Young, Married & in School
Have you thought about marriage yet? You have, but your parents reminded you to stop thinking about marriage because you are still too young? No, you have not thought about marriage because you feel you are still too young?
Or wait – are you married, young, and in school (secondary or teriary)? If so, you should be writing this essay. This is not intended to be an exhaustive essay about all aspects of marriage, although some other essays on marriage-related topics are available online. For those who are considering early marriage or who are in a marriage in which both partners are young, it is important to think through the cumulative impact of those three variables: age, marital status, academic status.
Early Marriage: Poor but Happy
One clear phenomenon taking hold in the Muslim community is the increase in the number of parents and young people who would like to have an early marriage. Although both parents and young people give any number of reasons why they are promoting early marriage, a Prophetic tradition narrated by `Abdullah places the marriage process into perspective:
We were with the Prophet while we were young and had no wealth whatsoever. So Allah’s Messenger said, “O young people! Whoever among you can marry, should marry, because it helps him lower his gaze and guard his modesty, and whoever is not able to marry, should fast, as fasting diminishes his sexual power. (Al-Bukhari, Book 62, Hadith 4)
This powerful hadith contends that those who are young and experiencing challenges in preserving their chastity and modesty should be saved from hurting themselves and others by means of early marriage, which allows them to develop a strong marital bond through companionship and intimacy with their spouse. In addition, the hadith concedes that those who cannot afford early marriage should still take great precaution by fasting, since as the Prophet reminds us, fasting helps us to exercise self-restraint and to control our sexual desires.
Proponents of early marriage often cite this hadith and rightly so. But what seems to be lost upon all of us is that, in this day and age, early marriage sometimes poses insurmountable challenges. While facilitating an early marriage is not in itself impossible, the newlyweds cannot be left to fend for themselves. Marriage is a trust, and much more effort needs to be exerted to underscore for the newlyweds the burden of trying to fulfill that trust.
Among the stipulations of that trust is that the young husband provide for his wife. Many young men somehow are blindsided by this expectation. They do not plan ahead for the first week or month after marriage, when they are expected to be living on their own, with their wife, and providing for her well-being and sustenance. When both husband and wife are students, it is imperative that the husband’s parents – or whichever set of in-laws can afford to do so – provide financial assistance. In fact, securing that financial support before the marriage and being sure it is being given willingly is paramount to relieving at least a portion of the undue burden posed on the newlyweds.
No doubt support can come in the form of living with the parents after marriage. But this arrangement, especially if it means living in the young man’s parents’ home, often infringes on the privacy and the right of the wife to have her own quarters. While the wife has somewhat more privacy when the young couple lives with her parents, it is still far from ideal. No matter what, should misunderstandings arise and disharmony prevail, both sets of parents must be respected, and, if necessary, a trustworthy third party be brought in to help restore understanding and harmony.
For those young people considering early marriage, it is critical that they give lots of attention to issues such as finances and privacy. The stresses associated especially with these two issues appear to destabilize marriage early on.
A beautiful lesson can be learned from the life of the beloved young couple `Ali and Fatimah (may Allah be pleased with them) about the power of du`aa’ (supplication) as a way to survive marital stress. `Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated:
Fatima was complaining about what she suffered from the hand mill and from grinding, when she received news that some slave girls from the booty had been brought to Allah’s Messenger. She went to him to ask for a maid-servant, but she could not find him, and told `A’ishah of her need. When the Prophet came, `A’ishah informed him of that. The Prophet came to our house when we had gone to bed. (On seeing the Prophet) we were going to get up, but he said, “Stay where you are.” I felt the coolness of the Prophet’s feet on my chest. Then he said, “Shall I tell you a thing that is better than what you asked me for? When you go to your beds, say ‘Allahu Akbar (Allah is Great)’ thirty-four times, and al-hamdu lillah (all the praises are for Allah)’ thirty-three times, and ‘subhan Allah (Glorified be Allah)’ thirty-three times. This is better for you than what you have requested.” (Al-Bukhari, Book 53, Hadith 344)
Education and Career
Fine, so you want to marry young, have a job, and be in school. You truly want it all. But who goes to school, who goes to work, and ultimately who stays at home are questions whose answers are not at all simple or straightforward. Unless explicitly discussed, another major challenge for those who are young, married, and in school is to come to terms with the fact that both the husband and the wife will actually be in school or that one will be working full-time while the other is in school, or some combination of both possibilities might exist. That’s right: The wife might be at school or at work, not at home, when the stereotypical husband arrives from a hard day’s “work” at school. Is it really possible to be married, be in school, and work? Do you know of couples who are married and both the husband and wife are studying? It appears that such an arrangement is possible for only some young people, not all of them. The level of maturity varies greatly among young men and women, and although they might have reached puberty and now show physical signs of maturity, the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional maturity are not as easily detectable. Young people must take great care to involve elders in assessing the maturity of a future spouse.
Usually, very closely associated with a high level of maturity is a level of sophistication that translates into an ability to develop a clearer sense of course of action and future goals, especially with regards to career. The woman’s parents’ worst nightmare seems to be to marry off their daughter to a young man who is financially ready and mature, but who does not have a clear sense of who he is, what he wants to do in life, and where he wishes to end up at some point in the future. Of course, it is impossible to chart with full certainty every aspect of one’s life, but we also cannot take the approach that a young person can do so even though she does not have a clue about what she wishes to major in or what she wishes to do with her life. Without any plan, almost always the young husband’s dreams and aspirations consume the young couple’s lives, and the education and the possible career of the young wife are interrupted if not completely left to fall by the wayside.
Especially important for those who do wish to do it all – be young, be in school, and have a job – is to remember two critical ingredients: patience and flexibility. These are critical ingredients, and both spouses and their families must be patient and flexible. On the one hand, the marital relationship cannot be sacrificed for the sake of keeping up with the graduation schedule. Our emotions clearly do not follow a particular calendar and, therefore, depending on whatever we are experiencing in our personal lives, we must be ready to perhaps take off a semester, take a lighter course load, or just delay graduation. If the financial situation is not good, perhaps one or both spouses might have to work for a semester and then go back to school, or perhaps work part-time and study part-time, thereby delaying the overall time to graduation.
Children in the Picture
Of course the discussion so far has been focused on the newlyweds, but what about if children come along? An unfair share of the burden always shifts onto the shoulders of the young woman when children are involved. This is really a serious issue, and in some cases the fear of not addressing this issue properly causes a young woman to delay her marriage, and causes parents to demand that the future son-in-law guarantee that their daughter’s education will not be interrupted.
It is simply unfair to put a young woman in a position to have to choose between being a mother and pursuing education, because once a child is on the way, it’s too late. If the husband is not willing to sacrifice and to make an effort to help the wife with caring for the baby, how will she ever be expected to resume her studies? Education can be delayed, and in some cases must be delayed to avoid a detrimental impact on the marital relationship and especially on the children. It is also not worthy of a husband or his parents to remind the young wife that we are not going to be questioned by Allah as to whether or not we received a degree but that we will be questioned about our marriages. It is true that we will be questioned after death as to whether we fulfilled the mutual rights and obligations of a marital contract. However, we also cannot in good conscience expect only the young woman to make sacrifices for the family by delaying or abandoning her educational goals.
What do you think? Is it possible to be young, married, and in school? A few words of caution and encouragement are in order. Early marriages are becoming more and more popular these days, but there is also a marked rise in the number of those early marriages ending in divorce. What goes wrong? One of the main challenges is that young men and women often assume compatibility, especially when they both are overconfident and consider themselves to be more mature than they really are. Unless the couple focuses attention on growing together emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, there will be a noticeable gap between the young husband and wife. Sometimes a big gap in knowledge and understanding develops because the wife is constantly attending seminars and conferences and the husband is exhausted between going to school and working. Neither does the young wife share with her husband what she is learning, nor does he have the energy to show interest in anything other than the paycheck.
Overall, it is possible to be young, to marry, to go to school, and even to work. But it truly requires the guidance and assistance from Allah, patience and perseverance from the newlyweds, and an entire support system made up of committed people to help the newlyweds to succeed!