Searching for the Spouse-To-Be
Let us re-commence, then, with the following prophetic remark: ‘A woman is married for four reasons: for her wealth, her lineage, her beauty and her religiousness. So marry the religious one and prosper.’1
This statement has its counterpart in another hadith: ‘When a proposal of marriage comes to you from a man whose religion and character pleases you, then accept it. If you do not, there will be tribulation in the land and great corruption.’2
Of course, a marriage cannot be contracted by parents, even if the suitor’s religion and character tick all the boxes, unless the daughter first consents. Says a hadith: ‘If a man intends to get his daughter married, let him seek her permission.’3
Religiousness, piety and good character, therefore, must be the touchstone for spouse selection. Much good can come from a God-fearing heart, and a pious disposition is essential for attracting divine grace and blessings from heaven. But being on good behaviour with God does not always translate itself into good behaviour with others. Hence the edict to select someone whose “religion and character pleases you.”
Through a mixture of revealed texts, experiences lived and learnt, as well as brushing the contours of customs and culture, many of the learned in law and wisdom impart the following guidelines for spouse selection:
Personal qualities particular to each potential couple aside, qualities to be sought in a prospective husband include: piety (in terms of the five daily prayers and his overall commitment to the Islamic vision of life); a lawful income sufficient to support his household, for Men are maintainers and protectors of women because God has given the one more [strength] than the other, and because of what they spend from their wealth [4:34]; ability to make mature decisions; responsibility, patience and cooperation; basic Islamic learning, so as to save yourself and your family from a Fire [66:6]; tolerance, a forgiving nature and balanced temperament; and be from a decent and stable family, as per the hadith: ‘Choose well for your seed by marrying suitable and compatible women, and marrying your daughters to suitable and compatible men.’4
Along with the obvious types to avoid (those that are irreligious, immoral, arrogant, ill-tempered, miserly, immature, impatient, and lack compassion and understanding), one must also beware of those who are in the grip of serious addictions. Alcohol, drugs and pornography are the most obvious ones. But two subtler addictions should also be steered clear of.
The first is a man’s addiction to his mother. In other words, a “mummy’s boy”. This must not be confused with our love, honour and service to our mothers. But there is a difference between that and between sheepish subserviance to them. A husband who lets his mother rule the roost, allowing her to marginalise the role and the rights of his wife, is failing to offer his wife the protective care she has a right to.
The other addiction is to video games. An increasing number of marriages are now failing because of it. In short, addictions wreck marriages.
Qualities sought in a future wife are that she should be religious; affectionate, as in the hadith: ‘Marry loving, fertile women’5; obedient, as per the Qur’an: Virtuous women are obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what God would have them guard. [4:34]; be well-natured; be from a decent, stable family; patient; content; possess basic Islamic learning; and share with the husband the desire to journey to God, for: ‘Let each of you keep a grateful heart, an invoking tongue and a wife who assists him in the affairs of the Afterlife.’6
Apart from avoiding the irreligious, vain, spiteful and quarellsome types, received wisdom demands that one think twice about those women who expect exorbitant dowries and those that are the “academic” type.
The first could be an indication of things to come, in terms of the wife’s relentless demands on her husband for more and more material possessions. Marriage to a “material girl” or to a “Westfield woman” clearly has its hazzards, not least the need for the weary, war-torn husband to give up any serious spiritual ambition he may have had – other than that of gritting his teeth and being patient!
As for the academic type, the concern here is that such a woman may not have the basic skills of wifehood or motherhood. This is a woman ‘whose mother has waited on her all her life at home with every conceivable labor to free her to study, so that she never learnt how to work, cook, clean, run a house, take care of children, or make a home comfortable.’7
In the presence of a chaparone, it is an essential Sunnah for the man and the woman to meet each other so as to help them decide on marriage to one another. The man and the woman should ensure they communicate well, incline to one another, and feel comfortable with each other. Above all, they must ensure they are on the same page in terms of their religious outlook and aspirations.
In summary: Choosing a spouse, to a significant extent, depends on the individual. Different people need different sorts of spouses and companionship. In general, however, one should look for someone in whom the basic outward practices of religion are present and diligently adhered to, but for whom religion is very much about becoming a better person and of spiritually growing.
If religion is internalised and becomes a matter of the heart (and not just externally observed), then we become possessed of those qualities which are going to make a successful marriage and will turn someone into a loving and delightful spouse. For marriage requires spiritual virtues like patience (sabr), contentment (rida), preferring others over oneself (ithar) and forbearance (hilm). Such virtues are likely to be more natural, and hence be present in times of hardships rather than at times of ease or convenience, if one has made some progress in the path of inward purification. Thus one looks for a spouse with spiritual character, as well as the other qualities touched upon above.
In Islam, marriage is seen as the deepest bond that can exist between two human beings. It calls to mutual love and to the profoundest expression of intimacy between two people, and thus requires the firmest emotional and spiritual commitment that can be made. For this to be achieved, a unity of purpose must exist between the two parties and their hearts and ambitions should chime in as much harmony as befits the purpose. Compatibility, or kafa‘a, in terms of religion, moral rectitude, personal suitability and spiritual ambition is enshrined in Islam’s juristic doctrine precisely to facillitate such harmony.8
1. Al-Bukhari, no.5090; Muslim, no.1466.
2. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1088, who said it is hasan gharib.
3. Abu Ya‘la, Musnad, no.1735, with a hasan chain. Cf. al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyad: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1987), no.1206.
4. Ibn Majah, no.1968, and it is sahih. Cf. al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyad: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1987), no.1067; Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1989), 9:155.
5. Abu Dawud, no.2035; Ibn Majah, no.2940.
6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.3093, saying that the hadith is hasan.
7. Keller, Sea Without Shore (Amman: Sunna Books, 2011), 257-58.
8. An extensive treatment on kafa’ah is presented in Ibn Qudamah, al-Mughni (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 2007), 9:391-97; much of which is based on existing cultural class distinctions of the then Islamic world.