Sex and marriage in early Islamic law

Authored by: Carolyn G. Baugh

The Routledge Handbook of Islam and Gender

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9780815367772
eBook ISBN: 9781351256568
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter provides insight into some of the issues that confronted early Muslims in the areas of sex and marriage, as well as some understanding of evolutions in Islamic law. Early Islamic law was characterized by inquiries that met with often-conflicting responses. Because the Qurʾan contains comparatively few legal verses, and the corpus of Prophetic hadith was initially quite limited, early Muslims turned to local authorities and respected community members with their questions. The early opinions are preserved in 9th century compendia that record anecdotes and situations that did not always make it into canonical books of hadith or manuals of positive law – at least not in the form in which they appeared early on. Although the authenticity of many of the anecdotes is rightly questioned, Muslim scholars took them very seriously for many years, and they remain a vital part of the literary heritage. They show a community wrestling with myriad issues including: how to preserve identity in a diverse and expanding empire, how best to balance divine directives with practical realities, and the near-infinite quandaries posed by slavery, concubinage, and allowances for multiple wives.

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