Al-'Uyub (Defects)

Is it possible for one of the spouses to dissolve the marriage on finding a certain defect in the other? The schools have differed regarding the defects which justify the dissolution of the marriage and also regarding the rules that apply in these circumstances.

Al-'Anan (Impotence)

Al-'anan is a disease which renders a man incapable of sexual intercourse. All the five schools give the wife the right to dissolve the marriage in such a situation. But in a situation where the husband's inability is limited to his wife and he is capable of intercourse with any other, the schools have different views regarding the wife's right of dissolving the marriage.

The Imamiyyah have said: The wife's right to dissolve the marriage is not ascertained unless the husband is incapable of having intercourse with any woman whatsoever. Therefore, on his inability being limited to his wife and not others, the right of dissolving the marriage does not accrue,1 because the source of this right is a rule which gives the power of dissolving marriage to the wife of an impotent man; one who is capable of having intercourse with other women is not considered impotent in the true sense of the word. This is so because impotence is a bodily defect which renders a man incapable of intercourse with any woman, exactly like a blind man who cannot see anything.

In a case where a person is incapable of intercourse, with his wife and not others, then the reason is necessarily an external cause apart from an innate physical defect. The reason could be shyness or fear or a quality of the wife which makes her detestable, or something else. It has also been observed that there are such criminals whose dislike of legitimate (sexual) relations has reached such a degree that they are unable to perform it. On the contrary, their inclination towards haram is such that it gives them the required strength and the pleasure of performing it.

According to the Shafi’i, the Hanbali and the Hanafi schools, a person's inability to copulate with his wife gives her the right to dissolve the marriage despite his being capable of it with other women, because in such a case he will be considered impotent with respect to her. Besides, they point out, of what benefit is to the wife if he is capable of having intercourse with other women!

However, there is consensus among the schools that when a woman pleads the impotence of her husband and he denies the charge, the burden of proof will rest on her to prove that he is impotent. On no proof being offered2 it will be seen whether she was a maiden prior to marriage or not. If she had been one, she will be referred to female specialists to determine her present condition, and their opinion will be acted upon. In a case where the wife is not a maiden, the husband will be made to take an oath because it is he who denies the charge made by the wife claiming the presence of a defect sufficient for dissolving the marriage. If he takes the oath, the wife's claim will be dismissed. But on his abstaining from taking the oath, the wife will take the oath and then the qadi will give him a lunar years’ time.

When this period also does not yield any benefit for the wife, the qadi will grant her the option of remaining with him or of dissolving the marriage. If she elects to remain with him, the choice is hers and if she desires dissolution, she will herself annul the marriage or the hakim on her request. According to the Imamiyyah, the Shafi'i and the Hanbali schools, she does not require a divorce for the separation. The Malikis have said: She will divorce herself by the order of the qadi. This observation of the Malikis does in fact mean annulment. The Hanafi school is of the opinion that the qadi will order the husband to pronounce the divorce and on his refusal the qadi will pronounce the divorce.

The Hanafis, in such a case, regard the payment of the full mahr as necessary: the Imamiyyah consider the payment of half the mahr as sufficient. The Maliki, the Shafi’i and the Hanbali schools are of the opinion that she will not be entitled to receive any mahr.

If the husband's impotence is subsequent to the consummation (al-'aqd wa al-dukhul) of marriage, the wife will not have the choice of dissolving the marriage. However, if impotence occurs after the contract but before the consummation of marriage, she will have the choice of annulment in the same manner as when impotence precedes the contract.3

Al-Jabb and al-Khisa'

Al-jabb means; the state of mutilation of the male organ and by al-khisa' is meant castration, either by the removal or by the crushing of both testicles. Both, al-jabb and al-khisa, if present before the consummation of marriage, give the wife the immediate right to annul the contract. But if these two defects occur after the consummation of marriage, the right to annul the marriage will not result.

The Hanafis have observed that if the castrated person has the capacity of erection, the right to annul the marriage does not arise, even though ejaculation be absent. The other schools regard ejaculation as a necessary condition regardless of erection, because the inability to ejaculate is a defect similar to impotence.

Al-Shahid al-Thani, in the chapter on marriage of his book al-Masalik, volume 1, has narrated that a castrated person can penetrate and have orgasm, and his condition during the act is more intense than a normal male, although he does not ejaculate. This inability is sufficient for rescinding the contract, because the traditions prove the right of the wife of a castrated person to opt for separation.

The Hanafi have said: When the contract is rescinded as a result of any of these two defects, the wife shall be entitled to full mahr. The other schools have observed that. if the contract is annulled as a consequence of al-jabb, no mahr need be paid because marriage has not been consummated. But if al-khisa be the cause for rescinding the contract, she will receive mahr only when consummation has occurred.

The Hanafi School does not recognize any ground on which the husband may annul the contract, even though there may be tens of defects in the wife. On the contrary, the wife has the right of annulling the marriage on the basis of any of the three above-mentioned defects, i.e. al-'anan, al-jabb and al-khisa. Therefore, the Hanafis have nothing to say about the forthcoming defects.


The Maliki, the Shafi’i and the Hanbali schools concur that the insanity of one spouse gives the other the right to annul the marriage. But these schools differ regarding the details. The Shafi’i and the Hanbali schools have granted the right of annulment irrespective of whether madness results before or after marriage, and even after consummation. There is no period of waiting before annulment, as required in the case of impotence.

According to the Malikis, if the insanity occurs before marriage, the right to annul the contract results for the sane spouse, on the condition that he or she suffers harm in living with the other. But if the insanity results after marriage, only the wife has the right to annul the marriage after a probationary period of a year granted by the judge. The husband cannot annul the marriage if his wife loses sanity after marriage.

According to the Imamiyyah, the husband will not annul the marriage where the wife has become insane after marriage, because he has the option of divorce. The wife, on the contrary, can annul the marriage on the husband's insanity, regardless of its preceding the marriage or occurring afterwards, and even after consummation.

The Imamiyyah, the Hanbali, the Shafii and the Maliki schools concur that the wife is entitled to receive full mahr if the marriage has been consummated, and nothing if not.

Leprosy and Leukoderma

According to the Imamiyyah, leprosy and leukoderma are among defects that give the husband, not the wife, the right to annul the marriage on condition that such disease be antecedent to the marriage without the husband's knowledge. The right to annul the marriage does not exist for the wife if her husband suffers from any of these two diseases.

The Shafi'i, the Maliki and the Hanbali schools regard these two diseases among the causes that give both the man and the woman an equal right to annul marriage. On one of the spouses suffering from any of these two diseases, the other acquires the right to annul the contract. According to the Shafi’i and the Hanbali schools, the rule that applies in the case of insanity applies here as well.

The Malikis are of the opinion that the wife has the right of annulment equally whether the husband's leprosy antedates the marriage or follows it. As regard the husband's right. he can do so on the wife's being leprous before marriage or at the time of marriage. Regarding leukoderma, both the spouses have the choice of annulment if the disease precedes marriage, and if it occurs after marriage. Only the wife can exercise her choice and not the husband. The milder forms of leukoderma, on their appearance after marriage, do not give rise to any right. The judge gives a probationary period of one lunar year for those suffering from these two diseases for there is a possibility of cure.

Al-Ratq, al-Qarn, al-'Afal & al-'Ijda

...These four defects,4 which occur only among women give the husband according to the Malikis and the Hanbalis the right to annul the marriage contract. According to the Shafi'is, only in case of either al-ratq or al-qarn the husband has such a right; not when the wife suffers from al-'ifda or al-'afal. According to the Imamiyyah, such a legal effect follows only in the case of al-qarn or al-'ifda', not in the case of al-rarq or al-'afal. They also state that the husband, if he wishes, can annul the marriage contract when he finds blindness or visible lameness in the wife after the conclusion of the contract if he had no knowledge of it before. But either of the defects when found in the husband does not give such a right to the wife.

In our opinion, any disease, regardless of its being peculiar to one of the sexes or its being common to both of them, that is capable of being diagnosed and cured without leaving behind any deformity or defect, does not give rise to any legal right and its occurrence, like its non-occurrence, is legally without any effect. The reason behind this opinion is that, when a disease becomes curable, it becomes similar to any other ordinary disease that may affect any person. The time-honored significance attached by the legists to the above-mentioned defects is because they could not be treated surgically during the past.

Immediacy (al-Fawriyyah)

According to the Imamiyyah School, the choice of annulling the marriage exists so long as it is exercised immediately. Therefore, if the man or the woman, on knowing the defect, does not initiate the proceedings for annulling the marriage, the contract will become binding. The same rule applies for annulling the marriage in a case of deception

The author of al-Jawahir has said that ignorance regarding the right to annul the marriage, and even immediacy, is a good excuse, considering that this right has been given without imposing any conditions. He has also observed that the annulment of marriage, in all its forms does not depend on the judge. He has only the power to grant a probationary period in the case of impotence.

  • 1. Al-Shahid al-Thani, in al-Masalik, quotes al-Shaykh al-Mufid: The criterion regarding the annulment of marriage by a woman is that her husband be incapable of intercourse with her irrespective of his ability regarding other women. The general notion supports this view.
  • 2. A case of similar nature was brought before me and I referred the respondent tor medical check-up. The reply given was: Medical science has not yet devised any method for diagnosing impotence and the inability to have sexual intercourse is the only method of proving it.
  • 3. After this, in the original Arabic text, the author in a note discusses the opinion of the Imami author of al-Jawahir relating to a case of allegation of impotence against the husband. This note, which extends over a page of the book, has been deleted in this translation. (Trans.)
  • 4. Al-ratq means the presence of obstruction in the vaginal opening making intercourse difficult. al-qarn (lit. horn) means the presence of a horn-like protrusion inside the vaginal passage: Al-'afal means a fleshy obstruction in it. Al-'ifda · means the condition of merging of anal and vaginal passages. (Trans.)