The Quest for Tranquillity in Marital Life
When the wedding celebrations are over and husband and wife settle down in their new lives many find it is not what they hoped for or expected. As the euphoria and novelty runs out and gives way to routine and normality, the marriage relationship becomes strained as both spouses struggle to get through life. Constant arguments, bickering and unhappiness pervades the atmosphere with little or no hope of a resolution. This problem in the marital life is so widely felt that we would scarcely find a person who does not know of a close family member or relative who is not in this predicament.
Whilst it is inevitable that not every marriage will succeed or be without its fair share of problems, the marital discord and misery we see today cannot simply be attributed to the incompatibility which can sometimes occur between two people. Rather a deeper study into the widespread problems and misery we witness will reveal that it is due to a lack of the correct criteria and thoughts - this is the cause of disharmony and the lack of tranquillity between spouses.
If one were to dissect the criteria and thoughts being used by Muslims living in the UK and generally in the West one would find that generally speaking they are caught between two reference points. Do they follow the customs and traditions of their elders in marriage and marital affairs or do they embrace western values? The older generation has by and large stuck to tradition; but the younger generation growing up in the UK is increasingly rejecting tradition in favour of a more western lifestyle.
As a result we find a whole range of different, and at times contradictory, criteria being used to regulate married life. On one side of the spectrum we have the traditional culture imported from ‘back home’ whether that is from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Africa or the Middle East. Here we see the prevalence of the criteria of ‘sharam’ and ‘izza’ (shame and dignity). These have their roots in Islam but over time they have lost their Islamic character and have become subject to people’s whims and desires. This is why we see the inconsistent and oppressive nature of their application. For instance, zina is and should be viewed as a loathsome kabeerah (great) sin; however we often see that if a man commits it then it can be forgiven and quietly ignored as just something that young men do. However if a woman was found guilty of committing this then she would be ostracised and rejected because she has brought dishonour and scandal to the family. Therefore the true understanding of the sin of zina has been lost in the blur and haze of tradition and a contradictory application is being used.
A similar contradiction from traditional values is the view that a young girl mixing with foreign (ajnabi) men is unacceptable. But on the other hand no shame is felt when the same girl is forced to marry a man without her consent and approval or even sometimes against her will.
On the other hand we have what can only be described as ‘half-way’ marriages where the concepts and criteria are a jumble of traditional and western values but adopted according to the capitalist criteria of benefit and individual freedom. For example, in such marriages it is not acceptable that the wife would flirt with other men but it is acceptable for her to mix with men, being uncovered and showing her beauty. We also find men carrying the western concept of ‘not settling down when young’ and delaying their marriage until they’ve ‘had a good time’. And once in their late twenties or early thirties they will do their social and religious duty in an almost ritual trip to Pakistan or Bangladesh to get married. Also we now see the western style of courtship which means finding out if one is compatible or not by dating or ‘getting to know each other’. Hence, the ubiquitous demand of ‘friendship leading to marriage’ often found in the marriage sections of Asian newspapers and magazines.
Western Marriages; out of the frying pan and into the fire
The West offers individual freedom as the progressive basis of life, and for many Muslims in the West this has become the preferred basis for marriage over tradition. By individual freedom what’s meant is that an individual is completely free in how he or she lives his or her life. So for example it would be perfectly acceptable on this basis for a man and a woman to cohabit together without a contract of marriage just as it is acceptable for two gay men to get married. Muslims should be aware of the dangers that come with adopting freedom as a criterion and should not allow themselves to be duped into thinking freedom and benefit can ever lead to a superior life. Rather, turning to freedom by rejecting tradition is like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. How can the West claim to offer the alternative when its criteria of individual freedom and benefit which by establishing sensual gratification as the paramount concern has led to the misery of millions of people? If we take a quick look at the West’s record we find that in their societies the top five problems in the social and marital life are:
Mistrust and Adultery - 70% of American wives commit adultery within 5 years of marriage.
Divorce - one in three end up in divorce.
Rape - 167 women are raped every day in the UK.
Wife battery - a battery incident occurs every 18 seconds in the America.
Child molestation and paedophilia - in Britain a quarter of a million people are known paedophiles!.
These are the fruits of freedom and these should not be considered surprising but in fact are an inevitable occurrence since a solution proposed by man’s limited mind will never be able to address the intricacies of human life and its requirements. Therefore, we need to refer to the Creator (subhanahu wa ta’aala), Who is All-Aware of His (subhanahu wa ta’aala) creation and how it is that humanity should regulate their lives.
Should not He Who has created know? And He is the Most Kind and Courteous (to His slaves) All-Aware (of everything). [TMQ Mulk:14]
Rejecting Tradition on the Correct Basis
As for taking tradition as our criteria this can never be accepted, as our only criteria is the Revelation of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) and this excludes what our forefathers followed unless it was from what Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) and His Messenger (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) brought. In the following ayah, Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) tells us the basis of acceptance or rejection of tradition:
And when it is said to them: "Come to what Allah has revealed and unto the Messenger (Muhammad [SalAllahu alaihi wasallam])." They say: "Enough for us is that which we found our fathers following," even though their fathers had no knowledge whatsoever and no guidance!’ [TMQ Al-Maidah:104]
The reason it is wrong to follow the forefathers is that they did not follow the Revelation and nor were they guided by Allah’s (subhanahu wa ta’aala) Guidance. So when we reject those areas of tradition, which contradict Islam we should not reject them because they contradict the capitalist concepts of individual freedom and benefit but because they go against what Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) has revealed. In other words, just as it is wrong to accept Western love marriages on the basis of freedom and benefit it is equally wrong to reject forced marriages on the basis of the individual freedom and benefit. The reason both should be rejected is that they are contrary to Allah’s (subhanahu wa ta’aala) Revelation and not because they affirm or violate freedom and benefit. Thus, the only criteria a Muslim can follow is the criteria of Halal and Haram and nothing else.
Marriage: what’s it all about?
The current generation either view marriage as a burden, or a custom and a social duty. They do not understand it is a solution that organises the male-female relationship so as to bring about mutual tranquillity. In fact many are turning to western values because they find the oppressive elements of tradition unpalatable without realising that Islam has a unique solution that befits man’s nature. In Islam marriage is about companionship (suhbah) and not the regimental and strict regime that exists in traditional marriage or the tenuous ‘partnership’ for sex that we find in the West, which is easily dispensed with when the partners get tired or bored.
Allah ‘Azza Wa Jall informs us of the Hikmah of marriage;
And among His Signs is this, that He created for you wives from among yourselves, that you may find repose in them (li-taskunoo ilayha), and He has put between you affection and mercy. Verily, in that are indeed signs for a people who reflect. [TMQ Ar-Rum: 21]
In this ayah, Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) makes the wife the source of Sakeenah i.e. repose and tranquillity as we can see from the usage of the verb sakana. It is from this same word that we derive the term sakan (dwelling) where people find repose, ease and security when they go home from the toil and tension of outside life. Similarly, married life is a source of tranquillity from the strains and stresses of life and not the other way round.
The concept of rights & responsibilities
The West cite empty slogans of friendship and equality as the basis of marital life but the truth is that what exists is a clash between spouses because there are no defined roles due to the belief in individual freedom. Islam on the other hand did not just talk about companionship but has shown how to realise it by clarifying the rights and responsibilities that spouses have over each other such that they complement each other and bring about mutual fulfilment:
Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) says;
"And they (women) have rights (over their husbands) similar (to those of their husbands) over them, in reasonable terms." [TMQ Al- Baqarah: 228]
Ibn ‘Abbas used to say, “Indeed I spruce myself up for my wife and she adorns herself for me, and I love that I should redeem all the rights I have over my wife, so that she should redeem all the rights she has over me.” [Reported by Ibn Abi Shaybah in his Musannaf]
Islam clearly outlined the role and the rights of both partners in the marriage. The man is the head of the household and therefore he has the final say in matters. He is responsible for providing the maintenance and residence for his family. The wife’s responsibility is to obey the husband in matters relating to the marital life, tend to the housework and not go out without the permission of her husband.
These rights and responsibilities are not unknown but the key concept we need to understand is how these rights and responsibilities are discharged. Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) informs us:
"And live with them honourably". [TMQ An-Nisa: 19]
He (subhanahu wa ta’aala) has commanded spouses to spend their life together (mu’aasharah) in an honourable and fitting manner (bil-ma’roof). What this means is that they live in an atmosphere of care and benevolence. That is why the Messenger (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) said;
«إن من أكمل المؤمنين إيمانا أحسنهم خلقاً وألطفهم بأهله
“Indeed, the one most complete in Iman and best in morals is the one who is the kindest to his wives.” [Reported by Ibn Hibban]
In other words, the rights and responsibilities should be discharged in an atmosphere of companionship. To give us an example of what companionship (suhbah) means on a day to day level let us take a glimpse at the life of Muhammad (salAllahu alaihi wasallam), as he says in his own words:
“The best amongst you is the one who is best to his wives and I am best to my wives” [Reported by Ibn Hibban]
Meaning of Companionship (as-Suhbah)
RasoolAllah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) taught us that the husband should be reasonable in exacting the rights. For example, the wife is obliged to seek permission before she goes out but this does not mean the husband should prevent her when there is no reason for doing so. Regarding women going to the mosques it has been narrated by Salim bin 'Abdullah from his father that the Prophet (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) said:
“If the wife of any one of you asks permission (to go to the mosque) do not forbid her.” [Reported by Muslim]
Companionship means the husband deals with his wife in a kind and tolerant manner and not in a domineering way. He should not see it as undermining his honour and dignity if his wife disagreed or got angry about something. 'Aaisha (ra) narrated that Allah's Messenger (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) said;
“‘I know whether you are angry or pleased.’ I said, ‘How do you know that Oh Messenger of Allah?’ He (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) said, ‘When you are pleased, you say, 'Yes, by the Lord of Muhammad,' but when you are angry, you say, 'No, by the Lord of Abraham!' I said, ‘Yes, I do not leave, except your name.’" [Reported by Muslim]
In addition, it has been narrated that the Prophet of Allah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) came into Aaisha’s (ra) room and put his hand on Aaisha’s (ra) knee and whispered something in her ear. She placed her hand over his hand trying to push him away. Umm Mubashhar who was with her at the time said; “How could you do this to Allah’s Messenger?” The Messenger (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) laughed and said; “Leave her; she does this and much worse!” [Reported by al-Bukhari in at-Tarikh]
Companionship means that husbands and wives should help each other in their responsibilities. Just because the wife is responsible for doing the housework does not mean the husband should not help out. Aaisha (ra) describes the behaviour of RasoolAllah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) when he was in the house - she says;
“RasoolAllah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) used to be in the service (mihnah i.e. khidmah) of his family; and when it was time for prayer, he would go out to pray.” [Reported by al-Bukhari]
Despite being the ruler of Madinah, at home he led a very humble life. Aaisha said;
“He acted like other men; he would mend his clothes, milk his goat and serve himself.” [Reported by al-Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad].
Furthermore, RasoolAllah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) never lost his temper, even if there was too much salt in the food. Abu Hurairah narrated that;
‘RasoolAllah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) never criticised the food, if he liked it he ate it and if not he left it’ [Reported by Muslim]
Companionship also means overlooking mistakes or defects that one may not like in ones wife or vice versa. RasoolAllah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) said:
“Let not a believing man hate a believing woman. If he dislikes a character in her, he would be pleased with her other characters.” [Reported by Muslim]
Therefore, the husband should not pick on every little thing and continuously find faults. Rather he should be prepared to forget them by remembering the good qualities his wife has.
Companionship means closeness and intimacy and not an estranged relationship where the spouses rarely talk to each other unless something needs to be done. If one reflects on the nature of married life one can appreciate its importance. So for example, during the day a wife would naturally build up and accumulate many issues that she wants to discuss with her husband. So when the husband comes home she wants, for want of a better word, to ‘download’ all the stresses and difficulties and share them with him. But if the husband comes home and turns on the TV and ignores her then this can be very frustrating for her. That is why if we look to RasoolAllah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) we see that it was his practise after Isha to spend a part of the evening chatting (samr) with his wives. RasoolAllah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) also used to joke with his wives. He (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) said:
“Everything in which there is no dhikr (remembrance) of Allah is nonsense, negligence and futile except four things: that a man should joke with his wife…” [Reported by an-Nasa`i].
So here RasoolAllah did not consider joking with his wives a useless activity.
Companionship means romance, fondness and affection. Listen to Aaisha (ra), the mother of the believers, when she said:
“I would drink when I was menstruating, then I would hand it (the vessel) to the Messenger (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) and he would put his mouth where mine had been, and drink, and I would eat flesh from a bone when I was menstruating, then hand it over to the Apostle (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) and he would put his mouth where mine had been.” [Reported by Muslim in Kitab al-Hayd]
As for his wives they also felt about him in the same way. Ahmad narrated in his Musnad on the authority of Kareemah bin Hummaam that she said to Aaisha: O mother of the believers! What do you say regarding the use of Henna? She replied;
“My beloved (habeebi i.e. referring to RasoolAllah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam)) used to like it!”
Chatting with Aaisha (ra)…
As mentioned previously, the Prophet (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) used to chat in the evening with his wives. One such evening he told Aaisha (ra) the following beautiful story of eleven women who met in the days of ignorance (jahilliyah) and promised to tell each other the truth about their husbands. The types of husbands described in this story can give us wonderful examples as to the type of qualities a husband should seek or avoid. The first five have reprehensible qualities whilst the rest all have laudable qualities.
Wife number one begins by saying; “My husband is like a bony camel’s meat at the top of a rough mountain. Neither is it easy to reach, nor meaty to desire acquiring.” What she means here is that he husband is unapproachable and not welcoming. When she tries to speak to him he does not listen as if she is not there and when she does manage to get heard he has nothing good to say to her. So the wife feels there’s no point, since the effort is not worth it! Hence, he is described like the useless ‘bony camel’s meat at the top of a rough mountain’ which is frankly not worth the trouble.
Wife number two’s husband is so full of defects that she doesn’t know where to start, so in fact she doesn’t! She said; “If I start I fear I will not be able to stop.” Some scholars commented on this by saying the second wife violated her agreement because she had promised to recount all the defects and she did not do that. Anyway, perhaps she felt it was a pointless and time-consuming exercise as the defects were innumerable.
Wife number three says the following about her husband; “If I utter a word, I shall surely be divorced. And if I remain silent, I will be suspended.” In other words we are dealing with a husband who is trigger happy with the divorce button. She lives in a state of constant fear that for smallest thing she may be divorced. That is why in another narration she said; “I am always in such a state as if I am under a sharp sword. I do not know when my affair will come to an end.” She finds herself in an impossible situation. She can’t speak otherwise she fears being divorced but on the other hand if she remains silent she faces the prospect of living in a state where she is neither married nor divorced i.e. in limbo or ‘suspended’ as she puts it. Her husband never complements her, brings her gifts or other such token gesture. Rather he thinks just by giving her food and clothing he has done his duty!
Wife number four describes a husband who is selfish and only thinks about himself. She says; “As for my husband, when he eats he devours everything; when he drinks, he does not leave anything. When he sleeps, he sleeps in his own sheet. He does not even touch me, so that he can know the disturbance in my mind.” So when the food is laid he doesn’t ask his wife to join him and at night he sleeps alone not caring about what she is thinking or feeling.
Wife number five starts by saying; “My husband is extremely helpless and stupid.” And you can see why she describes him this way as she continues, “He would either cut your head, break one of your limbs, or do both to you”. In other words he is a man who severely beats his wife, something which is deplored in Islam unless it was light and for the purpose of discipline when the wife refuses to discharge her marital responsibilities.
Now we come to the next set of husbands who all have good qualities which every husband should aspire to have.
Wife number six extols the praises of her husband with words that are almost poetic! She says; “My husband is like the night of Tihamah (Makkah and its surroundings) – neither hot nor cold. In his company there is neither fear nor boredom” i.e. here is a husband who is approachable and fun to be with unlike the first husband mentioned above. His company is never boring and she feels completely at ease in his presence.
Wife number seven describes a husband who is confident and strong outside in public but gentle at home – not like those husbands who are gentle outside but feared at home. She says; “My husband, when he enters he acts like a (sleepy) leopard; and when he leaves he acts like a lion.”
Wife number eight has a funny way of describing her husband; “As for my husband, his touch is like that of a rabbit” i.e. she means he is gentle and kind!
Wife number nine and ten both have husbands whose qualities are similar and hence I have grouped them together, i.e. they are generous hosts. Wife number ten says of her husband, “He owns camels that are numerous in their sitting places, and few in the grazing areas. When they hear the sound of the lute, they become certain of their death”. I.e. her husband keeps camels near the house and when they hear the lute playing they know they will be slaughtered.
Now we come to wife number eleven, the last of the wives, who is named in the hadith as Umm Zara’. She describes her husband, Abu Zara’, in the following way; “My husband was Abu Zara’ – and what would you know about Abu Zara’! He made my ears heavy with jewellery, filled my upper arms with flesh (fed me well after my previous state of hunger), and honoured me until my soul was gratified. He took me from among a people with very few sheep and tight living, and placed me among a people who had horses, camels, cows. In his house, I spoke without being rebuffed, slept until late-morning and drank my fill.’ As we can see, Abu Zara’ was a generous man who treated Umm Zara’ immeasurably well and clearly he was the best out of the eleven husbands.
But there is a sad twist to this story. After many years of happy marriage Abu Zara’ divorces Umm Zara’ in favour of a younger woman. But even though Umm Zara’ remarries and is treated well by her second husband, she still laments the loss of Abu Zara’. It is at this point that RasoolAllah turns to Aaisha (ra) saying:
“O Aaisha! I am to you like Abu Zara’ was to Umm Zara’ – except that Abu Zara’ divorced (her), and I will not divorce you.” Here, RasoolAllah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) reminds Aaisha of his favours to her which is better than even Abu Zara’ whose divorced wife still felt his loss. Aaisha knew this very well and so it is no surprise that she responded, “O Allah’s Messenger! You are better to me than Abu Zara’ was to Umm Zara’”. [Reported Bukhari, Muslim, an-Nasa`i, at-Tabarani and at-Tirmidhi in his Shama`il with variant wording]
Although this article only focuses on the marital life between spouses there are a whole host of other problems Muslims in Britain and the West face in their social life such as issues of courtship, marriage, divorce, custody, in-law relationships, maintenance and more besides. Increasingly Muslims are being pushed to resolving these problems by adopting western liberal values. Therefore, we need to be alert to the destructive influence of western concepts and criteria in our lives and begin to study the Islamic solutions on the basis of the Islamic criteria.
Finally, marital life is not just about tranquillity in this life. Our fate in the Akhira also depends on us following Allah’s (subhanahu wa ta’aala) commands and prohibitions regarding this issue. Therefore we must seek to ensure we comply with the rules of Islam in order to achieve tranquillity and satisfaction in this life and in the Akhira to save ourselves from the Hellfire and attain everlasting tranquillity in Paradise.
Kamal Abu Zahra