Conditions for Marriage Among Muslims With Herpes

The conditions for marriage among Muslims with herpes have come under some debate as the issue becomes more prominent and further consideration of the issue has been made. Without question, the presence of genital herpes is considered a factor which MUST be made known to the prospective spouse before marriage may take place. It is interesting to note that this is not the case for oral herpes/cold sores despite that it is more common and practically impossible to hide when suffering an outbreak. Furthermore, herpes type 1 (oral) may infect the genitals and vice versa. The symptoms being the same, the differences between the two seem to be merely viral. Still, the fact of the matter remains that while no one considers a herpes outbreak on the mouth to be attractive, it still carries a far less significant stigma than genital herpes, and therefore the presence of genital herpes needs to be made known to prospective spouses. In addition, it has been highly recommended that a physician should be consulted in these marriages in order to determine the type and strain of the herpes virus being dealt with and to ensure that appropriate medical treatment is in fact being administered.

Can a non-infected Muslim consent to marriage with a Muslim who has herpes?
The debate then revolves around whether the person with genital herpes may marry a person without, after making the matter known before the marriage takes place. Or in other words, can a person without genital herpes consent to marriage with a person who does have it, knowing the strong likelihood that the result will be that they too will become carriers of the virus?

According to Muhammad Jibaly and Dawud Adib at the Qur'an and Sunnah Society's 1998 Convention, people with genital herpes may get married and have children, provided that both spouses are carriers of the same disease. It is not permissible for someone who has such a disease to marry someone who does not due to the risk of transmission. Likewise, it is not permissible for someone who does not have such a disease to marry someone who does due to the general prohibition against bringing undue harm upon oneself. 

However, when such a case had been presented to Shaykh Bin Baz, (Allah have mercy on him), he responded that such a marriage was permissible with consent. Now, it may be that the Shaykh did not understand the issue of herpes that well, and therefore was not aware of the full extent of the resulting harms, or it may be that he understood that the harm resulting from herpes was merely an inconvenience such as that of a recurring flu and therefore did not see it to be significant enough to impose such restrictions. In fact, the medical information on the issue seems to be in agreement with this view. Even so, whether one agrees with the permissibility of consenting to marry a Muslim with herpes, it is certainly at least preferrable that Muslims with herpes marry others who are already infected in order to limit the spread of the disease. And Allah knows best.

Can a Muslim man with genital herpes marry more than one wife?
An additional issue of some controversy is whether or not the presence of genital herpes nullifies the man's right in Islam to marry more than one wife (up to four). According to a letter I recieved from Dawud Adib, a woman who consulted the likes of Fareed Abdullah, Muhammad Jibaly, Suhaib Hasan, as well as a variety of health experts in this field, found the answer once again pointing to the risk of undue harm making plural marriage among herpes carriers prohibited. In this case the harm is not the risk of infection with herpes, as the question was focused on plural marriages where all involved already had the herpes virus. Rather the harm they referred to was the risk of complications arising from sexual contact between more than two people already infected with herpes. Their view was that the presence of herpes opens one's susceptibility to other sexually transmitted diseases and that the number of "sexual partners" within the marriage increased their chances of becoming infected with other diseases, perhaps more serious or even life threatening. 

Upon consideration of this view, the prohibition would only be valid if in fact an "increased risk" does indeed exist. The answer seems to imply that the presence of herpes could somehow manifest other STDs when more than one sexual partner is involved, or that "multiple partners" in an Islamic marriage somehow carries the same risk of infection as having multiple partners in general.

After corresponding with Dr. Ray Fowler at, we found that although herpes can not cause other STDs to develop, it does facilitate the spread of other STDs that are already present in one of the partners. Further, the fact that a person has contracted herpes from somewhere, does point to the possibility that they may have contracted other STDs as well. In addition, various types and strains of herpes also exist which could ultimately infect all members of the marriage by way of the male's interraction between the females. As a result, any marriage between herpes carriers, whether plural or not would require precautions that would help protect against these factors - namely: 

  1. The involvement of a physician; 
  2. Appropriate treatment to minimize transmission of new types and strains as well as the spread of the infection to other parts of the body;
  3. Testing for other latent STDs, especially HIV;
If these precautions are taken, then one could rule out the increased susceptibilty factor through testing and proper medication. In other words, before the marriage takes place, testing must be done so that all parties are aware of what viruses are present and that appropriate medical treatment is prescribed and maintained. Whether one may then consent to being infected with a new virus in such a case where variant types/strains or other viruses are shown to be present, is another issue related to the discussion above

The remaining factor then is whether "mutiple partners" within the context of an Islamic marriage carries the same risks as other situations where the public at large may engage in sexual activities with multiple partners. Obviously the risk is not the same, as one sitaution takes place within the context of a divinely ordained institution and the other does not. I am not saying that the People of Knowledge have equated the two - but I am wary that when non-Muslim experts on STDs are presented with the scenario of plural marriages that they may not have a clear understanding of the situation and that they may equate plural marriage with multiple sexual partners in general, thereby biasing the medical data at the scholar's disposal which is used to make judgments on the issue. Some examples may be the absence of changing sexual partners due to the marriage committment, the requirement of a full bath (ghusl) after sexual relations, the prohibition of having relations with more than one partner at the same time or anal sex, as well as other rules which eliminate risky behaviors within the Islamic context. 

Therefore, when the proper precautions are in place, there is little medical support for the view that plural marriage exposes those involved to undue harm. We have found that others, including at least one Muslim family who is already 
in this situation, as well as the web administrator at Muttaqun OnLine, who also hold this view. Furthermore, aside from the Muslim man's prerogative to take more than one wife, the need for plural marriages among herpes carriers can be argued as well due to the limited choices Muslim women may face in finding a decent Muslim husband. Regardless of whether one agrees with the permissibility of consenting to marry a Muslim with herpes, the fact that it is preferrable that Muslims with herpes marry others who are already infected diminshes the number of available candidates for women seeking a righteous Muslim husband. 

Additional Considerations Regarding STD Risks
In fact, given the statistical data on STDs, and the fact that extra-marital relations have become the norm among the non-Muslim American public, the risk involved in contracting an STD from Muslims who have had previous sexual encounters before coming into Islam is present for both herpes carriers as well as for those who are not aware of having contracted any STDs. While herpes is believed to be present in 1 out of every 5 Americans (20%), genital warts (which is another "nuisance" virus that may hide latently within a person), is believed to be present in 50% of American women who have had any sexual activity, according to a Berkley study conducted around 1990. If the statistics were this grim 10 years ago, then surely, the risk is all the more greater now.

The pertinent question regarding plural marriages then becomes: Can the scholars prohibit something otherwise permissible based on a risk that has actually become as common as other risks faced in day to day life? For example, is the risk of riding on a plane or automobile (which could even be life threatening), any less serious than the risk of becoming infected with a latent STD in a marriage with someone who engaged in extra-marital relationships before coming into Islam?

As we are not in a position to make judgments on these issues, we can not offer any firm conclusions on such controversies at this time. What we do hope to achieve is to make the relevant information available so as to allow those Muslims who do have taqwa, to make reasonable decisions in the mean time. We also hope that the People of Knowledge may consider these factors aside from the stigma attached to STDs since the problem is so prevalent and contact us with their feedback. 

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