In a society obsessing with marriage and filled with few who understand its virtue and value, is marriage really everything?
By Romanna Bint Abubaker
I don’t need to tell you about the flurry of articles everywhere about marriage this year. We are almost certainly affected by the celebrity culture and the current baby and marriage boom. Articles are appearing in their droves on why women can’t get married or why we ought to want to get married.
Let me clarify that I’m no feminist, and far from it, as many who know me will tell you. I’m a simple traditionalist who takes my role and status from that which my faith, Islam, prescribes for me. This may be shocking to some, but that status is that my husband is the closest I should ever get to bowing in respect (something which Muslims do daily in their prayer to their Lord). For a Muslim woman, the status of her husband in her life is so high that it was said IF there were anyone other than God who a woman would have been obliged to show such a level of respect to – it would have been her husband. Many of you may suddenly think, ‘oh how typically oppressive’, and ‘unsurprisingly backwards’. Let me elaborate. I emphasise the if because the key tenet of Islam is that there is no one other than God to whom such respect is due, not even the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). A man does, however, have a great burden of responsibility to his wife and because of human psychology it is only natural that if someone willingly does everything for you, we naturally want to offer great respect and love to this individual. Isn’t that what love is?
As the famous 12th Century scholar Shaykh Abdul Qadir Al-Gilani described, a husband ‘must not eat, unless his wife has already eaten’. In relation to his dependents, he must be like a trusted agent and a servant, and like a slave with his master. When it comes to eating, he must adjust his diet to suit their tastes and not oblige them to follow his own appetite’.
Given that I am a big traditionalist and love romance, chivalry, and a gentlemanly character I almost certainly would choose marriage over being single . However, I’m not willing to be married to someone who won’t treat me as the above- for the sake of ‘being married alone’. Many people across international cultures argue regularly that we will never find our perfect man and we have to compromise. I have to admit I have wondered if I should also make such a compromise, because surely I have to get married.
The argument from many women today is that there just aren’t enough good, suitable men. So the question is, what makes a suitable man? For many of these women, and particularly Pakistani and Gulf women I’ve seen, there is an expectation that the man has to be someone who comes from the exact same cultural background and, to some extent, even the same ‘caste’. Recently, I was in conversation with a 36-year-old Pakistani friend who said that her parents had not only expected her to marry another doctor, but deemed her suggested candidate unsuitable because he was from a different village many centuries ago!
Now let’s just say we are open to all cultures and there simply isn’t anyone suitable: then what? What does Islam say about this? If you’ve read my first article on marriage I expound on the idea that marriage and bearing children is valued as one of the highest acts, and is a fundamental purpose of the creation of man and woman in their compatible forms. However, as I investigated further with several Islamic scholars, what I discovered was enlightening and quite frankly something I think more women need to know, especially those from cultures who consider marriage as the ‘be all and end all’.
Nowadays men and women are not quite what they used to be. People don’t appreciate the blessings, value and position of marriage. Men don’t realise the nature of the responsibility and position they have, and women don’t seem to realise the station of marriage. We also have the issue of women succeeding in higher education and entering skilled professions in much higher numbers, which is causing a mismatch. Some contemporary Islamic scholars now argue that in modern times the act of marriage may actually lead one to move further away from one’s faith. As many married couples will tell you marriage isn’t easy. Attending to another person and satisfying their desires while fulfilling your own duties and responsibilities can be difficult. Some argue then that these overwhelming responsibilities end up moving your attention and focus away from the pleasure of God, which is our ultimate duty. One of my Islamic Studies teachers said to me, ‘even though my husband has always provided the best for us there are times when he does something, which really upsets me. That moment I think that it is a blessing from God, a way for me to remember Him and not preoccupy myself with my husband all the time. It reminds me that he is not infallible, and only God is worthy of that unconditional love.’
So let’s not fixate on marriage as the sole purpose of our existence. Yes, it has great virtues, great pleasure, great reward and benefit, but if it doesn’t happen now we ought to redirect that attention in pursuit of greater goals like continuing learning, which is an obligation upon us. Perhaps we should look at how we can develop our relationship and intimacy with our Lord because that’s our ultimate purpose. We might just earn a partner of paradise and really live happily ever after.
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