Marriage: Guidance and Principles
By Hanif D. Sherali *

In the Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful

Allah (SWT) says in Suratur-Ruum (30:21), “And among His signs is this: that He created mates for you from yourselves (i.e., compatible with you) that you might find quiet of mind in them, and He put between you love and compassion. Surely, there are signs in this for a people who reflect.” These verses provide the Islamic ideal where a couple come together in marriage so that they can raise a family as well as advance spiritually in tranquility and peace of mind, with the gift from Allah (SWT) of love and compassion for each other. Such a state of marriage is the perfect environment fostered by Allah (SWT) to enable a couple to lead a pleasant life that is also pleasing to Allah (SWT). Indeed, this is why Rasool Allah (SAW) said, “When the servant of Allah marries, he perfects half of his religion,” and he instructed that for anyone who is physically and mentally healthy and has the economic means, the proper state of existence is in that of marriage.

In Islam, marriage is a social contract whereupon, as Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said, “You have rights over your wives and your wives have rights over you.” As such, this union is based upon a mutual understanding that we might refer to as Principles of Marriage. InshaAllah, I will briefly enumerate several of these principles as guidance to us all.

1. Trust, mutual respect, and open communication: Allah (SWT) says in Suratun-Nahl (16:80) that, “Allah has given you Sakana - in your homes”, i.e., an abode with peace, tranquility, and safety. The principal basis of this Sakana is trust, on which the foundation of all relationships is built. Without trust, a marriage has no supporting structure. An accompanying factor is that of mutual respect, which generates affection, self esteem, and a sense of belonging, thereby providing an environment for love to grow. The water that cultivates trust and mutual respect is an open line of communication, where both husband and wife amicably share their thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, and desires in an atmosphere of equitable inclusion. Islam teaches us in this respect to avoid suspicion and misjudgments, and in the absence of authentic information, to assume the best of possible scenarios.

2. Understanding and appreciation: Human beings are very different from each other and, as Allah (SWT) says, you will find different hues and colors in His creations. Therefore develop an understanding for each other’s likes and dislikes, which might very well differ from your own. Build healthily upon your common interests, and accommodate your differences with love and understanding. Look for the best qualities in each other, and appreciate your spouse on the basis of that. Do not harp and dwell on human defects, but rather, learn to forgive any irreparable shortcomings and faults.

3. Patience – Sabr: Of all the desirable human characteristics, the one that Allah (SWT) specifically highlights in the Qur’an (39:10) by declaring that He will reward a person for this quality without any measure, and that He elsewhere refers to as (42:43) Azmil Umur – a matter of great resolution, is Sabr – patience. For two unique individuals having inherent differences to be able to cohabitate peacefully in constant presence and togetherness, it is necessary to have patience. We frequently observe a couple where one person is loud, rude and offensive, and frequently throws tantrums, whereas the other person is quiet and subdued. Don’t ever mistake patience for subjugation, and impatience for a dominating spirit. Blessed is the couple, and blissful is their marriage, when both husband and wife have Sabr. On the other hand, a marriage between two impatient individuals is doomed to fail. Patience is an indispensable ingredient of a successful marriage.

4. Equality and rights: In his final sermon at Jabal-e-Arafah, Rasool Allah (SAW) instructed the people that you have rights over your wives and your wives have rights over you. So, honor each other’s rights (2:228). The Qur’an says in Suratul-Baqarah (2:187), “They are an apparel for you and you are an apparel for them.” This simple statement embodies the principle of equality between men and women, and the concept of apparel in this context has a deep connotation. You are an apparel for each other in that you embellish and beautify each other; you protect each other from external elements just as clothing provides protection from inclement weather conditions; you cover for each other and conceal each other’s shortcomings; and most importantly, as the Qur’an declares, the best of clothing is Libaas al Taqwa - the clothing of piety, and as such, you guide each other toward God-consciousness. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said that a right that one Muslim has on another is to receive good advice. This right is greatly amplified within the context of a marriage.

5. Mercy and forgiveness: Marriages, like any other human interaction, are peppered with disagreements and disputes. In such times of conflicts, the better person is the one who approaches first with a proposal of reconciliation and peace, and the other then shares in this blessing by accepting the peace offering right away. Rasool Allah (SAW) said that if you expect Allah (SWT) to show you mercy and to forgive you, then have mercy on others and forgive them. When the Qur’an encourages generosity and warns against niggardliness, it does not refer to this solely in the context of money. Rather, generosity includes being kind, caring, forgiving, and in general, selfless.

6.Supporting each other’s dreams: Everyone has dreams and aspirations and ambitions - some accomplishable; others beyond the realm of destiny. But regardless, do not be a dream-crusher. Assist and support each other as best as you can, and provide the space and encouragement for your partner to pursue his or her dreams.

7. Togetherness, yet separate: The Qur’an says in Suratu-Ale-Imran following some beautiful verses of supplications (3:194), “So their Lord accepted their prayer, saying: I will not suffer the work of any worker among you to be lost, whether male or female, the one of you being from the other.” This verse identifies the unity of couples – the one being from the other – and yet lends the recognition that each possesses a unique identity. On a different but related note, both husband and wife have a right to perform appropriate types of work, and a right for separate income and ownership, but this needs to be carefully planned through mutual understanding within the boundaries of Islam.

8. Good disposition and kindness: Rasool Allah (SAW) said that the most perfect Muslim is the one with the best disposition – the best manners and character, and that the best among men is the one who behaves best toward his wife. In the male-dominated society of his time, when women often married in their early teens, the Prophet (SAW) would advice his companions to be gentle and kind, yet deliberate, in correcting the faults of their wives. He likened the woman to a curved bone on the side of the rib cage - if you try to forcefully straighten it, you will break it; but if you leave it alone, it will stay crooked. In today’s society, this advice applies equally to both men and women, the more mature and wise one between the couple guiding the other with gentle loving care. There is a touching story about the Prophet (SAW)’s kindness and consideration toward his wives. Once, Ayesha (RA) accompanied the Prophet (SAW) on an arduous expedition toward the Red Sea coast and the army made a brief halt around sunset, when Ayesha noticed that an onyx necklace that her mother had gifted her on the occasion of her wedding was missing. She treasured this possession and was greatly disturbed by its loss, but it was too dark to search for it, and the place where they had halted was desolate, without any water. Moreover, the Muslim army had depleted its supply of water and was eager to reach the next destination for accessing water. Nonetheless, the Prophet (SAW) ordered the army to encamp there overnight so that they could search for the necklace during the daylight hours. There was much indignation since the army had no water to drink, much less for ablution for Fajr prayers, and some companions complained to Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA), but the decision was made to stay. As it turned out, this became a blessing for Muslims since the verses of Tayammum (purification by wiping faces and hands with the earth) were revealed on this occasion. As for the necklace, the army searched for it in vain the next day, and when they finally gave up and decided to move on, and Ayesha’s camel stood up from its resting place, there was the necklace – right beneath the camel all night long!

9. Entertainment and playfulness: A home should be a place of happiness, rest, and peace, to which each member of the family looks forward to return to find solace and a revival of uplifted spirits. There should be laughter and joy, and good quality fun and entertainment within a home. Sour moods that ruin and steal away precious moments of life should be an exception, not a rule. The Prophet (SAW) would frequently engage his wives in goodhumored banter and simple playful entertainment. On the same expedition mentioned above concerning Ayesha (RA)’s missing necklace, the next camp of the army was in a pleasant valley with long stretches of level sand. The Prophet (SAW) challenged his wife to a race, and he won. After the race, he approached her and playfully teased her saying that this was in return for the other race that she had won a long time back. As Ayesha (RA) later recounted, he was referring to a time when they were still in Mecca before the Hijrah, and the Prophet (SAW) had asked her to hand him something she was holding, but she had refused and had eluded him by running away from him.

10. Marriage is between families: In the history of mankind and civilization, marriage has always been recognized as not simply being between a couple, but also, an event that unites the respective families, or tribes, or even nations in the case of leaders or royalties. Rasool Allah (SAW) said that, “Matrimonial alliances between families increase friendship more than anything else”. In this respect, it is very important for both husband and wife to include each other’s families within their lives. If one of you is in charge of managing household affairs and hosting guests and the like, be very cautious of not focusing simply on your own family and shutting out that of the other. Otherwise, you will miss out on a major benefit of a marriage that has been blessed by the Prophet (SAW), namely, that of nurturing a larger alliance of love and friendship between families.

11. Honor the rights of children: An essential aspect of marriage is to raise children who are good Muslims and who benefit mankind in the name of Islam. Rasool Allah (SAW) said that the rights of children over their parents are that they are given good names; they are provided with physical support and nourishment; and that they receive a good education, i.e., they are likewise given mental nourishment. Concomitant with this is that children should be given well-measured and thoughtful emotional support. Harsh words and treatment that are dispensed by unreflective and immature parents, often unintentionally, can cause psychological damage for life, indeed quite oblivious to the parents. In fact, the basis of most psychoanalysis is rooted in emotional distresses that occurred during childhood years.

12. Gratitude: A key ingredient for all successful endeavors of human beings, including that of marriage, is to be ever grateful to Allah (SWT). When a couple is thankful to Him for bringing about compatibility, quiet of mind, love, and compassion between them, as propounded in the verses from the Qur’an that we first read above, then Allah (SWT) blesses their union and strengthens their ties by amplifying His gifts of love and compassion for them. Allah (SWT) reminds us of this favor in Suratun-Nahl, saying (16:72), “And Allah has made wives for you among yourselves, and has given you sons and daughters from your wives, and has provided you with good things. Will you then believe in falsehood and deny the favor of Allah?”

We pray to Allah (SWT) to create love and compassion between Muslim couples as He did between Adam (AS) and Hawa (Eve), peace be upon them; and between Ebraheem (AS) and his wives Sarah and Hajr, peace be upon them; and between Rasool Allah (SAW) and his wives Khadija and Ayesha, peace be upon them; and between Hazrat Ali (RA) and his wife Fatima-tuz-Zahra, peace be upon them. And in the words of the Qur’an in Suratul-Furqan (25:74), we pray, “Rabbana Habbalana min Azwaajina wa Zurriatina Kurrata Aa-yunew-waj-Alna lil-Muttakina Imaama: Our Lord, grant us in our wives and our offspring the joy of our eyes, and make us leaders for those who guard against evil”, Ameen.

Hanif D. Sherali