Muslim Marriage Guide – 4

Chapter 4
A Sign and Foretaste of Paradise

Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood

`Nikah (marriage) is my Sunna. He who shuns my Sunna is not of me.’ (Hadith from Muslim)

With these famous words, the Blessed Prophet left his followers in no doubt of his own personal approval of marriage, and, since his way of life was to be `the Quran walking’, we know that the sexual relationship really is the will of Allah for His subjects. It is worth stressing this point, for some people have a tendency to turn away from the `things of the flesh’, and regard the pleasures of marriage and sexual fulfillment as if they were self indulgent evils!

As is well known, the Christian Church has had a tradition of asceticism which encouraged men and women to give up their sex lives in order to concentrate on their prayers and piety. As is also very well known to older people, many ordinary men and women who fall a long way short of sainthood would also like to be able to give up their sex lives too, not for religious reasons but because they have proved so traumatic and disappointing and humiliating. Many people find the whole subject of sex dirty and degrading, and their unfortunate experience so unpleasant and unfulfilling as to reinforce these notions.

This is not the attitude to sex revealed to Muslims through the Blessed Prophet (s). There is nothing in Islam which encourages shame of the sexual urge. As Allah Himself has made clear, He has created life forms in pairs, including the human couple. When something is created as one of a pair, it is clearly incomplete without the other. It takes only the most rudimentary knowledge of biology to notice that male and female forms were created to `fit together’, like a jigsaw puzzle, and when things are as they should be, the moments when they do so `fit together’ are moments of great love, joy and fulfillment. As one of the ulema has affirmed:

`Sexual intercourse provides pleasure and energy, it refreshes the soul, banishes sorrow, anger and dark thoughts, and is a prevention of many diseases.’ (Zabidi, Ithaf al-Sada al-Muttaqin, V, 371)

More than that, Islam teaches that in the act of sexual union and fulfillment there is a sign of Allah’s greatness and compassion, and of His relationship with all humanity that turns to Him.

`A Muslim man can acquire no benefit after Islam greater than a Muslim wife who makes him happy when he looks at her, obeys him when he commands her, and protects him when he is away from her in herself and in his property.’ (Nasa’i)

`The most perfect believer in faith is the one whose character is finest and who is kindest to his wife.’ (Tirmidhi and Nasa’i)

In all these statements the Prophet (s) is addressing men; just as the Quran usually uses grammatically masculine expressions. However, the ulema say that this does not mean that the comments are exclusively meant for the male sex: by extension the same ethos is encouraged in women. Allah has made it quite clear in verse 33:35, for example, that the basic moral instructions of Islam are given to both men and women.

The Prophet (s) set a wonderful example of a husband devoted to his womenfolk, and in his case he had more than one wife to consider. He did not marry until the age of 25, and then remained content with the one wife until she died 25 years later. When he was over 50 he married other women, and when he died at the age of 64 his household included many women, who all loved him very much.

It is amusing to read the words of eccentric writers who are embarrassed by the thought that the Blessed Prophet could have been a fulfilled and happily married man, insisting that these wives of his middle age were all taken on out of pity and charity, most of them past the age of any interest in a sexual relationship. As it happens, the only wife the Prophet (s) married who we are certain was older than himself was his first wife, Khadija, who gave birth to six of his children when she was already over the age of forty, and who shared his bed and enjoyed the comfort of his arms to the exclusion of all others until she was 65 ! All the other wives, except possibly Sawda, were younger, and their stories will be considered in the next chapter.

Sa’id ibn al-Musayyib recorded the Blessed Prophet’s opinion of a loving sexual relationship as follows:

`When a Muslim man intends to come to his wife, God writes for him 20 good deeds and erases from him 20 evil deeds. When he takes her by the hand, God writes for him 40 good deeds and erases from him 40 evil deeds. When he kisses her, God writes for him 60 good deeds and erases from him 60 evil deeds. When he comes into her, God writes for him 120 good deeds. When he stands up to make the ablution, God boasts of him to the angels and says: “Look at My servant! He stands up on a cold night to wash himself of impurity (janaba) seeking the good pleasure of his Lord. I bear witness to you that I have forgiven him his sins”.’ (Maybudi, Tafsir 1, 610)

The scholar Maybudi goes on to point out the importance of human beings granting their rights to each other. God, as Creator and Sustainer, has rights over all of us, but He so often tempers His divine Justice with His divine Compassion, and so forgives and forgoes His rights. Human beings, on the other hand, are required to be just towards one another, and if they have transgressed against any other person, to realise that Paradise is withheld from them until the claimant against them is satisfied.

The Messenger of God (s) once said: “Do you know who is the bankrupt?” and we replied: “The bankrupt among us, O Messenger of God, is he that has neither dirham nor dinar to his name, nor any property.” But he said: “The bankrupt of my Umma is he that shall come forward on the Day of Arising with the Prayer, the Fast and the Zakat, but having insulted this person, and abused that person, and having consumed another’s wealth, and shed another’s blood, and struck yet another. Each one of these shall be given a portion of his good works, and should these be exhausted before his obligation is discharged, then he shall be assigned some of their sins, which will be heaped upon him. Then he shall be cast into Hell.”‘ (Muslim)

The Blessed Prophet stressed so often that men must be careful to consider the rights of all Muslims, which includes their women, and not just their male brethren and friends. It is so easy for some husbands to forget that their wives are the people they are perhaps most likely to insult, abuse, consume the wealth of, or strike. Muslim men must not overlook the rights of their wives, or forget that their lapses will be recorded against them in their `Record’. The Prophet (s) taught:

`I counsel you to be kind to your wives, for they are your helpers. You have taken them only as a trust from God, making their private parts lawful through a word.’ One day Umar ibn al-Khattab said: `O Messenger of God, what should I take from this world?’ And he replied, `Let each of you take a tongue that remembers God, a heart that thanks Him, and a wife who has faith.’ (Maybudi, I, 613)

The Prophet (s) placed a pious and worthy wife next to remembrance and gratitude to God. Imam Maybudi comments that one of the blessings of having a beloved and worthy spouse is that it allows a man more time to be free to engage in the work of the next world.

`When you keep to your worship,’ he observed, `if a boredom should appear such that the heart is wearied and you should fall behind in worship, looking at her and witnessing her gives intimacy and ease to the heart. That power of worship will then return, and your desire to obey God will be renewed.’

The author can bear witness that, as usual, the same applies when a wife can look with love upon a pious husband!

For Muslims, the Blessed Prophet is by definition the most perfect human being and the most perfect male. His love for women shows that the perfection of the human state is connected with love for the opposite sex, and this is part of love for God. If we cannot love the beings that we have seen and amongst whom we live, how can we claim to love Him Whom we have not seen, and Who lies beyond our powers of understanding?

`Three things of this world of yours have been made beloved to me: Women, and perfume, and the delight of my eye has been placed in the Salat.’ (Nasa’i and Ibn Hanbal)

Some pious folk fry to insist that the sexual act should only be indulged in for the procreation of children, and not simply because it gives pleasure. This is not what is taught in Islam. In fact, Islam teaches that the joy given in the marital act is a sign of what is to come, a foretaste of the joy of Paradise. This is proved by the fact that the inhabitants of Heaven have sexual relations simply for pleasure, and not for the procreation of children.

`They shall dwell forever with what their souls desired.’ (Quran, 21:102)

`You will not have true faith till you love one another.’ (Muslim.)

`My love is obligatory for those who love each other for My sake.’ (Hadith Qudsi in Malik, Muwatta’)

`Love for women is one of the things through which God favoured His Messenger (s); for He made him love them in spite of the fact that he had few children. Hence the desired goal was nothing but the marriage act itself, like the marriage act of the people of the Garden, which is strictly for pleasure and not for producing offspring.’ (Ibn Arabi, Futuhat, 11, 193)

Occasionally, men argue that love of women is sinful because it distracts them from God. But would that which drew him away from God have been made lovable to the Blessed Prophet? Of course not. He loved only that which drew him closer to his Lord! In fact, a good woman is a source of ihsan; she is a fortress against Satan, and helps a man to keep to the Straight Path. The caliph Umar said: `After belief in God, a man can have no better gift than a virtuous wife.’ And Ibn Mas’ud used to say: `If I had but ten days left to live, I would like to marry, so as not to meet God as a celibate.’ This love that the Prophet (s) bore for women is obligatory for all men, since he is the model of perfection whose sunna it is the duty of Muslims to try to copy in their own lives.

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