Is Marriage Sinful?
Understanding Mutual Responsibilities
(Originally published in Islamica Magazine)
At a recent dinner invitation, I noticed that most of those present had business relationships with each other. I feared that if there wasn’t some radical intervention, the conversation would center on things like guerilla marketing and such—not my cup of tea. So I decided to say something radical, hoping to shift the flow of conversation to human relationships instead. I said, “You know, I think that it is haram for many people to marry.”
Heads turned very fast. Some asked me whether I’d lost my mind. Others simply asked me what I meant.
I wasn’t joking, I said. No, I was very serious.
Many people fall into sin by marrying. Why? Because they enter marriage without understanding the serious responsibility that marriage entails. Then they fail to fulfill their duty as husband or wife, and end up wronging their spouse. Such failure is sinful, even if one’s spouse is similarly remiss.
This returns to an important principle in the Shari‘a that hurting another is worse than hurting oneself. In fact, you have the full right to hurt yourself—in effect, you have the right to go to Hell, if you so wish. However, you have absolutely no right to hurt another—whether materially, emotionally, or in any other way. In marriages, spouses do amazing things to hurt each other, both directly and indirectly—through remissness in fulfilling their rights; and through simple inability to maintain a healthy marital relationship.
So, what can be done about it? The answer to this returns to individuals, parents, and society at large. As individuals, we have to develop an understanding of the keys to healthy human relationships in general and healthy marriages in parti-cular—before and after marriage. Parents have to inculcate an understanding in their children, especially in the later teen years and after, of good character, of taking the rights of others seriously, and of how to maintain strong relationships. With that, as parents we ourselves have a duty to be examples of successful marital life for our children. In society, we have a communal responsibility to raise awareness of what is needed to make marriages work—practical manner, not just through yet more lecturing on “The Importance of Early Marriage,” because early marriage without sufficient preparedness is as likely to fail as late marriage, if not more.
We need to train our community leaders, imams, and activists in marriage counseling. Seminars and programs must be held within the community for those seeking to get married and for those married. Trained counseling and suitable literature needs should be made available in accessible ways for those married, especially for those having trouble in their marriages.
People have to be made aware of the (often many) resources available in the wider society on marriage. Often, Muslims are wary of going outside the community for counseling (and yet fail to find capable counseling within the community). We need develop lists of reliable counseling services—services that uphold the core marital values Muslims hold dear (and which they fear for when seeking outside counseling). Likewise, there is a lot of good literature on marriage that those marrying and married should seriously consider reading.
As Dr. Ibrahim Kreps and other leading Muslim counselors concur, one of the very best books on marriage is John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. This or similar books give practical guidance on improving marriage relationships in our times.
With this, as Muslims we have to look at the radiant example of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) himself. He reminded us that, “The best of you are those best to their spouses, and I am the best of you to their spouse” (Tirmidhi, on the authority of ‘A’isha, God be pleased with her)). We should look regularly and with reflection at the life and example of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), as these give us beautiful examples and clear principles on how to have a successful marriage built on the Qur’anic paradigm of love and mercy, and of striving to live together with a mutual commitment to excellence in dealings.