The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Marriage: Law, Spirit & Meaning

marriage-services1One hadith states: “Marraige is of my guidance; one who acts contrary to my guidance is not of me. Thus marry, that I may outnumber other nations by you. Those of you who possess the means should marry. If he cannot, let him fast, for fasting is a shield.”1

The Qur’an says: And of His signs is that He created for you wives from yourselves that you might find repose in them, and He set between you love and affection. In this are signs for people who reflect. [30:21]

Marriage, the shared life of man and woman, is commended in the Revelation as being honourable. It was the way of God’s prophets, with the notable exception of Jesus, son of Mary, peace be upon him. We sent Messengers before you, says the Qur’an, and appointed for them wives and children. [13:38] Here, in the above hadith, we see the Prophet, peace be upon him, adorning the institution of marriage with his words.

Given the gravity and importance of marriage, it must not be entered into hastily or unadvisedly. But rather, honourably, reverently and soberly and with trust in God. The causes for marriage should be contemplated over before embarking on this quest of intimacy. In Islam’s legal literature the causes for which marriage was ordained are said to be:

Firstly, that the natural instincts of love and intimacy implanted by God can be given blessed expression.

Secondly, for the increase of humankind and for children to be brought up in God’s remembrance and in reverant thanks of Him.

Thirdly, for the benefit of society at large: for family is the foundation of a just and caring society; it is the realm in which love, duty, commitment, support and sacrifice are first encountered and learnt.2

To state it in the language of anthropologists, the function of marriage is to ensure: social reproduction, the socializing of children and the passing on of social capital.3

Sexual relations outside of marriage (zina) is seen in Islam as one of the primary causes of social disintergration, to be avoided at all cost. Adultery and fornication, both subsumed under zina, stand in direct opposition to marriage. In fact, Islamic law conciously sets out to combat zina through marriage, as may be sensed in the above hadith. This explains the juristic stance which holds marriage to be wholly obligatory in the case of those whose sexual desires are uncontrollable or nearly so. The failure to marry, in such a case, is said to entail sin (ithm), to be punished in the Afterlife. For those with “average” sex drive and who are able to keep their urge in check, marriage is held to be recommended. Those with no inclination to marriage or no sexual desire – either due to old age, illness, or any other reason – some jurists still deemed marriage recommended; others held it to be disliked (makruh), especially if it takes them away from what is more beneficial in terms of gaining religious knowledge or being engrossed in devotional worship.4

The nuances found in the juristic rulings on marriage reflect a sensitivity towards differences among people in this regard. But the different rulings corresponding to the differences in people’s nature is intended to serve a single, overarching purpose: social harmony.5

1. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.1836. The hadith is hasan, as per al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1991), no.2383.

2. Cf. Ibn Qudamah, al-Mughni (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 2007), 9:343.

3. Scruton, Arguments for Conservatism (London: Continuum, 2006), 95.

4. See: al-Mughni, 9:341-44.

5. Consult: Hallaq, Shari‘ah: Theory, Practice, Transformations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 272.

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8 thoughts on “Marriage: Law, Spirit & Meaning

  1. There is also the concept of ”soul fornication” or ”zina of the ruh” as warned against by a prominent scholar, ie having sexual fantasies about other than one’s own spouse. The fact that it is so easily dismissed today indicates how normative sexual license has become. May God forgive and protect us all.

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  2. Amin.

    Thank you for that much needed reminder and caution. I suspect it applies more so to men than to women. We ask God for safety and well-being.

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  3. Whats Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve discovered It positively useful and it has helped me out loads. I hope to give a contribution & assist different users like its helped me. Good job.

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  4. I’m glad you found it of benefit. Please do make others aware of the blog, and hope you visit again.

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  5. May I ask you to develop further on the last point: “others held it to be disliked (makruh), especially if it takes them away from what is more beneficial in terms of gaining religious knowledge or being engrossed in devotional worship.”

    If a woman felt that marriage could take her away from the closeness to her Creator, and prevent her from progressing in knowledge and ibaada because she would find it difficult to balance her relationship between herself and Allah swt and that with her husband… would it be recommended for her not to marry, or to marry, or is this statement applicable only to men?

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    • As a rule of thumb, nikah must be seen as an important path to the Creator. One hadith tells us that marriage is completing one half of our faith, and that we are to fear Allah and be mindful of Him for the remaining half.

      The category of “those with no inclination to marriage or no sexual desire” applies to both men and woman.

      As for a woman in full pursuit of knowledge, under the instruction of traditionally qualified scholars; and with an eye on becoming a full-time shaykhah in the service of teaching others sacred knowledge, may well find marriage a distraction. But this is not an easy decision, and should only be made after much du’a, deliberation, and consultation with those of learning and wisdom.

      It cannot be stressed enough, though, that the path to Allah, for the great majority of Muslims, is and will always remain situated within the context of marriage and family life.

      One final point: If this is more than just a question of curiosity, and is something that is being seriously contemplated, then let the sister seek sound scholarly advice from qualified people, as well as discuss this with her family.

      And Allah knows best.

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  6. Abdullah on said:

    As-Salaam-Alaikum Shaykh,

    I have been following your blog for a while now alhamdulillah I have enjoyed every post I have read and I hope I have gained the good from them. I attended a marriage seminar with Ebrahim College where you and your wife shared your knowledge and experience with regards to maintaining a happy marriage.

    Jzk.k.

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