By Laura El Alam
“Marriage is half the deen (religion).” Muslims will often say this to emphasize the importance of finding a life partner. The actual hadith (saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him) is: “When a person marries he has fulfilled half of the religion; so let him fear God regarding the remaining half.” [At-Tirmidhi Hadith 3096]
Some Muslims mistakenly believe that this expression means that they – or their faith – are incomplete or insufficient until they have married. While it is true that marriage is promoted in Islam, no one should rush into it. In Islam it is a legal contract, a spiritual bond, and an act of worship. Both spouses have rights and responsibilities, and both will answer to God for their actions and intentions toward their spouse.
Marriage is such a major commitment, in fact, that it can be considered “half the deen” simply because of the massive amount of energy, time, sacrifice, and patience it requires of both parties. It would be better to be a single Muslim who sincerely strives to please God than a married Muslim who constantly earns His displeasure through bad treatment of their spouse.
So why do some converts rush into marriage?
- Pressure from the community. When someone converts to Islam, especially if they are young and unmarried, chances are they will quickly be approached by a matchmaker. Because many marriages in Islam are facilitated or arranged by family members, matchmakers often play an important role in helping single Muslims find a life partner. A new convert might be seen as an exciting, new potential spouse for someone’s niece/nephew/son/daughter/cousin. The go-between might assure the convert that marrying a “born Muslim” will be good for their Islamic growth and encourage them to marry as soon as possible. Marrying a “born Muslim” might in fact help a convert learn their faith, but it might not, which leads us to the next point:
- “Born Muslims” are not necessarily better Muslims. Sadly there are some Muslims who do not follow the tenets of their faith. Just because someone was born into a family that considers itself Muslim does not mean that they actually practice faithfully or correctly. A person who comes from a Muslim-majority land or was raised in a Muslim family is not necessarily knowledgeable, either. Many people confuse cultural traditions with Islamic rules, and their ideas are so deeply entrenched that they don’t realize their errors.
Predators. In extreme cases, some Muslims completely defy Islamic teachings. They oppress and abuse others while wearing the disguise of a practicing Muslim. For instance, there are some men who prey on female converts in order to secure legal residency, financial stability, household help, and intimacy – without fulfilling any of their own responsibilities. They pretend to be very knowledgeable and pious when in fact they are oppressive and manipulative, twisting Islamic rules to fit their own selfish agenda.
I have heard too many stories of female converts being badly treated by “born-Muslim” men. At first the men appear charming, doting, and kind. Once they are married, though, these predators slowly brainwash their wife so that she loses her self-confidence, fears for her safety, gives up contact with her friends and family, and believes she is a bad Muslim if she stands up for herself. These men justify their abuse by claiming it is their God-given right. Of course these forms of exploitation are not unique to Muslim men; they are the deplorable tactics of abusive men from all walks of life.
Secret wives. There are sadly also some Muslim men who wish to take an additional wife without informing their first wife. They will ask a woman (often a convert) to marry them but to keep it secret. Sometimes they disclose the fact that they already have a wife (and possibly children), and other times they try to hide it. Either way, secret marriages are forbidden in Islam. To be valid, marriages must be announced publicly. A man has obligations to his wife and family, and if he is trying to hide the existence of one or more wives, that means he is trying to escape his responsibilities and the consequences of his decisions. A “secret wife” is often just a way for a man to try to justify having a mistress. Also remember that a wife whose marriage is secret and undocumented will have no legal rights if her marriage ends in divorce. She could lose her home, property, and children. Simply put: do not enter into a secret marriage!
Tragic situations like the ones above can be avoided if women have a firm understanding of their Islamic rights and knowledge of their inherent value in God’s eyes. This is one reason why it is so important for new Muslims to have a mentor of their same gender. Women, especially, need to learn their Islamic rights from a source other than their husband, and they need female friends to support and guide them.
The role of a wali. Before marrying, a woman should also have a wali. In Islam, this is an unmarried woman’s guardian, usually her father. It is a wali’s job to ensure that a woman’s potential spouse is responsible, trustworthy, sincere, and of good character. For converts whose fathers or close male relatives are not Muslims, an imam (leader of a mosque) can serve as her wali.
Converts of both genders should take as much time as they need to get to know their potential spouse, including their background, profession, financial situation, marital status, legal residency, family dynamics, future aspirations, and personal strengths and weaknesses.
If someone is rushing or pressuring you into marriage, this is a huge red flag. Both parties should have sufficient time to ascertain whether the other person is a suitable life partner, and marriage should never be forced on anyone.
- Marriage as an escape. Men and women desire stability, and there is nothing wrong with that. Marriage in Islam is definitely supposed to provide security to both spouses. A husband must provide financially for his wife and children, thus allowing them to be safe and comfortable. A wife’s primary responsibilities are taking care of her household and her children, and this also provides stability for her husband and family. Spouses should fulfill each other’s need for intimacy, emotional support, and partnership while remaining faithful to each other. In this sense, stability is a perfectly natural human desire and the likely consequence of a happy, balanced marriage.
But some people rush into marriage in order to escape a problem in their life. They crave stability so much that they jump at the chance to marry in order to relieve their burden. For instance, a woman in financial distress might try to find a wealthy husband to settle her debts. A divorced or widowed man who has children might marry a woman solely to raise his kids and clean his house. In other words, some people seek stability in desperation, with no intention of providing stability in return. They are pursuing marriage for selfish or immature purposes, ignoring the fact that an Islamic union should be a true partnership where each spouse is helping the other grow closer to Allah.
If one spouse feels used and unloved, there will be no contentment in the marriage, and it is destined to fail. Stability should be a two-way street, with both partners committed to fulfilling their God-given responsibilities. While marriage in Islam is a legal contract, it is also supposed to be a bond between two people who care about each other and provide solace, love, and support to one another. Desperation is never a good foundation for marriage, so please don’t jump into a marriage just to escape your problems.
- Matchmakers might pressure new converts to marry quickly. It is better to take your time and really get to know your potential spouse. No one should rush or force a marriage.
- Learn as much as you can about your faith before marrying. Don’t count on your spouse to be your only teacher.
- “Born Muslims” are not necessarily better Muslims.
- Female converts in particular should be wary of predators who appear pious and charming but actually have selfish and/or harmful intentions.
- Do not agree to a secret marriage under any circumstances.
- Women need female mentors to teach them their rights and responsibilities. They should not rely solely on their husband for Islamic guidance.
- A wali is a guardian whose job is to look after an unmarried woman’s well-being. He should try to vet potential grooms, ensuring that they are reliable, trustworthy, practicing, and sincere.
- Some people rush into marriage in an attempt to solve their problems, but this will only create more problems. A marriage should be a mutually-beneficial, safe, stable, trusting, and loving union.