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Marriage: Quest for Perfection or Search for Happiness?
Marriage is ultimately a quest for peace and tranquility
By Imam Hamid Slimi
Finding someone for marriage is one of the most discussed topics among single people and specifically among our Muslim youth today since relationships between males and females in Islam are not considered right except through the ties of Nikah.
For those who have chosen to abide with the laws and principles of Islam and hold on to chastity and patience, marriage discussions are so fascinating, promising and one of the best outlets of relief. Young people who are struggling, dreaming or even fantasizing about a potential spouse (one they have in mind or hope to find) often do so because the romantic possibilities seem endless; they hope with abandon and trust in God to help them find that person.
“Falling in love”
Our eyes and minds are constantly bombarded with images and thoughts which bring new considerations and efface old ones. Today’s culture and environment have opened so many ways of communication between people that they have taken away the simplicity of life and the contentment which used to help us focus, set life priorities and most importantly understand that no one is perfect and therefore reasonable adjustments always need to be made. The more sophisticated we become the more we demand and expect from the others.
The universal expression of art, literature, movies and music has been very successful in convincing us that “happiness in marriage must start with a love story.” Thus, falling in love has become the “standard” for starting a married life. Consequently, the focus of many becomes the search for love, or the cliche – coup de foudre – when people, who by nature never like to fall, make the sole exception to willingly fall in the ocean of love.
Many want to experience what poets have been ruminating about, what stories and novels have been relating to us, what artists have been illustrating and playing to the world. “Falling in love” in the romantic language means experiencing perfection by tasting the ultimate sweetness that this earthly world can offer and achieving a sort of transcendence towards the ultimate uplifting physical and spiritual experience.
A quest for a perfect partner?
The question which comes to mind is: are those looking to get married on a quest for the perfect partner or on a search for a compatible partnership leading to happiness? We certainly cannot expect what we cannot give and since no one is perfect then why would someone expect perfection to be realized through a partnership made of imperfect beings?
Thinking that the other will be perfect and hence will make me happy and content is an illusion. In reality no one can make you happy and content except yourself and when you accept the fact that you cannot expect others to be perfect because you are not perfect either. In fact this quest for romantic perfection is entirely self-defeating. God Almighty says, “Lo! Allah does not change the condition of a folk until they (first) change by themselves that which is in their hearts;” (Chap. 13 V.11). Only once we let go of this romantic notion which is really a figment of our collective imaginations can we begin our quest towards happiness.
What is happiness?
The million dollar question: what is happiness? Happiness means amongst other things contentment, satisfaction, fulfilment, accomplishment and achievement which are almost linear in fashion. Therefore, if I achieve my goals then I should be happy. The Holy Qur’an states the goals of marriage in the following verse, “And among His signs is this: He created for you mates from yourselves that you might find rest and peace in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo! Herein indeed are portents for folk who reflect.” (Chap. 30 V. 31)
The goals here are rest, tranquility, peace of the mind and peace of the soul. This is why the sense of peace and harmony is a signal that creates that first acceptance of the other; the exchange of inexpressible signals that follow then grown from acceptance to become Mawaddah or spiritual love. Mawaddah has to be cultivated over time like a fruit-bearing tree; spiritual attachment is cemented by the spiritual enrichment and appreciation, which is unlike the physical desire driven by one’s biology that eventually decreases over time.
Components of a compatible personality
Having said all of this, Islam does recognize the fact that there should be a reasonable level of compatibility between a man and a woman over different aspects of life, mainly personality and faith. The components of a compatible personality used to be and to some degree still are one’s education, manners, perceptions, social upbringing and physical appearance to a certain extent.
As for ethnicity, race, culture, and lineage – these have nothing to do with compatibility since they tend to counter the message of equality, uniformity and human brotherhood stressed by the Qur’an and the Prophet (PBUH) – in fact these elements have always been the causes of division, conflict and even war.
High expectations and low preparation – a formula for divorce
However, even this notion of marriage compatibility has evolved in our days beyond character, reasonable education, etiquette, abilities and reasonable material establishment. Due to today’s economic pressures, compatibility for a large number of those on marriage quest means the full package that is a ‘romantic experience with a wealthy partner’ -or at least a person with ‘stable’ income – and all the better if he or she looks like a prince or princess.
This has led to the unfortunate raising of standards to the degree which is far beyond acceptance and reasonable chemistry, hard work, a sense of responsibility and physical compatibility. The search for mutual compatibility – something that was relatively easy to find – has been replaced by high expectations and low preparation for marriage which according to recent statistics is one of the main causes of divorce today. The high divorce rate in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities have surpassed any historical records.
According to the Prophet (PBUH) marriage is something simple: “If someone with good character comes to you to propose for marriage and you feel pleased and satisfied with his religious beliefs and practices as well as his character (manners and personality), then you should marry him, otherwise there will be fitnah (tribulation and great evil) and big corruption on earth.” (Reported by Imam Tirmidhi and others) He also said, “Women are asked for marriage for four things: wealth, family status, beauty and the practice of faith. So you should marry the one with faith, otherwise you will lose more than you gain.” (Reported by Imam Bukhari and others).
Are we really following his advice or have we gone off the wrong track?
There are several considerations one must make when looking for a future spouse.
- Look for a person from whom you get a feeling of peace, tranquility and a sense of security. This is what matters the most and the rest is icing on the cake.
- For every man there is a right woman and for every woman there is a right man. You only need to look in the right place, the right way at the right time.
- Seek the help of God by praying for your marriage. Even Prophet Musa (Moses) prayed for personal peace and security and God immediately answered him when he said, “My Lord! I am needy of whatever good You send down for me.” (Chap 28 V.24)
- Seek help from those with experience and exposure. People will help you! Put your trust in Allah and in a few trusted people who care about you and would love to see you happy.
- Attend various Islamic gatherings at Islamic centers or in mosques and engage in appropriate (professional) conversation with the members of the opposite sex without being isolated with them.
- You can also correspond with potential mates through third-party Muslim marriage websites or advertising. Our methods of communication have changed and there is nothing wrong with that as long as the principle of professional conduct is maintained.
- In the time of the Prophet (PBUH) the Sahabah (his companions) used to meet people sometimes in his presence and sometimes in other circumstances. For instance, on a number of occasions women used to come presenting themselves as candidates for marriage and accordingly, some men would accept their proposal of marriage. The Sahabah were very simple and undemanding about choosing their partners so long as they fulfilled basic religious and character requirements.
Too many conditions
In our society, generally speaking, we tend to put far too many conditions and requirements that are not essentials from an Islamic perspective in a marriage.
Islamically, the basic things we should consider are religion and character. All other requirements can be compromised on.
Young people have to stop chasing the notion of the perfect one and start looking for the peaceful one. Islam is based on peace and Allah Almighty constantly calls us to the house of peace. Marriage is about finding peace within oneself and with one’s spouse.
Ultimately, there is no one to blame for not finding a partner but oneself because as the Prophet (PBUH) said “Allah has taken it as a duty upon Himself to help the one who seeks Nikah.”
Originally published Tuesday, 06 May 2008
(FLN Magazine – Vol. 1 / Issue 1)