The Muslim Guide to Getting Married
How to identify Mr or Miss Right
It can be very complicated trying to find the right person to marry. Even more so if you are idealistic about it. If you are realistic, it is much easier. I can tell you from experience, that many people are too idealistic. I have a friend, who is older than me, yet he is still single because he is still searching for Miss Perfect, not just Miss Right! Everyone says it is his own fault that he has not found anyone.
Don’t be picky. Be realistic
Don’t search for Miss Perfect because you are not perfect yourself. I’m not saying don’t aim to find the best person for you, but anyone looking for a spouse needs to be realistic. Boys often want their future wife to be beautiful, educated, rich, and have a good status, but at the same time they feel threatened by women who are more qualified than them. They don’t want anyone equally or more qualified than them.
It’s time men didn’t feel threatened by educated women
Women find it hard to accept that the more educated or successful they become in their careers, the less marriageable they become in the eyes of society. Though men should want well-educated women to be the mother of their children, their insecurity leads them to prefer women who are less qualified and will even marry women from their home country for this reason. They need to feel superior to their wives.
The mentality of the moulding the bride
It’s also the mentality of the East that men want young brides whom they can mould as they wish. However, this attitude reflects that they see the incoming bride more as an object than a human being. The future wife is not an object, she is supposed to be someone you love and want to share your life with. How can you treat such an important person in your life with this mentality?
What do you have in common?
When seeking someone for marriage, you need to search for somebody who is on the same wavelength, with whom you share the same aspirations, aims and direction. You should have plenty in common, but at the same time you should not be looking for a photocopy of yourself. You need to have some differences in your personalities to balance each other, otherwise life will be very boring.
What is the most important quality in a spouse?
As per the famous hadith, the Prophet (peace be on him) said men propose to women for 4 reasons – wealth, beauty, lineage, status and religion.
Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
“A woman is married for four reasons: her property, her status, her beauty, and her religion. Thus, give precedence to one with religion.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Why did he say you should seek the one with religion above the others? Because the man whose wife does not have religion will be a loser. This does not mean that her wealth, status, beauty and family background are not important, however when you have to compromise on something out of those features, religion trumps wealth, beauty and status. Beauty fades, especially after the age of 50. (Plastic surgery is not an option unless there are valid reasons for someone to undergo a specific procedure.) What lasts is your character and religion.
In this hadith, the Prophet (peace be on him) was addressing parents and shaping their way of thinking, so that they would accept proposals based on deen and character of the suitor. This does not mean they should ignore beauty, family and wealth but that they should prioritise what is most important. Otherwise they will suffer.
Imagine if the woman you marry is Miss World, you would feel like the luckiest person. But you might enjoy her beauty for a few days or months, or years, however the rest of your life will be torture if her deen is not strong and you don’t trust her.
What qualities are important in a spouse
Trust and honesty is very important in marriage. Every decent human being needs to be truthful. If you live with someone who lies, you can never tell when they are telling the truth and this makes life with them hell. Calmness, generosity and kindness are also important. A person who is also frowning or angry is hard to live with. It creates trouble for everyone around them. You can’t build a tranquil life with such a person. Allah said when he created mates for us, He created love and mercy so we could dwell in tranquility with them. Married life has to be predominantly tranquil.
How practising should your partner be before marriage?
The bare minimum in a prospective partner is that they observe the five pillars of the deen. They should tick all three boxes: salah, zakat and fasting in Ramadan. They should not be lax or struggling to fulfil them. If they are not doing these, it is not advisable to marry them based on their promise that they will do this after marriage, as the reality is that if they are not already praying or fasting or paying zakat, they will not do so afterwards.
Many marriages fail because people assume the other person will start to pray after they get married. They may try to, but after a short while, their efforts will fizzle out, because they are not actually interested in the first place. Therefore, it is very dangerous to marry someone whose level of ibadah is dubious.
You do not want to the parent of your children and their role model to neglect their prayers. This leads to scenarios where parents who are not praying themselves are trying to force their children to pray, but their children do not take them seriously and will not obey because they see their parent failing to do it. They will throw the command back at their parents.
Don’t gamble your life and akhirah. If someone does not pray, it is very difficult to establish this habit later in life. It is not entirely impossible, but it is highly unlikely.
Moreover if the deen was only practiced to get the other person to marry, if the relationship breaks down, they will no longer practice.
Your deen is your choice, it is your connection with Allah. You can’t force imaan on anyone. A spouse can try and help their partner become a better person with gentle reminders, but if the other person can’t see Allah in their life, they can’t be forced. It will be bitter and painful for them both on a daily basis – to nag or be nagged to pray. It can’t be sustained.
Is it advisable to get married early?
It depends. The average age at which young people get married varies from country to country. Our grandparents’ generation got married earlier, which was the norm at that time everywhere, not just in the Muslim world but also in the Western world.
In our time, it is not generally advisable, as youngsters are not mature enough, or responsible enough. Many are still being spoon-fed and spending a longer time in education, before they become financially independent enough to be married.
Abdullah narrated that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
We were with the Prophet (peace be on him) while we were young and had no wealth. So Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) said, “O young people! Whoever among you can marry, should marry, because it helps him lower his gaze and guard his modesty (i.e. his private parts from committing illegal sexual intercourse etc.), and whoever is not able to marry, should fast, as fasting diminishes his sexual power.” (Bukhari)
Scholars understood from this hadith, that this means whoever has the ability physically, mentally and financially to marry, should marry. Whoever can fulfil the requirements of marriage, should do so.
You might have the scenario where someone young is able to fulfil the requirements. For instance, the boy might be 20 and the girl might be 19, if they are happy and their families are happy, and they are mature enough, that is fine.
What if a couple can’t afford to get married?
Our communities should find ways to support couples who can’t afford to marry. The Somali community commonly use ‘a committee’ as a means of financing weddings; it supports couples to get married. In the Sudanese community they have something similar. If we are creative about finding solutions, we can establish a fund to help couples get married. When I visited Sudan in the 90s, they had a special government fund which was used to finance 50-100 weddings in one go.
The reality is that couples who don’t have the means, can only marry if they families can support them. If they can, bismillah, they can go ahead. However, if they don’t can’t afford it, they have to wait. As per the hadith quoted earlier, the Prophet (peace be on him) advised men and women to fast if they could not marry, to help them control their desire.
If a young couple want to be together, so they can have intimacy but cannot afford to marry yet and are still studying, should they have a nikkah?
We need to take many factors into consideration. We need firstly the approval of the parents and we need to check if the two students are disciplined. If they get married during their university years but have not yet graduated, getting married will risk their education and futures.
If they are not organised enough they will not be able to manage their studies and marriage, so they need to rethink this because it could jeopardise their future. It would be better for them to wait until after their graduation.
Is marriage obligatory on the young couple if they feel they will fall into haram? If this is the case, then either they should get married or they should not see each other. It depends on the individual scenario. It is not a one-size fits all. It depends on the circumstances and the personality of the individuals.
What are the limits of getting to know your potential spouse?
Each culture has its own norms relating to the period when one is seeking a spouse. In the old days, this was the time one was sent rishtas. The reality is that the way rishtas were done in those is simply not acceptable to younger generations now. They find it backward and would not comply with such an arrangement.
Generally, as long as we have a safe environment, a boy and girl can see each other publicly, not in private, over the course of several meetings, they can get to know each other, without crossing any limits to assess if they are suitable for each other.
If a boy and girl have seen each other somewhere, at university for instance, there is nothing wrong if a boy likes a girl or vice versa, as long as they have the right intention, which is to find out if they are compatible for marriage.
Before any proposals take place, they can explore the possibility of getting married. They should let their parents know, and then they can go through the process to figure if they are the right person for each other. They should not go behind their parents’ backs.
They should both inform their parents that they are interested in someone or that they have been approached, and that they are not sure as yet. With their parents’ permission they can take it step by step and find out if they have enough in common, shared interests and good nature and mentality to take it further.
When they are satisfied that the other person has the qualities they are looking for and they have the right approach and outlook, they can involve their families. Otherwise, if they involve the families much earlier, there are much more complications, embarrassment, hurt feelings and disappointment if it does not work out.
Do couples need chaperones before marriage?
If you live in a community were meeting someone without a chaperone is taboo, you will get a bad reputation if you do this. In this country, meeting in a public place is more acceptable, as long as the parents were informed.
Before the engagement, while couples are getting to know each other, they can meet together in public, as long as they are not just messing about without intending to explore the possibility of marriage. They can sit at one table, facing one another, and should keep their distance and etiquette. They cannot however, be alone together, which is forbidden as it is seclusion (khalwa).
My advice during this period is try not to get attached to the other person. If it does not work out, then there will be broken hearts and it’s harder to recover. Think of this period as maths with some chemistry. (Not too much chemistry!)
After the khitbah, the couple are engaged and it becomes public knowledge that they are going to get married and they can get to know each other more. They can go into deeper topics and discussions.
Discuss the things that matter deeply to you. Don’t get into disputes over unnecessary topics which are not relevant. I know one couple who fell out after their engagement because they disagreed which schools their future children should attend. This was quite absurd as they did not have children.
How much do you need to tell the other person before you get married?
Be an open book, except for one chapter, which is your past sins. Do not open the chapter of sins. There should not be any major surprises after marriage. For instance, existing medical conditions should not be concealed. Anything which affects your future or reputation shouldn’t be hidden. You should however reveal any past sins, which can affect the future. For instance, if you had an addiction, the other person has the right to know, as you might have a relapse and it would affect your spouse and the marriage. Otherwise, do not catalogue your sins.
What if the person has no insight into themselves?
Some people do not realise that have certain streaks in their character. If they are not aware of this, they can’t warn the other person. For instance, they could be narcissistic by nature, in constant need of praise and validation. This might only become apparent to the spouse after marriage. The person was not deliberating cheating them, but not everything can be known before marriage. If this happens, it is unfortunate and then their spouse would have to decide whether to move forward or separate.
How can you assess someone as much as possible?
Certain aspects and traits are hard to identify but the other person might show signs of this before you get married. You might have an inkling, or read between the lines. If you suspect something is not quite right, ask a specialist for advice. Dig deeper, don’t ignore your intuition.
It is important not to ignore a gut feeling, even you can’t quite put your finger on it. If you sweep it aside, you might discover later that you were right. Don’t ignore your first impression, unless you are a cynical person by nature.
Ask Allah Almighty to show you if this is the right person for you, and if it is, to ease the way or facilitate something better.
How long should you spend getting to know someone for marriage?
It depends on how much you meet. It is not how long you knew of the other person, but how much time you spent with them that helps you ascertain whether they are the right person. After 6 months you might only have met 6 times, but in 3 months you might have met 10 times. If you only met couple of times it is not enough.
If you can find out more about the person reacts in different situations, then do so. It is permissible to provoke them in a mild manner, to see how they react and how their nature is. Don’t trick them, or harm them, but find out if they are miserly or generous, hot tempered or easy going. This is really important. You have to live with the other person for the rest of your life. If they are angry and volatile, it will make your life hell. If they are a miser or violent, you need to know. These are critical things.
Is it permissible to choose not to get married?
Aishah narrated that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
“Marriage is part of my sunnah, and whoever does not follow my sunnah has nothing to do with me. Get married, for I will boast of your great numbers before the nations. Whoever has the means, let him get married, and whoever does not, then he should fast for it will diminish his desire.” (Ibn Majah)
If someone prefers not to marry because they are not interested or too busy, it is not haram, as long as it is their choice and they did not reject marriage because they thought marriage was haram. They should have a valid reason.
There are many renowned scholars who chose not to marry, including ibn Taymiyyah and Imam Nawawi. They were so dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, acquiring and disseminating it, that they did not have any time or energy marry.
Is it unadvisable to marry someone from a different culture?
From an Islamic point of view, there is nothing wrong with marrying between different cultures. The Prophet (peace be on him) had wives from different cultures, such as Maria who was from Egypt, and his companions also had mixed marriages, from different backgrounds and cultures.
The most important point to consider is if the other person is the right person for you, in terms of their practice of the deen, their character, temperament, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. If they tick all the boxes, then bismillah, why not?
I have seen couples where it worked, but I have also seen couples from different cultures where their marriages broke down due a variety of factors. They couple have differences in their mentality and way of dealing with things, so their marriages did not last.
Marriage requires bridging two individuals and families. Even with the same culture and race you cannot guarantee it will be a smooth marriage or a good relationship. When you marry someone from another culture, you add a third layer because you are bridging two cultures, so you need to be very careful because you will have extra issues to navigate. Be thorough in thinking it through, before you commit, otherwise you may regret it.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – Culture vs Islam (Western Culture) 2020
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