When Love is Not Enough: Reassessing Marriage in the Muslim Community – Mental Health 4 Muslims

*This article is adapted from a presentation Sr. Hosai Mojaddidi prepared for the Grand Mawlid event, held February 5th, 2012 in Santa Clara, California.

According to a Soundvision survey conducted in 2010: “If you attended six Muslim weddings this summer, chances are that two will end up in divorce sooner or later!” That might sound like a shocking statistic, but sadly, right now I can think of two recent marriages that are already on the verge of divorce.

So according to this study, as of the late 1990s, the North American Muslim divorce rate stands at 31.14 percent. Incompatibility was the most cited reason for divorce (16.38%), followed by abuse (13.12%), financial disputes (10.41%), family / in-laws interference (10.20%), sexual infidelity / adultery (8.79%), and others.

When they added the results of “religious incompatibility” to the general “incompatibility” factor, it came out to 25.71%. So, basically 1/3 of our marriages are ending in divorce and 1/4th of those are because of incompatibility, specifically, religious incompatibility.

So what does this mean? Clearly, there is a problem in our marriage selection process when a third of our marriages are falling apart.

In my experience over the past 15 years, talking with Muslim couples from all different backgrounds and ages, I believe there are other, underlying reasons, that further explain why our marriages are falling apart.

For example, there is a major generational disparity between the youth and the elders of our community regarding what defines an “ideal” partner and a happy marriage. The youth have their criteria and the elders have theirs and as the saying goes, “never the twain shall meet!”

Let’s start with the youth. Unfortunately, many of our youth have been affected by what is called “The Love Delusion,” which one article describes as:

“The root of any romance today is love, but it wasn’t always so. In past cultures, people came together because their parents arranged it or they wanted to join lands or kingdoms; love was secondary. Today, love is the only thing that matters. This over-emphasis on love is encouraged by media that tells stories, sings songs and writes books about how true love conquers all, is ultimately fulfilling, brings a never-ending wealth of happiness and is rarely marred by significant conflict. “

People caught up in this are deluded by the characters created by Hollywood & Bollywood, characters like: the “Knight in Shining Armor,” the “Filmi Hero,” the “Bad Boy,” the “Rebel Without a Cause,” the “Girl Next Door,” and the “Girl Who Plays Hard to Get”.

They’re also deluded by the Hollywood notion of what “true love” is and how you’re supposed to feel when you find “The One.” We’ve all seen the dramatic scenes that associate a chemical or visceral reaction with “true love,”…you know the sweaty palms, the heart palpitations, the shortness of breath, and fainting, etc. So basically, the idea that they continue to bombard us with through film, songs, media, etc., is that until or unless you feel these things, you haven’t really found “true love.”

The reality is that the youth of our community are plagued by these destructive and unrealistic thoughts. If you don’t believe me, just look at Facebook, Twitter, or Myspace and see what people are preoccupied with.

I’ve actually heard from sisters, who have said to me, “Sister Hosai, he’s an amazing guy, I know he’ll be a wonderful husband and father, and I have no complaints otherwise…it’s just…it’s just that I don’t feel butterflies when I’m around him!” or “We don’t have any ‘chemistry.’” or …”He’s TOO nice and that turns me off!”

These are girls who are practicing their faith, they’re pious sisters otherwise, but they actually have turned away prospects for “being too nice”! Why? Because “nice guys” finish last in Hollywood, don’t they? They’re often portrayed as the weak, nerdy, geeky types; in other words, the monogamous ones who actually want a relationship! Who wants that when the “Hero” of the film drives up in a leather jacket on a motorcycle and has all the girls swooning over him? Yeah that guy is real marriage material!

Sadly, in many cases, these are the same sisters who are so trapped in the “Love Delusion” they’re willing to wait in line for hours to watch the next film in the Twilight Series or the latest Shahrukh Khan flick at Naz Cinema in Fremont.

And of course, some of our brothers have also been trapped by the “Love Delusion.” They are the ones who are so focused on physicality that if a girl doesn’t have a certain “look” then she isn’t attractive enough; she’s not “his type”. And what is this type? You know, the airbrushed face, the tall and photo-shopped physique, the fake extensions and nails. Basically, the altered and unreal images splattered across magazine covers, billboards, music videos, etc.

In fact I’ve actually had brothers ask me to find them, and I quote, “A Muslim Kim Kardashian”! What on earth does that even mean? She is the epitomy of everything a Muslim woman should NOT be! If you don’t know who she is, then consider yourself very lucky.

Now, in all seriousness, it’s important to mention that of course attraction and compatibility are important. However, when you have unrealistic expectations and wont even consider talking to someone who doesn’t look or act like a figment of your imagination, then clearly there is a problem.

So to summarize, the “Love Delusion” is the first problem. The second problem is with our elders, especially those from immigrant backgrounds, who have an entirely different, and in many cases a much more destructive issue; many of them have very fixed and rigid prejudices, often borrowed from their cultures and customs, that influence the way they select partners for their children.

Sadly, many of these elders are active community members, religiously devoted, and knowledgeable and yet, they may or may not be aware of it, but they hold some of the most distorted views and prejudices imaginable when it comes to marriage, views that have absolutely no basis in Islam.

Why is this so?

Because, if it wasn’t clear before, it should be now, that we have a very serious crisis in our community in our understanding of marriage and how to select the ideal partner. There’s been a major departure from the Islamic standard as people continue to prefer their own individual or cultural standards instead. We cannot allow things to continue as they have been. We need to completely reform our current understanding of what constitutes a good marriage and reassess the criteria with which we select spouses. Because clearly, as the title of this talk states, love alone is not enough, and neither is lust or any other superficial thing for that matter.

So what defines a successful marriage?

Successful marriages are built on solid foundations. In order to learn these things, we need to return to the Prophetic example and see what the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did in his own life and what he taught others about marriage. He is the perfect example in every way and his standards should be our standards.

We must first begin by starting backwards and trying to undo the harm caused by our distorted views. So once we learn what he taught us about how to marry we can then extrapolate what hedidn’t teach us.

Related: 10 Ways to Avoid Marrying the Wrong Person

For example, he didn’t teach us to worry about:

  • The shade or color of someone’s skin…
  • Or whether one speaks Fus-ha or has a Khaleeji, Shammi, or Masri accent.
  • Or whether one is Punjabi vs. Memon, or Kandahari vs. Kabuli…
  • Or whether one has a Bachelor’s degree or a Master’s degree
  • Or whether one is a car salesman’ or a doctor
  • Or whether one has green eyes or brown eyes
  • Or whether one is balding or has straight hair vs. curly
  • Or whether one is 21, 31, or 41…
  • Or whether one has been engaged before or married…

The bottom line is, that no matter how much importance we may give to these things based on our perception of what will make us happy, and it really is just a perception, we will never be happy.

There’s a video of a Professor of Psychology from Harvard, by the name of Dan Gilbert, called,“Why Are We Happy?” In the video he describes the human adaptation of being able to simulate experiences by just simply creating them in our mind. For example, he jokingly describes how Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t have “liver-and-onion” ice cream, not because they whipped some up and said yuck, but because you can simulate the flavor and imagine that it wouldn’t taste very good. This ability that we have, although very useful, comes with a glitch. It’s called the “impact bias” which he describes as, “the tendency for the simulator to work badly. For the simulator to make you believe that different outcomes are more different than in fact they really are.”

So, we do this right? We all simulate happiness and misery, especially when it comes to marriage. Some of us, before we got married or before our children grew up, we already ruled out certain groups of people as potential spouses. Based entirely on our PERCEPTION of what certain unions would be like or what type of a spouse a certain person would be, we discriminate. Without any experience at all and based entirely on our ideas, we presume to know what is good enough for our son or daughters. How many people have come to learn the hard way that none of these things matter? That none of our superficial or material preferences have any importance in determining happiness if we have not first and above all else considered the content of someone’s character.

After all, if education or financial status were among the most important criteria, what do you say about our Beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) who was unlettered and left this earth without even enough oil to light his lamp on his deathbed? Aisha (may God be pleased with her) had to borrow oil for the lamp as he lay passing! If he was unlettered, is a brother to be looked down upon simply because he did not pursue his graduate studies or did not complete his studies in order to pursue a trade or a skill or to study the sacred sciences?

Or if a sister was previously married, what do you say about some of the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him)? If they were good enough for the Best of Creation (peace be upon him) despite having been married before, who are you? Is such a sister not good enough for you? Do you have the right to caste her aside or dismiss her for your son, brother or grandson, because simply put she’s not a virgin?!

Are we not better than this? Are we not better than who we have become?

Every single day, there are sisters in our community who are suffering, by God they are suffering. I can’t tell you how many emails, phone calls, and meetings I have personally had over the years–stories that would break your heart–from sisters who are LONELY and wondering what defect they have because they cannot seem to get married! I deal with this almost on a weekly basis. And if you don’t believe me, go to any matrimonial gathering at any of these conferences, ISNA, RIS, the MCA, and see the disproportionate number of sisters to brothers. Please brothers and sisters, understand that this is a serious crisis in our community!

Many of these sisters have either been humiliated and marginalized or completely overlooked because they are either too dark, too short, too heavy, too old, married before or engaged, not educated enough or too educated, from a lower “class”, or a culture that is apparently too inferior. Nothing seems to be good enough anymore, so the question we must ask ourselves is: whose standards are we trying to meet?

I’ve also received emails from brothers who feel helpless because they want to marry a girl of their choice, but their parents disapprove of her because again, somehow she doesn’t seem to fit their skewed “criteria.” So what happens? Brothers are either conditioned early on to rule out sisters from certain groups as we mentioned before or they are cornered by guilt, threats, and ultimatums. In both cases they become part of the problem and the cycle continues.

Many of our youth feel helpless, but I have to speak today on behalf of the sisters, because from what I’ve observed they are the ones that are truly suffering. And believe me when I say that for many sisters, because of fear of being alone, their standards have drastically declined. Many of them have reached the end of the rope. I know several sisters who have considered and even married non-Muslims to avoid being alone because they feel the Muslim community has banished them completely when it comes to marriage.

Is this what we’ve come to? How can we stand by and let this happen?

So, dear brothers and sisters, I appeal to all of you and I remind myself first and foremost that we will be asked. In other words, our displays of racism, ageism, classism, whether they are outward or subtle, should not be taken lightly because Allah (swt) is a witness to everything.

Love alone is not enough to sustain a marriage, and neither is material wealth, beauty, lineage, etc. Yes, you can marry for those reasons as the hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) permits us to but we shouldn’t expect that those things are enough to keep us happy. To truly heed his advice, we must look for sincerity of faith above everything else.

The person we should wish to marry or we should wish for our sons and daughters is the one who we are confident isn’t just there to enjoy the ride when the waters are calm but who will not abandon the ship when the storm clouds appear.

Let us learn from the example of the bond between the Mothers of the Believers (may God be pleased with them) and the Prophet (peace be upon him). Let us remember Khadija & Aisha (may God be pleased with them both) and all of his wives. Let us remember that every one of his marriages were purely for the sake of Allah (swt); He was at the center, He was the goal. This was the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him). May we follow in his mubarak footsteps and not be among those who stray and prefer our own path to his.

14 replies
  1. Rugayyah Bolton
    Rugayyah Bolton says:

    As salaam alaikum Sr. Hosai,

    MashaaAllah,this insightful article has really saddened my heart. I can truly say, I want for my sister want I want for myself. How many sisters are really “willing” to speak with their husbands about the detrimental circumstances regarding unmarried Muslimahs. Eyes are wide open. I guess some married sisters may feel solely entitled to their husbands, without regard for another sister who may be seriously suffering, or feel a huge loss for not achieving half of the deen. The married sister may look at the whole picture including children, friends and family while contemplating the acqusition of a co-wife. It may be too embarrasing, too complex, chock full full of unknown situations and circumstances. But as I really look at the ratio of women to men, it could certainly stem from own selfishness, insecurities and unwillingness to compromise our own seemingly comfortable marriage lives. It could be the the marriage sister may have sacrificed so much to maintain that marriage, and that another sacrifice may be too much handle. It may be that it involves too much risk in causing conflict in our own marriages. Regardless of our own personal feelings, we must make some sort of sacrifice and at least begin the discussion with our spouses to determine “how can we as a pretty solid marriage couple help unmarried sisters achieve a deserved and rightful institution-marriage. How can “we” alleviate the suffering and sadness of our sisters? I mean seriously I echo the sentiments, “Who are we not to do it?” I feel compelled to respond as I have sustained a marriage for quite a well in America, amidst the detrimental influences that surround us from every angle.I bear witness that ALLAH (swt)is THE MOST MERCIFUL to all of us.And maybe the act of permitting our husbands to marry other Muslimahs to remedy the ills of our deen, will result in that single act/deed alone that will land us into the ultimate abode and resting place-Jannah. In ALLAH (swt) let us put our trust. Ameen

    • NAILA
      NAILA says:

      Subhan Allah very well written article by Hosai Mojaddidi & Dr. Nafisa Sekandari and sister Rugayyah u have written the same views as iv been thinking somewhere deep down in my mind. but all or majority of the muslims r stuck in their own problems of marriage and life. they r unable to handle first and the only marriage in every aspect (like understanding each other, managing finances etc etc)that no one is thinking about second marriages yet in view of saving the muslimahs from going astray. Infact people first of all dont know the meaning of a marriage . may be the point of saturation is yet to come in our society after which only when pepple will think about it. about second marriage. and also for now people when thinking of another woman only go the haram way.

      JAK for the writers of this article too for writing so well and to the point and comprehensive. please keep spreading these topics of marriage and the real importance and wat Hosai Mojaddidi & Dr. Nafisa Sekandari have written. May Allah Help us all. Aameen

    • Asian
      Asian says:

      Well I think the problem highlighted here is false standards in selecting a partner rather than ratio of men to woman. Any person these days the troublesome times as they r with such low emanating states of hearts would be incapable of keeping a single wife they proper way let alone complicate life of self and more than one family ….in laws included. It is the twisted images and high expectations which ruin marriages…what to say of those same unrealized expectations carried on in search ” of the perfect partner” the dream guy or gal!!!!

    • Munirah
      Munirah says:

      this is a hornets nest and when Western people I know have entered into these alliances it has been a disaster for all concerned.
      The reality is a lot of Muslimahs don’t need to be married and can support themselves and their children quite happily….those that can’t well their situation is not better when they are in a dysfunctional marriage.

  2. Ayati Halwa
    Ayati Halwa says:

    Abû Hurayrah relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
    “If a suitor approaches whose religion and character please you, then let him marry. Otherwise, there will be a lot of immorality and corruption in the world.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhî (1084)

    HOW TRUE our communities are rife with immorality and corruption…because of cultural/egotistic dictates. Having personally been rejected for my age by the father of the guy I await my justice on the day of judgement when he answers for the corruption and oppression that bore upon me.

  3. um sulayman
    um sulayman says:

    Assalamu alaikum

    I do agree that we shouldn’t let dreams based on Hollywood romances decide whom we marry, but I have found that when people have a long list of criteria it is their way of getting of marriage. I knew one sister who had been sexually abused as a child and her list of ‘must haves’ was enormous, probably because she didn’t want to get married. So if someone has a long list then leave them to it, there may be more going on beneath the surface and this isn’t the time for them to marry.

    I must also say that physical attraction is important, so if someone doesn’t want an overweight wife or short husband the very worst thing they can do is marry a chubby girl or small man. It’s unkind to someone to marry them when you know you’ll never find them attractive.

    As for education, virginity, caste, nationality… if any of these really is important to you then don’t swallow your instincts and jump into marriage with religious person you don’t feel suited to. If one spouse considers themself above the other, or thinks the marriage was an act of charity “I married you even though you were a divorcee” it could be miserable.

    So yes, the most important thing is you are on the same page religiously BUT in this highly sexualised/romantic western society to marry someone you aren’t sure of could just increase the shockingly high divorce rate when your nafs rebels.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Salamun ‘Alaik. I have a question. If a woman told a man she likes him but the man is frighten from the duties that will be obliged to him after marriage since he does not see that he is capable of correcting the woman let say manners, style of dressing and attitude. how should he confront her? perhaps he should tell her that she should go and find other suitable husband candidates that is willing & capable of changing her to become a better muslim? i dont think one wants to marry someone to totally change into a person that is completely different from the one he/she is before marriage is it? Wallahu a’lam.

  5. Ibn Alan
    Ibn Alan says:

    I feel it should be mentioned there is also a lack of praying istikhara or utilizing istishara. When things get hard or we are tested in our marriages, having the knowledge that Allah has guided us to that marriage can be a rope to hold onto during our hardships.

  6. Abu Haroun
    Abu Haroun says:

    I find it odd that there are sisters who are at the “end of the rope”. I agree with the author in her astute assessments, and would add that the same is true for brothers. I’ve been seeking a wife for a couple of years, yet I’ve experienced rejection on a number of criteria. Suitable brothers are being written off because they have a halal income, but not ____ college degree. This type of narrow-minded elitism is unrealistic and unfair. Who are they to look down upon their brother because he’s better suited as a carpenter, mechanic, or builder? There are many career choices in the world, with different requirements, and not everyone has the same opportunities for higher education. Rasul Allah (salAllahu alayhi wa sahbihi wa sallam) was uneducated, and one of the most intelligent people of all time. There are some other “losers” who didn’t complete college, like Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Steve Jobs (Apple) and many more, so attending college is not an accurate measure of intellect. The reverse is also true – college alumni were the architects of the global economic crisis and recent wars in the MidEast; such a brilliant bunch, right?

    When it comes to race…Allah knows best. Some communities have their excuses against marrying someone of a different color or “culture”, but Allah sees all, and justice will be served for those who cause corruption by emulating Shaytaan in this fashion, as Sister Ayati Halwa said above. Except for Ahl-al-Bayt, NO race or culture is so special that its *preservation* justifies the discrimination and hardship upon everyone. We’re one Ummah, in an era of global inter-connectivity…blend or suffer.

    I only wish that we Muslims would feel “entitled” to have piety and sacred knowledge in a spouse, as per the Sunnah, and willing to compromise on race, wealth, education, height, “chemistry”, divorcees, and other superficialities not mandated in Islam. Sadly, marriage is an uphill battle just to get started, and the situation isn’t improving…

  7. Munirah
    Munirah says:

    Why this pressure to get married? Many people may be happier, healthier and better able to practice their religion if they weren’t. What about the example of the people of the bench? Rabia al Basra?
    I know its lovely to have a family but being an Auntie or Uncle can also be very fulfilling…it takes a village to raise a child and you can be part of that.
    Love is from Allah.

  8. Novice
    Novice says:

    Well its natural for every human to have a desire of being intimate with someone. ALLAH naturally knows about it and has prescribed marriage for us as its solution.

    Its actually is a highly recommended act and is equivalent to fulfilling half of your Deen.

  9. Sofia
    Sofia says:

    I would like to know why men or young boys even are not being educated that desiring a super model is not appropriate.
    There is something going very wrong in our communities if both men and women are not ashamed to spout nonsense like that mentioned in the article (wanting to marry Kim Kardashian in muslim form; wanting to marry a ‘bad boy’).
    I’ve found, sadly, that no Islamic school ever addresses such things. And yet, it is when children are between 12 and 18 that they start to develop their admiration for movie stars and celebrities. Clearly our ‘islamic’ education has got its head stuck in the sand on this one. In the schools I’ve seen, all we ever talk about is how to do wudu right. What about purification of the mind from these wrong ideas about what the ideal woman is? Another very sad issue is that Sayida Fatima alayha assalam is no longer talked about as the ideal woman in Sunni circles. So we leave our children to the wolves (Kim kardashians) and we are surprised they have messed up mindsets, and messed up marriages to follow. Parents and educators must step up to the plate here. Imams too.

  10. maki
    maki says:

    Quote: “I know several sisters who have considered and even married non-Muslims to avoid being alone because they feel the Muslim community has banished them completely when it comes to marriage.”

    According to islamic scolars if she does so, she leaves islam automatically. And its well known that its forbidden for her to marry a non-muslim! But none mentions this in his/her comments above, or even in the article. So thats a reminder, just in case you forgot.

  11. maki
    maki says:

    Selam, it‘s sad that you deleted my post! Like you do not work for the truth! But here again:
    Quote: “I know several sisters who have considered and even married non-Muslims to avoid being alone because they feel the Muslim community has banished them completely when it comes to marriage.”
    It is forbidden for a muslim woman to marry a non-muslim! You don’t mention this in your post! Read up! Selam

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