“Marriage is part of my tradition. Whoever is capable but refuses to marry is not part of me” Prophet Muhammad (SAW)
This article is being recalled here today due to popular demand. When it was first published in this column sometime ago, many Muslim couples in Nigeria saw it as a true mirror of their matrimonial homes. Many others took it for a matrimonial handbook capable of serving as a guide for the conduct of their homes. Yet, many who missed the article at that time and only heard of it from others have since been calling for its repetition in this column. And because of the value it may add to Muslim homes and the role it may play in resolving conflicts in those homes, ‘The Message’ decided to re-publish it here today for the benefit of all and sundry. Here it goes:
“A radical 20th century India-born British journalist and novelist, George Orwell, wrote a famous allegorical fable entitled ‘ANIMAL FARM’ in 1945. His tacit focus in that novel was mainly on the Russian revolution of 1917 which he satirised venomously. While writing the novel, that social critic never thought that any possible ripples could arise from it which might have a backlash effect on the entire human social life in the 21st century. But ironically, with the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), in the early 1990s the real exoteric application of that book has become manifest on the entire social life of today’s mankind. This will be explained shortly.
Perhaps no institution in human life is as temporally or spiritually valuable as marriage. This is an indisputable fact across nations, races and religions. Marriage is the main axis around which the continuity of human existence on earth rotates. It is the pivotal source of decency or clear cause of malfeasance in any given society. Without marriage, human societies would have been like Orwell’s Animal Farm. And were Orwell alive today he would have probably redirected his attention towards the matrimonial homes globally.
Through the media, we read and hear of dissolution of marriages in our customary courts, everyday, as if dissolution is the main character of marriage. And the impression often created in the media through the names of the involved couples is that these dissolution affect only Muslim marriages. What is most disturbing in this development is that the local courts which dissolve those marriages were never involved in their consummation ab initio. And yet marriages dissolved daily without passing through any court are uncountable. Nowadays, the rate of dissolution of marriages is by far higher than the rate at which marriages are consummated. At least, going by the local customs of the various tribes in Nigeria one can conclude that marriages are conducted weekly throughout the country as against the daily occurrences of divorce.
There is a pertinent question here: What is the role of religion in marital life? Most marriages in our society are consummated in Mosques or Churches because majority of Nigerians claim to be Muslims or Christians. Yet the same Mosques and Churches turn their backs when those marriages begin to collapse and pretend not to know that the homes of their adherents are crumbling. Isn’t a major duty of religious bodies to maintain tranquility in the society? How can societal tranquility be maintained without matrimonial stability?
Some people define marriage as a legalisation of intercourse and procreation of children without any reference to its divine sanctity. Others call it a social contract culturally or legally consummated between two consenting mature people of opposite genders. The latter definition is also silent on the obligation and responsibilities of such a union. In Islam, marriage is much more than both definitions. It is on one hand, a promise made by the male gender who is soon to become the husband and on the other, a trust personified by the female gender who will soon become the wife in the custody of the husband. It (marriage) is an agreement between two families aimed at creating an avenue for continuity of social life through a common social venture jointly managed by the two representatives of both families in their bid to set up a home of their own. In the life of any serious human being, three events are fundamentally essential. These are birth, marriage and death. The three form the axis around which the entire human life rotates. All other events are peripheral.
Throughout the world today (Nigeria inclusive), marriage has become a balloon which can be casually inflated in one minute and deflated in the next minute. It has been taken for a mere chess game played for the fun of the players as well as that of the onlookers. To most Nigerians today, marriage is only as important as dining, wining, singing and dancing. And to many young couples, it is just a legitimate means of actualising sexual urge that would have been perceived as a social aberration without passing through a formal matrimonial communion.
In a public lecture delivered in Lagos sometime ago, yours sincerely compared a marital couple to a pair of scissors which has two blades. Each of those blades faces a different direction. The one faces right while the other faces left. These positions are not naturally interchangeable. Yet, with the nuptial tie knotting them together in the middle to seal their common destiny, the two blades jointly work assiduously in their move to certify the essence of that togetherness.
If you look at a pair of scissors very carefully, you will discover that the two blades therein sometimes stick closely together and sometimes stand out separately. Their meeting and parting randomly accentuate the essence of their togetherness. Through those meeting and parting, the two blades of the pair of scissors communicate effectively and mutually function dutifully. There is a marital lesson for human beings to learn from this. No husband can play the role of his wife. Neither can any wife play the role of her husband. The separation of powers in the matrimonial home has been naturally ordained.
Just as the two blades of a pair of scissors face different directions but work intimately together so should any marital couple be. If the blades stick together permanently without opening and closing, the tendency is for them to rust away and become useless to each other. And, if on the other hand, they stay apart permanently thereby leaving the scissors in permanent open position they will never be able to jointly carry out the assignment for which they are manufactured. Thus, through random meeting and parting of those blades, the pair of scissors is able to perform its duty without any hindrance. And as the blades grow older, they become weaker and less active. So is the situation with marital couples.
Unfortunately today, marriage has become like the country called Nigeria where projects are hurriedly executed to satisfy the secret (under the table) terms of contract without any consideration for the quality and maintenance of such projects. When two young people of different genders and backgrounds are coming together to form a couple, they hardly think of the implications of such a union in terms of individual differences and the possible challenges that may emanate from those differences. Young couples of today perceive love either from beauty point of view or from endowed wealth or even from pleasure of sexual intercourse. And that is a way of turning infatuation or possession of material wealth or sexual enjoyment into love which is usually the cause of marital collapse.
In marriage, love develops only gradually with mutual understanding especially when it becomes evident that one spouse accommodates the weaknesses of the other through tolerance and compromise. The attraction which beauty or wealth or intercourse engenders can only at best generate tentative LIKENESS and not LOVE in the real sense. This is where the foundation of divorce is often laid even before the consummation of marriage. There is nothing called love in a matrimonial home in the absence of thorough study and understanding of each other as well as compromises and tolerance. It is not enough to claim mutual understanding through mutual study during courtship. No matter how long it may last, the period of courtship can never be enough for any couple to fully understand each other. That period is usually to impress each other while the tendency to pretend is often disguised.
Marriage is a serious business which must be seriously negotiated initially by the concerned couples and their parents. At the courtship stage, the concerned couple must not only discuss the modalities of coming together as husband and wife they must also negotiate the factors of sustaining their marriage through proper maintenance of the home. Any marriage without a programme of maintenance and sustenance will become like dew used by a farmer for watering crops into fruition.
In his recommendation to men searching for wives, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said: “Wives are married on the basis of four factors: beauty, wealth, family background and faith”. He however emphasised (Islamic) FAITH as the strongest factor for Muslim couples. He did not recommend such factors to women knowing the difficulties that women might face in making choice of men but he strongly recommended that a woman’s consent in a marriage involving her be considered as germane. The Prophet then concluded that any marriage without such consent is invalid.
Marriages are globally collapsing at an alarming rate today because couples and their families have closed their eyes to two key factors in maintaining the matrimonial home. These factors are COMMUNICATION and MUTUAL RESPECT. No marriage can ever survive or succeed without a thorough pre-marital counselling by parents, guardians or religious clerics who must not only tutor potential couples but also demonstrate practically to them how marriages are sustained using their own marriages as examples. Newly married couples often dream of building their homes on the models of certain older couples in the society. The consummators of new marriages in the Muslim community must be part of those models.
There can be no matrimonial peace in the absence of adequate communication between husband and wife based on mutual respect. Nothing signals the collapse of a marriage more than the breakdown of communication in the home. A marriage without communication is like a house without door. Of course, the children from such homes are mostly the victims of any ensued divorce. If a marriage is initiated and consummated with communication, how can anybody think that such a marriage can be sustained without communication?
The real essence of marriage is for husband and wife to disagree in order to agree, not the other way round. And in the process of disagreeing or agreeing, communication is the only key instrument without which the home can never remain intact.
Any couple that closes the matrimonial door to communication has surely opened that door for divorce. Even divorce, whether through mutual agreement or through court injunction, must be communicated in one way or another to both parties.
In Islam, one of the most potent ways of ventilating communication in the home is to worship and pray together at least twice in a day (morning and evening). A Muslim husband must at least be knowledgeable enough to lead his family in Salat and to preach and pray for such family daily. Through such worship and prayer, many knotty matrimonial issues are untied. And besides, the children will learn to be good-mannered and to resolve disagreements among themselves. That is why Muslims are urged to acquire knowledge about their religion. The spate of divorce in any society today is much higher among the ignorant couples than the knowledgeable ones.
By remaining indifferent to the rate of divorce among Nigerian Muslims, the Mosques are shirking one of their foremost responsibilities. It has been said repeatedly in this column that Mosques are not meant for Salat alone. As a matter of fact, Salat can be observed congregationally or individually anywhere that is clean and not necessarily in a building called Mosque. A Mosque in Islam does not have to be a building if its purpose is just to observe Salat. That is why Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said “the entire earth has been made the Mosque for Muslims once it is purified”.
One of the fundamental duties of a Mosque is to sanitise the society by finding resolution to conflicts. And since no conflict can be more devastating to any society than that of the matrimonial homes it becomes incumbent on every Mosque to have a Conflict Resolution Committee constituted by learned scholars and headed by an Islamic jurist.
As a duty, the Imam of the Mosque must also be well educated enough to educate the congregation in his Mosque on the need to take their matrimonial conflicts to the Mosques or Shari’ah courts where such conflicts can be solemnly resolved rather than to customary courts where marriages are dissolved with fiat. Matrimonial conflicts are not new to any modern society. What seems new and worrisome about them is the geometric leap they are taking these days.
The very first conflict in human history was over marriage. And that was the conflict between the first and second sons of Adam (Qabil and Habil) otherwise known as Cain and Abel over the choice of wife. And the genesis of the perennial disagreement between Muslims and non-Muslims of Semitic origin in the world today was the matrimonial rivalry between the two wives of Prophet Ibrahim, Zahrah and Hajarah, (Sarah and Hagar).
If the Mosques cannot resolve conflicts arising from the marriages they once consummated to save Muslim homes, what other conflicts can they claim to be resolving? It is embarrassingly shameful to see hundreds of Muslim marriages demolished by customary courts while the Mosques keep aloof.
Today, Nigerian society is prone to danger of insecurity mostly because of matrimonial instability. And the more marriages are consummated, the more matrimonial homes crumble. Who, then, will save the society by saving our matrimonial homes? That is the biggest question of this time which is begging for a very positive answer. The security of Nigeria as a country depends very much on the stability of matrimonial homes. That is why emphasis should rather be laid on stability of homes than on distribution of contraceptives for the purpose of reducing procreation. There can be no peaceful nation without peaceful homes. God bless our homes.