Muslim Marriage Guide – 2

Chapter 2

The Key to A Happy Marriage
Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood

`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 civilizations 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 foundation 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 Muhammad (s). 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 searching 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 well-being of so many people, not only your own!

What does a person want from marriage? Before committing the selves 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, jewelry 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 God. 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 possessions. 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 judgment, 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 (s) 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.’ (Quran, 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 personality. 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 recognizes women as persons in their own right.

When husbands on the brink of divorce are interviewed by counselors such as the Relate teams, they frequently realize 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! 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 picks his nose or 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 non-smokers 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, and 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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