sisterandhusbandOne of the ways in which Islaam has honoured woman is by giving her the right to choose her husband. Her parents have no right to force her to marry someone she dislikes. The Muslim woman knows this right, but she does not reject the advice and guidance of her parents when a potential suitor comes along, because they have her best interests at heart, and they have more experience of life and people.

There are many texts that support the woman in this sensitive issue, for example the report quoted by Imaam al-Bukhaari from al-Khansa’ bint Khidam, “My father married me to his  nephew, and I did not like this match, so I complained to the Messenger of Allah. He said to me, ‘Accept what your father has arranged.’ I said, ‘I do not wish to accept what my father has arranged.’ He said, ‘Then this marriage is invalid, go and marry whomever you wish.’ I said,

‘I have accepted what my father has arranged, but I wanted women to know that fathers have no right in their daughter’s matters (i.e. they have no right to force a marriage on them).’” (Fath al-Bari, 9/194)

At first, the Prophet (peace be upon him) told al-Khansa’ to obey her father, and this is as it should be, because the concern of fathers for their daughter's well being is well known. But when he realized that her father wanted to force her into a marriage she did not want, he gave her the freedom to choose, and saved her from the oppression of a father who wanted to force her into an unwanted marriage.

Islaam does not want to impose an unbearable burden on women by forcing her to marry a man she may dislike, because it wants marriages to be successful, based on compatibility between the partners; there should be common ground between them in terms of physical looks, attitudes, habits, inclinations and aspirations. If something goes wrong, and the woman feels that she cannot love her husband sincerely, and fears that she may commit the sin of disobeying and opposing this husband whom she does not love, then she may ask for a divorce. This is confirmed by the report in which the wife of Thabit ibn Qays ibn Shammas, Jameelah the sister of ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy, came to the Prophet and said,

“O Messenger of Allah, I have nothing against Thabit ibn Qays as regards his religion or his behavior, but I hate to commit any act of disbelief when I am a Muslim."

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Will you give his garden back to him?” as her dowry had been a garden. She said, “Yes.” So the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) sent word to him, “Take back your garden, and give her one pronouncement of divorce.” (Fath al-Bari, 9/395, Kitab al-talaq, bab al-khul'.)

According to a report given by Al-Bukhaari from Ibn ‘Abbas, she said,

“I do not blame Thabit for anything with regard to his religion or his behavior, but I do not like him.”

flowerIslaam has protected woman’s pride and humanity, and has respected her wishes with regard to the choice of a husband with whom she will spend the rest of her life. It is not acceptable for anyone, no matter who he is, to force a woman into a marriage with a man she does not like.

There is no clearer indication of this than the story of Bareerah, an Ethiopian slave-girl who b elonged to ‘Utbah ibn Abu Lahab, who forced her to marry another slave whose name was Mugheeth. She would never have accepted him as a husband if she had been in control of her own affairs. ‘A’aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) took pity on her, so she purchased her and then set her free. When this young woman felt that she was free and in control of her own affairs, and that she could take a decision about her marriage, she asked her husband for a divorce.

Her husband used to follow her, weeping, whilst she rejected him. Al-Bukhaari quotes Ibn ‘Abbas describing this freed woman who insisted on the annulment of her marriage to someone she did not love. Our loving Prophet (peace be upon) commented on this moving sight, and sought to intervene. Ibn ‘Abbas said, “Barirah’s husband was a slave, who was known as Mugheeth. I can almost see him (i.e. even now i can remember him vividly), running after her and crying, with tears running down onto his beard. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to ‘Abbas, ‘O ‘Abbas, do you not find it strange, how much Mugeeth loves Bareerah, and how much Bareerah hates Mugheeth?’ The Prophet (peace be upon him) said (to Bareerah), ‘Why do you not go back to him?’ She said,

‘O Messenger of Allah, are you commanding me to do so?’

He said, ‘I am merely trying to intervene on his behalf.’ She said, ‘I have no need of him.’” (Fath al-Bari, 9/408, Kitab al-talaq, bab shafa'at al-Nabi (r) fi zawj Barirah.)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) was deeply moved by this display of human emotion: deep and overwhelming love on the part of the husband, and equally powerful hatred on the part of the wife. He could not help but remind the wife, and ask her why she did not go back to him, as he was her husband and the father of her child. This believing woman asked him, whether he was ordering her to do so: was this a command, a binding obligation? The Prophet (peace be upon him), this great law-giver and educator, replied that he was merely trying to intercede and bring about reconciliation if possible; he was not trying to force anybody to do something they did not wish to. Let those stubborn, hard-hearted fathers who oppress their own daughters listen to the teaching of the Prophet!

Wise and Correct Standards For Choosing a Husband

The Muslim woman who understands the teachings of her religion has wise and correct standards when it comes to choosing a husband. She does not concern herself just with good looks, high status, a luxurious lifestyle or any of the other things that usually attract women. She looks into his level of religious  commitment and his attitude and behavior, because these are the pillars of a successful marriage, and the best features of a husband. Islamic teaching indicates the importance of these qualities in a potential husband, as Islaam obliges a woman to accept the proposal of anyone who has these qualities, lest fitnah (trial and temptation) and corruption become widespread in society. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “If there comes to you one with whose religion and attitude you are satisfied, then give your daughter to him in marriage, for if you do not do so, fitnah and mischief will become widespread on earth.” (Hasan hadith narrated by Tirmidhi, 2/274, Abwab al-nikah, 3; and by Ibn Majah, 1/633, Kitab al-nikah, bab al-akfa'.)

Just as the true Muslim young man will not be attracted to the pretty girls who have grown up in a bad environment, so the Muslim young woman who is guided by her religion will not be attracted to stupid “play-boy” types, no matter how handsome they may be. Rather she will be attracted to the serious, educated, believing man who is clean-living and pure of heart, whose behavior is good and whos understanding of religion is sound. No one is a suitable partner for the good, believing woman except a good, believing man; and no one is a suitable partner for the wayward, immoral woman but a wayward, immoral man, as Allah (the Glorious) has said, {Women impure are for men impure, and men impure for women impure, and women of purity are for men of purity, and men of purity are for women of purity} (Qur’aan 24:26)

pinkwhiteThis does not mean that the Muslim woman should completely ignore the matter of physique and appearance, and put up with unattractiveness or ugliness. It is her right - as stated above – to marry a man for whom her heart may be filled with love, and who is pleasing to her both in his appearance and in his conduct. Appearance should not be neglected at the expense of inner nature, or vice versa. A woman should choose a man who is attractive to her, one who will gain her admiration and respect. The true Muslim woman is never dazzled by outward appearances, and she never lets it distract her from seeing the essence of a potential spouse.

The Muslim woman knows that the man has the right of qawwaamah over her, as the Qur’aan says, {Men are the protectors and maintainers [qawwaamun] of women, because Allah has given the one more [strength] than the other, and because they support them from their means.} (Qur’aan 4:34)

Hence she wants to marry a man of qawwaamah over. For this she will feel proud and be happy to marry him and never regret it. She wants a man who will take her hand in his and set out to fulfill their life’s mission of establishing a Muslim family and raising a new generation of intelligent and caring children, in an atmosphere of love and harmony, which will not be impeded by conflicting attitudes or religious differences.

Believing men and believing women are supposed to walk side-by-side on the journey of life, which is a serious matter for the believer, so that they may fulfill the great mission with which Allah (the Glorious) has entrusted mankind, men and women alike, as the Qur’aan says, {For Muslim men and women - for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are constant and patient, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast [and deny themselves], for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise - for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.} (Qur’aan 33:35)

In order to achieve this great goal of strengthening the marriage bond and establishing a stable family life, it is essential to choose the right partner in the first place.

The Amazing Example of Umm Sulaym bint Milhaan

Among the great Muslim women of Islaaam, one who is known for her strength of character, lofty aspirations and far-sightedness in her choice of a husband is Umm Sulaym bint Milhaan.

She was one of the first Ansaari women to embrace Islaam. She was married to Maalik ibn Nadhar, and bore him a son, Anas. When she embraced Islam, her husband Malik was angry with her, and left her, but she persisted in her Islam. Shortly afterwards, she heard the news of his death, and she was still in the flower of her youth. She bore it all with the hope of reward, for the sake of Allah (the Mighty), and devoted herself to taking care of her ten-year-old son Anas. She took him to the Prophet, so that he could serve him and learn from him.

One of the best young men of Madinah, one of the best looking richest and strongest, came to seek her hand in marriage. This was Abu Talhah - before he became Muslim. Many of the young women of Yathrib liked him because of his wealth, strength and youthful good looks, and he thought that Umm Sulaym would joyfully rush to accept his offer. But to his astonishment, she told him,

“O Aboo Talhah, do you not know that your god whom you worship is just a tree that grew in the ground and was carved into shape by the slave of Banoo (the tribe of) so-and so."

He said, “Of course.”

She said,

“Do you not feel ashamed to prostrate yourself to a piece of wood that grew in the ground and was carved by the slave of Banoo (the tribe of) so-and-so?”

Abu Talhah was stubborn, and hinted to her of an expensive dowry and luxurious lifestyle, but she persisted in her point of view, and told him frankly,

“O Aboo Talhah, a man like you could not be turned away, but you are a disbelieving man, and I am a Muslim woman. It is not permitted for me to marry you, but if you were to embrace Islam, that would be my dowry (mahr), and I would ask you for nothing more.” (Reported by al-Nisa'i with a sahih isnad, 6/114, Kitab al-nikah, bab al-tazwij 'ala'l-Islam.)

He returned the following day to try to tempt her with a larger dowry and more generous gift, but she stood firm, and her persistence and maturity only enhanced her beauty in his eyes. She said to him,

“O Aboo Talhah, do you not know that your god whom you worship was carved by the carpenter slave of so-and-so? If you were to set it alight, it would burn.”

Her words came as a shock to Abu Talhah, and he asked himself, "Does the Lord burn?" Then he uttered the testimony of faith, “Ashhadu an laa ilaaha ill-Allah wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasoolullah.” And hence became a Muslim.

Then Umm Sulaym said to her son Anas, with joy flooding her entire being,

“O Anas, marry me to Aboo Talhah.”

So Anas brought witnesses and the marriage was solemnized.

Aboo Talhah was so happy that he was determined to put all his wealth at Umm Sulaym’s disposal, but hers was the attitude of the selfless, proud, sincere believing woman. She told him,

“O Aboo Talhah, I married you for the sake of Allah (the Glorious), and I will not take any other dowry.”

She knew that when Abu Talhah embraced Islam, she did not only win herself a worthy husband, but she also earned a reward from Allah (subhaanahu wa ‘ta’aalaa) that was better than owning red camels (the most highly-prized kind) in this world, as she had heard the Prophet say, "If Allah (the Glorious) were to guide one person to Islaam through you, it is better for you than owning red camels.” (Fath al-Bari, 7/476, Kitab al-maghazi, bab ghazwat Khaybar.)

Such great Muslim women are examples worthy of emulation, from whom Muslim women may learn purity of faith, strength of character, soundness of belief and the wisdom in choosing a husband.