And as we know from before, Tina Turner put it even more bluntly in the next line of her hit song, “What’s love but a second-hand emotion?”
You have to give it to song-writers: they really do express the truth sometimes in remarkably effective fashion.
The issues of love, prospective partners, marriage, keeping the flame of love burning etc have been beaten to death by mankind since time immemorial. Everyone has had a say on the matter and quite rightly too: no human is free from the stresses, hassles and difficulties encountered in day-to-day life and everyone will have had some brush with the emotion of love at some time. Everyone will want to share their feelings on the issue, and social media, blogs and chat sites seem to talk about nothing else, or at least stimulate the most response from the community at large when the topic of love is being addressed.
So why then, after so many thousands of years of human experience have we not solved all these problems and banished the ignorance surrounding it? And why in particular have the Muslims not left their baggage behind on the issue after receiving divine guidance as well? And even more damningly, why haven’t the increasingly “practising” crowd of Muslims who really should know so much better – ranging from the just-started-to-practise-Islam-recently folks to students of knowledge to the scholars themselves – set a clear example to the rest of the community by becoming shining role-models of how relationships should be conducted?
The answer is because this is a human problem, this is a nafs problem, and this is a love problem. No-one is going to get away with an easy ride.
I wish to offer the following words/thoughts on this subject with my focus on the “practising” community because they should all really know better. Those who are just “Muslim by name” will experience all sorts of other cultural problems and barriers and will fall foul to much ignorance and require serious help, more than just a few words in an article like this.
Instead, I’d like to concentrate on those Muslims who see themselves as religiously observant and dedicated but who clearly have a problem controlling their desires, have errors in their thought process and just need to be reminded really of what is expected from serious Muslims.
One has to be quite frank in dealing with this, and say things that will hurt people and possibly offend their feelings, yet without being honest about the real deep-set attitudes and problems that we specifically face as a community such as racism, sexism, apathy and misogyny, we’ll never reach an agreeable status quo.
Let me start with what I consider to be prevalent beliefs and truths within the Muslim community coming from someone who has advised and sat on the other end of countless marriage-hunts and subsequent marriage breakdowns, which unfortunately is becoming the only use for many Imams and scholars these days in the West, wa Allāhul Musta‘ān.
Once someone starts to look for marriage, it seems that we lose all rational thought. Somehow we believe that we’ve all become super-special – why are you looking for the perfect girl, when you are not the perfect man? Why should your wife be an Hāfidha when you yourself don’t know a tenth of the Qur’ān? What exactly do you have to offer your wife-to-be instead of the other way round? Whilst you’re busy making du‘ā to Allah to grant you such a righteous wife, have you asked Allah to grant your future wife a righteous husband?
Let’s use an analogy: have no doubt that in the meat-market that the marriage scene wants to become, only the best leg of lamb of will do, the best cut, the juiciest piece. But as you might expect you’d better be prepared to pay a hefty price for such a nice piece of meat. And therein lays the reality: if you want the best woman, you’d better have a whole lot to offer. If you want your wife to be the most beautiful girl in the world, humble as a villager from “back home”, smart as a PhD student at Harvard, to cook biryani like your mum, to have as much stamina as a long-distance runner, to be as brave as the strongest Mujāhidah, to be as savvy with current society and the community as a female politician and then as religiously practicing and devoted as ‘A’isha, then – other than having to wake up and smell the qahwah – you had better be 100% like the Prophet Muhammad (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam). And sorry to say folks, but that just isn’t going to happen for the majority of us is it?
The concept of give and take, to be realistic, to understand and appreciate one’s faults and weaknesses and then ever better, to accept and live with them in another person is actually rather difficult and requires serious control over one’s heart and desires. This is because when we look for a marriage partner, we make it completely synonymous with the concept of “falling in love” which is rather short-sighted. You see, as many societal scientists have asserted, one of the biggest misconceptions about “falling in love” is that this is actually love itself. It probably isn’t.
Of course when you’re looking for a prospective partner, you’re looking to develop love for the other person but we tend to give a disproportionate bias to the actual emotion of “falling in love” – something which is almost exclusively a sexually-motivated feeling that is often temporary. This is not what we call deep love. The whole experience of falling in love, the giddiness of just being with him/her will disappear as quickly as it came. This is just human nature. The type of love that you have for your children or your parents has nothing to do with sexuality or eroticism, rather it is a deep-seated appreciation for the other person due to factors of loyalty, closeness, friendship, care etc. Naturally the love of one’s wife has the extra aspect of sexual love and desire which is very important but certainly not the key factor for the marriage. It’s amazing that the statement of the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) concerning the fact that a man will be truly successful if a woman is married for her religion is so well-known yet so discarded when it comes to the final decision on a prospective partner.
Obviously the beauty, wealth and who the woman actually is (i.e. her lineage) are valid important factors as confirmed by the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) but the secret is a not very well kept one: if you really want this marriage to last and be built upon a solid foundation and not just become a few-nights stand based upon looks, shape and eloquence, then look for the one who fears Allah most, who is most conscious of Allah at all times and who will never turn away from what Allah and His Messenger wants. It goes without saying that our women should demand the very same in their hunt for a good man.
This is how it would be in an ideal situation but clearly with the proliferation of matrimonial sites and marriage meetings and the like, we’ve come to realise otherwise. The Muslim community is rammed to the rafters with sub-quality men and women, diseased by their surroundings, obsessed with materialism and the visual stimuli and beauty that the world demands all of us to be signed-up members to, ideologically battered into accepting value systems that are alien to our theology, and all suffering a lack of god-consciousness at almost epidemic levels. And now they’re desperate. And now, anything is worth a try.
It is through this quagmire that men go “back home” for a “traditional” girl. It is through this mess that a woman demands a doctor to be their husband. And neither party can be blamed.
Personally I support the concept that “let the best man win” and encourage both parties to fight for the very best, as this can only be healthy for the community at large. If a guy is going to be too lazy to work hard and study, or is going to be lazy enough to watch TV rather than understand and then memorise the Qur’ān, or a girl wishes to study for degree after degree as opposed to learn the intricacies of child-care and teaching, then leave them alone and they’ll find someone who they deserve. Perhaps it’ll be the perfect match, two individuals who put in an equal amount of work into finding their life partner according to their modern values they hold so precious.
But if you’ve put the sacrifice in, then you should look for better. Go and memorise the Qur’ān and then demand a Hāfidha. Spend your teen years learning fiqh and theology and then demand a scholar for a husband. Study hard and show yourself to be perceptive, intelligent and insightful and then demand a scientist/professional man. Cut yourself off from the normal haunts of society such as the school and work parties, the constant socials with the boys, the weddings and the other places of lewdness and low standards and then demand a woman who rightly hasn’t been seen or touched by another man. In summary, the general rule of “you get what you deserve” normally works out true. And in this dog-eat-dog world, if you’re the best, expect and demand the best.
As for the rest of us not so blessed with such values and such an ethic of sacrifice, then I guess it’s credit crunch time again and we should just make do with whatever we can and hope for the best. If we’ve all become beggars due to the economy, then beggars can’t be choosers.
Finally, the practising Muslims out there have an extra responsibility to stamp out the ignorance that affects their own kind. The obsession for the white-convert girl for their much coveted skin colour, the avoidance of black-convert men and women, the avoidance of arab women due to their perceived strength of character and knowledge of female rights in Islam (!), the preference for Asian women due to the perceived ignorance of female rights in Islam (!) and all the other truisms that experience has shown to be very much alive and kicking in our communities needs to be tackled. Sure, there is no problem wanting certain people, preferring certain cultures, accepting parental and family preferences, but when you let that preference develop into a bias and a deep-seated belief of the inferiority of the “other”, then it only feeds the ignorance and xenophobic attitude that some Muslims suffer from today.
In quick conclusion for those wanting to get married, despite everything that I’ve mentioned and thrown out as thoughts, I personally advise you to find the person who you can gauge to have been best protected from the ideological and materialistic fitnah of this dunya, has learnt and practises as much as possible of the Deen, has the most patience, is the best with kids and education (women), is not lazy and has courage (men) and finally is the best looking person you can hope to find to provide satisfaction for the eyes at a time when society is insisting that our eyes see more and more.
Other realities need to be kept in mind: no woman wishes to live with her in-laws. Indeed, the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law were not programmed to live permanently with one another and if you want to insist on such an arrangement, expect to jump out of marriage as quickly as you jumped in. It is not correct for a man to just demand a perpetual state of sadaqah from his wife in looking after his parents and family as well as do all the cleaning and housekeeping when it has not been made an obligation upon her. Likewise for the women, expect practising men to be completely committed and devoted to their parents who are dependent upon them. Honest, frank discussions about living conditions post-marriage during the engagement process will be essential to minimise fitnah later on.
And Allah knows best.
Now that the job has been done, the “falling in love” period is over and we’re starting to settle down as only married couples know best, we have to turn on the “maintain” button and start the thermostat so that the heating automatically kicks in when the marriage gets a bit cold.
It is about now that those couples who got married based upon looks, wealth and position are really going to struggle. I won’t patronise the practising Muslims by placing them in this group but regardless, it’s about now that when you wake up in the morning and turn to wake up your wife for Fajr, she doesn’t quite look like she did on your wedding day (!). That’s of course if she isn’t awake already considering she hasn’t had any sleep with you snoring all night, or the fact that you’re not bothering to help rock the baby back to sleep during its many tantrums through the night. “Hey, this wasn’t what I signed up for!” she thinks to herself…
In addition, you’re probably from those who are struggling to keep up the levels of diyāna or the “practising of your Islam completely” as you might have envisaged pre-marriage. As the male, you might now be enjoying staying in, children, family and “don’t have enough time” for classes, circles, hifdh and the like. As the mother, you’re now busy with the kids and the housework and the levels of imān are low in general. Or as the male, you’re attending every circle under the sun and lumping the woman with the kids, the upkeep of the house and the politics of your mother and father, and then wondering during the peak of your imān why your wife is more irritated, impatient, and generally less practising than you are!
Married life is a classic expression of people compromising and putting their partner in front of their own wishes and desires. Or at least it should be.
Arguments and disagreements are aplenty, stress and pressures increase exponentially as child care becomes more challenging and keeping up with the Joneses next door at the same time becomes more and more important during middle-aged life. And with all of these excuses to lose the “loving feeling” between partners and, even worse, lose any motivation to try and revive the connection between you, along come all the tests and trials from the rest of the community around you in the form of beautiful younger women, work-mates, colleagues and a society obsessed on offering you better, thinner, sexier ad infinitum.
Your woman isn’t as beautiful any more, not as slim as she used to be, not as relaxed and easy going as the good old days. Your man: well, he’s certainly lost his looks, gained a stomach, lost his hair and worst of all, lost his prowess. And there really can’t be anything worse for a man to put up with than losing his pride and face in front of his wife and the people. Some truths really are eternal, and as Imām al-Suyūti reportedly said in the book which is (perhaps incorrectly) attributed to him – Nawādir al-Ayk – that the love of the dunya comprises of just two things: women and riding horses. Compare that fact in today’s time and it is exactly the same, for a man loves women and quality driving more than anything else. And as all the Letts diaries and popular sayings/phrase books remind us, “Tell a man anything except that he’s rubbish at sex and driving.”
So to suffer such humiliation alongside all the other stresses can often prove too much right? Feel like giving up on all this hassle? Can’t be bothered anymore? Need a new life-changing moment? Feeling insecure?
So much so that when looking at the numbers of good Muslim couples divorcing these days, one wonders whether the concept of “Epic Fail” was invented by a bloke looking at the Muslim community.
It is at these challenging times that a Muslim really proves their quality, when the going gets tough, when the wife becomes unbearable to be around, far too depressing and moody, when the husband becomes far too distant, absent and angry, when the woman starts to go out more and socialise with her friends who give her attention, when the husband loses interest in providing sexual satisfaction to his needy partner and only focuses on his two-minute fix of pleasure-on-demand. Or focuses on Facebook instead.
It is here when the Muslims have to step up and realise that marriage was most definitely more than just “falling in love”, eroticism and the short-term. Rather it is for the sake of Allah, it is for the sake of the children, and it’s for the sake of the community at large who need to see people battle it out and suppress their desires for risk, excitement and throwing away stressful responsibility, It is time to stand up and be counted and instead embrace the challenge of maintaining, sustaining, remaining stable and accepting increased responsibility with honour, patience and trust in Allah.
Let me remind you of a wonderful narration from ‘Umar b. al-Khattāb (radhyAllāhu ‘anhu) in al-Kharā’itī’s book on character:
“From Abu ‘Azrah al-Du’ali who lived during the time of ‘Umar (radhyAllāhu ‘anhu) and who used to regularly marry women and then separate from them, until he gained a reputation with the people for doing so, and stories would be told about him. When he heard of this, he took ‘Abdullah b. al-Arqam home with him, and made him listen as he asked his wife, “I implore you with God’s name: Do you hate me?”
“Don’t implore me like that,” she said.
He said, “Yet I do.”
“By God, yes.” she said.
Abu ‘Azrah said to ‘Abdullah, “Did you hear that?” They then left and went to ‘Umar, saying to him, “People say I oppress women and then separate from them. Ask ‘Abdullah what he heard from my wife.” He did so, and ‘Umar having heard what she had said, sent for his wife.
He said to her, “Are you the one that goes and tells her husband that she hates him?”
She said, “Oh Leader of the Faithful, I am the first to repent and turn back to God’s command. He implored me in God’s name, so what was I supposed to do? Lie? I felt wrong lying!”
“Then lie,” said ‘Umar. “If one of you doesn’t love someone else they shouldn’t say so. Few are those houses that are built upon love; rather people get along by depending upon Islam and Ihsān to one another.”
This deep statement from Sayyidina ‘Umar is of course what we expect from those deep and blessed people who understood the inner realities of life and the challenges that they bring. ‘Umar has effectively provided for today’s social scientists the history of the old adage that love is indeed fickle, temporal and but just a fleeting moment. Relationships might kick off with love and enjoy little moments of love here and there, but their fuel and sustenance comes from mercy to one another, respect, justice, friendship, loyalty and sacrifice; all of these aspects and more are wonderfully and succinctly summed up by ‘Umar in his use of Islam and Ihsān to illustrate the pinnacle of these qualities.
That is why Allah tells us in the Qur’an that He placed “love and mercy” between spouses, in that exact order. Because love is what kicks things off. And mercy to one another is what keeps it going.
Let me make it super clear right at this juncture: this is a not an article for those who genuinely need to divorce, or perhaps it is obligatory for them to divorce due to the harm and danger or complete incompatibility. Alhamdulillah this is Islam. Divorce is allowed for the better good if all channels have been exhausted. And in these cases, divorce can be a mercy.
But don’t fool yourself for even one second if you think the majority of the divorces we see today were genuinely needed. No, in fact, I would argue that the majority of the couples we see really do have something special and there isn’t enough reason to create misery in their lives, and often with the right counselling and the right advice, they can move forward positively and healthily. We all fight, we even go to war sometimes. But peace is always achievable.
So just as we recognise when a warring couple come to us for divorce and we appreciate that they are both within their legal right to divorce, we try to discourage them as much as possible. This is not because the “most hated thing to Allah from the halal actions is divorce” (which is not an authentic Hadīth as claimed by many) but because the children deserve better, the respective families deserve better and the community deserves better.
It is often difficult to look beyond your own needs and wants in such critical moments of crisis; it is difficult to remind ourselves that our children need a strong parental presence to survive in the hell that 21st Century society has become, whether in the West or the East – no place in the world is safe enough any more to allow our children free to just grow up by themselves. It is difficult to appreciate just how dependent the community is upon certain Muslim couples to be perfect, look perfect and act perfect. These couples can’t afford to slip up and they can’t afford to show cracks to a people whose only hope of keeping themselves together is the fact that their role-models are doing the same.
And let not the devil take advantage of you here and question your intentions. This is not a fraud or a lie. The Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) allowed what could possibly be translated as “blagging” to occur specifically to keep the husband and wife together and strong, even if things were difficult. It’s really an incredible thing that we are allowed to say that “you look wonderful tonight” when she patently doesn’t, or to say “that thobe makes you look quite thin” when you know that even a tent wouldn’t hide that backside of his. But this shows the extent that we are commanded to try to keep other people happy, other Muslims happy, and indeed the mother and father of our children happy!
Perhaps such reminders can fall foul to idealism, but problems do need achievable goals and the Muslims should have no doubt that peaceful happy marriage is possible between husbands and wives who might not still have much in common, where there might not seem many reasons to carry on making sacrifices, and where the grass always seems greener on the other side.
No, it is always worth making sacrifices. Surely this is what drives the Muslim in this life, the fact that he/she doesn’t act and make decisions thinking in the short-term i.e. the life of this world, but rather acts not expecting to see good results in this dunya and thus receiving the full rewards in the next life.
Being patient and remaining calm at moments of anger and fury, or trying to overcome that apparent impasse might seem difficult for the Muslim but it shouldn’t.
For the woman, if he’s acting like a fool then just remind him of his obligations, tell him how you feel and tell him that you will take a higher road. And do that. You have it in your genetic make-up to have a greater amount of compassion, mercy and patience so this is the greatest and most rewarding time to use it: to save a marriage. And if all else fails, think of the children.
As for the man, then when your wife has done the “unforgivable” and irritated you beyond what you can “possibly bear” and you are about to open your mouth and say something that you’ll ultimately regret, just stop and reflect. You spend enough time in jest reminding your wife that she is deficient in deen and ‘aql, that she is worth half a man in ‘aql and witnessing etc. Well genius, let’s see you put that belief into practice. If she really is “half a man”, really is “half your ‘aql”, then as one of our blessed scholars said, “You should have double the patience, double the calmness, double the gentleness and double the understanding.” If that’s not striking enough for you, then think of another amazing fact: if she really is “half a man”, then she has put up with all of the rubbish you throw at her every day operating at only 50% of what is possible apparently! That again makes her twice as good as you!
Now let’s see you walk your own talk and show yourself to be the one who is more magnanimous. And if all else fails, think of the children.
Clearly no-one likes to swallow a bitter pill, but it wouldn’t be difficult or a sacrifice if the pill wasn’t bitter. Marriages survive with people just stopping at the critical moment of fury and saying, “You know what, I’ve forgiven you, so please forgive me for even bringing this issue to this level.”
And that’s it. Simple as that.
All the Hadīth on peace-making show up an incredible trait in humans: that when the reason to hate the other is challenged, the hate dissipates as quickly as it came. Thus, when you are mad at your wife for something and then you are told by a 3rd party (as per the Hadīth) who plays with the truth a little and then says, “She really does loves you you know, and made a mistake in what she said,” then regardless of whether that’s the truth or not, when you see her next, there will be a completely different reaction. And when you don’t react in the horrible way that she’s expecting to react, she’ll also usually become immediately sorrowful and will rid herself of any rancour as well. This is not idealism. This is fact. History and experience have borne witness to this and it is the right of all Muslims to act like this especially when advised as such by our Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam). It is only at these times when people realise just how petty that anger was, how petty the argument was, and how petty a reason you were trying to find to throwing away all that is really important to you in your life.
For this is the crux of the issue: although at moments you may become heedless but your partner is the most important aspect of surviving the test of this dunya. They are what protect you from zina, they are the ones who bring peace, stability, security and reassurance to the family home. They are the ones who keep you warm at night, and on a good night bring even more benefit! They are also the ones who give you the delight of your eyes, the “reason you live for” and more compellingly, the only possible reason that you may achieve intercession to get into Paradise: your children.
Marriage is worth it. Sacrifice is worth it. Keeping the Devil miserable is worth it. Gaining the Pleasure of Allah is worth it.
So keep up the struggle and keep the flame burning, and from my side I’ll resist the temptation to end this piece with another hit song from the eighties…
And Allah jalla wa ‘alā knows best.