favoritism, and serves only to make sure that those who take on multiple wives have the minimum necessary financial wherewithal to do so. Muhammad himself (who was exempt from the four-wife limit per the Quran[12], married nearly a dozen wives (having eleven at once), and kept concubines) openly pronounced and practiced his preference for Aisha, who was his favorite and youngest wife.

And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course.

Muhammad also restricted his son-in-law Ali (who was also his first cousin) from engaging in polygamy and demanded that he remain monogamous with his daughter Fatima.

Narrated Al-Miswar bin Makhrama: I heard Allah's Apostle who was on the pulpit, saying, "Banu Hisham bin Al-Mughira have requested me to allow them to marry their daughter to Ali bin Abu Talib, but I don't give permission, and will not give permission unless 'Ali bin Abi Talib divorces my daughter in order to marry their daughter, because Fatima is a part of my body, and I hate what she hates to see, and what hurts her, hurts me."

Autonomy of virgins vs. non-virgins

A hadith recorded in the Muwatta of Imam Malik, one of the earliest written collections of hadiths, states that women who have already been married are entitled to greater autonomy in who they marry than virgins (who have never been married). The various schools of Islamic law have interpreted this and hadiths to a similar effect in various ways and have given women who have married at least once greater rights with respect to their marital lives than those who have not.

Malik related to me from Abdullah ibn al-Fadl from Nafi ibn Jubayr ibn Mutim from Abdullah ibn Abbas that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "A woman who has been previously married is more entitled to her person than her guardian, and a virgin must be asked for her consent for herself, and her consent is her silence "


Islamic scriptures describe the mahr, or primarily financial gift made by a groom to his bride upon the marital nikah (sexual intercourse) contract, as 'the recompense for your having had the right to intercourse with her'.

Ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with them) reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) saying to the invokers of curse: Your account is with Allah. One of you must be a liar. You have now no right over this woman. 'He said: Messenger of Allah, what about my wealth (dower that I paid her at the time of marriage)? He said: You have no claim to wealth. If you tell the truth, it (dower) is the recompense for your having had the right to intercourse with her', and if you tell a lie against her, it is still more remote from you than she is. Zuhair said in his narration: Sufyan reported to us on the authority of 'Amr that he had heard Sa'id b Jubair saying: I heard Ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with them) saying that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) had said it.

The purpose of the mahr is to serve as a payment from a man to a woman for the future sexual relations (nikah) he will have with her. This is further illustrated by the requirement for a mahr in temporary mut'ah marriages, other similar statements of Muhammad, and the logic inherent in the Quranic verses which stipulate that mahr cannot be taken back in divorce (except under extenuating circumstances) once a man has had intercourse with his wife.


The Arabic word for "marriage" is "zawaj". In Islamic law, marriage is considered under the concept of nikah, a legal and financial contract between a male and a female Muslim. Nikah literally means "sexual intercourse".

When a woman marries, she sells a part of her person. In the market one buys merchandise, in marriage the husband buys the genital arvum mulieris. As in any other bargain and sale, only useful and ritually clean objects may be given in dower.
Ruxton (1916: 106). Quoted by Ziba Mir-Hosseini in volume five of Voices of Islam, pp. 85-113
The Arabic word for marriage is zawaj or nikah, the latter being derived from the verb nakaha (‘to have sexual intercourse’): cf. Qur. II: 230. Nikah is also used to denote the marriage contract (cf. ‘aqd, ‘aqd qiran).
Ronak Husni, Daniel L. Newman, Muslim women in law and society: annotated translation of al-Tahir al Haddad al-Ṭāhir Ḥaddād, p. 182
[These are eight things. The first, marriage, is the root and rest are consequences. Each has a linguistic meaning and usage which we will mention in its proper place. Marriage (nikah) linguistically means intercourse and is used as a metaphor for the contract. In technical usage, it is actual for the contract and metaphorical for intercourse. It is used in custom to mean to mean intercourse as the Almighty says, "Until she marries a husband other than him," (2:230) and so it is known from this that nakaha is used for intercourse between any man and woman. Marriage in the sense of intercourse is only permitted in the Shari'a by one of two matters: the contract of marriage or ownership by the words of the Almighty, "those who guard their private parts – except from their wives or those they own as slaves, in which case they are not blameworthy." (23:5-6)
The Risala of 'Abdullah ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (310/922 - 386/996) A Treatise on Maliki Fiqh (Inc. commentary from ath-Thamr ad-Dani by al-Azhari) Ch. 32

Temporary Mut'ah marriages

Mut'ah, in Islamic law, is a temporary arrangement whereby a man and a woman enter into a contractual arrangement to marry each other for a specified period of time. The time can be as little as one hour or as long as several years, though most Mutah contracts are for hours or a few days. The man gives the woman something of value, and in exchange he is allowed to enter into sexual relations with her, legally, without committing fornication, since they are married. As within all Islamic marriages, the woman is not allowed to refuse her husband's sexual advances or commands. At the end of the period specified in the contract, each party walks separate ways and neither is indebted to the other. The practice dates back to Arabia's pre-Islamic days, and was recorded as far back as by the Latin historian Ammianus Marcellinus in the 300's. Historians have identified the institution of Mutah as being comparable in practice to modern day prostitution.

Mutah is practiced mainly by Shi'ites today, although at one time Muhammad permitted it for all Muslims. This is one of many areas of disagreement between Sunnis and Shi'ites. Sunnis believe Muhammad abrogated Mutah, while Shi'ites disagree and still practice Mut'ah as allowed by Muhammad.

The Sunni Shafi'i scholar al-Baydawi said of Mutah, "The purpose of the contractual marriage is the mere pleasure of intercourse with a woman, and her own enjoyment in what she has given."[13]

The practice of Mutah is mentioned in several authentic hadiths.

Narrated Abdullah: We used to participate in the holy wars carried on by the Prophet and we had no women (wives) with us. So we said (to the Prophet ). "Shall we castrate ourselves?" But the Prophet forbade us to do that and thenceforth he allowed us to marry a woman (temporarily) by giving her even a garment, and then he recited: "O you who believe! Do not make unlawful the good things which Allah has made lawful for you." Quran 5:87
Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah and Salama bin Al-Akwa': While we were in an army, Allah's Apostle came to us and said, "You have been allowed to do the Mut'a (marriage), so do it." Salama bin Al-Akwa' said: Allah's Apostle's said, "If a man and a woman agree (to marry temporarily), their marriage should last for three nights, and if they like to continue, they can do so; and if they want to separate, they can do so." I do not know whether that was only for us or for all the people in general. Abu Abdullah (Al-Bukhari) said: 'Ali made it clear that the Prophet said, "The Mut'a marriage has been cancelled (made unlawful)."
Sabra Juhanni reported: Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) permitted temporary marriage for us. So I and another person went out and saw a woman of Bana 'Amir, who was like a young long-necked she-camel. We presented ourselves to her (for contracting temporary marriage), whereupon she said: What dower would you give me? I said: My cloak. And my companion also said: My cloak. And the cloak of-my companion was superior to my cloak, but I was younger than he. So when she looked at the cloak of my companion she liked it, and when she cast a glance at me I looked more attractive to her. She then said: Well, you and your cloak are sufficient for me. I remained with her for three nights, and then Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: He who has any such woman with whom he had contracted temporary marriage, he should let her off.
Ibn Uraij reported: 'Ati' reported that jibir b. Abdullah came to perform 'Umra, and we came to his abode, and the people asked him about different things, and then they made a mention of temporary marriage, whereupon he said: Yes, we had been benefiting ourselves by this temporary marriage during the lifetime of the Prophet (ﷺ) and during the time of Abu Bakr and 'Umar.

The following quotation regarding Mut'ah marriage is taken from a Shi'ite website.[14]

Whenever man sets foot on the earth the need to travel always emerges. Sometimes traveling can involve man going thousands of miles away from home, sometimes for moths, even years. Do one's sexual desires just evaporate when an individual is traveling? Sexual desire isn't like some light switch that turns off when a man leaves his wife to set off on his travels, and turns back home when he gets back! Sexual desire is something that remains permanently with a human, when it accompanies him at all times then how can he curtail such sexual feelings? When someone is traveling and accessing his wife is impossible, and he is incapable of summing her to join him, then what will a young red-blooded male do? Miles away from home, feeling sexually aroused his situation is not one wherein he can get permanently married, so what is he to do? He will feel the only way that he can relieve himself is by amalgamating himself into the society around him. Islam does not permit a person to sexually relieve himself through masturbation nor is he permitted to adopt the ways of the kufr and indulge himself in fornication, it offers him a legitimate mechanism with which to relieve himself and that is temporary marriage.

It is not just traveling, that might necessitate Mutah, there are many in society who just does not have the financial ability / standing to get permanent married, yet they still have sexual desires, again Mut'ah is there to ensure that they practice sex within the boundaries set by Allah (swt).

Islam is a religion that is suited for all nations and ages. Mut'ah is a good example of that. It is only the Deen of Islam that caters for sexual desire by permitting a legitimate method of control. For others societies the only mechanism that they see as the solution to relieving sexual feelings is through the practice of fornication. In the western world adultery and fornication are common and openly performed. Mut'ah is a way of protecting a person from committing these serious sins and vices.

Domestic lives


Under Islamic law, women are obligated to obey their husbands in their domestic, social, professional, sexual and, to a limited extent, religious lives.

Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded…
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "It is not lawful for a lady to fast (Nawafil) without the permission of her husband when he is at home; and she should not allow anyone to enter his house except with his permission; and if she spends of his wealth (on charitable purposes) without being ordered by him, he will get half of the reward."
It was narrated from 'Amr bin Shu'aib, from his father that he delivered: “It is not permissible for a woman to dispose of her wealth except with her husband's permission, once he has married her.”
Talq bin Ali narrated that The Messenger of Allah said: “When a man calls his wife to fulfill his need, then let her come, even if she is at the oven.” (Darussalam: Sahih)
[Tafsir ibn Kathir records the following hadith:] "The best woman is she who when you look at her she obeys you, and when you are absent, she protects her honor and your property."

In his book The Ideal Muslimah, Dr. Muhammad Ali al-Hashimi writes:

The true Muslim woman devotes herself to taking care of her house and husband. She knows her husband's rights over her, and how great they are, as was confirmed by the Prophet's words:

"No human being is permitted to prostrate to another, but if this were permitted I would have ordered wives to prostrate to their husbands, because of the greatness of the rights they have over them."

A woman came to ask the Prophet (PBUH) about some matter, and when he had dealt with it, he asked her, "Do you have a husband?" She said, "Yes." He asked her, "How are you with him?" She said, "I never fall short in my duties, except for that which is beyond me." He said, "Pay attention to how you treat him, for he is your Paradise and your Hell."

How can the Muslim woman complain about taking care of her house and husband when she hears these words of Prophetic guidance? She should fulfil her household duties and take care of her husband in a spirit of joy, because she is not carrying a tiresome burden, she is doing work in her home that she knows will bring reward from Allah.

One of the most important ways in which the Muslim woman obeys her husband is by respecting his wishes with regard to the permissible pleasures of daily life, such as social visits, food, dress, speech, etc. The more she responds to his wishes in such matters, the happier and more enjoyable the couple's life becomes, and the closer it is to the spirit and teachings of Islam.

"It is not permitted for a woman who believes in Allah (SWT) to allow anyone into her husband's house whom he dislikes; or to go out when he does not want her to; or to obey anyone else against him; or to forsake his bed; or to hit him. If he is wrong, then let her come to him until he is pleased with her, and if he accepts her then all is well, Allah (SWT) will accept her deeds and make her position stronger, and there will be no sin on her."

It is a great honour for a woman to take care of her husband every morning and evening, and wherever he goes, treating him with gentleness and good manners which will fill his life with joy, tranquility and stability.

`Aisha urged women to take good care of their husbands and to recognize the rights that their husbands had over them. She saw these rights as being so great and so important that a woman was barely qualified to wipe the dust from her husband's feet with her face, as she stated: "O womenfolk, if you knew the rights that your husbands have over you, every one of you would wipe the dust from her husband's feet with her face." [...]

Marriage in Islam is intended to protect the chastity of men and women alike, therefore it is the woman's duty to respond to her husband's requests for conjugal relations. She should not give silly excuses and try to avoid it. For this reason, several hadith urge a wife to respond to her husband's needs as much as she is able, no matter how busy she may be or whatever obstacles there may be, so long as there is no urgent or unavoidable reason not to do so.

The issue of protecting a man's chastity and keeping him away from temptation is more important than anything else that a woman can do, because Islam wants men and women alike to live in an environment which is entirely pure and free from any motive of fitnah or haram pleasures. The flames of sexual desire and thoughts of pursuing them through haram means can only be extinguished by means of discharging that natural energy in natural and lawful ways.

Saudi feminist Wajeha Al-Huwaider describes the lives of many Arab women as similar to a prisoner. As she puts it, "the Arab woman is a prisoner in her own home, has committed no crime, was not captured in battle, does not belong to any terrorist group."



Quran 4:34 instructs Muslims men to, among other things, beat their wives if they fear disobedience from them. Muslim scholars agree on the permissibility of the practice but disagree on the conditions for and nature of the beating permitted. Some modernist Islamic scholars argue that the term "and beat them" speaks only metaphorically. Some other scholars, including historically, have argued that it means only a simple strike, as with hitting them with a feather or toothpick. The Islamic tradition and scriptures militate against this rereading, which, as a result, has failed to achieve widespread purchase amongst Muslim scholars. Muhammad made attempts to limit the degree of violence, saying, "None of you should flog his wife as he flogs a slave and then have sexual intercourse with her in the last part of the day"[15], but also declared "A man should not be asked why he beats his wife."[16] Hadiths report that Muhammad hit Aisha[17], who is herself reported to have said, "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!"[18]

Men are overseers over women, by reason of that wherewith Allah hath made one of them excel over another, and by reason of that which they expend of their substance. Wherefore righteous women are obedient, and are watchers in husbands absence by the aid and protection of Allah. And those wives whose refractoriness ye fear, exhort them, and avoid them in beds, and beat them; but if they obey you, seek not a way against them; verily Allah is ever Lofty, Grand.

One of the earliest and arguably most important biographies on Muhammad's life, that of Ibn Ishaq, records the following:

You have rights over your wives and they have rights over you. You have the right that they should not defile your bed and that they should not behave with open unseemliness. If they do, God allows you to put them in separate rooms and to beat them but not with severity. If they refrain from these things they have the right to their food and clothing with kindness.
Sirat Rasul Allah, ibn Ishaq, A. Guillaume, translator. Oxford University Press, 1955, page 651.

Ibn Kathir, the author of one of the most relied-upon exegetical works on the Quran, elaborates what constitutes ill conduct:

[It is] the woman from whom you see ill conduct with her husband, such as when she acts as if she is above her husband, disobeys him, ignores him, dislikes him, and so forth. When these signs appear in a woman, her husband should advise her and remind her of Allah's torment if she disobeys him. Indeed, Allah ordered the wife to obey her husband and prohibited her from disobeying him, because of the enormity of his rights and all that he does for her.[19]

The Scholar Abdul-latif Mushtahiri states:

If admonishing and sexual desertion fail to bring forth results and the woman is of a cold and stubborn type, the Qur'an bestows on man the right to straighten her out by way of punishment and beating provided he does not break her bones nor shed blood. Many a wife belongs to this querulous type and requires this sort of punishment to bring her to her senses![20]

Divine wrath

Women who fail to obey their husbands, particularly when it comes to their husband's sexual desires, face the wrath of God and the angels.

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "If a man invites his wife to sleep with him and she refuses to come to him, then the angels send their curses on her till morning."
Abu Umamah narrated that : Allah's Messenger said: "There are three whose Salat would not rise up beyond their ears: The runaway slave until he returns, a woman who spends a night while her husband is angry with her, and a people's Imam whom they dislike."


Women are also accorded a number of rights under the nikah contract. Men are obligated to provide for their wives financially and not to be too harsh to them, although the meaning of this latter requirement is set by the marital and gender norms of 7th century Arabia, where wife-beating was commonplace and acceptable.

O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness…except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good.
Lodge them where you lodge according to your means, and do not injure them in order that you may straiten them…

Women whose husbands fail to fulfill the right to maintenance may be eligible for requesting divorce, though this differs between schools of jurisprudence:

In classical Hanafi law, the wife is put at a further disadvantage economically by the fact that neither inability nor refusal to maintain is considered sufficient grounds for dissolution of a marriage. This is contrary to the principles of both the Malaki and Shafii schools. The hardships resulting from the traditional Hanafi position are numerous.
John L. Eposito, "Women in Muslim Family Law", 2001, p. 26

Control over movement and taking additional wives

Under Islam, a husband has a right to take up to four wives and has significant control over his wives. Under the Hanbali (but not Hanafi) school, women may stipulate conditions in the marriage contract to grant greater freedom of movement or to object to her husband taking additional wives, with a right to divorce if these are broken. In many cases such stipulations will not have been agreed ahead of the marriage, though some modern reforms of family law have sought to improve the situation. Otherwise the husband's rights are automatic.

One important right granted by the Hanbali (but not Hanafi) law school that gives women a certain amount of independence and status in marriage is her right to insert conditions that are favourable to her directly into the marriage contract. The wife's ability to make conditions, provided that they are not contrary to the object of marriage, can resolve many inequities in areas such as polygamy and divorce. For example, clauses may be added that eliminate the husband's right to take a second wife or that grant the wife greater freedom of movement. These conditions limit the husband's somewhat automatic and extensive legal control over his wife. Because these conditions can be enforced by granting the wife her husband's power of divorce if they are violated, they bestow more equal rights of divorce on the wife.
John L. Eposito, "Women in Muslim Family Law", 2001, p. 22


Requirements for divorce

A wife can ask her husband to divorce her, and if he releases her from the marriage, she makes a payment to him of the mahr (item or sum of financial worth) she had received or some other agreed payment. This is known as Khul'. If he refuses, she can try to get a divorce by judicial decree when there are grounds for which his consent is not required (such as inability or failure to fulfil his marital obligations, desertion, insanity, or cruelty).

Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. Nor is it lawful for them to hide what Allah Hath created in their wombs…. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, the parties should either hold Together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness. It is not lawful for you, (Men), to take back any of your gifts (from your wives), except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah. If ye (judges) do indeed fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah, there is no blame on either of them if she give something for her freedom. These are the limits ordained by Allah; so do not transgress them if any do transgress the limits ordained by Allah, such persons wrong (Themselves as well as others).
If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband's part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best; even though men's souls are swayed by greed.
Narrated Aisha: Regarding the explanation of the following verse:-- "If a wife fears Cruelty or desertion On her husband's part." (4.128) A man may dislike his wife and intend to divorce her, so she says to him, "I give up my rights, so do not divorce me." The above verse was revealed concerning such a case.

Ibn Kathir, quoting Sahih Muslim, writes:

Fear Allah regarding your women, for you have taken them by Allah's covenant and were allowed to enjoy them sexually by Allah's words. You have the right on them that they do not allow anyone you dislike to sit on your mat. If they do that, then discipline them leniently. They have the right to be spent on and to be bought clothes in what is reasonable.
Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol 1, page 633
The apparent wording of the Ayah [Quran 4:128] refers to the settlement where the wife forfeits some of the rights she has over her husband, with the husband agreeing to this concession, and that this settlement is better than divorce. For instance, the Prophet kept Sawdah bint Zam'ah as his wife after she offered to forfeit her day for A'isha. By keeping her among his wives, his Ummah may follow this kind of settlement."
Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol 2, page 601

The requirements for men to divorce their wives differ significantly and are far less restrictive than those imposed on the wife. Men can divorce their wives on the basis of simple dissatisfaction and can even recall their divorce thereafter a limited number of times.

Narrated Aisha: The following Verse: If a woman fears cruelty or desertion on her husband's part (i.e. the husband notices something unpleasant about his wife, such as old age or the like, and wants to divorce her, but she asks him to keep her and provide for her as he wishes). Quran 4:128 "There is no blame on them if they reconcile on such basis."
The divorce is twice, after that either you retain her on reasonable terms or release her with kindness..
Divorce is thrice. This honorable ayah abrogated the previous practice in the beginning of Islam, when the man had the right to take back his divorced wife even if he had divorced her a hundred times. This situation was harmful for the wife, and this is why Allah made the divorce thrice, where the husband is allowed to take back his wife after the first and the second divorce… The divorce becomes irrevocable after the third divorce.
Tafsir Ibn Kathir (abridged), Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri et al, translators (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2000), vol 1, p. 635.


If a man divorces his wife three times, his wife can remarry him only if she first marries another man, consummates the marriage with the other man, and then divorces that man. A man may issue multiple divorces at the same time, in what is known as a double- or, more often, triple-talaq (talaq meaning 'divorce' in Arabic, this can entail as little as saying the word 'divorce' two or three times). While this practice is discouraged and even illegal in Islamic law, it has been considered binding by the majority of Islamic scholars.

The ruling in Islamic law that deems multiple simultaneous divorces to be binding has proven controversial across the world and has been outlawed in countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Controversy around the law has emerged largely where men have issued triple-talaqs to absolve themselves of the financial responsibility for and maintenance of their elderly or otherwise dependent wives. The ruling has also proven controversial where couples have tried to remarry after a husband declares a triple-talaq in a fit of anger, with or without realizing the fact that the declaration is considered legally binding and irrevocable (leaving the wife in the position of having to marry and sleep with another man in order to restore her original marriage).

So if a husband divorces his wife (irrevocably), He cannot, after that, re-marry her until after she has married another husband and He has divorced her.
Narrated Aisha: The wife of Rifa'a Al-Qurazi came to the Prophet and said, "I was Rifa'a's wife, but he divorced me and it was a final irrevocable divorce. Then I married AbdurRahman bin Az-Zubair but he is impotent." The Prophet asked her 'Do you want to remarry Rifa'a? You cannot unless you had a complete sexual relation with your present husband."
Yahya related to me from Malik … that Rifa'a ibn Simwal divorced his wife, Tamima bint Wahb, in the time of the messenger of Allah three times. She then married 'Abd ar-Rahman ibn az-Zubayr and he turned from her and could not consummate the marriage and so he parted from her. Rifa'a wanted to marry her again and it was mentioned to the Messenger of Allah, and he forbade him to marry her. He said, 'She is not halal for you until she has tasted the sweetness of intercourse.'

The marriages of female converts and those with apostate husbands are nullified

There is a consensus among classical Islamic scholars that if a woman converts to Islam and her husband fails to, their marriage is nullified.[21][8] This ruling is derived, in part, from Quran 60:10. The classical scholars also ruled that if on the other hand a husband converts to Islam, the marriage remains intact so long as his wife is a Christian or Jew. If a Muslim husband or wife leaves Islam, the marriage to his or her Muslim spouse is immediately annulled, though some held that the marriage is unaffected if only the wife leaves the religion, while others said that she becomes the husband's slave.[8]

O ye who believe! When believing women come unto you as fugitives, examine them. Allah is Best Aware of their faith. Then, if ye know them for true believers, send them not back unto the disbelievers. They are not lawful for them (the disbelievers), nor are they (the disbelievers) lawful for them. And give them (the disbelievers) that which they have spent (upon them). And it is no sin for you to marry such women when ye have given them their dues. And hold not to the ties of disbelieving women; and ask for (the return of) that which ye have spent; and let them (the disbelievers) ask for that which they have spent. That is the judgment of Allah. He judgeth between you. Allah is Knower, Wise.


Permissibility of female sexual slavery

In nearly every instance where the Quran commands (men) to be chaste, it repeats that they need not be chaste with their wives and 'those whom their right hand possesses', which is universally acknowledged by historians and Islamic scholars as an Arabic euphemism which refers to one's slaves.

Those who humble themselves in their prayers; Who avoid vain talk; Who are active in deeds of charity; Who abstain from sex, Except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the captives) whom their right hands possess,- for (in their case) they are free from blame.
O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee;

An entire chapter in Sahih Muslim (chapter 29) is dedicated to the topic and is entitled: 'It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with a captive [i.e. slave] woman after she is purified (of menses or delivery). In case she has a husband, her marriage is abrogated after she becomes captive.'

...Abu Sa'id al-Khudri (Allah her pleased with him) reported that at the Battle of Hanain Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) sent an army to Autas and encountered the enemy and fought with them. Having overcome them and taken them captives, the Companions of Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) seemed to refrain from having intercourse with captive women because of their husbands being polytheists. Then Allah, Most High, sent down regarding that:" And women already married, except those whom your right hands possess (iv. 24)" (i. e. they were lawful for them when their 'Idda period came to an end).
...Abu Sirma said to Abu Sa'id al Khadri (Allah he pleased with him): 0 Abu Sa'id, did you hear Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) mentioning al-'azl? He said: Yes, and added: We went out with Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) on the expedition to the Bi'l- Mustaliq and took captive some excellent Arab women; and we desired them, for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, (but at the same time) we also desired ransom for them. So we decided to have sexual intercourse with them but by observing 'azl (Withdrawing the male sexual organ before emission of semen to avoid conception). But we said: We are doing an act whereas Allah's Messenger is amongst us; why not ask him? So we asked Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him), and he said: It does not matter if you do not do it, for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born.

Ibn Taymiyyah writes:

"It is lawful for a Muslim to (have sex) with as many as he wishes of those whom his right hand possesses, … Muslims are not prohibited from having more than four concubines provided that no two sisters are among them."
Majmoo al-Fatawa (Collected Fatwas), vol. 32, p. 7
"Islam has made it lawful to its followers to have sex through marriage as well as with what the right hand possesses, while (for Jews and Christians) they may have sex through marriage only. They are not (allowed to have sex with) what their hand possesses.
Majmoo al-Fatawa (Collected Fatwas), vol. 89, p. 7

Permissibility of raping captives and slaves

Rape, a crime known in Islamic law as zina bil-ikrah or zina bil-jabr (literally "fornication by force"), is generally defined by Muslim jurists as forced intercourse by a man with a woman who is not his wife or slave and without her consent. As with enslaved females, according to Islamic law, married women are required to oblige their husbands' sexual advances - raping one's wife is permissible.[22] The concept of "rape" is thus deemed to be equally non-existent in the contexts of both marriage and slavery.

A small number of hadiths are cited to support the Islamic punishments for rape. These narrations relate to the rape of free women and of female slaves who are not owned by the perpetrator. However, the Qur'an, on numerous occasions, permits Muslim men to have sexual relations with their own female slaves (famously referred to as "what your right hand possesses"), often in conjunction with the commandment for men to keep otherwise chaste. In addition, there are hadith narrations in which female captives were raped prior to being ransomed back to their tribe.

Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: that while he was sitting with Allah's Apostle he said, "O Allah's Apostle! We get female captives as our share of booty, and we are interested in their prices, what is your opinion about coitus interruptus?" The Prophet said, "Do you really do that? It is better for you not to do it. No soul that which Allah has destined to exist, but will surely come into existence."

Prohibition on male sexual slavery

In his exegesis of the Qur'an, Abul A'la Maududi explains how and why the Islamic tradition holds that women are not allowed to have sex with male slaves and captives.

"Most certainly those Believers have attained true success who perform their Salat with humility: who refrain from vain things. who spend their Zakat dues in appropriate ways. who guard their private parts scrupulously. except with regard to their wives and those women who are legally in their possession, for in that case they shall not be blame-worthy. but those who go beyond this (in lust for sexual desires), shall be transgressors" [...]

7: This is a parenthesis which is meant to remove the common misunderstanding that sex desire is an evil thing in itself and satisfying it even in lawful ways is not desirable, particularly for the righteous and godly people. This misunderstanding would have been strengthened had it been only said that the Believers guard their private parts scrupulously, because it would have implied that they live unmarried lives, away from the world, like monks and hermits. [...]

The law prescribed in the parenthesis is only applicable to men as is clear from the Text. A woman in the time of Hadrat `Umar did not understand this fine point of the language and indulged in sexual gratification with her slave. When her case was brought before the consultative body of the Companions, they gave the unanimous decision: "She misinterpreted the Book of Allah.".... The wisdom of why the slave has been forbidden to the woman is that he can only satisfy her sexual desire but cannot become guardian and governor of herself and her household, which leaves a serious flaw in the family life.



Islamic scriptures set out dress requirements for Muslim women and for Muhammad's wives. Umar bin Al-Khattab, a companion of Muhammad, wished that Muhammad would reveal verses from Allah requiring his wives to cover themselves when in public. When Muhammad did not oblige, Umar followed Muhammad's wives out at night and in the dark when they went to go to the toilet and made his presence known, later informing the prophet that he had spied his wives relieving themselves in the dark, and that had his wives been cloaked, he would not have been able to identify the women as being the prophet's wives. Having heard of this, Muhammad received the revelation that Umar had requested, and the verse of hijab was sent down from Allah stating that Muhammad's wives may be spoken to by visitors to their home only behind a screen.

Other verses set out requirements for believing women in general to wear an outter garment called the jilbab and a cloth or khimar, covering the bosom. Islamic scholars differ in their interpretation of the verses prescribing female attire. All four madhabs agree by consensus that women must cover their entire body, excluding their hands and face, except for Hanafis, who also permit women to reveal their feet. These clothing requirements only apply in the presence of unrelated men (in addition to some male relations) and during prayers. Hanafis and some other scholars also require women to observe these requirements in the presence non-Muslim women, fearing that these non-Muslim women may describe a Muslim woman's physical features to other men.

O you who have believed, do not enter the houses of the Prophet except when you are permitted for a meal, without awaiting its readiness. But when you are invited, then enter; and when you have eaten, disperse without seeking to remain for conversation. Indeed, that [behavior] was troubling the Prophet, and he is shy of [dismissing] you. But Allah is not shy of the truth. And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts. And it is not [conceivable or lawful] for you to harm the Messenger of Allah or to marry his wives after him, ever. Indeed, that would be in the sight of Allah an enormity.
O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.
And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments.

Value of testimony

Half value of testimony in general

Islamic scriptures dictate that, in a court setting, a woman's testimony is worth half a man's. The reasoning given in Sahih Bukhari is the deficiency of the female intellect. Islamic jurists have variously endorsed some exceptions to this rule-of-thumb, however. In legal cases relating to matters of female anatomy or specialty, a woman's testimony may be equal to a man's. On the other hand, Islamic jurists have also dictated that there are certain domains of law where a woman's testimony cannot be counted for anything at all. The diminution of female testimony in Islamic law has proven especially problematic where it has disabled women from testifying that they were raped. In some reported cases that were described as rape by the women involved and where there existed evidence of those women having had some sort of sexual encounter, the women have, at times, been prosecuted for adultery (with stoning to death) or fornication (with 100 lashes).

[...] And call for evidence two witnesses among your men. And if not there are two men then one man and two women of whom you agree of [the] witnesses, (so) that (if) [she] errs, one of the two, then will remind one of the two the other. [...]
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: Once Allah's Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) of 'Id-al- Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms... I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence.
Allah has commanded the testimony of two women so as to be sure that they remember, because the mind and memory of two women takes the place of the mind and memory of one man.
I’laam al-Muwaqqa’een. Part 1, p.75.


Sex Segregation in Islam

In Islamic law, unrelated women and men are not allowed to be alone together, have any sort of physical contact, engage in frivolous conversation, look at one another for any reason other than momentarily for the purpose of identification, or pray such that a woman is located in front of or adjacent to any man (women must stand behind men in prayer). Muhammad's wives are instructed in the Quran to remain at home as much as possible and in hadiths Muhammad permitted women to live and travel on significant journeys only under the supervision of a male guardian or relative. Islamic law, as a result, virtually excludes the possibility of male-female friendships. Islamic scholars have traditionally taken these specific limitations on women's presence and participation in the public sphere and have implemented them through more comprehensive policies of sex segregation. While some modern Islamic scholars have argued against broader restrictions, such as gender-segregated classrooms or other society-wide gender segregation measures, on the basis of other hadiths and because these broader restrictions are not explicitly mentioned in Islamic scriptures, the majority have embraced what they perceive as common-sense modern-day extensions of the specific rulings and attitudes found throughout Islamic scripture.

Adult suckling permits co-mingling

Adult suckling (Arabic: رَضَاعَةُ الْكَبِيرِ), or the act of breastfeeding a male adult, is an abrogated practice mentioned in several relied-upon collections of hadiths. According to five hadiths in Sahih Muslim, Muhammad at one time plainly instructed the daughter (or wife -- sources are unclear) of a companion named Suhail to suckle a "grown-up" freedman named Salim so that Salim would become the daughter's mahram, or a relation whom the daughter could no longer marry, and thus render Salim's cohabitation with the family appropriate and legal. The practice, sanctioned by a number of traditional jurists, is popularly rejected by Islamic scholars today, but was the subject of a controversial fatwa from a scholar at Azhar in 2007. A minority of Islamic scholars continue to endorse the practice.

'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hadhaifa, lived with him and his family in their house. She (i.e. the daughter of Suhail) came to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) and said: Salim has attained (puberty) as men attain, and he understands what they understand, and he enters our house freely, I, however, perceive that something (rankles) in the heart of Abu Hudhaifa, whereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said to her: Suckle him and you would become unlawful for him, and (the rankling) which Abu Hudhaifa feels in his heart will disappear. She returned and said: So I suckled him, and what (was there) in the heart of Abu Hudhaifa disappeared.


Generally, Islam grants women half the share of inheritance available to men if they inherit from the same father. This forms part of a wider Quranic and cultural context in which men were expected to provide for women and to pay a dower for marriage. However, it is easy to imagine scenarios even in the 7th century where the beneficiaries are at different stages of their lives or marital circumstances such that no rationale would justify the allocation fixed in the Quran.

Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females. But if there are [only] daughters, two or more, for them is two thirds of one's estate. And if there is only one, for her is half. And for one's parents, to each one of them is a sixth of his estate if he left children. But if he had no children and the parents [alone] inherit from him, then for his mother is one third. And if he had brothers [or sisters], for his mother is a sixth, after any bequest he [may have] made or debt. Your parents or your children - you know not which of them are nearest to you in benefit. [These shares are] an obligation [imposed] by Allah. Indeed, Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.
They request from you a [legal] ruling. Say, "Allah gives you a ruling concerning one having neither descendants nor ascendants [as heirs]." If a man dies, leaving no child but [only] a sister, she will have half of what he left. And he inherits from her if she [dies and] has no child. But if there are two sisters [or more], they will have two-thirds of what he left. If there are both brothers and sisters, the male will have the share of two females. Allah makes clear to you [His law], lest you go astray. And Allah is Knowing of all things.

See also


  1. Kecia Ali,Sexual Ethics and Islam, England: Oneworld Publications, 2006
  2. Ibid. pp. 131-132
  3. Ibid. Introduction p. xxvii
  4. Ibid. pp. 153-157
  5. Section on FGM in the standard manual of Shafi'i law
  6. Lane's Lexicon بَظْرٌ
  7. Tadros, Mariz (24 May 2012). "Mutilating bodies: the Muslim Brotherhood's gift to Egyptian women". openDemocracy
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Leeman, Alex B. (2009) "Interfaith Marriage in Islam: An Examination of the Legal Theory Behind the Traditional and Reformist Positions," Indiana Law Journal: Vol. 84 : Iss. 2 , Article 9. pp.754-759 Available at: http://ilj.law.indiana.edu/articles/84/84_2_Leeman.pdf and https://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/ilj/vol84/iss2/9
  9. Verses on Interfaith Marriage: Still Binding? Archive of islamonline.net
  10. Why a Muslim Woman Is Not Allowed to Marry a Non-Muslim Man
  11. Muslim Women Can Marry Outside The Faith - Blog on Huffington Post by Junaid Jahangir
  12. Quran 33:50
  13. p. 108, The Interpretation of the Baydawi
  14. The Marriage of Mut'ah: Introduction: Preface - Answering Ansar
  15. Sahih Bukhari 7:62:132
  16. Sunan Ibn Majah 3:9:1986 (graded Hasan)
  17. ...He (Muhammad b. Qais) then reported that it was 'A'isha who had narrated this: Should I not narrate to you about myself and about the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him)? We said: Yes. ... he (the Holy Prophet) entered the (house), and said: Why is it, O 'A'isha, that you are out of breath? I said: There is nothing. He said: Tell me or the Subtle and the Aware would inform me. I said: Messenger of Allah, may my father and mother be ransom for you, and then I told him (the whole story). He said: Was it the darkness (of your shadow) that I saw in front of me? I said: Yes. He struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you?
  18. "...so when Allah's Apostle came, 'Aisha said, "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!"..." - Sahih Bukhari 7:72:715
  19. Tafsir Ibn Kathir - Dealing with the Wife's Ill-Conduct - Tafsir.com
  20. Quoted in: The Veil of Equality and Justice: Section 2 - Answering Islam
  21. Stories of Women who Became Muslim and Left their Non-Muslim Husbands - IslamQA.info
  22. Susila, Muh Endriyo (2013). "Islamic Perspective on Marital Rape" 20 (2). Jurnal Media Hukum, p.328.