Contemporary Issues

Marriage is a Public Institution in Islam

One of the most important relationships, spiritually and socially, is marriage. It is the bedrock of so many other relationships in life and its health or sickness has a ripple effect on the rest of life. For these reasons Islam has laid out a number of conditions for a marriage that is acceptable to God and blessed. In this article we simply intend to remind as to one of the most important of them: public knowledge.

Marriage is not easy. It takes a lot of maturity and discipline. It is not a fling and it definitely is not dating. It also is often made even more difficult by families that are unreasonable. Many times families will not even engage conversation with their children on the topic. The result is that they go elsewhere and start to search for loopholes to avoid dealing with reality. In this light a question that we’ve seen come up from a number of young people is whether or not they can do the marriage themselves with a couple of friends and not tell anyone. This is not only unacceptable in Islam, but also a very bad idea. Such a marriage that is riddled with secrecy and deception is not likely to last. The needed support, understanding, and tranquility will not be present and the nature of the relationship will be far from the way a marriage is supposed to be. It is unacceptable for reasons related to the absence of a wali or guardian for the bride as well as secrecy. We will only focus on the latter here.

Some scholars spoke of the need of “shuhrah/public knowledge” and not only witnesses. Indeed, those who spoke of the minimum witness requirement being two males did not speak of it in the context of people intending to hide their relationships, but rather merely from a legal minimum.

Shaykh Muhammad al-Tahir Ibn Ashur in a case study in his book Maqasid al-Sharia discusses the objectives behind marriage. He says,

“The third condition is a public declaration (shuhrah). The reason for this condition is that keeping marriage secret brings it closer to adultery and prevents people from honoring and protecting it” (257).

He also says,

“It has been maintained by some jurists that a marriage whose witnesses have agreed to keep it totally concealed from others is in fact a secret marriage, even if their number is as big as the crowd filling a mosque. Although this view is disputed, what is most likely is that total secrecy in marriage has a nullifying effect” (257).

Therefore, prominent scholars have concluded that secret marriages that are kept private from families and communities are not permissible and cause great harm. In our context today, this is especially true because such relationships cause far more harm than good. They should be avoided and people should not fall victim to the whisperings of shaytan and their base selves that encourage them towards such behavior.