Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar
Muslims do not enter into marriage merely because their parents and grand-parents did so and thus feel obliged to follow this age-old tradition. Entering into a marriage in deference to custom or because it is the socially acceptable thing to do, is not good enough. Such a marriage, more particularly in the challenging contemporary times in which we live, invariably ends up an unhappy and unfulfilled one. Conscientious Muslims do not get married for the sake of getting married, but for sound and proper reasons. What then are the goals that a Muslim marriage strives to achieve? Broadly speaking, marriage in Islam serves the following six (6) purposes:
1) Piety & God-Consciousness (taqwa)
This is the most important purpose of marriage in Islam. All other purposes take on a special meaning and are reinforced by the idea that the couple enters into marriage in reverence to God, and to procure his blessings. Thus even in the most challenging times of married life, the Qur’an reminds the spouses about the lofty purpose of the marriage (that of developing taqwa) and therefore to be kind and benevolent to one another (Q2:226-237; Q4:19-21; Q4:34-36; Q127-130; Q65:1-7).
2) Sexual Gratification
The Islamic attitude to sex is balanced and realistic. It does not view the sexual urge as unclean, satanic and evil. It therefore does not require of its adherents to seek to suppress and annihilate the sexual drive through monasticism, asceticism, celibacy and castration. Islam calls for the recognition of the sexual urge as an essential part of the basic human instincts without making a person feel guilty about its satisfaction, but at the same time also provide clear regulations as to how it should be satisfied. We may conclude from the above that monasticism and celibacy hold no virtue according to Islam. In fact, according to Hammudah `Abd al `Ati, on page 50 of his book The Family Structure in Islam says the following: “… , modern clinical research and evidence clearly indicate that excessive sexual deprivation produces personality maladjustments that hinder satisfactory relationships and endanger the mental health and efficiency of society.”
3) Legitimate Procreation
A great deal of emphasis has been given in the Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions (ahadith) for procreation as one of the purposes of marriage. Legitimate procreation is defined in Islam as having children within marriage so that the child knows his/her biological parents. This is also the virtuous manner within which God wants the human species to flourish. In fact, on the basis of its significant treatment in the most primary sources of Islamic guidance, the early scholars of Islam elected to designate the protection of lineage (hifz al-nasab) through the institution of marriage as one of the five key objectives of Islamic law known as maqasid al-shari`ah. It is not easy to be parents of children, but it can be most gratifying to see your young children grow up into steadfast and responsible adults. This is described in the Qur’anic supplication as “the delight of one’s eyes” (Q25:74).
4) Emotional and Psychological Gratification
One of the least understood purposes of marriage is that of companionship. Marriage should serve as a place of refuge from the harsh psychological and emotional trauma we have to endure as a result of the stressful environments within which we live. There can be no better place for securing comfort and sharing the joys and sorrows of life than from a loving and caring spouse and family. It is within the family context that we nurture hope and optimism and zest for life. The Qur’an in surah al-Rum, chapter 30 verse 21 describes this purpose aptly as sakina – peace of mind. Indeed anyone who has deeply reflected on the beauty of a good and strong marital relationship which produces an inspirational partnership can only marvel at it as a true sign of God.
5) Social Solidarity
One of the purposes of a Muslim marriage is also to contribute towards a sound and caring society. Since the basic unit of a society is that of a family; consequently a caring and sound society presupposes a caring and caring family. As the saying goes; Charity begins at home. Ideally Islam envisages an extended family in which husband, wife and children along with, grandchildren, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and nephews and nieces. Islam enjoins on its followers to maintain good relations with all of these extended family members. This type of family is described in the Qur’an as `Ashirah (26:214); Arham (60:3); `A-il; and Ansab.
6) Economic Responsibility
It is natural that when one enters into marriage and have children, the individual’s economic responsibilities increases. This serves to spur on the individual to become more economically responsible. Moreover, one of the requisites for marriage in Islam is financial ability. Islam entrusts the father with the awesome responsibility of the maintenance of the family The most famous of Qur’anic texts that confer and bestow the responsibility of maintenance of the family to the husband can be found in surah Al-Nisa, Chapter 4, verse, 34: “Men are the maintainers and protectors of women; for Allah have granted some of them more strength than others, and they spend of their wealth to sustain them…”
The key Arabic word employed in the above verse is “qawwamun,” which most commentators of the Qur’an construe as referring to the leadership responsibility of the family which men are encumbered with by Islam.
However, what is often underplayed in interpretations of the above verse is that the amanah, the responsibility of leadership of the family has to be to undertaken and fulfilled by the father with utmost dedication to his role as the primary breadwinner. Nafaqa or maintenance of his wife and children is one of major responsibilities of the husband about which there exists unanimity among Islamic law schools. Nafaqa or maintenance includes food, clothing, housing and things such as medication and recreation that the head of the family has to provide within reasonable means.
I concur with the contemporary Muslim ethicist, Tariq Ramadan, who argues that one of the problems with Muslim thinking is that we tend to assess everything in term of “rights” and “duties.” A rigid mentality of absolute rights and duties can sometimes be harmful since it reduces issues to black and white, right and wrong absolutes. It can taint family relationships with a sense of selfishness and misperception, which constitute a good recipe for destroying the benevolent spirit of family life in Islam (see Q30:21 & Q64-14-18)