De-sacralizing the Sacred: Where are we Heading?

Zubair Hamid

Nikāh – the Arabic-Islamic term for marriage –is the contract regulated by a code of law rooted in religious precepts (Shari’ah) acquiring the status of ‘Ibādah (in spirit) and Mu‘āmalāt (in form) in Islam. Marriage is of a premier significance as far as the social fabric is concerned as the family forms the plinth of a society. Though every nation, society and/or civilization gives it a prominent status but Islam gives it a unique status. Islam gives a specific framework to lead a successful matrimonial life in which selection of the spouse is of a primary significance. During the process of selection of a spouse one should give maximal preference to belief (Īmān): as mentioned in the Qur’an:
And, do not marry polytheistic women until they believe. And, a believing slave woman is better than a polytheist, even though she might please you. Those invite [you] to the Fire, but Allah invites to Paradise and to forgiveness, by His permission. And, He makes clear His verses to the people that perhaps they may remember (al-Baqarah:221).
Which should be followed by beauty, genealogy and wealth as mentioned in the Ḥadīth of the Prophet (SAW).One more principle embedded in the Qur’an regarding the spouse selection is:
Vile women are for vile men, and vile men for vile women. Good women are for good men, and good men for good women (al-Nūr: 26).
Islam provides no room for discrimination on the grounds of caste or creed, rather everyone is treated equally as the Qur’an says:
O mankind! Lo! We have created you from male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware (al-Ḥujrāt:13).
This verse addresses human beings irrespective of their nations or tribes though belonging to diverse ethnicities that their origin is one. The inhabitants of different colors, castes, nations on the earth are but the members of a single family. The differences thereof are constructs and innovations of human beings. The above mentioned Quranic verse makes it explicit that there is no place for genealogical distinction in Islam albeit if there is any distinction entailed before Allah and the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that is verily based on piety and God-consciousness. So , while selecting a spouse one should make belief, piety and God-consciousness a touchstone. The Prophet (SAW) also guided the Muslims in the following tradition:
When someone whose piety and character pleases you offers you for the marriage [of your daughter] accept his offer lest there will be mischief on the earth (Al-Tirmidhī, Kitāb al- Nikāḥ).
If the piety, religion and character are neglected as the prerequisites in a marriage proposal and are replaced by other things [job, wealth, caste], then verily society becomes a hub of crisis as Nikāḥ prevents society from indulging into the evils. Imam al-Ghazzali in his Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn mentions five main objectives of Nikāḥ: (1) to have children (2) to control sexual passion (3) to find peace of mind (4) to increase divine service (5) and to get rewards of duties to family.
Unfortunately, our society weighs the attributes of piety and character by a different yard stick; the worst is that a proposal is rejected because of the possession of only these attributes and religiosity is looked upon as deficient by some members of our society. They give no place to character and religiosity as they are obsessed by wealth and boodle and examine everything through the prism of wealth and materialism. Caste is another nuisance which has choked the spirit of equality in the society. The conscious far-famed castes have created a distance with the other castes and unfortunately the same is followed by the common castes too what has resulted in preference to co-castes. This domain is sometimes surpassed when a proposal is offered by a person of a lower caste with a highly placed job. In our mature society, proposals are being found in pipeline for those lower caste subjects of the society who get handsome jobs. There are multiple examples of such incidents; recently a lower caste citizen got a government job and far-famed dynasties and the Sayyids too were seen in the pipeline also for the proposal. Similarly, a man from the Ansari dynasty got a highly placed job after qualifying IAS, there too, the same thing was witnessed. An influential father preferred to marry his 24 year old daughter in his own caste to a man of 45 years. The other side of the coin is too worse unfortunately; within Muslims , a family following a particular school of thought prefers to marry their ward in the family following the same school or ideology. The worse was witnessed when a religious scholar [lower caste] made a proposal of his marriage for the daughter of a religious head [super caste], which was instantly rejected followed by the argument [matrimony with other castes results in devastation of progeny]. The so-called upper class of our society take this as an insult if anyone from the lower class asks for their daughter’s hand.
Where are we heading towards? What was said to be preferred in the matter of selection is not done and vice-versa. In our society , we find numerous examples of the matrimonial relations being rejected on the grounds of caste, what has resulted in, estrangement, elopement and so on.
The malevolent nuisances prevalent in our society, particularly in this sacred institution of marriage, need to be taken account of before it takes our society to the brink of depredation. At the local and national level, clerics, religious organizations and scholars need to educate the common masses about this social menace/ nuisance prevailing in the society and how to tackle the same. When Prophet Muhammad (SAW) can give his daughter’s hand in marriage to ‘Uthmān (RA), who was not from his own family, then why can’t we grant that same right to our women? Let us pledge to bridge the man made divide between the humans created by one God and borne by single pair of parents.

—The author is a Research Scholar at Department of Islamic Studies, AMU, Aligarh. He can be reached at: