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Marriage from the Viewpoint of the Sufis

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The Sufis have contradictory attitudes toward marriage which keep us from drawing general conclusions. Yet the mystical (Sufi) Islam, contrary to the rigid orthodox Islam with its theoretical content, was able to shape different and wide-ranging sectors of the Islamic societies with its own mould. It was able to do so through its diversified nature that blended with the social background of the country. It is worth noting, therefore, the positive and the negative opinions of the Sufis on marriage.

Those who elevate the value of marriage to the level of absolute duty base their position on the Hadith and the evident Qur´anic fact that God never mentioned an unmarried prophet in His Book. They said, "John married but did not have sexual relations. He did that to receive the high status [of a married man] and to carry out the tradition. It was also said [that he did so] in order to keep himself from looking [lustfully]. As regarding Jesus, he will get married when he comes back to earth and will have children."(1) In a hadith mentioned by Ghazzali, Muhammad says, "If you receive a man whose religion and trust you approve of, marry him off. If you do not do so, a temptation there will be in the land and a great corruption."(2) According to a weak hadith, Muhammad said, "He who marries for God, and marries someone off for Him, is worthy of God's patronage."(3) In a tradition by Ibn Abbas, Muhammad says, "The piety of the pious one shall not be made complete until he marries." Al-Ghazzali comments on it, saying, "Maybe he made a part of piety, but the more evident explanation is that he meant that one should not yield one's heart to overwhelming lust except through marrying. Piety shall not be made complete except by the emptiness of heart."(4) He ascribes to Ibn Mas'ud the following statement: "If I had only ten days left of my life, I would like to marry so that I should not meet God single." Mu`ads Ibn Jabal narrated that "two wives of his died by the great plague, and he too was afflicted with it. He said, 'Marry me off; I hate to meet God single.' "(5)

It was related that a servant [of God] among the ancient nations excelled his contemporaries in worship. His good worship was thus described to the prophet of his time: "What a good man he is! It is only that he leaves out a part of the tradition." The servant was distressed when he heard it, and asked the prophet about it. The prophet said, "It is marriage that you left out." The servant was distressed again and said, "I do not forbid it, but I am poor and am dependant on people." He replied, "I will marry you to my daughter." So the prophet married him off to his daughter.(6) Bishr Ibn al-Harth said, "Ahmad Ibn Hanbal has been preferred to me for three reasons: He seeks that which is lawful for himself and for others, whereas I seek the same for myself only; that is due to his numerous marriages, and my few marriages. And because he has been appointed an imam to the public."(7) It is said that Ahmad married the second day after his wife, the mother of his son `Abdullah, died, and said, "I hate to stay single for one night." Bishr Ibn Yaminiya said, "`Ali was the most devout among the Companions of the Messenger of God, yet he had four wives and seventeen concubines. Wedlock is a standing tradition and one of the qualities of prophets." It has also been said, "The superiority of the married one to the single one is the same as that of the one who goes out to war (Jihad) to him who stays behind."(8)

It is not surprising, however, to find opinions in the Sufi literature that are antagonistic to marriage, since withdrawal and abstinence from the world are of the most important pillars of the Sufi ethics. It has been pointed out in the previous chapter how some jurists proved that wedlock is not an obligatory duty by means of the Qur´anic verse that speaks of John as being celibate and one of the "honourable" (Sura Al Imran 3:39), yet those who support marriage argued that he married but did not consummate the marriage. As to Christ, there is an ample number of traditions that speak of his marriage after his second coming. Such tales and justifications try to establish marriage as an institution in Islam, on the one side, and to justify Muhammad's harem, on the other side. The Qur´an is not sufficient to prove God's aversion to marriage, and since there is no sound tradition that suggests that, the ascetic quotes, above all, the weak tradition that says, "As to the words that were given as warning against marriage, Muhammad said, 'The best man after the two hundred is the light, sandal-shod man who has neither family nor children.' He also said, 'There will come a time upon people when the perdition of man will be by the hands of his own wife, parents, and children; they will taunt him for his poverty and demand of him that which he cannot bear. So he will enter upon things that destroy his religion and make him perish.' "

One tradition says, "The lack of children is a cause of abundance, and the abundance of children is a cause of poverty." Abu Sulayman al-Darani was once asked concerning wedlock, he said, "Enduring without them is better than enduring them, and enduring them is better than enduring the Fire."(9) He said also, "The one who is alone enjoys the sweetness of work and the emptiness of heart that the married one cannot enjoy." He said once, "I saw none of our companions who married and remained in his first status." He said also, "If anyone seeks these three things, he is relying on this world: Livelihood, marrying a woman, or the books of Tradition."(10) Al-Hasan said, "If God wishes good for one of His servants, He occupies him with neither family nor possessions." Ibn Abi al-Hawwari said, "A certain group of people debated concerning this hadith, and they settled on the supposition that it does not exclude them, but means that he could have them, provided that they do not occupy him." This is a reference to the statement of Abu Sulayman al-Darani: "Whatever family, possessions, or children that divert you from God, will be inauspicious for you." All in all, no one has been quoted as forbidding wedlock (nikah) categorically, except when there is a condition. As to commending wedlock, it has also been quoted as being commended under a condition.(11)


The Characteristics of an Ideal Wife

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Considering the importance of marriage, it was natural for jurists to describe the favourite characteristics of the wife carefully, so that the ideal goals of marriage, as they view them, should be achieved. These desirable characteristics that a wife should possess could be summed up as follows:

1. The woman should be less in age than the man, so that she should not age quickly and be unable to conceive. She should be less in esteem, power, honour, and money since men are to support women (Sura al-Nisa´ 4:34) and protect them. We read in narrated traditions of Muhammad that he said, "A woman is married for four things, i.e. her wealth, her family status, her beauty, and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman [otherwise] you will be a loser."(1) "Do not marry women off for their comeliness; their comeliness may lead them to perdition. Do not marry them off for their possessions; their possessions may lead them to domineer. Marry them for their religion. A black, believing slave is better than a beautiful free women who does not believe."(2) The woman should not be tall or gaunt, short or ugly, or have bad manners. She should not be old or have a child from a previous marriage. She should not be a slave if the man can marry a free woman.(3) Al-Jaziri, however, keeps silent on the issue of the good characteristics a man should possess in order for him to be an ideal husband for his wife!

A younger wife is the tradition (sunna) of Muhammad. "The Messenger of God married me when I was seven years old" `A´isha said, (Sulaiman says six), "and consummated the marriage with me when I was nine years old."(4) Muhammad died when she was eighteen years old.(5) Muhammad's marriage with `A´isha has always been a problem for the jurists, for they do not unanimously agree on the marriageable age of the girl:

Concerning the issue of consummating the marriage with [a girl under age], it was said that she should not be slept with before she attains puberty, but it was said in al-Bahr al-ra´iq that she can be slept with at the age of nine. The majority of Imams are of the opinion that the issue of age plays no role in this respect, and that the criterion is that the woman should be physically fit and big enough to accommodate men, and consequently there would be no fear that she would get sick if she is copulated with, even if she has not reached the age of nine. But if she is thin or gaunt and cannot bear sex, and is in danger of getting sick, her husband is not allowed to sleep with her, even if she is of age- this is the sound opinion."(6)

In a book entitled al-Furu` we read the following, "The best state for a woman is between the age of fourteen and twenty. Her maturity is made perfect at thirty, and she stops at forty, and declines after that."(7)

2. Besides youth, she should preferably be a virgin. Muhammad said, "Seek virgins; they are sweeter of mouth, have more productive wombs and can be contented with the least."(8) When Jabir told him he married a matron, he said to him, "Why not a virgin that you should play with her?"(9) This inequality between the virgin and the matron also manifests itself through Muhammad's own treatment of his wives. Anas Ibn Malik narrated, "If Muhammad marries a virgin he stays with her seven days. If he marries a matron he stays with her three days. This is the tradition."(10) Marrying a matron is permissible if a man is in need of doing so; for example if he has children who need to be raised up by someone who is used to raising up children, or if he is old to a degree that puts a young virgin off and thus intimacy between them will not endure.(11)

3. The jurists not only touched upon the qualities an ideal wife should possess, but went so far as to list the offensive characteristics and faults she should not have. Man's defects that forbid or abolish his marriage are basically these three: madness, castration, and incontinence. Yet woman's defects are enumerated and accounted for in detail. The main defections of woman are seven: madness, elephantiasis, leprosy, cornu, breathing difficulties, and lameness.

Madness is the corruption of mind to the extent that one's decisions becomes erratic owing to passing incapacity and not due to fainting bouts, in which one's decision-making remains the same.

Elephantiasis is the disease that causes stiffening of the organs and rending of the flesh. It is not the same as losing energy, having nodes in the face or roundness of the eyes.(12)

Leprosy is white spots that appear on the surface of the body due to the domination of phlegm.

Cornu is a bony protrusion in the vagina that prevents sex. But if it does not prevent sex, marriage may not be dissolved because there is still a possibility of enjoyment, but it is also acceptable to dissolve marriage because of it in keeping with the outward meaning of the tradition.

Lameness is still debatable whether it could be included among the causes of divorce; but it is certain that it dissolves marriage in case it makes the woman an invalid.

According to some, blockage of the vagina is one of the defects that involve divorce. This may be correct if it prevents sex to start with, as it deprives [the man] of enjoyment when it is impossible to remove it, or when it is possible but [the woman] refuses to submit to medication.

There are no other defects that a woman can have apart from these seven.(13)

In another tradition, Muhammad said to Umm Salim as she was looking at a certain woman, "Smell her shoulders and take a look at her heels."(14)

4. Beauty is a quality that should not be neglected when looking for a wife. A weak tradition teaches us that looking at a beautiful woman sharpens and strengthens eyesight.(15) As mentioned previously, man marries a woman for either of three things: for her beauty, her family status,(16) or for her religion.(17)

`A´isha narrated, "The Messenger of God betrothed a woman from Kalb [tribe]. He sent me to look at her, and asked me, 'How did you see her?' I said, 'I saw no use in her.' He replied, 'I saw a mole on her cheek that caused each of your hairs to stand on end.' I said, 'There is no secret hidden from you.' "(18)

5. It is also agreeable that her bridal gift should be appropriate. Muhammad said, "The marriage that has the greatest blessing is the one that is suitable to provide for."(19)

6. Yet being "fertile" is the most important quality a woman must have. Ma`qil Ibn Yasar narrated, "A man came to the Prophet and said, 'I fell in love with a woman of great beauty and family status; but she does not conceive, shall I marry her?' He replied, 'No.' The man came to him again, and the Prophet forbade him. He came to him a third time, so the Prophet said, `Marry the amiable, fertile one; for I will vie the nations in number by you.' "(20) Al-Jaziri says, "It is better that she [the wife] be fertile; because a barren one cannot carry out the function of reproduction which is necessary for human society."(21) We conclude this chapter by quoting the first benefit of marriage that occurs in Ihya´ `ulum al-din:

Children: They are the original purpose of marriage for which it has been established, and it is for perpetuating offspring so that the world would not be empty of mankind. Lust, however, was created as a stimulating motivation, as is the case with male animals in the production of seed, and the female ones that make cultivation possible. Thus they are gently led to produce a brood through copulation. The same principle is used in scattering grain, which birds lust after, in order to trap them into the net. The eternal power [of God] was not incapable of forging people afresh without cultivation or copulation, but Wisdom required that effects should be dependant on causes, though these causes can be done without, so the power [of God] should be manifest, the wonders of His creation should be made complete, and to accomplish the foreordained purposes of [divine] will. It is a safeguard from the calamities of lust, in that none of them wished to meet God unmarried. In the achievement of offspring, there are four aspects of closeness: The first is being in agreement with the love of God by achieving offspring to preserve mankind. The second is seeking the love of the Messenger of God by increasing the cause of his boasting. The third is seeking the blessing of one's good offspring after one dies. The fourth is seeking intercession by the death of a young child, in case this child dies before his father.(22)


The Marriage Contract in the Islamic Sharia

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After studying the position of marriage and the characteristics of the ideal wife, we would like to quote from the sources of jurisprudence (fiqh) how the marriage contract is concluded, and the conditions necessary for it. Wedlock under ordinary circumstances is the tradition of Muhammad, as mentioned previously, which is established by the narrated traditions of Muhammad and his personal behaviour in this area. The Hanafites hold that wedlock can be a religious obligation, a duty, a tradition, as well as a prohibited and abominable thing. Wedlock is a religious obligation for the person who is sure to fall into fornication if he does not marry. It is a duty, as well, when someone is eagerly desirous of it to the extent that he fears falling into fornication. It is a sure tradition for those who have the desire and are moderate. Yet, wedlock is prohibited if it is sure that illegal gain will ensue from it, and it is an abominable thing when the person feels so but is not sure of it.(1)

Nikah has two elements without which it cannot be fulfilled: the first is al-´ijab (response), which is the utterance coming from the guardian or his substitute, and the second is qubul (consent), which is the utterance coming from the husband or his proxy.(2) As regards the conditions for wedlock, which are listed by some jurists among the elements of wedlock, they are usually mentioned in minute detail. We will, therefore, list them briefly.

The first condition pertains to the form. There are certain terms used to conclude wedlock. Some of them are spoken, such as "I marry you," "I wed myself to you," or "I marry you to my daughter." Some are by indirect declaration of intent (kinaya), such as "I give myself to you," or "I make myself a freewill offering to you." The second condition is called the union of session or gathering (ittihad al-majlis), which necessitates that the two parties involved in the marriage contract should be in one place, since there is no wedlock through recommendation or in writing. This latter condition can be rendered invalid in case the contract is concluded on the back of a moving animal for example, or if the contract is concluded while the two parties are walking. Then it is not binding by reason of the changeability of place. If the marriage is concluded on board a ship, however, while it is sailing, the contract is valid since a ship is considered a place.(3)

Wedlock is valid only in the presence of witnesses. The least number of witnesses required for wedlock is two people. One alone will not do. They don't have to be men; they can be one man and two women. Yet it is not valid by women only, there must be a man with them.(4)

There is a unanimous agreement on prohibiting marriage with mothers, daughters, sisters, paternal aunts, maternal aunts, and nieces. Grandmothers are included with mothers, and granddaughters, even if they be far related, are included with daughters. The analogy applies for the maternal and paternal aunts of both parents, the daughters of nephews and nieces, if they are truly related. There is a general agreement, as well, on prohibiting marriage with foster mothers and foster sisters. Those who follow the literal meaning of the text (ahl al-zahir) and most of the Kharijites advocate it, but most of Islam prohibits it, which is the right stance. There is agreement also on prohibiting mothers-in-law, step-mothers, daughters-in-law, and step-children. There is an agreement, likewise, on prohibiting marriage with two sisters, but disagreement on prohibiting marrying two sisters who are under the control of one's right hand as a marriage of enjoyment. There is a disagreement on prohibiting marriage with a woman and her aunt. All those who disagree on any point that has been a matter of controversy among the older generations of the nation in respect of wedlock- such as prohibiting or permitting a certain woman, or a certain controversial condition of wedlock- such as the witnesses, the terminology, and the guardian- do not rank with the unbelievers.(5)

In addition to what has been mentioned previously, Muhammad prohibited his companions and all the people from ever marrying his wives after him.(6) The Qur´an says, "It is not for you to hurt God's Messenger, neither to marry his wives after him, ever; surely that would be, in God's sight, a monstrous thing" (Sura al-Ahzab 33:53).

All opinions and interpretative judgments regarding whether the guardian should obtain the permission of the bride concerning marriage are irreconcilable, and what they call isti´dsan [asking permission] is in fact a mere formality since her silence, if she is a virgin, is her permission. So her crying can be considered as silence, which is a sign of agreement, since crying indicates extreme shyness!(7) Nevertheless, if a father marries his daughter to a suitable husband wedlock is established, even if the daughter dislikes the man, and regardless of her age, because a father can marry off his young and crazy children and virgin daughters without their permission.(8) A guardian, as well, can marry off a virgin or a crazy girl without her permission. A grandfather can do the same. The contract is rendered invalid only owing to impotence and castration.(9) Competence (or compatibility) is one of the important conditions for marriage. Competence is defined as equality of the man with the woman, which has six aspects in the view-point of the Hanafites: family status, Islam, profession, freedom, religion, and possessions.(10) Competence has to do with man, not the woman, since Muhammad married women of different family status and denominations, yet none of them were compatible with him.(11) A man who has a free Muslim father is not the same as a man whose father and grandfather are free Muslims. A woman can be divorced if she marries a man who is not her equal, even if her guardian receives a bridal gift that indicates his assent.(12)

When performing the marriage contract, the bridegroom must pay a bridal gift or a marriage portion in the presence of the bride's guardian. It is preferable to fix the bridal gift (mahr) during the contract, yet this is not a necessary condition for the validity of the contract. As soon as the bridal gift is agreed upon, the bridegroom has to pay mahr al-mithl, which is a sum of money that suits the living circumstances and differs according to the bride's family status and descent. It also differs according to her mental state, age, and beauty. If the man wants to dissolve the contract, he has to pay back half of the bridal gift.(13)

go to CHAPTER 12 - Polygamy

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