Question: What is the Shafi’i view of marriage, and is it true that Imam ash-Shafi’i preferred celibacy? If that is true, does this not contradict marriage being a Sunnah?



Assalamu Alaykum,

Insha’Allah this reaches you in the best of inner and outer states.

In the very first lines of Kitāb al-Nikāḥ (the Book of Marriage) in Minhāj al-ṭālibīn, al-Imām al-Nawawī (May Allāh be pleased with him) writes:

 (هو مستحب لمحتاج إليه يجد أهبته فإن فقدها استحب تركه ويكسر شهوته بالصوم فإن لم يحتج كره إن فقد الأهبة وإلا فلا لكن العبادة أفضل)

Below follows our translation of said passage, with selected integrated commentary from al-Khatib al-Shirbini’s Mughni al-Muhtaj in square brackets:

 “It [i.e. marriage] is recommended (mustaḥab) for the one who has the need for it [meaning, he desires copulation], if he has the financial means [i.e. he has enough for the dowry (mahr), separate housing, and expenditure (nafaqa) for the day, etc.]. If [he does] not [have the financial means], it is recommended to leave it [i.e. he remains unmarried], and instead break his desires through fasting [as a means to gather strength against such desires; and for the one incapable of intercourse, he is not in need of fasting to weaken the desires]. As for the one who has no need, it is disliked (makrūh) [to marry] if lacking financial meansand otherwise [i.e. if one has the financial means, yet lack need (read; lack of desire for copulation)], it will not be disliked (makrūh), however (devoting oneself to) worship [instead of marrying] is superior.”

Reference: Minhāj al-ṭālibīn, Kitāb al-Nikāḥ, with additions from Mughnī al-Muḥtāj.

From this citation emerges the following:

1.      One has a need (ḥājah) and financial means. – Marriage is recommended (mustaḥab)

2.      One has a need but lacks financial means. – Marriage is disliked (makrūh), and one should fast.

Comment A: Bukhārī and Muslim narrate on the authority of ῾Abdullāh ibn Mas῾ūd (radiya’Allāhu ῾anhu), and the following is with the wording of Muslim:

 (يَا مَعْشَرَ الشَّبَابِ مَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ مِنْكُمُ الْبَاءَةَ فَلْيَتَزَوَّجْ فَإِنَّهُ أَغَضُّ لِلْبَصَرِ وَأَحْصَنُ لِلْفَرْجِ وَمَنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَعَلَيْهِ بِالصَّوْمِ فَإِنَّهُ لَهُ وِجَاءٌ)

“O young men, those among you who can support a wife should marry, for it restrains the sight (from casting evil glances) and preserves one from immorality; and whosoever is not able [to afford it] should observe fast for it is a means of controlling the sexual desire.”

 The recommendation to marry is understood to be in reference to the one who has a need for it (li-muḥtājin ilayh), which as we demonstrated is taken to mean having a “desire for copulation”, and as such in need of observing restraint in order to save oneself from immorality. In such a case, it is recommended (mustaḥab) for him to get married. If the abovementioned person lacks the means, it is recommended (mustaḥab) for him to instead fast to suppress those desires (shahawāt).

 If the person is free of such a need, the ruling is as we shall discuss below in points three (3) and four (4).

Comment B: If fasting does not help suppress the desires, and the probability of falling into the prohibited (ḥarām) is great, it would be recommended (mustaḥab) for the said person to get married. This is because the corruption (mafsada) which it may lead to (e.g. immorality leading to fornication (zinā) etc.) is far greater than the benefit (maṣlaḥa) of him being discouraged at the time (i.e. the potentiality of his failure of providing for his spouse). In the abovementioned scenario, it would be recommended (mustaḥab) for him to get married, and God-willing, his sustenance shall come.

3. One has no need, and lacks financial means. – Marriage is disliked (makrūh).

Comment: It could lead to corruption (mafsada), because his lack of need or desire for marriage may lead to him not fulfilling his responsibilities, and as such disliked, since he does not have a need (read; desire) for it.

4. One has no need, but has financial means. – Marriage is permissible (mubāḥ), but remaining celibate and spending one’s time in worship (῾ibādah) is superior.

Comment: Although, in this scenario we consider what the person engages himself in. If he engages in worship and seeking sacred knowledge, it is as such. If he on the other hand spends his time in frivolous activities of no benefit, without being inclined toward an ascetic life, it is preferable that he gets married, and as such fulfills a Sunnah.

An additional point, worthy of mention, but not found in the cited passage,

5. If he has a need (read; desire) to such an extent that he knows with certainty that not getting married will lead to the immorality of fornication (zinā), then it becomes obligatory (wājib) for him to marry.

We find a similar passage, to what was cited above, outlining for whom it is preferred to remain celibate, in Al-Shāfi῾ī’s magnum opus al-Umm. Therein he argues that Allāh praises the prophet Yaḥyā (John the Baptist) with the words: (وَسَيِّدًا وَحَصورًا), meaning,“honorable and abstentious [from women].” [Sūrah Āli ῾Imrān 3: 39] Al-Shāfi῾ī argues that had marriage been superior, being abstentious would not have been praiseworthy. The Imām further relegates marriage to being from transactions (mu῾āmalāt), which are – in his view – inherently inferior to acts of worship (῾ibādāt).

Wa Allāhu a῾lam.

Answered by Shaykh Isa Husayn