A Girl's Choice of Husband
Q. A young woman brings home a friend from abroad and tells her parents that she wants to marry him. When they tell her to wait while they check whether he is a suitable husband, she threatens them that she will marry him on her own if they do not consent. She also threatens that if they prevent her marriage, she will commit sin with the man. She argues that what she is doing is legitimate and they cannot stop her because they will be forcing her into what is forbidden. When they speak about making the proper arrangements for marriage, she forestalls them, saying that she wants only a small amount of dower, and that her intended husband will not pay for the walimah because his relatives live in a different country. The man tries to get the woman’s family to pay for all the marriage expenses. May I say that this pattern of events is becoming common with the expatriate Asian community. Please comment.
A. It is very important to realize that Islam does not approve of compulsion in any situation. While compulsion in religion is prohibited in a clear Qur’anic statement, pressuring a person to comply with another’s wishes is also wrong. It is not right for parents to force their adult sons and daughters to accept choices that they do not favor, even though they may feel that such choices are for their own good. Similarly, it is not acceptable that parents should be placed under pressure to accept choices that their adult sons and daughters prefer. Personal choice is the right of every individual, because ultimately we are individually responsible before God for our actions. A woman came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) complaining of her father’s action: “Messenger of God! My father has married me to a cousin of his seeking to improve his own status through this marriage,” she said. The Prophet ruled the marriage nullified, and gave her the right to choose. When she had regained that right, she accepted her father’s choice, saying: “I only wanted women to know that men do not have control over their lives.”
On the other hand, parents are given their due position of respect. Their sons and daughters must always be dutiful, giving their parents all they can to make their lives more comfortable and happy. They should know that invariably parents care for their children and hope that they will lead a happy life. When parents suggest something to their children, it is only because they feel that it is in their children’s best interests. We cannot say that this applies to every individual parent in the same way. People differ, and there are always those who depart from the norm. Yet the normal situation is that parents try to help their children in every way they can, because they love them and want the best for them. Hence, God made dutifulness to parents an extremely important duty, mentioning it more than once in the Qur’an as second only to belief in His oneness: “Worship God alone and do not associate with Him any partners. Be kind to your parents and near of kin.” (4: 36) “Your Lord has ordained that you shall worship none but Him, and that you must be kind to your parents.” (17: 23)
It is certainly not kind or dutiful if a son or daughter says to their parents: “Unless you approve of my marriage to this person, I will have an illegitimate relationship with him or her.” Those making such a statement may intend it only as a means of pressure to get their parents to approve the marriage. They may not even contemplate any illegitimate relationship with anyone, but making such a statement is unkind, as it puts the parents in a very difficult position. To start with, if the person concerned is serious and he or she may consider an illegitimate relationship, let them be honest about it by not placing the responsibility for their actions on their parents. If they are not serious, they should never utter such a threat. They should be kind to their parents and give them their dues.
What the parents in this case should do is to tell their daughter that they cannot accept rushing into a marriage without taking appropriate measures to establish whether the person concerned is a good match or not. Here we are not talking about financial status. We are talking about the man himself: Is he religious, honest, kind to his family, and will he make a good husband and a kind parent? Is he generous or stingy; considerate or selfish; etc? If the daughter does not allow her parents a chance to establish such information, then they should tell her to go away and lead the life she wants, because they do not accept responsibility for her choices. They should be firm with her, because they cannot let her dictate their own life as well as hers.
We should remember that if a woman marries someone without her father’s approval, he can object to her marriage on grounds of incompatibility, and an Islamic court will nullify the marriage if incompatibility is proven. But this mechanism may not be available in many Muslim countries. What this tells us, however, is that if the principle of nullifying a marriage after it has taken place is acceptable, then objecting to it before it takes place is even more appropriate. Certainly a father can object to a marriage proposal to his daughter on several grounds, such as the prospective bridegroom’s commitment to faith, character, or social status.
In this particular case, the man seems to take advantage of the girl’s commitment in order to skip some or all the responsibilities that are incumbent on him. He should, for example, give his prospective wife a suitable dower, but he seems to have persuaded her to forgo this. Her parents should explain to her why Islam makes a dower necessary, and give it all to the wife to be her own property. It is not to impose hardship on the man, but rather to honor the woman. Having said that, I should add that dower should not be the criterion for accepting a husband or refusing him, so as to accept only those who can pay a large dower. It is the man that is most important. But the man seems also not to want to incur any expense, as appears from his reason not to wish to give a walimah. The walimah is a dinner offered by the husband to relatives and neighbors as a means to publicize the marriage and an occasion for the community to share in the joy of two of its families. If his relatives are living in some other country, there are neighbours and friends who should be invited.