Family is considered by Islam as the nucleus of society and marriage is the only way to bring about this institution. Islam condemns and prohibits in its entirety extra-marital relations and encourages marriage as the only lawful way through which family can be established; hence, the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (peace be unto him) encouraged youth that have the ability to marry as soon as possible. Addressing the youth, the Prophet said: “O young people! Whoever among you is able to marry, should do so, and whoever is not able to marry, is to fast because fasting diminishes sexual desire” (Bukhari).
The most important of the restrictive regulations of Islam are those relating to marriage, which institution is, the basic principle of human civilization.
ARABIC WORD FOR FAMILY: The Arabic word for marriage is nikāhor zawājwhich means uniting or wedding respectively. Marriage in Islam is a sacred contract which every Muslim must enter into, unless there are special reasons why he should not. Thus in the Qur’ān it is said: “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, Knowing. And let those who do not find a match keep chaste until Allah makes them free from want out of His grace” (Q24:32 – 33). In another verse, marriage relationship is given the same importance as blood-relationship: “And He it is Who has created man from water, then He has made for him blood-relationship and marriage-relationship” (Q.25:54). Tradition also lays stress upon living in a married state.
The Prophet is reported to have said to certain people who talked of fasting in the day-time and keeping awake during the night, praying to Allah and keeping away from marriage: “I keep a fast and I break it, and I pray and I sleep, and I am married, so whoever inclines to any other way than my tradition, he is not of me” (Bukhari). nMuslim jurists have interpreted the Qur’ānic verses on marriage to mean that it is a religious duty and is consequently a moral safeguard as well as a social necessity. 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. The predominant view among the jurists is that, although marriage is a social necessity, it is not absolutely necessary for every individual.
Hence, they have developed a rough typology to classify individuals with regard to their marriageability from the point of view of religion. First, some individuals are apprehensive that abstinence may lead them astray. For these, marriage is a religious duty because they must guard against illegitimate sexuality, and marriage is the natural mechanism of such moral protection. Second, some individuals are capable and desirous of sex but are not so apprehensive of excess; they anticipate no irresistible temptation or lack of self-control. For these, marriage is preferable to abstinence and even to supererogatory devotion, which is voluntarily undertaken to uplift a person’s spiritual and moral state. Third, there are individuals who lack potency, for some reasons. In this case, marriage is still considered preferable to abstinence because marriage under such conditions will defeat its purpose and deprive the female partners of the moral protection they need and the fulfillment they merit.
Although Islam advocates marriage and takes various measures to regulate its functioning, it seems to have realized that marriage is not a light commitment. A person must be fairly certain of his ability to meet the responsibility of marriage before taking a spouse. It is true that in Islam poverty is not barrier to a successful marriage; Allah has, as the Qur’ān puts it, undertaken to provide for every living creature, and He can, and has promised to, enrich the poor mates of His bounty. But, at the same time, Islam recognized that it may not always be possible for everyone to have at his disposal the means to marriage. There can arise obstacles of various kinds and problems of varying magnitude. But Islam’s response to these is not in the direction of celibacy, laxity, or aversion to marriage and sex altogether. Rather, it prescribes several specific measures, the last of which is resort to self-discipline and temporary abstinence in the hope that the assured help of Allah will be forthcoming. The Prophet intimated that whoever can marry should do so, but he who cannot, should practice voluntary fasting, which helps him to safeguard his moral integrity and to assume command over his desires. The immediate implication of all this is probably that neither sex nor marriage is dismissed easily or taken lightly.
It is only logical that Islam sets up the rules to regulate the functioning of the family whereby both spouses can find peace, love, security and relatedness. The elements are necessary for accomplishing the greatest purpose of marriage – the worship of Allah. By worship it is not only meant the performance of rituals merely having sex with one’s spouse, but it essentially implies righteousness in all transactional behaviour. The concept of worship is very wide. Every good deed, every service to humanity, every usual productive effort, and even every good word is a part of a true Muslim’s worship of his creator. If both husband and wife observe this main purpose, this cardinal purpose of their union, they would easily learn how to help each other achieve this goal – a goal greater than themselves. They would learn how to tolerate each other, how to love Allah in themselves and in other beings, and how to overcome their difficulties and their shortcomings.
Marriage in Islam brings about the objectives of family in any society. There are, therefore, some objectives that are legal in Islam which Muslim family is required to obtain in marriage.
Such objectives include:
Marriage satisfies man’s innate need for sex. This is what brings about the tradition of the Prophet (peace be unto him) earlier referred to which states: “O young people! Whoever among you is able to marry should do so, and whoever is not able to marry, is to fast because fasting diminishes sexual desire” (Bukhari).
It completes one’s religion based on the tradition of the Prophet which states that marriage is half of one’s religion. The Prophet said: “He who marries has completed half of his religion, so let him fear Allah with regard to the remaining half.”
It provides the community or society with sound offspring. The Prophet said: “Marry the loving, child-bearing women, for I shall have the largest number of followers among the prophets on the Day of Resurrection.” Therefore, seeking to have sound children is one of the fundamental objectives of marriage. This is why many people get worried when pregnancy is delayed and seek Allah assistance through prayers. Prophet Zakariyyah prayed to Allah to grant him a child, saying: “Do not leave me heirless Lord, You are the best provider of heirs” (Q.21:89) and “Lord, grant me by Your own grace virtuous offspring. You are the hearer of all prayers” (Q.3:38). So, the purpose of having a family is to have ‘righteous’ offspring not just any offspring. The Prophet confirms this in his words: “Choose well for your children and seek to marry the competent.”
Marriage helps to raise competent individuals to assist in building society through knowledge, work, promoting virtue and forbidding vice.
It helps in establishing model families to which other can look up to and emulate – families that follow the prophetic guidance and prove that Islamic teachings are not hard to achieve but rather they are reasonable and stand as a reality with real living examples. This is the ultimate goal of any family as expressed in the invocation from the Qur’ān: “An those who say, ‘Our Lord, grant us from among our wives and offspring comfort to our eyes and make us an example for the righteous” (Q.25:74).
Marriage gives room for producing healthy children who will help their parents in their old age and pray for them after their death. This is why Prophet Zakariyyah called upon Allah saying: “Now I fear my kinsmen when I am gone. (I have no hope of their continuing my mission) for my wife is barren, so grant me a successor from Yourself, to be my heir and to be the heir (of the blessings) of the House of Ya‘qub; and make him, O my Lord, acceptable to you” (Q.19:5-6). The Prophet also mentions that: “When a man dies, his work comes to an end, except for three things: ongoing charity, knowledge (by which people) benefit from, or a pious son who prays for him” (Muslim).
In view of the above, marriage is considered as a very important institution in Islam. Being the basis for the foundation of any society, Islam stipulates guiding rules that will make marriage an all embracing institution which will be a home of comfort and happiness to the partners in the union. As much as Islam prohibits extra-marital relations and abhors celibacy, it provides marriage as a means through which legal sexual intercourse can be made with the main purpose of loving one another and for procreation.
Dr. Kola A. Makinde contributed this piece from the Department of Religious Studies,
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife\
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