Marriage: Purpose and ObligationThis is a long and very comprehensive article reprinted from Islamic-World.net. It is an excellent guide to the process of finding and courting a potential spouse.
Nikah is an Arabic term used for marriage. It means "contract" ("aqd in Arabic). The Quran specifically refers to marriage as "mithaqun ghalithun," which means "a strong covenant".
"...and they have taken a strong pledge (mithaqun ghalithun) from you?" (Quran 4:21)The Quran also uses the Arabic word "Hisn" suggesting "fortress" for marriage. Marriage is considered the fortress of chastity.
The Purpose of Marriage
As a meaningful institution, marriage has two main purposes:
1. To ensure preservation of the human species and continuation of the human race,
"O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord, who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them has spread abroad a multitude of men and women" (Quran: 4:1)2. To provide spiritual and legal foundation of the family,
"And of His Signs is this: He created for you mates from yourself that you might find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo, therein indeed are portents for folk who reflect". (Quran 30:21)Through Marriage, the conjugal relationship between a man and a woman becomes lawful. It provides a legitimate outlet for recreation as well as procreation. Islam regards sex as natural and good, but restricts it to the partners of marriage so as to ensure the responsibility for its consequences.
"Your women are a tilth for you so go to your tilth as you will, and send (good deeds) before you for your souls, and fear Allah, and know that you will (one day) meet him. Give glad tidings to believers, (O Muhammad)." (Quran 2:223)Marriage provides spiritual, physical, emotional and psychological companionship. This companionship generates and sustains love, kindness, compassion, mutual confidence, solace and succor (sakinah). It lays a spiritual and legal foundation for raising a family. The children born of the matrimonial union become legitimate and mutual rights of inheritance are established.
Marriage: A Religious Requirement
Marriage in Islam is recommended as a religious requirement.
"Marry those among you who are single and (marry) your slaves, male and female, that are righteous" (Quran 24:32)Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) declared:
"When the servant of Allah marries, he has fulfilled half the (responsibilities laid on him by the) faith; so let him be God conscious with respect to the other half". (Mishkat)Marriage has also been commended as the way of the prophets.
"We indeed sent messengers before you (O Muhammad), and We assigned them wives and children". (Quran 13:38)Marriage, in fact, is specifically considered the tradition (sunnah) of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when he declared:
"Marriage is my Sunnah, whoever disregards my (sunnah) path is not from among us". (ibn Majah)Islam discourages celibacy and encourages marriage, as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) recommended:
"Whoever is able to marry, should marry". (Bukhari)What Are The Benefits Of Marriage?
1. Fulfillment of deen (the full practice of religion) is accomplished through marriage. In Islam, we recognize that marriage is the state to which we aspire - a situation that supports, in every aspect, our attainment of the state that will please our Creator. To fulfill the role Allah (SWT) designed specifically for us, marriage is important. It is through marriage that these roles are fulfilled. Anas bin Malik reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said,
"When a man marries, he indeed perfects half of his religion. Then he should fear Allah for the remaining half." (Bukhari)2. For women, marriage provides support and protection,
"Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given one more (strength) than the other and because they support them from their means. Therefore, the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard" (Ali Imran:34-36).3. Satisfying sexual desires/needs may only be accomplished through marriage. As Muslims, we understand that sex outside of marriage is forbidden and considered a major sin. Therefore, sexual desires may only be satisfied within a marriage. Marriage provides protection from sin,
"They (wives) are like garments for you, and you are like garments for them" (Al Baqarah:187).4. Marriage provides companionship,
"...the companion by your side (the wife)." (Al Nisaa:36)For Muslims, it is clear that the trend to delay or skip marriage is prohibited, and with good reason. Marriage still remains the trend in Muslim communities. This provides for the safety and security of women and children. It provides a safeguard against sexual sin for the man as well as for the woman. It provides two-parent homes for children and strong ethics that will support a lifestyle that is consistent with the practice of Islam. It provides loving and kind companionship. This is the way of Muslims.
Islam provides clear and ideal direction for all aspects of life. This is a perfect example of those directions. The religion tells Muslims to marry early. It provides clear guidelines for husbands and wives and, as they become parents, for parenting and for the behaviour of children. There is no guesswork in the process.
1. Ask yourself: "Why am I getting married?"
"Because all of my friends are" is not a legitimate reason. This is a good question to ask even if you are meeting the person to make a final decision because it will be a reminder about the real purpose of marriage from an Islamic perspective.
Marriage, from an Islamic perspective, is part of faith and it is part of the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). As well, "My intention should be I am looking for someone with whom I will build a family," says Imam Muhammad Nur Abdullah of St. Louis, Missouri, a member of the North American Fiqh Council. He has conducted pre-marriage counseling in the U.S. for the last 20 years.
"Marriage is a commitment and relationship that starts in this Dunya (world) and will continue Insha Allah in Paradise together," he adds.
2. Ask yourself: What am I looking for in a spouse?
Abu Hurairah related that the Prophet Muhammad said: "Men choose women for four reasons: for their money, for their rank, for their beauty and for their religion, but marry one who is religious and you will succeed." (Bukhari, Muslim).
This of course, applies to women as well. However, religion it seems, is not always foremost in the minds of many people. In fact, it is probably the last factor on many Muslims' list.
According to Tasneem Qadeer, one of the seven volunteers who runs the Islamic Society of North America's matrimonial service, being a doctor or a lawyer is much more important to many Muslim women than piety.And the men are not any better. Many matrimonial advertisements for instance, demonstrate a key demand for a wife who has to be fair, slim and beautiful.
If we want to have healthy Muslim families then Deen has to be first, says Aneesah Nadir, Director of Social Services for the Arizona Muslim Family Health and Social Services in Tempe.She is one of the co-developers of the program Marriage the Islamic way, which teaches various aspects of marriage such as how to find a spouse, the wedding and the post-wedding marriage relationship with your spouse.
3. If you're looking for a spouse, lower your gaze.
This may seem like a contradiction, but it's not. Looking for a spouse who has the right qualities and whom you are physically attracted to does not mean throwing out the obligation to lower the gaze for both sexes and leering or ogling the person.
This perspective (staring or leering) would not be Islamically acceptable. Imam Nur Abdullah noted that looking at a potential mate is recommended according to the Hadith. Narrated Jabir ibn Abdullah the Prophet said: "When one of you asked a woman in marriage, if he is able to look at what will induce him to marry her, he should do so...." (Abu Dawud).
This means the two potential spouses can look at each other but not ogle or stare. Abdullah also noted that there is no limit on the number of times the two people can look at each other. However, both should fear Allah and remember the purpose of this is to satisfy the need for physical attraction to the person you are marrying. He also notes it is not permissible for a man to see a potential wife without Hijab, since he is not her Mahram (a relative with whom marriage is not possible, or legally her husband). Abdullah says seeing her face and hands are enough to determine attraction.
4. Get someone to help.
"Marriage is not something to throw yourself into all by yourself. Getting the help of someone, especially parents, relatives, an Imam, and/or respected and trustworthy members of the Muslim community to either look for the right spouse and initiate and participate in a communication process is very important.
In fact, even some non-Muslims have come to see this as a more viable way of meeting someone instead of getting involved in the disappointing dating game or picking someone up in a nightclub or bar. Involving others, by the way, does not mean signing over your right to say yes or no to a marriage proposal. It simply increases the likelihood of finding out important information about a prospective partner in a way that maintains rules of Islamic modesty (i.e. not meeting alone, see next point).Getting that third party involved also helps verify if the person you are interested in is decent, honest and respectful. This person(s) often checks out references, asks about the individual's character and behaviour, and looks out for your best interest in general.
This person should be a trustworthy Muslim, since you are seeking a Muslim in marriage, and would want someone familiar with the Islamic way of doing things. For those blessed with Muslim parents, remember that they are probably your best allies and helpers in seeking the right husband or wife. They have known you all of your life, and have your best interest at heart.
However, parents must be open and attentive to what their children are looking for, and never forget the element of choice. Ultimately, it is their son or daughter who is going to make the final decision. They must never become too pushy or aggressive, whether this pressure is being applied on their own son or daughter, or on the person s/he is interested in.
If parents, other family members, an Imam or members of the community are not available, you can also try seeking a husband or wife through the matrimonial services offered by a number of different Muslim organizations.
5. Always ask for references
This is also where your "third party" comes in handy. Not only will they be able to be your reference, they can also check out a prospective mate's references. A reference can include an Imam who knows the brother who proposed to you, a sister who knows the woman you may want to marry well, a family friend, a boss, a co-worker, and/or business partner.
A note about honesty and references: the people you ask may know something not very nice about your prospective spouse. Remind them that if they reveal this information, they would not be backbiting from the Islamic perspective. In fact, in the case of seeking marriage, complete information should be given about an individual, both good and bad.
The advice of one of the companions of the Prophet, Umar Ibn al-Khattab can help in this regard:
A man came to Umar ibn al-Khattab and spoke in praise of another. Umar asked him: "Are you his nearest neighbor such that you know his goings and his comings?"
"Have you been his companion on a journey so that you could see evidence of his good character?"
"Have you had dealings with him involving dinars and dirhams (money) which would indicate the piety of the man?"
"I think you saw him standing in the mosque muttering the Quran and moving his head up and down?"
"Go, for you do not know him..."
And to the man in question, Umar said,
"Go and bring me someone who knows you."
(quoted from Islam The Natural Way by Abdul Wahid Hamid, p. 66)
This gives you three types of people you can ask about a prospective mate's character: a neighbor, business colleague or someone who has traveled with them.
6. When you meet, don't be alone.
Umar related that Rasulullah said: "Whenever a man is alone with a woman the Shaytan makes a third." (Tirmidhi).
Also, Ibn Abbas related that Rasulullah said: "Not one of you should meet a woman alone unless she is accompanied by a relative within the prohibited degrees." (Bukhari, Muslim).
Meeting alone - for example, in the hotel room of one or the other potential spouse - is forbidden. The two cannot be in a situation where no one else can see or hear them. Instead, a discreet, chaperoned meeting should be set up. The chaperone, while allowing the two to talk, is in the same room, for example. As well, parents or guardians should set a time limit, recommends Winnipeg-based social worker Shahina Siddiqui. A whole day, for example, is too long for this kind of a meeting.
7. When you speak, be businesslike and to the point.
The purpose of meeting and talking to each other must also remain within Islamic guidelines. That means no flirtatious speech of a sexual nature on either side.
Imam Nur Abdullah says some of the topics discussed can include each other's interests, financial situation of the man, who is Islamically responsible for providing for his wife and children, and the two potential spouses' relationships with their parents.
He notes that conversations between potential mates cannot be talking just for the sake of talking. There should be a firm and clear intention of either pursuing engagement and marriage, or, if one of the `two or both the man and woman feel they are not compatible, a quick end to the relationship. This ensures both sides are safe from getting hurt more than they could in this kind of a situation and remain within the bounds of Islam, Insha Allah.
With regards to questions pertaining to a person's sexual history (for example, has s/he had a boy/girlfriend, does s/he have any type of sexually transmitted diseases), Imam Nur Abdullah says these things have to be investigated at the very beginning, when the communication for marriage begins. This is not something that should be brought up at the last stage.
Other topics that should also be discussed at the early stages include level of Islamic knowledge and practice, future career and education plans, home making skills and where the couple will live right after marriage and in the future (state and/or country). The Imam also says the couple can even get a blood test to ensure both are healthy. Some states even require this before marriage.
Seeking marriage is something highly recommended in Islam. While looking for a potential mate should be something Muslims help each other with, this cannot be done at the expense of Islamic rules pertaining to modesty and respect between the sexes.
Sad but shocking reality: the divorce rate amongst Muslims in North America is one of the highest in the world. According to New York-based Muslim sociologist Ilyas Ba-Yunus, Muslims in Canada and the U.S. have a divorce rate of 33 percent. The world's highest is the general U.S. population's of 48.6 percent, followed by the United Kingdom's of 36 percent.
Many assume divorce means problems began in the course of the marriage, whether it was communication breakdown or irreconcilable differences.
But there are many difficulties that lead to divorce which could have been avoided right from the beginning. This could have happened if individuals, parents, guardians and Imams had played their role right when communication between two Muslims seeking marriage began.
Below, we give you some tips and advice of what you can do:
The older woman noticed her instantly.
The twenty-something girl was an American Muslima, her white skin and Caucasian features bore testimony to that. She was perfect for her dear son Muhsin. As she walked closer to her, she noticed the young woman talking to someone of a darker complexion. The woman rushed up. "Assalamu alaykum," she said smiling at the American Muslima.
"Wa alaykum as Salaam," replied the sister and her friend in unison, both a bit startled by the enthusiasm and ardor with which they were being greeted.
"I would like you to marry my son," said the woman barely inches away from the American Muslima, and making no eye contact at all with her friend.
"But, but why?" she stammered.
"Because you are white and you are wearing a Jelbab. You will make a perfect wife for my Muhsin!" (This is based on a true story, in which the ethnicity of two of the people involved has been changed).
While some would be surprised at the candor and bluntness of the older woman in the above-mentioned scenario, such scenes are not uncommon. Many parents seem to think approaching a prospect out of the blue will "reserve" this person for their son/daughter. If you as a parent want to play an effective role in helping your children seek the right mate, things have to be done differently.
1. Understand your role
Your role as a mother or father is not to be the final arbiter of your child's marriage. This may be how marriages were arranged "back home" in a Muslim country, but it is not the Islamic way. Nor is this way acceptable to most Muslims who have grown up in the West. That said, the parents have a tremendous responsibility in the process. They:
Winnipeg, Canada-based Muslim social worker Shahina Siddiqui says parents have to sit down with their kids and openly discuss what kind of husband or wife s/he is looking for. You may live in the same household as your children and think you know them inside out, but many parents are shocked to find their kids' ideas about who they want to marry can be drastically different from what they expected.
Marrying cousin X or Y from "back home" may just not be acceptable. Or the nice boy or girl from the local cultural community who is highly educated and very well-off financially may be of little interest to a son or daughter because of their lack of Islamic knowledge and practice.
Open-mindedness and clear communication may reveal a side of your kids that may be hard to swallow. However, you must remember that marriage primarily affects the two people involved in the relationship. They must like the person they are marrying.
3. Clearly outline the rules of meeting a potential mate
Siddiqui says parents must set boundaries as to how and when they will meet prospective candidates. Too often, Muslims stray by thinking seeking a mate is an excuse to engage in dating. Dating occurs when a man and a woman spend time alone together. This is usually not with the intention of getting involved in a long-term or serious relationship. It is just to "have fun." There is little to no serious discussion of future plans and/or the intention to marry.
Dating sometimes occurs between two Muslims seeking marriage if they decide go out alone, with no third party present, in order to "get to know each other." This can also develop through hours of unnecessary phone or e-mail conversations.
Setting the boundaries of meeting a prospective mate is your responsibility as a Muslim parent. The rules to remember include the following: the meeting must be chaperoned so the two are not alone together, both prospective partners are lowering the gaze and both are sticking to the topic in the course of discussions. One suggestion Siddiqui gives in this regard is to avoid late night meetings between prospective candidates and chaperones because at the end of the day, people are tired and their defenses are down. For this kind of a meeting, all parties need to be very alert.
4. Give an allotted time for the meeting
Meetings between prospective spouses must not last for an extremely long time, like being away most of the day to meet this person. Parents should give an allotted time for the two to meet and talk.
5. Investigate thoroughly
One of the reasons for many divorces is the lack of proper investigation of a prospective marriage partner before marriage.
Parents have this heavy responsibility of finding out as much as possible about the individual who will possibly spend the rest of their life with their son or daughter. Investigation does not mean just asking two or three family friends or community members. Deeper digging is necessary.
The case of one Imam's daughter in the U.S. serves as a chilling example. This Imam asked a Muslim brother to check out a boy who was seeking marriage with his daughter. On the surface, all seemed fine. But upon further investigation it was discovered that he drinks alcohol. This fact was also confirmed by two other Muslims. The mediator in this case told Sound Vision that he never would have guessed, looking at the boy, that he drinks.
Aneesah Nadir, Director of Social Services for the Arizona Muslim Family Health and Social Services in Tempe provides another good way of fact checking on a proposal.
One sister she knows received a proposal from a brother who lived in a different city. To check this prospective mate out, one of her relatives went to the mosque this person attends and observed and talked to him without him knowing he was her relative. Her relative found the brother unsuitable and let her know about this.
6. Be honest
Parents as well as individuals looking for a spouse must be honest with regards to their credentials, background and other pertinent details about their personal lives.
Inflating your son or daughter's educational credentials, for example, will only backfire when checking reveals this is untrue.
7. Take your time
Siddiqui stresses the importance of not rushing a son or daughter into marriage. If you find someone for your son or daughter at a two-day Islamic conference, for example, and this is the initiation of the process, more time must be given to checking facts and references.
Ideally, she says references should always be asked for and checked out before meeting in person. And this goes for boys and girls.
8. Never be pushy
Another true story:
A young Muslim sister, practicing, Hijab-wearing, bright (she was studying at one of America's most prestigious universities) stepped in front of a moving train in Chicago and killed herself.
Because her parents refused to listen to what she was looking for in a husband. They wanted to hand pick and completely decide who she would spend the rest of her life with.
This incident is an extreme example of the kind of pressure some parents apply to get their kids to marry the "right one", often in complete variance with what the young man or woman is looking for.
Needless to say, this is not condoned by Islam. Neither is suicide as a way out of difficult situations.
Another form of pressure is put on those who are given a proposal. It is not uncommon to see sisters or their parents pursued by the parents of others who are interested in their son or daughter. This can even reach the level of harassment at times.
Forced marriages are not only unIslamic. They pose a danger to your children's future, as well as that of your grandchildren. Would you want your grandchildren to experience the pain and emotional turmoil of a divorce which could have been avoided if both parties had had more say in the choice of a partner?
Imams in North America do more than deliver a weekly Khutbah and lead prayer. They are, whether they and others realize it or not, responsible for their community's emotional and psychological well-being as well.
So Imams don't just officiate marriages. They have to become involved with them as well. This role can take three main forms.
1. Being a guardian for sisters
Alhamdulillah, a large number of those converting to Islam are women. Most of these sisters should and do seek marriage with a Muslim. The problem though, is that they don't have the family support needed in seeking the right mate. In most cases they have been cast out of their families because of their conversion to Islam, or they just don't want non-Muslim family members involved in their marriage decisions.This is where you, as an Imam, must step in. These sisters need to have a third party to advise and mediate on their behalf. Being new to the Muslim community, they don't usually know who is who and can be easily deceived. These Muslim women must be protected against abuse and deception on the part of men who may take advantage of their lack of knowledge of the community.
Imams should not wait for a sister to approach them. Once you see such a Muslima inquire discreetly if you can help in this important area of her life. She may feel shy asking you directly, so you may have to take the first step.
2. Vouching for good brothers
An Imam is a great reference for a brother who regularly attends a mosque and is Islamically involved. Helping practicing, honest and decent brothers marry with your "stamp of approval" will possibly increase their chances of getting married. Many Muslim women's parents and third party will feel more of a sense of assurance if an Imam vouches for a brother than if a friend or relative does.
3. Providing the right information
The Imam is also the best person to ask to confirm someone's Islamic practice. A brother may say he attends Mosque X in city Y, but this can only really be confirmed by the Imam there, who knows, for example who attends which prayers in congregation, who comes only at Juma or only on Eid.
As well, Imams are often asked for help by Muslims in their mosque and are keenly aware of their problems at some level. This can also help a third party seeking information about a prospective candidates who attends your mosque.
4. A note about Gheebah (backbiting)
While backbiting is generally forbidden by Islam, marriage investigations are an exception to this rule. As an Imam, you may be told information about a person in confidence: financial problems, family abuse, drug and/or alcohol consumption, etc. While these and other problems should remain the business of the individual who has told you in general, in the case of marriage, you must provide complete information about someone you know has a problem.
If a father wants to know about the character of a brother who has proposed to his daughter, and you as an Imam know this brother does drugs, drinks, lies or steals, you must tell this father. His daughter's life is at stake here.
Seeking the right husband or wife is something to be commended for. It is also the responsibility of the Muslim community to help those who are seeking marriage in fulfilling this Sunnah and part of our faith.
Marriage is recommended for partners who share a common way of life. The matrimonial partners should be able to fulfill their purpose of creation as defined by Allah. They should be able to effectively carry out their responsibility as care-takers (khalifah) of earth. They should share the common goal of building a well integrated Muslim community and be able to work harmoniously towards it.
Criteria for Selecting a Marriage Partner
Normally the criteria for selecting matrimonial mates are many: wealth, beauty, rank, character, congeniality, compatibility, religion, etc. The Quran enjoins Muslims to select partners who are good and pure (tayyib)
"Women of purity are for men of purity, and men of purity are for women of purity." (Quran 24:26)Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) recommended Muslims to select those partners who are best in religion (din) and character.
"A man may married for four reasons: for her property, for her rank, for her beauty, and for her religion (and character). So marry the one who is best in the religion and character and prosper". (Bukhari and Muslim)Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) assured the bounty of Allah to those who wish to get married and live a pure and clean life.
"Three groups of people Allah obliged Himself to help them: Mujahid in the cause of Allah, a worker to pay his debt, and the one who wants to marry to live a chaste life." (Tirmidhi)Freedom to Choose a Marriage Partner
Islam has given freedom of choice to those who wish to get married. The mutual choice of the would-be-spouses is given the highest consideration:
"Do not prevent them from marrying their husbands when they agree between themselves in a lawful manner." (Quran 2:232)The process of mate selection should be a function of a healthy balance between the freedom of choice of the would-be-spouses and consideration of the influence and consent of the parents/guardians.
The freedom of choice of those who wish to get married should not preclude the influence and consent of the parents/guardians nor should the parents/guardians ignore the wishes and consent of the would be spouses.
Falling in love is not a pre-condition for marriage in Islam. However, for the purpose of selecting an appropriate mate, the would-be- spouses are allowed to see and/or talk to each other.
Prophet Muhammad (S) recommended:
"When one of you seeks a woman in marriage, and then if he is able to have a look at whom he wishes to marry, let him do so". (Abu Dawood)The would-be-spouse are allowed to see each other for matrimonial purposes under the direct supervision of their mahram relatives. This provision is expected to be conceived and executed with piety and modesty.
Prophet Muhammad (S) instructed:
"No man has the right to be in the privacy with a woman who is not lawful for him. Satan is their third party unless there is a mahram". (Ahmad)The would-be-spouses residing in non-Muslim societies are recommended to enter into a pre-nuptial commitment to safeguard Islamic values and Muslim personal law.