What is Nikah?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Nikah is the Islamic term for a binding and permanent marriage. The concept is deeply embedded in the practice of Islam, and is considered a deeply important spiritual goal for many Muslims. Understanding the basics of nikah can help shed light on the marriage practices of this ancient religion.

The importance of nikah can be found int he Quran.
The importance of nikah can be found int he Quran.

The idea of marriage in Islam is one greatly recommended by religious texts and leaders; it is seen as vital in preserving the ideals of family and home life. Some revered religious leaders and interpreters suggest that to refrain from marriage for a lifetime comes close to sinning, as, according to the Quran, men and women are meant to mate and bear offspring through marriage. Even those who are divorced are encouraged to remarry, something that other religious texts, such as the Judeo-Christian scriptures, specifically argue against.

Nikah is an important spiritual goal for many Muslims.
Nikah is an important spiritual goal for many Muslims.

There are many conditions that need to be met to fulfill the requirements of nikah. Some requirements are ceremonial and necessary to obtain a valid marriage in the eyes of Islamic authorities. Other requirements are of a more spiritual and personal nature, and though not always deemed necessary, are often highly encouraged as paths to a healthy marriage.

For nikah to be valid, the marriage must be proposed and accepted in front of two male Muslim witnesses, with the consent of the woman's guardian. If the woman agrees to the marriage, the guardian acts in her stead to negotiate dowries and condition of the contract. A man may be required to give his bride a dowry to prove his financial worth, called mahr. In addition, the wedding must be publicized or advertised to the general public in order to be considered valid.

There are several variations on marriage that involve very different circumstances, notably nikah mut'ah and misyar. Mut'ah is very controversial in different Islamic sects, as it allows couples to be considered married for a fixed time and includes no agreements for financial provision or inheritance, leading some Muslims to compare a declaration to this effect to be sanctioning prostitution or adultery. A misyar marriage is a contract that allows couples to technically marry but give up some of the normal rights and responsibilities that go along with marriage, and is often used in cases where couples do not have the financial means to marry. This form, too, may be used for short-term relationships with prostitutes or other women, and in some cases is seen as an easy way to get out of a formal marriage.

In a formal, permanent marriage, Muslims are encouraged to marry for love as well as for considerations such as religious devotion, social status, or beauty. Love between spouses is considered to be a gift from Allah that should be nurtured and increased. While social critics point out that in some Islamic regions forced marriages are common and that women are often forced to remain in abusive relationships through religious pressure or even physical threats, it is important to remember that, theologically, this behavior is not usually sanctioned.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


There is mutah and misyar in shia only, but in sunni there is only marriage nikah, but mutah or misyar is considered adultery. I am sunni.


I'm a Muslim and I live in a Muslim democratic country where an official government marriage is required along with the religious nikah. It's also illegal for men to have more than one wife in my country. But men often use the Islamic permission of having up to four wives. They often marry women by doing a Muslim nikah but do not get married officially. Also, some people who only married officially do not consider that they were married in the eyes of God because they never had nikah.

I was listening to a religious leader on TV the other day who explained that nikah takes place when both sides agree to the marriage and when there are two witnesses, one for the man and one for the woman. The official marriage is same as nikah because these requirements are fulfilled there as well.

It's difficult for a majority Muslim government which is governed according to Western principles to follow what everyone is doing in regards to marriage. I feel sad sometimes for the women who are being tricked to marry men who are already married. Nikah makes this possible because there is no record kept of who has a nikah with whom. The government warns women not to simply marry by nikah and to definitely get an official marriage done. But our religion tells us something different and people are confused as to which is the right thing to do.

In an ideal Islamic country where the principles of Islam are understood and practiced correctly, nikah would be sufficient. But unfortunately this is not how it works. For this reason, I believe that all Muslim women should have both an official marriage and nikah together. This is the only way that they can protect themselves and their rights in a marriage.


As far as I know mut'ah and misyar are not very common. The only country I know of which practices it is Iran, there may be more but I am not sure. I have heard that in Iran it is not permissible for men and women to be seen together unless they are relatives or married. So the revolutionary guards are said to go around and declare mut'ah for such unmarried couples that are seen in public.

I don't really understand how an Islamic government can condone this practice. I mean, can the declaration that you are married for five hours really be accepted by God as marriage? I understand that the intention is to prevent indecency and adultery but it seems that it's actually making it easier for adultery to take place. Don't you agree?

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