َAccording to a tradition, there is no institution in Islam as beloved as marriage. Therefore, just as God sent the Prophet Muhammad(s) to us as a role model and outstanding exemplar, the marriage of the two best beings after him shines as a paradigm for us. The blessed marriage of Imam Ali(a) and Lady Fatimah Zahra(sa) took place on the 1st of Dhul Hijja, 2 AH. This year it will fall on the 23rd of August. Indeed, this anniversary offers us a moment to reflect upon the teachings of Islam regarding marriage, and especially what this most excellent couple has taught families till the end of time. Many lessons can be learned, such as the simplicity and manner of their dowry and marriage ceremony. It is our unnecessary delays and demands which cause marriage to be viewed as an encumbrance. Sadly, at no other time in history has it been so necessary to remind ourselves of these lessons as today. It is extremely unfortunate that every day more and more marriages are deteriorating, regardless of whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim.
Many reasons have been given for the necessity of marriage. According to Ayatullah Ibrahim Amini, the most important outcomes include the formation of a family through which one finds security and peace of mind, the satisfaction of natural desires in a proper manner, and the continuation of humanity. However, the purposes of companionship and reproduction are found even in animals. Therefore, the true purpose of marriage for mankind is something else, just as the purpose of man is more than to just eat, drink and satisfy his desires. Human beings are meant to train themselves by gaining knowledge and doing good deeds. If they can cleanse their souls and avoid evil, they can attain a level that even angels are unable to achieve. Consequently, Ayatullah Amini states that the purpose of marriage should be sought in this spiritual context; it should be a means of acquiring nearness to God.
In ‘Three Views of Marriage’ David Brooks proposes that marriage can be viewed with the psychological, romantic or moral lens. The first lens encourages one to think analytically about whom he or she wants to marry, e.g. someone who has positive traits like good manners, as negative traits are unlikely to totally disappear over time. Couples with this view will strive to find compatibility. Perhaps the second and most common way to view marriage is through the romantic lens. With this perspective, couples will only feel that marriage can work if they achieve a preconceived notion of love. The third lens is the moral lens. In this lens a marriage does not exist just for procreation; on the contrary, it exists to serve some higher purpose. For religious people, this purpose can be God; for the secular, it can be any service to a worthy cause.
A study by Eli Finkel suggests that if a marriage today is to be successful, it should permit both partners to realise their inner potential, rather than merely being an institution for living together and raising children. Hence, it is the moral lens which is of crucial importance to the success of a marriage. Furthermore, in the Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller argues that marriage introduces one to his or herself. We come to realise that we are not as easy to live with as we are when alone. In fact, the everyday tasks of marriage are opportunities which encourage the development of a more selfless love. Thus, the partner inspires the spouse to become his or her best self. Consequently, the third lens of marriage is not about two individuals trying to satisfy their own needs, but a partnership of mutual self-giving with the aim of spiritual progress. Although the psychological lens and romantic lens are important and quite common, it is this spiritual transformation over a lifetime of marriage which is the true purpose of marriage. Perhaps the average marriage is on the decline because this third lens is usually lacking.
“And of His signs is that He created for you mates from your own selves that you may take comfort in them, and He ordained affection and mercy between you.” (Qur’an 30:21)
In this verse, God states that it is He who created mates and then placed affection between the couple. Thus, love is from God, al-Wadud (the Loving One), so loving one’s spouse in a marriage is, in fact, a means of attaining the love and nearness of God. If there was no divine intervention perhaps this love would not have actually been love. The Holy Prophet(s) said, “Whoever gets married has safeguarded half of his religion.” This tradition is clearly portraying the connection between marriage and religion. We usually think that this tradition indicates that marriage helps one stay away from evil temptations, but it may also imply that marriage assists one in doing good and attaining the pleasure of God.
One day after the wedding of Imam Ali(a) and Lady Fatimah(sa), the Holy Prophet(s) went to congratulate them in their house. He asked Imam Ali(a), “How do you find your spouse?” The Imam replied that he found Fatimah to be the best help in worshiping Almighty God. Thus, in one sentence Imam Ali(a) not only introduced the best woman in Islam but also expressed the main purpose of marriage. We must remember that worship includes all aspects and forms of service to God in our religion. Clearly, a pious couple would encourage each other to avoid evil deeds and be committed to performing obligatory acts of worship. Thus, they would assist each other in the pursuit of spiritual perfection. Likewise, a corrupt person would tempt the partner to corruption. Therefore, piety and good manners are essential conditions for a partner, if not the most important.
In Islam, spiritual perfection is attained through the institution of marriage, and not by abstaining from it. According to Imam Ali al-Rida(a), once a lady came to Imam Muhammad Baqir(a) and said, “I am a mutabbattila.” The Imam asked her what she meant to which she replied that she had decided to never marry in order to attain higher levels of perfection. The Imam replied, “If remaining a spinster was a matter of greatness than Lady Fatimah(sa) deserved it much more, for no lady can exceed her in any of the excellences.” Hence, it is through marriage that we can become better human beings and not by remaining unmarried.
Once the Holy Prophet(s) saw Imam Ali(a) helping Lady Fatimah(sa) cook. The Prophet said to Ali: “O Ali, whoever helps his wife and children in their domestic affairs and does not consider it as an obligation upon them, God will enumerate him among the martyrs. His one step bears the reward of one Hajj and one Umrah and he gets cities in Paradise equal to the number of veins in his body.”
It is inevitable that in a life-long relationship some occasions of discord and anger will arise. Nevertheless, if we truly make the Ahl ul-Bayt(a) our role models and arm ourselves with the tools and knowledge imparted by them, we can persevere and find solutions for every problem. A proper understanding of the aims of marriage can lead to a firmer and stronger relationship between the husband and wife and be a means of alleviating any problems that arise. May God make the marriages of the spouses who assist each other in their spiritual journey successful in this world and the next.
Kubra Rizvi is an Honours Psychology graduate
from Loyola University Chicago. She writes and
lectures on various religious topics.