Ila - The Oath to Abstain from Sexual Intercourse from Spouse
  • Question:

    Please explain "īlā’", the oath to abstain from intercourse, and under what circumstances does one/is it permissible to take such an oath?

    Assalamu Alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh

    Thank you for your question.

    Īlā’ literally means to take an oath. Technically, it means to take an oath to abstain from intercourse.

    Īlā’ was a pre-Islamic custom wherein a husband would take an oath to abstain from intercourse with his wife. This practice served as a period of separation after major disputes or disagreements. Pre Islam, there was no time limit to this abstinence or separation period. Thus, wives would be oppressed by remaining hanging for months and years on end with no resolution from the husband regarding maintaining the marriage.

    Islam upheld the practice but provided rights to the women. Islam instructed that a husband can render such a practice for the maximum period of four months. After four months, if the husband does not maintain the sanctity of marriage, the wife could ask to reconcile or seek out divorce. Some jurists are of the opinion that once four month surpass, the divorce automatically takes place, while others suggest that the wife has her divorce finalized through the islamic courts. (Al Fiqh al Islāmiy wa Adillatuhū)

    “Those who swear to abstain from their wives have four months of waiting. Therefore, if they revert back, Allāh is Most-Forgiving, Very-Merciful” (Qur’ān 2:226)

    And Allah knows best.

    Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Badat
    Hadith of the Day Imam
    Imam of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto and Director of Mathabah Institute
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