The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Archive for the category “marriage & family”

Divorcing the Wife at the Behest of Parents

divorce-cake (3)[2]Q. Is there any religious requirement in Islam for a husband to divorce his wife merely because his parents are displeased with the marriage, or continue to disapprove of it? Didn’t the Prophet ﷺ endorse the decision of ‘Umar who ordered his son to divorce his wife? Is the son being disobedient if he refuses to do so?

A. The incident in question refers to the case of Ibn ‘Umar who relates: I was married to a woman that I loved, but my father disliked her. So he ordered me to divorce her, but I refused. I then mentioned this to the Prophet ﷺ who said to me: ‘O ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar! Divorce your wife.’1

The leading Hanbali jurist of his age, Ibn Muflih, writes in his al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah: ‘If his father demands that he divorce his wife, he isn’t required to do so. This was stated by most of the senior students [of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal]. Al-Sanadi states: A man said to Abu ‘Abd Allah [i.e. Imam Ahmad]: My father orders me to divorce my wife. He responded: “Do not divorce her.” The man said: But didn’t ‘Umar order his son ‘Abd Allah to divorce his wife? So he replied: “Only if your father is like ‘Umar, may God be pleased with him.”’2

Shaykh Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut explains in a footnote to this point: ‘Meaning, he shouldn’t divorce her on account of his father ordering it; unless the father is like ‘Umar, in the sense of doing what is true and just, and not merely following his personal whims in the matter.’3

Ibn Taymiyyah stated something similar about a mother ordering her son to divorce his wife: ‘It is not required to obey her. Though one [continues to] remain dutiful and kind to her. Divorcing one’s wife is not part of kindness due to mothers.’4

So if the parents’ decision in this delicate issue springs from profound piety and depth of religious insight, and not from from their whims or egos, then one considers their judgement and looks to obeying them; if not, then not.

Here, it is appropriate to mention the honour, kindness and service that Islam expects children to show to parents. The Qur’an states: Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you show kindness to your two parents. If either or both of them attain old age [show no sign of impatience, and] do not even say “fie!” to them nor rebuke them, but speak to them kindly. [17:23]

Allah also said: Be grateful to Me and your two parents. [31:14] And: We have enjoined on mankind kindness to parents; but if they try to force you to ascribe to Me that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not. [29:8]

The hadith compendiums record that the Prophet ﷺ was asked: What deed is best? He said: ‘Prayer at its earliest time, and then kindness to parents.’5 ‘A parent,’ declared the Prophet ﷺ, ‘is the best of the gates of Paradise; so if you wish, protect the gate or lose it.’6 Then there is the hadith: ‘The pleasure of your Lord lies in pleasing parents, and the anger of your Lord lies in displeasing parents.’7

Yet despite the tremendous status Islam accord parents, a son is under no obligation to fulfil the demands of his parents to divorce his wife, if there is no valid reason for doing so. Moreover, the above texts in no way sanction the tyranny that some parents inflict on their sons and daughters: physical abuse, forced marriages, indifference to religious education and upbringing, forceful imposition of ‘back home’ cultural values and, in a few hideously haram cases, honour killings! Such issues must be challenged, stood-up to and be rooted out of our communities.

In summary: If parents ask the son to annul his marriage because of some reason held to be valid in the Sacred Law (shari‘ah) – like shielding him from an overriding worldly harm; or to safeguard his moral, spiritual and religious wellbeing – one considers the parents wishes and defers to their judgement. To use the hadith unrestrictedly would be highly tragic and, given the moral degeneration of people today (parents includes), it would be highly reckless too. If parents have no legitimate grounds for their dislike, then no such obedience is due. If one is in any doubt about the matter, one consults a well-seasoned scholar of the Sacred Law.

Lastly, we must remember that when a man takes a women in marriage, this nikah, or marriage, is described in Allah’s Book [4:21] as a mithaq ghalizah – “solemn covenant.” Such a solemn marital bond must be honoured and nurtured and its rights fulfilled: it isn’t a trivial thing that should be subjected to the egotistical whims of selfish parents. Let men be loving, affectionate, relaxed, easy-natured and honourable companions to their wives – soul mates, even; reverently upholding the sanctity of marital ties. After all: They are a garment for you and you are a garment for them. [2:187] And after all, the Prophet ﷺ did tell us: ‘The best of you are those who are best to their wives.’8 Thus, in Islam, being a good husband is an essential part of being a man. So be a man!

1. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.1200, where he said: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’

2. Ibn Muflih, al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1996), 1:475.

3. ibid, 1:475.

4. Cited in al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah, 1:475.

5. Al-Bukhari, Sahih, no.527.

6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1961, who said: ‘This hadith is sahih.’

7. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1962, and it is authentic (sahih). Cf. al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: Maktab al-Islami, 1985), no.516.

8. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1162, who said: ‘The hadith is hasan sahih.’

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Searching for the Spouse-To-Be

marriageContinuing our exploration into marriage, meaning, intimacy and cultural change, this blog discusses the matter of spousal selection. The first two parts of the blog may be read here and here.

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.

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.

Meditations on Marriage

dictionary-marriage-21-400x275This is not meant to be a detailed portrait of nikah, or marriage in Islam.

What I do intend is to try and offer some thoughts and meditations on some hadiths exploring aspects of marriage and meaning, love and intimacy, as well as cultural change.

As a sanctified social and legal institution, marriage is regarded in Islam as the bedrock of social order and communal harmony; guiding and regulating moral, sexual and familial relationships. If the institution of marriage and family crumble, so too does society. Yet this is what has happened in Britain over the past four decades or so. ‘Broken Britain’ is not just a bold turn of phrase, it is a reality that now haunts us as a society.

Traditional notions of marriage continue to be progressively undermined in favour of unrestrained gratification of adult sexual desires. As a result, statistics and surveys tell us, we are a nation where nearly half of all babies are born out of wedlock; that has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe; whose family courts are awash with cases involving disturbed and damaged children; and where it is acknowledged that children comming from fractured homes do worse, in general, in almost all walks of life, than children nurtured in stable homes within a traditional family environment. Added to this is the gay rights lobby, resolved on deposing hetrosexuality as being the behavioral norm for society.

In an age where marriage or cohabbiting, being straight or gay, is now a ‘lifestyle choice’; where selfish individualism runs amok in society; and where the cult of instant gratification has rendered us all but blind to the work that this generation must dedicate to the well-being of the next, we need to collectively reexamine these social developments and proposed redefinitions of marriage to see if they strengthen or undermine genuine human flourishing.

The next few blogs will reflect and ruminate on some prophetic hadiths concerning family, marriage and marital intimacy, and are offered as part of exploring Islam’s broader outlook on the matter.

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