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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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