Marriage: A call for moderation
If one examines Islamic guidance on various aspects of our individual and collective lives, one realises that believers are called upon to adopt a life of moderation, avoiding all extremes. This attitude is expected in all aspects of the individual’s life, including the celebration of marriages.
Generally speaking, Islamic teachings have certain rules for conducting one’s life. However, considerable flexibility is allowed in the manner in which we behave in our individual and collective lives. This truism is also applicable in the case of marriages. There are certain essentials which must be followed in Muslim marriages: free consent of both the bride and the bridegroom to live as husband and wife, the groom agreeing to give a dower (Mahar) commensurate with his and the bride’s status, announcement of the marriage before a group of relatives and friends, and, ideally, a sermon (Khutba) delivered by the one solemnising the marriage reminding the couple about their obligations towards each other for their benefit as well as the benefit of those who have assembled on the occasion.
Other than what has been mentioned above, nothing is binding as far as the question of formalities of Muslim marriage is concerned. There are no clear instructions given on how marriages should be celebrated. The Prophet (PBUH) arranged marriages and conducted them in accordance with the prevailing customs of his times. Indeed what he did on such occasions epitomised the true spirit of Islamic teachings. However, other than what has been mentioned above, he never made anything religiously binding on the believer in celebrating marriages.
It should not emerge from what has been mentioned above, however, that we are free to conduct marriages in any way we choose to. While we are at liberty to conduct our affairs in accordance with society’s customs, as Muslims we are always bound by the basic rules God has desired us to follow. He wants us to avoid all acts that come within the scope of polytheism, snobbishness, extravagance, and obscenity, and we should also avoid wasting time, consuming intoxicants and placing a burden on others.
Snobbishness and extravagance very often find expression in marriage ceremonies, especially of those who are affluent. This desire to appear superior to others is so hateful in God’s eyes that His messenger (PBUH) is reported to have said that the one who had even a slight hint of arrogance in his heart, will not enter paradise. On being asked as to whom an arrogant person was, he responded by clarifying that he was the one who didn’t allow himself the opportunity to accept the truth that came to him and the one who looked down upon others as inferiors.
Extravagance is a close relative of arrogance. The former can very easily lead to the latter. If one spends more than the acceptable limits one invites God’s displeasure. “Indeed the prodigious spenders are the brothers of the Satan and the Satan is ungrateful to his Lord,” says the Qur’an. The reason for condemnation of extravagance is that the wealth we possess has been granted to us by God to spend on ourselves within decent limits and for the rest to be spent on the needs of the poor. If we spend more on ourselves than what we normally should, we are eating up what was given to us to share with others. While celebrating our functions, therefore, we should avoid extravagance. What constitutes extravagance, however, is a subjective matter; it varies from individual to individual. The ambiguity in this matter seems deliberate. This will allow individuals the opportunity to voluntarily check their spending. If society doesn’t stipulate any maximum limit on spending, the individual should bind himself to a limit and guard himself against transgressing that limit.
Sadly, our marriages are quite often an unnecessary financial burden on the bride’s family. It is the bridegroom and his family’s duty to convince the bride’s family that there is no need to spend prodigiously on the ceremonies and assets which normally accompany the bride to her new home in the name of Jahez. The latter is not just a silly practice but a cause of lifelong worries for a large number of parents and brides. The sooner our society rids itself of this un-Islamic expectation of the bridegroom’s family the better. It is the groom’s religious obligation to meet the financial needs of the bride and the family.
To sum up, Muslim law on conducting marriages is very simple and there are no detailed expectations on how to formally conduct our functions. We have been given liberty to go about celebrating our marriages in accordance with our customs and tastes. However, in no way should our marriages violate the basic principles of simplicity, decency, moderation, piety, and concern for the welfare of others.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 23rd, 2011.