To romance or not to romance before marriage is an important issue. The
Islamic marriage is not an inviolable sacrament. It is a human-made contract subject to
conditions. Our marriage rules reflect the world of Islam in a microcosm. It is
simultaneously very personal and very social. The principle, the content, and the process
of initiating a marital contract and leading to a conjugal life have, at the very core,
the desire to achieve orderly happiness and success for the couple.
Islam is not prudish about love or sex. It is, as always, given to
calling a spade, a spade. There is no pervasive semantic juggernautism about personal
freedom, privacy, etc. When Islam relates to these issues, it does so in a very real and
meaningful way. It takes a bottom line approach. It ferrets out the cost-benefit of the
whole process and steadfastly disallows any dichotomy between principle espoused and
practice displayed. Internal consistency is of paramount importance in Islam. There is a
whole series of thumb rules for millions of trusting faithfuls like us. They work to
organize our lives like magic. These rules of thumb give us true bearing in life. Islam
neither promises nor leads any one to El Dorado-- the fool's paradise. Islam's paradise
exists and is realizable. And millions of us know that. That is why ours is a permanent
love affair. Our Deen is truly our lifeline.
If ever there was an invisible hand guiding anything, it is that of
Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala. This Invisible Hand recognizes unequal information leading to
either or both falsification of facts prior to exchange, and cheating after contracting,
and opportunism as events warrant and power permit, and so forth. That is why His rules
are so comforting. They are so real and wholesome. All in all, they are dependable. If we
must have a long-term relationship with anybody, we must make sure that the person is
dependable. Since the rules of Islam are so dependable, it is very easy to forge a
permanent relationship with it, even after 1400 years.
Islam brings this dependability to the process of marital union. This,
in turn, has given almost every eligible adult muslim/muslimah at least one shot at a
stable and gratifying heterosexual relationship. Muslims look forward to marriage with a
passionate eagerness. Perhaps, it verges on ecstasy. However, since our society is not
quick on revealing private thoughts, this part of our psyche has not undergone any
scrutiny. But the ecstasy exists. Believe me! At least, I, for me, was ecstatic.
As Salat is at the core of our spiritual life, marriage is at the core
of our sexual and social life. We are supposed to learn about care and fairness, and
justice and kindness through our conjugal association. The rules of marriage cover the
entire spectrum of human needs and behavior (good or bad), from divorce to death, from
impotency to widows and orphans, from infertility to infidelity. It is because there is a
wide latitude of choice; the scope for voluntarism abounds Islamic marriage. It is always
possible to walk out of an Islamic marriage, but not some partaking of a fair share of the
residual responsibility. That is why, when proven, infidelity carries the death penalty.
That is why, also, Islamic marriage is a complex contract. All forms of contingencies are
covered under it.
Is the death penalty a crude anachronism in a so-called progressive
religion? Au contraire. It is a signal to all to understand that the most fragile element
in the universe, is the human spirit. Although the soul lives on forever (since it is a
part of Allah), during its worldly sojourn, it harbors the human spirit--the feel of life.
This feel is born out of our exposures and our experiences. When in a marriage we trust
our partners, we are in a way allowing him or her to affect this spirit permanently. If
he/she breaks that trust with an extra-marital fling, despite the prior-contractual
allowance for any partner to void the relationship if there is a feeling of inadequacy in
the union, then a grievous injury has been perpetrated. If this Deen has really set any
value on human life, then the life of the violator stands forfeited. Not only that, if the
Islamic form of marital contract is to avoid becoming an obsolete contractual form, this
clause is unavoidable. We can replace a burnt down house, a stolen car, and so on.
However, can ever replace a love betrayed?
In Islam, the family is a cell in the society. There is a kinetic
relationship between the two. Synergism is the theme song of Islam. As well-adjusted
families bring purity and stability to the Ummah, other qualitative macro aspects of the
Ummah (such as, political order, economic well being and equity) also promote a
non-disintegrating family structure. As an example, one any think about the reasons for
the reemergence of the dowry system, they may perhaps be traced to general illiteracy and
poverty, and sectional wealthiness of and conspicuous consumption by dominant minority
groups. What I seek to point out here is that, just having an Islamic marital law does not
necessarily guarantee its proper utilization. So, when so-called Islamic marriage
collapses, let us not lambast our Deen. The failure is rooted in us. Our digressions from
the totality of the Islamic mapping are at the root of any and every type of scourge
facing us currently.
My initial plan was to write about pre-marriage handholding, dating,
and so forth. Clearly, it is not allowed. Some may have done it in some form or another.
But there is always room to make amends for the old as well as for the young. It is little
wonder that we perceive Allah as the Most Merciful. It is true, also, that our society has
not been functioning in an Islamically synergistic fashion. So, without pointing fingers
at anyone, let me clarify the substantive differences between an arranged marriage and a
Any successful marriage must have big dollop of both Ying and Yang
(haven and earth). Compatibility is the earth of marriage, while romance is its haven. In
an Islamic marriage, compatibility is not a function of search and experimentation. Search
and experimentation, if prolonged too long, may and does easily degenerate into
disillusionment with this process and its goals. It may render the habits and mental
disposition to alter so radically that the values the participants are searching in their
potential partners--reliability and constancy--may no longer be their own strong personal
features to offer in the process of exchange. Romantic search of the modern kind makes sex
a part of the public domain, thereby effectively reducing the need for marriage, (it is no
longer an absolute must) to be a responsible signatory to the contract. Thus, this form of
freedom both encourages treachery and allows the scope to be unfaithful. The data clearly
shows that, otherwise responsible and fair-minded citizens, in both sex groups, and all
income, occupation, race, ethnic, and age brackets are either victims, or perpetrators, or
both of such divisive events.
It is indeed a strange contractual procedure, which gives away its
rewards long before any discussion of a contract surfaces. The purpose of marriage has
become rather obscure. Its social role has become suddenly undefined. Indeed, the cult of
ego has pulled the carpet out from under the institution of marriage. In an Islamic
marriage, for example, when just two pairs of parents are involved, two hundred years of
experience can easily enter the decision-making process. So, the human capital element and
the restraint structure really enhance the success probability of such unions. If the
parents and others make sure about age, education, and other preferences of the potential
bride and groom, then uncertainty is further reduced.
In one way, the Islamic marriage is more modern than most modern
romantic marriages. Since the newly weds are mostly new to each other, they may easily
start off like match light to gasoline--the first physical contact! Not only that, most of
the time, the burden of arrangement of expectation and promises, of constantly trying to
live up to some shared imageries) and of finger pointing owing to failures are far less
sever in an arranged marriage. As the number of participants increase, risk sharing
increases, and the chances of the marriage surviving and taking-off increases. Everybody
has a reputational and a psychological stake in making sure that the marriage succeeds.
Since the principle players understand the predicaments they and their wards are likely to
face owing to a botched search, or contract, or both, the combinatories are expected to be
Last but not the least, the evolution of the nature of modern romantic
marriage has its roots in the continued delay in the age of marriage. Once the age of
marriage was naturally paired with the age of consent. Now, with increasing
permissiveness, the two have diverged. To ask young people to suppress their sexuality
without any promise of marriage may be asking for too much, especially with increased
education and economic freedom from parents), job opportunities for women, geographic
mobility, parental preoccupation with their own careers, and ever increasing display of
promiscuity in the society in all its nuances. The modern method of pushing the age of
marriage to double that of the onset of puberty may not actually improve the quality of
life. Muslim parents and thinkers should weigh the pros and cons of this social policy
option very seriously and find practical alternatives.
[The author is an economist and teaches at Mankato State University,