Modern Ideas of Marriage
Marriages have changed a lot in the past few centuries. Once upon a time, marriages were used to forge alliances and unite families. Marriages were also good for children into the world.
But with the advent of Hollywood and movies and television, marriage has become an expensive, overly romantic, storybook affair.
The unfortunate thing about such unrealistic portrayals of marriage is that they inevitably led to disillusionment, unhappiness, and unmet expectations. And then divorce. To the point where almost half of all marriages in the United States now end in divorce.
These same flawed views have entered the minds of some in the Muslim world as well. Islam intends for marriage to be a vehicle where two humans can express their natural inclinations. Children are also a natural benefit of marriage as well. And on a personal level, men and women compliment each other.
For most Westerners, when two people are ready to get married, they need only agree on the arrangements and prepare themselves to live with each other for the rest of their lives. There are very few legal restrictions on marriage in most Western nations, except that the participants be of opposite genders.
Unfortunately, even that requirement is slowly eroding.
Marriage in Islam: The Requirements
However, Islam gives strict conditions for marriage that cannot be swept away by legal precedents and changing popular norms. Let’s look at what a marriage in Islam entails.
Offer and Acceptance – A marriage is similar to a transaction. Before anyone can get married, there has to be a proposal. The man must offer a marriage proposal to the woman, and she must request. By the way, I’m well aware that force marriages occur in some Muslim cultures, but these are not prescribed in Islam.
Dowry (Mahr) – The man must give the woman a gift of her choosing. She has the right to make it very exorbitant or very simple. She also has the right to insist on it before marriage, or accept it afterwards. Whatever her decision, it is a debt the man owes her until it’s paid.
Guardian (Walee) – The unmarried woman must have a Walee or male guardian to conduct her affairs with the groom. Islam does not allow men and women to mix freely outside of marriage. Therefore, most of the details of the marriage are handled between the groom and a male guardian, or walee, of the bride. The walee may also vet the groom to make sure he’s acceptable.
Witnesses – In order for a marriage to be accepted, there must be witnesses. As I’ve alluded to earlier, Islamic marriages are similar to business transactions. Therefore, witnesses are required who can testify that the above conditions were met.
The Controversy of Polygamy
One of the most controversial aspects of Islamic marriage is the issue of polygamy, or more accurately, polgyny. Basically, Allah has allowed Muslim men to marry up to four wives.
Now I’ve known and met hundreds if not thousands of Muslims in my lifetime. The vast majority of Muslim men are only married to one woman at a time. The financial, emotional, psychological burden of being married to several women is certainly a hindrance to practicing polygamy.
But of course, there are many Muslim men, and yes some in America also, that are involved in polygamous marriages. Sometimes these marriages work wonderfully. And sometimes they do not.
Despite the negative publicity and general aversion to polygamous marriges, there are several benefits to them.
There are some benefits to polygamous marriages.
- Lets face it, some men have voracious sexual appetites. Men often need more than one woman to satisfy their lusts. Rather than force them crush their natural desires or commit adultery with prostitutes and “weekend wives”, they can marry a second wife instead.
- If a man’s first wife is barren, he can stay married to her and still have children with a second wife. Rather than divorce his first wife or succumb to living without progeny.
- There are always more unmarried women than men. Men are taken off the market for several reasons.
- Men die earlier from stress and heart attack.
- Men commit more crimes and are imprisoned more often.
- More men join the military and are killed in battle.
- Men generally tend to marry later and marry younger wives.
For these reasons, there are often more unmarried women especially after later ages.
Marriage And Modern Thought
Of course, going into polygamy is not easy, and it is highly recommended a man discuss this with his wife before going forth. Even though a man is not required to get her permission, it is best that they at least try their best to mitigate any potential problems.
As for the wives in these marriages, I understand it may be a difficult thing to accept. However, it is something that Allah has allowed and there is wisdom behind it. Patience and acceptance of Allah’s will and command is the only true path to happiness.
For non-Muslims who may look down upon polygamy, keep in mind this practice was allowed in the Bible. There were several prophets (including Abraham, Isaac, and Solomon) who had multiple wives. Furthermore, there is no verse in the Bible that prohibits polygamy. Instead, this prohibition is a man-made device that has been added to Christianity.
And I live in a country that openly supports homosexual relationships and is very close to national acceptance of homosexual marriage. How ironic, that an act that is expressly prohibited in the Bible is gaining more acceptance amongst the populace than one that is expressly permitted!