Syria is a country located in the Eastern Mediterranean. As of the 2004 official census, the population of Syria was 17,920,844 individuals. World Bank statistics showed that Syria’s population reached its peak in 2012 with 20,438,861 individuals. However, Syria’s population has been declining steadily since the intensification of the armed conflict to reach 17,500,657 individuals, according to World Bank statistics for 2020. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that Syria remains the world’s largest displacement crisis, as more than 13 million people have either fled the country or are displaced within its borders. In 2021, the number of internally displaced persons (forcibly displaced) reached 6.9 million, while the number of refugees reached 5.6 million, most of whom fled to the neighboring countries of Syria Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, as reported by UNHCR.

According to an article on “Heritage For Peace” website, the population of Syria is 74% Sunni Muslim, 16% other Muslim (including Ismailis, Shiites, Alawites and Druze), and 10% Christian (various denominations, primarily Greek and Armenian Orthodox). In addition, there are small Jewish communities, estimated between 100 to 200 people.

According to estimates by Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), Syria had 200,000 Yazidis (Kurds) before the onset of the Syrian conflict, whereas today, it has only about 40,000.

Information About Muslim Family Laws And/or Practices In Syria

Main Laws that Govern Muslim Marriages

The only law that governs Muslim marriages in Syria is the SPSL No. 59 of 1953 and its amendments.

The SPSL contains 308 articles. The provisions of this Law apply to all Syrians, except as provided in article 307, which includes some special provisions concerning marriage, polygamy, dowry, divorce, and wills and inheritance in the Druze community.  Similarly, article 308 applies solely to the Christian and Jewish communities with regard to such issues as marriage, alimony, marriage annulment, and custody of children. Article 305 asserts that matters not covered in the text of Law No. 59 are to be governed in accordance with Hanafi Islamic doctrine.See: Article 305/bis in Law No.4 of 2019 amending some texts of the Personal Status Law It is worth noting that the SPSL is based on the civil code of the Ottoman Empire (Mecelle), which adopted the Hanafi school out of all other Islamic schools and jurisprudence.For more info see: Daad Moussa: “Personal Status Laws in Syria”, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, December 2018, p. 2

Equality in Marriage

  1. In the legal system of Syria, there is no special family law; provisions of the SPSL regulate Muslim family matters.

  2. Syria recognizes religious marriage only. There is no civil marriage in Syria, where the Law of Personal Status is based on the Islamic religion.

  3. The Syrian law does not treat women and men as equal partners in marriage:

  • The wife loses her right to alimony if:

  1. If she refuses to live with her husband in the marital home without a legitimate excuse.

  2. If she works outside her home without the consent of her husband.

  • Under Sharia law, the husband is the only one who has the right to divorce his wife without any reason. The Syrian courts approve this divorce and register it duly.

  • In the Druze community, a marriage can only be dissolved via divorce in front of a judge. See: Daad Moussa: “Personal Status Laws in Syria”, p. 6.

– In terms of marital inheritance, women are not treated equally with men under Syrian law:

  1. If the couple has any children, the wife receives an eighth share of the inheritance from her deceased husband, while the husband receives a quarter share of the inheritance from his deceased wife.

  2.  If the couple does not have children, the wife receives a quarter share of the inheritance from her deceased husband, while the husband receives a half share of the inheritance from his deceased wife.See: Article 268 of the Syrian Personal Status Law No. 59 of 1935.

  • It can be said that the marital relationship in the SPSL is based on the guardianship of a husband over his wife; the husband owes spending and protection to his wife, and the wife owes obedience to her husband.
  • The SPSL does not prohibit nor impede polygamy since it is based on the Islamic religion, which allows for up to four wives, which contradicts the principle of equal treatment between men and women. Article 68 of the SPSL states that wives must be treated equally in terms of housing.

Minimum Age of Marriage

  1. The legal minimum age of marriage in Syria is 18 for both boys and girls. This is according to Article 16 of the Syrian Personal Status Law (SPSL) amended by Law No. 20 of 2019.
  2. If a teenager claims puberty after hitting the age of 15 and applies for marriage, the judge can grant them the right to marry, provided they make sure of the truth of their claims. If the guardian was the father or the grandfather, they are required to consent to this as well.” This is according to Article 18 of the SPSL, amended by Law No.4 of 2020.See: Article 1 of Law No. 4, which amended some texts of the Personal Status Law, dated 7/02/2019, SANA,
  1. In a case of an 18- year- old virgin girl’s marriage, the Syrian Personal Status Law asks her guardian to give his opinion within 15 days. If the guardian does not object or his objection does not warrant consideration, the judge shall permit the marriage but only if the suitor is competent and can provide the girl with a dowry equal to that of her peers.See: Article 1 of Law No. 4, which amended some texts of the Personal Status Law, dated 7/02/2019, SANA,
  2. Paragraph 2 of Article 40 stipulates that in case a woman has a visible pregnancy or has already given birth to a child; her marriage shall be authorized regardless of the judge’s consent.
  3. A marriage held outside the court may be settled only in case a woman has a visible pregnancy or has already given birth to a child, but this settlement does not prevent the legal punishment.

Divorce Provisions for Women and Men

The SPSL provides for three mechanisms to dissolve marriage:See: Articles 85-117 of the Syrian Personal Status Law No. 59 of 1953 and its amendments in Law No. 4 of 2019. 

  1. The Mukhala’ah, which is a mutually agreed contract between husband and wife to terminate the marital relationship.
  2. Separation on specific grounds established by law:
  • The separation for illnesses and diseases;
  • The separation for absence;
  • The separation for not spending;
  • The separation for abandonment – The wife has the right to demand separation if her husband abandons her or swears not to have sex with her for a period of four months or more.

3. The separation for dissension

  • The man can terminate the marriage contract unilaterally whenever he wants, but the woman can do so only if she stipulated in the contract that she shall have the right to divorce herself.
  • Women can file for the Mukhala’ah or separation but not for unilateral divorce, which is exclusive to men.

Positive Feature(s) Under Muslim Family Law

  1. Amended Article 117 of the SPSL provides that if a man divorces his wife for no reasonable reason and without her request (arbitrary divorce through a unilateral decision by a man), she shall be entitled to compensation from her ex-husband. The former version of this Article 117 required the wife to prove that the divorce caused her misery and hardship to be entitled to compensation.
  2. The SPSL provides for the wives’ entitlement to alimony; Article 78, amended by Law No. 4 of 2019, states:
    a. It is judged with alimony for the wife from the date the husband refused to pay the expenditures imposed on him.
    b. It is not judged more than two years prior to the claim.
  3. One parent does not have the right to take the child abroad without the consent of the other parent, this is according to Article 150 of the SPSL amended by Article 1 of Law No. 4 of 2019.

Article 150 states: None of the parents shall have the right to travel alone with the child outside the Arab Republic of Syria during marriage without the permission of the other one. There is an exception if travel is for the benefit of the child; however, this shall be decided by a judge with a justified decision.  

The judge shall permit the custodian mother to travel with the child inside the Syrian Arab Republic to the town she lives in or works in, under the condition of the travel benefitting the child in custody.

  1. If a guardian marries a girl to someone without her permission, and she dislikes that, the girl can nullify the marriage contract, according to Article 21 of the SPSL, amended by Law No. 4 of 2019.
  2. The children’s right of opinion in custody:

The Syrian law gives the child under custody the right to decide which parent to live with once he/she turns 15.

The child under custody’s right to decide which parent to live with remained a matter of dispute until the enactment of Law No. 20 of 2019 which expressly stipulated in

Article 146 that the custody period for a male or female child is terminated at the age of fifteen. Upon that time, he/she shall choose to stay with one of the parents.

Administration Of And Access To Justice On Marriage And Family Matters

In Syria we have special courts to deal with Personal Status Cases

  1. Sharia courts deal with the Personal Status Cases of Muslims, with the exception of DruzSee: Judge Hussein Muhammad Al Hasan: “The history of the Syrian Personal Status Law – Problems and Solutions”, who have their own religious courts. Judges in sharia courts must be Muslims.
  2. Some of the SPSL provisions do not apply to DruzeSee: Articles 306 and 307 of the Syrian Personal Status Law No. 59 of 1953., including those related to eligibility of marriage, polygamy, Li’an (Divorce by Curse), breastfeeding, dowry, divorce, wills, and inheritance.
  3. Provisions of the Syrian Civil Proceedings Law regulate the litigation process, whereas the Evidence Act elaborates, defines and clarifies evidentiary standards.
  4. The Syrian Sharia courts issue final judgments that can be appealed only before the Court of Cassation, which is a court of law, not a trial court, meaning it does not examine the root causes of conflict. Judgments of the Sharia courts are not entitled to the appellate proceeding, unlike the judgments of civil and criminal courts.
  5. A husband can file for a unilateral divorce and obtain it after completing due administrative procedures. This divorce has to be registered at the Sharia court. 
  6. The Mukhala’ah (consensual divorce in return for compensation of the husband by the wife), has to be registered at the Sharia court.
  7. A spouse can file for separation before the Sharia court, basing his claims on a legal justification. In turn, the court hears the case, assesses it according to its own merits, and decides it accordingly.

Constitutional Provisions and National Legislation

Constitutional Provisions

The 2012 Syrian constitution in force states:

Article 3

The State shall respect all religions and ensure the freedom to perform all the rituals that do not “prejudice public order”; The personal status of religious communities shall be protected and respected.

Article 20

  1. The family shall be the nucleus of society and the law shall maintain its existence and strengthen its ties;
  2. The state shall protect and encourage marriage, and shall work on removing material and social obstacles that hinder it. The state shall also protect maternity and childhood, take care of young children and youth and provide the suitable conditions for the development of their talents.

Article 23

The state shall provide women with all opportunities enabling them to effectively and fully contribute to political, economic, social, and cultural life, and the state shall work on removing the restrictions that prevent their development and participation in building society.

Article 33

  1.  Citizenship shall be a fundamental principle which involves rights and duties enjoyed by every citizen and exercised according to law;
  2. Citizens shall be equal in rights and duties without discrimination among them on grounds of sex, origin, language, religion or creed;
  3.  The state shall guarantee the principle of equal opportunities among citizens.

Article 34

Every citizen shall have the right to participate in political, economic, social and cultural life and the law shall regulate this.

Article 35

Every citizen shall be subjected to the duty of respecting the Constitution and laws.


– The Syrian 2012 constitution in force does not refer to Islamic laws, but rather it states in its Article 3: The religion of the President of the Republic is Islam; Islamic jurisprudence shall be a major source of legislation; The State shall respect all religions, and ensure the freedom to perform all the rituals that do not prejudice public order; The personal status of religious communities shall be protected and respected.


National Legislations

Gender-based Violence, Violence Against Women Laws

In the legal system of Syria, there are no special laws on family, domestic violence or gender-based violence. Cases related to these issues are arbitrated and adjudicated according to related provisions in the SPSL No.148 of 1949 and its amendments.

The Penal Code

The Syrian Penal Code No. 148 of 1949, define the rapist as the person who has sexual intercourse with someone other than their spouse, so the Code does not specifically criminalize marital rape (see Articles 489 and 490). Moreover, Syria has not adopted specific legislation to criminalize acts of domestic violence. The Penal Code contains some general prohibitions that are applicable to domestic violence, including general assault and battery (Articles 540 et seq.).

Other laws on family and marriage matters

  • Article 308 applies solely to the Christian and Jewish communities with regard to such issues as marriage, alimony, marriage annulment, dowry and custody of children.
  • Syrian Nationality Law stipulates that a Syrian father shall pass the nationality to his children by virtue of the right of blood, but there is no provision that allows a Syrian mother to pass her nationality to her children. Besides, the Syrian husband can grant his nationality to his foreign wife (under certain conditions set by Law No. 276 of 1969)See: Article 3 et seq. of the Nationality Law (Legislative Decree No. 276 of 1969), while the same Law denies foreign husbands of Syrian wives Syrian nationality.
  • The Syrian Penal Code prohibits the performance of marriages outside the court or the customary marriages (Articles 469 and 472). The Code imposes a penalty on the contracting parties, their representatives, the witnesses to the contract, and the person who concludes it, usually a sheikh.
  • The Syrian Civil Code No. 13 of 2021.

Regional or International Human Rights Principles

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

Yes, the Syrian Arab Republic ratified the CEDAW Convention by Decree No. /330/ dated 25/09/2002. Nonetheless, Syria made reservations to some articles and paragraphs in the Convention, which are: Article 2, Paragraph 2 of Article 9, related to the women’s right to grant nationality to their children, Paragraph 4 of Article 15 related to freedom of movement and residence, items (c), (d), (f) and (g) of Paragraph 1 of Article 16 related to equality in marriage, Paragraph 2 of Article 16 related to the betrothal and the marriage of a child and Paragraph 1 of Article 29 related to the arbitration of disputes between States Parties concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention. However, President of the Republic, Bashar al-Assad, issued Decree No. 230 of 2017, by which he lifted the reservation to Article 2.

The last CEDAW review was in the third periodic report of 2018. Preparation of CEDAW’s fourth national report is under way.

Links to CEDAW reports that refer to Muslim family laws and practice

  1. Initial State Party Report, 2005,CEDAW,,SYR,4537782e0,0.html
  2. Second and Third Periodic Reports, 2012,CEDAW,,SYR,525bdd904,0.html
  3. List of Issues and Questions in relation to the Second Periodic Report,CEDAW,SESSIONALREPORT,SYR,52dd2f8c4,0.html

Links to Concluding Observations That Refer to Reform of Muslim Family Laws and Practices

  1. The concluding comments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: The Syrian Arab Republic 2007.
  2. The Concluding observations on the second periodic report of the Syrian Arab Republic 2014.
  3. Information provided by the Syrian Arab Republic in follow-up to the concluding observations of the Committee in 2016.
  4. A follow-up letter was sent the State party on 10 August 2016.

Link to Musawah’s CEDAW reports on Syria

  1. Musawah Oral Statement on Syria and Mauritania (2014)

Any other relevant regional or international treaty or convention signed by Syria

Other treaties

Syria is a party of:

  •  The Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 under Law No.8 of 1993. However, Syria made a reservation to Article 14 related to the child’s right to freedom of religion as well as Articles 20 and 21 on adoption, in so far as they are incompatible with sharia and legislation in force.
  • The Charter of the Rights of the Arab Child, ratified by Syria on 10/11/1985.
  • The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (OP-CRC-SC), ratified by Syria on 17 October 2003.
  • The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OP-CRC-AC), ratified by Syria on 17 October 2003.
  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), ratified by Syria on 25 September 2002.
  • The Convention on the Establishment of Children’s Villages SOS, ratified by Syria under Law No. 19 on 23 October 2007. See: Committee on the Rights of the Child, consideration of reports submitted by States Parties under Article 44 of the Convention, third and fourth periodic reports of States Parties – Syrian Arab Republic, 2009, p. 19-20.
  • The Arab Women Organization, joined by Syria under Legislative Decree No. 257 of 2002.See: Member States Responses to the Questionnaire on The Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (1995) and the Outcome of the Twenty-Third Special Session of the General Assembly 2000,

Sustainable Development Goals

Yes, Syria signed on to the Sustainable Development Goals.


Syria’s National Millennium Development Goals Reports—national-millennium-development-goals-report-.html

The first Voluntary National Review of the Sustainable Development Goals (2020); includes talk and discussion on Syria’s post-war national development program, available at: 

Key Resources About Muslim Family Law

By local researchers, activists and civil society groups

  1. One of the valuable references we have on Muslim family laws is a book written  by Dr. Hassan Al-Bugha and Dr. Mustafa Al-Bugha, entitled “Personal Status Law No. 1”. The book is taught at the Syrian Virtual University and it is available for download from the university’s digital library at the link:
  2. A research entitled “Discrimination in Personal Status Laws in Syria” prepared by the Syrian Women League.
  3. A research entitled “Personal Status Laws in Syria” prepared by lawyer Daad MoussaDaad Moussa: “Personal Status Laws in Syria”, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, December 2018

By government agencies/committees

  1. “The Personal Collection and Civil Status”, available at: 



National Groups and Campaigns Working on Muslim Family Law

National Campaigns

No advocacy campaigns have been conducted to amend or reform the SPSL. However, local entities have undertaken research projects, studies. and workshops which discuss the need to amend articles in the SPSL. However, no practical steps have been taken to advocate for these changes. 

  • A Dialogue Between Islamists and Seculars in Syria was organized by Jusoor for Studies:
  • A workshop was held by the Faculty of Law at the University of Damascus in cooperation with the Faculty of Sharia and the National Union of Syrian Students

Key Organisations 

  1. Syrian Commission for Family Affairs and Population
  2. Syrian National Women’s Foundation
  3. Syria Trust for Development
  4. The EuroMed Feminist Initiative (EFI)
  5. The Syrian Women’s Forum for Peace (SWFP)
  6. Center for Equal Citizenship – We Exist
  7. The Ministry of Justice (Syria)
  8. The Ministry of Interior (Syria)
  9. Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ)
  10. Women Now For Development.

Reform Timeline

History of the Syrian Personal Status Law (SPSL)


The passing of the Family Rights Act in the later years of Ottoman rule which included some laws for Muslims and others for non-Muslims


The promulgation of the Syrian Personal Status Law by legislative decree No. 59 dated 17/9/1953


The issuance of Syrian Personal Status Law No. 34 which modified provisions of the law No. 59 of 1953


The issuance of Law No. 18, which modified Article 146 of the SPSL that specifies the age range for custody dated 25/10/2003

2007 - 2009

The formation of a committee under resolution 2437, dated 7th of June 2007, issued by the Syrian Prime Minister, to prepare a project for the Personal Status Law, and the committee finalized the project by the 5th of April 2009


The issuance of Law No.4, which amended some articles of the Syrian Personal Status Law on 7/02/2019


The issuance of Law No.20, which amended some articles of the Syrian Personal Status Law on 27/06/2019



This country page was prepared by Women Now – Syria and Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), as a collaboration under the Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws