The compilation of hadiths into a small group, 40, has been a tradition for some time in the history of Muslim scholarship. ‘Ulama’ (scholars) have recognized the limits and constraints placed on the average Muslim in their pursuit of requisite and inspirational knowledge of Islam. By compiling a smaller number of Prophetic narrations, often under an overarching theme, it was a way to help make the Deen accessible to Muslims so they might better improve their relationship with Allah. The 40 American Hadith is a gesture in that same direction, a collection of Prophetic wisdom aimed and tailored for a modern American Muslim, to assist him or her in their daily aspirations to walk, live, and breathe, as Believers.
عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ، . أَنَّهُ حِينَ هَلَكَ عُثْمَانُ بْنُ مَظْعُونٍ تَرَكَ ابْنَةً لَهُ . قَالَ ابْنُ عُمَرَ فَزَوَّجَنِيهَا خَالِي قُدَامَةُ وَهُوَ عَمُّهَا وَلَمْ يُشَاوِرْهَا وَذَلِكَ بَعْدَ مَا هَلَكَ أَبُوهَا فَكَرِهَتْ نِكَاحَهُ وَأَحَبَّتِ الْجَارِيَةُ أَنْ يُزَوِّجَهَا الْمُغِيرَةَ بْنَ شُعْبَةَ فَزَوَّجَهَا إِيَّاهُ
Ibn Umar narrated, “When Uthman bin Madh’un1 died, he left behind a daughter. Ibn Umar states, ‘My maternal uncle Qudamah (who was the girl’s paternal uncle) married me to her — after her father died — but he did not consult her on the matter. In doing so, she came to detest the marriage for she wanted to marry Mughirah bin Shubah. The union was annulled and she in turn married him.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, hadith #1878, graded as Sahih)
Islam is undoubtedly a way of life and religious tradition that advocates for a personal relationship with God. The emphasis for this is clear in verses from the Qur’an, such as:
إِنّا أَنزَلنا عَلَيكَ الكِتابَ لِلنّاسِ بِالحَقِّ ۖ فَمَنِ اهتَدىٰ فَلِنَفسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّما يَضِلُّ عَلَيها ۖ وَما أَنتَ عَلَيهِم بِوَكيلٍ
“We’ve revealed this Book to you in all truth as a guide for people. The one who accepts this guidance does so for the good of his own soul, while the one who veers away from it only harms his own soul. You’re not responsible for which path they choose.”2
مَن عَمِلَ صالِحًا فَلِنَفسِهِ ۖ وَمَن أَساءَ فَعَلَيها ۖ ثُمَّ إِلىٰ رَبِّكُم تُرجَعونَ
“Whoever does what’s morally right does so for the benefit of his own soul. Whoever does evil is in reality working against his own future welfare. Soon enough you all will be brought back to your Lord.”3
But the individual does not exist in a vacuum. Islam, as a guided way of life, has not abandoned the individual to the lonely counsel of their own souls. Rather, it advocates for humans to live in harmony with other humans, and certainly one of the most important foundations for human coexistence is marriage.
One of the telling measures (sadly) by which Muslims in America can be understood to be assimilating is the alarming rate at which divorce in the Muslim community is approaching percentages of that in the non-Muslim community. The reasons for this are too numerous and intricate to treat here in detail but I would like to pass along the above hadith as counsel for our community regarding marriage. It illustrates two important lessons for us to heed if our community is to perpetuate itself with any measure of success: choice and happiness.
But first, let us ask ourselves, what is marriage? Is it a contract between a man and a woman, by which they pledge, in the sight of God, to support one another materially, emotionally, sexually, and spiritually? Or is marriage a white picket fence, a dog (outside of course), and 2.5 children? What I mean is, where are we taking our directions from when we conceptualize marriage as Muslims? Again, without wading too deep into the weeds, I would highlight some of the challenges to both choice and happiness are the hyper-fixation of Muslim families on material wealth, ethnicity, and class, to name a few critical issues. Focusing on these, to the exclusion of all other considerations—especially choice and happiness—will only continue to erode the Muslim community from within. While it is convenient during a Trump presidency for Muslims to pour all of their fears and anxieties in his administration, we ignore the self-inflicted wound that is just as likely, if perhaps not more so, to contribute to the glum feeling many of us have in our community.
Far too often I have Muslim couples come for counseling with deep-seated resentments about whom they’ve married (men and women). Many feel they were forced into such marriages by their parents and from that coercion, have resentments about not only their marriages but also to whom they are married. This fundamentally compromises the chances for marriages to thrive let alone succeed. The question to be asked here is “why?” Why, when we have clear articulations from the Prophet that such practices go against his Sunnah4 as well as a tremendous selection of potential spouses to choose from? Let me be clear: I am not advocating for a rebellion of children against their parents; nor am I advocating, in the case of Muslim women, that their choice and happiness be with a non-Muslim man. What I am advocating for is for Muslim parents to realize that their overbearing interests may actually bring the whole goal crashing down, and that there is little I, or any imam, can do when your child shows up in my office for a marital counseling session when they feel such rancor about their experience in getting married. I have also seen (though I have not compiled any official statistics), that when it comes to the children of these unions, many do seek non-Muslims (men and women) as spouses due to the negative memories and experiences they had growing up in the shadow of two people who were foundationally unhappy with each other. And statistics do show that one of the most important thing marriages do for children is to protect them from “mental, physical, educational and social problems".5
It is my hope that our community can spark a new conversation, not only about what marriage means for us as Muslims and new potentials for realizing it, but also to highlight the importance of Islam as a whole being a means and path to living a good and fulfilling life.
1. Uthman bin Madh’un was one of the earliest converts to Islam. He was part of the first group that migrated to Abyssinia. He is one of the first Companions to be buried in the cemetery (Jannat al-Baqi’) in Madinah.
2. Qur’an, 39:41.
3. Qur’an, 45:15.
4. The Prophet stated, “A woman who has been previously married should not be married until her permission is asked nor should a virgin be married without her permission.” The people asked, “What is meant by her ‘permission’, Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “It is even by her remaining silent in the proposal”. Sunan Abu Dawud, hadith #2092.
5. “Marriage and Divorce” American Psychological Association. www.apa.org.
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