**Note: This article is both a summary and a reflection on the event Marriage: A Discussion for Parents and Young Adults held on September 22, 2018 at SFU Surrey by Bridging Gaps Foundation in collaboration with SFU MSA. The event was taught jointly by Sh. Moutasem and Sr. Hafsa.
Part I: To Marry or Not to Marry? by Sh. Moutasem Al Hameedy
To marry or not to marry, that is the question. According to Sh. Moutasem, the answer is an unequivocal yes. But that’s not where it ends. There are a number of factors to consider before you get married.
To begin, you need to take full responsibility for whom you marry. You have to make the choice and the decision to do it yourself. Once you do, you are fully responsible. If things go wrong, you can’t go back and blame your parents or the imam or the friends who introduced you to the person.
You also need to consider the application of the texts. People hear the hadith about marrying your daughter to a man whose character and deen please you, or the one about the four criteria for which a woman is sought in marriage, and they completely stick to the literal words, often marrying off two completely incompatible people. Islam is made for real people with real lives, and it’s supposed to be applied within context. Take these as rules of thumb, and if you feel that there isn’t any compatibility, don’t feel like you have to say yes because they match up on the ahadith.
As well, you need to learn to be flexible. Research has shown that it takes, on average, seven years to get to know your spouse well. The first few years are just testing the waters. You have to be ready for surprise, and that requires that you become emotionally flexible.
With these foundational pieces of advice aside, there is a fundamental aspect we need to consider when looking for a spouse, and this is the spark. You need to feel a spark with a person in order to get a feel for whether or not the two of you are compatible. There might be qualities we look for in a potential spouse: looks, education, money, family, etc. — which is okay — but we can’t marry by the manual. A person might be a great human being and have checkmarks next to everything on your list, but if you don’t feel the spark with them, then they’re not right for you.
Anas ibn Malik narrates that Mughirah bin Shubah wanted to marry a woman. The Prophet (ﷺ) said to him: “Go and look at her, for that is more likely to create love between you.” So he did that, and married her, and mentioned how well he got along with her.
Islam treats us like human beings. Our community holds some very extreme notions about segregation, with some arguing that the religiosity of a person is linked to how little they interact with their potential spouse before marriage. But because we are humans, we need to form a spark, and the spark only comes when the two people meet in person. It is possible for a marriage to work without a spark, but it isn’t optimal.
This is the where the criticism against online proposal-seeking comes into play: when a person seeks a spouse through an online platform, the first impression the two people have about each other is through a resume-esque profile, where they are only able to see resume-esque qualities. They are matched together only based on resume-esque criteria, such as education and work experience.
From there, they begin to chat. They get comfortable with each other, which leads to the two of them becoming emotionally hooked. When they meet in real life, the Halo Effect might even come in, where, even if they see traits in each other that are less than ideal, their brains might subconsciously overlook them because they think they know each other so well. They might even willfully overlook them, thinking it’s not that it isn’t an issue, that they’re sure they can live with it.
Social media is the worst way to get to know a person because one isn’t able to see another’s non-verbal communication. A person could write “haha” but be frowning and unhappy. A person might mean something, but write another thing. Things can be misread, or under-read, or over-read over online message. You can’t really get to know a person for who they really are though messaging or texting.
Shaykh narrated a story of a couple he knew who met online and “fell in love”. The girl was in Chicago, the guy in Toronto. Within 40 days, the girl demanded for divorce. When she had finally met him in real life, she did see mashkook traits in him, but she thought, I must be wrong, I know him so well. Turns out, the dude had absolutely no sense of hygiene. He got married and divorced a second time too.
Author’s Note: This is where I, personally, have a point to interject: anyone who knows me knows how much I absolutely detest communication via social media, for very much the same reasons as the shaykh. Despite this, my views on social media become a little bit lenient when one is using online chatting mediums for getting to know a potential spouse. The reason, from what I have observed from others’ cases, is that online, there is a physical barrier that acts as a hijab between the two people, and they can both talk in a relatively free manner and get to know each other without betraying that sense of physical modesty.
At the same time, I know and clearly see what the reservations might be about getting to know another person through online message. It’s an extremely poor method in getting to know anyone well, for a plethora of reasons.
Also, I don’t understand where a person should draw a line between getting to know a person for marriage to see whether or not they are compatible, and where they should just accept them and their flaws for who they are. There are many levels on which one could be compatible with another, and so, at what point should a person think, alright, I feel like we’re sufficiently compatible, and when should a person say, no, this person isn’t compatible enough, there’s a possibility I might find a stronger spark with another person.
Furthermore, I find myself disagreeing with this idea of a spark, just because of how subjective it is. You could feel the spark with lots of people, and you could feel the spark with nobody. You could feel the spark just because you like a person’s appearance, and you could like it because you see them doing one isolated thing you like. You could feel the spark as “love at first sight” that could later die down, but you could also feel the spark later in life, once you’ve lived with the person and gotten to know them better (Humsafar, anyone?). It’s such a subjective measure — there’s no way to quantify it, and the means to qualify it are very vague.
I understand that a huge part of this process is just trusting in emotions, and not everything can be as black and white as we’d like it to be, but the shaykh really emphasized this spark throughout the two hour lecture. While I do like the idea of the spark because of how unconventional and non-traditional it is, and how different it is from what I have heard and seen from arranged rishtas, I don’t know if it’s wise to put so much emphasis on it.
Another point of contention is how little family was mentioned in the lecture, though I would argue that is the absolutely core of how rishta work progresses. If the family isn’t interested, it doesn’t matter if the spark is as strong as a nuclear bomb, it can’t move forward at all.
On top of this, how much should a person’s family’s input count towards this matter? One could get to know a person, think that they’re compatible with them, only to introduce them to their parents who will give them a very resolute NO. What should a person do in this regard? It is unfeasible to have one’s parents run a background check on every potential, eligible single person before one starts to interact with them. What’s the line between finding the “spark”, and lining them up with what one’s parents want?
While I really did enjoy the lecture and found it to be very beneficial, I feel that it was very individualistic in its message, which seems a little bit idealistic. It presumes that young people have the freedom to find someone they are compatible with, and say yes/no out of their own accord. However, the majority of Muslim cultures don’t match with this presumption at all; in our first or second generation immigrant cultures, we’re very family-oriented people where every core decision is brought to a mutual conclusion between the family unit.
I read a book a while ago about a social work project that was done in Pakistan for poor women, and which was unsuccessful after they put it into launch. When they went back and talked to the women they were targeting, they understood that it was because women in that community don’t move forward in doing anything at all without their entire family being on board.
This is, more or less, a description of what happens in Muslim families across the board. This is what our cultures are like, and this is how our families are shaped. Young women do not do much without, at minimum, the consent of their parents. Their decisions and actions are highly shaped by the wishes of their families.
In Muslim cultures, despite the fact that we’re isolated from our home countries and we operate in these cultures millions of miles away from they originate, it is not the norm to challenge a parent’s authority. We don’t, at all, live in individualistic cultures where it is the norm to find out whether or not there is a “spark”, and young Muslims often have to settle for who their parents have decided for them, and try to create the spark on their own. And if there’s no spark, there isn’t much that can be done about it. For Muslim girls especially, marriage is the point where individualism is realized and actualized (i.e. which can easily be observed in the memes you’ll find online “Muslim girls don’t love you, they want to move out of their parents’ house and travel” etc.).
***End of Author’s Note
Before you start searching, work on yourself. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses; where you can make compromises and where you can’t; your emotional stability, where you get upset and where you get angry. We think of self development as a Western concept, but we forget how deep its Islamic roots are. When are taught to do tazkiyah, we forget that it encompasses both purification and growth.
More importantly, figure out your core values, because you’ll need to find someone with matching one. A person might be enormously kind and generous, but because you might have different core values, then might not be a good match for you. As well, work on yourself. When you know yourself, the right person will appear. If you don’t, every next person will be a candidate, and this ties back into knowing your core values.
We also need a decent, respectful medium for young people to meet. In our home countries, we’d have third parties set people up, but that’s not always possible here in the West. There need to be open channels where people meet, interact and get to know each other. It needs to happen in an organic way, too. Young people sometimes use their time at university as a way to find a spouse, because they can consider another person in a non-structured way, and observe them in unofficial settings that don’t put the pressure of “rishta work” on them. This does come with problems, because no matter how righteous a person might be, we are still human and have desires– but we have to live with the risks.
- You need to take responsibility for whomever you choose to marry. Once you make a decision to agree to the marriage, you can’t come back and blame whoever set you up in the first place, because you choose to accept them. Too often, people come back and blame the imam or the matchmaker, which turns external parties (i.e. imams and matchmakers) away from doing the job and helping other people.
- Apply the texts properly. Use them as a rule of thumb, don’t rigidly constrain yourself to the word. Islam is made for real people in real life situations.
- Prepare yourself for surprises. Marriage will test you in ways you hadn’t imagined, so you need emotional stability and flexibility.
- Look out for someone with whom you can feel the spark.
- We need a medium for young people to minimally interact in an honest, organic way. It needs to be in person rather than online, so that they’re able to spot a spark. We can be okay in a little bit of a doubtful matter in order to avoid a major sin. This is how the maratibul ahkam, the order of precedence of rulings take place. In fact, if you know that you might commit a major sin, it is wajib to commit the smaller sin to commit the major one.
PART II: Post-Marriage: 10 Habits to Keep a Couple Compatible + Happy in Their Union in the Longterm by Sr. Hafsa Dean Thompson
1.Love each other For the Sake of Allah (FSA). When you love someone FSA, you vow to do your utmost to honor and respect them, and fulfill all the rights that Allah gave them as a spouse.
2. Always be grateful to each other. Always look at the cup as half full, not half empty. As Muslims, we say alhamdulillah, mashaAllah, subhanAllah, etc. regularly. These phrases that are constantly on our tongue are meant to remind us of Who we need to always need to be grateful to.
- Spouses need to compliment each other on how they look (which also demands that they should look good for each other).
- Always remember your honeymoon period.
3. Your iman will increase and decrease during your marriage, and you might need to take from whoever is stronger at that time.
4. Communicate like best friends, and always keep the line of communication open. Learn what your spouse likes to do, what their interests are, etc., because this is how we are with our friends. When we look to the marriage of Aisha (ra) and the Prophet (saw), we see that they had such a friendly, playful relationship. They used to tease each other and play games together while he was still managing an entire community of Muslims. The Prophet (saw) used to be aware of when she was happy or upset just by how she’d talk (i.e. referencing the God of Muhammad vs God of Ibrahim).
5. Be mindful of what you’re dealing with in the society you’re living in.
6. Make room for each other to grow and blossom throughout the marriage. Sr. Hafsa knew of a couple who opened six businesses together. Whether it be traveling, studying, or anything else, ask each other what you want to do and what goals you’d like to accomplish in 5 years. If not, you’ll just be spending your time watching TV. You need to help push each other forward, because this promotes happiness in the marriage.
7. Make time for each other, no matter what. Make each other feel like they’re #1 priority
8. Fight the ego, the evil eye, and shaitan. Don’t post every moment of your relationship on social media, and be careful who you air your laundry to, both clean and dirty. The evil eye is real.
9. “Sense” the other when they’re feeling stressed or anxious or sad. But also, express your feelings, don’t expect the other person to be a mind reader.
10. Always put Allah (swt) first.
Amal is a second-year SFU student who enjoys writing in all genres, save for the the autobiographical. She occasionally blogs at ajabdullah.wordpress.com.