Unlike some other religions that consider celibacy a great virtue and a means of salvation, Islam considers marriage to be one of the most virtuous and approved of institutions. There is no monasticism in Islam. Further, the Prophet (Pbuh) urged all those who can afford to provide for a wife to marry, as marriage is the legal means by which to avoid lewdness and immorality. Since family is the basic unit of society, Islam lays great emphasis on the family system and its values. The basis of family is marriage. Islam prescribes rules to regulate family life so that both the spouses can live in tranquility, security and love. Marriage in Islam has aspects of `ibadah (worship) of Allah (God) in the sense that it is in accordance with His commandments that a husband and wife should love and help each other and rear their children to become true servants of Allah (God). Marriage in Islam is a social contract that requires the consent of both parties. Neither the bride nor groom can be forced into a marriage. The man must give the bride a dower or gift called “mahr”. This is usually money, but it can be any gift according to his means.
The Prophet (Pbuh) even allowed one of his poor Companions to marry a woman with his mahr being a promise to teach her some verses of the Qur’an. The dower goes to the bride, not her family, and she has the total right to decide what to do with it. Thus it is not, as some critics have said, a “bride price”. The man also has the total responsibility to pay the household expenses. Even if a woman is wealthy, she does not have to spend any of her money on the maintenance of herself or the couple’s children. In fact, many Muslim women do work outside the home. They can contribute to the household budget if they choose, and they receive the Heavenly reward for giving charity, but they are not required to do so. Every group needs a leader, and Islam gives that responsibility to the husband because he is the breadwinner. He should consult his wife on family matters, but the final decisions are his. The wife should lovingly obey her husband, even when she disagrees, to keep peace in the family and to win the pleasure of Allah (God). That does not mean that she is his slave and must wait on him hand and foot. The Prophet (Pbuh) himself helped his wives with housework. Furthermore, if a woman had a servant before marriage, she has the right to have a servant at her husband’s expense. A man and woman should enter into marriage with the intention of it being permanent, and Islam has many teachings on how husbands and wives should deal with each other lovingly. Contrary to popular misconceptions, the woman has the right to choose her husband; Islamic law does not permit her to be forced into any marriage. The wife also has the right to retain her family name and to keep and manage her own money from her work, inheritance, investments, gifts or other sources. It is her right to keep her money separate from her husband’s, and he has no right to it. While men and women should enter into marriages with the intention of it being permanent, Islam recognizes that people do sometimes make poor decisions or change. Thus, divorce and remarriage are allowed as a last resort after estranged couples have attempted to reconcile their differences with the help of family or other counselors.
Islam’s uniqueness lies in spiritualizing the whole matrix of life. Every activity, whether related to things like prayer and fasting, or to economic transactions, sexual relationships, diplomatic dealings or scientific experimentation’s, is religious if it is undertaken with God consciousness and accords with the values and principles revealed by Him; and it is irreligious if it is in violation of them.
The Islamic outlook on life is revolutionary as it gives a new dynamism to what has been traditionally regarded as religious. What makes an activity religious is the attitude with which it is undertaken and its conformity or otherwise with the values enunciated by God and His Prophet.
Islam makes faith and religion the basis of the entire human society and the mainspring for the network of its relationships. Commitment to Islam integrates man not only with God but also with the community of believers. Islamic community is a fraternity of faith – anyone who believes in the Islamic religion and ideology is an inalienable part of this nation – whatever his race, color, language or place of birth.
This principle of human organization is rational and ideological in nature and is capable of embracing the entire human race. This concept of an ideological community is not a mere moral precept; it has its social, political and legal dimensions. It produces a new infrastructure for human relations. Faith is the decisive force in this system. It gives birth to social institutions, from the family to the state.
The family is a divinely inspired and ordained institution. It was not evolved through human experimentation involving a process of trial and error spread over time. It was in institution that came into existence with the creation of man. The human race is a product of this institution and not the other way round.
Although marriage is a divinely ordained institution, each marriage as such is in the nature of a contract. The word nikah used for marriage in the Qur’an and the Sunnah, means ‘aqd, or contract.
Marriage ultimately leads to a number of relationships and engenders a set of mutual rights and obligations. Each contract, however, is not a sacrament; it is not irrevocable. Divorce is permitted in cases where marriage has failed. Remarriage is allowed, even encouraged. There is no stigma attached to remarriage or to marrying a divorced woman or a widower.
Faith constitutes the bedrock for the institution of the family. Marriage should be among partners who share common outlook on life and morality, and who participate in this co-venture to fulfill their destiny as God’s vicegerents.
The Muslim family is an extended family, different relations occupying different positions. It is not a nuclear, atomistic family consisting of the parents and children only; it normally has three or four generations under its umbrella. A careful look at the Islamic law of inheritance shows that all these relations are an integral part of the basic family structure and not just peripheral to it.
The family is the basis of the entire socio-cultural structure and a self-sustaining mechanism to ensure social, ideological and cultural stability over entire span of society on the one hand and in the time past, present and future on the other.