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Parental Consent in Marriage
Social Issues
Dr. Shehzad Saleem


The poise and balance of a society heavily depends on the poise and balance of the attitudes and tendencies of its people. Whenever human attitudes cross their natural limits disorder and discord result. In particular, the stability of a society is threatened with dire consequences if people vested with political or moral authority misuse this sacred trust of Allah. A despotic ruler often faces popular revolt; a tyrannical husband soon encounters a defiant wife; oppressive parents inevitably groom rebellious children. It is necessary to curb this tendency of power to corrupt in order to build a healthy and prosperous society.

The ongoing debate on the extent of authority of parents over their children's choice to marry is one such case in point. As always, two distinct opinions have emerged. One of them is that a man or a woman is totally free in making his or her decision about the choice of partner and has the right to overrule the opinion of the parents or the guardian. The second is that the opinion of the parents is in all cases binding and must necessarily be kept in consideration. Though a particular case has initiated this debate, we believe that perhaps it would be more fruitful to view the whole matter in principle in the light of the guidance provided by the Qur’ān and Sunnah and by the established principles of reason and intellect.

A word here about the nature of divine guidance seems appropriate. The basic aim of this guidance is to reveal to mankind the ariston metron or the golden mean. This golden mean is the summit of balance and the prime of poise in all the affairs of life. It is evident from the nature of Qur’ānic guidance that for most matters man's intellect is enough to show him the way. However, this intellect often falters in maintaining a balance. Extremes engender extremes and reactions originate reactions unless, of course, the lighthouse of revelation guides the armada of reason.

We shall now attempt to explain the viewpoint of Islam on the issue under consideration. In order to do so, it is necessary to understand two basic principles it has established in this regard. Firstly, it regards the institution of family as the basis of its social order. Secondly, it gives great importance to freedom in decision making by the man and woman who intend to marry. It is its intense desire that the institution of family and the freedom of choice in marriage be given utmost consideration and only rare circumstances should allow an exception to these principles. Both of them need some elaboration.

Islam regards the institution of family as the basic unit of a society and stresses that it is the need of every individual if his life is viewed as a whole. Man is basically a weak and an insecure being. He has spiritual as well as material needs. Just as he needs to develop a strong relationship with the Almighty to fulfil his spiritual needs, he also needs to develop a strong relationship with his fellow human beings to fulfil his material needs. Islam says that a man and a woman must come together in a permanent bond of wedlock to create a family to fulfil these material needs which may be physical, emotional and psychological. A man and a woman taken separately, are incomplete in their existence. Both need each other to fill the voids of their personalities. There are some responsibilities which only a man can fulfil and others which only a woman can. Furthermore, since these requirements are everlasting, any temporary relationship between a man and a woman can never be truly fruitful. The Qur’ān says that marriage is a means of solace and comfort for a man and a woman:

And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them and He has planted love and kindness between you. (30:21)

Besides providing peace and tranquillity to the spouses, the role a family set up plays in fulfilling the needs of the individual born to a family is apparent to every keen eye. He passes the first half of his life in transforming from a child to a mature young man and the second half in transforming from a mature young man to an old man. In the greater part of the first period, he needs the love and affection of his parents. As an infant ‘ewling and puking in the nurse’s arms’, his meek and helpless existence need the love and affection of a mother and a father. It is only proper parental care which makes him feel secure and confident. Since parents are the first seat of learning, the base they build in moulding his character and in instructing him plays a vital role in the later part of his life.1

Grandparents also have an all important role to play: They imbue their grandchildren with the priceless wealth of wisdom and experience which helps them in traversing the rugged terrain of life. Brothers and sisters also make important contributions in developing his personality. The older ones are actually an extension of the parental role while the younger ones create in him an initial awareness of parenthood. Once a person reaches a mature age, certain other needs arise in him which must be fulfilled. It is at this stage that a man and a woman need each other to complement and complete one another. This relationship is the only means of providing emotional fulfilment and satisfaction to the spouses, which is the primary need that brings them together and they now also assume the role of the progenitors of a new family to start the cycle once again. In the second phase of life, an individual advances from the exuberant years of youth to enter the folds of old age. It is now that he needs the love and protection of his grown up children. In this state of ‘second childishness and mere oblivion’, which is ‘sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything’, it is only the set up of a family which can properly support him. Without such a support, old age is the worst form of affliction. No one else except the children have a strong attachment to their parents. It is this attachment which urges them to return in some form the support and affection they had once received from their parents.

Besides these primary relationships, the secondary relationships like maternal aunts and uncles and paternal aunts, cousin brothers and cousin sisters, nieces and nephews perform in a wider perspective the same function as the primary ones. The components of a family constitute a small community which if administered properly by the head of the family makes the basic unit of a society healthy.

The Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences while explaining the advantages of the set up of a family says:

The nature and development of the family have deep roots in the physiological conditions of human mating, reproduction and education. The exceptional prolongation of infancy as a state of helplessness and immaturity is one of the most instinctive features of mankind generally. Through it the role of the parents as well as of other relatives in nourishing, protecting and educating offspring is of the utmost importance for the individual and for society. However fixed the inherited traits and gifts of the individual may be, the child's necessary social equipment is doubtless acquired only through a circumstantial and long continued process of artificial training and adaptation. The family has been the chief bearer and medium of this process, which also vitalises the relations between the parents and in the wider sense between all the members of a blood relationship, for they are connected from generation to generation by the awareness of this social tradition. (vol 6, p 68)

The western world, over the last fifty years, however seems lost and confused on the importance of the institution of family. The feminist movement which began two centuries ago is now culminating in the disruption of this age old institution. The western world is bemoaning the loss of family values but perhaps it is just too late.

Islam on the other hand, as mentioned earlier, has always insisted that the institution of family is the basic building block of the society and it is in the interest of humanity to adhere to a family oriented society. Consequently, it has given a number of directives for the protection and preservation of the family. We shall mention some of these:

It says that a man and woman must come together in a permanent bond of marriage and must not indulge in extra-marital relationships since they dismember the institution of family. It prescribes severe punishments for people who are guilty of adultery and ostracises them from the society.

It lays down a whole code of social etiquette and communal conduct to safeguard and protect chastity and modesty which themselves are necessary for the well-being of a family set up.

It regards the husband as head of the family because his temperament and disposition are more suited for this task.

It is of the view that all differences of opinion between the husband and wife should generally be resolved in an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence. However, if a situation of anarchy and disorder arises which threatens to disrupt the whole family set-up, the wife must adopt an attitude of submission and adjustment.

It invests the husband with certain powers to deal with a wife who adopts a rebellious attitude with him and stands up against his authority, just as an affectionate mother has the authority to admonish her children to correct them.

It holds the parents responsible for the proper upbringing of their children.

It urges the children to be very kind and compassionate to their parents, especially in old age.

It wants the mothers to regard the house as the centre of their activities (which of course does not mean that they cannot go out) so that they can give due attention to the future generations and are able to provide their husbands with solace and comfort.

It says that if ever a divorce is to end a family set up, a certain prescribed procedure should be followed in letter and spirit since this procedure ensures that the dissolution of marriage passes through an interim phase in which the decision has ample time to be reconsidered.

It maintains that if a divorced woman intends to start a new family, her former husband or his relatives must in no way obstruct her.

Among these directives also comes the Prophet's hadi$th the interpretation of which has become the centre of controversy these days:

A Nikāh does not solemnise unless it takes place through the guardian and if someone does not have a guardian the ruler of the Muslims is his guardian. (Tirmidhi$, Kitāb-al- Nikāh)

This Hadi$th is actually a corollary of the social directives of Islam pertaining to the institution of family and is based on great wisdom. Since the preservation and protection of the family set up is of paramount importance to Islam, it is but natural that each marriage take place through the consent of the parents who are the foremost guardians. It is obvious that a marriage solemnised through the consent of the parents shields and shelters the newly formed family. For reasons stated earlier, it is essential that the newly formed family be part of another larger family.

However, as is evident from the Hadi$th also, there can always be an exception to this general principle. If a man and a woman feel that the rejection on the part of the parents has no sound reasoning behind it or that the parents, owing to some reason, are not appreciating the grounds of this union, they have all the right to take this matter to the courts of justice. It is now up to the court to analyse and evaluate the whole affair. If it is satisfied with the stance of the man and woman, it can give a green signal to them. In this case, as is apparent from the hadi$th, the state shall be considered the guardian of the couple. On the other hand, if the court is of the view that the stand of the parents is valid, it can stop the concerned parties from engaging in wedlock. Similarly, if a case is brought before the judicial forums in which the marriage has taken place without the consent of the parents, it is up to the court to decide the fate of such a liaison. If it is not satisfied with the grounds of this union, it can order for their separation and if it is satisfied, it can endorse the decision taken by the couple.

This is the law as far as this issue is concerned. However, it is evident that laws mostly cater for extreme situations as their nature is preventive not reformatory. In other words, they prevent the spreading of anarchy and disorder in a society but have no role in positively building a society on a certain ideology. It is the utmost goal of Islam to build a society in which traditions are so deeply rooted that various affairs are  settled and resolved within the social structure without taking them to the courts. Family affairs, if taken to the courts, become the talk of the town and severely damage the standing and reputation of the parties involved. Consequently, it is in the interest of the parties involved to settle their differences mutually by giving due importance to the ultimate goal of protecting the institution of family.

The society which, we believe, Islam wants to built is one in which the relationship between parents and children is based on such norms and values as protect the family set up. In such a society, if an individual has to select a life partner for himself or herself, he or she must make the utmost effort to convince the parents. In differences of opinion it seems proper that the individual accommodate the opinion of the parents as far as possible, and only in extraordinary circumstances should he/she persist in his/her decision. An individual no doubt has total freedom in decision making in this regard but he/she should give top priority to the protection of the institution of family. This freedom is so absolute that Islam disapproves of parents who forcibly marry their sons and daughters and makes it clear that it is the concerned man and woman who have the final say in this regard:

A girl once came to ‘Ā’īshah (raa) and said ‘My father has married me to his nephew to alleviate his poverty through me. I dislike him.’ ‘Ā’īshah (raa)  replied ‘Wait here until the Prophet (sws) comes.’ The Prophet (sws) arrived shortly and she informed him of the matter. At this, the Prophet (sws) sent for her father. When he arrived the Prophet (sws) gave the girl the choice to do whatever she liked. She said: ‘I accept my father's decision. I only wanted to know whether a girl has authority in this regard or not’. (Nisā’ī, Kitāb-al-Nikāh)

If in a society envisaged by Islam it is important that an individual give due regard to the opinion of the parents in marriage, it is even more important that the parents be extra cautious in this matter since they hold moral authority over their children. Misuse and abuse of such authority can produce grave consequences. Parents must give deep consideration to the inclinations and tendencies of their children in deciding their future in an affair as delicate as marriage. They should understand that once their children become mentally mature they must not impose their ideas on them. When an individual develops into a grown up person he deserves freedom of expression and freedom of action within certain limits. This actually develops and strengthens his personality. The vivacity of youth and the vigour of adolescence demand a certain amount of independence, which if curtailed, only turns a dull child into a dunce and an intelligent one into a ruffian. Adult children must be handled very tactfully. They must be moulded and convinced, encouraged and exhorted. Parents must realise that an adult child learns a lot through experience and exposure. The blunders he/she will commit today make him/her wise tomorrow. Parents who forgive and forgo win respect and regard and those who make it a point to punish the children on every mistake committed make no positive impression in their minds. Important decisions must always be discussed with children to breed confidence and conviction in them. A decision as crucial as marriage is no exception. If parents have a different view from their son’s or daughter’s, they must handle the situation very carefully. They must calmly assess the situation, and must also make a true evaluation of the grounds of such a proposition. They must also estimate how far they can insist before the matter enters the zone of no return. It is advisable that only in extreme circumstances should they deprive the couple of their guardianship. They must also keep in consideration that if they intend to back out from this position, the concerned man and woman have all the right to present their case before the court to finally decide the matter. This of course would either unite the two under the guardianship of the state or endorse the view of the parents, in which case the two must submit to the verdict of the court.


This we believe is the stance of Islam on this issue. We hope that the pundits of the society will find some time to consider this matter in the light of what has been said above.






1. While commenting on the role of ‘true’ parental affection on the development of the child, Bertrand Russel admits:

On the other hand, parental affection when it is of the right sort, undoubtedly furthers a child's development. Children whose mothers do not feel a warm affection for them are apt to be thin and nervous and sometimes they develop such faults as kleptomania. The affection of the parents makes infants feel safe in this dangerous world, and gives them boldness in experimentation and in exploration of their environment. It is necessary to a child’s mental life to feel himself the object of warm affection, for he is instinctively aware of his helplessness, and his need of a protection which only affection can ensure. If a child is to grow up happy, expansive and fearless, he needs certain warmth in the environment which is difficult to get except through parental affection. (Marriage and Morals, p. 127)

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