What are the Qur’anic ethics of Islamic marriage ?


The Qur’an defines the broad outlines of marriage by, first and foremost, laying a predominant foundation for a shared life. This foundation is symbolized by the Qur’anic principle of ma’ruf or “common good” mentioned many times in the Text and reiterated as a reminder to men. This term ma’ruf is reiterated over twenty times in the Qur’ani. It is often interpreted as the good, appropriate and what is morally permissible.

This concept seems to summarize the Qur’anic ethic related to marriage. The classical commentators interpret this term as an indicator of men’s attitudes towards their wives. Part of the ma’ruf is to be nice, kind, well-mannered by speaking gently to their wives and be careful about their physical appearance.

The different classical exegeses on this concept of ma’rūf quote various prophetic sayings that describe the prophet’s exemplary behavior towards his wives. One of the most significant prophetic sayings on this topic is the following: “The best among you are those who are the best towards their wives”ii. Certainly, the Prophet was the best husband, the most chivalrous, gentle and caring man. Despite the difficulties and hardship he endured at that time as a Messenger, the Prophet of Islam never raised his voice against his wives in his entire life. He never forgot his human nature and role as a husband by trying to maintain tranquility and happiness in his home.

The concept of ma’ruf or “common good” is important in the Qur’anic marriage ethic and should be the basis of any relationship between men and women. It results in a set of norms related to marriage that constitute the framework of the spouses’ relationship in Islam.

Marriage is also described as an intimate relationship al-ifda’ (afdā ba’dukum ilā ba’d) and as a meaningful agreement al-mīthāq al-ghalīd. These are two highly important concepts with a deep meaning and incomparable symbolic significanceiii.

Al-ifdā is an intimate relationship that unites the spouses, it is an intimate and loving act that unites the spouses to the point that their soul is unveiled to each other and their body and heart are extremely close to each other.

The concept of al-mīthāq al-ghalīd usually refers to the marriage deed (‘aqd). In fact, the expression can be translated literally as a “heavy contract”: since it has heavy consequences, it must be a “strong bond” and a “firm commitment” that unite two people in this life.

The importance of the concept of mīthāq ghalīd is confirmed when it is used in the Qur’an to refer to the Messengers’ commitment to their Creatoriv. The marital life agreement is therefore as important as the commitment that links up the Messengers to the Creator! It is the only “contract” described in this way in the Qur’an that stresses the strong Qur’anic interest in the marriage ethic.

The Qur’an qualifies this mīthāq, this “deed”, as ghalīd, for being an important moral contract that entails the two partners’ commitment to respect their shared responsibilities. It is a contract that refers to a mutual agreement made equally between the two partners.

This principle contradicts, among others, the forced marriage that has been unfortunately practiced for a long time in some regions of the Islamic world, and even in some Muslim communities in the West, where a male -father, brother or uncle- forces his young female relative to marry a man that he considers to be suitable for her without giving any importance to the young girl’s consent.

Yet, an authenticated hadith states that: “women shall not get married without their consent”v. Many prophetic sayings insist on the agreement of the young woman to marry, or ban the forced marriage. In some cases, the Prophet tried to make an end to marriage that did not meet the bride’s prior agreement requirement.

It is the case of Khansa’ Bint Khidam whose marriage was cancelled by the Prophet after she had complained about being forced by her father to get marriedvi. There is also a hadith that tells the story of a young woman who complained to the Prophet about the fact that her father gave her in marriage to her cousin without asking for her opinion. The Prophet gave her the choice to divorce her husband if she so wishes. She then wisely made this remark: “I finally accepted this marriage, but I wanted to show women through my complaint that our fathers do not have the right to take decisions on our behalf.”vii

Women understood at the Revelation time the new meaning of marriage brought by Islam. Besides, they insisted on their right to choose their spouse in compliance with the new Qur’anic injunctions that aimed to eradicate the forced marriage custom that was considered at that time as the normviii.

According to this mutual commitment, the Qur’an stipulates that marriage cannot be concluded unless it is based on the instruction of living “in harmony”. When it becomes impossible to carry out this shared life due to a constant disagreement, the married couple should separate in a mutual kindness and decency.

There are other Qur’anic concepts that describe the marital union in an emotional symbiosis. It is the case of tarādī that consists of the ability to share a mutual satisfaction and understanding between the married coupleix.

The Qur’anic term tashāwur means consultation. In this vein, the Qur’an insists on the importance of the couple’s mutual consultation in all their affairs, including those that look trivial, or the issues that normally concern solely women such as the baby weaning mentioned in a Qur’anic verse stating that this decision should be taken by both partnersx.

Concerning the issue of marriage, the Qur’an refers repeatedly to the concept of sakīna that can be translated as “serenity”. It is another Qur’anic concept used to describe the union between a man and a womanxi. The exegete Ibn ‘Ashūr compares this Qur’anic principle to the “spiritual happiness”xii. The union of two lovers should be in serenity. The Sakīna also means that both partners live together in dignity, decency and sensibility. Love between the spouses should be strengthened by this serenity or inner peace, to successfully overcome together all hardships in their shared life.

Mawadda wa rahma, that can be translated as a “deep love” and “infinite kindness”, are two other Qur’anic principlesxiii considered as the foundations of marriage. The marital love is described in the Qur’an as a deep feeling that goes naturally in line with tenderness and compassion.

The Qur’an was trying to show that this relationship, founded on a deep and generous love, necessarily becomes overtime a strong spiritual and physical union that brings together the two partners in a long lasting emotional relationship.

The married couples put themselves in the other partner’s place in the different situations; when they are happy, sad, in grief or in adversity. The spouses, therefore, share the same emotions, the same pains and joys. The Qur’an refers to this marital harmony by using the metaphor “clothing” (libās) when it says: “They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them”xiv. When each partner “dresses” the other, they walk “in each other’s shoes”, as commonly expressed, know perfectly each other, put themselves in the other’s place, and sometimes respond to life difficulties in the same way.

The marital union is also described in the Qur’an by the term fadl that can be translated as “generosity”: “Do not forget the generosity (al-fadl) that unites you”xv. The Qur’an insists on the generosity in all what unites the spouses, including their love, self-sacrifice, behavior and even in their separation.

Through all these concepts related to marriage, the Qur'an invites us to reflect on the real marital union ethics. The Qur'anic speech is revealed to liberate women from the chains of slavery and marital despotism. According to the Qur'an, the union between a man and a woman is not a prison where the woman should face the worst discrimination, but rather a place where harmony should prevail.

Unfortunately, the Qur'anic ethics of the marital union could not go beyond the text of Revelation. Although they were one of the first cultural revolutions of Islam, they remained limited to a certain period of time in history and were substituted by discriminatory interpretations.

In fact, these Qur'anic ethics prohibited old traditions, liberated both women and men and "humanized" marriage. But this model of the Qur'anic ideal was distorted by a discriminatory religious ideology that has been so far one of the major obstacles that hinders the implementation of the real Qur'anic ethics within the marital union and family.

Asma Lamrabet

March 2021


i Qur’an 2: 178,180, 228,232, 233, 234, 236, 241/3:104, 110, 114/4:6,19/5:6/7:157/9:67, 71, 112/22: 41/31: 17. ii Hadith mentioned by Ibn Kathīr.
iii Qur’an 4 :19-21).
iv Qur’an 33:7.

v Sahīh al-Bukhārī, No 4741. In this hadith, the Prophet mentions the consent of both the widow and the young girl. vi vi Reported by al-Bukhārī, chapter “marriages”, vol. 15, p.373.
vii Sunan Ibn Majah.
viii Encyclopedia of woman in Islam (2007): Vol. I, p.153. Al-Qalam editions.

ix Qur’an 2: 232-233.
x Qur’an 2: 233.
xi Qur’an 7:189 and 30:21. xii Ibn ‘Ashūr, op. cit.
xiii Qur’an 30:21.
xiv Qur’an 2:187.
xv Qur’an 2: 237




À propos de l'auteur


Native de Rabat (Maroc), Asma Lamrabet, exerce actuellement en tant que médecin biologiste à l’Hôpital Avicennes de Rabat. Elle a exercé durant plusieurs années (de 1995 à 2003) comme médecin bénévole dans des hôpitaux publics d'Espagne et d’Amérique latine, notamment à Santiago du Chili et à Mexico.

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