The Marriage Union: Sanctity and Fulfillment
Qur’an and Psychology
The Sanctity of the Marriage Union
-Marriage is one of God -The Provider’s- provisions for Humankind:
“And God has made for you of yourselves mates and made for you of your mates children and grandchildren and provided for you of the wholesome ‘tayyibaat’/best of sustenance, do they then believe in falsehood while denying God’s favors?”.
-Marriage is one of God – The Adjudicator’s- ‘solemn covenants’ (غليظا ميثاقا) with regard to Humankind:
‘And if you (masculine plural) intend to exchange one wife for another and you have given unto one of them a ‘qintar’ (sum of money however great- a treasure for dower) take not the least of it back, would you take it by slander and manifest wrong? And how could you take it when you have gone in unto each other and they (feminine plural) have taken a solemn covenant from you?’
What is a ‘solemn covenant’ (غليظا ميثاقا ‘meethaqan ghaleetha’)?
To understand the original Arabic meaning we first define the words using a reputable Arabic-Arabic dictionary.
- ميثاقاً (meethaqan) from the root verb وثق (wathaqa) ‘tied together,’ ‘entrusted’.
- غليظا(ghaleetha) thick, strong, solemn.
- ميثاقاً غليظا ‘meethaqan ghaleetha’ most closely translated as ‘solemn covenant’;
a grave, momentous agreement between two or more parties.
Then, to understand the term’s connotation and Qur’anic application, we relate it to other instances where it appears in the Qur’an. Here we find that, besides being used for the marriage covenant, the term ميثاقاً غليظا is used in the Qur’an with regard to only one other covenant: the Covenant between Prophets (or their followers ), and God:
‘And We took from the prophets their Covenant and from you and from Noah and Abraham and Moses and Jesus son of Mary and we took from them a Solemn Covenant ميثاقاً غليظا. So that He may question the Sincere (Truthful صادقين -) concerning the Truth they were charged with ( صدقهم) while for the Deniers He prepared a painful suffering”.(Qur’an: 33:7-8)
It seems that this original Solemn Covenant is the ‘Truth’ that humanity’s prophets (and humanity itself) are charged with and shall be answerable for, and we understand its import and gravity. We also infer that the gravity of this former, original Solemn Covenant, lends itself to the gravity of the latter, Solemn Covenant of marriage. But what is the original Solemn Covenant? Many scholars believe it is in the following primordial exchange between the offspring of the children of Adam and their Lord;
“And recount how thy Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam, from their loins, their offspring and made them testify regarding themselves: Am I not your Lord? They said, “Yes! We do testify,” Lest you say on the Day of Resurrection, “We were unaware of this”. Or lest you say, “Our fathers ascribed partners to God, and we were descendants after them. Will You then destroy us because of what the falsifiers did?”---”
This verse seems to refer to a primordial exchange between all offspring of the children of Adam and their Lord; an exchange between human souls and their Divine Source before souls were embodied in their transitory earthly form. At that primordial stage of its existence the human soul acknowledged its Lord Creator and testified to His Uniqueness.
Muslim scholars have postulated that humanity’s yearning for spiritual meaning to life is actually the soul’s innate quest for its Divine Source. The Human Soul remembers at a subconscious level its own primordial testimony to seek and worship God alone. The above verse refers to that first and foremost ‘solemn covenant’ undertaken by the human soul as it prepared to embark upon its journey commencing from, gliding away, and returning back, to its Creator.
An interesting fact should be mentioned here. Jungian psychology has put forward the theory of the ‘collective unconscious’ to explain certain inexplicable psychological phenomena, shared by humanity, but unrelated to individual knowledge or experience. Jung believed that humans share with each other what has been imprinted upon their psyches from the experience of all their collective ancestors. If we were to take Jung’s concept of shared ancestral knowledge all the way back to primordial existence, it might provide one of the best explanations of this verse, to date.
Having established that the Qur’an considers marriage a ‘solemn covenant’ between husband and wife, we shall now look both to the Qur’an and to modern psychology for the characteristics of a successful marriage. We shall also discuss the function and purpose of the marriage union and, in doing so, uncover the link between the primordial and earthly, gaining a fuller understanding of God’s signs.
The Function of Marriage in the Qur’an
The Qur’an says that spouses are ‘libas’ or garments for one another:
‘Permitted to you the night of the fast to go in unto your wives; they are garments for you and you are garments for them...’
The Qur’an shows us garments at three levels:
‘O children of Adam We have bestowed upon you garments to cover your flaws/ weaknesses لباساً يواري سوءاتكم and as adornment ‘ريشا’ but the garment of Awareness/God- Consciousness (Taqwa) that is best, that is of the signs of God that they may remember.”
Garments therefore are of three ascending levels:
-Essential garments that protect us from hurt or harm by covering weaknesses/flaws.
-Non-essential garments that embellish or adorn us.
-The garment that radiates from our Awareness; Heedfulness; God-consciousness; ‘Taqwa’ and is referred to as ‘that is best, that is of the signs of God’.
Let us now bring together the Qur’anic significance of mates being ‘garments’ each to the other,
‘….they are garments for you and you are garments for them..’.
The togetherness of mates is a garment that:
-Protects each other physically and emotionally;
-Embellishes each other’s lives on this earth;
-Creates an atmosphere of awareness and God-consciousness that leads to a fulfillment of their physical, psychological and spiritual potential.
The function of marriage therefore is partners ‘garmenting, clothing, or bestowing’ upon each other what the other requires on each of these levels, each level providing structure for the next.
The final level, the spiritual outcome of their togetherness, guides them towards the essence of their existence as they grow together, fulfilling their God-given potential in this life for the next. This seems to explain why marriage is considered so sacred a ‘covenant’, a ميثاقاً غليظا, one that holds the Believer to greatest accountability to God.
However, growth always needs the right conditions, and in order to properly ‘garment’ each other, spouses should be residing in tranquility ‘sakeena’, exchanging love ‘mawadda’ and compassion ‘rahmah’:
“And of His signs that He has created for you from yourselves mates so that you would settle beside them in tranquility (li -taskunu ilayha), and He has made between you love (mawadda) and compassion (rahmah)…..”
Tranquility, love and compassion are not simply outcomes of a successful marriage union. Love ‘mawadda’ and compassion ‘rahma’ are the two major components that lead to tranquility ‘sakeena’, and they shall be discussed in detail later. Tranquility ‘sakeena’, on the other hand, is the purpose of marriage. We shall see how the function of marriage, garmenting, and the purpose of marriage, tranquility, come together in the Qur’an.
The Purpose of Marriage in the Qur’an
The Qur’an tells us that the purpose of marriage is so that (‘li’) each of us would settle in tranquility- or find solace- at the side of our mate. Sakan denotes sakeena, tranquility, calmness, peacefulness, serenity.
-Similar context with ‘li’= so that’:
“It is He who created you from a single soul (nafs), and created from it its mate so that it could settle in tranquility (find solace) by its side (li-taskuna ilayha)…….”
‘Sakan’ is the feeling of tranquility, comfort, contentment, and satisfaction one can get from snuggling to one’s mate: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
Having discussed the Qur’anic significance of libas, or ‘garmenting’, as function of marriage, what is the Qur’anic significance of sakina, or calmness, as reason for marriage? In other words, if spouses are like protective garments that deliver each other to a state of awareness, providing each other with ‘sakan’ or ‘sakeena’, what is the purpose of the ‘sakeena’ itself?
The first step in understanding the Qur’an is to seek explanation within the Qur’an itself.
Is ‘sakeena’ mentioned elsewhere in the Qur’an, and in what context?
Such research reveals a surprise. Besides one’s mate, there seems to be another bequest created specifically to provide humans with ‘tranquility’ sakeena. Furthermore, this bequest is also considered a ‘garment’!
“And it is He who made the night as a robe (garment ‘libaasan’) for you, and sleep as repose….”
“And We made the night as a garment. And We made the day as means of sustenance.”
“It is He who made the night for you to settle- rest-find solace within it (‘li-taskunu feeh’) and the day well-sighted……”
This correlation between marriage and nighttime is quite significant. Spouses and nighttime are called ‘libas’; spouses and nighttime are ‘sakan’ or ‘sakeena’. By revealing the purpose of ‘sakeena’ with regard to nighttime we may reveal the purpose of ‘sakeena’ with regard to marriage.
“It is He who appointed the night and day in succession for whomever has the will to reflect يذّكر (by night) and whomever has the will to be productive in gratitude شكورا (by day) .
Nighttime then is for reflection, remembrance ‘tathakkur’, a spiritual exercise that can only be accomplished in a state of ‘sakeena’ or tranquility. Tranquility therefore is necessary for spiritual enhancement. Moreover, the Qur’an shows us how tranquility augments and strengthens faith, or ‘Iman’:
‘It is He who sent down tranquility ‘sakeena’ into the hearts of Believers so that they may increase in Faith ‘Imaanan’ unto their own Faith, for to God belong the forces of heavens and earth and God is the Knower, the Wise”.
The purpose of ‘sakeena’ then is to provide an atmosphere of reflection for the growth and development of Faith. Faith for which God created for us nighttime to replenish our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual strength for the coming day, and for which God created mates for us to be united with, in His name, towards that very goal.
The journey to faith is, therefore, what our primordial solemn covenant with God and the solemn covenant of marriage have in common.
The first was a pledge to undertake that journey.
The second is the ideal set of resources towards the accomplishment of the journey.
Characteristics Of A Successful Marriage: Psychological and Qur’anic studies
Psychological studies evaluate the success of a couple’s relationship by way of R. J. Sternberg’s ‘Love Triangle’ which consists of three components, commitment, intimacy and passion. Modern psychology defines and explains the depths of each component, depths referred to in the Qur’an 15 centuries ago.
1. Sternberg considers the first component of the love triangle Commitment, which is the basis for all subsequent interaction. Religious institutions view this Commitment as sacred. The Qur’an calls the pledge of spousal commitment a ‘Solemn Covenant’ ميثاقاً غليظا (‘meethaqan ghaleetha’).
2. Sternberg calls the second component of the love triangle Intimacy, and defines it as the couple’s sense of being bonded to one another or, at the very least, in agreement, as they share all aspects of their lives together; the physical, emotional, mental, social and recreational.
This component is mentioned in the second part of the following verse:
“And of His signs that He has created for you from yourselves mates so that you would (settle beside them in tranquility) taskunu towards them and He has made between you (love) mawadda and (compassion) rahmah”…..
مودة– from the root verb ‘wadda’: loved, wanted.
The Qur’ an tells us that Prophet Muhammad and the other Prophets (peace upon them) always told their people “I ask of you no personal reward- compensation”; ما أسألكم عليه من أجر . However, there was one thing God had told Prophet Muhammad to ask Quraish, his own tribe, for:
“..……say (O Muhammmad) no reward for this do I ask of you, except the love for kinship ‘al-mawadata fil qurbaa……..’
This ‘mawadda’, love-bond, or agreement as partners share aspects of life together, is carried beyond the parents themselves to the extended family. That bond of love between kin is what the Prophet was asking Quraish for. And that love-bond is a major component in a successful marriage, mentioned in the Qur’an as ‘mawadda’ and labeled ‘intimacy’ in psychological studies.
.3 Sternberg calls the third component of the couple’s love triangle ‘Passion’, and defines it as a state of intense longing for reciprocated love, resulting in a sense of fulfillment and ecstasy. Interestingly, elaborating on that definition, passion is said to be manifested by making love, or by touching, kissing, and even by gazing. Although passion between couples is often manifested by sexual intercourse, Psychology does not consider that manifestation the most important. Psychology states that the most important manifestation of passion is Nurturance, each mate of the other, as each helps the other achieve self-actualization, or fulfillment of one’s full potential.
Doesn’t Psychology’s interpretation of the bond between couples as a manifestation of intimacy, and nurturance as the most important manifestation of passion, both seem to reinforce the function of marriage understood from the Qur’an as ‘garmenting, clothing, or bestowing’ each spouse upon the other what he/she requires at physical, psychological and spiritual levels of existence in order to fulfill their potential?
Marriage in the Qur’an is intended to be a springboard towards self-fulfillment on all physical, spiritual and social levels. Isn’t the fulfillment of potential at each stage in our lives the dream of each and every one of us? Yet so few of us find -or help create- the right circumstances to evolve, and so many of us remain unfulfilled. It is quite sad to note that many who have failed to evolve and have never realized their potential owe it to restrictive personal or religious misconceptions.
In Sternberg’s ‘Love Triangle’ intimacy and the love-bond, ‘mawadda in the Qur’an, constitutes the second component and is joined by passion, the third component, which the Qur’an calls ‘rahmah’: and He has made between you (love) mawadda and (compassion) rahmah”.
رحمة– from the root word ‘rahama’: had compassion, mercy.
Expressions of ‘rahmah’ compassion:
A) Prophet Muhammad (puh):
“Indeed, We have sent you but as a mercy to the Worlds (Peoples) ‘alameen’.
B) His relationship with his companions:
“It is by God’s mercy (compassion) that you were lenient with them, for had you been stern and harsh-hearted (literally: thick-headed/obstinate ) غليظ القلب they would have broken away from you, so pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter, then when you have made your decision, put your trust in God ‘tawwakal alal-Lah’ for God loves those who put their trust in him”.
By God’s ‘rahmah’ compassion/mercy, His Messenger was lenient (‘linta’ in Arabic) towards his people. Gentle-mannered and gentle-hearted, pardoning them, asking God to forgive them, and consulting them in matters.
C) Within our families:
1. Towards our young children we express unconditional compassion as we nurture them into this life:
As narrated by Bukhari, a Bedouin came to the Prophet and asked him: You kiss your sons? We do not kiss them! To which the Prophet replied:
“Can I help it if God has withdrawn compassion ‘rahmah’ from your heart?”
2. Towards our old parents we express unconditional compassion AND humility as we nurture them out of this life: (Qur’an: 17:23).
“If either of your parents or both of them attain old age with you, say not to them a word of contempt nor repel them but speak to them graciously. And lower to them compassion’s wing of humility and say: My Lord have (compassion) mercy on them both ‘rhamhuma’ just as they raised me in childhood.”
It seems compassion has many a ‘wing’ (‘جناح’) or side to it, one being the wing of humility ‘thul’ (‘ذل’), which God commands us to lower, bend down, offer from a lower position despite- or indeed because of- our strength as compared to our elderly parents’ weakness… a strength and knowledge they had struggled to provide us with, and for which we should be eternally grateful.
Such a lowering of ourselves, such humiliation, is only commanded of us towards our elderly parents.
Another, more general humility (without lowering our wing) is called for, especially by figures of office when dealing with those Believers weaker than them (as proven by the word "‘ala-"على which denotes that the Believers are beneath that person, under their authority (Qur’an 5:54):
“O you who have attained to faith! If you ever abandon your faith," God will in time bring forth [in your stead] people whom He loves and who love Him - humble over the believers, proud over the Deniers: [people] who strive hard in God's cause, and do not fear blame from any who may blame them: such is God's favor, which He grants unto whom He wills. And God is Infinite, All-knowing.”
‘Thul’ is not to be mistaken for humbleness or ‘khushoo’( خشوع) which is complimentary and describes a Believer’s feeling towards God.
Feeling Thul, or humility is always derogatory, a term only used in the Qur’an for those who have wronged their souls and are humiliated in the afterlife .
Humility ‘thul’ is ONLY considered complimentary in the instance mentioned above- related to the manner in which we, in a position of superiority, treat our old parents or those beneath us in power; doing it by choice, seeking their comfort and God’s Pleasure.
The Prophet called kissing a manifestation of ‘rahmah’, and the Qur’an called nurturance a manifestation of ‘rahmah’, emphasizing that amongst God’s signs was the ‘rahmah’ instilled between husband and wife. Fifteen centuries later Sternberg describes the most important aspect to passion, the third component of the love triangle, as Nurturance, which requires more sustained effort and patience than the other aspects, and is needed at a maintained level throughout every facet of a couple’s life, especially as the pair bid farewell to grown-up children and begin to age together.
Incidentally, psychology also tells us that when a component is lacking there is no success as a couple. To elaborate:
• Passion alone is called ‘infatuation’ and does not last.
• ‘Romantic love’ is where there is intimacy and passion but no commitment. That also does not last.
• ‘Companionate love’ is where there is commitment and intimacy, but no passion. That union could last, but it neither enhances the couple nor helps each evolve to self-actualization. Crippled partners who do not feel nurtured can neither achieve their potential as individuals nor as couples.
• A successful union is where there is ‘complete’ or ‘consummate love’ holding all three components, commitment, intimacy and passion.
The Qur’an speaks of all three, highlighting:
1. In commitment, the solemn covenant (‘meethaqan ghaleetha’).
2. In intimacy, the love-bond (‘mawadda’).
3. In passion, nurturance (‘rahmah’).
The Qur’an also gives us protection ‘libaas’ as the function of marriage, ‘sakeena’ tranquility as the reason for marriage, all coming together to support the successful couple on their life-journey of spiritual awareness that leads to their everlasting gratification. Yet it is understood that not everyone gets married and not all spouses are compatible. Unmarried persons could attain social and spiritual self-fulfillment (despite lacking sensual fulfillment) usually within a like-minded community. Actually, they might find it easier to achieve fulfillment than those tied down by incompatible spouses. This may be the main reason why divorce is allowed in Islam: to allow hindered persons to evolve freely.
“And of His signs that He has created for you from yourselves mates so that you would (settle beside them in tranquility) taskunu towards them…and He has made between you (love) mawadda and (compassion) rahmah…”.
When marriage is viewed and practiced correctly, each mate gives equally unto the other, each mate generates tranquility, love and compassion. There is no wing of humility here, but rather partnership on wings of mutual nurturance since both spouses need to flourish and realize their potential as individuals and as a couple.
Prophet Muhammad, peace upon him, is reported to have said that marriage constitutes half of ‘Deen,’ Accountability to God. This should make us aware of how we deal with our spouses, our mates in the Life Partnership with its most important goal, Awareness.
Our Lord, the Enhancer, the All-Knowing, has made marriage, with its three provisions of tranquility, love and compassion a sacred bond that sets each of us upon the route of success in this life and the next.
Together, successful couples create the solid base from which to embark upon life’s daily ventures, gaining knowledge, working, earning livelihoods, raising children fit to carry on after them, dealing with and overcoming trouble and tribulation, becoming grand-parents as they see their own parents off … all the while gaining spiritual strength until it is their turn to depart without regret.
That is the function and purpose of marriage, and reason for its sanctity. It is therefore most worthy of Those who have attained Faith, to both cherish and appreciate the Marriage Union, one of God The Creator’s great signs, one of God The Provider’s great gifts, one of God The Adjudicator’s- ‘solemn covenants’ with regard to Humankind.
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