Marriage plays such a large part in human affairs that it must necessarily be taken into account in treating of the religious life and be regarded in both its aspects of advantage and disadvantage.
As God says in the Qur’an, “I only created jinn and men for the purpose of worshipping Me,” (Adh-Dhariyat 51:56) among the advantages of marriage is that the worshippers of God may increase in number.
Theologians have therefore laid it down as a maxim that it is better to be engaged in matrimonial duties than in supererogatory devotions.
Another advantage of marriage is that, as the Prophet said, the prayers of children profit their parents when the latter are dead, and children who die before their parents intercede for them on the Day of Judgment.
“’When a child,” said the Prophet, “is told to enter Paradise, it weeps and says, ‘I will not enter in without my father and mother.’’’
It was narrated that Abu Hassan said: I said to Abu Hurayrah: Two of my sons have died. Can you narrate to me any hadith from the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) which will console us for our loss? He said: Yes: “Their little ones are the little ones of Paradise. When one of them meets his father – or his parents – he takes hold of his garment – or his hand – as I am taking told of the hem of your garment, and he does not let go until Allah admits him and his father to Paradise.” (Muslim)
It is related of a certain celibate saint that he once dreamt that the Judgment Day had come. The sun had approached close to the earth and people were perishing of thirst; a crowd of boys were moving about giving them water out of gold and silver vessels. But when the saint asked for water he was repulsed, and one of the boys said to him, “Not one of us here is your son.” As soon as the saint awoke he made preparations to marry.
Peace and Pleasure
Another advantage of marriage is that to sit with and be friendly to one’s wife as a relaxation for the mind after being occupied in religious duties, and after such relaxation one may return to one’s devotions with renewed zest. Thus the Prophet himself, when he found the weight of his revelations press too heavily upon him touched his wife `A’ishah and said, “Speak to me, O `A’ishah, speak to me!”
This he did that, from that familiar human touch, he might receive strength to support fresh revelations. For a similar reason he used to bid the Muezzin Bilal give the call to prayer, and sometimes he used to smell sweet perfumes. It is a well-known saying of his, “In this world, women and perfume have been made dear to me, and my comfort has been provided in prayer.” (Ahmad and An-Nasa’i)
On one occasion `Umar asked the Prophet what were the things specially to be sought in the world. He answered, “A tongue occupied in the remembrance of God, a grateful heart, and a believing wife.”
A further advantage of marriage is that there should be someone to take care of the house, cook the food, wash the dishes, and sweep the floor, etc. If a man is busy in such work he cannot acquire learning, or carry on his business, or engage in his devotions properly. For this reason Abu Suleiman has said, “A good wife is not a blessing of this world merely, but of the next, because she provides a man leisure in which to think of the next, world”; and one of the Caliph Omar’s sayings is, “After faith, no blessing is equal to a good wife.”
Marriage has, moreover, this good in it, that to be patient with feminine peculiarities, to provide the necessaries which wives require, and to keep them in the path of the law, is a very important part of religion. The Prophet said:
“Of the dinar you spend as a contribution in Allah’s path, or to set free a slave, or as a sadaqah given to a needy, or to support your family, the one yielding the greatest reward is that which you spent on your family.” (Muslim)
Once, when Ibn Mubarak was engaged in a campaign against the infidels, one of his companions asked him, “Is any work more meritorious than religious war?” “Yes,” he replied: “to feed and clothe one’s wife and children properly.” The celebrated saint Bishr Hafi said, “It is better that a man should work for wife and children than merely for himself.”
In the Traditions it has been recorded that some sins can only be atoned for by enduring trouble for the sake of one’s family.
Concerning a certain saint it is related that his wife died and he would not marry again, though people urged him, saying it was easier to concentrate his thoughts in solitude. One night he saw in a dream the door of heaven opened and numbers of angels descending. They came near and looked upon him, and one said, “Is this that selfish wretch?” and his fellow answered, “Yes, this is he.”
The saint was too alarmed to ask whom they meant, but presently a boy passed and he asked him, “It is you they are speaking about,” replied the boy; “only up to a week ago your good works were being recorded in heaven along with those of other saints, but now they have erased your name from the roll.” Greatly disturbed in mind as soon as he awoke, he hastened to be married.
From all the above considerations it will be seen that marriage is desirable.
We come now to treat of the drawbacks to marriage. One of these is that there is a danger, especially in the present time, that a man should gain a livelihood by unlawful means in order to support his family, and no amount of good works can compensate for this. The Prophet said that at the resurrection a certain man with a whole mountain-load of good works will be brought forward and stationed.
He will then be asked, “’By what means did you support your family?’ He will not be able to give a satisfactory answer, and all his good works will be cancelled, and proclamation will be made concerning him, ‘This is the man whose family have devoured all his good deeds!’”
Another drawback to marriage is this, that to treat one’s family kindly and patiently and to bring their affairs to a satisfactory issue can only be done by those who have a good disposition. There is great danger lest a man should treat his family harshly, or neglect them, and so bring sin upon himself.
The Prophet said: “He who deserts his wife and children is like a runaway slave; till he returns to them none of his fasts or prayers will be accepted by God.”
In brief, man has a lower nature, and, till he can control his own lower nature, he had better not assume the responsibility of controlling another’s. Someone asked the saint Bishr Hafi why he did not marry. “I am afraid,” he replied, “of that verse in the Qur’an, “And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women.” (Al-Baqarah 2:228)
Also, the cares of a family shouldn’t prevent a man from concentrating his thoughts on God and on a future life, for God has said, “ O you who believe! Let not your wealth and your children divert you from the remembrance of Allah. Those who do so, they are the losers.” (Al-Munafiqun 63:9)
He who thinks he can concentrate himself better on his religious duties by not marrying had better remain single, and he who fears falling into sin if he does not marry, had better do so.
The article is excerpted from The Alchemy of Happiness by Al-Ghazzali, translated from the Hindustani by Claud Field (1909). This edition was created and published by Global Grey