On November 3rd 2012, the SeekersHub held a seminar titled “Lasting Love: What Makes for a Successful Marriage”. The course was live -streamed, and I logged on from Vancouver to hear the sessions. It was masha’Allah, a day that was well worth the investment in time. In summary, what I learnt from the course was that the core of marriage is good character, and that marriage is a long term opportunity for you to strive to be a better person. It is a means for you to work on the lifelong task of returning back to Allah with a sound heart. When two people have that intention, insha’Allah that leads to lasting love and a successful marriage, but really the seminar was not so much about marriage as about being a good human being. The video of the event is now available, and can be accessed here. And they are by no means comprehensive, but below are my notes from the event.
Lasting Love: What Makes for Successful Marriage (Notes from the SeekersHub)
First Question to Ask: Why Get Married?
- One can approach marriage from a number of different perspectives. Always good to ask oneself the question: why does a Muslim seek to get married?
- Several possible reasons : companionship, children, for the fulfillment of desire, for love, for social advantages, for tax purposes.
- Marriage is meant to be a spiritual act. Meant to be an expression and nurturing of sincerity to Allah. Sustaining a successful marriage is meant to be a expression and nurturing of good character with Allah’s creation. This is the true potential in marriage. Not easily attained. Marriage is a sign of Allah.
- Don’t make Allah a footnote in your marriage. The governing factor should be seeking Allah. This requires you to reflect. What is it that you are seeking? What are your intentions of marriage?
- How will you seek the pleasure of Allah in marriage? Have a companion in life in doing good, companion who will support one. Having children.
- All means in seeking Allah, so should have multiple intentions in seeking marriage
- Sincerity is that the primary motive of your marriage is pleasure of Allah.
- All other motives are means with which you are seeking pleasure of Allah.
- When getting to know someone, it’s like theatre. Nobody is going to act their worst. But in marriage things turn upside down.
Who Should You Marry?
- In reality, most people kid themselves. Give the answer, marry for the deen, but most people marry for other reasons. And each person will have what they intend.
- Why does Zubair want to marry Zubaida? In reality, most people choose on other than the religious concern.
- Many potential reasons. Be real, have real intent.
- If you love someone passionately but restrain your passion, because wasn’t right thing to do, high rank.
Who is the Religious Person?
- Not knowledge. Religion is not knowledge.
- Activism is not deen on its own.
- He prays, manifestation of religious practice – he goes on tabligh! But socially, that could be a problem b/c not home. So how does that relate to deen? A person could be involved in those things for travelling and doing other reasons Religiosity is not mere practice.
- Tahujjud is really good, but does tahujjud in itself have anything to do with marriage relationship? It could, but you can’t assume.
- Sincere concern is manifest.
- Aspect of religiosity that is relevant is good character.
How do you find about Good Character?
- How do you find out? From company person keeps and asking people who know the person well. And not just people who know the person superficially. Don’t ask about nice things, ask abut difficult situations. Do they have empathy for others? How do they keep temper etc. Other factors to consider are not denied. (ie- an interest in photography, martial arts,etc) but not primary criteria. Secondary criteria. When push comes to shove, shouldn’t be the primary criteria.
- Marry someone find pleasing in appearance, good character.
- Don’t complicate, otherwise becomes very complicated mathematical equation where you have to please all these people, take into account all these considerations.
Simplicity and Gravity.
If someone proposes to you whose religion and character is pleasing to you, then marry them. Otherwise there will be fitna on earth and widespread corruption.” (Tirmidhi)
- Take seriously, but be straightforward.
- Think of critical considerations and make those the criteria. The more factors doesn’t make a better decision.
- Most people who are unmarried have no clue about what it takes to be married.
- References: ask people whose opinion is worthy of being consulted.
- Supposed to be honest about things that are relevant to what is being asked about.
- Central concern: good character.
- Good to consult. One of the keys. Good not to consult the wrong people.
- Who to consult? Good company.
- If you can accept bad qualities, than that’s good. Don’t ask about how they are nice
- You have a right to try and convince your parents.
- Often parents have real concerns, have to address in right way.
- Have to respond to not what they say, but to their underlying concerns. Have to allay underlying concerns. If you can allay concerns, usually can convince parents. We grow up with a sense of individualism and think I’ll do it myself, but good to involve parents.
How to Find a Spouse?
- If youre looking for someone religious, look in likely places.
- In absence of family, need to connect with religious community. Need community for service, religious concern.
- One of the harms of being disconnected from real community, is the social interactions that come from being part of a community are very different from having individual relationships.
- Need to have relations with people who would assist you in having a spouse.
- Need to invest before get returns. If want to get married, need to take the means. Sayyyida Khadijah may Allah be well pleased with her, proposed, took the means, inquired about the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.
Two key elements:
- Quranic bond: Upholding love and mercy.
- “He placed between you love and mercy” ((Surah Rum, Verse 21)
- Allah places love and mercy, it is you who reject it (Ulama) In other words, it’s there, all you have to do is sustain and recognise it.
- Potential for love and mercy is inevitably there.
- No dictionary of synonyms in Arabic-each word has distinct meaning.
What is Love? What is Mercy?
- How does mawadda differs from mahabba?
- Mawadda: from the depths of the heart. It settles, like a wadi. The love that sustains marriage. Comes from truly caring about the person.
- Mawadda is more than affection. Deeply love someone. Really care. Not just because of certain qualities, you love them. Unshakeable.
- Love that is deep and expressed in care.
- Other quality is mentioned is mercy. What is mercy?
- Mercy is concern for the good of another that is expressed in their conduct with them. Wishing the good for another and giving the good to another.
- Not simply mercy to say “I hope they are able to manage.”
- Good that is expressed in actions to them.
- Rahma, mawadda, are both expressed. Not just inward feelings but expressed in how you deal with the other person.
- Allah has placed potential for love and mercy between hearts. If you are to appreciate love and mercy, both feelings that are not complete until expressed.
- Love requires that you nurture love in attitude and conduct with spouse.
- How? Look at sunna of Prophet peace and blessings be upon him.
- When been away all day. Brush your teeth, fix your appearance before go into your house.
- When go home, first thing to do is to greet family and express that affectionately.
- All kinds of little things.
- Sayyidna Aisha said, that if she drank from a cup, Prophet peace and blessings be upon him would drink from same place.
- Verse from surah Rum, much to reflect on.
The Prophet “the best of good character”
What is good character?
- Inward disposition that causes you to manifest praiseworthy inward characteristics and praiseworthy outward conduct.
- Good character; how you are that causes you to act how you do.
- How good character is manifest:
- Fulfilling rights
- Avoiding harm
- Being cheerful and positive
- Responding to good with good
- Responding to bad with good
- Once in a while should do inventory and see, who has done good to me. And then go and thank them.
- Many people around who do good. Appreciate not just when they do it, but also good in general. Teachers in high school etc.
- Have to develop these qualities before marriage.
The Test of Character.
- How you respond in critical situations. Anger. Negativity. Arguments.
- Not just about looking about these qualities in others, also about thinking about whether these qualities are in you.
Eight Key Values
- Khidmah (service): anticipating the needs of others. Hastening to express the concerns of others.
- Respect: One must respect one’s spouse and their family. Expression of proper manners.
- Empathy: consider not just what matters to you, but how other person sees a situation. One of the great benefits of marriage is sakinah (tranquility) But you must put in effort to sustain this.
- Be Allahcentric: Think about Allah rather than yourself
- Strive for Prophetic response. Uphold Prpohetic response. How would the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, respond to this situation? Part of Prophetic response is to see the potential good in situation. Prophet listened to not only what people said, but listened to their hearts. Doesn’t matter what person saying or doing, how do you respond in way that is pleasing and good?
Remember: Serve with a smile and everything will be fine. Not easy. Sometimes have to suspend a lot of negativity. Sometimes have to fake it till you make it.
How does One Change One’s Conduct?
- Have a standard that one commits oneself to be. This is the standard that I want to adhere to. Then consider, what do those virtues entail I do? Have to develop a reflective personality and reflect on what you’re doing. Just as plan worldly life, plan our spiritual life and conduct as well.
- This is what I need to be working on, so what do I do?
- Plan virtuous conduct in your life too.
Ex: keeping in touch with family. So plan days and weeks to do that. Realize that I ignore neighbours, what do I do? Consult. Sometimes these things are easier than you think to rectify. Simple things. Send them food, invite them over.
General point: Food is one of the safest things you do with anyone. Most relations that is what it takes.
- Set a standard and think how can I work on this? Going to work on this aspect.
- Much of turbulence in marriage due to hasty marriage. Beginning of calm, either say the good (what is of benefit) or remain silent.
- Avoid harm (ex: anger, speech)
- Sustain purpose
- People fall into GSB (General State of Blah). You ask them “Why are you married?”, they say, “That’s a good question” and they don’t know. If you don’t have a purpose, think “Who is this person I’m supporting? Who are those rascals running around my house? And who is this guy I’m feeding? Have to sustain sense of purpose. What is your intention in marriage. Remember benefits, fruits etc. Otherwise easy for negativity and bitterness to set in.
- When find things bleak and really bad, renew intent. Remember purpose.
- Sometimes have to step away from apparent bleakness and see bigger picture. See the opportunities and renew that purpose.
- Make plentiful dua from Quran and Sunnah, and from your own words.
3) Appreciate good. Have gratitude. Whoever is not thankful to people, has not thanked Allah.
4) Express affection. Express emphatically. If you love someone, tell them that you love them. Words. Actions. Appearance.
- Prophet peace and blessings be upon him used to nibble Sayyidna Aisha’s lips. Would take a bath with her. Would still maintain utmost of modesty. Incredible affection between them.
- In marriage, always look to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.
- Sunnah is not just general good. Prophet peace and blessings be upon him gave incredible detail to bring any relationship to life. Told us to frequently give gifts, express concern for things that concern spouse.
5) Look to Prophet as exemplar.
6) Seek counsel. Don’t let problems fester. Consult the right people. The people whose response is likely to be of benefit.
7) Contracts and Rights in the Right Way
- Be clear, whose money is in the bank account. Who owns the car? Have clarity in the right way.
- Contract is significant because it safeguards rights
- Sisters: need to have conditional right of divorce in marriage in marriage contract. If you get in marriage and don’t choose right of divorce in marriage, are a fool.
- Can always renew contract if didn’t put rights in originally
- Either learn or consult.
- Instead of spending time on flowers spend time on your contract.
- Worst kind of marriage is legal marriage where couple just throwing rights at each other. Like two lawyers but no judge.
- Rights are one thing , but want to uphold virtue in your life.
- Sometimes people who have a bit of knowledge, conduct themselves worse. Strive for virtue, while being aware of limits.
Sources of Problems
- Many problems not because of marriage, but because of the way you are with your Lord.
- There is a context with which rights and responsibilities are situated. Otherwise become stones we hurl at each other. Becomes like a war and these are the weapons you have at each side.
Note: When considering someone, someone who did something in the past, they left it, and they no longer do it, of no relevance to you now.You have a right to know about how someone is right now.
Marriage is not a playground where the ego thoughtfully pursues its vanities.(Imam Zaid)
Seven keys to Successful Marriage
- Deepen trust
- Fight fair.
- Be Money Smart.
- Defuse power struggles.
- Make Love not War.
- Team up.
A person of adab is:( according to Sayyid Naquib al-Attas)
- Sincerely conscious of their responsibilities towards God
- Understands and fulfills their obligations to themselves and others with justice.
- Constantly strives to improve every aspect of themselves towards perfection
Try and read him, one of the greatest living philosophers of all time.
Habib Umar bin Hafiz: Keys to Blessed Marriages
- Prophetic model of moderation and simplicity. Marriages that did not celebrate heedlessness Characterized by restraint and balance. Meant to be joyous but restrained. Don’t say I submit to the will of Allah, but not tonight. Starting it in the wrong way is very grave for the long term implication of marriage.
- Avoiding extravagance and waste. Spend within means but also consider whether of benefit.
- Invite the scholars, invite the righteous, invite the poor, invite those who would be typically ignored. Many people who are connected who would be invited anyway. But people without family, invite them. Way of seeking blessing. Sunnah to rejoice but in a way that facilitates remembrance of Allah.
Note: We need religious traditions that are celebratory.Other extreme is no restraint, and If don’t establish good social norms, and if don’t establish halal ways then people will celebrate anyway in inappropriate ways.
Resources for More Learning
- Initiating and upholding Islamic marriage (Hedaya Hartford)
- Seven principles for making marriage work (John Gottman)
1) Rights and Responsibilities of Marriage (Sh Hamza Yusuf) Marriage Series. Beautiful scenic route, but be patient.
Whoever’s beginning is illumined, ending will be illumined. If Way found person is displeasing, engagement displeasing, displeasing to parents etc. And yet hoping for blessing and divine assistance?
Summary: seek Allah in marriage
- Uphold good character in marriage.
- May Allah make us of those who reflect on what we know and strive to implement.
- If you can’t restrain urges before marriage, can’t control after.