Religious Studies

Islam: marriage and divorce

Muslims see marriage as a contract and consider divorce as a last resort.


Marriages in Islam are often arranged (by the two families of the bride and groom) but these can only take place with the consent of both parties. If someone was forced to marry then the marriage would be invalid.

Courting or ‘going out together’ is not permitted and the couple who may be married are only allowed to meet each other when members of their families are present.

Muslim men may have up to four wives but each wife must be treated equally and his other wives must agree before a Muslim may take another wife.

A Muslim man may marry a Jew or a Christian but a Muslim woman may only marry a Muslim man.

The ceremony

A muslim wedding

A muslim wedding

A Muslim marriage usually takes place in the home or the mosque, the Muslim place of worship, and the couple give their consent before a minimum of two witnesses. The Aqd Nikah (marriage contract) is read. The bride and groom sign three copies of this to show that they have agreed to the marriage. The contract also specifies the mahr, (dowry) which the groom gives to the bride and which belongs to her for life.

During the ceremony:

  • there are readings from the Qur’an [Qur'an: That which is read or recited. The Divine Book revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Allah's final revelation to humankind. ]
  • the people present pray for the couple, wishing them wealth, long life and many children
  • there may be a wedding feast called a walimah.

Divorce, remarriage and cohabitation

Divorce [Divorce: The legal ending of a marriage before the death of a spouse. ] is allowed in Islam, although it is regarded as a last resort.

Muslims accept that sometimes marriages break down. As a legal contract between two people it can be ended. This is done if the marriage brings unhappiness to the couple and to their children and relatives.

A man cannot seek a divorce from his wife until it is certain that she is not pregnant, as he might then change his mind. During a period of three months (called iddah) reconciliation should be attempted. If reconciliation doesn't work then divorce can take place.

A man and a woman can remarry twice, but after a third divorce remarriage to each other cannot take place unless the woman has been married to another man in the meantime.

A woman can also obtain a divorce, either by an agreement with her husband or because of his treatment of her.


Total number of divorces in the UK:

YearNumber of divorcesYearNumber of divorces

Total number of marriages in the UK:

YearNumber of marriagesYearNumber of marriages

Total number of civil marriage ceremonies in the UK:

YearNumber of marriagesPercentage of marriages
1990-47% of all marriages
2004 184,91068% of all marriages
2005 160,27065% of all marriages
What reasons can you suggest for the drop in numbers in each of the tables above?
What connections between the figures in each of the tables can you identify?

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