Muslim scholars have interpreted the Qur’an to mean that marriage is a religious duty, a moral safeguard, and social commitment. As a religious duty, it must be fulfilled; but like all other duties in Islam, it is enjoined only upon those who are capable of meeting the responsibilities involved.
Whatever meanings people assign to marriage, Islam views it as a strong bond (mithaq ghaleez), a challenging commitment in the fullest sense of the word. It is a commitment to life itself, to society, and to the dignified, meaningful survival of the human race. It is a commitment that married partners make to one another as well as to God.
It is the kind of commitment in which they find mutual fulfillment and self-realization, love and peace, compassion and serenity, comfort and hope. All this is because marriage in Islam is regarded first and foremost as a righteous act, an act of responsible devotion. Sexual control may be a moral triumph, reproduction, a social necessity or service, a sound health and a gratifying state of mind.
Yet, these values and purposes of marriage would take on a special meaning and be reinforced if they are intertwined with the idea of God, conceived also as religious commitments, and internalized as divine blessings. And this seems to be the focal point of marriage in Islam. To paraphrase some Qur’anic verses, the call is addressed to mankind:
O mankind! Be dutiful to God, Who created them from a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the two of them scattered abroad many men and women. (An-Nisaa’ 4:1)
It was God Who created mankind out of one living soul, and created of that soul a spouse so that he might find comfort and rest in her. (Al-A`raf 7:189)
And it is a sign of God that He has created for men, of themselves, mates to seek in their company peace and tranquility, and has set between them mutual love and mercy. Surely, in that are signs for those who contemplate. (Ar-Rum 30:21)
Even at the most trying times of married life, and in the midst of legal disputes and litigation, the Qur’an reminds the parties of God’ s law; it commands them to be kind to one another, truly charitable toward one another, and above all dutiful to God.
It is noteworthy that the Islamic provisions of marriage apply to men and women equally. For example, if celibacy is not recommended for men, it is equally so for women. This is in recognition of the fact that women’ s needs are equally legitimate and are seriously taken into consideration.
In fact, Islam regards marriage to be the normal, natural course for women just as it is for men. It may even be more so for women because it assures them, among other things, of relative economic security.
This significant additional advantage for women does not, however, characterize marriage as a purely economic transaction. In fact, the least focal aspect of marriage in Islam is the economic factor, no matter how powerful this may be. The Prophet is reported to have said that
“A woman is ordinarily sought as wife for her wealth, for her beauty, for the nobility of her stock, or for her religious qualities; but blessed and fortunate is he who chooses his mate for piety in preference to everything else.” (Muslim)
The Qur’an commands marriage to the spouseless and the pious even though they may be poor and slaves:
And marry those among you who are single and those who are fit among your male slaves and your female slaves; if they are needy, Allah will make them free from want out of His grace; and Allah is Ample-giving, All-Knowing. (An-Nur 24:32)
On the other hand, whatever dowry (marriage gifts) a man gives his prospective wife belongs to her; and whatever she may have acquired prior to or after marriage is hers alone. There is no necessary community of property of husbands and wives.
Furthermore, it is the husband who is responsible for the maintenance and economic security of the family. He must even provide the wife with the kind of help and service to which she was used before marriage, and, according to some scholars, she is under no legal obligation to do the routine housework, although she may do so, and usually does, for some reason or other, e.g. cooperation, economy, etc.
The article is excerpted from Dr. Hammudah’s well-known book “Islam in Focus”.