The Muslim Marriage Contract
The Qur'an and Sunnah contain all the seeds necessary for Islamic practices. So, what are the rules on marriage contracts?
BY: Sharifa Alkhateeb
Developing a marriage contract acceptable to all practicing Muslim women and men is difficult due to the wide range of basic concepts we hold about gender and marital relations. Even scholars of fiqh (Islamic law) disagree among themselves on these issues. Often, scholars not raised in America fail to completely grasp details of life here and offer, albeit sincerely, solutions that fall short of being pertinent and applicable. An effective holistic approach to life planning and problem solving in America must stem from research of all Qur'anic ayat and examples from the Sunnah, not simply sailing through these sources and latching on to quotes which conveniently confirm pre-set ideas.
Many educated individuals, even some raised as Muslims, harbor the misconception that religion and tradition are equal forces preventing positive change. Perhaps this is because Muslims have not yet devised ways to apply the principles of the Qur'an and the Prophet's Sunnah to the demands of the 20th century. This must be done in a way that is both practical and that maintains the fidelity to the intent of pleasing Allah.
The Qur'an and the Sunnah contain all the seeds necessary for Islamic practices in all times and places, and Islamic religious thought should be a catalyst for healthy change, not militate against it. This is possible when Muslims distinguish between human traditions and Islamic precepts. Seeking Allah's pleasure should be our focus, not a particular ethno-historical perspective, whether it emanates from the West or East. Ethnically based "faith" is incapable of providing a God-centered worldview and merely gropes toward equitable gender relations.
In fiqh, enforceable rights and obligations obtained in the marriage contract are based on the presumed purposes of an Islamic marriage. These include but are not limited to: creation of a unit of society that mutually accepts Allah as an integral part of every situation and decision; a unit that recognizes mutual rights and obligations toward each other and all other members of the extended family on both sides, whether they be in the same place or not and whether they are Muslim or not; creation of a home that promotes and ensures equity, peace, comfort, security, legally and publicly recognized intimacy, and mutual gratification, including mental, spiritual, and physical.
The Islamic marriage contract is meant to solidify these bonds and specify stipulations important to the woman and the man. In Islam this document is a civil contract, not a religious sacrament. In fiqh it is listed undermu'amalat
(business transactions). The contract should be drawn up with the intent of safeguarding present and future legal rights of the signatories, should encourage marital harmony, and should include stipulations in keeping with the spirit of the Qur'an and Sunnah. Stipulations should be clear, precise, and, where applicable, refer to exact amounts. Any stipulations about future children should reflect a sincere attempt to provide the best atmosphere for rearing Allah-conscious children. The overall purpose of this contract, as in all other acts of a Muslim, is to please Allah.
The Qur'an (4:34) declares men to beqawwamun,
protectors and maintainers of women, and considers them responsible for the upkeep of the family regardless of the wife's health. This includes responsibility for children, which continues even after divorce.
Often this ayah has been, but should not be, construed as a license to treat the wife as a pubescent child. We know from the consistently respectful and equitable behavior of the Prophet with his wives and other Muslim women that he considered them owners of their own cognizance, and capable of reasoned thought. Allah (33:35) and Allah's Prophet promoted in both females and males personal consciousness of Islamic precepts and physical capability.
According to current thinking in all madhahib (schools of thought), the wife is charged with three main responsibilities toward her husband: gratifying his sexual desires, safeguarding her honor and person in his absence, and guarding his physical property.
Notice no reference is made to cooking, cleaning, or even nursing of children. These are not requirements in Islamic law, as the Prophet said the woman who performs these services does so out of the goodness of her heart. This is reported by Bukhari.
Beyond these few determined responsibilities, a married couple may devise any type of marital lifestyle that they both agree upon, and are beholden to no other couple's idea of what a "proper" marriage should be.