The Meaning of Nikah

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This page references and quotes numerous scholarly and/or reliable sources that define or describe the Arabic term nikah (or the root n-k-h) as meaning "sexual intercourse", or the contract of sexual intercourse, or marriage as a contract for sexual intercourse (for the payment received by the bride for nikah, see Purpose of the Mahr).

Contents

Definitions[edit]

Francis J. Steingass[edit]

English-Arabic Dictionary: For the Use of Both Travellers and Students[edit]

“COITION mujama’a-t; nikah; nik.”

“MARRIAGE ziwaj; zija-t; nikah. –(demand in marriage) hatab, yahtub”

“MARRY (take in marriage) tazawwaj, yatazawwaj; ta’ahhal, yata’ahhal. –(given in marriage) zawwaj, yuzawwij.”
Francis J. Steingass, English-Arabic Dictionary: For the Use of Both Travellers and Students, W.H. Allen, 1882

A comprehensive Persian-English dictionary[edit]

Note that the American Heritage Dictionary defines Venery as "1. Indulgence in or pursuit of sexual activity. 2. The act of sexual intercourse."

A نکاح nikāḥ (v.n. of نکح), Marrying; matrimony, marriage; conjugal intercourse; a dowry; [nikāḥ (ʻaqdi nikāḥ) bastan (par- dāḵẖtan, kardan), To marry, take a wife;--ḥujjati nikāḥ, A marriage-contract signed by a judge;--muʻāhadaʼi nikāḥ, A marriage-contract;--nakkāḥ, One who marries many wives, a polygamist; potent in venery.
Francis J. Steingass, A comprehensive Persian-English dictionary: including the Arabic words and phrases to be met with in Persian literature, 1892, p. 1421

A Dictionary of Andalusi Arabic[edit]

{NKH}: VA yankah nakah nikah nakih mankuh k to have sexual intercourse || nantakah antakaht to be possessed sexually || nastankah istinkah k to solicit for sex || (‘uqdat an)nikah IQ nikah AL nicah GL nikahun marriage, wedlock | nikahun muharramun incest | MT ‘aqd nikah marriage contract || VA mankahah prostitute || mankuhah + at sexually possessed (of a woman) || IQ manakih wedded women.
Federico Corriente, A Dictionary of Andalusi Arabic, BRILL, 1997, p. 539

An English and Arabic Dictionary[edit]

nikah, Matrimony, marriage. Congressus venereus.
Joseph Catafago, An English and Arabic Dictionary, 1858, p. 298

Arabic-English dictionary for the use of students[edit]

[n k h words:]
“To marry a. o. to."
"To ally by marriage."
"Marriage-contract; formula of marriage."
"Marriage. Marriage-contract."
"Conjugal intercourse."
"Polygamist."
"Married (woman)."
"Women, wives.”"
J. G. Hava, Arabic-English dictionary for the use of students, Beyrut, Catholic Press, 1899, p. 796

The New Encyclopedia of Islam[edit]

NIKAH

Literally the act of sexual intercourse, nikah is the term by which marriage is referred to in the Qur'an. Islamic law defines nikah as a civil contract whose main function is to render sexual relations between a man and woman licit. Any sexual relations outside the nikah contract constitute the crime of zina (illicit sexual relations) and are subject to punishment. In practice, nikah is enacted in a ceremony intertwined with religious symbolism and rituals such as the recitation of al-Fatiha, the first verse of the Qur'an, usually performed by religious functionaries, although Islamic law does not positively prescribe any service. See also Marriage.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bousquet, Georges Henry. "La Conception du Nikah selon les Docteurs de la Loi Muslamane." Revue Algerienne. (1948): 63-74. El Alami, Dawoud. Marriage Contract in Islamic Law. London: Graham & Trotman, 1992.

Maghniyyah, Muhammad Jawad. Marriage According to Five Schools of Islamic Law. Tehran: Department of Transliteration and Publication, Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, 1997.
Cyril Glasse, The New Encyclopedia of Islam: Third Edition, Altamira, 2001

J S Schacht[edit]

First Encyclopaedia of Islam[edit]

NIKAH (A.), marriage (properly: sexual intercourse, but already in the Kur’an used exclusively for the contract). Here we deal with marriage as a legal institution; for marriage customs see ‘URS. [...]” (J S Schacht)
M. Th Houtsma, E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936, p. 912,

Marriage on trial: Islamic family law in Iran and Morocco[edit]

It’s name, ‘aqd al-nikah, literally means the contract of coitus, see Schacht (1932b: 912)
Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Marriage on trial: Islamic family law in Iran and Morocco, I.B.Tauris, 2001, p. 20

Islam, A concise introduction[edit]

The Arabic word for marriage and sexual intercourse is the same: nikah.
Dennis Roberts, Islam, A concise introduction, Harper & Row, 1982, p. 143

Muslim women in changing perspective[edit]

According to Muslim Law, ‘Nikah’ is a contract of union between two strangers of opposite sexes which legalizes their sexual intercourse and mutual co-existence and imposes certain duties on and confers certain rights upon the two partners.
Talat Ara Ashrafi, Muslim women in changing perspective, Commonwealth Publishers, 1992, p. 51

Sharia – The Islamic Law[edit]

In Islam, marriage is a civil contract which legalizes sexual intercourse and pregnancy.
Corinna Standke, Sharia – The Islamic Law, GRIN Verlag, 2008

Sexual ethics and Islam: feminist reflections on the Qur’an, hadith, and jurisprudence[edit]

Nikah, the term used by jurists for the marriage contract, literally refers to sexual intercourse, so closely is marriage linked to sex.
Kecia Ali, Sexual ethics and Islam: feminist reflections on the Qur’an, hadith, and jurisprudence, Oneworld, 2006

The Nigerian Legal System: Public Law[edit]

Marriage under Islamic law in Nigeria is known by its Arabic name, Nikah or joining together, the same meaning as sexual intercourse
Charles Mwalimu, The Nigerian Legal System: Public Law, Peter Lang, 2005, p. 542
Under the Maliki code applicable in Nigeria the word Nikah signifies “the contract of marriage for the legislation of sexual intercourse…
Charles Mwalimu, The Nigerian Legal System: Public Law, Peter Lang, 2005, p. 673

The Muslim family: a study of women's rights in Islam[edit]

The legitimate form of sexuality is therefore an outcome of marriage - nikah (the concept nikah means both marriage and sexual intercourse).
Tove Stang Dahl, The Muslim family: a study of women's rights in Islam, Scandinavian University Press, 1997, p. 52

Voices of Islam[edit]

Nargis Virani: Voices of life: family, home, and society[edit]

Allowable sexual relations in the Qur’an are designated by the term nikah, which connotes both marriage and intercourse (Qur’an 2:221, 230, 232, 235, 237; 4:3, 6, 22, 25, 127; 24:3, 23, 33, 60; 28:27; 33:49, 50, 53). Marriage prevents sexual frustration and the temptation to sin (Qur’an 24:32).
Vincent J. Cornell (2007), Voices of life: family, home, and society, p. 59 (Marriage in Islam by Nargis Virani).
TERMS FOR MARRIAGE IN ISLAM Among Muslims, the most commonly used term for marriage is nikah, which literally means “sexual intercourse.” As a legal term, nikah denotes the situation resulting from a contract entered into by a Muslim man and a Muslim woman, which legitimizes cohabitation and sexual intercourse between the signers of the contract in the eyes of God and their co-religionists.
Vincent J. Cornell (2007), Voices of life: family, home, and society, p. 59 (Marriage in Islam by Nargis Virani).
In Muslim countries where Arabic language and culture predominate, marriage is referred to as zawaj, literally, “pairing.”
Vincent J. Cornell (2007), Voices of life: family, home, and society, p. 60 (Marriage in Islam by Nargis Virani).

Ziba Mir-Hosseini: Voices of Change[edit]

Marriage, as defined by classical jurists, is a contract of exchange whose prime purpose is to render sexual relations between a man and a woman licit. Patterned after the contract of sale, which served as a model for most contracts in Islamic jurisprudence, it has three essential elements: the offer (ijab) by the woman or her guardian (wali), the acceptance (qabul) by the man, and the payment of dower (mahr), a sum of money or any valuable that the husband pays or undertakes to pay to the bride before or after consummation.

The marriage contract is called ‘aqd al-nikah (literally ‘contract of coitus’). In discussing its legal structure and effects, classical jurists often used the analogy of the contract of sale and alluded to parallels between the status of wives and female slaves, to whose sexual services husbands/owners were entitled, and who were deprived of freedom of movement.
Vincent J. Cornell (2007), Vol. 5, Voices of Change, pp. 85-113 (Islam and Gender Justice, by Ziba Mir-Hosseini).

Sexuality in Islam[edit]

Nikah and unconsummated marriage are mutually exclusive. Abstinence of a hundred and twenty days is a maximum not to be exceeded in any circumstances. Sexual intercourse is one of the pillars of nikah.
Abdelwahab Bouhdiba, Alan Sheridan, Sexuality in Islam, Saqi Books, 1998

Women and international human rights law[edit]

In the medieval treatises, marriage was known as nikah, referring to licit sexual intercourse, and the marriage contract was understood as an agreement permitting the husband sexual access to the wife in return for his commitment to pay ...
Kelly Dawn Askin, Dorean M. Koenig, Women and international human rights law: vol.3, Transnational Pub, 2008

Studies in Modern Islamic Law and Jurisprudence[edit]

In the Muslim normative universe, love and sexual emotions between the sexes ought to acquire a lawful form, a fact which is echoed in Islamic law where legal sexual intercourse (nikah) could only be in the form of a contract (‘aqd): “Legal union according to the Law is the contract of marriage (al-nikah fi’l shar’ ‘aqd al-tizwij). Sexual intercourse (wat’), without a contract, is illegal intercourse (safah, laysa bi-nikah).
Oussama Arabi, Studies in Modern Islamic Law and Jurisprudence, BRILL, 2001, p. 150

Fundamentals of Ijtehad[edit]

[...] Imam Abu Hanipha [...] argues that the verse uses the word Nikah and it literally means the ‘union’ therefore it means ‘sexual intercourse’ [...]
Muhammad Taqi Amini, Fundamentals of Ijtehad (I.A.D. religio-philosophy), Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delli, 1980

Muhaqqiq al-Hilli, the renowned thirteenth-century Shi'ite jurist[edit]

Marriage etymologically is uniting one thing with another thing; it is also said to mean coitus and to mean sexual intercourse … it has been said that it is a contract whose object is that of dominion over the vagina, without the right of its possession. It has also been said that it is a verbal contract that first establishes the right to sexual intercourse, that is to say: it is not like buying a female slave when the man acquires the right of intercourse as a consequence of the possession of the slave.
Hilli (1985: 428). Quoted by Ziba Mir-Hosseini in volume five of Voices of Islam, pp. 85-113

Muslim women in law and society: annotated translation of al-Tahir al Haddad al-Ṭāhir Ḥaddād[edit]

The Arabic word for marriage is zawaj or nikah, the latter being derived from the verb nakaha (‘to have sexual intercourse’): cf. Qur. II: 230. Nikah is also used to denote the marriage contract (cf. ‘aqd, ‘aqd qiran).
Ronak Husni, Daniel L. Newman, Muslim women in law and society: annotated translation of al-Tahir al Haddad al-Ṭāhir Ḥaddād, p. 182

The Risala of 'Abdullah ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (310/922 - 386/996) A Treatise on Maliki Fiqh[edit]

[These are eight things. The first, marriage, is the root and rest are consequences. Each has a linguistic meaning and usage which we will mention in its proper place. Marriage (nikah) linguistically means intercourse and is used as a metaphor for the contract. In technical usage, it is actual for the contract and metaphorical for intercourse. It is used in custom to mean to mean intercourse as the Almighty says, "Until she marries a husband other than him," (2:230) and so it is known from this that nakaha is used for intercourse between any man and woman. Marriage in the sense of intercourse is only permitted in the Shari'a by one of two matters: the contract of marriage or ownership by the words of the Almighty, "those who guard their private parts – except from their wives or those they own as slaves, in which case they are not blameworthy." (23:5-6)
The Risala of 'Abdullah ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (310/922 - 386/996) A Treatise on Maliki Fiqh (Including commentary from ath-Thamr ad-Dani by al-Azhari) Ch. 32: On marriage, divorce, remarriage, 'Dhihar'-repudiation, vows of celibacy within marriage, mutual cursing (li'an), 'Khul'-'divorce, and suckling

Law of desire: temporary marriage in Shi'i Iran[edit]

An Islamic marriage [both permanent and temporary] is defined as “that type of contract, ‘aqd, which gives ownership, tamlik, over intercourse, vaty, not like buying a slave girl whose ownership entitles her master a right to intercourse” (Hilli SI, 428).
Shahla Haeri, Law of desire: temporary marriage in Shi'i Iran, Syracuse University Press, 1989, p. 30
Throughout the centuries, virtually unchanging language is used to define the Shi’i institution of marriage. Hilli (SI, 428), the thirteenth-century scholar, defines a contract of marriage as “that type of contract which ensures domination over the vagina, buz’, without ownership, milkiyyat,” as in the case of a slave girl.1 Hilli’s ambivalence regarding similarities between a contract of sale and of marriage is underscored by yet another of his definitions of nikah. On the one hand, he suggests that “marriage is a kind of ownership” (517), but on the other, he argues, an ‘aqd [marriage] and ownership, milkiyyat, do not mix” (446), meaning that a man may have intercourse with his own slave girl but he may not marry her—unless he first sets her free.2 He can, however, marry another man’s slave girl. Note that Hilli’s distinction is not between the existence or lack of ownership, but between what I call a “complete ownership,” as in the case of owning a slave girl, and a “partial ownership,” as in the case of a contract of marriage. Although legally this injunction makes it unlawful for a man to own his wife completely, it allows him to own part of his wife’s body and, consequently, the right to control her activities. In the tradition of his predecessors, Jabiri-Arablu, a contemporary scholar, after giving several interpretations of the term nikah, concludes that “nikah is a contract for the ownership, tamlik, of the use of [the] vagina” (1983, 175)."

“[…] Hilli…writes that nikah is a “sort of ownership” and that it is “similar to the [contract of] sale,” on the other hand he emphasizes that “the purpose of the exchange of the vagina, mu’avizih-i buz’, is reproduction and recreation, and not just financial exchange” […]

“The ambivalence regarding classification of the definition of the contract of marriage is underscored by the confusion surrounding the definition of the term nikah itself. Emphasizing its literal meaning, some have interpreted it as intercourse, vaty.4 Others, stressing its contractual and obligational aspects, have referred to it as an ‘aqd, a contract. Citing Sahib-I Javahir, Murata writes: “For the Sunnis nikah means intercourse, and since marriage implies intercourse, then the word nikah has been used in the contract” (1974, 2). In contrast, Murata continues, Raghib maintains, “Intercourse is not the meaning of nikah because of its shamefulness, qubh, but that it is used as an analogy for that [intercourse]. Therefore the real meaning of nikah is ‘aqd, contract” (see also Jabiri-Arablu 1983, 174-75; Farah 1984, 14; “Nikah” 1927, 912).”

[…] “Noting the diversity of opinions, Langarudi, a contemporary Iranian Shi’i scholar […] argues [...] “intercourse is the raison d’etre of marriage” (5)

“Likewise, Imami defines nikah as a “legal relationship, created between a man and a woman as a result of a contract that permits them to enjoy each other sexually” (1971, 4:268)”
Shahla Haeri, Law of desire: temporary marriage in Shi'i Iran, Syracuse University Press, 1989, pp. 33-34

Islamic Marriage (Nikaah) Handbook for Young Muslims, Muslim Wedding and Marriage Guide[edit]

A. Importance of sex in marriage.
In Islam, marriage is not restricted to a platonic relationship between husband and wife, nor is it solely for procreation. The Islamic term for marriage, "Nikah" literally means sexual intercourse. So why has Islam provided extensive rules and regulation regarding sex? This was because Islam has fully understood that sexual instincts cannot and must not be repressed. They can only be regulated for the well being of human beings in this life and for their success in the hereafter.
Islamic Marriage (Nikaah) Handbook for Young Muslims, Muslim Wedding and Marriage Guide, World Islamic Network

Essays in Arabic literary biography[edit]

Al-Nafzawi (fl. ca 1380 – 1440) by Lois A Giffen from the University of Utah.

Shaykh al-Nafzawi is known to the world only through his book, al-Rawd al-‘atir fi nuzhat al-khatir (The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight […]) […] a work of practical instruction on the successful conduct of sexual relations in marriage and concubinage.”
Roger M. A. Allen, Joseph E. Lowry, Terri DeYoung, Devin J. Stewart, Essays in Arabic literary biography, Vol. 2, p. 309
[according to the author, Shaykh al-Nafzawi was] likely a qualified scholar in Maliki religious law.
Roger M. A. Allen, Joseph E. Lowry, Terri DeYoung, Devin J. Stewart, Essays in Arabic literary biography, Vol. 2, pp. 310-311
The thousand-year history of Arabic literature on erotology, meaning here prose books and essays on erotic love, sexuality, the relations of the sexes, and coition (sexual intercourse), began as early as the ninth century. […] Their writers tend to approach the subject either (1) as authors of adab literature combining discussion of coition, or coitus (bah, jima, nikah) with entertainment, (2) physicians writing on coitus to advise on preservation of health and treatment of difficulties or disease or (3) theologians and jurists writing with a concern for lawful indulgence of the sexual instinct, and the ethics and etiquette of sexual intercourse. There is often some crossover in approach and coverage. Whether or not they were educated in medicine, writers of adab-style books dealing with coition may offer information on the techniques of successful sex, preservation of health and handling sexual problems. Al-Nafzawi is one of these.”
Roger M. A. Allen, Joseph E. Lowry, Terri DeYoung, Devin J. Stewart, Essays in Arabic literary biography, Vol. 2, p. 312

Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾan[edit]

Aims of marriage (1) In the Qurʾān, marriage is, first of all, the favored institution for legitimate sexual intercourse between a man and woman...
Harald Motzki, Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾan: Vol 3, Brill, 2003, p. 276

Sidi Khalil, the prominent fourteenth-century Sunni Maliki jurist[edit]

When a woman marries, she sells a part of her person. In the market one buys merchandise, in marriage the husband buys the genital arvum mulieris. As in any other bargain and sale, only useful and ritually clean objects may be given in dower.
Ruxton (1916: 106). Quoted by Ziba Mir-Hosseini in volume five of Voices of Islam, pp. 85-113

See Also[edit]

  • Lying - A hub page that leads to other articles related to lying
  • Islamic Terms - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Islamic Terms

External Links[edit]