MARRIAGE: WHAT YOU OUGHT TO KNOW
[How to get married, to whom and when is a question that haunts and torments majority of the young British Muslims. The threat facing this core institution is a threat that threatens the very nature and existence of the community. A honest and responsible discussion of the matter is now long overdue says Dr. Mutawalli ad Darsh.]
Marriage is an essential part of the Islamic way of life. It is the only way in which a man or a woman can have a sexual relationship. The Qur'an put it very clearly in the verses which describe the faithful: `And those who restrain their sexual passion. Except in the presence of their mates, or those whom their right hands possess, for such surely are not blameable. But whoever seeks to go beyond that, such are transgressors.' [Qur'an 23:5 71]
As those whom their right hand possess are no more existing, what remains is the wife. Fornication is a great crime and punishable, sometimes to the loss of life in Islam.
It is advisable to get married early in life once the person, male or female, reaches the age of maturity and is not hindered physically and financially to do so. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) is reported to have said:
`O young people, who of you is able to shoulder the responsibility of marriage let him get married. This will lower his gaze, and keep him/her chaste. Who is not, let him/her keep fast. For fasting will reduce the desire (or the physical pressure)'. If the hadith is making marriage conditional on the ability, financial or otherwise, the Qur'an encourages helping the poor get married, Allah most Gracious said: `And marry those among you, who are single, and those who are fit. If they are needy Allah will make them free from want, out of His grace, And Allah is ample giving, knowing' (24:32)
Another tradition makes it clear that Allah has given a firm promise to help persons who get married despite being needy and those who do so because they want to maintain their chastity.
Choice in Marriage
Marriage in Islam is a long life experience. Muslims do not get married to "experiment", or because it's "fun and play". Neither do they marry for a limited period. They marry to settle down, have children, and cement family relationships. If the marriage is successful, it is a great social and moral bond, creating a happy prosperous relationship within the parties concerned. If it fails, it causes upheaval and results in tension and a sour relationship. That is the reason why Muslims, male and female, and the families concerned, are all advised to be careful and choosy of the parties concerned.
As the male is the one who is socially expected to propose, the Prophet advised him to look for the right choice. He said: `A woman is to be sought for marriage either because she is beautiful, or wealthy, or of a noble descent or for her good upbringing and religiosity. Seek the last one and you will be successful.'
The hadith does not exclude the other motives. It is simply saying that let your first consideration be the last quality.
Equality in Marriage
There is no class system in Islam. The Qur'an speaks about human brotherhood and equality as basic precepts: `O mankind, surely we have created you from a male and female, and made your tribes and families that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is he who is most righteous of you.' (49:13)
But Muslim jurists who were considering the implication of marriage and its success, took into account norms and customs of different communities. There are tribal societies as well as class ridden societies too. Custom was their main argument when they talked about equality between the two partners. The woman, in particular, is the one who is with her family most likely to be at a disadvantage. That is why the ulema stipulated that the man is to be equal to her in her social status. A woman of noble family may not marry a commoner. Male royalties are free to marry a commoner. The implication of this is that there is no shame upon him to do that. The family of the woman has a right of objection if she chooses to marry a commoner. She, too, if she is not of age and her father gave her in marriage, has the right to opt out of such an unequal relationship when she reaches the age of puberty. Now, this concept of equality is very important here, particularly with the Hanafi school of thought as we shall see below.
The Hanafi school of thought, to which the overwhelming majority of British Muslim belong, is unique in its concept of guardianship in marriage. They divide it into two categories.
a) Limited or confined guardianship: This concerns the right of a person who is legally entitled to enter into contracts. Muslim jurists of all schools of thought agree that a mature sane man has the right to enter into a contract of marriage with any woman who accepts to marry him, and that he is free to offer her the dowry which she demands and is prepared to accept. No one has the right to object to the man's contractual obligation, whether father, mother, son or uncle.
b) Shared or recommended guardianship: This is where the Hanafi school is unique. The two Sheikhs, Abu Hanifa and Abu Yusuf say: The sane, mature girl enjoys the right of limited contract; limited in the sense that it affects her. She is free to enter into a contract of marriage on her own, without the need of any male relative guardian father or otherwise.
Such a contract, however, is valid on the condition that:
i) The man is equal to her in social outlook, education, age, wealth, or the ability to provide for her one months maintenance at the most.
ii) The dowry is equal to that which is given to a girl of her position. Once these two conditions are fulfilled the contract of marriage is valid and no one has the right of objection.
However, shared guardianship means that the girl in that position may give the right to her father to contract marriage on her behalf. This is recommended. In the view of the two Sheikhs the father has no right to force a mature and sane girl into a marriage without her consent. For evidence they refer to the hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) saying that: `the virgin is to be consulted in her marriage.' Hence to marry a person against her will, i.e. forcing her, is a negation of that right.
The argument is further vindicated by another analogy. The guardian has no right to spend one single penny of the girls wealth without her permission. If she has a right to determine how a small amount of her money is to be spent how then can she not have a say in her marriage one of the most important event likely to take place in her life?
Relatively speaking this is the most liberal view on the crucial issue and it is to the credit of the two Sheikhs. For their opinions both protects and free mature Muslim girls from the yoke of forced marriage
Ibn Al Quayyim said, `The virgin, sane, mature girl, her father has no right to dispose of any of her wealth without her consent. How can he give her in marriage to someone, who is most hated by her, against her will and make her a prisoner in his house?
Muslims living in the West are somehow, in a different, sometimes difficult situation. They wish to secure a decent, happy, successful future for their children. As a thinly spread community, the opportunity of finding the right partner for their children is not as wide or easily available as it is when living within a Muslim society. Matters are further complicated by traditional values and concerns. Matching cousins, for instance, is one very widespread way of dealing with the problems of marriage in Muslim societies. A marriage between related people is no threat, glides through many cultural barriers and most of the time has the benefit of community support. Such unions ensure that family name and interests are protected and familial relationships are continued.
The approach leads to the concept of arranged marriages. Whatever its shortcomings this method is the most successful. Partly it is because it is based on sound reasoning and has been practically implemented over centuries. Shared religious outlook, upbringing and the fact that this is the first physical contact between a virgin girl and her partner gives the partnership more chances of being a long lasting and wholesome one. Hence it is quite understandable that many parents opt for this kind of arrangement when it comes to marrying off their children.
However, Muslims living in the West need to re evaluate such arrangements having in mind the alien and hostile environment in which they live in. We must come up with solutions that will deal with the fact that our young people live lives that are besieged by a powerful aggressive culture that is both un-Islamic and anti Islamic. Everyday the onus is upon them to hold on to the little of Islamic value that they are allowed to implement.
Parents should realise that this society has the ability of turning even virtue into vice. For instance, education is a good thing, and particularly for women. But in this society the arrangement to "educate" to young people in co-ed or mixed schools and universities make such places dangerous to the development of the students. Good Muslim parents are normally caught in a heart-wretching dilemma: should they send their children to university and risk the consequences or stop them and risk resentment and alienation from their siblings
Student Islamic Societies at the universities and polytechnics are doing a commendable job in trying to provide moral and emotional support for young university students. But the odds are still too much and the resources to perform such a gigantic task extensively and efficiently are not available.
At the weekend, when other students go after pleasure, the only supporting and protective place for religious minded Muslims are the societies. There, they can talk, study and mix in an appropriate environment and surroundings. There are many instances where such gatherings have led to young people meeting and knowing each other. Basically the attraction is that they have come across a partner who is Islamically oriented something that is a priority to them.
If the parents are well educated and open minded they usually are supportive of such an association. After all, this type of relationship satisfies the recommendation given by the Prophet: `choose the one who is decent and religious and you will be successful.'
But some parents may look upon their children as a bargaining card. They allow them education not only to improve their chances in life, but to give them a sense of personal pride and satisfaction. For that reason they would not allow them to marry of their own choice. A graduate girl has to marry a medical, engineering or lawyer, but not an arts graduate. Such standards do not take into consideration the feelings of the persons concerned. The parents feel that they have brought up their children as a premium of their own. They do not look into the future happiness and success of their children's' family life. This not something confined to the girls. Boys too, complain of the veto power of the parents even though the Shari'ah view is that they are under no jurisdiction of guardianship once they are mature and sane. The outcome of this attitude is the conflict within the family.
The Course of Action
It is not in the interests of anyone to encourage young people to go against the wishes of their parents. Marriage, as explained earlier, is a life long experience. The experience of love in the artistic way of putting it in novels does not live long enough to sustain a long journey in life. It is a down to earth description when people speak about honeymoon. Moons after that God knows what are they! So young people need all the support they can get to help them get over their ups and downs in their lives. They need the good will of everyone involved, their parents, close relatives, their friends and everyone interested in the success of their marriage. So it is not a good omen to start life with fighting against the parents.
There are a number of cases in front of the Shari'ah Council, where girls rushed into marriage against the wishes of their parents, went through a great sacrifice, had a child or two, did everything they could to sustain marital relationship, but finally had to give up because what they called love was simply a passing passion and infatuation. Some of the parents overcome the grief and humiliation they felt at the beginning and stand in support of their children. Some could not forget the trauma of their experience and left their loved ones to face the future on their own.
The sincere advice for young people in this dilemma is to use all the powers available to them. Talk it through with your mother as she is normally the soft spot in the family and the one who is more likely to appreciate the problem. Try to enlist the support of different members of the family and elderly respected members of the community.
Such problems can only be dealt with at family and community level. Other organisations or institutions do not normally get the brunt of the ensuing stress and hence may have difficulties in being appropriately sensitive to the situation. Sometimes they aggravate it by their insensitivity to the feelings of the parents and the community. This process may take some time to bear fruit. Young people should be patient. It is a sign of maturity and real love that those involved should support one another in this process and not to push for a quick decision. Once they are established on their own fully capable of looking after themselves and seeing that the parents are not prevailed upon, here comes the final decision. Once the two parties concerned are assured of their care and respect for one another, they can enter into a marriage agreement. In the book of "Digest of Islamic Law" by Neil B. E. Baillie, of the Hanafi Doctrine. It says: `The marriage entered into by a free woman who is sane adult without a guardian is quite operative according to Abu Hanifa and Abu Yusuf as stated in the Zahir Ar Riwaya (the expression of the text). Sheikh Aka b Hamza being asked with regard to a woman of the Shaf'i school of thought who is a virgin and adult, who had married herself to a man of the Hanafi school, without the permission of her father, who was dissatisfied and had repudiated the marriage, whether such marriage is valid? He replied in the affirmative, and that it would have been equally valid if she had married herself to a man of her own school.'
It went on to say, `No one, not even her father or the ruler can lawfully contract a woman into marriage, who is adult and of sound mind, without her permission, whether she be a virgin or a widow or divorced. And if anyone should take upon himself to do so, the marriage is suspended on her sanction. If agreed to by her, it is lawful, if rejected it is null.'
However, for the honour and respectability of the girl and her estranged family, it is advisable for her to authorise a person of integrity and good position, who may be an acquaintance of both her and her would be husband to give her in marriage. This is not the ideal solution, but is it the most that can be achieved in these circumstances.
And Allah says the Truth and Guides to the Right Way.
Sheikh Syed Darsh, graduate of Al-Azhar, Cairo, Chairman of UK Shari'ah Council and expert on family matters. Sheikh Darsh has recently passed away, may Allah have mercy on him.
(Article from Q-News, No. 278, 3-16 Oct 1997)