Editorial note: This month we are running a series focusing on foundations – how we can build solid foundations across all areas of our life to help ground us so that we can embrace all that our deen (religion) and dunya (the world) have to offer us. We will be covering foundations of marriage, faith, your morning routine, relationships, mental health/self care, technology, hijab and other areas. Each focus could really be a book, but we will try and break it down into the most useful, attainable and basic things we can do to build critical foundations in our lives.
By Shahina Siddiqui
The most basic and essential attribute of a Muslim marriage is the common faith that binds the couple. Starting with faith, here are 21 fundamental building blocks for a strong marriage.
1. Faith: Since Islam is a way of life and not just a religion confined to weekly worship, it becomes an integral part of a Muslim's life. The frame of reference shared by the couple eases communication and sharing of values ... It is highly recommended that faith play an important role in the development of a loving relationship.
For example, as the Prophet Muhammad (saw) said, when a husband feeds his wife, he gets a reward for this act; Allah increases the bond of love between them. So when we love each other for the sake of Allah, we actually increase our faith.
2. Forgiving: When the Prophet Muhammad asked his Companions, "Do you wish that Allah should forgive you?" They said, "Of course O Prophet of Allah."
He responded, "Then forgive each other."
One of the main components of a happy marriage is that the spouses are able to forgive, that they do not hold grudges or act judgmental towards each other. It is expected that when we live with someone, situations may arise when we say or doing things that hurt our spouses. The challenge is not to dwell on it or lay blame but to move past it. This can only happen if we are not too proud to ask for forgiveness, and we are not too stingy to forgive.
If we expect Allah to forgive us, we must learn to forgive.
3. Forget: When we constantly remind our spouses of all the times they let us down or hurt us, we have not truly forgiven. Things that happened in the past must be left there and not be used as fresh ammunition in new situations (unless it becomes part of a pattern). Couples who use this technique usually fall in a rut and become victims of their own pettiness, unable to break free.
4. Forbearance:Sabr (patience) is the most useful tool to have in managing a healthy lifestyle. Being patient and forbearing puts us in a proactive frame of mind; it brings us closer to Allah through tawakul and reliance. We develop an inner mechanism that empowers us to handle life's difficult moments. As Allah (S) states in Surah al-Asr, "Surely by time humans are at loss, except those who believe and do righteous deeds and counsel each other to the truth and counsel each other to Sabr." (Quran,103)
5. Flexible: Many couples unnecessarily make themselves miserable because they are unwilling to bend a little.
We should not expect our spouses to be our extensions. They are their own selves with personalities, likes and dislikes. We must respect their right to be themselves as long as it does not compromise their deen. Being inflexible and not accommodating for individual differences leads to a very stressful and tense home atmosphere.
6. Friendship: This aspect of marriage has three components.
First is to develop a friendship with our spouses. A marital relationship based on friendship is more able to withstand outside pressures. We honor, trust, respect, accept and care for our friends, in spite of our differences. These are the aspects of friendship we should bring to our marriages.
Shariah (Islamic law) has placed the husband in a leadership role within a family. This requires a certain decorum and mutual respect. This should not be taken to mean that the husband is a dictator, but rather a shepherd who is responsible for and to his flock. This is a position of grave responsibility, and a strong friendship with one's spouse will help.
The second aspect of friendship is to have friendly relations with in-laws, both husband and wife with each other's in-laws. When couples compete as to whose parents are more important, it becomes a constant source of grief. Much valuable time is wasted trying to convince one another of whose parents are most desirable. It is better if we accept that our spouses will not overnight fall in love with our parents just because we want them to. As long as they maintain friendly relations that are cordial and based on mutual respect, we should not force the issue.
The third aspect of friendship is our circle of friends. It is okay to have individual friends, but couples must also make efforts to have family friends so that they can socialize together. If there is friction being caused by a certain friendship, it must not be pursued at the expense of the marriage. Prophet Muhammad (saw) advised us to choose God-fearing people as friends, since we tend to follow their way. Friends should be a source of joy and not mischief.
7. Fun: Couples who do not laugh together have to work on sharing some fun times. The Prophet was known to play with his wives. A simple walk in the park can add spark to the relationship. Taking up a sport together or watching funny movies is another way of sharing a laugh.
8. Faithful: It is commanded by Allah that we be faithful to our spouses. Adultery is a crime in Islam that is punishable by death. However, there are various forms of unfaithful behavior prevalent among some Muslims.
The most common form is maintaining friendships with the opposite sex over the boundaries set by Islam and the misgivings of the spouse. The latest trend of Internet relationships (via social media sites or messaging apps) is also contrary to Islamic adab (etiquette) and can cause serious problems between couples. Once a sense of betrayal sets in, repairing that relationship is difficult. Another form of not being faithful is when couples betray confidences. This is a trust issue and when compromised, it eats away at the heart of a marriage.
9. Fairness: Usually when we are angry or displeased, the tendency is to not play fair. We try to convince ourselves that since we have been wronged, it is okay to be unjust in our behavior and our statements. Allah (S) states in the Quran, do not be unjust under any circumstances, even if they be your enemy. In this circumstance we are talking about our life partners and the parent of our children. To use words such as "never" and "always" when describing the behavior of the partner is unfair and puts the other on the defensive.
One of the most common points of contention in marriages is money
. It is therefore highly recommended that the couple put serious time and effort in developing a financial management plan that is mutually agreeable and is reviewed every six months or so. Preparing a budget together is also a helpful and wise way to handling household finances. It should be remembered that the wife's money in Islam is hers to do with as she pleases and therefore should not be considered family income unless
she chooses to contribute it to the family.
Image source: The Pluralism Project
11. Family: Parenting can be a stressful experience if the parents are not well informed. This, in turn, can put extra pressure on the marriage.
Sometimes couples are naive about the changes that come in their parental lifestyle. This can cause, in some cases, depression as well as resentment and misunderstandings. One golden rule that must always be the guide is that family comes first.
Whenever there is evidence that the family is not happy or not our first priority, it is time to assemble at the kitchen table and discuss with open hearts and mind. Couples who have elderly parents have an added responsibility to take care of them. This can also be very stressful if the couple is not prepared.
A care plan must be worked out with respective siblings and parents as to who will be the primary care giver and what type of support network they will have. In case of mental incompetence, a power of attorney must be in place. The making of a will is also most essential.
12. Feelings: Prophet Muhammad (saw) stated that Allah (S) forgives all sins if we repent but not those we have committed against others, for example hurting someone's feelings, unless the person we have hurt forgives first.
Couples are sometimes very careless when it comes to their spouse's feelings; they take them for granted and assume that the other knows what they mean. It is surprising that people are more sensitive and courteous to strangers than they are to their loved ones. One must be ever vigilant and careful that they do not hurt the feelings of their spouses and if they invariably do, they should apologize as soon as possible. Since one does not know when someone they love will leave this world, is it not better to make amends when we have the time?
13. Freedom: Marriage in Islam is a partnership and not bondage or slavery. To consider the wife one's property is alien to Islamic concept of husband and wife role. The team spirit is enhanced and not curtailed when members of the team are free to be themselves. To allow freedom to one's spouse is to be considerate of their needs and to recognize their limitations.
14. Flirtation: A sure way to keep romance in marriage is to flirt with your spouse. Many successful marriages have maintained a youthful demeanor in their marriages by adopting special names for each other and special communication styles.
15. Frank: Misunderstandings happen when couples are not honest with each other. A strong marital relationship is where the partners feel safe to speak their mind with due consideration to the other's feeling without compromising their own views. When the communication is not frank, it hinders in the development of closeness and deep understanding of each other's inner self.
16. Facilitator: When choosing our life partner, we should, as the Prophet advised, look for a pious Muslim. The reason is that Insha'Allah, their first and foremost goal will be to please Allah. This commitment to Allah makes them an excellent facilitator for enhancing their partner's spiritual development. In essence, the couple facilitates their family's commitment to Allah (S) and His deen.
17. Flattering: Paying compliments and indulging in honest and sincere flattery is a very inexpensive way to win your spouse's heart. Everyone likes to be appreciated and noticed. So, being stingy about compliments is actually depriving oneself of being appreciated in return.
18. Fulfilling: To be there for your spouse is a very fulfilling and rewarding experience. To be in love means to give one's all. The heart does not put conditions or make stipulations. It gives without expecting anything in return, and such selfless giving is Insha'Allah rewarded tenfold.
19. Fallible: It sometimes happens that our expectations are so high that we forget that we are fallible beings. When couples start to nitpick and demand the impossible, they must remind themselves that only Allah (S) is perfect.
20. Fondness: So many times couples fail to work on developing fondness for each other by [failing] to see their spouses as people through the eyes of their respective friends. Spending quality time alone doing and sharing activities are ways in which one can develop and maintain fondness.
21. Future: Smart couples plan for their future together. They work on their financial and retirement plans, make wills and discuss these plans with their children. This provides peace of mind and secures the relationship.
What makes up the foundations of your marriage? Please share with us below in the comments!
i is the executive director of The Islamic Social Services Association of the United States and Canada (ISSA). A version of this article originally appeared in Sound Vision