Marriage in Islam: Why Matrimony has incurred a Multitude of difficulties Amongst Muslims
Throughout the world especially over the past 50 years, divorce rates and failing marriages have increased tremendously. Even In Muslim communities across the globe matrimony is facing many challenges, which are significant. For Muslims Islam is in fact considered a perfect religion in itself and the best way of life. Obviously, if this is true then it brings forth many questions and concerns as to why Muslims are facing the same challenges as non-Muslims, non-believers, atheists etc.
Although Western nations have traditionally been frontrunners when it comes to high divorce rates, the increasing trend of divorce in Muslim countries as well as divorce amongst Muslims in Western countries does warrant further investigation. Moreover instances where divorce is not prevalent many reports indicate that the quality of marital life has suffered in other ways.
Islam as a civilization is extremely multi-cultural and the presence of Muslims is evident in every corner of the globe, however, it seems that many Muslims have brought their personal cultural baggage to the religion and deemed it as a part of the religion itself, and have thus made for difficult circumstances for marriage for up and coming generations.
By taking a look at some of the prevalent concerns amongst the non-Muslim community, in particular of the West, a better analysis can be made of those and other similar matters concerning Muslim communities with a distinction in the Islamic protocol and resolve.
Quran on marriage
In the Quran, in Sura al-Room, verse 21 it mentions: And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has placed love and mercy between your (hearts); verily in that are signs for those who reflect.
This is a very well-known verse of Quran and often recited and marital gatherings. This verse does express that God has placed love and mercy between spouses. So there is a sense of divine blessing for spouses. But what is extremely important is that this love and mercy is a given but it is also like a seed. When we see marriages which are dysfunctional it has to do with this same issue. God merely plants the foundation of love and marriage between a husband and wife but that seed must be cultivated. And there are many ways that this can be achieved, and we will touch on them throughout this essay.
Marriage in hadith
Most Muslims are familiar with the famous hadith: that marriage is half your faith. Many of the scholars of (akhlaq) would strongly disagree with the way that this is interpreted. Most Muslims believe that by merely selecting a spouse, going through the ritual of a marriage ceremony, signing a marriage contract and having an elaborate wedding reception that one has thereby completed the huge task known as ‘half ones faith’.
This is when many scholars emphasize that this is not the correct interpretation of the famous tradition. And they explain that due to the difficulties one faces after marriage, if one is able to overcome those difficulties in a decent manner then, and only then has one completed half of his faith. This obviously is more sensible, as it is not practical to believe that any person can perform the tremendous task of completing his or her faith simply by getting married. There must be some level of accountability and method of deduction in regards to identifying someone who is truly deserving of this great blessing and reward of having completed have their faith.
When two individuals get married after having lived, usually, completely independent lives it is not very easy to adjust to the differences of what they are each accustomed to. Every aspect of their life has developed some sort of routine, ‘norm’ or disposition from sleeping and eating habits, to communication skills and methods, work ethic and self-esteem. In order for these two individuals to co-exist it may be necessary for one or both of them to modify aspects of their lives which they have grown accustomed to. And when this does not happen then, problems may occur.
General marital concerns:
There are a number of marital issues which are fairly universal and can affect any marriage. However due to the context of this essay these issues will not be discussed in detail as they are less particular and less relevant to the specific topic.
Some of the causes for divorce or difficulty in marriage include stress. In fact, this may be the single most important factor. In today’s world the demands of our lives are often so high that they take a toll on our physical, mental and spiritual being. Stress invades from all avenues. It could be due to the economic pressures of life, where the rising challenge of a sound economy cause for financial difficulties and this type of stress does not easily go away. Of course, any type of stress for that matter is not ideal. The reaction to stress is often moodiness, anger, frustration and these emotions are exhibited in various ways. A bad day at work could result in someone channeling this stress into yelling or becoming angry with his or her spouse. Stress knows no boundaries all are susceptible to this tremendous burden.
Communication is also a very serious problem in marriages. In marriage there are expectations and too often spouses have the expectation that their significant others should know what they want, comprehend how they feel and be more intuitive. The reality however, is that most people do not read minds and therefore misread the signals which their spouse is trying to send to them. It is very common in psychology to note that “most communication is non-verbal”. This is especially important as body language is often substituting verbal communication and even when it is not, a husband or wife still has the desire that their significant other understand their emotional and physical needs even if they are not outright communicated.
Parents to some and in-laws to others, either way they have an attachment and connection to half of the persons involved in the marriage. It is irrational to say that once one gets married they should sever all ties with their parents and family due to the fact that some tensions may arise. When someone marries a person in reality they marry into their family. And in most cases although in-laws have a bad reputation in most cultures, it is noteworthy to mention that the vast majority interfere in their son or daughter’s marriage due to the fact that they sincerely desire to see happiness in the marriage. Often this zeal leads to bad advice, unnecessary meddling and biased judgments.
End of beautification at home
In today’s demanding world we see more and more often that after marriage – after the fish has taken the bait and is safely on the boat in the cooler, and a person is no longer pursing or concerned about being pursued, then the dynamics of relationships often change. Women who would beautify themselves for hours for their significant other after some time into the marriage have transformed into sweat suite zombies. Men who would spend endless hours in the gym counting carbs and muscles are now content to shower only when reminded by the neighbours that the odour has bothered even them. What is evident here is that somewhere along the way something changed and not for the better. This is clearly not the illustration of a healthy relationship and physical appearance, contrary to the belief of some is extremely important. Of course it is necessary to mention that beautification is not in the emulation of a Hollywood actor or actress – that version of beauty is extremely flawed and one dimensional. Beauty does lie in the eye of the beholder and each individual has their own unique beauties and style and the goal is for each person to achieve their own perfection and to be their own best selves.
Challenges in the West:
High divorce rate
Divorce rates are rising in the West and this obviously deters many from even walking down that road. Why bother some say, when there is a 50% chance that I will end up frustrated or heartbroken or out of 50% of all I own?
Perhaps what makes it worse is that divorce is no longer a shocker. It is almost too common or normal. The social expectation is that if you are divorced then it’s okay, if you’re up for it, you can always try again.
In western societies the youth are highly discouraged from getting married. Having a boyfriend or girlfriend or just a “friend” is preferable to most in Western societies for youth. People are encouraged to pursue their own personal and individualistic goals i.e. going to college, starting a solid career, and then by their 30’s just before mid-life crisis approaches, quickly find someone to marry and begin manufacturing children before its too late. This is clearly not a logical approach. However, society frowns upon youth getting married and growing together.
The western societies advocate a selfish individualistic lifestyle where independence from others is so important that we find today married couples who are in fact married but whose lives are totally separate. In fact it is as if they are more like roommates. This is not at all uncommon. Each spouse is living his or her life, doing the things that are important to him or her and consequently the needs of the other are foregone and a dysfunctional atmosphere is created in the home.
Extra marital affairs
“Cheating” is very common in the west and the sources for that must be analyzed. Many who are caught red handed eventually admit to feeling sexually frustrated or emotionally disconnected from their partners. This is especially detrimental when individuals ruin families, not to mention that sleeping around can result in contracting STD or other illness.
Premarital relations and perverse sexuality
When there is a sense of social enjoinment and acceptance of things like premarital sex, masturbation, pornography and nudity then these are things which if one is married and engages in, will almost surely lead to the destruction of the marriage. And if one engages in these prior to marriage then the negative effects are more than there is room to list. Homosexuality and masturbation have been promoted although unethical by standards of most devout Christians and Jews as well as Muslims.
Another tragedy is when children are born out of wedlock and are subject to a variety of difficulties due to unsound homes and other factors.
The sanctity of marriage has been almost eradicated by premarital relations. There was a time when premarital relations where not so common or openly accepted. The results of this behavior clearly puts a strain on possible marriages since many are happy lustfully satisfied their carnal desires, what need do they see in the commitment of a life partner in marriage? It goes without saying that premarital sex has and will continue to lead to the transmission of sexually transmitted disease. Many who carry diseases may not even be aware and may infect others. Some of these diseases are incurable and can totally destroy ones future. It is ironic that as much sex, nudity and illicit relations that are promoted on various media, the negative aspects are not talked about so much.
Pornography is a billion dollar business with an incredibly strong and lucrative internet and web presence. From a psychological standpoint it is believed that individuals that engage in watching pornography and looking at pornographic images suffer from intimacy issues with their spouse. This may be due to the fact that they have grown used to a particular type of image and their spouse may not reflect that or they have created such a delusional fantasy world that real human interaction does not give the same joy as that artificial world.
Understanding the marital issues particular to Muslims
Sanctity of mahram / non-mahram
From an Islamic perspective it is imperative to understand that men and women can not touch each other unless they have become “mahram” (legally related). A man or woman is or becomes mahram to the opposite gender one of three ways: affinity, nursing, consanguinity. So Islam has set forth some parameters which if observed are a solution to many of the issues which we have previously mentioned.
“Rules of engagement”
In Islamic jurisprudent and Islamic law engagement does not truly have place and holds no legal validity in itself. Some Muslims go to one extreme and ignore this matter and treat their “intended” or fiancé as if they were mahram. And this is problematic as there is no guarantee that engagements will lead to permanent marriage. A proper solution to this would be what mut’ah or temporary marriage which is similar to permanent marriage with some differences, however the couple would become mahram and children born would be in wedlock.
Beautification at home
Beautification and adornment in the home is extremely important as mentioned before and there are many negative effects this can have if ignored. The issue Muslims often suffer from is in emulating the Western mode of beautification where spouses beautify themselves outside the home and disregard this beautification when they are inside. Islam has put great emphasis on this matter, it even mentions that the best of women are those who wear the clothes of modesty outside the home and beautify themselves in the home. From a social standpoint this makes sense as it keeps for a sound society when women are not objectified as sex objects and are viewed instead as human beings. Of course beautification for your spouse is a mutual duty from an Islamic perspective.
Pre-marital counselling or lack thereof
It has not become common in Muslim communities to receive pre-marital counselling although it is necessary. A scholar who is adept can guide a couple to a very prosperous marriage. And it is more common amongst Muslims to marry when younger and more and more Muslims tend to marry after high school or college.
In Islam it enjoins Muslims to verify their potential suitors or spouses by doing research about them. It Islamic traditions, it mentions that a man is upon the religion of his friends. That is to say that “birds of a feather flock together and to know the friends, neighbors and teachers and such of an individual and to hear their honest perspective is quite priceless. However this is not common and Muslims, anxious to marry do not do this as they feel it is invasive and sometimes this backfires. Consider that you can never truly know someone entirely as you have only known them for a portion of their life, in most cases. However, there are many issues that can be tackled and discussed and are necessary to discuss prior to agreeing to get married.
The prophet of Islam has mentioned that the best of women are those whose dowry is less. And while dowry is important and it is the right of the wife, it should not be something that is by social standards of that girl’s peers, outrageous. Too often amongst Muslims dowry prices are being set extremely high, sometimes so much so that the husband could not possibly be able to afford it. The thinking of those parents is that, this will deter divorce; however they disregarded a very important point. In order for marriage to be valid, based on Islamic jurisprudence the husband should have the intention of giving the dowry. And if the dowry is so high that the husband knows he will never be able to pay and he gets married anyway like in many cases – this marriage itself is problematic. And of course the wife has the option of foregoing her dowry and that is completely her option and husband should not as in some cases, try to force their wife to forego their right.
Interracial and inter-cultural marriage
The Islamic community, especially in the west is very dynamic and comprised of Muslims who are from various backgrounds, races and nationalities in addition to a vast number of converts. In eastern culture marrying outside of race is not very common and those who come to the west with this same perception often place an unnecessary burden upon themselves by neglecting to consider very qualified individuals based on their racial background. The holy Quran has clearly stated: O mankind, surely we have created you from a single male and female and made you into different nations and tribes so that you may know one and other; surely the best of you in God’s eyes is the most pious of you. For many Muslims this verse of Quran sounds better in the Quran, yet they are not willing to step out of their comfort zone and open their eyes to the possibility of marrying outside of their own culture or race. This is especially reprehensible and not a part of Islam, although quite prevalent. And we see sometimes a “parental block” (the parental veto to disregard potential suitors and or eliminate freedom in spouse selection for such irrational reasons.)
Polygamy and mut’ah
From an Islamic point of view these are very useful answers to many social problems. They each warrant extensive explanations, however what must be mentioned here is that, Islam has established a solid method for implementation. And when these are not properly implemented or when they are abused, it may not only be detrimental for potential spouses, but for married spouses as well ass society as a whole. The key here is to practice as Islam ordains.
Polygamy is not for every man and every situation. Islam was revealed and set a limitation on the number of permanent wives a man could have whereas prior to Islam people practiced this with no limit, and this was common amongst Christians and Jews of old. And in the Quran it mentions one of the conditions being for a man to be just when dealing with his wives, but it also mentions after that that surely he will not be able to!
Mut’ah which literally means “pleasure”, has been sometimes even accused of being a way to legalize prostitution, and this is far from true as prostitution is not a part of Islam. This fixed time marriage has a place and time and the focus is not for lust and desire. Dowry should still be given. Individuals should both be respectful and realize that many of the parameters of permanent marriage and temporary are similar while there are some significant differences.
Conclusion / Resolve
Many issues which have plagued marriages amongst Muslims have been mentioned and one major conclusion can be drawn in regards to the areas which Muslims struggle and face difficulties in marriage and that Key point is this: failures or lack of success in marriage is not due to failure in Islamic principles but rather failure of Muslims in observing them.
To some Muslims marriage is an Expendable situation – an experiment if you will and if one is unhappy then they should replace the other individually, since surely that is the problem. It is necessary for individuals to realize that they are not perfect and they should not demand perfection although they should strive for it and they should compliment their spouse in their efforts as each aims to attain their own perfection.
The Supreme Leader, Sayyed Ali Khamenei (May God prolong his life), has said that when selecting a spouse, think that this is someone who you want to journey to paradise with – someone who can help you to reach heaven and nearness to Allah.
The greatest misconception about marriage is that it is a 50% – 50% relationship and that determines success. Let’s see if a husband gives 50% and a wife does the same then each individual has still only given a half effort! Therefore this faulty math should not be a formula for marriage. In fact it is more accurate to say that each individual must give 110% effort in all aspects in order for that love and mercy which was initially mentioned is cultivated and does not wither away. Nothing deteriorates a relationship like a halfway effort in maintaining it. Relationships are that beautiful car that you purchased with a high price tag but you feel it’s worth it because it’s an investment and more importantly, you love the car. But when the car needs maintenance you can’t ignore it and hope the situation corrects itself. Marriage is all about effort. One can say the love someone but nothing says ‘I love you’, like those actions which speak louder than words.
In marriage people often become consumed by their own rights as opposed to their own responsibilities. And it is always easier to see the flaws of others than your own. Imam Ali advised that when one feels anger, he should take a moment to reflect on his own sins, shortcomings and mistakes. This humbles a person. Yes in marriage God places that mercy, but when it comes to the faults of one’s spouse there must be a lot of mercy, tolerance, patience and forgiveness in order to be successful. In hadith it mentions that he who has no mercy will receive no mercy [from God].
In marriage you can not be concerned about how well you perform your obligations, there are no brownie points for doing something which is a duty and Allah requires us to do and we receive our reward from Him. And if these are not done, one has gone against what Islam has ordained. Imam ail says: Do not blame a man who delays in securing what are his just rights but blame lies on him who takes away the rights which do not belong to him. Sometimes the actions of a spouse causes the other to react in particular way, but he or she should keep in mind that on the Last day we will not be asked of our rights, but rahter our responsibilities.
In islam, in marriage a man has an obligation to provide food clothing and shelter for his wife. A wife has an obligation to be available (sexually) towards her husband. Yet this is not the formula for a happy marriage. This is perhaps that 50% that is prevelant. The other half is in patience, forgiveness and kindness. It is not obligatory for a woman to cook for her husband but it is well known that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It is not mandatory for a husband to give surprise gifts or buy flowers or jewelry or give compliments to his wife, but any married man who did not do these things, is probably now very lonely. Thus, Love and mercy must manifest into such actions which cause for God’s blessing to remain upon that family.
Amoli, Javadi (1980). Philosophy of acts of worship, Qom:
Islamic Publishing Office.
Mohaddethi, Javad (1995). Corruptions of Knowledge, Qom: The Center of publication of the Office of Islamic Propagation of the Islamic Seminary of Qom
Amini, Ebrahaim (2005). Hamsardari [Conjugal Rights & Duties in Islam], Qom: Bustan-e-Ketab Press