Seeking Tranquility

May 30, 2013

The Qur’an not only provides a romantic image, but also reveals practical ways to achieve this ideal by explaining how believers should conduct their personal affairs and relationships.

 The Qur’an highlights certain qualities as characteristics of believers, qualities that are important in ensuring healthy relationships with others, such as being patient, just, honest, trustworthy, generous, kind, humble, and compassionate.

 The Qur’an uses romantic, beautiful, and spiritual language when describing the creation of man and woman and their relationship as spouses to inspire us to realize its lofty ideals. God tells us that “among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility (sakinah) with them, and He has put love (mawaddah) and mercy (rahmah) between your (hearts)…” (30:21). The image generated here, one of peacefulness, comfort, and warmth, also defines marriage as normative, one of God’s signs, and part of the lifestyle that He wants for His creation. Such a depiction is certainly encouraging and hopeful for those contemplating marriage.

But how do Muslims bring this beautiful image to life in their own lives? The sakinah mentioned eludes many Muslim, who find their marriage fraught with conflict and disharmony. Couples in marriage counseling often express their disappointment and frustration with unmet expectations and shattered dreams; feelings of being misunderstood, unappreciated, unloved, and insignificant; and, sometimes, how their spouses oppress and abuse them. At times, it seems that both separation and divorce are becoming epidemic among Muslims.

 The Qur’an not only provides a romantic image, but also reveals practical ways to achieve this ideal by explaining how believers should conduct their personal affairs and relationships. This general guidance should form the basis for how spouses treat each other. In addition to the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) shows Muslims how to prepare for marriage, choose the right spouse, conduct the marriage ceremony, manage conflict, and even end the marriage when necessary. To understand the Islamic paradigm of marriage, it is useful to look at the creation story. God created us “from a single soul, and from that soul, created its mate” (4:1). In other words, He created men and women as inherently equal, for they come from the same substance. Recognizing this equality is critical for a proper understanding of the spousal relationship. Many Muslim couples have forgotten their divine origin, which has frequently enabled men to become the “superior” partner and usurp more authority than what is needed to establish and then maintain a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship. God created women and men for the same purpose: to worship Him. Each human being has the role of khalifah (vicegerent) on Earth, which consists of living according to the divine will and implementing God’s teachings. God outlines the independent relationship that each person has with Him and informs us that He watches, holds accountable, and rewards each person according to his/her deeds, according to the underlying intentions.

 Different by Design

 It is no accident that men and women are different: “O humanity, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in God’s sight is the most righteous (one) of you. God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)”(49:13). Even though God made each human being from the same substance, He deliberately created each gender with unique attributes. Contemporary authors and researchers have spent a great deal of effort and energy to understand the different ways in which men and women communicate, think, emote, and behave. Sometimes these differences lead to challenges in relationships, with spouses feeling that they are from different planets. Understanding these differences can lead to an appreciation of what each spouse contributes to the marriage as well as insights into what each one values and needs most.

In 49:13, God states that He created two genders in order for each one to “know” (ta‘aruf), not to “despise” the other. Knowing requires listening, learning, being curious and nonjudgmental, and appreciating the differences and strengths the other person brings to the relationship. To really get to know each other, spouses must spend time together; share stories about their childhood and upbringing, ideas and opinions, visions for the future, hopes and aspirations, and challenges; communicate their needs, wants, and expectations; and take the time to discover each other’s interests and hobbies, likes and dislikes. Finally, they should convey their respect for each other, recognizing that God has put the differences in each gender for a purpose.

Mutual Friends and Protectors

 According to the Qur’an, “the believers, men and women, are protectors (awliya’) one of another. They enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil” (9:71). This verse does not refer to husbands and wives, but to men and women and describes a type of relationship rooted in belief (iman) and worshipping God. In other words, it indicates Muslims’ mutual responsibility for helping, protecting, and encouraging each other to fulfill God’s teachings. This is the foundational relationship in Islam, especially the marital relationship. However, some couples seem to forget that friendship is the basis of the marital relationship, to such an extent that they perceive the other person as the enemy.The Qur’an explains how we should interact with each other, communicate (e.g., emphasizing the long-term benefits of saying good words, avoiding any insulting or mocking language), respect each other’s privacy, avoid suspicion and spying on one another, and on countless other related matters. It also teaches us to respect each person’s right to choose his/her behavior and lifestyle: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256).

The Qur’an highlights certain qualities as characteristics of believers, qualities that are important in ensuring healthy relationships with others, such as being patient, just, honest, trustworthy, generous, kind, humble, and compassionate. Believers also restrain their anger and work for peace. When reaching a decision, they consult each other (shura) and seek advice from those who may be more knowledgeable or have a different perspective (42:37-38). We are to implement these instructions and guidelines in all of our interactions with each other, especially with our spouses. Unfortunately, however, it often seems easier to treat others according to these teachings and ignore them when it comes to our spouses.

The Prophet’s life illustrates this type of friendship with his wives. Even though he was superior in terms of knowledge and faith, the Qur’an says that he was ultimately a human being. He let others express their opinions freely and be autonomous individuals. He did not impose his will or authority on his wives, but interacted with them in a manner that reflected mutual care and love. For example, he turned to Khadijah (radiy Allah ‘anha) for comfort when he first received the Revelation; openly showed his affection for A’ishah (radiy Allah ‘anha) and knew what made her happy and what did not; spent time with each of his wives and knew their unique qualities and virtues; and conveyed his respect for all of them to others. In one incident, he rejected a dinner invitation several times because the host did not include A’ishah. Most important, he listened not only to his wives but to anyone who spoke to him. He taught us that listening is the key to understanding and “knowing” another person.

John Gottman, a well-known expert on marriage and author of “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last” (Simon & Schuster: 1995), studied thousands of couples for approximately twenty years. At the end, he concluded that the best way to prevent divorce is to establish a strong friendship.

Getting Married

When considering a marriage partner, Islam emphasizes selecting spouses who are believers and who will help each other attain His pleasure by fulfilling the role as khalifah. The emphasis on marrying a believing spouse cannot be minimized. A common belief in God and His teachings provides a common ground on which to fall back during times of conflict, disagreement, and dispute. Each person can refer to the Ultimate Authority and regain perspective by turning to God during difficult or challenging times.

Marriage is highly encouraged in Islam. A commonly cited hadith states that it is half of one’s deen (reported by Ahmad). The family unit, considered the cornerstone of Islamic society, is the key to having healthy societies. The Qur’anic guidance about the type of relationship that God expects married couples to have is conveyed in beautiful and inspiring language: “They are your garments, and you are their garments” (30:21 and 2:187). Clearly, this relationship is to be one of mutual satisfaction and comfort, one that can fulfill each other’s needs. There is no reference to one person being the primary object of fulfillment and the other the primary source of fulfillment. Nor is there any emphasis on one spouse being created primarily for the other one’s enjoyment. These two verses describe a relationship of partnership, collaboration, cooperation, interdependency and, most of all, love and care. In addition, they address the relationship’s emotional aspect. Some people may be surprised that a divine book could be so attentive to natural emotional needs.

Over and above these beautiful ideals and romantic descriptions, the Qur’an also provides practical details as to how this loving couple should live, as well as a structure and framework within which each partner can fulfill his/her obligations to the Creator and to living in this world. As the Creator, He endowed each creature with different abilities, strengths, and capabilities. Therefore, we should not compare ourselves or envy each other because in the end, the blessings balance out. One person may be very smart, while another person may be less intelligent but far more caring and loving. Another person may by physically strong but unable to bear any display of emotion. A person who is physically weak may be full of innovative and creative ideas.

God assigned men and women different roles and, in order to fulfill those roles, gave them different strengths. For example, God assigned men to lead the family (qiwamah): “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more (strength) than the other and because they support them from their means” (4:34). Many Muslim cultures have used this verse to establish a hierarchical familial structure that features an authoritarian husband and a submissive wife, despite this verse’s clear meaning: men are responsible for taking care of women financially and serving as a pillar of strength and support for them. This verse neither strips women of their intellectual capacity, autonomy, or independent role of khalifah; nor does it encourage husbands to become tyrants or dictators.

Immediately after the first sentence in this verse, God refers to the women’s relationship to Him as “devoutly obedient” (qanitat): “Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient [to God] and guard in (the husband's) absence what God would have them guard.” This sentence defines a woman’s primary duty as obedience to God and not to her husband, as some Muslims assume. It is important to understand this concept, because if the husband recognizes his wife’s duty to maintain her independent relationship with God, then the proper boundaries of his authority will be observed. In other words, he cannot interfere with her duties to God, interpret these duties, or hamper her spiritual growth and/or education. In addition, this boundary reminds people that God, and not the husband, will hold all people accountable. It is, however, his job to keep his family on the straight path by providing education, advice, reminders, making du‘a, engaging in shura, and doing all that he can to help each family member. At the same time, a wife should not forget her role as a friend/protector (9:71) and should be a source of positive support and encouragement for her husband, thereby helping him fulfill his obligations to God, himself, the family, and the community. She should comply with requests he makes of her that will support these goals. The relationship should never be one-sided or unilateral. Ultimately, the most successful and satisfying marriages are those that are true partnerships.

Choosing Your Spouse

The Prophet identified why people choose a particular spouse:“A woman is married for four things, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty, and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman; (otherwise) you will be a loser" (reported by al-Bukhari).

He clearly prioritized piousness and religiosity over wealth, family status, and physical appearance. If one spouse is religious and attempts to lead a lifestyle that pleases God, it would be quite challenging to be married to someone with contradictory values or a conflicting lifestyle. Sometimes a person is attracted to a potential spouse for one of the other three reasons and justifies this by secretly planning to change or “encourage” the other person to become more religious. As this hidden expectation usually backfires, it is better to marry a person that already meets the important criteria.

A common misconception is that if both partners are “good” Muslims, then the marriage will automatically be successful. However, while sharing a common understanding and practice of Islam is usually an important prerequisite for success, many other factors are also relevant here. For example, individuals should get to know each other so that they are clear about each other’s understanding of Islam’s teachings, short- and long-term goals, beliefs about raising children and dealing with in-laws, and similar issues. Imam Mohamed Magid (director, the All-Dulles Area Muslim Society [ADAMS]; vice-president, ISNA-US) has developed a list of 100 questions for couples who want to get married to answer (www.adamscenter.org/Content.asp?ID=111). Dr. Ekram and M. Rida Beshir’s “Blissful Marriage: A Practical Islamic Guide” (amana publications: 2003) NOTE: this is the correct spelling also contains a useful questionnaire to help such couples identify commonalities and differences. Getting to know each other, exploring common areas of conflict, clarifying expectations, and discussing whether such expectations are realistic cannot be overemphasized. Of course, all of this should be done within the appropriate Islamic context and boundaries.

Many divorces are the result of unrealistic and hidden expectations. Among second- and third-generation Muslims, there is a tendency to want the best of both worlds (the traditional and the modern). For example, many men want educated and professional wives and are disappointed if their wives are also not wonderful homemakers and excellent cooks. Few women can fulfill the superhuman role of being good at everything. Or a man may insist that his wife will be an equal partner, but then get frustrated when she refuses to obey him and take orders. At the same time, many women expect their husbands to be good financial providers and work hard, like their fathers did. After marriage, they may resent their husbands for not being good diaper changers and cooks … something that their fathers never were. Women may also want men they can look up to, someone who will teach them about Islam and someone with a strong personality. Later on, they may resent being told what to do. Thus, each person must be clear about what they expect from themselves and their future spouse and then relay this information to the potential spouse.

Many young people may argue with their parents about just who is a suitable spouse. Those who were born and raised in America may resist marrying an “imported” spouse because of cultural and ideological differences. Those who value religious identity and practice may choose a partner from a different ethnic background, only to discover that their parents are horrified and refuse to accept anyone outside their culture. Parents should recognize that many children identify more with Islam than with their ethnicity. In fact, they may have more in common with other Muslims born and raised in America, regardless of the original ethnicity. Parents should remember the Prophet’s statements about pleasing God and not allow their personal preferences to become a potential obstacle to their children’s marriage if the chosen spouse adheres to the Qur’an and Sunnah.

On the other hand, many young people are heavily influenced by the media’s and society’s emphasis on physical appearance and materialism. This may create problems right from the outset. Many men expect, unrealistically, that their wives should look like models or movie stars. When a man marries a beautiful woman who has an attractive figure, he may become frustrated when her body changes after bearing children. In some cases, all of her good qualities become insignificant as soon as she loses her girlish figure. To add insult to injury, sometimes this same man will let himself go by gaining weight and yet still criticize his wife’s appearance.

In other cases, women and/or their families may place too much emphasis on money and material wealth. Insisting on a diamond ring that is a certain karat or a house in a certain bracket may guarantee certain material elements, but such things will not necessarily ensure a spouse who has the qualities for a healthy, long-term relationship. “Islamic Horizons” magazine (Jan./Feb. 2007, pp. 24-36) discussed in detail the problems associated with demands for extravagant weddings, bridal gifts, and dowries.

It is important to do a “background check” on potential spouses. In small communities it may suffice to ask others who know that person intimately; in larger communities it may be more challenging. In addition, Muslims who are asked such questions are obliged to provide accurate and truthful information and not to withhold any damaging information to “protect” someone, for the long-term damage to an unsuspecting partner could be irreparable. For example, if you are asked about a person with a history of substance abuse or violence, the potential spouse has the right to know about it before pursuing the marriage. Ten years and four children later, life is far more complicated and multiple lives may be negatively impacted. Many crises can be prevented when people are properly informed.

Communication

Love and piety are often not enough on their own to make a marriage successful; one must also know how to communicate effectively. Many Muslims take communication for granted or even dismiss it altogether, despite the Qur’an’s emphasis on it. For example, God praises the Prophet for being gentle in his communication with nonbelievers (3:159), reproaches him for turning away from someone who was talking to him (80:2), and encourages all people to speak good, kind words (14:24). The Prophet practiced good listening skills, spoke to others in a manner that was respectful and that they could understand, and encouraged those around him to express themselves freely. In a culture where men had traditionally not allowed their wives and even the women of their household to express their dissent, the Prophet allowed his wives to openly disagree or be angry with him.

To communicate effectively, people must be aware of potential barriers. While many people define communication as speaking, it actually consists of listening as well as speaking effectively. Listening is very different from hearing, for it involves taking in the words, deriving sense and meaning from them, and responding appropriately. Approximately 75 percent of communication is nonverbal, so it is important to be aware of one’s body language, tone of voice, volume, gestures, eye contact, and so on.

Some Communication Barriers:

  • Invalidation: Denying the other person’s experience or emotion (e.g., “That’s nothing to be upset about.”).
  • Minimization: “It’s not that bad, so get over it.”
  • Avoidance: Ignoring the problem or the person by turning away, getting engrossed in television, walking out of the room, and so on. Problems do not go away because we ignore them; in fact, they grow until we confront and solve them.
  • Escalation: Allowing the discussion to evolve into increasingly negative attacks that may lead to yelling, physical fights, or some other form of explosion. Taking a time out allows each side to calm down before addressing the issue again.
  • Assigning negative intent: Assuming that the other party is being malicious, evil, or manipulative instead of giving him/her the benefit of the doubt.
  • Unwillingness to be accountable: Many people have a hard time taking responsibility, admitting mistakes, and apologizing. As part of being accountable to God, we have to be willing to consider our mistakes and make amends when we have hurt others.
  • Blaming: Accusing the other person instead of trying to identify your role in contributing to the problem. When one person raises a concern for discussion, the blamer turns the tables and “attacks,” even though he/she had no complaint before the conversation started.
  • Not making eye contact or giving one’s full attention while the other person is speaking.
  • Raising important or controversial issues without choosing an appropriate time.

 When discussing important or highly emotionally charged issues, both parties should: make sure that the following list is bulleted

  • Set aside a specific time to make sure that each person is ready for a productive conversation. Catching your spouse off guard is likely to result in defensiveness or avoidance of the issue.
  • Set a time limit for the conversation; those that drag on for hours are usually unproductive. Unfinished conversations can be continued at a mutually agreeable time.
  • Avoid using accusatory or critical language.
  • Use “I-statements” to avoid putting the listener on the defensive (“I feel unimportant when you don’t call me to tell me you are coming home late” NOT “You’re never on time! What’s wrong with you?”)
  • Limit each serious conversation to one issue.
  • Stay focused on the present and do not bring up past issues.

 Divorce

 God, in His mercy, permits divorce: “When you divorce women and they fulfill the term of their (‘iddat), either take them back on equitable terms (ma‘ruf) or set them free in a just manner ( ihsan). Do not take them back to injure them (or) to take undue advantage. If anyone does that, he wrongs his own soul” (2:231). God recognizes that some marriages will fail, does not insist upon preserving a failed one, and knows that there are many reasons for people to seek a divorce.

While God clearly prefers marriage over divorce or remaining single, He prefers marriages to be lived in a certain manner. Spouses must fulfill Islamic teachings and treat each other according to the Qur’an and Sunnah. Staying in a marriage simply for the sake of being married, while ignoring the divine teachings or mistreating one’s spouse, is not pleasing to Him. He instructs people either to remain together on good terms and in kindness ( ma`ruf) or to separate in a good and just manner ( ihsan) (2:229).

Despite this divine permission, there is so much stigma surrounding divorce that people sometimes stay in bad or even abusive marriages to avoid social ostracism or protect their children from the negative side effects coming from the community and family members. All too often women say that they will sacrifice their own well-being and remain in a miserable marriage so that their children’s chances of getting married will not be jeopardized. In addition, divorced women in some Muslim-majority cultures report being treated as if they have a contagious disease and being forced to have only limited contact with the family’s young, unmarried women.

Such an attitude has no place in Islam. The Prophet granted many divorces and did not force anyone to stay in an unhappy marriage. Women who wanted to end a marriage (khul’), despite having no complaints about their husbands’ character or piety, were allowed to do so. The Prophet married Zaynab bint Jahsh after her divorce from Zayd ibn Haritha (his adopted son). Thus, there is no shame in being divorced or marrying a divorced woman. Even the best of Muslims may need to divorce if they are unable to have a happy and satisfying marriage. Both Zayd and Zaynab were very close to the Prophet, and the fact that they got a divorce is not a negative reflection on either of them. If that were the case, the Prophet would not have married Zaynab.

On the other hand, young couples are sometimes too quick to divorce. They may be impatient, unwilling to explore all options to resolve problems, and unprepared for marriage. In a society that fosters instant gratification, some couples are unwilling to give the marriage the chance it needs to flourish. One of the best ways to ensure a healthy and long-lasting marriage is to be well-educated about marriage and healthy relationships, have a lot of self-awareness and understanding, and be clear about your own, as well as your partner’s expectations.

There are several types of divorce, and each one has its own guidelines. Either party can initiate the process and, in some cases, a judge or an imam can grant it. Many Muslims mistakenly believe that only the husband can end the marriage and that it is over when he says talaq three times. Before initiating divorce proceedings, it is important to consult with a religious authority to ensure that the proper procedures are followed. Muslims should also familiarize themselves with the Qur’anic verses on divorce in al Baqarah (2:226-41) including Surat al-Talaq (Chap. 65). The bottom line for Muslims who want a divorce is to remember that justice and mercy must prevail. Even during this time of severe conflict, they must adhere to the Islamic teachings of how to treat one another. If the divorce is done according to Islamic guidelines, then there is reward from God.

 Counseling: What, When, and Why?

 Marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, mental health counselors, and some psychologists offer professional marriage counseling services. These trained marriage and family therapists provide a safe place in which couples can sort out their issues, help them understand the relationship’s dynamics, provide tools designed to improve communication and intimacy, and help both spouses explore the underlying issues of conflict. These professionals abide by a code of ethics that includes maintaining the highest levels of confidentiality possible. Since they are not related to either party, counselors can assess the situation objectively and offer support and guidance to each person. Professionals trained in marriage and family therapy tend to value the institution of marriage and want to save marriages; however, they will not do so at any cost. In fact, there may be times when it is best for couples to separate. A good therapist will not tell couples what to do, but will help them determine what is in their best interest.

The first Muslim counselor was Prophet Muhammad. He listened to each person’s opinion, conveyed his understanding through his compassionate manner, and provided comfort or recommendations. In addition, he personally intervened in his daughter Fatimah’s marriage when she and Ali (radiy Allahu ‘anhuma) were having problems, in an attempt to reconcile them.

There is a misconception that families today face problems that were unknown to the early Muslim community, and that couples should solve problems by themselves. While it is true that Muslims should not publicize their private matters, it is part of the Sunnah to seek help and consult with others if we cannot solve the problem on our own. There is no shame in doing so. In fact, there is a great reward for trying to improve a relationship for the sake of God.

The key is to determine who to turn to for assistance and guidance. Traditionally, Muslim couples may seek assistance from relatives. The Qur’an tells couples to appoint an arbiter from each side to help in the problem-solving process. This arbitration should not be confused with counseling, which has a different purpose and process. Sometimes relatives may not be appropriate, because they are emotionally involved and, despite the best of intentions, often make matters more confusing or difficult. In the interest of saving the marriage, they might cause further emotional damage to one party by emphasizing forgiveness and patience, for instance, without exploring what caused the conflict in the first place. Living in an unhappy marriage can lead to depression and other emotional problems. While the marriage may remain intact, one spouse may lose his/her emotional and even physical well-being. Furthermore, their children run the risk of developing their own emotional difficulties and having relationship problems in their own marriages.

Couples seek counseling for many reasons: a lack of intimacy, feeling misunderstood or unappreciated, an extramarital affair, substance abuse, indulging in pornography, conflict with in-laws, challenges related to parenting, physical or emotional abuse, and financial issues. Reading the hadiths and noticing the problems for which early Muslims sought advice shows that they faced the same problems that we do. Even though these may appear different to us on the surface, the underlying issues are the same. For example, people have always had extramarital affairs; internet affairs are just one modern manifestation of an age-old phenomenon.

Even the Prophet sought counseling. When he received the Revelation and was completely shaken, wondering if he was going crazy, he turned to his wife Khadijah and shared his experience, worries, and questions with her. She “counseled” him by listening, offering comfort and reassurance, validation, and even a referral to her cousin Waraqah bin Nawfal, a Christian who was more of an expert than she was. Given his unique relationship with God, sometimes the angel Gabriel (‘alayhi al-salaam) was sent to comfort him. And, of course, God sometimes reassured him and “counseled” him directly, as in ITLALICS Surat al-Dhuha (Chap. 93) and elsewhere.

The Prophet’s example shows that all of us may need some comfort and counseling when our lives become too difficult to manage alone. We should take advantage of the resources God has provided and seek appropriate assistance. We turn to physicians for medical problems, to imams for spiritual problems, and to mental health professional for mental health problems. For relationship problems, we should turn to relationship experts.

 Salma Elkadi Abugideiri is a licensed professional counselor in private practice. She is also co-director of the Peaceful Families Project.

The Qur’an not only provides a romantic image, but also reveals practical ways to achieve this ideal by explaining how believers should conduct their personal affairs and relationships.

 The Qur’an highlights certain qualities as characteristics of believers, qualities that are important in ensuring healthy relationships with others, such as being patient, just, honest, trustworthy, generous, kind, humble, and compassionate.

 The Qur’an uses romantic, beautiful, and spiritual language when describing the creation of man and woman and their relationship as spouses to inspire us to realize its lofty ideals. God tells us that “among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility (sakinah) with them, and He has put love (mawaddah) and mercy (rahmah) between your (hearts)…” (30:21). The image generated here, one of peacefulness, comfort, and warmth, also defines marriage as normative, one of God’s signs, and part of the lifestyle that He wants for His creation. Such a depiction is certainly encouraging and hopeful for those contemplating marriage.

But how do Muslims bring this beautiful image to life in their own lives? The sakinah mentioned eludes many Muslim, who find their marriage fraught with conflict and disharmony. Couples in marriage counseling often express their disappointment and frustration with unmet expectations and shattered dreams; feelings of being misunderstood, unappreciated, unloved, and insignificant; and, sometimes, how their spouses oppress and abuse them. At times, it seems that both separation and divorce are becoming epidemic among Muslims.

The Qur’an not only provides a romantic image, but also reveals practical ways to achieve this ideal by explaining how believers should conduct their personal affairs and relationships. This general guidance should form the basis for how spouses treat each other. In addition to the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) shows Muslims how to prepare for marriage, choose the right spouse, conduct the marriage ceremony, manage conflict, and even end the marriage when necessary. To understand the Islamic paradigm of marriage, it is useful to look at the creation story. God created us “from a single soul, and from that soul, created its mate” (4:1). In other words, He created men and women as inherently equal, for they come from the same substance. Recognizing this equality is critical for a proper understanding of the spousal relationship. Many Muslim couples have forgotten their divine origin, which has frequently enabled men to become the “superior” partner and usurp more authority than what is needed to establish and then maintain a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship. God created women and men for the same purpose: to worship Him. Each human being has the role of khalifah (vicegerent) on Earth, which consists of living according to the divine will and implementing God’s teachings. God outlines the independent relationship that each person has with Him and informs us that He watches, holds accountable, and rewards each person according to his/her deeds, according to the underlying intentions.

Salma Elkadi Abugideiri is a licensed professional counselor in private practice. She is also co-director of the Peaceful Families Project.

Artcile taken from ISNA Islamic Horizons Magazine (July/ August 2008)

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