On Secret Marriages | Dr Shaykh Mohammad Akram Nadwi

On the practice of contracting secret marriages

Some brothers and sisters have asked me to comment on a practice that is increasingly reported of travelling Muslim scholars and teachers of Islam in the West, and those who travel to the West as teachers and preachers. This is the practice of contracting secret marriages in the places these scholars visit or pass through.

The first thing to be said is that people generally do not make a secret of actions and relations except when they have some sense that these actions and relations, if known, would be disapproved of. Those who take the responsibility of public teaching of Islam must know that they are seen as representatives of the religion and looked up to as role models. Not only the words they preach but also their actions and lifestyle influence the decisions and actions of others; before God they are liable for that influence and for its consequences in the lives of others. Preachers, teachers, and other public figures in the community, have a responsibility to ensure that their conduct adheres to the ideal of those who fear even to displease God, let alone wilfully disobey His commands or those of His Messenger, upon him be peace.
Every Muslim knows that good deeds repel evil ones. God has said so in His Book: “Verily, the good deeds remove the evil deeds”. (Surah Hud 114) The effort of preparing for prayers and doing the prayers through the day helps to sustain God-wariness, to prevent failures and shortcomings from becoming established habits with consequences hard to undo. We strive after good thoughts, words and deeds in order to disable and annul temptation, so that we acquire, so far as God wills, something to negate/counter the harms and wrongs that we accumulate to our account over a lifetime.

But how many of us are mindful that the converse is also true: that evil deeds can negate, undo or outweigh good ones? The following is reported by `Abd al-Razzaq in his Musannaf:
Ma`mar and Sufyan al-Thawri narrated to us from Abu Ishaq, who narrated from his wife saying that she called among a company of women on `A’ishah [ra]. A woman said to her: O umm al-mu’minin, I had a slave-girl, whom I sold to Zayd ibn Arqam for 800 with deferred payment of the price. Then I bought her from him for 600 and I paid those 600 on the spot and I wrote him 800 as debt. `A’ishah said: By God!How evil is what you bought! How evil is what you bought! Tell Zayd ibn Arqam that he has invalidated his jihad with the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, except if he repents. (Abd al-Razzaq, al-Musannaf, 8/185)
Note here the strength and presence of mind of `A’ishah [ra]. In her indignation against this legal trick to do what God’s law fiercely condemns and pronounces as illegal (namely, loans on interest), she does not exaggerate or lose her balance of judgment. She does not hesitate to say of Zayd that, by taking part in this transaction, he has annulled his effort of jihad. But she also remembers to say, ‘except if he repents’. Some wrongs (like riba) are indeed so heavy in their nature and their personal and social consequences that that they may annul one’s good deeds. Yet, until death is known to be imminent, the door of repentance is not closed to any sinner, and God has said that He loves to forgive.

Secret marriage is one of several kinds of violation by men of the rights and dignity of women. I have been informed that it is increasingly common for Muslim preachers in Europe and America and for those visiting the West to marry women in secret and for a short period, after which they, presumably, end the marriage, before going on to contract another marriage of the same sort somewhere else. This is a violation of the laws and good purposes of marriage, and a vicious exploitation of women whose circumstances oblige them to enter into such contracts. The wrong is analogous to riba, which is a violation of the laws and good purposes of lending money, and severely injurious to those whose circumstances force them to borrow in this illegal way.

Marriage in Islam

Marriage in Islam is presented as a good deed, a noble thing to do, when it is done in the manner and for the purposes described as ma`ruf – i.e., according to the known, established norms of kindness and public, legal form. It is explicit in Surat al-Nisa’ that even when a Muslim contracts a marriage with a slave, he must inform her family and get their consent, and he must pay her the mahr. What is explicitly forbidden is taking lovers in secret, debauchery, and fornication, i.e., sexual relations without responsibility for the other person and for the consequences of the act. Secret, temporary marriages are (just like the legal tricks to enable riba) a legal cover for what is illegal and known to be so.

Marriage is both a personal and social fact for the contracting parties. It is not merely one and not the other. It is an integral part of what makes marriage a good deed that it should be done with the intention of building a legal, social, physical space in which children are to be welcomed and raised. It is an integral part of what makes marriage a good deed that it connects families not hitherto connected, or it extends and consolidates existing connections. In this way, marriage widens the network of family relations, so that there is multiplicity of siblings and cousins, uncles and aunts and nephews and nieces, among whom responsibility for each other’s well-being (physical, economic and spiritual) is shared, usually unevenly, as means and talents and situations are diverse. The social relationships facilitate and diversify, and thereby strengthen and support, the burdens of personal relationship of the husband and wife. It goes without saying that when a man contracts a marriage he commits himself, in principle, to provide for his wife for her lifetime – it is not lawful for a Sunni Muslim to contract a marriage knowing in advance that this commitment is temporary. Let us suppose that a Sunni Muslim owns an oil-well and he is able to pay out, all at once, as much money as any woman could expect to have in a whole lifetime: for this Sunni Muslim it is still unlawful to contract a marriage knowing that it is temporary, however much he pays out, and unlawful also, obviously, for the woman. Of this man it may be that his great wealth makes him the greater sinner, since he could use it not to indulge himself but to assist others to get married.

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What distinguishes a marriage as such, what ennobles it above any form of improper association of man and woman, is that it is proclaimed to be a responsible union: marriage proclaims the couple’s right to privacy and intimacy with each other, and the purposes of that right. The neighbourhood and community must know the legal status of the couple’s being together, so that they can celebrate their relation and support it. Secret marriages, in addition to violating the rights of women, also violate the right of the community to be spared the innuendoes and slanders that are so corruptive of social order, harmony and trust. Such marriages do the same long-term damage to what is nowadays called ‘personal and social capital’, as American-style fast foods (and other ‘instant’ conveniences, not least social media ‘friendships’), do to long-term physical and mental health, and to the long-term sustainability of how food is produced and distributed.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), peace be upon him, said: ‘Proclaim the marriage’ (Sunan al-Nasa’i, 3369; Musnad Ahmad, 15697; Sunan Sa`id ibn Mansur, 635).

This a clear injunction that marriages must be proclaimed, made public, not held in secret. That is the practice of the Prophet himself, of all his Companions, and of the prominent scholars of the early generations. None of them ever indulged in secret marriages and they never, explicitly or tacitly, approved any such marriages. We read in al-Mughni, k. al-Nikah that among those who expressed explicit disapproval of secret marriages are: `Umar ibn al-Khattab, `Urwah ibn al-Zubayr, `Ubaydullah ibn `Abdillah ibn `Utbah, `Amir al-Sha`bi. Abu Bakr `Abd al-`Aziz says: ‘Such a marriage is void’. There too we find that the majority of the jurists say that the proclamation of marriage is recommended, i.e., they do not make it a legal condition for the validity of a marriage, assuming that it has been legally witnessed. Some say that proclamation is mandatory.

This is the opinion of al-Zuhri: ‘If someone marries secretly, brings two witnesses but commands them to keep it secret, it would be obligatory to separate the husband and wife’. Similarly, it is reported that Imam Malik’s opinion is that non-proclamation of marriage invalidates the marriage (al-Mughni, k. al-nikah).

Even those scholars who do not make proclamation a legal condition for the validity of a marriage do not express approval for keeping it secret. Ibn Taymiyyah, as forceful and forthright as ever, likens secret marriages to prostitution (Majmu` al-fatawa, 32/102).

In sum:

Sunni fiqh condemns secret and temporary marriages (secret or public) because they are so injurious to the rights and dignity of women, and because they diminish the good that comes from marriage, namely family life and family relations with all that they provide of testing and training for mind, heart and temperament, and for all the consolations of sharing feelings and experiences across generations. Contracting secret/temporary marriages reduces marriage to sexual relations in an ugly sort of rental arrangement, that is profoundly demeaning, especially to women. Accordingly, I strongly advise women to be careful before they consent to marry anyone. I strongly advise them to inform, consult with and find support from, family, friends and community before they make any commitments so that the matter is known, and so that their rights are observed and respected. It is better (for women and men) to endure the hardships of being single than to enter into contracts that insult the laws and norms, and seek to subvert the purposes, of marriage as commanded by God and His Messenger, upon him be peace.

As for those who present themselves in public as teachers and preachers of Islam and yet have entered into such contracts, what can I say? It is obligatory for them that they refresh their intentions in due fear of God and that they remember that the door to repentance,  to reform, and to making amends, is not closed.

God’s Messenger has affirmed in many places that God loves to forgive His creatures if they turn to Him. He makes the way to forgiveness easy for whoever repents sincerely. No believer’s sins, however great or numerous, can be greater than His mercy.

18 / View Comments

18 responses to “On Secret Marriages | Dr Shaykh Mohammad Akram Nadwi”

  1. Zeba Khan says:

    JazakAllahukheiran. Very important community reminder.

    • Abduallah says:

      Actually, you should not thank the person who wrote this article. Its obvious the person understands very little from Islam. In fact, Im surprised this article was published at all. As long as secret marriages are done islamically, then they should never be discouraged. Why discourage the halal? Ignorance, thats why.

  2. Aafira says:

    This problem isn’t exclusive to scholars amd speakers, regular Muslims are engaging in secret marriages too. The first reason is the taboo surrounding plural wives. I am in support of this
    practice but many men have tarnished it by making secret families or treating the second wife as a mistress. The second reason is men coming to study in the west and then abandoning their wives when they graduate and go back home. This practise is disgusting and revert women tend to be the main targets.

  3. Anon says:

    Is one who knows of someone indulging in a “high profile” secret marriage have to inform anyone? My friend’s husband has secretly married someone – and I don’t know whether I should advise her of this as she has been effectively abandoned by him!

  4. Umm Ismael says:

    Very good paper, but need to be more balanced.

    In some situations, secret mariage is not a sin.

    If, for example, a Muslim man need a second wife, and the first one is oppose to it, as well as the community and the country he lives in, he can contact a mariage in another country and keep it secret. This is not against the law (since he doesn’t practice polygamy in the country who forbid it) and this is not against islam.

    Please, do not start to accuse every Muslim who contacted a secret mariage to be sinful. This is sometimes the only way they have to protect their Chastity.

    • Concerned says:

      I find this concerning. 2 of the 4 commentors believe a second marriage in presumably the United States or another Western country is ok. As Muslims we contracted as citizens or immigrants to follow the laws of the land. The law of the land is one cannot have more than one spouse. So one cannot justify a second marriage in the West whether in open or in secret. Allah knows best and help the sisters in these situations and guide the men that are putting women through this.

      • Aliya says:

        It may be illegal to have more than one marriage contract in many western countries but western legal marriage contracts do not equate to Nikah. One can have multiple Nikahs in those nations.

        ‘Till death do us part’ is a Christian concept and no where in Islam is this promoted. Islam accepts you to keep your wife/wives for life or to divorce if you so wish. The Hadith about the dislike of divorce is not only weak it goes against the practice if he prophet and the Sahaba. I agree premeditated marriage with divorce planned is wrong.

        If western society is Unaccepting of a second marriage, including Muslim communities, then if consenting adults wish to marry in secret (including to avoid sin), then what is the problem? Muslim women in the west come from a culture where more than one wife is not the norm but they must remember that a man having more than one partner is the norm!

        Is the sheikh saying it is categorically haraam? Not mentioned in his post!

        Why preachers give negative comments but won’t say haraam?

        • Aimen says:

          The reason they discourage it but never have the courage to say its haram is because they cant. Its perfectly halal. Allah loves the halal. The very fact that scholars like these are allowed to speak is a testimony to how out of touch and ignorant they are of the deen. We need the truth, not silly opinions that will mislead the masses.

    • Simba says:

      Extremely disturbing to read that some muslims justify shadiness and deceit.
      Please share with us proof (from reliable sources) allowing a man to lie about something that is supposed to be noble and that has such a strong impact on everyone.

      Hiding a marriage involves lying, concealing a spouse and all offsprings.
      How can we justify being a coward and liar when a muslim is supposed to be rightous , honest and not selfish.
      Having a right to do something does not involve using wrong means or deceiving others.

    • Sarah says:

      Agreed, This is an obvious response to the NAK situation. I dont see why people still feel the need to comment on what he did. Scholars need to realize people enter into secret marriages to avoid zina. People like the author here do a disservice to the ummah by discouraging the halal and pushing people towards the haram.

  5. Although this article is informative but confusing for most, – the secret and temporary marriages are two different issues these issues must be discussed separately.

    Hot topic among Sunni Islam today is temporary (misyar) marriage are similar arrangments
    this article hardly talk about these arrangements

  6. Raffia Arshad says:

    I am somewhat surprised that the article has elicited more negative comments from female readers than male. I was expecting to see a number of comments from men who are in desperate support of this sort of arrangement. Instead, a number of women are making excuses for the men (themselves?) and justifying secret marriages. I am not sure why it is confusing that lying, hiding and being deceitful to those closest to you for your own sexual pleasure is wrong. The reality is, men are in need of education and women are in need of empowerment. No such thing as a secret marriage. It’s an affair.

  7. Muhammad says:

    “Hiding a marriage involves lying, concealing a spouse and all offsprings.
    How can we justify being a coward and liar when a muslim is supposed to be rightous , honest and not selfish.
    Having a right to do something does not involve using wrong means or deceiving others.”

    I agree 100%. Secret marriage is never permissible.

    Islam is first and foremost about honesty. Having a secret marriage is even worse when someone is hiding it from their first marriage.

    Allah tells us in the Qur’an that marriage is a very serious, solemn, sacred contract. I forget the arabic word but the word connotes that it is above and beyond a normal contract.

    If it is a sin to lie in a normal contract, how much more in the marriage contract with the first wife? And it would entail not just one lie but it would entail lies every day.

    If there are any Muslims who hold these views, I ask them to reflect on the bedrock fundamentals of Islam and one of that is honesty. The reason why Muhammad ibn Abdullah became Prophet Muhammad was much to do with his honesty…he was Sadiq Al Ameen.

    As for protecting chastity, Allah tells us in Surah Noor in verse 33 “And let those who do not find the means to marry abstain, until God enriches them from His bounty.”

    So Allah is telling those who do not have money and not any wife to be patient.

    Thus, if someone who has no wife has to be patient, how can anyone in their right mind and right heart try to give excuses for a man to secretly marry a second wife and hide it from his first wife?

    If any wants to engage in secrecy to have sex with another woman in the form of a second wife, then that person has greed for sex. And that greed is so deep in his heart, that he is willing to lie to others including to his first wife who should be his confidant, not someone he can lie to do day after day, night after night.

    Muslims should be example to non-Muslims.

    Seeing any Muslim try to give excuses is so disappointing.

    May Allah guide us all.

    None of are perfect and may all seek repentance and guidance…Allah is the most forgiving….but let us not encourage anyone into this deceitful, greed for sex, practice that is destroying family after family after family.

    • Umnabila says:

      With due respect brother, where is your evidence from the quran and sunnah that its haram?

      I think, like the author, you are speaking through a very limited scope and understanding of Islam. It is haram to say something is haram, when it is not.

      My advice to you is to stay quiet, learn more and repent for your words. Misguiding the ummah will never benefit you.

      Take care.

    • Usman says:

      Muhammad, thank you for your clear, rational, and moral argument against secret marriages. Out of all the comments on this article, I found yours the best. As you said, dishonesty is always wrong and these secret marriage arrangements involve lying.

      As a man, I admit that my nafs would love to have 100s of women at my beckon call. It is unfortunately my nature and of other men, proven time and time again through history. All powerful and rich men covet more women. Some do it through mistresses and others through nefarious methods. Secret marriage arrangements would be construed as the latter.

      But, I know that my wife would not approve of me having a 2nd wife, so I have to respect her wishes. The other halal alternative is to divorce her and find wives who would approve of polygamous relationships (and yes, there are plenty of women out there that would if you are upfront and honest with them regarding your intentions).

      Another commenter made an excellent point about living under the laws of our respective countries. When we take citizenship in a certain country, we are entering into a contract. As Muslims, we should always honor contracts and follow the laws of the land. The only reason not to follow a law is if it prevents one from freely worshiping Allah. Aside from that, there is no reason why we cannot respect authority in a civilized society.

  8. A sister says:

    This article has a surely good intention which I totally support, but it’s still very unbalanced and telling just half of the story. You should not use such high tones like “Sunni fiqh does this and that”, when it obviously does not. In the maliki madhhab it is not a problem to contract a marriage with the intention to divorce it some time later as long this is not articulated in the marriage contract or process of marriage. It’s a nice intention to safeguard the honour of Muslim sisters but it make you unreliable and biased at best if you just cherry pick the best arguments for your POV, but not speak about the proof against it, no, you also label it as “non-sunni”. This is nowhere different than the selective cherry picking of the people who justify whatever floats their boat.

  9. Muhammad says:

    A reader identifying as “a sister” wrote that “In the maliki madhhab it is not a problem to contract a marriage with the intention to divorce it some time later as long this is not articulated in the marriage contract or process of marriage. ”

    Sounds shocking and I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, then that part of the Maliki fiqh has to be changed as it is in direct contradiction with the Qur’an and the most fundamental principle of Islam to be honest, especially to those closest to us such as to a spouse.

    Also, this issue of divorce brought up (by the reader before me) might be related somehow but is still different from the issue of secret marriages.

    Again, secret marriages is profoundly dishonest and profoundly treacherous and thus it is profoundly un-Islamic and indeed anti-Islamic.

  10. Md Nayeem says:

    Thank You Brother!! I was unaware (could be as an Asian) that Muslim/ Islam preachers could be claim in this mess or even conducting this!!, whatever in Europe or America. I believe that those certain person might be in some destruction and would be rare in number….

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