The book comprises of three parts corresponding to marriage’s link to the development of iman, amal and akhlaq of a Muslim, respectively. Each part opens with an introduction to these three conceptsbefore it delves into specific chapters relevant to the concept, practice and refinement of marriage, respectively. Then each chapter expands this linkage in greater detail as we look at the raison d’etre of marriage in Part One, operational issues in Part Two and relational values in Part Three.
The three parts are preceded by a prologue highlighting Islam’s rudimentary message of peace and explains how marriage figures in it as it collectively develops human thought, action and personality. These three parts are then completed by an epilogue identifying the common thread that runs through them all. An appendix is needed to substantiate Chapter 4 as elaborated under “Detailed Content Outline” below.
Many in the target audience may not be very familiar with Islam, perhaps having neglected their religious development or simply new to it. For their benefit, we start the book with an overview of Islam. However, it will not be redundant to other readers as it is angled to mirror our triangular modelisation of Islamic guidance on marriage. To achieve this, we used a hadith which stresses on Islam’s all-rounded development of the human mind, body and soul.
The prologue argues for a holistic approach to marriage where observance of its syariah should be balanced with constant awareness of our aqidah as peace-seeking servants of God and earnest embodiment of our akhlaq of harmonious co-existence with one another. This sets up the stage to delve into the purpose, workings and embodiment of marriage in Parts One to Three respectively.
PART ONE: MARRIAGE AND FAITH
Part One begins the book proper by situating marriage in the Islamic belief system or aqidah, spelling out its purpose in God’s grand scheme of life. This leads to its underlying purpose of sanctifying, celebrating and utilising the formative values of the sexual experience to create exclusive environments conducive for the cultivation of human souls with noble values and virtues.
Chapter One: The Nature of Islamic Marriage illustrates how its conceptual significance in the Islamic worldview shapes the nature of marriage as practised in Islam. However, it begins with clarifying the nuances of its obligatoriness, reflecting the fact that it is, after all, only one of the many God-given tools of vicegerency. Explaining the full spectrum of its necessity is meant to help readers determine if marriage is indeed for them.
Expectedly, we cannot exclude that infamous feature of Islamic marriage: polygamy, as it continues to be misunderstood, misrepresented and misused today. We also feel the need to discuss same-sex marriage too as homosexuality is increasingly pushing the boundaries of normality among Muslims today. The congruency (or not) of these forms of marriage to the underlying purpose of Islamic marriage needs some deliberations.
Above all, this concept of marriage as an instrument of peace is based on verse Ar Rum 30:21 proclaiming its end goal as tranquillity, love and mercy. Part One would instil a sense of purpose in the heart of couple wannabes as they enter into marriage. And it also serves as a key reference point as they look into the Islamic legal systems associated with marriage in Part Two.
PART TWO: MARRIAGE IN PRACTICE
Part Two opens with an introduction to the syariah of marriage. Then it sets out to show how its immutable and flexible elements allow it to evolve with time and changing socio-economic circumstances while remaining consistent to its eternal divine guidance.
We open it with Chapter 2 regarding its initiation and close it with Chapter 5 regarding its termination. In between are topics we identify as most urgent for couples to hit the ground running after their wedding. After all the lofty ideals of marriage in Part One, this is to bring them back to earth with the message that tranquillity, love and mercy will not come into marriage on a platter but requires ground rules to delineate accountabilities and regulate behaviour because putting two sovereign individuals under one roof is likely to bring out the inevitable conflict, friction and stalemates which are threats to harmony.
Chapter 2: The Muslim Wedding aptly opens Part Two explaining the procedures and deliverables that signify a couple’s legal status as husband and wife. The chapter consists of two sections. The first deals with the nikah requirements which are generally wajib in nature while the second the walimah which is sunnah. It ends with a discussion on symbolic connections between elements of the wedding and responsibilities within the marriage. Along the way we touch on the need to welcome cultural and contextual varieties of Muslim weddings, as long as it keeps within Islamic standards of conduct.
Chapter 3: Roles, Responsibilities, Obligations deals with marital gender roles. Many studies, which we footnoted in the chapter, attribute greater conflict in modern families to the loss of “traditional patterns” of decision-making even as they acknowledge the inevitability of contemporary gender-blind socio-economic realities challenging its viability. This chapter addresses the obstinacy at both ends of the traditional-modern divide in gender role perceptions. Our underlying standpoint is that both extremes are Islamically valid if we look beyond their popularly received forms of manifestations and return to their original principles.
To deliver this standpoint, we break the chapter into three major sections. The first explains marital gender roles as a paradigm which balances the singularity of its accountability system with the mutuality of its common responsibilities and the complementarity of its specific obligations. The second section shows how within this paradigm various family management and maintenance scenarios can function Islamically – or otherwise, to what extent. The third finishes with a big-picture as to how this paradigm balances stability, order and flexibility to guide generations of Muslim families set up home.
This onslaught of values from tradition, contemporary thought, academia, even arts and entertainment are messing up many young couples as they struggle to set up home. It is hoped that with a wider overarching perspective on gender roles, they can actually regard these “onslaught” as a rich source of ideas instead for them to learn from as they would know what to take and what to avoid based on how Islam intends gender roles to be understood and practised.
In this chapter, we will also underscore the interconnectedness of marital syariah and marital akhlaq. Here, we will show that certain issues will come to a head and cannot be resolve purely on legal terms. One example is the resolution of stalemates in decision making. That discussion in this chapter is made to adjourn to Chapter 7 where the ethics of family relationship is illustrated as the best chance for resolution of stalemates.
Chapter 4: Managing Family Resources deals with money issues. If gender role issues are a major root cause of couple conflicts, money issues are one of the most common manifestation of unhealthy undercurrents between couples. While it is more of a symptom than a root cause, it often has the capacity to exacerbate any root cause as it concerns the very survival of the family. For that reason, although the subject matter is money, this chapter deals more with attitudes, outlooks, principles and strategies pertaining to wealth rather than the actual business of making money for the family.
The chapter is broken into five sections. The first two sets up the chapter by explaining how wealth figures in Islamic aqidah as another resource for our life mission on earth and subsequently, how the syariah inculcates a responsible behaviour which places the community’s well-being as important as that of the wealth-owners’ and their families’. The first two sections are important to explain why the general principles of family financing discussed in the third section are what they are. Namely, lawful acquisition of wealth, its responsible spending and the redistribution of excesses through specified and voluntary charity are principles specific to family financing but are in line with the general syariah pertaining to wealth.
The fourth section discusses the common pitfalls that plunges couples into financial problems which we enumerate as cases of unconscious failure to upkeep the principles discussed in the third section. With case examples, we illustrate how couples often indulge in debt, excessive usury, gambling and financial recklessness unknowingly. This is largely buoyed by the prevailing debt-loving, usury-ridden modern financing culture which is widely embraced today almost by default. In contrast to this culture which promises the high-life early, we present a refreshing look at the Islamic ethos of delayed gratification through affordable living and a sense of sufficiency.
To impress on young couples that this Islamic ethos has actual benefits in this world too, we did an exercise in the Appendix: “The Million Dollar House Chase”, using actual bank spreadsheets and other mathematical calculations. The exercise shows that a young couple living affordably while continually upgrading as their family and career grow would acquire their dream house much earlier and cheaper than another who commit to a long-term mortgage for an equivalent dream house soon after their wedding. All of this is due to the nature of compound interest which robs borrowers off their hard-earned money, almost unknowingly.
But again, we stress the need for balance. This section is not about cutting off from the modern financial infrastructure, which may be indispensable to most Muslims today. Rather, it is about awareness of the pitfalls of this system and finding alternative ways to minimise its negative impact on our daily life.
The last section is close to a coaching section on how budgeting and accounting can be done and used as a strategy to keep an overall picture of the family’s needs, luxuries, future plans and contingencies that they can see at one glance, monitor and adjust. The chapter then concludes by calling couples to undertake family financial management as a joint effort and see it as part and parcel of the bigger economic system in Islam which together gives appropriate weight to community, family and individual growths alike.
Chapter 5: Divorce and its consequences aptly closes Part Two with issues and procedures surrounding the termination of marriage. However, this is not about normalising, let alone encouraging divorce. On the contrary, knowing the nature of Islamic divorce early in marriage will enhance a better sense of responsibility and wisdom in addressing conflicts instead of taking the easy way out. We do this in six sections.
The first section condenses the mechanism of a marital breakdown into three key factors cross-referencing with the mutual and complementary aspects of the marital gender roles paradigm discussed in Chapter 3, which figure as two of the three key factors. It ends by cross-referencing with Chapters 7 and 8 which deals with ethics of couple dynamics, recommends relevant books for dealing with cracked relationships and Quranic guidance in times when a breakup prove inevitable despite efforts to reconcile.
The second section illustrates that divorce is not the easier way out of marital conflicts, by enumerating the long list of follow up responsibilities and chores that follow formal divorce. This is followed by the third section which enumerates specifically the religious, legal and moral prerequisites which must be met before a formal divorce can even be considered. After which, the fourth section explains the key features of an Islamic divorce like its verbal proclamation, verbal reconciliation, irrevocable circumstances, types of divorce and so on.
The fifth section illustrate the rationale behind Islamic divorce system which is quite different from other divorce systems. Here, we link its process of termination with that of its initiation as well as its hierarchical system in the marriage proper – namely the personal accountability between husbands and Allah s.w.t, before it trickles down to wives.
Lastly, despite being a grave discouragement against divorce, the chapter ends in the sixth section with consolatory words based on verse an Nisa 4:130 for divorcees to look forward to Allah’s care and providence and encourages post-divorce harmony, because especially if kids are involved, they need this for their own growth and development. Besides, there are always second chances.
Through these four chapters of Part Two, we familiarise couples-to-be and newly-weds with the most urgent syariah topics for them to know and show the value in balancing their multifarious facets. The ultimate aim is to instil confidence among them that looking out for each other’s rights will not deprive either of them off theirs but rather enhance their collective interest instead.
PART THREE: MARRIAGE REFINED
Having established the tranquillity-love-mercy ideal as the end-goal of marriage in Part One and advocated a balanced observance of its prescribed guidance towards it in Part Two, Part Three completes this holistic approach to marriage by looking at their actual effects on couples’ relationships.
It is an important reminder that noble aspirations and earnest efforts are not assured means towards this end-goal. Instead, it requires couples to closely monitor and constantly review the resultant quality of their relationships and make necessary adjustments, improvements or maintenance until these end-goals are truly embodied in every aspect of their marriage, life and personalities.
Part Three opens with an overview of ilmul akhlaq or the formative process of an Islamic disposition, its objectives and methodologies. Marriage is one of the most potent instruments of akhlaq formation because the family is the best environment for cultivation of values and parents the best moulder of characters. So, this part focuses on two aspects of relationship, namely couple dynamics and “adjustment, conflict and decision-making” as one interlinked subject.
Chapter 6: Couple Dynamics is about the Prophet’s examples and teachings concerning husband-wife daily interaction which exudes a sense of tranquillity, love and mercy. That should be a no-brainer, except that the trendy notion of a loving relationship as necessarily tumultuous and passionate is getting more air-time these days through popular arts and entertainment, influencing young and veteran Muslim couples alike. So, the chapter introduction puts this popular notion into perspective before discussing the Prophet’s sunnah in four sections.
The first enumerates and explains these sunnahs. The second and third each is an introduction to, as well as a little coaching section on, exchanging feedback and effective communication; two basic skills which we routinely have to coach squabbling couples. If mastered early in marriage, these skills will minimise the teething problems in putting the prophetic examples into practice. A feature discussion under the second section is “nagging” and how to snap out of this habit.
The last section looks at some latent pre-marriage factors which are often brought into marriage thereby impeding even the most well-meaning couples from developing a harmonious relationship. Using case examples, we discuss how such stumbling blocks can be turned into stepping stones towards marital harmony.
Chapter 7: Adjustments, conflicts, decisions obviously discusses these three issues. But it is not organised according to them per se because “conflict” is inevitably intertwined into the other two. Instead, the first section addresses general adjustment issues – those to be expected of the individual and the couple, respectively. A feature discussion in this section is how social media is replacing real connectedness with virtual connectedness among contemporary couples and its hindrance to the adjustment process.
The second section addresses specific adjustment pertaining to cross-cultural, or in other words new and born Muslim, coupling – because very likely, this book will be one of a very limited range of English books on Islamic marriage for new Muslims.
Handling of conflicts is intertwined with these two sections as well as the third section, which is about decision making principles based on the Quran and sunnah. A feature discussion in this section is about “compromise” – a relook at this oft-given advice which we find damaging to couple dynamics in the long run. A second feature discussion here is about a proposed code of conduct in times of a stalemate. This is a discussion we promised in Chapter 3 under “Accountability System”.
Using a journey as a metaphor for life and the destination for life Hereafter, a vehicle purpose-made for this journey is a fitting metaphor for marriage. In this way, the epilogue sums up the intricate connection between Islam’s development of human thought, action and character to marriage’s purpose, practice and refinement. The book closes by welcoming readers into married life and encouraging them that the continual learning process in marriage can be a source of joy as much as it is of purpose, guidance and nurture.