By Mufti Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf, London
As humans, we have a natural desire for companionship. A desire to have a person with whom to share one’s life, someone who will bring us happiness and joy and be a source of comfort in times of difficulty is a very essential human feeling. Islam acknowledges this need and makes it permissible through nikah (marriage). This sacred act not only unites two individuals in a moral and honourable way, but also pleases Allah to such a degree that it is considered half of our din. According to hadith, a pious husband and wife who have had a successful marriage will be together in Paradise. A person will not be with their mother, father, brother, sister, daughter, son or anyone else in Paradise but with their spouse.
Isn’t it everyone’s dream to be in paradise with their beloved for eternity? How do we attain this level of bliss when we individually are only one half of the equation in marriage? If we each make the necessary effort to know and understand the ins and outs of marriage and the ways of making our Lord happy, we will be able to contribute to the success of our union, insha Allah.
Marriage can seem very daunting. Statistics show that marriage rates have declined to historic lows but, despite the record low in numbers getting married, divorce rates are at their highest. It doesn’t help that in this day and age, marriage has become something that is taken very lightly, to the extent that divorcing a spouse has become as easy as returning an unwanted item recently purchased. What people seem to have forgotten is that marriage is a very significant and sacred component of life and must be treated as such.
There are many talks and books on marriage and how to make a marriage successful. One of the most important things in this regard is that we be mindful of what can sabotage a marriage, so that we can avoid the harmful consequences. A person starting a business does not just look at how to set up the business and make a profit, they also learn about the risks involved so that they can mitigate and manage those risks. This allows the entrepreneur to avoid potential issues or at least have some awareness of what they might face.
In the same way, having a successful marriage is not easy and it takes effort from both spouses. Both should be aware that life is not always a bed of roses and there will inevitably be difficult times as well as good. It is extremely important to know and understand some fiqh related to marriage before embarking on this journey. It is more than just coming to the masjid, repeating a few words in front of the imam and paying the agreed mahr (marriage payment).
There are opportunities for us to please Allah each step of the way, from choosing a partner, to the engagement and the marriage ceremony itself. When the marrying couple strives to follow the laws of Allah throughout the process and during the marriage itself, they will gain more blessings in their union.
Finding the Right Spouse:
Once you’ve decided that you’re ready for marriage, the first step is finding the right partner, which can sometimes be a difficult experience. Some things to consider when choosing a partner are personality, character, beauty but, most importantly, how and how much they follow Islam and the Sunnah. If you truly want a happy marriage, it must be to someone who will treat you well because they know your rights and realise that they are accountable to Allah. With that in mind, it would make sense to marry a Muslim who is seeking the same qualities in their partner? It is sometimes disastrous to marry someone primarily on the basis of their wealth, beauty or occupation if they are not at your level in faith and practice and then expect them to become practicing at your level.
A current trend is that many Muslim men want to marry non-Muslim women (Christian or Jewish) under the pretext that they will bring them into Islam. The problem with this is that, more often than not, the husband does not try very hard to guide his wife to the faith and is very weak himself. His commitment to his faith is complete uninspiring. Marrying people of other faiths many times poses great heartache and difficulties, especially when children enter the equation. Agreements and promises can be made on how to raise the children during the marriage contract, but what happens if the marriage breaks down? That is why interfaith marriages have been highly discouraged.
Moving on, whoever you choose to spend the rest of your life with, know that you have ended up together because Allah decreed it. When two people come together for marriage they do not know the future and whether or not they will be compatible. But remember that Allah can create love and understanding between two people who are complete opposites of one another. It is essential to make du’a’ and rely solely on Allah for His support as only He controls our hearts.
Once the introduction has been made and both parties agree to marriage, some form of engagement normally takes place after which the couple may desire to get to know each other. It is important to note that according to Islamic Law, engaged couple are still technically strangers and unlawful for one another, and thus, spending informal time together is not permissible. It is therefore strongly recommended to avoid having a long engagement and to perform even a simple low-key nikah as soon as possible once both families have committed. What I mean by this is that a private nikah be performed with two witnesses. Parents should be flexible in this regard and not stubbornly insist on long engagements without nikah. By taking these steps, the couple will not destroy the blessings and good prospects in their marriage and will avoid the evil that comes about from unlawful associations. After a nikah, they can interact and get to know each other in a lawful manner even if they are not living with each other. Later, a more elaborate nikah ceremony and reception can take place where the extended family and friends are invited.
A Double Nikah?:
Another nikah? Yes! Contrary to popular belief, nikah can be performed more than once. In fact, according to some scholars such as Imam Ibn ‘Abidin al-Shami, couples should refresh their marriage once in a while. People sometimes utter blasphemies or obscenities without realising it to be a statement of disbelief (kufr), which takes them out of their faith and causes their marriage to break. The faith is reinstated by reciting the shahada or performing the next salat, etc., but a nikah does not automatically renew, and must be performed again, otherwise, the couple will be living together in sin.
The late Mufti Nizamuddin A’zami of Deoband had for while counselled a couple with marital problems. One day, he called in two witnesses and conducted their nikah again. Their conflicts soon disappeared. They came to him and wondered what had made the difference. He explained that during his interaction with them, he had noticed that they were not very careful with their tongues and it was likely one of them had had uttered a blasphemy whilst angry, thus nullifying their marriage. Due to the absence of nikah, they had been deprived of the blessings and had been living a life of fornication. Therefore, re-establishment of their nikah restored the blessing of a lawful union and many of their problems disappeared.
Divorce Should not Be in Your Vocabulary:
Small or large conflicts arise in many marriages. The key is never to let divorce be an option or even a word in your vocabulary.
Unlike some other religions, divorce is permitted in Islam but it is described by our Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) as one of the worst of the permissible acts in faith. Islam recognises that sometimes divorce is the only way forward, so this avenue is left open, but it should be a last resort. When the threat of divorce is removed from the marital equation, there is trust between the spouses that they are both committed to making things work rather than resorting to threats of divorce as the easy option.
The concept of divorce is taken so lightly these days. Divorces are issued on the flimsiest of excuses or used as a threat to emotionally blackmail a spouse. Imagine being in a marriage where you’re in constant terror and treading on eggshells because you don’t know what you may say or do that will cause your spouse to threaten to say or ask for the “D” word?
Muslims should know how delicate this matter is and how easy it is to issue a divorce. Ignorance is rife in this regard. Even if a wife asks her husband for a divorce during an argument and he says “OK” the divorce is effective. Similarly, if the husband says “I divorce you” or “you are divorced” it is done! This is why the word divorce should be removed from your vocabulary so that it is not inadvertently issued without a great deal of thought.
Divorce is one of three things in Islam which, if said intentionally or even as a joke, is effective as a legal statement. The only exception is if someone is not of sound mind (clinically insane) and does not know and cannot remember what they say.
After a clear revocable divorce (talaq raj’i), there is a waiting period (or ‘iddah, equal to 3 menstrual cycles) in which the husband and wife may reconcile their differences and the original nikah remain valid. If the period of ‘iddah ends before the husband decides he wants to take his wife back, then the couple must perform their nikah again to remarry. However, this process where the original nikah remains valid during the iddah period can only happen twice. Upon a third divorce, if the couple want to get back together, they must first go through a process called halala.
The Halala Process:
Halala is when the wife, after her ’iddah has passed, marries another man and consummates the marriage with him. After consummation, if the second husband divorces her, she may return to and marry her first husband. If the second husband divorces her as an act of kindness to help the couple, it will be considered a virtuous act as long as he does not make his intentions apparent to the two from before the marriage. So an important factor, along with the marriage having to be consummation with the new husband, is that the halala cannot be pre-conditioned, i.e. the woman cannot marry another man on the condition that he divorces her after consummation of the marriage in order that she may return to her first husband. If it is preconditioned, it will be haram and all parties involved will be cursed according to the Prophetic hadith.
Sound complicated? That is probably intentional. It cannot be emphasised enough that a couple should think long and hard so they do not find themselves in this predicament. All too often, for whatever reason (either ignorance or anger) some men issue all three divorces at once. They think that only three work and any less is not effective. What if they want to reconcile once emotions have calmed down? Imagine having to go through the process of halala described above and putting the woman you love through it? I am addressing the men here specifically because they are the one’s guilty of issuing all divorces at once. They abuse the discretion granted to them. Even If divorce is the only way forward, then a single divorce is more than sufficient. Why give more and then regret it?
Islam also provides an avenue for the woman to instigate a divorce through the process of khula’. This is when the wife returns her marriage gift (mahr) or another sum of money back to the husband in exchange for an irrevocable divorce.
According to a hadith from Bukhari, relayed by ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him), the wife of Thabit ibn Qays came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and said she had no complaints about her husband’s din or character but could not reconcile between being a Muslim and being ungrateful [to him]; she was unable to appreciate this great person and this made her uncomfortable as she thought she was compromising her own faith with her lack of appreciation. In Islam, the husband and wife are expected to benefit from their relationship and not suffer due to it. Our beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) recognised her dilemma and suggested that she return her mahr to her husband and that he grant her a divorce. He did not insist that they stay together.
More often than not, a khula’ cannot be mutually arranged between the spouses themselves due to the acrimony between them, and sometimes due to the obstinacy and stubbornness of the husband in his refusal to divorce his wife while at the same time not fulfilling his role as a proper husband. In this case, the wife would be advised to seek redress through a Shari’a court.
It would not have been accurate to paint a rosy picture of marriage without exposing the thorns. This is something I am consulted on month after month and many times I feel helpless in the face of the mass ignorance that is rife about the rules of marriage and divorce. Knowing the good as well as the bad of marital relationships should help us see things clearly. While many couples put their utmost efforts into attaining the rhetorical “happily ever after” end, some marriages undoubtedly endure struggle and discord. It is up to each individual to try their best to salvage their marriage and be the best spouse to their partner, remembering that we will all have to answer to Allah for our actions one day. Along with that, we should have sole reliance on Allah, as only He knows what is best.
Transcribed by Zahira Omar
Edited by Ahmed Limbada