'And We have created everything in pairs, that perhaps you may remember.' (Qur'an,51:49)
So you are getting married? Congratulations, and may Allah bless you and bring you and your chosen partner to a long and happy life, together!
Leaving your childhood behind, and becoming man and wife together, is the most important step short of actually becoming Muslim that any human being can take in the interests of their own happiness and wellbeing.
'And among Allah's signs is this: that He created for you spouses from among yourselves, so that you might find rest in them; and He has set between you love and compassion. Truly there are signs in this for people who reflect.' (Qur'an, 20:21)
'Our Lord, grant us the delight of our eyes from our wives and our offspring...' (Qur'an, 25:74)
Marriage is such an important step that our Blessed Prophet (PBUH) Spoke of marriage as being 'half the religion': Whoever has married has completed half of his religion; therefore let him fear Allah in the other half!' (Bayhaqi)
You have only to use your eyes and your ears, and consider the marriages of those people you know in your own circle of family, friends and acquaintances, to know that this is so.
If your marriage is happy and fulfilled, then no matter what troubles may beset you, no matter what hardships you are obliged to face as you pass along your road of Life, no matter what sicknesses or distressing circumstances, you will always face them as if your back were against a protecting fortress, inside the walls of which you may set aside all the terrors and traumas for while, and be loved.
But marriage is also a most demanding training ground of faith. By claiming it to be half the religion' the Blessed Prophet was not making an idle statement. When human couple strive hard to get their marriage and family right in the eyes of Allah, they are indeed well on e road to Paradise.
For it is love which makes a marriage-not a soppy, sentimental kind of romantic dream, but the sort of love which will roll up its sleeves and get stuck into the mess; the sort of love which will hang on to you when everyone else has turned against you and is speaking wrongly of you, while you have confidence that your partner (who knows you better than any person) will justify that confidence, and spring to your defence.
Sounds too good to be true? Those of you who have grown up in unhappy circumstances, in families shaken by frustrations and depressions, where the adults were bitter and cynical, and over-authoritarian, may well wonder if it is possible to have such a loving relationship with another human being.
By the grace of Allah, it is possible, and it is what Allah intended for you, by the practice of Islam which is submission to His compassionate will.
But a happy marriage is not simply made in Heaven.' It does not just happen by accident.
You could go into a most beautiful garden and be amazed at the profusion and lushness of the flowers, the neatness of the borders and grasses, the absence of marauding insects and pests-and you would never for a moment think that this had come about by accident. You would know, straight away, that the garden had been created by a person or team of people who loved gardening, and no matter what the setbacks and problems were determined to produce a thing of great beauty and joy. A marriage is cultivated in exactly the same way.
You have to be able to see in your mind's eye the sort of garden/marriage you would like to have when it is finished, and aim towards it. If events turn out slightly differently to what you expected, it does not matter all that much, because your master plan will be there to keep you heading in the right direction, and all unexpected events will simply be incorporated into moving towards this plan.
Carrying on with the garden imagery, you have to be able to recognise the seeds that you are planting, and weed out the plants you don't want before they cause trouble. Some seeds develop into beautiful flowers, while others are troublesome weeds-like bindweed, which climbs over everything else and chokes it, until the garden is buried and destroyed.
You have to be on the alert for invasions of malicious pests which, although they are themselves claiming a right to live, are nevertheless gaining their living at the expense of yours, and are ruining the things you have planted.
You have to keep an eye on the weather, and when there is not enough rainfall, you must do the long chore of going round the garden yourself carrying water, making sure everything is all right. In a long, dry spell, is might mean a great deal of drudgery-but you know at without it your garden will fail and die. It is up to you keep everything going.
All devout Muslims, men and women, should remember this fact, in case they think that in marriage Allah has granted them something in which they can just lounge about and watch the flowers grow. Allah never grants human beings this privilege. Whatever they have that gives them pleasure, they have to work for it-they really have to earn the right to be its steward.
Everything in life is a gift, and does not belong as of right to any person. Even your body is a gift, enjoyed (or not enjoyed!) by your soul for the duration of its sojourn on earth.
It is not there as a permanent feature of the universe; in fact, there are no permanent features of the universe-not even the rocks from which the great mountains are formed!
Allah has made us stewards, the khulafa; the guardians of this wondrous planet and its life-forms. And the most important life form that we will ever have to cherish is our own partner, our husband or wife. From that person, we are intended to produce in love the Muslims of the next generation, and set them on their own ways with our examples and encouragement. With that person, we are supposed to build up our own lives, free from fears and resentments and uncertainties, so that we can concentrate on filling our 'space' with love and the service of Allah.
This is why marriage is 'half the religion.' Islam is intended to cover every aspect of a believer's life, twenty four hours per day. Our relationship with our life-partner and family certainly accounts for at least half of this time, and for some women, it occupies one hundred percent of their time,
We neglect this most vital charge laid upon us at our peril. No human being was intended to live in isolation-either splendid isolation, thinking himself or herself 'better' than the common herd in any way, or in grief-stricken isolation, deprived of life's comforts and the satisfying of natural appetites and needs. Allah created Man and Woman from a single soul, and He intended them to live and work together.
'O humanity; fear your Lord, Who created you from a single soul, and from it created its spouse, and from the two of them did spread forth a multitude of men and women.' (4:1)
'We created you from a single pair of male and female.' (49:13; see also 35:11) In this is a sure sign. Each is necessary to the other. People may live and work and have faith on their own, but it is only a 'half-life.'
As any single person, or widow living alone, or abandoned half of a couple will tell you, it is possible to survive and live by yourself, and even to wring some enjoyment out of this life-for you are free to be selfish and do the things you want to do without much consideration of the needs and wants of others. But there is a terrible price for this solitary existence.
It is like a blind person developing extra-sensitive hiring in order to compensate and cope with lack of sight; or a paralysed person in a wheelchair developing extra-large arm muscles to make up for the lack of legs. It can be done-but it is a miserable and long process.
Married life brings its pressures, but it can also wide the kind of relaxation that human beings naturally need. Imam al-Ghazali observes that:
'One of the benefits of marriage is the enjoyment of company and the sight of one's spouse, and by shared amusement, whereby the heart is refreshed and strengthened for worship; for the soul is prone to boredom and is lined to shun duty as something unnatural to it. If forced to persevere in something it dislikes, it shies and backs away, whereas if it is revived from time to time by pleasure it acquires new strength and vigour.' (Ihya ulum al-Din)
The sign and the design that Allah intended is that it best for men and women to come together as a team. People work together as all sorts of teams-they Cooperate for the sake of games and sport; they unite to do a task too great for an individual, like building a house; they sort themselves out into managers and workers in order to create businesses and earn a living. But the most fundamental team of all, and the one which is the most important, is that of a man and woman deciding to live together in one space as husband and wife.
'Actions are only (judged) by intentions; each person shall be rewarded only for that which he intended. (Bukhari and Muslim) All human beings share the same basic needs-to feel needed, to be appreciated, respected and loved. Without these needs, a human being cannot really be said to be human. And the most obvious thing about these needs is that they all depend absolutely on the relationship of one person with another.
So basic are they that one can surely take evidence from them that the need for people to find partners, and mate, and interact together with each other and then in the creation of happy, stable families, is intended by our Creator as a sign.
The family is the oldest of all human institutions, and entire civilisations have flourished or disappeared depending on whether family life was strong or weak. Yet all over the world today, and not just in the West, families are breaking down and societies are disintegrating into confusion and despair. Hence the central importance which Islam attaches to family values, and to the art-and it is an art-of making this most basic of all relationships work.
Embarking on a marriage is really very similar to beginning the construction of a building. The building may be extremely magnificent and grand, but the most important thing about it is the foundations upon which it is built. If those foundations are not secure, the building will not survive when the storms and shocks of stress hit it, as they inevitably will sooner or later.
What does a husband need to do in order to gain his wife's respect? And why does it matter so much to him? And why does a woman have such a powerful need for a husband's love? How can she earn it, and keep him faithful to her? Our Lord has revealed guidelines for human life together since the dawn of time, and for over fourteen centuries Muslims have had the example of the life of the Prophet (P.B.U.H) Muhammad (4). Wise counsel on how to build the foundations of a marriage, and then to create a happy family, have been freely available for anyone to consult. Muslims believe that whether people follow these guidelines or not actually determines not only their earthly happiness, but also their eternal fate once their earthly life is finished.
There are really two keys to a happy marriage. The first is to love Allah, and to seek to apply His principles in every situation and relationship. The second is to do a little sensible soul-search and analysis before embarking on such an important enterprise-one that is going to be the most profound commitment in the whole of your life, and is going to affect the lives and wellbeing of so many people, not only your own!
What does a person want from marriage? Before committing themselves to a life- partner, every individual should try to sit down calmly and become conscious of what their needs really are, and consider whether or not the proposed partner is going to prove likely to be able to fulfill those needs. These needs are not just for a man to have a cheap servant or concubine (a maid, or an available sex-partner for whenever he feels 'in the mood'); or for a woman to have someone to shower her with gifts, clothes, jewellery and flowers, or to provide the means for her to cradle in her arms a beloved baby (a sugar-daddy or a stud-bull). The needs amount to much more than that. They are physical, emotional, and also spiritual.
What are your values and your goals, and how do you expect to achieve them? You have to know yourself pretty well, and also have a fair idea of whether or not your intended spouse understands them and is willing and able to satisfy them.
Furthermore, if your marriage is to be successful, you must also be considerate towards the legitimate needs of your partner, and not just look to your own gratification. If you are going to be happy, then your spouse must be happy also, or your relationship is doomed.
We have physical needs, not only for sexual satisfaction but also for food, clothing and shelter.
We also have emotional needs-for understanding, kindness and compassion. We have the need for companionship and friendship, a person with whom we can share our intimate thoughts and still feel secure; someone who we know is not going to laugh at us or mock us, but is going to care about us. We need to feel that we are building something up together, and accomplishing something that is good.
Then, we have the spiritual need for inner peace and contentment. We need to feel at home with a partner whose way of life is compatible with our own sense of morality, and our desire to live in such a way as is pleasing to Allah. If our religion means anything at all to us, then the most fundamental need we have is to find someone whose Islam is not just on the lips, but has reached the heart.
We will not feel comfortable if we are settled in a life partnership with someone whose ways, morals or habits make us uneasy or disapproving-that would not make for our inner peace, but would be a terrible worry. We want to feel secure. This has nothing to do with satisfying our urges for career, fame, wealth, and material posses- sions. Such things are pleasant enough, but Muslims know that there is a hunger of the spirit that remains even after all these physical needs are satisfied. The love of dunya- the things of this world-is a tricky illusion. Muslims know that no matter how pleasant they may be, the things of this world are ephemeral and will pass away quickly: they are dependent on the will of Allah. A millionaire can be ground into the dust at the slightest turn of fate. Nothing of the earth's riches can be taken with us when we leave here to make the journey that comes after this brief life in the world.
Our spirits long to know who we are, what we are, why we are here, where we are going, and how we can get there. Non-believers scoff at religion, but find their hearts are not at ease because they do not have the answers to these questions. Muslims feel that even if they do not know all the details for certain, at least they are on the right road. Even if they do not always know the reason why Allah has given a particular instruction, they trust His judgments, and know it is right to carry it out, and that in doing so they will find happiness and contentment.
So, when we are about to embark upon marriage, we need to be aware of how we feel about all these issues-and also, how our chosen partner feels. Of course, it is impossible to sit down and thrash out all the answers in five minutes. The greatest brains in the world spend whole lifetimes on these issues. Nevertheless, it is sensible to at least be aware of the issues-even if we cannot come up with all the answers-and to have talked about them frankly to the intended spouse.
To make a successful marriage, it is also vital that you take into consideration the needs and nature of your partner. What he or she believes about 'life, the universe and everything' is important in the pursuit of your own happiness and success. For if only one half of the partnership is happy and fulfilled by the relationship, it will not be long before both are affected.
People intending to marry need to know from the outset whether or not they are compatible with each other. This means more than whether or not they are from a suitable family, or whether they are practicing the basic obligations of the faith: such things are important, but to believe that they are all that matters may lead to disaster. Sometimes, when one has fallen in love one is almost in a state of sickness which impairs the mental state. They say 'love is blind': as Imam Busiri says in his poem Al-Burda: 'You have besieged me with advice, but I hear it not; for the man in love is deaf to all reproaches. Often the person in love is so besotted with the beloved that they simply cannot see the things that are 'wrong' with the loved one. Or if they can, they assume that their love is so powerful that it will overcome all obstacles and incompatibilities, and will be able to influence the beloved to change according to the desires and tastes of the lover.
Some hope! If two people are not well-suited as a team, then the going is likely to be rough. According to an old Middle Eastern proverb, a field cannot be properly ploughed if an ox and a donkey are yoked together. Such a performance might be possible, but it would cause pain and hardship to both.
The same applies in marriage. If a man and woman have totally different interests, tastes, pastimes, and types of friends, it is a dead cert that their marriage will soon come under strain. This is one good reason why it is important for life-partners to have a shared attitude to their religion. Allah has prohibited marriage to polytheists, and has commanded us to marry people of religion. He has also approved the involvement of parents and guardians in the choice of spouse.
Family backgrounds often have a great deal to do with the set of values people have. When the backgrounds of both husband and wife are similar, they will probably find it easier to grow together. However, Allah and His Prophet (P.B.U.H) have stated that people from widely different backgrounds can make very good marriages, so long as their attitude to their religion is compatible.
'A slave who believes is better (for you) than an idolatress, though she attract you.' (Qur'an, 2:221)
A woman is married for four reasons: for her property, her rank, her beauty and her religion. Win the one who is religious, and you will prosper.' (Bukhari and Muslim)
Many marriages these days end up in unhappiness or even divorce on the grounds of incompatibility. If the partners had stood aside from the issue of 'being in love' for a moment, and had been careful to examine their actual compatibility instead, these tragedies might have been averted. Hence the importance of intelligent parental help in selecting and assessing potential partners!
Sincere respect for each other is the most vital element-not so-called 'closeness' and physical intimacy before marriage. Unbridled passion might seem flattering at first, but it actually betrays a selfish unconcern for the other person's happiness. It might also sow seeds of doubt that could later give rise to uncertainty as to the real motive for the marriage. Was it merely to provide an outlet for passion, or was it genuinely to share a lifetime with someone who is truly appreciated and loved? Many find out to their cost that lack of self-control before marriage frequently foreshadows lack of self-control afterwards. However, it is never possible for two people to be completely compatible in every respect, for they are two separate individuals, each with a distinct soul and person- ality. If one partner simply tries to dominate the other so as to wipe out the other spouse's personality, tragedy is on the way. One of the biggest dangers of 'macho' males is that after a very short period of married life they tend to think of their partners in terms of 'wife' or 'extension of self;' or even 'property,' and forget that Islam recognises women as persons in their own right.
When husbands on the brink of divorce are interviewed by counsellors such as the Relate teams, they frequently realise with a shock that even though they might have been married for years and have perhaps expected their wives to pander to their every whim, they do not have the least idea what their wife's favourite colour, or dress, or hobby is, or who their friends are. They simply never noticed any aspect of their wife that did not specifically relate to them.
People are not perfect, of course; we all have shortcomings. A spouse might not be aware of the shortcomings of his or her partner before marriage, but will certainly pick up this awareness pretty soon afterwards. Some marriages virtually die in the honeymoon period, if some awful, unsuspected habit is suddenly revealed in the intimacy of the bedroom. A friend of mine, for example, accepted her arranged marriage quite happily, until she discovered that her new husband had disgusting personal habits, and even threw his meal leftovers out of the window! Previously, he had performed such personal chores as picking his nose, cutting his toenails, and passing wind, in private. This poor lady discovered that he thought his wife did not count, and happily did these things in her presence. She was naturally disgusted. It proved impossible to cure these shortcomings, so the marriage was swiftly doomed.
So, if you love him, but you are irritated by the way he always leaves a mess for others to clear up, never gives you a little gift or remembers important dates, and you find the way he honks out his throat disgusting, he is going to drive you crazy after marriage. And if you adore her, but you wish she didn't witter on quite so much, or talk about you to her friends, or go into sulks and tears at the slightest thing, or cling to you quite so tightly when you are going out-then the gazing at you and talking at you will soon pall, and you'll be off with your friends to get a break from it, only to return later to the tantrums and the tears.
If you can see his or her faults, and love him or her anyway (without changes), and are able to live with your irritation-fair enough. But if you know that would be impossible, think twice. Suppose your pet hate was dirty socks, but your man wears them until they stick to the wall if thrown there? I knew such a man. Over twenty years of nagging had no effect on him. Suppose the smell of pipe smoke makes you feel sick? Yes, he may say he'll give it all up for you-but we've all met failed nonsmokers before!
It is not the shortcomings themselves that make a marriage fail, but the inability to communicate about them, and tackle them, or make allowances for them. Are you flexible enough to make allowances, as you wish allowances to be made for you? Do the good points of your loved one outweigh the bad? Love certainly does cover a multitude of sins; but do you really love that person enough, or were you really only in love with a dream of what you would like your loved one to be, and not the real person, warts and all?
Some men and women never give up their 'dream lovers,' ideals created in their own fantasies. They spend a lifetime hankering after that ideal, or trying to mould the one they have into that ideal. By 'mould, we occasionally mean force.' Either way, it is pretty miserable and insulting for the one whose natural character is being rejected.
Sometimes people are in love with love,' and crave the excitement and satisfaction of continual romance. Once the more down-to-earth partner begins to settle in, they feel taken for granted and starved of affection, and the craving for the fire of fresh love overcomes the domestic cosiness and contentment, which seems so dull by comparison. Their ideal lover would present his or her soul on a plate to them every time they gaze into each other's eyes. They never realise that the dream person does not exist beyond their own fantasies. Consequently, they are always in the 'pain' of love. Dissatisfied, frustrated lovers do not make good marriage material. In Muslim marriage, it is reality that counts.
It is foolish not to think seriously about the problems that other people can see, and ignore the wise advice of those who care about you. Those who simply close their eyes and minds to unpleasant details before marriage will certainly have to face them later, when the need to be on best behaviour has gone and both partners are reverting to type. It is vitally important for husband and wife to see the other person as he or she really is, and also to be honest in presenting their true selves to their partners. Marriages based on fantasy, fakery and illusion are doomed.
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