You are standing in front of a showcase admiring a crystal vase. You decide that you want to take a closer look. You pick it up and start examining it from every angle, admiring it even more now that you can see its intricate design. Someone calls you from behind. Startled and distracted, you drop the vase. It falls on the floor and breaks into a million pieces. Who or what will you hold as chiefly responsible for this?
- Yourself: you should have been more careful.
- The person who called you: after all, he or she startled you.
- The shelf on which the vase was placed before you picked it up.
While (a) and (b) might sound plausible, the third scenario is completely illogical. Why would you possibly blame the shelf of the showcase when it had nothing to do with the situation at hand?
Keep this analogy in mind and reflect over the Muslim marriages around you. We hear success stories as well as sad ones. In the case of the latter, at times, you find people ascribing blame to a number of factors which at times are not even related to the situation at hand.
Following are eight practical steps to take once you receive a proposal for yourself or for someone in your family who is under your guardianship. It is important to remember that problems in a marriage can stem from a deficiency in any of these steps.
Step 0: Take the Elimination Test.
- Prepare a list of qualities you do not appreciate and would never want in your spouse, for instance, greed, pomp, flirtatious behaviour with non-Mahrams, laziness, habitual and casual lying, etc.
- Prepare a list of professions that you would not want your future spouse to be in, for example, banking, modelling, etc.
- Prepare a final list of any specific thing that you cannot agree to, for instance, a working wife (for men), or a husband who travels extensively or lives abroad (for women).
- When preparing the aforementioned lists, do ensure that you include only those few things that are absolutely non-negotiable for you.
- Let your parents know that apart from the suitors who have any of the characteristics in your list, you would be happy to marry a suitor of their choice.
Step 1: Investigate.
- Conduct a thorough investigation, even if you think you know the family well. At times, people say: “We have known them for years; we know exactly how they are.” This is a delusion. Just because you know one or two members of the family doesn’t mean you know all of them.
- Investigate through the subordinates. Interestingly, a lot of families conduct an investigation using only the references that are given by the proposing family. You should aim to acquire a balanced opinion by asking those who are ‘under’ the family, so to speak. This might include the prospective groom’s subordinates at the workplace, who, by the way, would know a lot more about the temperament and conflict resolution strategies of their ‘boss’ than his friends and cousins.
- Profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. nowadays reveal a lot about the suitor’s likes, dislikes, values, and mannerisms. It may also tell you things you would not find through a formal investigation.
- Always schedule a one-on-one interview. Fathers may interview prospective grooms while mothers may interview prospective brides. In our culture, unfortunately, it is usually the girl who bears the brunt of answering daunting questions related to her physical features and housekeeping skills. Interviews with boys are minimal and are usually held in the presence of their parents, who answer on his behalf.
Step 2: Ask the right questions.
- Avoid extensive and irrelevant questions related to educational qualifications, career plans, and so on.
- Always word your questions using the principle of Hikmah (wisdom). You might put off the family if you conduct too many ‘rapid-fire’ rounds.
- Relationship of the suitor with Allah (swt) helps determine his or her priorities. Is he/she moderate in worship and does he/she want to grow in the practice of Deen? Is he/she rigid and has a one-track mind that can be stifling for the spouse later on? Is he/she a cultural Muslim, and careless about following Islam?
- You may inquire about the suitor’s salary and workplace timings but it is more important to find out what kind of spending habits he has, and how he strikes a balance between his home and workplace.
Step 3: Be practical.
- It is said that one should avoid marrying girls into households that are financially at a lower level than their own. This is because such girls may have adjustment problems later on. Likewise, it is said that when marrying boys, girls from equal or lower financial background should be preferred, as they would have fewer adjustment problems.
- Girls coming from small families should avoid getting married into large families living in a joint family system. This puts unnecessary strain on any marriage.
- While investigating and selecting, families (parents of the suitors) as well as the boy and the girl, must try to match their personal behaviour and value system. Habits can be altered or adjusted to. For example, a man may be a practicing Muslim but he may not be very good with handling finances. Even if he means well, he just doesn’t have the ability or skill to do so. A girl may be a practicing Muslimah but have average housekeeping skills. In such circumstances, the families must analyze what can be adapted to, and what cannot be compromised, before making their decision.
Step 4: Be cool-minded.
- At times, families are ‘dazzled’ by the proposals they receive. “We never thought they would consider our son/daughter.” They get so overwhelmed that they totally ignore steps 1-3 and rush into agreeing. “This is such a distinguished family. If we won’t accept the proposal now, we might lose the opportunity. They won’t wait forever.”
- Keep your cool in all such circumstances. This might seem to be the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’, but you still need to investigate and be practical.
Step 5: This is not the very last proposal to be received.
- At times, when a family (usually of girls) is desperate, it says ‘yes’ to the very first proposal that comes. There have been plenty of cases where parents rushed into a decision and deeply regretted it later.
- Have Tawakkul (reliance) on Allah (swt). He is the best of planners and He has created mates for each of his creation.
- Don’t treat a proposal as if it is the very last one that you will ever receive. Conduct an investigation, and be practical and cool-minded at the same time.
Step 6: Parents should obtain consent from the girl and the boy.
- At times, parents get so excited at the prospect of getting their children married that they conduct almost all the steps without bothering to ask their son/daughter if he or she is even interested in the proposal. This results in quite a few problems later on.
- As soon as you contemplate marriage for your son or daughter, the first question to ask them is whether or not they are already interested in someone and want you to initiate a proposal. With co-educational institutes and plenty of mixed-gender opportunities, this is not as far-fetched an idea as it may sound.
- If your son or daughter informs you that he/she is indeed interested in proposing to someone, don’t let that be a blow to your ego. Never contemplate emotional blackmailing of your son or daughter in order to steer them into an unwanted marriage.
Step 7: Salat ul-Istikhara and its interpretation.
- When you have conducted all the steps and are satisfied with the outcome, you may pray Salat ul-Istikhara. At times, parents keep praying Salat ul-Istikhara during the entire process, which is actually not a bad idea at all. This is because it ensures that if this proposal is not suitable for either of the parties, hurdles start appearing. These may include a negative aspect of the family that becomes apparent, an argument over a petty issue that escalates to a full-fledged dispute and so on.
- At times, either the children or the parents are so convinced that this proposal is right for them that they keep praying Salat ul-Istikhara and, at the same time, keep ignoring all the hurdles that keep coming up. It is imperative to trust Allah (swt)! If obstacles are coming in the way, then this union is not meant to be. Accept it and move on.
Step 8: Trust your sixth sense.
- It may happen that before or after you have prayed Salat ul-Istikhara, you get this gut feeling that this proposal is not right for you or your son/daughter. Don’t ignore such feelings. Keep praying to Allah (swt), and if this feeling persists, then it might be that this match isn’t right for you or your family after all.
Important Questions to Ask Your Prospective Spouse
- Why are you interested in getting married?
- How do you think getting married will bring you closer to Allah (swt)?
- What are your top three expectations from your spouse?
- What are your top three goals in life?
- What are your top three leisure time activities?
- To what extent does the practice of Deen feature in your lifestyle, apart from the five daily prayers?
- What are your top three pet peeves?
- How do you think disagreements should be resolved?
- If you wrong someone, do you apologize? How?
- What kind of a relationship do you have with your family members?
- When making important decisions, who do you consult and why?
- What is your vision for your future family?
To the prospective bride only
- How particular are you about observing Hijab?
- What are your plans after marriage: study, work, or stay-at-home?
- How will these plans change after having children?
- Are you in favour of leaving children with nannies or members of extended family, in order to pursue educational and/or work interests?
- Are you comfortable with home management skills?
- If your husband has to move abroad for work or study, will you be willing to migrate as well?
- Are you willing to live in a joint family setup if your husband cannot provide you with separate accommodation?
To the prospective husband only
- Are you particular about Hijab? Would you take care to ensure that your wife is not required to serve male guests of the house or attend mixed gatherings without Hijab?
- How will you handle conflicts between your spouse and your immediate family?
- If such conflicts increase, would you consider a separate portion or accommodation for your wife?
- Are you in favour of taking loans (credit-based or otherwise) to acquire such assets as house, car, etc.?
- Are you able to save a portion of your salary?
- Do you have a credit card?
- If you lose your current job, would you take one offered by a bank (or an institution that deals in Riba)?
- If your wife is the only child and required to take care of ailing parents, how will you handle this situation?
- How adept are you in basic household chores and would you be willing to take care of them in exceptional circumstances?
- Are you particular about home-cooked meals? Would you make an exception, if your wife is ill?
Are you planning to get married? Abu Abdullah outlines what one should look for in a prospective spouse.
The Prophet (sa) has been reported to have said: “A woman is normally sought as a wife for her wealth, beauty, nobility or religiousness, but choose a religious woman and you will prosper.” (Muslim)
Some well-intentioned Muslims try to follow this prophetic advice in choosing a spouse and make religion the principal criteria for their selection. However, soon they face problems: how to define ‘religiousness’ and which particular religious characteristics should a prospective wife have? Are wearing a Hijab and praying regularly sufficient? Certainly, they do indicate righteousness; however, the outward manifestations can sometimes be deceptive, which calls for some deeper considerations before making this important decision.
The foremost of these is having the correct belief or Aqeedah, for the belief systems of people may differ. If a person spends the entire life doing good deeds, but his belief system is corrupted, he may not gain any reward for it in the Akhirah. In terms of marriage, beliefs form the basis of a person’s worldview; thus, two people with different beliefs cannot come to common terms easily, because their perspectives are different. Spouses are like a pair of eyes in the head: each has separate vision, but when they focus on common goals, they provide a depth in perception that is not possible by either one of them alone. Wearing different-coloured eye glasses on each eye, results only in confusion. Further, this poses difficulties for children, who are often left perplexed about how to see reality. Even among Muslims, different sects have different Aqeedahs, so care must be taken in choosing a mate whose belief one concurs with.
Sincerity in Front of Allah (swt)
The next important characteristic may be quite difficult to ascertain. It is sincerity in front of Allah (swt) which is a very private matter, as it is related to the intentions of a Muslim. When a wife does everything primarily for Allah’s (swt) sake, one can be sure that Islam is not just on her lips; it has entered her heart. That is the essence of religion. When she does something good to him or his relatives, it is primarily to seek reward from Allah (swt). It will make no difference to her, if she is appreciated for her good deeds or not, as she knows that Allah (swt) appreciates her. Many typical misunderstandings and complaints in marriages can be neutralized by this great characteristic alone.
Love for the Prophet (sa) and his Sunnah
Love for the Prophet (sa) and his Sunnah is another important consideration for marriage. The Sunnah provides Muslims with exemplary patterns of lifestyle which guide them to the most natural way in which Allah (swt) wants them to live. A wife, who takes the Prophet (sa) as the best role model for herself, will constantly work on improving her character. She will cultivate such good characteristics as patience, thankfulness, humility, devotion, truthfulness, modesty, sincerity, dependability, etc. Such traits are indispensible in a believing wife.
The life of a Muslim, who follows the Sunnah, is characterized by good balance. They fulfill the rights of Allah (swt) as well as of the people around them. A wife who loves the Prophet (sa) will follow the caring way in which he dealt with people. Wives play a significant role in the social interactions of families and friends, so a genuinely concerned and caring wife will be a source of good Dawah and reform. She will constantly think about the welfare of others, in both their religious and mundane matters. She will help in maintaining strong ties of kinship. Certainly, she will not forget the responsibilities she owes to her children, whose characters she has to mould.
Love for Learning
After the love for Allah (swt) and the love for the Prophet (sa) should come the love for learning. A wife who is committed to a lifetime of learning will always look for ways to keep improving herself, both in matters of Deen and Dunya. In each stage of her life, she will eagerly learn the knowledge required for carrying out her responsibilities. Correct Aqeedah will help in building her inner vision by placing what she learns in the correct framework of belief. This will allow her to develop insights about the nature of things. This Hikmah (wisdom) and Firasa (intuition) are rare and valuable qualities to have in a wife. Indeed, the Prophet (sa) has been reported to have said: “Whoever follows a path in pursuit of knowledge, Allah will make easy for him the path to Paradise…” (Ibn Majah) She is also more likely to pass on this love for learning to her children.
A wife can have all the above qualities; yet, if she is not obedient, then the family unit is prone to tear apart. Obedience is threefold: to the commands of Allah (swt), to the Prophet (sa) and then to the husband. Every social setting needs a leader: a responsible person who would look after the interests of the entire group. In a family, this responsibility is in the hands of the husband, who should seek to acquire all the above characteristics himself, before demanding them from his potential spouse. A family cannot be led by two people. If the wife does not obey the husband, chaos ensues. At a macro level, family discords lead to disruption in society, since a healthy family unit is the basis of a healthy society.
For a successful Islamic marriage, both husband and wife should be committed to improving themselves and acquiring good characteristics that go beyond mere rituals of religion. If a wife has the right Aqeedah, is sincere to Allah (swt), loves and practices the Sunnah, is committed to learning and is obedient to the husband, then there is very little else that a wise practicing Muslim should consider.