Photoshopped Princess vs Princess Piety: Putting Marriage in Perspective – Part 1

Part I | Part II

“Brothers, you’re just not going to find a supermodel hafidha of the Qur’an,” said an Islamic studies instructor. This was a digression during a fiqh course entirely unrelated to marriage. In a different setting, another instructor commented on the kind of woman young brothers are generally looking to marry, “That’s a very nice profile. Let me know if you ever meet such a woman as I would like to marry her.”

The consistency in humor reveals that when it comes to thinking about marriage, young Muslims in general have problems. And for those of us struggling with unwanted sexual behaviors, these problems can become amplified. We can afford to think better, to think smarter.

Good intentions, great marriage

Steering ourselves widely off course from a successful marriage before the ship even sails is not something new. A subtle, yet grave warning exists in a hadith that can be the driving force behind everything good we wish to do: the hadith of inna mal a’maalu bin niyyah (Bukhari & Muslim), that our actions are judged and rewarded by our niyyah. Later in this hadith, of all the worldly actions that could have been mentioned, the Messenger of Allah (saw) used migrating for the purpose of marriage as an example. How could this be when marriage itself is a divine institution?

The hadith doesn’t say migrating to marry a non-Muslim – for all we know, the potential spouse may very well be a gourmet chef, model-material hafidh. Whether it is a brother whose glorious beard makes it look like he prays regularly, or a sister who dons a hijab that blocks out negative attention and the sun all while keeping her cool, apparently we come fully equipped with everything we need to screw that up. Forever. No pressure.

Staying connected to our purpose

It is as if we are being told that if we tune our hearts to the guidance Allah has given us, we will succeed. Yet if we allow our hearts to go elsewhere, we can limit something that could have otherwise blessed us in this life as well as in the next, to just blessing us in this one. In other words, success lies within staying connected to our purpose. If you stray from that and speak about it, you run the risk of smart people laughing at you.

Imagine you’re a graphic designer and how things look on the outside becomes part and parcel of your purpose of existence. Imagine having to inform your own parents about a prospect for marriage. A parent is looking for some reassurance that the prospect is good for you. If they were to ask what quality, what action, or what habit the prospect has that will help you to draw closer to Allah and all you can say is, “MashaAllah. She wears a really nice hijab/He grows a really nice beard,” then you’ve really missed the mark. A learned parent might jest, “Allah did not say, ‘Fad khuli fee hijaabi, (And enter among My hijabis), wad khuli jannati, (and enter My Paradise)’, He said, ‘fad khuli fee ‘ibaadi (and enter among My servants), wad khuli jannati (and enter My Paradise).’ (Al-Fajr:29-30)

It’s important to note that finding ourselves having strayed from our purpose doesn’t make us evil. Nor does smart people laughing at us mean we are stupid. Actually, these are opportunities. Opportunities to reverse engineer just what’s so funny, opportunities to reconnect with our Creator. At the end of it all, the silly may yet still sneer, but we can be confident and comfortable with our ideas, and consequently snicker along with the rest of them as a hallmark of our brilliance.

Rethinking expectations

So just what’s so funny about looking for a beautiful hijabi that is like a Swiss-Army-Knife-for-the-Home-Kitchen-and-Kids incarnate (SAKHKKI)? Beauty is one of the four qualities mentioned in a hadith about what to marry a person for. So it’s not wrong per se. We will come back to this later. What of this SAKHKKI quality? As desirable as it may be, it’s not one of the qualities mentioned in that hadith.

While a hijab or beard may be an indicator of one’s level of practicing Islam, they are by no means synonymous for the main quality we should be looking for – a person’s deen. Funnily enough, when looking for a companion for life, us young people often have purported ideals, far from what are needed for real married life.

The kind of person, their qualities – whether beauty, wealth, or deen – ought to be relative to not just our own selves and where we are in life, but how we envision ourselves in married life. Personally, I’ve found the one thing that helps me step back and get a clearer picture is love. Going back to the hadith of actions are by their niyyah, Islam is not a system of do’s and don’t’s where you get eternal buzzes for every trap card you fall for. The do’s and don’t’s are there for us as expressions of what Allah loves and what Allah does not love. Following Him, His Messenger’s sunnah, is about you loving Him and Him loving you.

Being happy with yourself

One of the things we are taught about marriage is that a spouse you look at and is pleasing to you is a source of happiness. Allah also informs us that He has made for us mates that we might dwell in serenity with them, that He has created love and mercy, and placed this right between us (Ar-Rum.21). We need to bear in mind that the believer is the mirror of a believer, so if we want to accept and love someone despite their faults and we want to be pleased with them, we need to be pleased with our own selves.

If we do not love our own selves, this may reflect in our perception and treatment of our spouse, which, in turn, may be reflected back in their treatment of us. If we are not happy on our own and try to outsource our happiness to marriage, to our spouse, the cost may very well be the tranquility, the love, and the mercy that Allah has already told us comes with the package.

In part 2, I will discuss how battling my addiction led to me changing an aspect of myself that helped me to be happier with myself, that helped me put marriage in an appropriate perspective.