Diverse are the ways people stray from the middle path of balance and harmony towards extremes. Often, pressing contingencies push them from one side, or alluring enticements pull them from the other. As the poet said, when the centre couldn't hold, things fell apart.
One area where deviation from the straight path is rapid is the family. In the West, the institution of family is facing the prospect of disintegration. And in the Muslim societies of the Middle East, the impact of the phenomenon of globalisation has begun to take its toll on the family, too. Allah Almighty sent down His guidance for humans to follow in every area of life. He created humans as male and female to live in an atmosphere of love, mercy, and sacrifice, as He says in the Qur'an: [ And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts. Undoubtedly in these are signs for those who reflect. ] (Ar-Rum 30:21)
This verse clearly underscores the institution of marriage as a means of happiness for humans, unlike other religions that celebrate celibacy. Rasulullah SAW said, “Marriage is my Sunnah (example) and anyone who avoids it is not of me.” He also said, “When a man marries, he has fulfilled half of his religion, so let him fear Allah SWT regarding the remaining half.” We find that marriage gives people a lawful way for fulfilling a significant biological need, thereby saving them from all kinds of aberration in the field of sexual relations. Islam gives elaborate guidelines for men and women to marry suitable mates, thereby enabling them to find happiness and contentment in life.
But unfortunately, we find that many present-day Muslims deviate from Islamic norms to blindly imitate Western models and fashions in male-female relationships because they are led to think of Islamic guidelines as somewhat old-fashioned. The consequences are disastrous and are wreaking terrible havoc in our societies. Modern Muslim societies present enormous difficulties for the young people who seek to find tranquillity and contentment in life by choosing a suitable mate for marriage. One Islamic injunction regarding marriage is that the bridegroom should give mahr (dowry) to the bride before the consummation of marriage. This gift can be money or gold or some other gift. Women have the Allah-given right to demand a certain amount of mahr from a bridegroom. This simple rule of Islam is obviously subverted by the current trend to demand exorbitant amounts of money as mahr . The women who make very high demands say that they want to ascertain their future security. This implies that it is taken for granted they are going to have a future for themselves apart from their husbands. This attitude is an expression of the cynicism of many young women about husband-wife relationships and can be a threat to the stability of the marriage.
But can we say that women alone are responsible for this situation? Not at all! In fact, the root of their cynicism lies in the irresponsible behaviour of many men. Islam stipulates that it is the duty of men to look after their wives and children and to meet all the common expenses of the family. Women are not asked to spend a penny from their share of inherited wealth or from their income. For a bridegroom, both the mahr —which now has become unreasonably huge—and the future expenses of the whole family become a veritable burden, unless he is very rich. It is fine that the bride is free from all of this responsibility, but the present trend of demanding a huge sum of money as a condition for marriage means that, to many young men, married life becomes a mirage. And if they should marry, the sacrifices they have to make are quite immense; so many young men are constrained to postpone their marriage almost indefinitely.
For this reason, not only young men, but also young women continue to remain unmarried, even after a reasonable age of consent. And the increasing number of eligible bachelors and spinsters long past their prime poses a potential threat to the social fabric; it becomes a social problem. One result, seen in countries like Egypt, is the increasing instance of secret or unregistered marriages. For instance, sometimes-young adults in college resort to an Egyptian version of common-law marriage; that is to say they marry without the knowledge of their parents and live as husband and wife. The children born out of such marriages are denied any legal rights to the property of their father.
A Need for Simplicity
In our societies, one problem is the abandoning of the principle of simple living and high thinking. The concept of life in modern times has changed a lot from what it used to be a few decades ago. Many young people postpone their marriage until they can afford to have a good house, with all modern amenities such as a refrigerator, a washing machine, a television, and so on. It is a grim fact that after completing graduation, many youngsters have to wait a long time to get employment in the first place. Then, after getting a job, they have to wait until they have earned enough money to buy all the items required for fashionable living. Add to this, young people's fear of responsibilities; the feeling that one is not able to cope with the demands of the spouse or of the relatives. In their own way, the movies and the television have added to the woes of the young. The exaggerated pictures of glamorous women and handsome men make many young adults dream of meeting such creatures in real life, where they do not exist! The result is disappointment.
The problem is that people are not aware of the real worth of Islamic living. It is a pity that even when Muslims have the Qur'an with them, they do not look at it as Allah's complete guidance for humankind, whose teachings are valid for day-to-day life. They foolishly seek haphazard solutions for their problems in man-made systems; and life becomes a delusion, a mockery, and a snare.
Professor Shahul Hameed is a consultant to Ask about Islam. He was previously the Head of the Department of English, Farook College, Calicut University, India. He also held the position of president of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India.