Marriage – An Islamic Perspective by Mostafa al-Badawi
Excerpted from Man & the Universe, An Islamic Perspective by Mostafa al-Badawi.
Marriage is one of the pivotal institutions in Islam and therefore one of the most explicitly regulated. Young men are strongly enjoined to marry as early as possible, as a safeguard against irregular and therefore socially disruptive relationships, and also to enable themselves to reach maturity and stability in their lives. It is stated in hadith that, ‘When the servant marries he completes half of his religion, let him thereafter fear God in the remaining half.’ Another well-known hadith explains how one should choose his spouse-to-be stating that there are four reasons why a woman is desired in marriage: wealth, social status, beauty and piety. The hadith then goes on to exhort men to give piety priority over all other reasons, since a pious wife is an effective helper on the road to the hereafter, whereas a worldly one is at best a distraction and at worst an actively nefarious influence. She may, for instance, put her husband under constant pressure to provide her with luxuries he can ill afford, thereby driving him to fall into dishonest acts such as embezzlement or bribery. It is in this sense that the Qur’an warns: O believers! Verily some of your wives and your children are your enemies, therefore beware of them! (64:14)The basis of the marital relationship in Islam is never passion or infatuation nor mere sexual attraction, but the kind of stable affection that makes for emotional security and thus peace and durability. The Qur’an states: It is He who created you out of one living soul and made of him his spouse, that he might find peace in her (7:189). And again: And of His signs is that He created for you, of yourselves, spouses, that you might find peace in them, and He has set between you affection and compassion (30:21). To achieve this, rules were prescribed in Shari’a based upon the very nature of men and women and designed to make the relationship as satisfactory and stable as possible. Thus the position of each partner vis-à-vis the other and the children is unequivocally stated. Men are in charge of women, states the Qur’an, for that with which God has favored one of them over the other, and for that which they have expended of their wealth… (4:34). That which men were favored with is what allows them to carry out their functions and fulfill their responsibilities, namely an intelligence which is more objective and less subject to emotional influences, the physical strength to work outdoors, the earning power that goes with these two attributes, the responsibility to give the children their name and the consequent hereditary rights. This makes the man the main factor of stability in the household, the pivot around which all else revolves. He is therefore expected to provide material security to the best of his ability, which includes providing the household with all the necessities of life, protecting its members against external aggression, and active as arbiter in the event of internal discord.He should also provide emotional security and support by being a source of warmth and affection, by showing his appreciation for the effort expended within the household, and by providing sexual fulfillment. There are his this-worldly duties. His religious duties are to reach his family the basics of their faith and the way to perform their acts of worship correctly, and then to supervise their implementation. He is expected to be fairly intransigent as concerns the rights of God on his family and extremely lenient as concerns his own personal rights, and never the reverse. Men should know that they will be asked to account for the way they have fulfilled these duties, for the Prophet has said, ‘You are all guardians, and each of you shall be asked to account for his subjects.’Having discussed the Islamic conception of men’s nature and roles let us now see what is has to say about women. The hadith says, ‘I bid you treat your women well, for women were created from a rib, the part of it that is most bent is its head, should you attempt to straighten it you will break it, and if you leave it be, it will remain bent.’ The hadith obviously refers to the symbolism of the story of Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib. That she was created from him indicates that their natures are similar in many respects and that were they differ they are not in opposition but complement each other. The curve of the rib suggests the mother’s protective and nourishing holding of her child to her breast. This is the maximum emotional output in human terms. The emotional charge required by women to function in the role of mother necessarily influences their ability to think detachedly and objectively, especially when their interests or those of their children are at stake. This is why the upper end of head of the rib is said to be the part that suffers the most bending, that is, the part that is most subject to the sway of emotions. To attempt to straighten it is to attempt to force women to act like men, which, if at all possible, would forthwith deprive them of their ability to care for their children adequately. It is, however, plainly impossible, and this is why it was said in the hadith that it would break the rib, that is, lead to the disruption of the relationship and divorce. This in no way means that there are no women who think more objectively than most men, nor that there are no men who are more emotional than most women. But it does mean that these difference should be seen in a positive not a negative light since the fact that each provides the things that the other lacks makes for a differentiation of roles within the relationship and thus for stability. Women are required to be reasonably obedient, well groomed, efficient in the management of the household, solicitous for the children’s welfare, and loyal, that is, discrete as concerns her husband’s affairs and their mutual relationship.That people are not angels and that marriage can be very difficult is an acknowledged fact in Islam, and there are therefore instructions for both parties to pre-empt or remedy the main causes for discord. The importance of safeguarding the marital relationship was very much emphasized by the fact that the Prophet, may God’s blessings and peace be upon him, spoke of it on two of the most meaningful occasions, the farewell pilgrimage and on his death bed, when he was expected to mention only matters of the utmost importance. On both occasions he bade men treat their women well and he put the onus of preserving the relationship squarely on their shoulders. He had already said, ‘The best among you are those who are best with their wives, and I am the best of you with my wives.’ And, ‘The believer whose faith is the most perfect is he whose character is the best; and the best among you are those who are the best with their wives.’ He had also addressed both partners thus: ‘You are all guardians and responsible for those in your charge. The ruler is a guardian, the man is a guardian over the members of his household, the woman is a guardian over her husband’s house and children. You are all guardians and responsible for those in your charge.’Women are emphatically advised against one of the most common pitfalls, which is to deny their husband’s positive aspects and stress only their negative ones. They are also told that simply to perform their minimal religious obligations and to obey their husbands will guarantee then Paradise. To prevent men from taking these instructions too literally and demanding from their wives total obedience, which is recognized, in fact, to be nearly impossible, the Prophet made it clear that divorce was not to be considered lightly, since it is, ‘the permitted thing that is most hateful to God.’ It is to be the very last resort, after all attempts at reconciliation have failed, including arbitration by the two families’ elders: And if you fear a breach between them, bring forth an arbiter from his people and an arbiter from her people; if they desire to set things right God will compose their differences (4:35). Discretion is strongly enjoined on both spouses for obvious reasons. Righteous women are obedient, guarding in secret that which God has guarded (4:34) says the Qur’an, and ‘One of the worst people on the Day of Rising is a man who sleeps with his wife then one of them divulges their secret,’ says the hadith.As concerns polygamy, quite apart from such obvious advantages as, for instance, being able to have children from a second wife without being forced to divorce a sterile first one, or being able to offer legally-sanctioned shelter to a widow or a divorcee and her children, the mere fact that a second wife or more are permitted, reduces the likelihood of women treating men as their exclusive possession as is seen so frequently in other cultures. To this we might add the fact that women in Islam keep their material assets independently and thus enjoy a kind of financial autonomy unknown in the West until after industrialization, particularly since the 1960s.Finally, we have to turn to the sexual relationship between spouses and the way it is perceived by Muslims. First of all let us state, for the sake of those brought up in a different climate, that no feelings of guilt or shame are attached to this relationship. It is considered as natural and ordinary as eating and drinking and a legitimate right of both men and women. Its purpose is not only procreation, but also the strengthening of the marital bonds as well as the gratification of a natural appetite in the most pleasurable manner possible. It also has higher meanings concerning the union between pairs.The Prophet, may God’s blessings and peace be upon him, spoke of it to his Companions as he spoke to them about every other aspect of their daily lives. ‘Let none of you approach his wife like an animal,’ he once said, meaning that the approach should not be abrupt, ‘but let there be a messenger between them.’ They inquired what this messenger might be and he answered, ‘The kiss and the word.’ The clear reference here is to intimate conversation, emotionally arousing words, and foreplay, that is, physically arousing gestures. He also said that one of the three things that indicated deficiency in a man was for him to approach his wife without preparing her and for him to lie with her and satisfy himself before she was satisfied. He also exhorted women to embellish themselves for their husbands and avoid rejecting their advances unless there be a genuine excuse. ‘When a man invites his wife to his bed and she refuses and he spends the night angry with her, the angels curse her until daybreak.’ Muslim men and women who feel dissatisfied with their sexual life are therefore encouraged to seek appropriate advice without hesitation.
[Dr. Mostafa al-Badawi was born in Cairo in 1948. He graduated from Cairo University Medical School in 1971 and thereafter completed his postgraduate training in the United Kingdom in 1985. He has been practicing as a consultant psychiatrist since then. Dr. al-Badawi has authored several books in English, including Man and the Universe: An Islamic Perspective, The Prophetic Invocations, and Sufi Sage of Arabia: Biography of Imam al-Haddad. He has also authored several books in Arabic. In addition, Dr. al-Badawi has translated from the original Arabic into English several of Imam Abdallah ibn Alawi al-Haddad’s works, including The Book of Assistance, The Lives of Man, Gifts for the Seeker, Wisdom and Knowledge, Good Manners, and Mutual Reminding. He also translated into English Habib Ahmad al-Haddad’s Key to the Garden as well as Shaykh Abd al-Khaliq ash-Shabrawi’s Degrees of the Soul.]
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