The poise and balance of a society heavily depends on the
poise and balance of the attitudes and tendencies of its people. Whenever human
attitudes cross their natural limits disorder and discord result. In particular,
the stability of a society is threatened with dire consequences if people vested
with political or moral authority misuse this sacred trust of Allah. A despotic
ruler often faces popular revolt; a tyrannical husband soon encounters a defiant
wife; oppressive parents inevitably groom rebellious children. It is necessary
to curb this tendency of power to corrupt in order to build a healthy and
The ongoing debate on the extent of authority of parents
over their children's choice to marry is one such case in point. As always, two
distinct opinions have emerged. One of them is that a man or a woman is totally
free in making his or her decision about the choice of partner and has the right
to overrule the opinion of the parents or the guardian. The second is that the
opinion of the parents is in all cases binding and must necessarily be kept in
consideration. Though a particular case has initiated this debate, we believe
that perhaps it would be more fruitful to view the whole matter in principle in
the light of the guidance provided by the Qur’ān and Sunnah and by the
established principles of reason and intellect.
A word here about the nature of divine guidance seems
appropriate. The basic aim of this guidance is to reveal to mankind the ariston
metron or the golden mean. This golden mean is the summit of balance and the
prime of poise in all the affairs of life. It is evident from the nature of
Qur’ānic guidance that for most matters man's intellect is enough to show him
the way. However, this intellect often falters in maintaining a balance.
Extremes engender extremes and reactions originate reactions unless, of course,
the lighthouse of revelation guides the armada of reason.
We shall now attempt to explain the viewpoint of Islam on
the issue under consideration. In order to do so, it is necessary to understand
two basic principles it has established in this regard. Firstly, it regards the
institution of family as the basis of its social order. Secondly, it gives great
importance to freedom in decision making by the man and woman who intend to
marry. It is its intense desire that the institution of family and the freedom
of choice in marriage be given utmost consideration and only rare circumstances
should allow an exception to these principles. Both of them need some
Islam regards the institution of family as the basic unit
of a society and stresses that it is the need of every individual if his life is
viewed as a whole. Man is basically a weak and an insecure being. He has
spiritual as well as material needs. Just as he needs to develop a strong
relationship with the Almighty to fulfil his spiritual needs, he also needs to
develop a strong relationship with his fellow human beings to fulfil his
material needs. Islam says that a man and a woman must come together in a
permanent bond of wedlock to create a family to fulfil these material needs
which may be physical, emotional and psychological. A man and a woman taken
separately, are incomplete in their existence. Both need each other to fill the
voids of their personalities. There are some responsibilities which only a man
can fulfil and others which only a woman can. Furthermore, since these
requirements are everlasting, any temporary relationship between a man and a
woman can never be truly fruitful. The Qur’ān says that marriage is a means of
solace and comfort for a man and a woman:
And among His signs is that He created for you mates from
among yourselves that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them and He has planted
love and kindness between you. (30:21)
Besides providing peace and tranquillity to the spouses,
the role a family set up plays in fulfilling the needs of the individual born to
a family is apparent to every keen eye. He passes the first half of his life in
transforming from a child to a mature young man and the second half in
transforming from a mature young man to an old man. In the greater part of the
first period, he needs the love and affection of his parents. As an infant
‘ewling and puking in the nurse’s arms’, his meek and helpless existence need
the love and affection of a mother and a father. It is only proper parental care
which makes him feel secure and confident. Since parents are the first seat of
learning, the base they build in moulding his character and in instructing him
plays a vital role in the later part of his life.
Grandparents also have an all important role to play: They
imbue their grandchildren with the priceless wealth of wisdom and experience
which helps them in traversing the rugged terrain of life. Brothers and sisters
also make important contributions in developing his personality. The older ones
are actually an extension of the parental role while the younger ones create in
him an initial awareness of parenthood. Once a person reaches a mature age,
certain other needs arise in him which must be fulfilled. It is at this stage
that a man and a woman need each other to complement and complete one another.
This relationship is the only means of providing emotional fulfilment and
satisfaction to the spouses, which is the primary need that brings them together
and they now also assume the role of the progenitors of a new family to start
the cycle once again. In the second phase of life, an individual advances from
the exuberant years of youth to enter the folds of old age. It is now that he
needs the love and protection of his grown up children. In this state of ‘second
childishness and mere oblivion’, which is ‘sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste,
sans everything’, it is only the set up of a family which can properly support
him. Without such a support, old age is the worst form of affliction. No one
else except the children have a strong attachment to their parents. It is this
attachment which urges them to return in some form the support and affection
they had once received from their parents.
Besides these primary relationships, the secondary
relationships like maternal aunts and uncles and paternal aunts, cousin brothers
and cousin sisters, nieces and nephews perform in a wider perspective the same
function as the primary ones. The components of a family constitute a small
community which if administered properly by the head of the family makes the
basic unit of a society healthy.
The Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences while explaining the
advantages of the set up of a family says:
The nature and development of the family have deep roots
in the physiological conditions of human mating, reproduction and education. The
exceptional prolongation of infancy as a state of helplessness and immaturity is
one of the most instinctive features of mankind generally. Through it the role
of the parents as well as of other relatives in nourishing, protecting and
educating offspring is of the utmost importance for the individual and for
society. However fixed the inherited traits and gifts of the individual may be,
the child's necessary social equipment is doubtless acquired only through a
circumstantial and long continued process of artificial training and adaptation.
The family has been the chief bearer and medium of this process, which also
vitalises the relations between the parents and in the wider sense between all
the members of a blood relationship, for they are connected from generation to
generation by the awareness of this social tradition. (vol 6, p 68)
The western world, over the last fifty years, however
seems lost and confused on the importance of the institution of family. The
feminist movement which began two centuries ago is now culminating in the
disruption of this age old institution. The western world is bemoaning the loss
of family values but perhaps it is just too late.
Islam on the other hand, as mentioned earlier, has always
insisted that the institution of family is the basic building block of the
society and it is in the interest of humanity to adhere to a family oriented
society. Consequently, it has given a number of directives for the protection
and preservation of the family. We shall mention some of these:
It says that a man and woman must come together in a
permanent bond of marriage and must not indulge in extra-marital relationships
since they dismember the institution of family. It prescribes severe punishments
for people who are guilty of adultery and ostracises them from the society.
It lays down a whole code of social etiquette and communal
conduct to safeguard and protect chastity and modesty which themselves are
necessary for the well-being of a family set up.
It regards the husband as head of the family because his
temperament and disposition are more suited for this task.
It is of the view that all differences of opinion between
the husband and wife should generally be resolved in an atmosphere of mutual
trust and confidence. However, if a situation of anarchy and disorder arises
which threatens to disrupt the whole family set-up, the wife must adopt an
attitude of submission and adjustment.
It invests the husband with certain powers to deal with a
wife who adopts a rebellious attitude with him and stands up against his
authority, just as an affectionate mother has the authority to admonish her
children to correct them.
It holds the parents responsible for the proper upbringing
of their children.
It urges the children to be very kind and compassionate to
their parents, especially in old age.
It wants the mothers to regard the house as the centre of
their activities (which of course does not mean that they cannot go out) so that
they can give due attention to the future generations and are able to provide
their husbands with solace and comfort.
It says that if ever a divorce is to end a family set up,
a certain prescribed procedure should be followed in letter and spirit since
this procedure ensures that the dissolution of marriage passes through an
interim phase in which the decision has ample time to be reconsidered.
It maintains that if a divorced woman intends to start a
new family, her former husband or his relatives must in no way obstruct her.
Among these directives also comes the Prophet's hadi$th
the interpretation of which has become the centre of controversy these days:
A Nikāh does not solemnise unless it takes place through
the guardian and if someone does not have a guardian the ruler of the Muslims is
his guardian. (Tirmidhi$, Kitāb-al- Nikāh)
This Hadi$th is actually a corollary of the social
directives of Islam pertaining to the institution of family and is based on
great wisdom. Since the preservation and protection of the family set up is of
paramount importance to Islam, it is but natural that each marriage take place
through the consent of the parents who are the foremost guardians. It is obvious
that a marriage solemnised through the consent of the parents shields and
shelters the newly formed family. For reasons stated earlier, it is essential
that the newly formed family be part of another larger family.
However, as is evident from the Hadi$th also, there can
always be an exception to this general principle. If a man and a woman feel that
the rejection on the part of the parents has no sound reasoning behind it or
that the parents, owing to some reason, are not appreciating the grounds of this
union, they have all the right to take this matter to the courts of justice. It
is now up to the court to analyse and evaluate the whole affair. If it is
satisfied with the stance of the man and woman, it can give a green signal to
them. In this case, as is apparent from the hadi$th, the state shall be
considered the guardian of the couple. On the other hand, if the court is of the
view that the stand of the parents is valid, it can stop the concerned parties
from engaging in wedlock. Similarly, if a case is brought before the judicial
forums in which the marriage has taken place without the consent of the parents,
it is up to the court to decide the fate of such a liaison. If it is not
satisfied with the grounds of this union, it can order for their separation and
if it is satisfied, it can endorse the decision taken by the couple.
This is the law as far as this issue is concerned.
However, it is evident that laws mostly cater for extreme situations as their
nature is preventive not reformatory. In other words, they prevent the spreading
of anarchy and disorder in a society but have no role in positively building a
society on a certain ideology. It is the utmost goal of Islam to build a society
in which traditions are so deeply rooted that various affairs are settled and
resolved within the social structure without taking them to the courts. Family
affairs, if taken to the courts, become the talk of the town and severely damage
the standing and reputation of the parties involved. Consequently, it is in the
interest of the parties involved to settle their differences mutually by giving
due importance to the ultimate goal of protecting the institution of family.
The society which, we believe, Islam wants to built is one
in which the relationship between parents and children is based on such norms
and values as protect the family set up. In such a society, if an individual has
to select a life partner for himself or herself, he or she must make the utmost
effort to convince the parents. In differences of opinion it seems proper that
the individual accommodate the opinion of the parents as far as possible, and
only in extraordinary circumstances should he/she persist in his/her decision.
An individual no doubt has total freedom in decision making in this regard but
he/she should give top priority to the protection of the institution of family.
This freedom is so absolute that Islam disapproves of parents who forcibly marry
their sons and daughters and makes it clear that it is the concerned man and
woman who have the final say in this regard:
A girl once came to ‘Ā’īshah (raa) and said ‘My father has
married me to his nephew to alleviate his poverty through me. I dislike him.’
‘Ā’īshah (raa) replied ‘Wait here until the Prophet (sws) comes.’ The Prophet (sws)
arrived shortly and she informed him of the matter. At this, the Prophet (sws)
sent for her father. When he arrived the Prophet (sws) gave the girl the choice
to do whatever she liked. She said: ‘I accept my father's decision. I only
wanted to know whether a girl has authority in this regard or not’. (Nisā’ī,
If in a society envisaged by Islam it is important that an
individual give due regard to the opinion of the parents in marriage, it is even
more important that the parents be extra cautious in this matter since they hold
moral authority over their children. Misuse and abuse of such authority can
produce grave consequences. Parents must give deep consideration to the
inclinations and tendencies of their children in deciding their future in an
affair as delicate as marriage. They should understand that once their children
become mentally mature they must not impose their ideas on them. When an
individual develops into a grown up person he deserves freedom of expression and
freedom of action within certain limits. This actually develops and strengthens
his personality. The vivacity of youth and the vigour of adolescence demand a
certain amount of independence, which if curtailed, only turns a dull child into
a dunce and an intelligent one into a ruffian. Adult children must be handled
very tactfully. They must be moulded and convinced, encouraged and exhorted.
Parents must realise that an adult child learns a lot through experience and
exposure. The blunders he/she will commit today make him/her wise tomorrow.
Parents who forgive and forgo win respect and regard and those who make it a
point to punish the children on every mistake committed make no positive
impression in their minds. Important decisions must always be discussed with
children to breed confidence and conviction in them. A decision as crucial as
marriage is no exception. If parents have a different view from their son’s or
daughter’s, they must handle the situation very carefully. They must calmly
assess the situation, and must also make a true evaluation of the grounds of
such a proposition. They must also estimate how far they can insist before the
matter enters the zone of no return. It is advisable that only in extreme
circumstances should they deprive the couple of their guardianship. They must
also keep in consideration that if they intend to back out from this position,
the concerned man and woman have all the right to present their case before the
court to finally decide the matter. This of course would either unite the two
under the guardianship of the state or endorse the view of the parents, in which
case the two must submit to the verdict of the court.
This we believe is the stance of Islam on this issue. We
hope that the pundits of the society will find some time to consider this matter
in the light of what has been said above.