Choosing a Life Partner
By Altaf Husain, MSW
(Altaf Husain, MSW is a social worker in the United States and has been a contributing writer to IslamOnline since its inception. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
With the increasing inclination of Muslims to begin practicing Islam starting in their preteen years, there has been a concurrent rise in the numbers of Muslims who wish to marry young. It is not uncommon to find Muslims marrying while they are completing their undergraduate degree or soon after graduation. No matter how early one starts to think about marriage, there is resounding agreement that choosing a life partner is indeed a choice of a lifetime.
Are you thinking about marriage? What have you done to prepare for it?
It is often more comforting to talk about the qualities one is seeking in a spouse than to look within oneself to understand one's own strengths and weaknesses. Before bringing another person into our lives, it is important that we come to know ourselves very well. The most straightforward and pointed question to ask is "who am I?" While it might be tempting to get lost in the philosophical line of thinking about "who am I?" there are obvious reasons to raise concrete issues and be frank and honest with oneself.
Begin by asking yourself the most important question: "How strong is my relationship with Allah Most High?" Nearness to Allah is rooted in nurturing love for Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) out of a sincere desire to obey Allah and His Messenger in all aspects of our lives. In this context, it is critical that young Muslims evaluate themselves by asking "how would I characterize my relationship with Allah: strong, weak or nonexistent?"
It is my hope that most of you will answer either that you have a weak relationship and are trying to strengthen it, or that the relationship is fairly strong and you are trying only to further strengthen it. Whatever the present state of your relationship with Allah is, your goal should be to be the best Muslim you can be before marriage.
In addition, one must have a clear understanding of one's own personality and character. There is a difference between having an understanding of oneself and in being self-absorbed. The goal should be to have an understanding and a desire to change whatever qualities need improvement.
What sort of a personality do you have? Are you more likely to give than to receive? Can you wait until later to discuss a possible conflict, or are you more inclined to address the conflict wherever and whenever it arises? Is sharing your thoughts second nature to you, or are you more inclined to keep your thoughts to yourself, even bottling up your emotions? Do you think first, react later; or are you more inclined to act first, think later? Do you find it easy to apologize whether or not you are wrong, or is apologizing the last thing on your mind?
Assessing one's character is not an easy task but we have plenty of guideposts. If you had to describe your character, how would you do it? Consider the insightful description of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) by his beloved wife `A'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), who said that his character reflected the Qur'an. The role model for both men and women is Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), and in addition, for women, it is the wives of the Prophet, the Mothers of the Believers. Reflect upon your character and consider how close or far you are from emulating Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). What changes will you have to make? Are you ready to make those changes before marriage?
Finally, remember that your personal habits might not seem consequential now but could matter very much depending on the personality and even personal habits of your spouse. As trivial as it sounds, leaving dirty laundry on the floor, squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle, not giving any consideration to personal hygiene just because one is "not going out" are all habits, among so many others, that could use some fine tuning. Think seriously about who you are, your relationship with Allah, your personality, your character, and your personal habits to prepare yourself for marriage. Reflect upon this verse again and again and make du`aa' to Allah for the best:
[And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.] (Ar-Rum, 30:21)
Getting Back on Track
Along with trying to gain more knowledge about oneself, it is important to point out that if the analysis proves that one has made mistakes or committed major sins other than associating partners with Allah, then the focus should be on getting oneself back on track. None of us are above committing sins, but once we acknowledge that we have committed sins, our goal should be total and complete repentance to Allah.
It is not possible for the process of repentance to begin until one feels intense remorse for one's actions. Before attempting to marry, and as a part of the repentance process, one must abandon all sinful actions. Often young people find themselves caught in a cycle of sin and repentance, and one of the best ways to break the cycle is to surround oneself with righteous young people in order to emulate their behavior. There are two very critical teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) which speak directly to this point:
Narrated Ibn `Abbas: The Prophet used to invoke Allah at night, saying, "O Allah, All the praises are for You; You are the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth. All the praises are for You; You are the Maintainer of the Heaven and the Earth and whatever is in them. All the praises are for You; You are the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. Your word is the Truth, and Your promise is the Truth, and the meeting with You is the Truth, and Paradise is the Truth, and the (Hell) Fire is the Truth, and the Hour is the Truth. O Allah! I surrender myself to You, and I believe in You and I depend upon You, and I repent to You and with You (Your evidence) I stand against my opponents, and to You I leave the judgment (for those who refuse my message). O Allah! Forgive me my sins that I did in the past or will do in the future, and also the sins I did in secret or in public. You are my only God (Whom I worship) and there is no other God for me (i.e., I worship none but You)." (Al-Bukhari, Book 93, hadith 482)
A servant committed a sin and he said, "O Allah, forgive me my sins," and Allah the Exalted and Glorious said, "My servant committed a sin and then he came to realize that he has a Lord Who forgives the sins and takes to account (the sinner) for the sin." He then again committed a sin and said, "My Lord, forgive me my sin," and Allah the Exalted and High said, "My servant committed a sin and then came to realize that he has a Lord Who would forgive his sin or would take (him) to account for the sin." He again committed a sin and said, "My Lord, forgive me for my sin," and Allah the Exalted and High said, "My servant has committed a sin and then came to realize that he has a Lord Who forgives the sins or takes (him) to account for sin. O servant, do what you like, I have granted you forgiveness." (Muslim Book 37, hadith 6642)
Overall, the two hadiths listed above show clearly that the door to repentance is open and that it is critical that young people take account of their sins before they marry so that they can present themselves for marriage in the most pure state possible. Of course, none of us can guarantee that we will remain sin-free; however, this process of taking account of our sins, of feeling remorse, of getting ourselves back on track is crucial before we bring another person into our lives. Read each hadith carefully and reflect upon your own life. Most importantly, develop a plan of action to get yourself back on track.
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