Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: Why Rabia Basri pursued the life of a celibate despite the fact that it is sunnah to get married?
Answer: assalamu `alaykum
From a legal perspective, marriage may take a ruling ranging from obligation to impermissibility. It would be obligatory to get married if one fears falling into fornication and has the ability to pay the dowry and support his future spouse. If, however, one does not fear committing fornication but possesses the financial means to get married, it would be a confirmed sunna. Further, if one is likely to oppress their spouse or fears that he may do so, it would be impermissible to marry or prohibitively disliked. Finally, it would be merely permissible in the scenario where one has the means to get married but has some slight concerns about fulfilling the rights due upon him. [Ibn `Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar; Ibn Nujaym, Bahr al-Ra’iq]
Living a Life of Celibacy
These are the basic considerations that the classical jurists of the Hanafi school recognized when it came to the ruling of marriage. However, the coming together of two individuals in a spiritual, physical, and emotional partnership is a serious matter that entail many other considerations, which differ from individual to individual and context to context.
It is certainly the case that a number of leading scholars lived a celibate life: Imam Tabari, Imam Nawawi, Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya, and others. However, these scholars did not do so out of a disregard for marriage itself, or a belief in its impermissibility of lack of merit. In fact, they were well aware of the religious discourse surrounding marriage but in not marrying they exercised a personal choice based on their own personal circumstances and understanding of what was ideal for them. As Imam Ghazali mentions, the decision to marry or live a life of celibacy requires balancing the good and bad that each of them potentially bring for a given individual.
Whereas marriage allows one to fulfill his or her sexual desires, to have a progeny, and to share life positively and happily with another individual, it can also result in being distracted from God, being unable to serve the needs of the community around one, and being placed in a situation where a person is tempted to do the impermissible, such as earning a livelihood through unlawful means. [Ghazali, Ihya `Ulum al-Din]
In conclusion, marriage is certainly a sunna but this does not necessarily mean that it is so in all cases. Celibacy remains the exception, but it would be permissible for specific types of individuals in specific contexts as the lives of scholars who chose this path clearly demonstrates.
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani.