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The Value of Marriage in Islam
There is no doubt that marriage is one of the most important sunnahs in Islam, and it is in this respect that Islam differs from many other religions of the world. There are those religions, such as Catholicism, which consider sex to be a necessary evil at best, some that is best abandoned for the sake of spiritual growth. Conversely, there are other religions, such as some sub-sects of Hinduism and Buddhism, which advise complete lack of restraint in this regard. Islam has, as always, sought for the middle path between all of these extremes. Islam not only accepts and acknowledges the existence of the human sexual drive, but in fact lauds this drive as a creation from God. However, there is nothing in the universe that can exist entirely without restriction or boundary, and everything must be regulated in a proper way. Islam, as such, has legislated the rules of marriage to ensure that people may easily enter into this most blessed of unions, while simultaneously seeking to guarantee (as much as possible) that the rights of everybody involved be guaranteed. Most of all, Islam has sought to legislate marriage in such a way that the remembrance of God is always present, and that people cannot enter into sexual relations without somehow acknowledging the soverieignty of God. This is done by people following the specific legislations that have been set down, so that they voluntarily choose to marry in a way pleasing both to themselves and God.
We see that the human sexual drive is something that Allah (swt) takes credit for Himself, and is not the result of some state of falleness or sin. In a hadeeth we read from Imam as-Sadiq (as):
Indeed, Allah (swt) created Adam from clay, then created Eve from him, and then placed her in the space between his legs. This was because the woman follows [temporally, in creation] from the man. Then Adam said: "O Lord, what is this beautiful creation, which you have made sweet for me to be close to, and made sweet for me to gaze upon?" And Allah said: "O Adam, this is your maid Eve. Do you love that you would be with her in intimacy?" To which Adam said: "Yes, O Lord, and because you have given me this I must praise you and thank you for as long as I remain." Allah the Glorified and Exalted then said: "Then call her to me, for she is your woman, and this wife will make pure your lusts." And Allah had given him lust, and had taught him the wisdom of everything [including lust] before this, and so Adam said: "O Lord, indeed I have called her to you, so what would please you from this?" Allah the Glorified and Exalted then said: "It pleases me that you will teach her the knowledges of my religion." Adam said: "This is your right upon me, O Lord, if you desire this from me." Allah the Glorified and Exalted then said: "I do desire this from you, and so I have married her to you, and now you are responsible to me for her."1
This is a beautiful hadeeth which contains deep wisdom. We read in the Qur'an that Allah (swt) taught Adam the names of all things, and one of the things which he was taught was lust. By names we mean the essential attributes of a thing, such as the Names of Allah (swt) refer to specific attributes of His Being, and His Name Allah refers to the aggregate of these names. Sexual desire is not something that has come from Satan; rather, it is something that Allah (swt) Himself created, the knowledge of which he passed on to Adam. He then created Adam and "placed her in the space between his legs," meaning that the first act of sexual copulation was by the creative order of Allah (swt). All that Adam was made responsible for was that he be a teacher to his wife, and guide her to the knowledge that Allah (swt) had given him. This union of male and female, we see, was profoundly physical on the one hand, but had as its ultimate aim the satisifcation of the spirit and the drawing of people nearer to Allah (swt).
All of this comes from the nature of Islam and the creation of Allah (swt). Allah (swt) has created people in a both physical and spiritual form, and as such Allah (swt) manifests Himself to people in accordance with this dual structure. Human beings come to appreciate and experience spiritual realities through physical forms, just as we see that the Qur'an commands human beings to reflect upon creation in order to see the Wisdom, Power, and Beauty of Allah (swt). The sexual desire is one of the most basic of human drives. Its intimate relation to the human heart and mind makes it the perfect locus for achieving a higher understanding of spiritual realities, and to this end the Prophet (s) has said in a famous hadeeth cited by both Sunni and Shi'a sources: "He who marries has completed half of his faith." Similarly, we see that after marriage, one's heart becomes more attenuated to worshipping Allah (swt). In another famous hadeeth we read: "Two cycles of prayer prayed by someone who is married is better then seventy cycles prayed by someone who is single." Similarly, we read: "Two cycles of prayer prayed by someone who is married is better than a single person who prays all the night and fasts all the day."
We see that the Prophet (s) loved and enjoyed marriage, as did the Imams (as). Imam Ali (as) has been narrated to say: "Marry! For the Prophet (s) has said: 'He who loves to follow my sunnah, then he should my marry, for it is my sunnah to marry."2 In another narration we read that a man came to Imam al-Baqir (as), and the Imam (as) asked him: "Do you have a wife?" To which the man said "No." Imam al-Baqir (as) then said: "Indeed, I would not want to have everything that exists in all the world, and the finish a night and there would not be with me a wife." He then gave the man some money, and said: "Marry with that."3
Islam is almost completely unique in its condemnation of a monasticism which requires celibacy. Allah (swt) says about the Christians in the Qur'an: "But the monoasticism which they invented for themselevs, We did not prescribe for them."4 Imam Ali (as) says:
A group of people from the companions of the Prophet (s) had forbidden themselves from women, and from eating during the day, and from sleeping at night. Umm Salma informed the Prophet (s) of this. The Prophet (s) went outside and addressed his companions, saying: "You dislike woman? Indeed I go to women, and eat during the day, and sleep at night. He who dislikes my sunnah is not from me. Allah has brought down: 'Do not forbid yourselves from the good things which Allah has made permissible to you, and do not cross the limits, for Allah does not love those who cross the limits.'"5 But the people said: "Indeed, we have taken a vow upon ourselves [to avoid women]." The Prophet (s) then said: "Allah does not take you for what is futile in your oaths."6
We see that all of the prophets and Imams practiced a certain kind of asceticism. They refrained from excessive eating. They would not wear luxurious clothes, or live in luxurious houses. They would fast much of the year, and would spend their nights in prayer. They all avoided the things of this world as much as they could, yet the one area where Islam explcitly does not condone asceticism is in marriage. In spite of the very poor lives lived by the Prophet (s) and his family, the Prophet (s) and the Imams (as) would nonetheless not obstain from having many wives and slave-girls. The Prophet (s) has said in a famous hadeeth cited in both Sunni and Shi'a sources: "Three things have been beloved to me from your world: Women, perfume, and prayer."
The most common reason that Muslims today avoid marriage is because of fear that they cannot economically sustain a family. The Prophet (s) and the Imams (as) have instructed people to not be concerned with this fear, and to trust in Allah (swt) and seek the blessing of marriage. A man came to the Prophet (s) and expressed his anxieties about his daily necessities, to which the Prophet (s) said: "Marry. If you marry, then your resources will be widened for you." We see that the man was not complaining that he couldn't marry because of poverty, but rather was just complaining about his poverty in general without any reference to marriage. Marriage was offered as a solution to his poverty, and he was not being told to marry in spite of his poverty. In a tafsir on the ayat: "Those who are not able to marry should be chast until Allah (swt) has enriched them from His Bounty,"7 Imam as-Sadiq (as) said: "This means that they should marry [i.e., seek chastity through marriage] until Allah enriches them from His Bounty."8 Unfortunately, many Muslims (especially those in the West) are not really fearful of poverty when it comes to marriage; they are fearful that if they marry they will not be able to complete a long university education and become wealthy in some kind of technical profession. This attitude is unacceptable, seeing as how it is fear of not being rich than fear of being poor, and such things should concern a truly believing person.
Islam also encourages that people should strive to assist other people in marrying. Imam as-Sadiq (as) said: "Whoever gets a single person married, he is of the people whom Allah will gaze upon on the Day of Judgment." Imam Ali (as) has said: "The best intercession one can offer is the person who intercedes between to people to marry, until Allah (swt) brings them together." Imam Musa (as) said that those who help the single to marry will be under the shade of the Throne of Allah (swt) on the Day of Judgment, the Day in which there will be no shade except Allah's.9
Marriage, then, is one of the greatest blessings that Islam has to offer. Unfortunately, this sunnah has become more and more difficult to practice in a time when increasing wealth in much of the Musilm world (East and West) has has made people more concern with devoting their lives to wealth than with devoting their lives to marriage and proper, halal sexual gratification. Love of status has made it difficult for men without several university degrees to find a wife. Worse than this are traditional cultures which seek to restrict people's freedom in this regard, and the worst aspect of these traditional cultures is racism which prevents people from marrying outside of their own ethnic group. Sometimes this reaches absurd proportions, where a Gujarati Indian will not be able to marry a Punjabi Indian, an ethnic distinction that would be lost on anybody outside of the Indian sub-continent. In the West no Englishmen would be fool enough to say that it is wrong to marry a woman from Scottland, but such absurd ethnic differentiations have been frighteningly common in the Muslim world for quite a long time.
Finally, another restriction that has been placed upon the sunnah of marriage is the ruling of many 'ulama that a girl or woman needs the permission of her father to marry. This has been more crippling than anything else. For if a young woman and man seek to marry and break free from racist and tradtionalist cultural restrictions, they nonetheless will not be able to because their marja' tells them that the parents of the girl can prevent the marriage from going through. We have argued elsewhere that the certain evidence from the Qur'an and sunnah is that it is permissible for any mature person (man or woman) to marry without anybody else's permission, and we would strongly encourage Muslims (especially the youth) to study this issue and to free their minds (and bodies) on this point. It is time that a generation of Muslims come forth who are willing to break free from the absurd strictures of the path, and work to revive the sunnah of the Prophet (s) by implementing it in their daily lives.