Book Review: Islamic Marriage

When Faith is Sincere, Behavior is Righteous

Islamic Marriage by Ustadha Hedaya Hartford

Book Review by GF Haddad

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

Wa Sallallahu `ala Sayyidina Muhammadin wa Alihi wa Sahbihi wa Sallam

When Faith is Sincere, Behavior is Righteous
Islamic Marriage by Hedaya Hartford
Damascus and Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 2000
Paperback, 176 pages. Available from www.fikr.com

Al-Hamdu lillah for his innumerable favors, the greatest of which is knowledge, {and know that there is no God but Allah}. A Prophetic narration states: "Whoever marries has achieved one half of the Religion. Thereafter let him fear Allah regarding the other half." Shaykh Wahbi al-Zuhayli was once asked by an apparently concerned Muslim father whether he should permit his son to marry a Christian girl. He replied: "Does your son pray?" The father looked down at the floor and asked forgiveness. The Shaykh concluded,

"Guide him first."

Marriage is worship. On this basic premise Hedaya Hartford - may Allah reward her - a student of the Islamic Sciences in Damascus, Syria, wrote Initiating and Upholding an Islamic Marriage: Starting off on the Right Foot. The book is a small treasure of marital advice and true Islamic wisdom in six chapters and a bibliography. It explains succinctly and in simple English the wealth of Qur'anic and authentic Hadith prescriptions on this major topic. A successful marriage is not a complicated proposition but a jihad against egotism waged by mastering the same few "integrals of success" - patience, self-sacrifice, good humor, and effort. All this, in the path of pleasing and obeying, first and last, Allah and His Messenger (saws). The accent of the book is on practicality in achieving the goal of the Muslim marriage - happiness here and hereafter - without a trace of sermonizing. The brevity of the chapters permits a wide coverage of issues with a small volume of words. This excellent style invites the reader not to put down the book until all of it has been read or re-read in a single sitting - preferably with one's spouse.

The author faithfully gives back her scholarly trust. Her unassuming yet efficient and caring treatment of all the basic issues is the main blessing of her book. Her placement of the more "sensitive" narrations about wifely obedience into context and in the light of the established objectives of the Religion is true, mature nasiha for every Muslim spouse and would-be spouse. "These hadiths," she says, "must be understood in the context of living your life from beginning to end in accordance with the principles of Islam" (p. 82, "The Wife's Obligations"). Yes, it is a "fact of Islamic life" that "one of the Muslim woman's main obligations after marriage is obedience to her husband." And the Prophet (saws) was related to say, "A woman who obeys her husband and acknowledges his rights is equal to one in jihad (battle) for the sake of Allah Most High. However, few [of you] women will actually do this" (p. 93, "The Woman's Jihad"). But "the wise will take heed of the Prophet's (Allah bless him and give him peace) words: 'Few of you women will do this.' Being among the elect is never easy, especially when the reward is so great" (p. 102, "The Wife Who Earns Paradise").

The chapters of the book are titled and sub-divided thus:

  1. Introduction: The First Steps - Marriage and the New Muslim - Who Should Marry
  2. Finding a Spouse: Objectives and Preconceptions - Love in Islam - Common Sense Before Marriage - Additional Factors - Fallacies About Happiness - Men as Men, Women as Women - Created Different - Criterion for Selection: What to look for in a man; What to look for in a woman; Things to avoid
  3. Rights and Obligations: Letter and Spirit - Duties of the Husband: The wife's rights; How to treat your wife; Helping your wife's spiritual life; The husband's responsibility regarding children - The Wife's Obligations: Appearance and demeanor; The woman's jihad; Healthy attitude - Obedience or Abuse - The Wife Who earns Paradise
  4. Staying Married, Integrals of Success: Setting the Tone: The Spirit of an Islamic Marriage - After the Big Step: Marriage and the Nafs (Lower Self) - Establishing Good Habits - Good humor - Getting Along: Dealing with problems; Stability and the Sacred Law - The Wise Husband - Love and Comfort - Affection - Tenderness and the Female Nature (Fitra) - Bedroom Behavior: Desire; Sunnas of sexual intimacy; The forbidden; The question of conception
  5. Divorce
  6. Merits of a Spiritual Marriage

Some of the book's simple truths are genuine pearls of wisdom for our times, to be memorized and practiced diligently:

A note on the translation of the authentic hadith (p. 49) "A woman is married for her wealth, her reputation, her beauty, or her religion. Choose the religious one or you may be ruined." "Lineage" is more correct than "reputation" - even if they can be synonymous - while taribat yadak literally means "[may] your hands cleave to dust" which does denote destitution but is not meant literally as an imprecation among the Arabs. It denotes either rebuke or mere emphasis with a touch of playfulness.

Al-Nawawi said there is disagreement about it among the early and later authorities (cf. al-Suyuti in Zahr al-Raba 'ala al-Mujtaba and Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Bari). The most correct position is that it expresses emphasis together with conditional disapproval. Since "or you may be ruined" might be too strong, we might translate it as, "or you will lose!" And Allah knows best.

It should be stressed that Initiating and Upholding an Islamic Marriage: Starting off on the Right Foot does not claim to be a comprehensive manual on the laws and ethics pertaining to marriage but, as its title indicates, advice on a successful beginning. However, I hope the author might be persuaded to address further issues in a second volume of this valuable work. Additional issues that might be addressed are two or multiple-wife marriages in Islam; the place of parents-in-law in a mixed-faith and/or international marriage; contraception and abortion; drawing up a marriage contract; widowhood; inheritance.

In our time of increasing fitna - especially in sex and gender-related issues - Islamic Marriage is a breath of fresh air. It contains what should be experienced as newly-rediscovered Prophetic teaching, healing, encouragement, and hope for latter-day Muslims. It contains the essential Divine recipes for familial and social success and happiness. It should be required reading for any English-speaking Muslim of marriageable age, although probably few are the Arab, Indian, and other Muslim households that would not gain something from the same reminder. May Allah thank the author on behalf of the Umma and congratulate Dar al-Fikr for serving her text well, with barely over three or four minor typographical errors (cf. p. 164, 169).

Other recommended books in English on the same subject are Woman in Shari'a by Abd al-Rahman Doi; Marriage in Islam by Muhammad Abd al-Rauf (former rector of Islam University of Malaysia); The Islamic View of Women and the Family by M. Abd al-Rauf (New York: Robert Speller and Sons, 1977. ISBN 0-8315-0156-1); Marriage and Sexuality in Islam and The Proper Conduct of Marriage in Islam, respectively Madelyn Farah's and Muhtar Holland's translations of al-Ghazzali's book of Nikah from his Ihya' 'Ulum al-Din. And

Allah knows best.

Hajj Gibril FouadHaddad

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