“The Arabic word for marriage is nikah, meaning uniting. The family is the basic social unit in Islamic society, and marriage is the fundamental Islamic institution. The husband and wife are the principals of family formation. Parents are held responsible for the social, cultural and moral growth of children as well as for their physical and health care.
Marriage in Islam is a solemn contract which every one must enter into, unless there are special reasons why he should not. Thus in the Koran, it is said: “And marry those among you who are single and those who are fit among your male slaves and your female slaves; if they are needy, God will make them free from want out of His grace; and God is Ample-giving, Knowing. And let those who do not find a match keep chaste until God makes them free from want out of His grace” (24:32-3). In another verse, marriage-relationship is given the same importance as blood-relationship: “And He it is Who has created man from water, then He has made for him blood-relationship and marriage-relationship” (25:54).
The institution of marriage is responsible to very great extent for the development of those feeling of love and service which are the pride of humanity today. The mutual love of husband and wife – a love based not on momentary passion but life-long connection – and the consequent parental love for off-springs, leads to a very high development of the feeling of love of man for man as such, and this to the disinterested service of humanity. This love is described as a sign of God in the Koran: “And one of his signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find quiet of mind in them, and He put between you love and compassion” (30:21).
It reminds men: “Your wives are a garment to you and you are garment to them” (2:188), suggesting that marriage provides warmth, comfort and protection. It also strengthens human relationships by acquiring relatives through marriage (25:54) and provides a means of acquiring offspring. “God has made for you spouses from among yourselves and through them has given you children and grandchildren and provided you of the good things” (16:72). Such is the importance of marriage that it is part of the ultimate reward believers hope for: going to paradise where both spouses will be joined together, along with the righteous ones among their parents and offspring (13:23, 52:20-21; 25:74).
The Koran however forbids certain marriage relations: “Forbidden to you are your mothers and your daughters and your sisters and your paternal aunts and your maternal aunts and brothers’ daughters and sisters’ daughters and your mothers that have suckled you and your foster-sisters, and mothers of your wives and your step-daughters who are in your guardianship, born of your wives to whom you have gone in – but if you have not gone in to them, there is no blame on you – and the wives of your sons who are of your own loins, and that you should have two sisters together, except what has already passed” (4:23).
It will be seen that these prohibitions arise either from consanguinity, as in the case of mother, daughter, sister, brother’s daughter, sister’s daughter, father’s sister and mother’s sister, or from fosterage, such as in the case of foster-mother and foster-sister; or from affinity, such as in the case of wife’s mother, wife’s daughter and son’s wife.
There is other ground on which marriage is prohibited in the Koran: “And do not marry the idolatresses (al-mushrikat) until they believe, and certainly a believing maid is better than an idolatress even though she should please you; and do not give (believing woman) in marriage to idolaters until they believe, and certainly a believing slave is better than an idolater even though he should please you” (2:221). There is however an express permission (5:5) to marry women who profess a revealed religion (ahl al-kitab). Thus, the Companions of the Prophet married with the Jews and Christian women, such as Uthman, Talha, Ibn Abbas, Hudhaifah and their pupils like Sa’id bin Musayyib, Sa’id bin Zubayr, al-Hasan, Mujahid, Tawus, Ikrama and others.
Thus, the Koran lists all classes of people that one is not allowed to marry, then declares: “beyond that is made lawful for you to marry” (4:24). It lists individuals’ inheritance right in great details (4:11-13, 4:176) and the rights of women are protected