The Holy Quran reads
“And one of His signs is that He has created for you, spouses from amongst yourselves so that you might take comfort in them and He has placed between you, love and mercy. In this, there is surely evidence (of the truth) for the people who carefully think.” (Surah 30, Verse 21)
Marriage in Islam is considered an act of worship. The Prophet (PBUH) regarded marriage as a crucial aspect of his Sunnah. He considered it to be a guiding light for the youth, who are easily led astray, and recommended it to all of his followers to help them lead an honorable life. Ever since, followers of the Prophet (known as his Ummah) have sought to marry young. I, however, never intended to do so and always argued with my mother as a child. The young rebel in me refused to accept that marriage would be my salvation. Of course, having prodigiously dramatic family members didn’t alleviate the situation in anyway, whatsoever.
A blur of frenzy is what I recall of every wedding in the family. The few months leading up to the event were in my opinion, frankly crazy. ‘A parade of the sentenced’, I use to call it; seeing as how the betrothed stood like show pieces on a podium, looking awkward and avoiding eye contact with the rest of us. When the young and hopeless romantic in me yearned to know how the couple met, it was shot down repeatedly by some mention or the other about ‘propriety’. How could something I didn’t even comprehend, something that didn’t even remotely seem romantic, be the one thing I should have wanted most as a little girl?
In Islam, although the practices are clearly defined and the procedures outlined, marriage traditions are culturally distinct and are influenced by a myriad of factors. They range from downright ridiculous and fabricated to pompous. Very rarely do we find marriages practiced with true Islamic ethos, with modesty. This coupled with my teenage angst-fueled my blatant dislike for the entire process. However, my attitude towards the institution of marriage began changing as I grew older. Instead of viewing it through my cynical lens, I decided to try and decipher the complex traditions associated with marriage in Islam and the unique blend that arises with the Indian flare. (I’m an Indian.)
Islam encourages people to settle down and marry; to love, respect and cherish their spouse and to raise children who will seek forgiveness on their behalf upon their demise. Islam regards marriage to be a personal contract between two people. Often, this has led to relationships outside of marriage being considered a sin. ‘How did this misconception come about?’ you ask. In most conservative cultures and religions, girls and boys are not allowed to mingle. A clear and very evident distance is maintained between the two genders and it is their family that decides who should marry whom. Despite popular belief, should two people fall in love and seek the family’s permission to marry, they should not be denied the right to do so. It is, however against the law to marry a Non-Muslim. The Non-Muslim must convert to Islam, and it is highly encouraged that the person fully analyse each aspect of the religion before they make the conversion. It is against Islam to force the religion upon anyone, willing or not.
After the couple deems the match to be suitable, a contract is drawn up usually in the presence of an ‘Imam’. This is the next crucial step in the process. The contract is called the ‘Nikah’ and the ceremony goes by the same name. Both man and woman are asked to repeat their ‘I do’s’ three times and sign the contract if they find it agreeable. It is after signing this contract that the couple is officially considered Man and Wife. As I didn’t have a conventional introduction to Islam as most young children do (by going to special schools or being taught by priests), my sources of exposure were limited to my weekly Islamic studies classes, occasional lessons from either parent and sporadic bursts of interest that propelled me to Google what I was curious about. One thing I had always known however was that Islam empowers women. A woman in Islam is regarded with utmost respect. This is evident when it comes to marriage. Despite the multitude of beliefs associated with the concept of marriage in Islam, to me, this will forever remain the most unique. Islam provides security for the woman in the form of ‘Mahr’. Mahr is the dowry which is paid by the husband to his wife. This may be property, jewelry or money, and is hers to keep and use as she pleases. This acts as a form of security which she can fall back upon, should the marriage turn out to be a bad one. Although after marriage either one among the couple can initiate divorce, the marriage cannot take place without the woman’s consent. Should she change her mind, on the day of the marriage, the marriage will be nullified. The marriage contract cannot be legal unless the woman gives her full consent.
At this point, owing to all of these revelations, my cynicism has greatly reduced. As is the case with most issues in an Asiatic culture coupled with a traditional mindset, religion was almost thrust upon me. It took me a while to adjust to and understand the various complexities associated with it. While as a child, I had never understood the seriousness of marriage or how it would be my salvation of sorts, growing older helped me realize the depth of it all. No longer do I view the prospect of marriage with disdain. The more I discovered, the better I understood how simple the whole procedure should ideally be- without the pomp and glamour that has come to characterize so many weddings. It is neither in the glamour nor in the salvation. It is how one works every day to make the marriage move forward.
I would definitely love to get married one day to the love of my life and I’d most definitely keep it simple.
– Shena Shaikh
Based off Dubai, Shena Shaikh is currently pursuing her Integrated Masters in health psychology at Hyderabad. Broad minded, vibrant and perpetually enthusiastic, she is a lover of art forms and enjoys expository writing