Marriage: Purpose and Obligation
Definition of Marriage
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 seriousness of this covenant becomes obvious when one finds the same tern i.e., Mithaqun Ghalithun, being used for the covenant made between Allah and the Prophet before granting them the responsibility of the Prophethood. (Quran 33:7)
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.
7 Etiquettes of Seeking a Spouse: An Islamic Perspective
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.
“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do.” (Quran 24:30)
And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms…” (Quran 24:31)
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.
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.