I had an interesting conversation yesterday with my father-in-law. He’s Iranian, and he was telling me stories of the old days in Iran, from the time of his parents and grandparents in the villages of Shiraz.
The conversation turned to marriage customs and traditions of that time and place.
“People had a totally different mentality from today’s,” he said.
“The thoughts both men and women had about marriage and divorce were diametrically opposed to the thoughts most people have today. And thoughts influence attitude and actions. So thoughts are extremely powerful.
“My mother told my sisters when they got married what all Iranian mothers told their daughters in those days on their wedding day: “You are entering your marriage home today in white, and you will leave it in white.”
She meant that the bride enters the home in her white wedding gown, and will leave it in her white كفن, kafan (shroud).
Now, let me assure you that I know just how jarring such a statement sounds to modern ears.
Let me make the necessary disclaimers here:
I am NOT condoning anything like domestic violence, any sort of injustice or harm, or anything of the kind. I’m NOT telling victims to tolerate injustice or abuse. Also, of course, divorce is halal and, at times, necessary. Many divorcees go on to get remarried and live happily ever after.
Divorce in and of itself should not be some terrible taboo in Muslim society.
Now, having agreed on these basics, let’s continue to more subtle details. I am just sharing some nascent thoughts this discussion has given me, some ambiguous ideas that have been floating around in my mind for a while as I reflect on this issue.
My thought is this: our ideas about divorce will naturally influence our actions in a marriage. Our beliefs about the importance of marriage, the nature of the relationship between men and women, and what happiness look like. Our expectations of what we are owed, what we deserve, how hard we ought to work, how much we ought to try–all of these attitudes we hold will inevitably affect how we conduct ourselves as husbands and wives within a marriage.
This is especially relevant in the modern age of no-fault divorce, and plummeting marriage rates, and rising divorce rates citing vague reasons of “irreconcilable differences.”
Irreconcilable differences, really? Or is it more like “unreasonable expectations”? Or “unwillingness to budge”?
For example, if a woman enters marriage assuming that she is owed a great deal by her husband (in terms of money, time, attention, material things, etc) and those expectations are not fully met, she will start to feel annoyed and resentful. And if the prevalent attitude she (and others) hold is that marriage is expendable and husbands are easily accessible and that divorce is no biggie, she will naturally try less hard. If she thinks that her current husband is unsatisfactory (because he’s failed to meet her unreasonable demands and high expectations) and that another, a better husband is readily available just around the corner, she is much more likely to drop her current husband in search of that upgraded model.
And if she has been influenced by feminism, she will be further in trouble, thinking that she doesn’t really need a man in the first place, and she definitely doesn’t need to put up with this particular one’s b$%!@$&. Men ain’t $#@*. Marriage is meh and motherhood is overrated, and I’m a strong independent woman anyway. Who needs this headache of actually dealing with a man?? Buh bye!
But if her attitude about marriage and divorce were different, for example: if she believed that marriage is a lifelong commitment that is not easily dropped, and that divorce is not a light matter to consider every time she feels mildly inconvenienced in the marriage, and that a good man is a thing to be treasured and held on to, then she will naturally try harder, be more patient, more flexible. Put in more effort, more effective communication, more thought, and less impulse. Many differences can be worked out and…reconciled.
Same for men.
If a man has learned to take marriage seriously as a ميثاق غليظ (a severely firm contract) and understands that his responsibilities before Allah as the waliy (الولي) are immense, and recognizes that a good woman is hard to find and must be appreciated, he will be that much more reasonable, flexible, patient. He will naturally try harder to work things out and put in the hard work necessary to establish a sound marriage. He won’t throw in the towel at the smallest problem. Divorce will not keep flitting through his mind as a potential solution– but rather, he’ll think of different ways for how to refine the marriage and preserve it. Many differences can be worked out and…reconciled.
What if the “irreconcilable” can be reconciled?
It’s a completely different mindset, which leads to a completely different dynamic and completely different outcomes.
An attitude of full presence in the marriage. Total investment in the relationship.
When you’ve got this attitude, you think, “I’m not half in, half out of this marriage. I’ve jumped in with both feet. I’m in it for the long haul. This marriage is worth my while.”
No wavering. No looking around for seemingly better options. No scoping out the potentials. No checking for alternatives. This is it. Khalas.
I once heard a person describing successful marriages as handcuffing yourself to another person and throwing away the key. You’re stuck together, for better or worse. You two are a team, a unit, a unified entity. Come what may, you’re tied to one another and you will deal with it together.
This reminds me of the battles in which the Muslim army was led by the brilliant commander Tariq ibn Ziyad. His strategy was to sail to the Iberian Peninsula and, immediately upon reaching the enemy’s shores, he would turn around and burn his own ships. No turning back now. The stakes have been raised. The battle just got a lot more serious. Fleeing is just not an option.
Again, let me be crystal clear and reiterate: I am not saying that people in truly bad, unfixable, dysfunctional marriages should just stay in them forever, burn the ships, throw away the key! Not at all. Please don’t misunderstand and come at me in the comments lol. There are some cases in which divorce is needed and there is no better alternative. These situations certainly exist.
I am merely saying: in the other cases, in the marriages that are still fixable and still have hope and still filled with promise, we should not be so quick to give up. Don’t be too hasty with conjuring up thoughts of divorce at the first disagreement, as it may seem easier than actually staying committed and fixing the issues. You’d be prematurely ending a marriage that could have not only survived but thrived and flourished.
We especially, as Muslims, recognize the reality: that Shaytan loves nothing more than to split up a husband and wife. No other deed is more beloved to Iblis, the commander of all the shayateen, than to separate a couple, wreck a relationship, sabotage a marriage.
Marriage involves hard work, sacrifice, and compromise from both parties to work. It’s not easy. It’s not smooth all the time. It demands a lot from both the husband and the wife.
But when both husband and wife are prepared to put in that kind of effort, and are both mentally ready to commit and stay the course, and are both emotionally available to accept the challenges, marriage is absolutely beautiful and astonishingly joyful.
May Allah grant the singles among us beautiful marriages and bless all Muslim marriages with stability, Ameen.