Islam means submission to the will of Almighty Allah. Thus, as a religion, it was given to all the Prophets from Adam (AS) to Muhammad (SAW). It was only perfected during the time of Muhammad (SAW) as stated in the Qur’an Suratu’l-Maidah,Chp 5v3: “This day have I perfected your religion for you and have completed my favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as a religion.” So, Islam implies the true revealed religion from Allah and it entails the belief in the following; Allah (SWT), Angels, Revelations, the Prophets, the Day of Judgement(Hereafter) and Qadar (Predestination- good or bad).
Furthermore, there are five (5) Pillars of Islam: Monotheism and saying the ‘Kalimat-Shahadah.’, Observing the obligatory and non obligatory Solat., Observing the prescribed Sawm(Fasting).; Alms-giving or Tax and associated Charity.; Pilgrimage to Makkah upon satisfactory conditions for Male and Female at least once in a lifetime.
There have been many definitions and descriptions of Marriage in Islam. It entails mutual expectations of rights and obligations that are prescribed and enforced by the Islamic laws that are related to marital commitments. Islam recognizes the religious virtue, social necessity and the moral advantages of marriage. There are many passages in the Qur’an and statements by the Prophet (SAW) which goes as far as to say that when a Muslim marries, he has thereby perfected half of his religion; so let him be God minded and careful with the other half. Therefore, Muslim scholars have interpreted the Qur’an to mean that marriage is a religious duty, a moral safeguard and a social commitment.
Marriage as a religious duty must be fulfilled and like other duties in Islam, it’s enjoined only upon those who are capable of meeting the responsibilities involved.
Whatever meaning people assign to marriage, Islam views it as a strong bond, a challenging commitment to life itself, to society and to the dignified, meaningful survival of the human race. Furthermore, it’s the kind of commitment in which both parties find mutual fulfillment, self-realization, peace and love, compassion and serenity, hope and comfort. All the descriptions are necessary because marriage in Islam is regarded first and foremost as a righteous act and an act of responsible devotion.
Obviously, the values and purposes of marriage in Islam takes on a special meaning and it’s reinforced further, when intertwined with the idea of Almighty Allah and conceived also as a religious commitment and internalized as divine blessings. Actually, this is the focal point of marriage in Islam. Some Quranic verses as regards marriage addressed mankind to be dutiful to Allah who created us from a single soul and from it or of it created its mate and from the two of them scattered abroad many men and women (Suratu’n-Nisaa,Chp 4:1). “It was Allah who created mankind out of one living soul and created of that soul a spouse so that he might find comfort and rest in her (Suratul-Araf,Chp 7:107)”.
“And it’s a sign of Allah that He has created for men of themselves mates to seek in their company peace and tranquility and has set between them mutual love and mercy; surely in that are signs for those who contemplate (Suratu’r-Rum,Chp 30:21)”. We should note that, at the most trying times of married life, or in the midst of legal disputes and litigations, the Qur’an reminds the parties of Allah’s law that commands them to be kind to one another, truly charitable towards one another and above all dutiful to Almighty Allah.
It’s imperative to note that the Islamic provisions of marriage apply to men and women because it regards marriage to be the normal, natural course for women just as it’s for men. At times, it may even be more so for women because it assures them among other things of economic security. This significant additional advantage doesn’t characterize marriage as a purely economic transaction. In fact the least focal aspect of marriage in Islam is the economic factor among other requirements. The Prophet (SAW) is reported to have said that a woman is ordinarily sought as a wife for her wealth, her beauty, the nobility of her stock or for her religious qualities; but blessed and fortunate is he who chooses his mate for piety in preference to everything else.
The Qur’an commands marriage to the spouseless and the pious even though they may be poor and slaves (Suratu’n-Nur,Chp 24:32). As for those who don’t find the means to marry, keep chaste until Allah makes them free from want out of His grace (Suratu’n-Nur,Chp 24:33).
Going by the Qur’an and the sayings of Muhammad (SAW), for An-Nikah(Marriage) to be constituted and considered valid in Islam, the following conditions must be fulfilled: The Man and the Woman must give their free consent to marry each other; The ‘Ijab'(proposal) and ‘Qabul'(acceptance) must be expressed. But if a woman indicates her acceptance without explicitly stating her satisfaction the marriage is valid;The permission of the parents or guardians should be obtained from both sides; There must be ‘mahr'(dowry). The groom must give an amount of money or property to the bride as dowry and the value could be a function of their social status; There should be the availability of witness to the marriage.
It should be noted that whatever dowry (marriage gift) a man gives his prospective wife belongs to her and whatever she might have acquired prior to or after marriage is hers alone. Furthermore, it’s the husband who is responsible for the maintenance and economic commitment of the family. He should provide her with the kind of help and service she was used to before the marriage.
It’s pertinent to note that there’s no ‘Iyawo sara’ (giving out a woman as gift) in Islam. Under any circumstances or from any Islamic denomination, such a marriage is null and void. Islam considers marriage as a very serious commitment and it has prescribed certain measure to make the marital bond as permanent as possible.
The parties must strive to meet the conditions of proper age, general compatibility reasonable dowry, goodwill, free consent, unselfish guardianship, honourable intentions and judicious discretion. When parties enter into a marital contract, the intention must be clear to make the bond permanent, free from the casual and temporary designations.
The Qur’an allows a sort of limited polygamy subject to the satisfaction of certain conditions and the need for justice (Suratu’n-Nisaa,Chp 4:3). The Qur’an further clarify the grey area of justice in the same Suratu’n-Nisaa,Chp 4:129. Al-Baizawi, the Jalalain and other Sunni commentators agreed that the true reading of the Qur’an limits the number of lawful wives to four (4). Sayyid Ahmad Khan Bahadur, in his essay, “Whether Islam has been beneficial or injurious to Society in general”, defends the institution of polygamy as divine and quotes John Milton, Mr Davenport and Mr Higgins (they are Christian writers who defended the practice).
The fact that the Prophet (SAW) confined polygamy within narrower limits than the Arabs had previously recognized cannot be disputed. Before Prophet Muhammad (SAW), the concept of having more than one wife was rampant,e.g.
David’s six wives and numerous concubines ( 1 Chron.3 v 1-9; 14 v 3); Solomon’s 700 wives and 300 concubines(1 Kings 11 v 3); Rehoboam’s eighteen wives and 60 concubines (2 Chron. 11 v 21).
However, marriage in Islam is a special concept based on rules and regulations as analysed above. But with piety as the basis of mate selection and with the earnest satisfaction of the conditions of marriage, the parties should be on the way to a happy and fulfilling married life. It should be noted that Islam goes much further than this in setting the course of behavior for husbands and wives. There are many statements of the Qur’an and the Sunnah that prescribe kindness and equity, love and compassion, consideration and sympathy, finally goodwill and patience for both parties. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) goes as far as to declare that the best Muslim is the one who is best to his family and the greatest most blessed joy in life is a good, righteous wife.
Obviously, the consummation of marriage creates new roles for the parties concerned. Each role is a set of equitable, proportionate rights and obligations. From the onset, the role of the husband evolves around the moral principle which is his solemn duty to Almighty Allah to treat his wife with kindness, honour and patience. To keep her honourably or free her from the marital bond honourably and cause her no harm or grief (Qur’an,2 : 229-232; 4 : 19). While the role of the wife is summarized in the verse that stated the rights and duties according to what is equitable and that men have a degree over them (Qur’an, 2 : 228). The degree may be likened to what Sociologists call “Instrumental Leadership” or external authority in the household.
This could be due to the division of labour and role differentiation but not any categorical discrimination or superiority or gender differentiation. However, the wife has the right to be clothed, fed and cared for by the husband in accordance with his means and her style of life without extravagance or miserliness. Correspondently, she must be faithful, trustworthy, loyal and honest and must not allow any other person to have access to that which is exclusively the husband’s right. Most importantly, the husband should pray fervently to Almighty Allah for His grace as stated in Suratu’l-Furqan,Chp 25 v 74.
Furthermore, the focus should be for a permanent relationship. However, to insist on the permanent character of marriage doesn’t mean that the marital contract is absolutely indissoluble. Muslims are designated by the Qur’an as a Middle Nation and Islam is truly a religion of the “Golden Mean”, the well balanced and well integrated system. Thus, it has the features of both sacramental and contractural nature. Pragmatically, Islamic course is of equitable and realistic moderation. So if a marriage could not work well for any valid reason, then it may be terminated in kindness and honour with peace and equity.
Germane to this topic is the issue of ‘Talaq'(Divorce). If the husband or wife is not fulfilling the stated duties and responsibilities in an obvious manner as to occasion harm, there may be a recourse for Talaq but it should be used as the last resort. Ordinarily, Talaq means dismissal but under Sharia it signifies a release from a marriage contract. It’s founded upon express injunctions, underscore by the Qur’an,Suratu’l-Baqarah, Chp 2 vs 226-233; Suratu’t-Talaq,Chp 65 vs1-4. Also some of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) on divorce are stated as follows; ” One of the things which is lawful but disliked by Allah is divorce”. “There are three things which, whether done as a joke or in earnest shall be considered serious and effectual, namely; Marriage, divorce and taking a wife back”.
In the book,’Sharhu’l-Wiqayah’, it’s stated that, “Divorce is an abominable transaction in the sight of Allah, therefore such an act should only take place from necessity and it’s best to only make one sentence of divorce”. This statement is ideal and it allows a plausible window of possible reconciliation in the long run. (see Essential Islamic Expositions, authored by the writer of this essay).
May Almighty Allah’s grace and mercy suffice for us. Aamiin.
Sheikh Musa Nojimudeen, MURSHID -an author and Chief Imam of Challenge Central Mosque, Ibadan.