Marriage is a significant event in one’s life as it involves beginning a new life with a lifelong companion, however its connotations, meaning and importance varies depending on from which perspective it is considered. In today’s Western society weddings are portrayed as ‘the big day’, an expensive and lavish affair devoid of any commitment. The differences between Western and Islamic marriages which will be elaborated on, will reveal that the former has contributed to many problems which exist in society whilst the latter is a source of comfort, harmony and happiness in society.
Western society does not promote marriage predominantly because it has no value seeing as morality has been replaced by instant self-gratification. Consequently sex before marriage, one-night stands and homosexuality have become the norm whilst marriage has become an undervalued institution. The British government has also failed to encourage people to marry, despite the chant of ‘back to basics’ slogans.
Marriage in the west is an extremely extravagant and expensive event. Services and products such as brides magazines, bridal suites designed specifically for weddings are popular as the idea that the wedding should live up to the image of the ‘big day’ is advertised. Weddings, like so many other events, has become a purely commercialised occasion. The purpose and importance of marriage has been demeaned as the wedding day has become the main centre of attention with little or no thought paid to the actual marriage itself.
It seems that the marriage itself is not expected to last because divorce is regarded as a highly probable event as more couples insist on pre-nuptial agreements. This fatalistic and negative attitude does not stop there as people do not want to commit themselves to another person by getting married, instead the ‘HIV test’ has become the new marriage. The HIV test is the twenty-first century form of commitment and is taken by couples who want to be ‘serious’. In order to manifest this ‘serious’ attitude to their partner, the HIV test is taken to show that each partner is coming clean and promising fidelity to each other and thus revealing to their partner that they have no intention to engage in promiscuity.
It is not only the West that has commercialised marriage as many countries in the third world have also imitated the west by focusing on organising expensive weddings. Weddings have become an ideal opportunity to show off one’s wealth and it seems that this has become the only purpose of the weddings. There is also a lot of pressure on people to conform to the expectation of having a very elaborate and costly wedding.
Countries like Pakistan have incorporated traditions and customs which are alien to Islam such as the bride’s family giving money to the grooms family, free mixing between males and females at the wedding ceremony and marrying people from a particular ‘caste’. As a result of adopting the capitalistic attitudes of the west and following non-Islamic traditions, many people in Muslim countries have encountered problems which have hindered the process of marriage or become obstacles in the way of marriage. Some of these problems include oppression of the poor as they cannot afford to give the dowry money, organise a huge wedding for a large number of people and buy costly jewellery and clothes.
The only means by which these problems can be completely eradicated is through the implementation of and adherence to Islam. The whole attitude and value of marriage in Islam is entirely different. Islam differs from monastic religions that condemn sex as a ‘sin of the flesh’ because it recognises that one of the basic instincts that appear in men and women is the urge to procreate and feel attraction to members of the opposite sex. Thus Islam has provided a method to channel and fulfil this instinct, giving detailed guidance which results in a system that is in harmony with human nature.
Islam forbids unmarried men and women from having intimate relationships outside marriage, whereas the west does not adopt this view and thus the consequences are manifestly apparent by the huge number of problems that exist including rape, abortion, infidelity, single parents, economic problems, depression, suicide, the emergence of AIDS and an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.
Relationships between man and woman in Islam are based on a sense of responsibility and mutual respect, where there is no place for irresponsibility, immorality and exploitation. Allaah (swt) says, “And among his signs is this, that the created for you mates from among yourselves that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts undoubtedly, in this are signs for those who reflect.” [EMQ 30: 21]
Marriage is highly recommended in Islam, especially for those who have the means to do so i.e. those possessing maturity, ability to support a wife etc. It is a noble action and Islam has praised those who engage in it. Anas bin Maalik reported that the messenger Muhammad (saw) said, “When a man gets married, he has fulfilled half of his Deen, so let him fear Allaah regarding the remaining half.”
The Prophet (saw) affirmed that Allaah (swt) will help those who married to preserve their chastity, saying, “There are three who have a right to the help of Allaah: the one who marries out of the desire to live a chaste life, the slave whose master has agreed to his buying his freedom when he wishes to pay the sum, and the one who fights in the cause of Allaah (swt).” (Ahmad, an-Nasaa-i, at-Tirmidhi, Ibn Maajah, Al-Haakim)
The fact that Allaah (swt) has promised His help to those who marry for a good purpose means that it is not befitting for a Muslim to refrain from marriage out of fear of poverty or not being able to meet his obligations. A Muslim must make the effort to find the financial means to support a wife e.g. getting a job, borrowing money or obtaining it in other halaal ways and Inshaa-Allaah he will see the help of Allaah (swt). Allaah (swt) says: “And marry those among you who are single, and the virtuous ones among your slaves, male and female. If they are in poverty, Allaah will enrich them out of His bounty.” [EMQ 24: 32]
In Islam, the contract of marriage is called Nikaah. It is a contract between the man and woman of which all the pillars and conditions must be fulfilled for it to be correct and valid. The Nikaah is easy and simple, and does not require the spending of thousands and thousands of pounds in order for it to be valid. A part of the marriage agreement is the mahr (dowry) which is paid by the man to the woman and not reverse, as is the case in some other cultures.
This in itself removes many problems for families in the East. Quite often the arrival of a baby daughter in many Muslim families is met with contempt and derision because parents feel that when it is time for her to get married, they have to give money to the groom’s family, buy expensive jewellery and indulge in other costly purchases. It is quite clear that the implementation of Islam would effectively eradicate these problems as these trouble inducing practices are not a part of Islam but Eastern and capitalistic culture.
Islam recognises that there are physical and mental differences between man and woman. A husband and wife are companions for each other, and they have clearly defined roles within the family. The husband is responsible for the economic maintenance of the family and the wife is responsible for the management of the household. The woman’s wealth is her own and it is the husband’s responsibility to feed, clothe and shelter her and the family.
In Islam, marriage is a valid institution through which an unrelated man and woman can have an intimate relationship with each other. In the west having a relationship with any person before marriage is accepted, tolerated and promoted whilst marriage itself has become devalued. This is one of the reasons why society is in its current pathetic degraded state, afflicted with a vast range of problems and diseases. The source of these is ignored and not even examined, in lieu the problems are treated with temporary ‘solutions’ or just swept under the carpet and attributed to being a part of today’s modern, hectic and fact paced lifestyle. The only solution which would permanently remove these problems and ensure they do not re-occur, as well as injecting harmony, peace and justice to society in all areas of life not just in marriage, would be the implementation of Islam in its totality.