Laws of Religion
Laws of Islam Concerning Women and Men
6. Sex in Marriage
The Qur’an (2:223) says that wives are tilth for their husbands and a man is to have intercourse with his wife as he pleases. (According to the hadiths, as discussed below, this Quranic verse that wives are tilth for their husbands implies that a man may have intercourse with his wife either facing her or from behind her, though he is only to enter her vagina and no other opening.)
The Qur’an says that a man is to keep away from women who are menstruating, until they have been purified. Then he is to go to them as Allah has commanded. During the fast month of Ramadan a man may have sexual intercourse with his wife at night, when eating and drinking are permitted.
The requirements described in the Qur’an for purification after sexual activity or menstruation are discussed in the section of this website on Ritual Purity, here.
From the hadith compilations of al-Bukhari and Muslim
A hadith reports that Muhammad said that the most essential right of a husband is that of enjoying the private parts of his wife. A woman who stays away from her husband’s bed will be cursed by the angels; Allah himself will be displeased with her until she pleases her husband.
Hadiths say that it is tradition that when a man who is already married marries a virgin, he should spend seven days with his new wife before resuming intercourse, by turns, with all of his wives. If the new wife was previously married and is not a virgin, then he should stay with her for three days. When Muhammad married Umm Salama she wanted him to stay more than three nights. He said he could stay a week but that then he would have to stay a week with each of his other wives.
A hadith tells about the time when Muhammad saw a woman who was not his wife and he overcame temptation by going to one of his wives and having sexual intercourse with her. He advised others to do the same when a woman who is not one’s wife fascinates him and captivates his heart. He said that a woman comes in the form of a devil.
Hadiths report that Muhammad said that Eve is the cause of the unfaithfulness of wives.
Muhammad exempted married men from military service if they had not yet consummated their marriages and wanted to do so.
Hadiths report that Jabir (a close companion of Muhammad) said that the verse in the Qur’an (2:223, cited on this page, above) that says that wives are tilth for their husbands and a man may have intercourse with his wife as he pleases, was the result of a saying of the Jews that vaginal intercourse with the man behind his wife will result in children who squint. (Thus, the verse of Qur’an means that no harm will come to a child who is conceived when the man is behind the woman during intercourse.) A hadith reports the conclusion that a man may have intercourse with his wife either facing her or from behind her, though he is only to enter her vagina and no other opening.
The hadiths concerning the requirement for purification by bathing after sexual activity are discussed in the section of this website on Ritual Purity, here. The procedures for conducting a bath of purification as described in the hadiths are discussed in the section on Ritual Purity, here. Restrictions on menstruating women described in the hadiths and the bathing requirement following menstruation are discussed in the section on Ritual Purity, here. Muhammad cursed a man who intended to have intercourse with a woman in an advanced stage of pregnancy.
From Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh/sharia§): The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer of Ibn Rushd, the Risala of al-Shafi‛i and Reliance of the Traveller
A man’s right to have sex (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia). The scholars** agree that a man is permitted to have sexual intercourse with his wife or with his slave that he is not married to (a concubine).
Reliance of the Traveller (Shafiʽi school) says that a woman is required to have sex with her husband whenever he asks her to as long as they are at home and she will not suffer physically from it. She may require him to wait no more than three days. She is required to have sexual intercourse with him without intentional delay or visible resentment (just as a husband is required to give his wife money to spend without delaying intentionally or showing resentment).
If a husband is unable to pay the bridal payment (mahr*), Abu Hanifa says the bride may refuse to have sex with him. Malik and al-Shafiʽi add that if, in such a circumstance, the marriage has not been consummated, the woman can choose to dissolve the marriage. If the agreed upon bridal payment (mahr) for the marriage was due immediately, the bride may refuse to have sexual intercourse until the payment is made. In cases when payments of the mahr are due over a period of time, a 19th century commentator cited in the English translation of Reliance of the Traveller explains that she is not required to have sexual intercourse with her husband if all payments due have not been received.
Reliance of the Traveller discusses what a husband is to do if his wife is rebellious. If she becomes cold or rude to him or refuses to come to bed when he asks her to, he is to warn her verbally. If she commits overt acts of rebelliousness, he is to refuse to sleep with her and he may also hit her as long as he does not break any of her bones or cause a wound or bleeding.
A 20th century commentator cited in the English translation of Reliance of the Traveller says that rebelliousness in a wife includes: leaving the house without her husband’s permission except in cases of necessity; permitting anyone to enter her husband’s home without her permission; being alone with a male other than a relative she is prohibited from marrying; and denying him sexual enjoyment of her body as is required. This commentator says that in cases of such rebelliousness, the husband is first to explain to her what she is doing and how it is harming the marriage and to listen to her views. If this does not solve the problem, he is to stop sleeping with her so they may see how much they need each other. If this does not work, then he may hit her without injuring her if he believes this will help solve the problem and preserve the family. If the problem persists, they each choose an arbitrator to arrive at a solution or a divorce.
Imam Dhahabi says that rebelliousness in a wife is an enormity§§. Such rebelliousness includes ingratitude toward her husband, failing to come into her husband’s bed when he calls her, fasting in her husband’s presence without his permission, permitting anyone into the house without her husband’s permission and leaving the house without his permission.
Frequency of sex (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia). Imam Ghazali (a major 11th-12th century Shafi‛i scholar quoted in the English translation of Reliance of the Traveller) says that a man should have sexual intercourse with a wife once every four nights, since he is permitted up to four wives. The frequency of intercourse should be adjusted to keep her satisfied with him.
As a general matter, a husband must share his sexual activity equally among his wives. However, al-Shafiʽi and Malik agree that a new wife gets seven extra days if she is a virgin and three if she is not a virgin. Abu Hanifa disagrees and says that any extra days given to a new wife must then be given to each of the other wives so each wife gets an equal amount of sex.
Reliance of the Traveller says that a man must share his nights equally with each of his wives, but he may if he chooses to stay away from all of them. The turn given to each wife may be up to three days and nights. It is recommended, but not required, that he have sexual intercourse with each wife with equal frequency during her turn.
When a man travels, he is required to select the wife who will accompany him by drawing lots. When he returns, he does not have to spend extra time with the other wives to make up for his time with one wife during the trip. If he chooses the wife to travel with him rather than drawing lots, this is a sin and he must make up the time with his other wives when he returns.
A wife may, with her husband’s permission, give her turn with him to another of his wives. During the turn of one wife, the husband may only enter the home of a different wife in cases of necessity. If he stays there beyond the minimum time necessary, he must make up the time with the wife whose turn it is.
Sexual practices permitted and forbidden (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia). Reliance of the Traveller says that a man has a right to any activity he finds pleasurable involving any part of his wife’s body as long as she is not harmed physically. However, Imam Dhahabi (an important 13th-14th century Shafi‛i scholar quoted in the English translation of Reliance of the Traveller), says that sodomy (anal intercourse) with a woman is an enormity§§. A man may practice coitus interruptus but it is recommended not to.
A man may insist that his wife prepare herself for sexual intercourse by taking a bath of purification after her menstrual period. He may also insist that she take steps needed to maximize his pleasure such as by taking a bath of purification after incurring major ritual impurity, shaving her pubic hair and removing filth from her body.
**Islamic scholars disagree on certain points of law based on different methodologies used in deriving the law from the Qur’an and the traditions (sunna) concerning the life of Muhammad and his closest companions, particularly as expressed in the compiled hadiths. There are four major schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam: the Maliki, the Hanafi, the Shafi‛i and the Hanbali. These names are derived from the individual scholars considered to have been the founders of each school: Malik, Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi‛i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, respectively. The source texts we have used to prepare our summaries of Islamic jurisprudence contain the legal views of these different founders and schools, as described at Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.
§The specific derived laws of fiqh summarized here are often referred to by the more general term sharia law.
§§Enormity: In Keller’s English translation of Reliance of the Traveller, Imam Dhahabi (an important 13th-14th century Shafi‛i scholar) is quoted as listing certain sins as “enormities,” meaning that there is a threat of
punishment after death mentioned in the Qur’an or hadiths, a legal penalty is prescribed or the transgressor is accursed by Allah (God) or Muhammad. These “enormities” are the most serious sins and, according to the Qur’an; if they are avoided then a person will be caused by Allah to enter an honorable gate (meaning reward in Paradise after death). According to Imam Dhahabi, committing an “enormity” without knowing that it is unlawful eliminates the guilt, except for denying those religious tenets that are universally known by Muslims.
Abbreviations used in footnotes:
BK: Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC website) and here (ebook download). In a few instances, the hadiths on the USC website differ from those in the ebook download, either by having slightly different numbering of the hadiths or because the hadith appears only on the USC site and not in the ebook download. Such cases are noted in the footnotes by putting either “(USC)” or “(ebook)” after the relevant hadith number when it applies to only one of these two sources.
DJP: The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, by Ibn Rushd, translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, published by Garnet Publishing Ltd, Reading, UK. Volume 1, 1994. Volume 2, 1996. Limited preview is available here (Volume 1) and here (Volume 2). Full text online and download for Volume 1 is here and here and for Volume 2 is here and here.
RT: Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, revised edition 1994, published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA. It can be downloaded as a pdf file from various websites such as this one.
SR: al-Shafi‛i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by Majid Khadduri, Second Edition, published by The Islamic Texts Society. It can be downloaded here.
● The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.
 QR 2:223
 BK 6:60:51, ML 8:3363, ML 8:3364-3365
 QR 2:222
 QR 2:187
 BK 7:62:81
 ML 8:3366, ML 8:3368
 ML 8:3367
 BK 7:62:140, BK 7:62:141, ML 8:3445-3446, ML 8:3448, ML 8:3449
 BK 7:62:140, BK 7:62:141, ML 8:3445-3446, ML 8:3448
 ML 8:3443, ML 8:3444, ML 8:3445-3446, ML 8:3447
 ML 8:3240-3241
 ML 8:3240-3241, ML 8:3242
 ML 8:3240-3241
 BK 4:55:547, BK 4:55:611, ML 8:3471, ML 8:3472
 BK 4:53:353, BK 7:62:87, ML 19:4327
 BK 6:60:51, ML 8:3363, ML 8:3364-3365
 ML 8:3365
 ML 8:3389-3390
 DJP 18.2.3 (Vol 2, pages 36-37)
 RT m5.1 (page 525)
 RT m10.1 (page 538)
 DJP 18.3.2 (Vol 2, pages 60-61)
 RT m8.6
 RT m5.1 (page 525)
 RT m10.12 (pages 540-542)
 RT m10.12 (pages 540-542)
 RT p.42.1-42.2 (pages 681-682)
 RT m5.2 (page 525)
 DJP 18.4 (Vol 2, pages 63-67), RT m10.9 (page 540)
 DJP 18.4 (Vol 2, pages 63-67)
 RT m10.5 (page 539)
 RT m10.6 (page 539)
 RT m10.7 (pages 539-540)
 RT m10.8 (page 540)
 RT m5.4 (page 526)
 RT p75.20 (page 707)
 RT m5.5 (page 526)
 RT M5.6 (page 526)
 RT p0.0 (pages 651-652)
 QR 4:31, cited in RT p0.1 (page 652)
 RT p70.2 (page 696)