Question: What is the hadith about marrying a virgin, and what does it mean?
Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your important question.
When reading a Hadith, it is essential to read it in the light of the Qur’an and Sunna as a whole. The overall message of the Qur’an and Sunna is that This Life and its pleasures are not to be valued and sought after for themselves, but rather as means for the Next Life.
Allah Most High says, ‘Beautified for people is the love of that which they desire of women and [of having] sons, heaped-up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses, and cattle and tilled land. That is the mere enjoyment of worldly life, but Allah has with Him the best return.’ (Qur’an, 3: 14)
Our religion teaches us to be in the world, but not of it. It tells us to get married, have children and earn “heaped-up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses” but use them for Allah’s sake and in the way that Allah wants. This is what the Prophet (peace and blessing) is saying. He is telling men whom Allah prefers they marry; he tells them how to make choices in this life that maximize their next life. He is not saying that lusting after virgins is some religious goal.
Additionally, it would also be unforgivable not to mention that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) told us that religiosity is the number one priority when choosing a spouse, and not youthfulness that may often accompany beauty. He said, ‘A woman is married for four things: for her wealth, for her lineage, for her beauty or piety. Make sure you marry a really religious woman. You will come to misfortune if you don’t!’ (Bukhari and Muslim)
So without question, a religious woman who has already been married is far more suitable than a virgin woman but isn’t serious about her religious practice. This tells us that marriage is a spiritual relationship in essence and that age or virginity is secondary.
The hadith and basic lessons
The hadith has various wordings, as we shall discuss, but one narration reads:
Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah (Allah be pleased with them) said that Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said to me, ‘Jabir, have you got married?’
I said, ‘Yes.’
He asked, ‘A virgin or one previously married?’
I said, ‘One who was previously married.’
He said, ‘Why didn’t you marry a young girl who you could play around with and who could play around with you?’
I said, ‘I actually have a number of [young] sisters so I wanted to marry a woman who could look after them, comb their hair, and run their affairs.’ (Muslim)
Another version in Bukhari and Muslim reads “laugh around with” in place of “play around with.” Another version in Muslim reads, “What’s wrong with virgins is their saliva?”. Yet another hadith from a different Prophetic Companion about the same discussion comes in Tabarani with the words “you can bite her, and she can bite you.” (Sharh Tulathiyyat al-Imam Ahmad, Safarini)
A third hadith also mentions a clear recommendation to marry virgins. ‘See well to marrying virgins because their mouths are sweeter and they can give birth more easily.’ “Give birth more easily” is one possible translation of the hadith. (Ibn Majah; Sharh Tulathiyyat al-Imam Ahmad, Safarini)
We learn from this hadith that it is generally recommended for a man to marry a virgin woman, that sexual play is morally good, and that seeking out someone who is more sexually gratifying is good. We also learn that it is perfectly fine to marry a non-virgin depending on the circumstances and that it is acceptable for a husband to agree with his wife that she will help him with his dependents. (Sharh Thulathiyyat al-Imam Ahmad, Safarini; Zaytunat al-Ilqah, Ba Sudan)
Just as it is recommended for a man to marry a virgin, it is also recommended for a virgin woman to marry a virgin man, all things being equal. (Ihya ‘ulum al-din, Ghazali; Tuhfat al-Muhtaj, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami)
It is also important to note that women are supposed to marry someone who will fulfill their physical wants and needs (with the same caveat that religion should be prioritized). It is extremely unwise for a young woman to marry a much older man than her and whom she does not find attractive and cannot fulfill her needs. (al-Adab al-Shar’iyya, Ibn Muflih)
Sayyidna Umar said, ‘Do not force your daughters to many an ugly man! [After all] they like the same thing that you like.’ He also said, ‘O people! Fear Allah and let each man marry a woman who is on his same level, and let each woman marry a man who is on her level.’ (Sunan Sa’id ibn Mansur; Adab al-Nisa, Ibn al-Habib)
This is all to say that just because it is recommended for a man to marry a virgin girl shouldn’t be at the cost of young women’s sexual or relational happiness.
A gross phenomenon
Another way that this hadith can be misunderstood is as discouragement from marrying widows and divorcees. Just because it is recommended in principle to marry a virgin, that doesn’t mean that there is anything taboo about marrying someone who has previously been married. This is one of the worse innovations (bida’) that we see in marry Muslim communities, and it is something strikingly contradictory to the way of the Early Muslims.
Let us first remind ourselves that the vast majority of the wives of the Messenger of Allah had previously been married. In fact, many of them had been married more than once before they married him.
Let us also look at an amazing conversation that he had with his wife-to-be Umm Salama when he proposed to her, and she mentioned that she had previously been married. She said, ‘I am old, and I have some father-less children. On top of that, I am an extremely jealous woman!’
The Mercy to the Worlds replied, ‘Well, I’m older than you, and your dependents are only the dependants of Allah and His Messenger. As for your jealous nature, I will pray to Allah that He takes it away.’ (‘Uyun al-Athar, Ibn Sayyid al-Nas) He clearly didn’t find any fault in her age or the fact that she had been married before.
The idea that a woman would be widowed or divorced and then remain unmarried was not common among the Prophetic Companions. When Sayyidna Ja’far was martyred (Allah be well pleased with him), his former wife Asma bin ‘Umays married Abu Bakr (Allah be well pleased with both of them), and when he was also martyred, she married Sayyidna Ali (Allah be well pleased with him). Atika (Allah be well pleased with her) married three or four of the Prophetic Companions. This was all very normal, acceptable, and good in their eyes.
Unfortunately, many ethnic Muslim cultures reject the idea of marrying someone who has been widowed or divorce. In a societal sense, she is thrown on a pile of corpses to rot. This is grossly un-Islamic and not what the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) taught or practiced.
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged Muslim men to marry virgin women. This does not mean that there is anything wrong with non-virgin women or that it should be done to the detriment of young women.
I pray this helps.
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years, he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language.