Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Nafaqa in Islamic Marriage

Under Islamic Shari’a, a man is obligated to support his wife with food, clothing, and shelter. His obligation starts as soon as the marriage is consummated. This article discusses the issue of nafaqa in the Islamic marriage.

In Islamic Shari’a, nafaqa is defined as an obligation of material support for the wife and children. This is a gendered entity in Islamic marriage, as long as the marriage has been consummated. When the marriage is consummated, the husband becomes responsible for providing his wife and children born of the marriage with food, clothing, and shelter regardless of the wife’s own resources. This obligation is stated in the Qur’an; it reads the following: “Men are protectors and maintainers of women because God has given them the one more than the other, and because they support them from their means [their money]” (Qur’an 4: 34). Failure of the husband to provide the nafaqa may result in a jail sentence.

If the husband leaves his house to undisclosed location, the qadi (religious judge) is authorized to locate the husband’s assets to recover the unpaid nafaqa. If the husband is beneficiary of any revenues, or has any outstanding debts owed to him, the qadi could assign the proceeds equivalent to the amount of nafaqa to the wife.

The nafaqa is determined at a level appropriate to the wife’s social standing and background; the qadi may determine the amount of nafaqa in accordance with the style to which the wife is accustomed. Thus, a poor woman may get a bread and cheese for her lunch; a middle class wife would expect to receive grain and animal fat, while a rich wife may get wheaten bread and meat.

As a general rule, the husband has an obligation to support nafaqa to his wife or wives until such time as the marriage is terminated by divorce or death.

In the event of divorce, the former husband must continue to support his wife for the following three months of her ‘iddah, a waiting period after divorce, during which a woman may not marry another man. At the end of her ‘iddah, the wife is legally free to remarry. If the wife should die during that period, the husband is responsible for the burial costs. The ‘iddah is extended, for a pregnant woman, until after the birth of her child.

There should be a clear distinction between mahr and nafaqa; the legal discourse in Islamic marriage contracts is that the husband pays the muqaddam (immediate) mahr at the time of signing the contract. (For more on the mahr agreement, see The Mahr Provision in Islamic Marriage Contracts at The nafaqa is the amount of money spent by the husband to support his wife on food, clothing and shelter; it is triggered when the marriage is consummated.

A woman, who is married according to the Islamic Shari’a, can refuse to consummate the marriage with her husband if he failed to pay the mahr. But once the mahr issue is settled, she has to be available to her husband. If she continues to refuse him, the husband will be absolved of any responsibility for providing the nafaqa.

A woman is entitled to receive the nafaqa even if she gets mentally or physically ill. The nafaqa is obligatory on the husband in the case he becomes ill. No nafaqa is due if the husband repudiates his wife because she has been guilty of apostasy. Changing once religion from Islam to any other religion is considered a blasphemy and subject to strict penalty ultimating to death.

The husband may stop providing for nafaqa if the wife commits nushuz, a term used to designate the rebellion of a woman against her husband, by disobeying him and causing him anger.

If the husband is traveling and could not be reached, the wife who has been granted nafaqa by the qadi (religious judge), is authorized to borrow money equivalent to the amount assigned, and the absent husband is responsible for paying off the debt once he became available.

If the husband should die, the nafaqa support will be terminated, except for a pregnant woman who could still claim it, through to delivery of her child, from her husband’s estate. She must request the nafaqa during the period of the marriage or the ‘iddah.

Muslim couples may name an amount of the nafaqa support as part of the marriage contract, although such a clause is not required by the Islamic Shari’a; but once made, it can be enforced by the religious court.

Gabriel Sawma is a Professor of Middle East Constitutional Law, Islamic Shari’a, Arabic and Aramaic. He is an expert consultant on International Law, mainly Islamic divorce, inheritance, child custody, banking and finance. Admitted to the Lebanese Bar Association ; Associate Member of the New York State Bar Association and the American Bar Association. Editor of International Law Website: and author of the Aramaic language of the Qur’an: Email:


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