Notes on the Muslim Marriage Process

Islam has rules for how men and women who are not married or related interact that are meant to preserve people’s individual well-being and communal well-being. I usually talk about this as the 4 P’s.

Purpose- Should have a clear reason why you are interacting with the person that goes beyond you and your desires. Professionalism- Interaction should be carried out in a way that is respectful and dignified. This includes issues such as content of conversation, tone of speech, eye contact, etc. Public- We are taught that a man and a woman who are alone, Satan is the third. Interactions should not take place in spaces that are not publicly accessible or known. Personal Space- there should be no touching and some space between people.

Many don’t like to accept these rules, mostly because they convinced themselves that they know better and they want to do what they want to do. Truth is, God and His Messenger know better.

Question then is, how do I get to know someone with these rules. Simple answer: community and paying attention. A lot can be learned from observation. It’s a lost art in a world where everything is explicit in front of us at all times.

Relationships do not have to be arranged. The courting process just needs to be handled properly.

Steps:

You (male or female) see someone you’re interested in or are informed of someone to consider. You ask yourself: do I have the material, emotional, and spiritual wherewithal to get married? This is the first step and if the answer is “no” all is tabled and those things are worked on. If the answer is “yes” then the consideration phase is next.

In most cases the families should be aware that two people are going to talk with the intent of marriage. This is an important safeguard and test of maturity, seriousness, and commitment. The interested party can approach the person in various ways. Most important is that it’s done respectfully and in a way that preserves the person’s honor. It is also best to only inform absolutely essential people of the whole thing. If it doesn’t work out peoples’ honor should be preserved. There is literally no reason to be telling your friends who you’re interested in and talking about it and so on. In this stage the two people talk with some level of supervision and permission from families and there is NO commitment. All the P’s remain.

Here the red flag questions should come first, then the smaller conversation. Reality is people tend to get attracted to the attention and it’s important to ask the big questions early. If all works out then they agree to have intent to marry each other and become engaged. All the P’s still remain. Some people wonder how it is possible to really get to know somebody like this. The reality is that you never REALLY know somebody until you are married to them and living with them. However, through due diligence, controlling of emotions while getting to know each other, and observing behavior with wisdom and attention, you can get to know someone deeply. You can also connect on deep matters have have deep feelings for one another without explicitly mentioning that.

After engagement is Nikah and that is the official Islamic marriage. Once that’s done they are married.

This method is incredibly beautiful and dignifying when done properly. To me it makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, most people are leading with their emotions, not their minds on these issues.

Also, general principle for pretty much everything: Hard cases make bad law. There can be subtleties and exceptions.

Imam Abu Zayd al-Balkhi and Mental Health

Imam Abu Zayd al-Balkhi lived in modern day Afghanistan and died in 934C.E. He was a polymath who had studied and mastered many different fields of learning. One of the many fields that he wrote in is what we now call Mental Health. In his work Masalih al-Abdan wa al-Anfus, the end of which has been translated to Sustenance of the Soul, he addressed physical and mental health and describes some disorders that are commonly recognized and treated today. He discusses phobias, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and depression, among other things.

This work is significant not only because it preceded modern conversations on these topics by centuries, but also because it is a reminder to modern Muslims as to the recognition of mental health and its treatment from early Muslim sources. In his discussions, he often refers to these issues as ailments of the soul because there is an understanding that in our tradition the realm of mental health and spiritual health often overlaps. He discusses various cognitive behavioral treatments and even mentions the idea of treating certain types of depression through the use of herbs.

Here I want to specifically share a selection from his work that highlights the importance of seeking counseling and how it can be beneficial for one’s well-being. It is still common in the Muslim community for people to consider counseling taboo and something that is unnecessary, that people can take of such things themselves. He even refers to that as well, mentioning that there is merit to one’s individual effort to adjust their thought patterns, but that talking to others can actually be even more helpful.

In these passages he is talking about internal and external methods for combatting their psychological symptoms and says the following in Chapter 3 of the text:

“One suffering from psychological disturbance can fight his symptoms internally by developing within the soul thoughts (of an opposite nature to the ones that sustain the problem) that neutralize the symptoms and desensitize their provocation. Externally, one can listen to the advice of another whose (therapeutic) discussion (or counseling) would calm the agitated soul and treat its abnormality.”

And also,

“That is, the benefit one obtains externally from advice and counseling is more useful than a person’s internal attempt (at treatment) through generating his own therapeutic thoughts. This is due to two reasons. First, man in general accepts from others what he does not accept from himself. His reasoning and thought are intermixed with his passions, each implicated by the other. Second, one suffering painful psychological symptoms is so occupied and overpowered by them that he cannot clearly think how to overcome them.”

 

Habib Abd al-Qadir al-Saqqaf and The Car Door

He sat in a car one day, and a student closed the door for Habib due to his love for him. Habib rode for a while until they were out of sight and suddenly told the driver to stop the car and open the door.

The driver saw tears coming down his eyes, his face was filled with pain, and he was sweating intensely. He rushed to the door and saw Habib’s fingers stuck in the door and they were filled with blood.

The driver said, ‘Sayyidi, why didn’t you tell us!’ He replied, ‘I didn’t want to upset the student because he harmed me. Who is ‘Abd al-Qadir to break the heart of someone from the Ummah of Sayyiduna Muhammad ﷺ?’


[I’ve heard two similar, but slightly different, variations of this story from two different people.]

Imam al-Haddad on Love and Fellowship

Imam Abdullah al-Haddad said:

Brotherhood [and Sisterhood] for Allah’s sake is like a tree. It is irrigated with the water of mutual visiting and the fruit it bears is working together for the sake of goodness and taqwa. If it is not watered it will wither and if it does not bear any fruit it will be cut down.

 

Imam al-Ghazali on Fellowship

Imam al-Ghazali said in “The Revival of Religious Sciences” in the beginning of the section on Fellowship, Brotherhood, and Sisterhood:

“Know that fellowship is the fruit of good character and separation is the fruit of bad character. Good character necessitates mutual love, camaraderie, and getting along. Bad character brings about hatred, envy, and treachery.”

The Proof of Islam starts this section with this simple, yet profound quote. A quote that gives the recipe for bringing people together and building community: have good character and treat one another properly. That’s the starting point.