Since returning home to work for the summer, I have been asked on numerous occasions, the most dreaded questions of them all, “Are you married yet?”
Or attempting a rather more polite posing, “You’re not married right?” Followed by, “Do you want me to find you someone?” and “…But you’re so pretty, why not?”
While I wish I could respond with, "Everyone is horrible!", instead I choose the humble route and simply reply, “Allah al-Alim (Allah knows best), InshaAllah (God willing) my time will come.”
I provide this generated response with some degree of sincerity in that I believe there is something to be desired in marriage, a partnership between individuals but simultaneously recognizing that marriage must be representative of something more than what we casually reference.
What do I mean by this? I speak of marriage not in its colloquial form of “soulmates” or in its legalities (though not to discount these realities) but rather its profound duality. The Qur’an’s description of God’s creation of the Heavens and the Earth recalls the creative act that brings duality into existence from unity and establishes the “pairs” as the fundamental components of existence (Casewit, 79).* Like other religious texts, the Qur’an frequently refers to the existence of pairs (zawjayn) in creation: “And of everything [God] created a pair” (51:49).
At every level of creation, one can find a relationship of pairs: in animals and plants, the sun and the moon, and lightness and darkness. Jane Casewit identifies the cosmic pair, Heaven and Earth, as the first “pair” in creation. The phrase “the Heavens and the Earth” (al-samawat wa al-ard) occurs over 200 times in the Qur’an.
Divine duality presents itself on the human level through verses such as Sura Nisa (the Women), verse 1: “Fear your Lord, who created you from a single soul; from her/it, He created her/its mate, and sent forth from the two of them many men and women. In Islamic discourse, the intimate relationship between male and female is most often defined and examined through the lens of marriage as interpreted through the Qur’an and the sunnah (practice) of Prophet Muhammad.
Recently, I attended a jum’ah (Friday religious service) service and the imam speaking within the context of community development said, “if you are over the age of 25 and not married, then you are not following the sunnah of the Prophet.”
I thought about and discussed the validity and importance of this statement for some time. The sanctity and necessity of marriage is advocated through the popular saying of the Prophet: “When the servant marries, then he has completed half of the deen (faith). Then let him fear Allah (taqwa) with regard to the remaining half” (Saheeh ul-Jaami).
This hadith, in addition to the Prophet’s marriage to Khadijah at the age of 25, is used to encourage young Muslims to marry. The reasons for which are of course many, including preventing pregnancy outside of marriage and other “worldly” distractions but perhaps the most important reason being the idea that spiritual growth occurs within the union of two.
Marriage is, of course, not exclusive to the Islamic tradition as a fulfillment of religious obligation. In many religious traditions, cultures, and societies, marriage is representative of a higher level of human companionship that is in connection with the Divine, in whatever form or shape it presents itself. It is thought that, “both male and female reflect qualities of the Divine, and the most profound significance of the union of [persons] is that marriage mirrors the union of the human soul with the Divine spirit” (Casewit, 78).
In thinking of marriage, I am brought back to the statements of a high school teacher of mine. I always thought his contextualization of marriage to be quite interesting. He spoke of it as a union between the material and the spiritual. I like to think of my life’s journey as being such, constantly navigating my material gains and losses within the spiritual, knowing that a union of balance is possible. And allowing myself to enter a union that finds its soul at complete rest and satisfaction. So, for now, I think I’ll work on marrying this dual existence of the material and spiritual in which we find ourselves.
**see Jane Casewit's article, "The Spiritual Significance of Marriage in Islam," in Voices of Islam: Voices of Life: Family, Home, Society, ed. Vincent J. Cornell and Virginia Gray Henry-Blakemore, vol. 3 of Voices of Islam (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2007).
Image by D Sharon Pruitt, via Flickr Creative Commons.
I'm currently a Masters of Theological Studies student at Harvard Divinity School concentrating in women, gender sexuality and religion, specializing in Islamic Studies and graduated from Wellesley College. I enjoy traveling to warm climates, long dinners with friends and riding my bike through Cambridge and Boston.