The Beauty of Ḥusn al-Ẓann: Thinking Well of Your Spouse

A century ago, the Western world discovered the abundance of natural resources that lie beneath the feet of the desert Bedouins. They aptly named these oil deposits “black gold” and realized the immense wealth that the Arabian Peninsula possessed. Yet, the Arabs remained oblivious to the amazing treasure they’d been sitting on all along.

This paints the picture of a sad reality, not just that of the Arabs but for all Muslims, who possess the greatest treasure of all, Islam, often without ever fully realizing its true value⁠. A lot of the time, it is Westerners who uncover this truth through their research, unwittingly expending a significant amount of money, resources, time and effort which could have otherwise been saved had they simply adopted faith in the Qur’an and the messenger to whom it was revealed (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).

One such example is that of the “Love Lab,” a university study conducted in 1999 by renowned couples therapist, John Gottman. The experiment involved filming couples in their natural living environment to determine factors which accurately predicted their success or failure. After a simple 15-minute interview, Gottman was able to predict, with 91% accuracy, whether a couple’s relationship would work out or not.

Gottman found that successful couples, when envisioning their future together, spoke positively about each other, whereas unsuccessful couples projected negativity onto their partner. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) had already conveyed this message over a millennium ago:

It has been narrated from Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said:

The Prophet ﷺ said: A believing man does not despise a believing woman. If there is a characteristic of hers he dislikes, there will be another he is pleased with.” (Sahih Muslim)

This simple yet profound statement highlights the importance of positivity and mutual respect within any relationship, be it romantic or otherwise. As Muslims, we are extremely fortunate to have access to such blessed teachings, yet we often fail to recognize their value or actualize them. Let us learn from the lessons of the past and cherish the treasure that is our religion, for it is a source of guidance and wisdom that can lead us to a fulfilling life, both in this world and in the Hereafter.

The beauty of Allah’s complete and perfect wisdom is unparalleled, as is evident from His words:

O you who believe! It is not lawful for you to inherit [like mere objects] the women [of your deceased; nor to hold them] forcibly [in order to have their wealth]. Nor shall you impede them [from marriage], in order for you to take away anything of whatever [possessions] you have given them, except when they commit flagrant indecency. So consort with them [only] in accordance with what is right [and honorable]. And should you [come to] detest them [after marrying them, then], behold: It may be that you detest something and Allah will place therein much goodness. (Qur’an, 4:19)

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Indeed, friction between couples within a relationship is quite common. This is because none of us are perfect. Thus we are not going to be so perfectly in tune with one another and free from fault that no conflicts arise. However, what sets apart a successful marriage from a failing one is the attitude prescribed by the Qur’an⁠—to see the glass half full.

Islam teaches us not to become fixated on the flaws and shortcomings of our partners while neglecting all of their virtues and assets.

In 2000, a team of esteemed psychologists published an article in the Journal of Family Psychology, revealing how negative attribution can lead to marital disaster:

This study investigated the direction of possible causal effects between attributions for negative partner behavior and marital satisfaction and tested whether any effects are mediated by efficacy expectations regarding marital conflict. Couples married for 15-20 months completed measures of attribution and satisfaction at Time 1 and at Time 3 (18 months later). At Time 2 (6 months after Time 1) they completed a measure of efficacy expectations. For both husbands and wives, a cross-lagged effects model showed that the paths from causal attributions to later satisfaction and from satisfaction to later causal attributions were significant. Efficacy expectations mediated the temporal relation between attributions and satisfaction. These findings support the assumption that there is a reciprocal causal influence between attributions and satisfaction but suggest important modifications to models of close relationships and marital therapy.

The concept of Ḥusn al-Ẓann, or thinking well of someone, is a living concept in the Islamic tradition. It is the duty of every believer to have a favorable opinion of their brothers and sisters.

If this principle holds true for the relationship between a believer and their fellow believers, it applies even more to two Muslims who are married to one another. They have an incredibly powerful connection, one that is twofold⁠—that of fellow believers and also of husband and wife.

RELATED: Quranic Wisdom on Marriage: The Surprising Benefits of Forgiveness

As believers, we must understand that the concept of Ḥusn al-Ẓann, or thinking well of our fellow Muslim, is not just a mere suggestion. It is a crucial component of our faith. And when it comes to our relationship with our spouse, Ḥusn al-Ẓann is pivotal.

It is ironic that the negative suspicions we sometimes harbor against our loved ones are not only superficial but also often baseless and sinful, as the Qur’an reminds us:

O you who believe! Shun much suspicion. For, indeed, certain kinds of suspicion are sinful. Nor shall you spy [on each other]. Nor shall you backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat his dead brother’s flesh? You would, most surely, abhor it. So fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is all-relenting, mercy-giving. (Qur’an, 49:12)

Islam is perfect and true guidance. Yet, despite the clear guidance from the Noble Qur’an and blessed Sunnah, sadly some still question the need to always refer our matters back to our divine sources. Will we always keep waiting for empirical studies that have been conducted by disbelievers to confirm what has already been revealed to us by Allah and taught to us by His beloved Messenger (may Allah bless him and grant him peace)?

Let’s not fall into this trap. Instead, let us continue to seek guidance from the beautiful gems and pearls of wisdom found within our Islamic tradition. By doing so, we can improve not only our relationships with our spouses, our overall spiritual and mental well-being and fulfillment in life but also our relationship with our Creator, Allah.

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Maaz Ahmad Khan

Alhamdulillah for Islam