By Karim Serageldin
As a practicing psychologist, I was once consulted by a brother in Turkey in need of immediate relationship advice. In summary, the brother’s “emergency” was that he had met a nice religious girl from a good family but was not attracted to her at all. He was under pressure from both his and her family to make a decision after three short meetings with the sister. I asked him what he liked about her; he said she was religious and came from a good family. “Okay, what else?”
I could feel his anxiety through the computer screen. To marry or not to marry?
“Should I just go for it?”
I was shocked. Marriage is a lifelong commitment that requires compatibility, attraction and personality flow, none of which he felt. But he failed to recognize this, because he was stuck on the hadith (narration of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, peace be upon him) narrated by Abu Huraira in Bukhari: “A woman is married for four things: her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman (otherwise) you will be unsuccessful.” (Book #62, Hadith #27)
In my opinion, this hadith is often misunderstood, because we forget the other reasons in the process. In the case of the young man I talked to, he thought we should only marry for religion and ignore the other three. Are you likely to sustain and succeed in a marriage where there is no compatibility beyond sharing a similar theology and ritual practices? Furthermore, what someone else calls “religious” may not mean the same thing to you.
In my experience working with couples for many years, I know for a fact that this is irrational. When we fail to apply reason in matters of religion, we get pain, destruction and failure, especially in marriage. We cannot live a true path of spirituality if our attempt to follow Islam lacks sincerity, wisdom, and deep reflection on our context and ourselves. Some Muslims live the path of serving Islam, as if it is a person nodding its head in approval every time we apply a hadith or Qur’anic verse. Islam is a path to God. God is the one to whom this path leads. Did this brother think about God in his process? That one day he will meet Him and be asked about “just doing it” without regard for the deeper requirements for success in human relationships? He considered getting married in order not to hurt the sister’s feelings—what about when he divorces her because he realizes it was a huge mistake?
A few points to reflect on:
- Never ever marry someone you don’t feel right about out of fear or pressure. This is likely to lead to failure. In the end, you and your partner will suffer, not your family, your culture, or even your religion.
- Marry someone who possesses all four reasons mentioned in the hadith not just religion. This is more likely to succeed and sustain a life long partnership.
- If religion is important to you, avoid marrying someone who does not have religion, even if the other three reasons are alluring. This is just as unlikely to succeed.
- Use this hadith as a guide, not an axiom with closed borders. We also marry for love and chemistry, in addition to these four reasons.
- Islam teaches us to admire diversity. If we always married people from the same socioeconomic status, race, or ethnic group, for example, this would hinder a more colorful, multicultural ummah (community).
- Sometimes people act religious because it is more “marketable” for marriage. Be cautious and go beyond surface checkpoints of theology and practice. Get to know the person and their family more deeply.
- Take your time. If you do not feel you are given enough time to get to know someone do not get married to avoid cultural stigmas. Families that rush their kids into marriage are the ones to have sincere skepticism towards.
Karim Serageldin is practicing psychologist with years of experience working with the Muslim community. He facilitates workshops, counseling and life coaching with an integrated approach of Islamic spiritual values, contemporary psychology and science-based research.
Thank you for this.
Thank you sister Khadija for reading!
What about the Convert? Our families might be horrible but we chose Islam and might be good people despite our families.
Salaam sister Tina
For some converts it is more difficult to get married and other times it is easier. It all depends on the Muslim family you are dealing with of course. Some Muslim families embrace converts and lovingly accept them. While other families are not as open to non-Muslim families.
Some converts feel more comfortable marrying a convert because they do not want to deal with any cultural baggage with Muslim families. It all depends on what is best for you and who God leads you towards.
Peace be with you (salaam alaikum). We must please all be aware that for converts, especially, circumstances vary. Some individuals come to Islam in mature age, and if they are not already married, their prospects may not be hopeful
Whether we like it or not, it is often so that in some localities, the Muslim community still tends to be “ethnic,” sometimes with “ethnic” subcommunities. There are ever so many, parents especially, who want their offspring to marry within the community, even if this attitude may not fully be within Islamic principles. Sad, but true in the day to day reality in many places.
It sometimes may be that some Muslim men, particularly, are willing to marry outside their ethnic community, but woe betide the Muslim woman who seeks to do so! Parents, brothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, may be strongly against such a marriage by a female relative. Again, sad but true.
What this means in practice is that sometimes men who come to Islam not having already married face poor prospects. If they are of mature age, especially, their prospects can even seem bleak. Some will marry (if they marry at all) non-Muslim women simply because there are no Muslim women of a suitable age available as potential spouses, particularly if the men are not of the “right” ethnicity. And of course, such “mixed” marriages often may not end well.
My personal take (and Allah swt knows best) is that the Muslim community have got to get over their ethnic hangups and provide opportunities for responsible individuals to marry completely apart from ethnicity and family background. And, of course, acknowledge that some people come to Islam in mature years with poor prospects, simply because of few available potential spouses at their age. (For instance, I myself have no expectation of marriage in the few years I have left.)
Salaam brother Paul
Thank you for your feedback. It is true that some Muslims could use more guidance when it comes to intermarrying. Alhamdulilah there are some Muslims that live up to the true message of Islam in regards to spiritual status and character as being a priority over artificial cultural standards.
I think some Muslims do not bother with intermarrying because they have prejudice and racism in their culture or family, while others do not intermarry simply because it is more convenient to marry someone from the same culture. The latter being perfectly fine and a matter of preference which we all have to some degree.
I know of a case where a brother met sisters of different cultures but simply felt more compatibility with a sister from his own culture. It had nothing to do with pressure or bad intentions from his family.
Sometimes we find more compatibility with someone outside our culture. If we do and everything that matters checks out nicely, the family should have a more open lens inshallah.
Ultimately intentions matter and we should remind one another that a more open lens is necessary around this topic.
God bless you on your path brother Paul!
Peace. (Salaam.) I acknowledge all that you write. May Allah (swt) reward you for your professional work. However, my concern is with converts, especially older converts, who come from outside traditional “ethnic” communities”: European American, African American, Asian American, Native American (and obviously in all these cases -Canadian) converts.
Whether we like it or not, ethnicity still, ever so often, rears its ugly head in North America. Yes, praise Allah, there are many “ethnic” families who will welcome a convert spouse among them. But the tragedy is that many will have serious reservations, often amounting to opposition. Just in terms of sheer numbers, there are many N. American converts who, in some localities, are “left out” of the opportunity to complete “half their deen” simply because of lack of available partners within an unwelcoming, tragically sometimes even cold, community.
As I mentioned before, as an older person who never had the opportunity to marry, even before I professed myself Muslim, I have no expectation of marriage companionship now. (With poor family ties and no real relationships within the Muslim community, I actually expect to die alone.) And (Allah swt knows best) I suspect that I am by no means the only one.
You mentioned that this hadith is often misunderstood,…
What is the right understanding of this hadith ?
Salaam brother Abdullah
I shared my points of reflection at the bottom part of the article. This is my professional opinion as someone who studies Islam and psychology and works with relationships.
I am not claiming my understanding is the only true one.
In short: this hadith is not a rule to marry only those who are religious but we must consider many other important values in choosing a partner to supplement their religion.
Inshallah that is more clear, feel free to reach out!
Lovely article, Karim. Thanks for writing it – especially loved your nuance regarding diversity.
Thank you sister Nasreen.
Thank you Br.Karim for the article…
I agree with you wholeheartedly. As per the hadith, I’ve
also always understood it to say that deen should never be SACRIFICED for the other three things, not that the other three things should be ignored or not taken into account. As you’ve stated, even examining hadith or Quran is a holistic process and there are many other hadith where the Prophet(s) advises people
to see their potential partners to determine physical attraction or even a hadith where the prophet allowed a lady to divorce a
sahaba for no other reason than that she felt her deen was THREATENED by a state of ungratefulness because she was not attracted to her husband, despite him being an excellent husband in every other sense. Good read.
Thank you brother Zai and yes I echo your feedback.
Great reminder that context is important in this path and so is the intention to integrate holistically the Divine principles.
I am married for 8 months from now but only 1 month we were together n he is abroad now. We were both practising Muslims Alhamdulillah but share a entirely different concept of life,he is so fun loving but I am not so talkative I am silent.my way of talk irritates him n his hurts mine.both understood this n love each other very much but don’t know how to find a solution for this problem. Can u help me in this?
Thank you brother,for your article,but if I may, I would like to comment on this matter,
First of all, I am one of those people who agrees that deen (religiosity) is above every reason to marry,
However, I think that every person has different characteristic, background, and personality in relation to finding spouse, if he is sure that Allah will bestow love to their marriage, regardless if there is attraction/chemistry or not, then in sha Allah it will be good for him/her. But if a person need that attraction in order to have a good relationship between husband and wife than it’s also okay. Allah is the source of everything, if we truly sincere and ask for guidance,then who knows, He might make that attraction between them. Souls are troops collected together and those who familiarised each other would have affinity with one another…
Thank you for your feedback. There is truth in what you said and it is a good reminder that ultimately God can do anything. But we also should not expect any miracles and take the best means possible to marry someone that is more likely to last with us and us with them. God knows best.
A wonderful article. We need some muslims who are in the profession of counseling, psychologist, social work to understand the deeper meaning of human being. Unfortunately, some cultural influence – forced to marry or consider cousins and close relatives , same economical status, good profession, e.g doctor, engineer, and push them to marry at young age when the young people are not ready or do not know who he/she is, and “religious people” – are overtaking the rational criterion of having a successful marriage.
” Marriage is a lifelong commitment that requires compatibility, attraction and personality flow. ” I totally agree.
Thank you sister for your feedback. Sometimes it is hard to do what I do and I appreciate your inspiring words. God bless us all, Amin.
I found this article to be incredibly important and very relative to many people/cases. Unfortunately, I did exactly what the Turkish brother was planning on doing and I am living a marriage nightmare.
How does one justify getting a divorce when the religion and character of a person are decent but the chemistry and compatibility between the two are all wrong? I’ve expressed my feelings about getting a divorce and my parents aren’t allowing it. But I’m so miserable and unhappy and I know this isn’t how marriage should be.
jazak’Allah khair and barak’Allah feekum. May Allah reward you for immensly for shedding light on this issue.
Salaam sister Hannah
I am sorry to hear you are in such a struggle. Perhaps you can reach out to me via Noorpsychology.com to properly honor your journey.
One thing to consider and think about before divorce is can you create that chemistry and build compatibility? Try having new positive experiences together. Often when we live the same stale routine, we feel there is no flow. Thus we need new life experiences as a couple to rekindle and bond us in new exciting ways.
with all due respect, I agree that for some people, indeed, it is not a good idea to take such a step as to consider only a woman’s religious practice (deen)or on the other side, a man’s religious practice and character (according to the other Hadith about who a woman should marry and what she should consider). However, if you have no other examples, I offer you this example to consider in your view of things – which is me and my husband. We both married each other with only – for him – the consideration of my religious practice, and me, his religious practice and character. Irrational it may indeed have been, but much of religion is not about rationality, but trust in God and His good will for us. We are so happy, thanks be to God – and our marriage is wonderful thanks be to God. We have been married almost 10 years now. I am so grateful that I was given the advice to follow that Hadith and consider only his religious practice and his character, and to trust God that God would take care of the rest, for indeed, He has! Attraction, deep love, and joy have been given as gifts by Him. You may think my case is just a fluke…but in our minds, we were very intentional about following the Hadiths with this trust, and we feel we are witnesses to the Promise of Allah coming true that when you trust and follow, He will look after you.
I am not by any means saying this should apply to everyone – there are many different ways to walk this Path. But I humbly feel that you should not dismiss one lane that is open…The Prophet peace be upon him gave different advice to different people based on their personalities, their needs, their attitudes, their situations, and I would hope that you would as well and not be so black and white in dealing with this. Yes, if a person is super uncomfortable with only going by that Hadith like the man in your story, of course find what will give him comfort in his path – there is enough of beauty in the words of the Prophet peace be upon him to find that which will meet his need. But what if a person is completely happy and confident with following only this Hadith? I would not think it is right to dissuade him if you can see that he is prepared for what may come with a type of trust in God….and God knows best.
Salaam sister Salima
You speak the truth and I appreciate your feedback. I am so happy to hear that you and your husband are doing great after all these years, mashallah.
Yes the prophet gave a variety of advice based on people’s needs. He (peace be upon him) also gave advice that was in the context of a collective society where people actually knew each other’s families.
Today Muslims in the west are pretty much strangers to one another and our process of pre-marital assessment is very artificial and usually rushed (this is from my experience and what I have witnessed). Even in the east, with exception to less cosmopolitan areas, the collective culture is dwindling. Thus our measures of pre-marital assessments need to be more engaging and given more time.
Today people that marry just for religion or any other one dimensional criterion like money or beauty, run a higher risk of the marriage being unsustainable. This is the bottom line. Can there be success stories, sure, but it’s like saying if I don’t go to college I can get a job just because some people did so. We all know going to college will actually increase your knowledge, networking and likelihood of getting a job.
In short all I am trying to remind my brothers and sisters of is that with so much confusion in the very practice of religion today and the context of our times, we require more energy to fulfill the prophetic guidance than a simple literalist application.
God knows best and may God continue to bless you and your family, Amin.
First of all, we have to understand why our prophet Rasulullah Salallahu Alaihi Wassalam asked us to marry for her religion first. Then for her nasab and then her wealth and then her beauty. If we want to dispute how religious is religious, we can also dispute how beautiful is beautiful. It is all very subjective, but why religion first?
Because, marriage is not the ending of your sufferings as a single. Marriage is not to answer your never ending desire for romance. Marriage is not the answer for finding long lost relationship or frenship of two families. No.
Indeed, marriage is just a beginning of new EXAM sheets. It is about life full of trials and tests and challenges. That is why marriage is to complete half of your deen. Because through marriage you will be tested far more greater challenges then when you are alone. You will have to care for another human being, who eats who sleeps, who farts, who dirty your toilets, who shares your bed, who leaves dirty laundry on the floor, who gets sick and who is the mirror for you. And her or his character may well be the core subject for you to excell in this test.
That is why our prophet told us to look for one with religion so that he or she knows very well you are a test for her or for him. And when they have religion, their faith in Allah in their prayers, their dua, their studies of hadith, their knowledge of seerah, their zikir, their salawat, their wisdom in making decisions and their patience in handling crisis, anger, frustrations… Will be the anchor to keep the marriage to last.
Havent you heard? A girl can be of a knockout beauty, but still be ugly when her akhlaq is ugly. A girl can be mediocre, not so pretty, but win smiles and melt hearts with her beautiful akhlaq. How can one get beautiful akhlaq? Religion.
Wow, you could not have said it any better. Thank you for this!!
Assalamu aleykum wa rehmatu Allah
Thank you for the article – it is well written, and does bring attention to the importance of having a more holistic view of Islam.
I have a slight contention with your last point:
Take your time. If you do not feel you are given enough time to get to know someone do not get married to avoid cultural stigmas. Families that rush their kids into marriage are the ones to have sincere skepticism towards.
I wanted to get married in early 2012, and my parents felt that at 25 years old, it was too early for me. Also, they felt that it was important for me to “take my time”, “date” and “get to know” my partner for at least a couple of years before I got married. I disagreed with them, and resisted them because I believe it is wrong for me to see/spend time with my potential spouse until after our nikah. This led to a lot of negativity within the family which resulted in me being branded an extremist, and me trying to pressurize our families to let us get married.
As a result, today, we are finally about to get married in December – after more than 2 years of our families trying to “hook us up” – and I feel bitter, resentful, and full of anger at the families for forcing us to do something which I believe is not permitted in Islam.
A bit of background: I was born to a liberal/modern Muslim family, and was an atheist my whole life, having reverted to Islam in mid-2010 (Alhamdulillah). After reverting to Islam, I felt so satisfied with life, and felt such a strong connection to Allah swt, and those were the happiest days of my life.
Today, I feel bitter, disconnected from Allah swt, and resentful towards the families.
Reading your article, I got the impression that what our parents were saying – that even though we both knew of each other, had met each other in social gatherings (she is a hijabi), and we both were keen on getting married, that it was correct of our parents to insist that we must date for at least a few years before getting married. I disagree.
I can picture my dad reading the article and saying “I told you so – it’s important to take your time, and get to know the other person”.
For both, my to-be-spouse (in sha’Allah), and me, our reason for wanting to get married was that we did an istikharah, and had very clear signs (that were clear to us), that it was a good relationship. And on that basis, with faith in Allah swt, with admiration for each other’s devotion to trying to better muslims, with families that had known each other for over 30 years, with a sense of physical attraction, we spoke to our parents hoping to get our nikah done soon. I believed them, and believe now, that our reasons for wanting to get married, our faith in Allah swt, our attraction to one another, all that should have been enough – and that “taking our time”, getting to know each other, dating, etc – that was unnecessary and not something either of us were comfortable doing, but something both families insisted upon wrongly.
Could you please clarify your stance on this?
I appreciate your sharing and understand your feelings. Your situation is quite unique and this is why I emphasize CONTEXT in my article.
To be clear, I don’t imply that taking your time to get to know someone means “dating.” I expect all readers to understand that I am not calling to any actions outside of what is generally understood as Islamic sacred principles.
“Taking your time to get to know someone” can mean different things for different people and must be understood in context. Here are some examples of what I mean.
ex1) Getting to know someone for three years is way too long if you see and speak with them daily in my opinion. If you are pressured to get married after three years of getting to know a sister, it is not surprising for her dad to say to you “get on with it or move on buddy.” However, it is not too long if they live in another country and you only meet them once a year and communicate less frequently.
ex2) You could also get to know someone very well in three months, it all depends on the quality of the communication and closeness of the families to begin with.
ex3) Sometimes two people’s hearts are at great ease and naturally have a soulful connection and get married sooner than later and it works. This is a blessing from God and can be very real and successful too. But this type of marriage is a GIFT and no one should expect to be entitled to this. Not everyone is gifted with such an experience just like not everyone is gifted with marriage itself. SubhanAllah.
I think people generally should take more time because more time reveals more layers of a person and their family. The more layers you understand the better you know the person and can make an informed decision. Furthermore family involvement also affects access to communication and quality of engagements.
ex 4) If you knew your potential wife for twenty years, and proposed and got married three days later. That can work because you two ACTUALLY KNOW EACH OTHER more deeply. That is my point. Take your time to get to know someone if you don’t know them.
Deeper knowledge of someone will reveal everything you need to know about religion, character, family, mind etc.
In your case:
1) you feel you had enough time and you knew her for a while
2) the families have been friends for a long time
3) you and your fiancé know each other well and have good compatibility
Could you have gotten married sooner? Sure, provided the factors you shared, it makes a lot of sense. God bless you and yours and thank you for your insights!
Very timely and refreshing article. Currently, I am in love with a young lass across the pond and the only thing that stands in our way is this idiocy of family. That is something that should be addressed as well.
We are a good match in practically everything, but I’m not of her clan and apparently that is the issue. Rubbish and insane really.
May God guide us, Amin.
Excellent article Karim!
Thank you Nada! I appreciate your support.
jzkk brother great article!
Thank you sister for your support!
great article, I was wondering what your thoughts are when a sunni woman marries a shia man and he after several years of marriage confesses to not believe in Hadiths and does not consider the prophet significant. I had to built my spirituality to be able to maintain my balance, and it seems I am in a constant battle. I do not like the idea of divorce, mainly because we have children together. but I am confused if staying with him is a good for me as a moslem, or am I committing a sin for even choosing stay married to him?
Salaam sister Hafsah
This is an excellent question and requires deeper investigation. Feel free to reach out to me if you would like counseling on this matter.
Otherwise, if your husband is not claiming to leave Islam but rather is skeptical of certain Sunni traditions, this is a matter of learning and research. In your case, both of you should learn each tradition and see what can be compromised as surely there is commonality between Sunni and Shia views. There are also points of benefit as well that may be discovered. Try not to make it about competing and proving which tradition is better but rather let the facts of the religious literature speak for itself.
Nice Article best I think are the pointers mentioned in the end which should help in evaluating any marriage proposals.
Thank you brother.
As a convert,this has been the greatest and well explained article i have read so far regarding islamic marriage. Keep up the good work.
Thank you sister for your feedback.
It took me six months before I said yes to marrying my husband. I was sure about his character and deen mashallah, but had serious doubts because of his living abroad and also working abroad and being away for months at a time. Sometimes I feel bad that I waited so long to say yes, but your points clarifying how we should look at this hadith makes me realize that waiting until I was absolutely content with my decision to marry this man was the right choice, alhamdulillah, because now we are happily married and I dont have regrets about my decision.
Alhamdulilah sister Nadia, I am glad you lived the experience yourself. Inshallah your experience will help you counsel others yet to embark on the journey.
well, I had always understood the hadith literally.
Brother, could you tell me how can one get to know the person before marriage but still not cross the boundaries set in islam…(since he/she is not your mahram yet). How long does it take to find out?
That all depends on you, them and the family boundaries.
The general rule of thumb is not to be alone with them, period. This opens the door for satan and is unacceptable under all circumstances.
However you can get to know one another in group settings/group dating (going out with an MSA for example and getting to know one another) Meeting in public with a friend or two accommodating you. It depends on your cultural norms. My suggestions are as an American.
Phone and messaging are used often but should be used wisely. Bottom line one must have common sense and taqwa of God. Usually when things get messy, it is when the individuals dishonor sacred values and lack common sense.
How long also depends on both of you and the quality of interactions.Praying istakhara is a helpful ritual to make such conclusions.
Allah knows best-
[…] When you Marry for Four Reasons – Don’t Forget Your Reason by Karim Serageldin (Guest Author) […]
Marriage is compulsory to every muslim eccept three people
And those three are, please? (Also, what is your justification for saying so?)
I love this