Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

The Meaning of Nikah in Islam

What exactly does "Nikah" mean? The word Nikah doesn't exactly mean "Marriage." Let's explore what the word means from the classical Islamic reference books and according to the opinion of recognized Islamic scholars.
From: Dictionary of the Quranic phrases and its meaning; Sheik Mousa Ben Mohammed Al Kaleeby, Cairo, Maktabat Al Adab, 2002

The definition of "Nikah" is the penetration of one thing by another. Examples would be as in saying the seed in the soil. It also can mean the entwining of two objects one with the other. An example would be saying the trees (embrace) each other, meaning they entwined with one another.

From: Kitab (Book of) Al Nikah. Commentary of Imam Ahmed Ben Ali Ben Hagar Al Askalani, Beirut, Dar Al Balagha, 1986

Linguistically, "Nikah" means embracing or penetrating. When it is pronounced "Nokh" it refers to a woman's vagina. It is mainly used in the context of "sexual intercourse." When it was used in reference to marriage it is because sex is a necessity in marriage. Al Fassi said,"If someone says a certain man (N) a certain woman, it means he married her, and if he says a man (N) his wife, it means he has sexual intercourse with her." The word can also be used metaphorically as with expressions: the rain (N) the ground, or, the sleep (N) the eyes, or, the seed (N) the soil, or, the pebble (N) the camel's hoof. When it was used in the context of marriage it is because sexual intercourse is the purpose of marriage. It is necessary in marriage to "taste the honey" (an Islamic expression meaning literal intercourse). This is the how the word has generally been used in the Quran except in the verse that says, "Make trial of orphans until they reach the age of (N)" Sura 4: 6. In that instance it pertains to the age of puberty. The Shafia and Hanafi schools of jurisprudence assert that the word nikah when used as a fact conveys that sexual intercourse has occurred. And when used as a figure of speech it denotes marriage. The reason for this variance is because it is offensive to mention the word "intercourse," so a metonymic word is used to substitute it.


There is a word in Arabic that correctly translates "marriage." It is "zawag." However, the word "Nikah, word," which is more commonly used in translations of the Quran to mean marriage, carries entirely different implications. "Nikah" implies that the emphasis in the relationship between a man and his wife solely sexual. This degrades marriage. It is another proof about how Islam looks down on marriage and the role women play in it. It enforces the Islamic concept that a wife's primary role in Islam is that of a sex object, created to satisfy the husband's sexual appetites. On the other hand, marriage in the Christian tradition is a union between a husband and his wife based on mutual love, respect and equality. It is two people of the opposite sex becoming one, not just for sex, but to be the nucleus for a family that shares ALL of life's challenges. While sex is an important part of marriage, it is tragic to consider it primary. Marriage is a life-long relationship that is supposed to lovingly endure beyond the perimeters of sex.

Is it then a wonder that the Quran is laden with sexually explicit verses, inducing its followers to sex with slaves and with those women they are expected to capture in their wars with the non-Muslims?

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