Islam encourages men and women to enjoy romance, passion, happiness and deep contentment with their life partner. However Islam forbids all romantic relations between a boy and girl outside marriage. This appears to deny people the wonder and beauty of a new relationship: the first exchange of smiles, butterflies in the stomach, candle-light dinners, strolls under the stars, words of sweet nothings.
Yet nothing can be further from the truth. Islam does not set out to be harsh but rather to protect the fragile human heart and to block paths that could lead to crushing heartbreak. In the same way a locked front door of a home is not a prison-gate, so the rules of Islam governing relations between men and women are not meant to eradicate love and romance in the world. Rather they are the life-jacket and protection as people cast themselves out to find their life partner.
The truth is, the dating-game can be extremely harsh and brutal, precisely because dating goes hand in hand with agonising uncertainty: do they love me or do they love me not? Am I being asked out or are we just friends? Did I do something wrong or did I play it too cool? And on, and on – it is the stuff of poetry, songs and literature.
“And do not approach unlawful sexual intercourse. Indeed, it is ever an immorality and is evil as a way.” [Noble Quran 17:32]
These guidelines protect the heart of the individual but they also protect family and society. Relations outside marriage lead to a whole host of new problems such as unwanted pregnancies, STDs, children who are uncertain of their true parentage, as well as problems of cheating, lying and disloyalty between the genders. There is also the issue of harassment, rape and violence. Allegations of rape and sexual violence abound in the world we live in. The woman says she was raped, the man argues she gave her consent.
An Islamic marriage clears away all the uncertainty. The rights and responsibilities of each partner is clear and protected. The rights of others connected to a married couple are also safeguarded. The rights of children, extended family and society are all clearly laid out – offering them all freedom from any kind of abuse. Islam aims to fill our heart with tranquillity.
“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquillity in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.” [Noble Quran 30:21]
In Islam, people wanting to get married are encouraged to meet one another and get to know each other with the involvement of their families. They are actively discouraged from marrying anyone they do not find attractive. ‘Falling in love’ is not a prerequisite of marriage, but rather it is the consequence of marriage. Indeed, as the Quran tells us, it is God that places “affection and mercy” between the married couple – a sign of God’s greatness as where there was once two strangers, there is now a bond stronger than even previous family ties.
A Muslim looking to get married, seeks to follow the advice of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and prioritises religious commitment, good character and morals in their prospective life-partner.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ stressed religious commitment as a criterion for selecting a spouse as an individual who is striving to fulfil their obligations to God, will be concerned about their obligations towards a spouse. Such an individual will not be concerned about themselves and their needs, but will worry about fulfilling the rights of their partner, their children and that of wider society. They will in short take responsibility for their relationships. Without marriage, responsibility cannot be assigned and individuals, children, family and society are left not only to fight for their rights, but also to fight to define those rights in the first place.
The desire of each individual to have a life partner is very real and this is why Muslims are discouraged from remaining single. Matrimony makes permissible and even virtuous that which was impermissible and sinful without it. There can be no compromise on this. For those that cannot find a spouse or who cannot afford to marry, the advice is clear: stay away from anything that will lead to an emotional attachment and to boyfriend or girlfriend relationships.This is a resolve that is hard to keep in a world where relationships outside marriage are common and the theme of ‘falling in love’ is present in movies, songs, novels and even adverts. So just as a serious dieting person gets rid of their stash of snacks, a single person needs to limit their exposure to the theme of ‘falling in love’ outside of marriage. The Prophet also recommended fasting as fasting reduces the sexual desires. These tips are designed to promote the happiness of the single person – to enable them to be content whilst they are still searching for their life-partner.
We have all been exposed to the idea of finding our true love as children from books, cartoons, toys and advertisements. We expect the prince to carry away the princess, or Barbie has her Ken. We expect, in other words, to live happily ever after once we have found our life partner, but to pin all our hopes of happiness and fulfilment on a person is an impossible ideal. Yes, God-willing, a marriage will bring happiness, passion, love and contentment, but a human being needs to place all of their hopes and dreams with their Creator. Humans can fail us, God cannot. It is only with this paradigm shift in our thinking that we will enjoy the happily ever after that we so long for.