What Makes A Marriage Work

What Makes A Marriage Work – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf talks about some of the challenges of married life and how to overcome them in a manner that is pleasing to Allah.

In terms of what engenders and facilitates these relationships, one is really important: Islamic etiquette. It’s very important to remember that just like your brother, you’re supposed to greet them with a smile. These things you do with people outside, sometimes we forget that the people we’re living with have more right than other people to those same etiquettes.

Also, doing things for each other. Preferring the other to the self. This idea – the thing about it is that men have to be very careful, because there are many women where that is their nature. In other words, a man can get into a very exploitative relationship with his wife, because his wife by her nature – especially women that were born and raised in a more Eastern tradition, where there’s a lot of double standards with the male and the female children.

You can get into an exploitative relationship with the wife where you’re allowing her to do everything, and she says, “Oh, well, I love to do it.” That doesn’t mean that she should be doing everything because she loves to do it. She’s getting all the reward first of all. And second of all, no matter what she says, she’s going to appreciate it when you help her out and do things for her. She will appreciate it because that’s human nature.

Marriage and Spirituality

A wife should not allow domestic concerns [to overwhelm her] so that she forgets her own husband and then becomes like a domestic servant, too. That can happen. A woman can become so preoccupied she becomes more like a domestic servant. Not realizing that there’s a whole sakina – there should be a spiritual relationship, a spiritual growth between the two.

The thing about life, the challenge for everybody, is not to fall asleep. It’s really easy to just get into these patterns of perfunctory behavior and to forget what life is about. You can really forget that this is it. Your life is an aggregate of moments. When you’re with your wife or your husband, it can either be a horrible experience, it can be a wonderful experience, or it can be a missed experience.

John Lennon said, Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. There’s a lot of truth in that. You can get so caught up in these day-to-day concerns that life passes you by and you missed it. Family is like that. Your children are like that. It’s very easy to lose sight of them.

Remind Each Other of The Good

It’s good to remind each other [about things]. A husband should not get upset if a wife reminds him about Allah, about his duties, and things like that, and vice versa. It should be done in a nice way with nasiha and everything. It shouldn’t be anger. It’s very bad to do that.

It was probably much more common in the Muslim world, doing too much ibada and one forgets the rights of the family. That comes from Abd Allah ibn Amr ibn al As, who used to fast all the time. Our lady Aisha told the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, about the neglect of the wife. And he the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, met Abd Allah ibn Amr, he said to him, “Is that true.” And he said.“Yes.”

And the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said, “If that’s the case don’t do it.” He said, “Sleep and pray, fast and eat, because that’s my Sunna.” Then he said,“Your body has a right. Your wife has a right. Your family has a right.” They are rights! There’s a huqquq. The right of your wife is that you spend time with her. That is a haqq.

The Principles of Forgiveness

Another important thing is adhering to the principles of forgiveness. Really forgiving and just letting it go. One of the things that people in relationships will do is they’ll hold on to these things. It’s really infantile behavior. You have to see it for what it is. You’re a pouting little child and you’re trying to make the other person miserable for doing something to you.

You need to snap out of it. Remind yourself and if the other person reminds you of it take the reminder. Don’t make your life miserable for yourself and for others, because that’s all it is. In the end of the day it doesn’t matter. If something happens that upsets you just let it go. It will happen. It’ll happen many, many times throughout your life. But just let it go. Don’t hold on to it.

The danger is not that it happens. That’s going to happen. It’s a given. The danger is that you never learn to overcome the desire to hold on to it. And some people derive perverse pleasure in that. So that happens. You start get pleasure in making somebody feel miserable.

Cheerfulness Is Contagious

They’ve done studies on cheerfulness and such. And cheerfulness and good nature is very contagious. If somebody is in a cheerful and a good nature they can actually affect other people much more powerfully than irritability. Although irritability is also contagious it doesn’t spread as easily as good nature.

Depression is difficult, very difficult to actually be transferred to somebody. It can happen. If you live with a depressed person you can become depressed. It’s actually difficult for that to happen. It’s quite unusual. But well-being: you can actually transform someone’s state quite easily, if you’re up and they’re down.

You can see this with children. If children pout and do these things you can, just with silly faces and things, get them to break a smile. And once you got them there they know. They can’t hold on to it. It’s interesting. Just breaking that infantile desire.

The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, was an absolute master in everything he did. He was [also] a master of breaking that state that people got into. It doesn’t mean that he didn’t have difficult periods, but generally that was what he did.

Focus on The Good Traits

It’s important to keep in mind that marital life, due to the constant interaction and to psycho-emotional states that people go through – we go through different psycho-emotional states throughout the day or the week or the month – that there are situations where discontent or displeasure occur. These are normal occurrences.

Even for the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him. He, blessings and peace be upon him, said to Aisha, “I know when you’re upset with me” She said, “How do you know that?” He said, “Because when when you’re pleased with me you say, “By the Lord of Muhammad (wa Rabbi Muhammad), but when you’re upset with me you say, “By the Lord of Ibrahim (wa Rabbi Ibrahim).” And Aisha laughed and said, “That’s true. By Allah, It’s true. I would never abandon anything but your name.”

The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, also said, “A believer (mu’min) should never dislike a believer. If he likes if he dislikes one quality, he should focus on the qualities he likes.” So, every person is going to have things that bother you and things that you like about them. The thing about your spouse is that you should look at those qualities that are pleasing.

Shortcomings Can Be Overcome

One thing that you can do is you can talk about things that bother about the other person, and then the person tries to work on those things. Especially if they relate to things that are shortcomings Islamically – like anger, short temper, things like that. Those things you need to deal with, because there’s no reason why they should continue. Those are things that people can overcome.

The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said, “The most perfect of believers in faith are those with the most excellent character. And the best of you are the best of you to your women.” And there’s a beautiful poem by Jalal al Din al Rumi where he said:

The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said, “That women totally dominate men of intellect and possessors of hearts. But ignorant men dominate women, for they are shackled by an animal ferocity. They have no kindness, gentleness, or love, since animality dominates their nature. Love and kindness are human attributes. Anger and sensuality belong to the animals.

That comes from a hadith in which the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, was talking to some women and he said, “I’ve never seen a creature that has more possession over a man of intellect (lubdin) than you so.”

Rumi was taking that to another level of understanding. The reason that they have so much power is because these are people that have conquered their animal soul. So they’re not people that are going to dominate women. They’re not people that are going to oppress. They’re actually people that, because of the love and kindness, have overcome their souls.

They actually allow the women their shortcomings without demanding change. And that’s what Ibn Abbas, Allah be pleased with them, said about the verse in the Qur’an:

وَلِلرِّجَالِ عَلَيْهِنَّ دَرَجَةٌ

Allah said that, “Men have one degree over women.” (Sura al Baqara 2:228)

He said [that one degree] was relinquishing the right of a man for the woman (tanazul ‘an al haqq). Whereas he would not relinquish her rights. In other words he would fulfill all of her rights, but he would not demand of her all of his rights. That is the degree that men have over women, and that’s Ibn Abbas, Allah be pleased with him, who’s the translator of the Qur’an.

The Path of Least Resistance

One of the things also is just going the path of least resistance. Water puts out fire. Fire increases fire. If you look at the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, that was his strategy with people. Umar, Allah be pleased with him, said I once roared at my wife and she answered back. I rebuked her for bandying words with me. She then said, “Why should you rebuke me for answering you back? By Allah, the wives of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, dispute with him and even ignore him for a night in a day.”

So, she was saying, “Who do you think you are?” Basically. The wives of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, do this to the Prophet and he is the best example. And Umar went and indeed found that from Hafsa. He went and asked Hafsa, who was his daughter, “Do you do that?” And he was shocked, but it changed his attitude.

When he was Khalifa, a man came to his house, knocked on the door, and then he heard Umar’s wife yelling at him. And he left. And Umar came out and said to him, “What happened?” The man said, “Nothing.” Umar said, “No, you came and knocked on my door. What you want?” He said, “I didn’t want anything.” Umar said, “By Allah, what do you want?” He said, “Well, I was going to come complain about my wife, but when I heard your wife I said there was no point in complaining to you.”

And Umar, Allah be pleased with him, said, “This is my wife. The mother of my children. She maintains my house. Cooks my food. Shouldn’t I have patience with her if she gets upset with me?” There’s the man who roared. That’s the change that occurred in him. That’s the point. People can change.

Ingratitude and Boasting

Another reminder, and this is to the women in particular, although it goes to both, is that the idea of ingratitude and boasting about things which haven’t been given. These are two problems that are more predominant in women than in men. The idea is the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said, “One of the worst qualities of women is that you can do a great deal for them for a lifetime and then one time you do something wrong and the woman will say, you’ve never done anything for me.”

And again this is important to note that when the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, speaks like this, it’s a generalization. It does not apply to everybody. It’s a reminder to women. The point of that is is that it’s important to keep in mind that even though people have shortcomings you have to look at the overall context. I think part of that is because women tend to move into the moment because of that emotional component that in many women is stronger than men.

When they move into that they’re in the moment completely. I think that’s what that is about. It’s part of the nature of many women and it was just a warning from the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, to be careful of becoming ungrateful to a husband.

The other thing is to claim to have been given things that she wasn’t given. This is in some superficial people but it’s a warning to women. It can be both in men and women. The idea of saying my husband did this for me or my husband did that for me to other women as a way of boasting. That should not be done.

The Right to Intimacy

Another mutual right is istimta‘ (intimacy). I mentioned this earlier with the women, the men’s right of haqq al istimta‘. But it’s a mutual right. The reason why it’s more emphasized in the man is 1) because the men are weaker in that area and 2) because it’s the haqq of a man if he calls his wife for that reason that she should respond.

For the woman generally that is not the case. But she is entitled to that how in the relationship, and it’s grounds for divorce if that haqq is not fulfilled. The ulama differ in that. In the Maliki madhhab, the haqq is that he sleep with her once every four nights. That is derived from the portion of legal entitlement. So if a man has other than one wife then that’s what happens. If there are four wives then it’s once every four nights.

Now just one thing about this. According to Sacred Law, the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said in a hadith, “Why didn’t you marry a virgin, so you could play with her, and she with you?” That is part of the Maqasid al Shari‘a in marriage, which is mula‘aban muda‘aba – having that type of intimacy.

Obviously for a man who’s marrying for the first time it’s easier for that if he marries a virgin. When the man told the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, that the reason that he was marrying a non-virgin was because he had children, and he did not want to bring somebody that was inexperienced,” the Prophet praised him for that.

The Qur’an says:

وَخُلِقَ الْإِنسَانُ ضَعِيفًا

Man is created weak.(Sura al Nisa 4:28)

Most of the commentators say it’s relation is sexual desire of women. If passion overcomes a man he becomes incapable of reasoning and often of controlling the animal urges. So the spouse is a husn and that’s why the Arabic word for married is muhsan, which literally means fortified. It’s through your spouse that you’re protected. It becomes a fortification for your private parts. It is guarding you from doing something which is haram.

Marriage Is A Fortress

It’s not simply the sexual discharge. That’s one aspect but it’s not simply that. One of the things about when people come together is that there is an effect in the other realms. Angels are pleased about a man and a wife in their relationship. One of the things about the Sakina that comes out of that: the Arabs call it nawma al a‘rus, which is the sleep that occurs after people have intimacy.

It is a sleep that results from that Sakina. In other words, it’s a deep type of sleep, and it’s a blessing from Allah, Exalted and Most High. That’s why Imam al Ghazali said that “sensual pleasure is really an indication of the delight of akhirah.” That’s what he said it was. That Allah was giving the human being a glimpse of the delights of the akhirah. That’s why in the Qur’an those delights are often described in those terms.

One of the scholars of Andalusia said that “some have considered marriage and animal appetite: shahwa haywaniyya.’ He said, “and they declare themselves beyond it.” In the Christian religion it’s seen as a low thing, and so the priest or the monk says, I’m above this. And he continues, “Yet they call it with the noblest of names: haywan because haya is an attribute of God.

Legal Intimacy Is Nobility

It’s the same in our language. You say “animus.” Animal comes from animus, which is the soul. “Anima” is life. “Animated person” is a lively person. That noble quality of life. And he says, “What is more noble than life? What they believe to be an ugliness in their eyes is actually the opposite with people who have knowledge of Allah.” That is why Imam Nawawi, Allah be pleased with him, said, “All of the appetites harden the heart when indulged in, except sexual intimacy in a legal relationship. It has the opposite effect. It softens the heart.”

You will see often, especially with men, that if somebody is not married they can actually become hard. And you’ll see a transformation when they get married. They actually become more gentle and more patient – less angry. That’s why the Muslim world is very problematic now, because there are so many young men under 25 that aren’t married. And it’s not a good thing.

Traditionally people got married early. So actually marriage does have an effect on your psychological state, and that’s important to know. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said, “That all of life is a pleasure and the highest pleasure in life is a righteous wife.” And for a woman is that it’s a righteous husband.

Intimacy and Praiseworthy Modesty

Qadi Abu Bakr ibn al Arabi, who’s a great Maliki scholar from Andalusia, said, “A woman’s demand for sexual intercourse from her husband in no way negates praiseworthy modesty.” So it’s not from haya if she is desirous of that. “Nor does it negate virtuous dignity, because it is an essential goal of marriage.” In other words, is one of the reasons why people get married. “Thus if he was being difficult than she is permitted to demand it on religious grounds, and this is completely dignified demand on her part. So going to a qadi to complain to him about that is not seen as a breach of her modesty, because it’s a haqq of hers.

And obviously it could lead to problems – psychological problems. I was with Shaykh Khatari and he did some marriage counseling and and there was somebody who had a lot of psychological trouble. When we finished, the woman wasn’t in the room, he said to the man, “Why aren’t you sleeping with your wife?” And the man was really shocked. He said, “How did you know that?

The shaykh said, “Because of her state: the state she was in. It’s very common. I’ve seen it in my own people a lot. If a woman’s not having intimacy with her husband she goes into a state that has those same symptoms.” It can lead to psychological problems. People should be aware of that.