Book on the Etiquette of Marriage
Being the Second Book of the Section on Customs in the Book
The Revival of the Religious Sciences
By ABU HAMID AL-GHAZALI
TRANSLATED BY MADELAIN FARAH
IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MERCIFUL AND COMPASSIONATE
Praise be to God the marvels of Whose creation are not subject to the arrows of accident, for minds do not reflect on the beginnings of such wonders except in awe and bewilderment, and the favor of Whose graces continue to be bestowed upon all creatures, for they [graces] come in succession upon them [creatures] whether or not they [creatures] wish to receive them [graces]. One of His marvelous favors is creating human beings out of water [Qur’an 21:30],’ causing them to be related by lineage and marriage, and subjecting creatures to desire through which He drove them to tillage (hirathah)2 and thereby forcibly preserved their descendants. Then He glorified the matter of lineage, ascribed to it great importance, forbade on its account illegitimacy and strongly denounced it through restrictions and reprimands, making the commission thereof an outlandish crime and a serious matter, and encouraging marriage through desire and command.
Glory be to Him who decreed death to His creatures and humbled them thereby through destruction and annihilation, then placed seeds’ in the soil of the wombs and raised there from creatures, forcibly to defeat death, calling attention to the fact that the seas of Providence flood the worlds with benefit as well as harm, prosperity as well as evil, difficulty as well as facility, and concealment as well as revelation. Prayer and peace be upon Muhammad who was sent with warning” and good tidings, and upon his household and his companions-prayer that knows neither bounds nor confinement, and may He grant him much peace.
Accordingly, marriage is an aid in [the fulfillment of] religion, an insult to devils, a strong fortress against the enemy of God, and a cause of increase through which the master of prophets outshines the rest of the prophets. How worthy it is, therefore, that its causes be examined and its sunna and etiquette be learned, its aims and ends be explained, and its chapters and sections be clearly specified.
The major guidelines in the Book on the Etiquette of Marriage may be revealed in three chapters: The first chapter deals with the advantages and disadvantages of marriage; the second chapter deals with the etiquette to be observed in the marriage contract and between the two contracting parties; and the third chapter deals with the etiquette of cohabitation after marriage and until dissolution.
Disadvantages of Marriage
Be it known that the ulema’ have disagreed over the virtue of marriage: Some stressed it to the point of claiming that it is preferable to seclusion for the worship of God. Others have admitted its virtue but subordinated it to seclusion for the worship of God, regardless of how much the soul yearns for marriage to a degree that disturbs one’s state [of mind] and causes him to succumb to temptation. Others have said: It is preferable to abstain from marriage in this our age; but formerly it was a preferable virtue whereby the means of earning a livelihood was not illicit and the character of women was not censurable.’ The truth about it cannot be revealed except by first presenting what has been transmitted in the akhbar3 and the dthar’ regarding encouragement and discouragement of marriage, and by explaining its benefits and shortcomings, thereby elucidating the virtues or disadvantages of marriage as pertains to everyone who has or has not been spared its calamities.
[Qur’anic Verses on Marriage]
Among the Qur’anic verses: God has said, “And marry such of you” [24:32]; this is a command. He also said, “Place not difficulties in the way of their marrying their husbands” [2:232].5 This prevented abstinence and enjoined against it. God has said in describing and praising messengers: “And, indeed, We sent Messengers before thee, and We gave them wives and children” [13:38 (‘Ali)]. Thus he said this in the context of praise and in pointing out excellence. He also praised his saints for requesting it in supplication saying: “And those who say, `Our Lord, grant us of our wives and children the delight of our eyes, and make us a model for the righteous.” It is said of the prophets that God has not mentioned in His book any but those who have families. Thus it was said that [St.] John” married but did not cohabit. It is said that he did that to gain virtue and honor, thereby upholding the sunna. Others said that it was to avert the eye. As for Jesus,* he will marry should he come down to earth and will have children.
[Traditions of the Prophet]
As for the akhbar, we have his [the Prophet’s] sayings: “Marriage is of my sunna; whoever refrains from my sunna refrains from me”; and he* also said: “Marriage is of my sunna; whoever likes my fitrah (natural disposition),’ let him follow my sunna.”8
He* also said: “Marry and multiply for I will boast about you over other nations on the day of resurrection, even about the least among you.”9
And he* also said, “Whoever refrains from my sunna, he is not of me, and marriage is part of my sunna; whoever loves me, let him follow my sunna.”10
And he* also said, “Whoever refrains from getting married for fear of having a family, is not of us.”“ This is perhaps a reprimand [directed] against abstinence and not a reason for abstinence.
He* also said, “Whoever has the means, let him get married,”12 for it will avert the eyes” and assure more relief and virtuousness; and who does not, “let him fast for fasting to him is [a form of] castration (wija’).”14 This indicates that the reason for the encouragement of marriage is fear that the eye might become corrupted,” as well as relief.” W ija’ is a form of castration of the male [organs] so that his manhood is removed; it [the term] is used metaphorically for sexual impotence during the fast.
And he* also said, “If someone whose religion and trustworthiness you approve should come to you, then get him married;
if you do not, you will cause discord on earth and great corruption.”“ This also explains encouragement [to marry] out of fear of corruption.
He* also said, “Whoever marries or gives in marriage, for the sake of God, deserves the friendship (wilaya)18 of God.”19 And he* also said, “Whoever marries safeguards half of his faith; let him fear God for the second half.”“ This is also an indication that its virtue is in safeguarding against disobedience, and fortifying against corruption. For the corrupting factor in a man’s religion lies for the most part both in his sexual organs (farj)21 and stomach;22 he can satisfy one of them by marriage.
He* also said, “All acts by the son of Adam shall cease except the third: a righteous son making invocation for him,” etc.23 He cannot attain this except through marriage.
As for the athar, ‘Umar24 has said, “Nothing should prevent marriage except incapacity or adultery (fujur).”25 He thus asserted that religion does not prohibit marriage, and he limited its prevention to two disparate factors.
[Traditions of the Companions]
Ibn ‘Abbas*26 said, “The asceticism of an ascetic is not complete until he marries.” It is possible that he considered marriage an act of devotion which renders asceticism perfect; but it seems that he meant to say thereby that the heart would not be safe from being overcome by desire except through marriage, and that asceticism is not perfect without emptying (faragh)27 the heart [of all preoccupations]. For that reason he would gather his young bondsmen (ghilman), ‘Akramah and Kurayb28 and others reaching adulthood, and would say, “If you wish to get married, I will get you married; for when a slave commits adultery, he removes faith from his heart.”
Ibn Masud*” used to say, “Were there but ten days left of my life, I would be inclined to get married so as not to meet God a celibate.”
Two of Mu’adh Ibn Jabal’s*30 wives died from the plague, and he, too, was afflicted with the plague; so he said, “Get me married, for I would not like to meet God a celibate.” And this coming from both of them indicates that they considered marriage a virtue rather than a defense against the excessiveness of desire.
‘Umar* used to marry frequently and would say, “I only marry for the sake of having offspring.”
One31 of the companions attached himself to the Messenger* of God serving him and staying with him in case he needed to have something done; so the Prophet* said to him, “Won’t you get married?” He answered, “0 Messenger of God, I am a poor man possessing nothing and would be compelled to abandon your service.” The Prophet said nothing, then repeated [the question], and he [the companion] repeated the answer. Then the companion reflected and said, “By God, the Messenger* of God knows better than I what is best for me in my earthly life and in my hereafter and what draws me near to God, and if he should tell me a third time, I will do it.” and he [the Prophet] told him a third time: “Won’t you get married?” The companion said: “0 Messenger of God, get me married.” He [the Prophet] said, “Go to such a family32 and say that the Messenger* of God commands you to give your daughter in marriage to me.” He [the companion] said, “0 Messenger* of God I have nothing.” So he [the Prophet] said to his companions, “Gather for your brother the weight of a date-pit in gold,” and they did. Thus they took him to those people and got him married; so he said to [them], “Make a feast”; and they obtained for him from the companions a ewe for the feast.”33 This repetition indicates a virtue in marriage itself. It is possible that he [the Prophet] recognized in him [the companion] a need for marriage.
It has been related that a certain devotee in olden times excelled his contemporaries in devotion. The goodness of his devotion was brought up to the Prophet of his time. His reply was, “It is so,” although he had forsaken somewhat the tradition [of worship]. It grieved the worshiper to hear that, so he asked the Prophet about it, and the Prophet said, “Have you forsaken marriage?” And he said, “I don’t consider it forbidden, but I am poor and a burden to people.”34 The Prophet said, “I will give you my daughter in marriage,” and he* gave him his daughter in marriage.
Bishr b. al-Harith35 said, “Ahmad b. Hanbal36 was preferred over me on three accounts: for seeking what is lawful for himself and others, while I seek it for myself only; for his ability to get married in contrast to my inability; and for being appointed an imam for the common people.”
It is said that Ahmad* married the second day following the death of the mother of his son, CAbdullah, and said, “I detest spending the night as a celibate.” As for Bishr, when it was said to him, “People have been talking about you because you have refrained from marriage, saying, `He has forsaken the sunna,”, he replied, “Tell them that religious duties preoccupy him, leaving no time for the sunna.” He was blamed on another occasion, so he replied, “Nothing keeps me from marrying except the words of the Almighty [Qur’an 2:228 (‘Ali)]: ‘And they (the women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in equity.’“ That was mentioned to Ahmad, who declared, “And where is the like of Bishr?” His position is likened unto the point
of a spearhead (haad al-sinan).37
In spite of that, it has been related that he was seen in a dream and was asked, “What has God done to you?” He replied, “My stages (manazili) in Paradise have been elevated and I was placed close to the stations (maqamat)38 of the prophets in rank, but I have not attained the stages of those with families.” And in one account he told me, “I would not have wanted you to encounter” me as a celibate”; so we asked him, “What did Abu Nasr al-Tammar do?” He said, “He was placed seventy steps (darajah) above me.” We asked, “For what reason? We used to see you above him.” He replied, “Because of his patience with his daughters and dependents.”
Sufyan b. ‘Ayyinah said, “Having numerous wives is not [indicative of love] of the world because ‘Ali* was the most ascetic of the companions of the Prophet* and yet he had four wives and seventeen concubines.” Thus marriage is an ancient sunna and one of the traits of the prophets.
A man said to Ibrahim b. Adham,*40 “Blessed art thou, for thou hast dedicated thyself to worship through celibacy.”“ He replied, “Indeed your concern for dependents is preferable to all that which I now enjoy.” He [the man] replied, “And what prevents you from marriage?” He said, “I have no need for a woman. I do not wish to misrepresent myself to a woman.”
It has been said, “A married man is preferred over the celibate in the same way that the mujahid42 is preferred over the non-mujahid; and one bow (rakcah)43 [in worship] of the married man is preferable to seventy bows of one who is celibate.”
[Sufi Views on Marriage/
As for what has been related concerning the disadvantages of marriage, the Prophet* said, “The best of all people outside the two hundred44 is a man light of back who has neither wife nor child.”45 The Prophet* also said, “There will come a time upon people when a man’s destruction shall be at the hands of his wife, his parents, and his children; they shall taunt him for poverty and demand of him beyond his means. He will enter paths wherein he will lose his religion and perish.”“
And there is a khabar, according to which, “One of the two sources of comfortable living is having fewer children, while one of the two sources of poverty is having many of them.”47
Abu Sulayman al-Darani48 was asked about marriage, and he said, “To abstain is better than to endure them [women], and to endure them is better than to suffer hellfire.” He also said, “The single man will find in the pleasures of work and in the emptiness (faragh) of the heart that which the family man cannot find.” He once said, “I have not seen any of our companions who married and was able to retain firmly his first rank (martabah).”49 He also said, “He who seeks the following three is inclined toward the world: he who seeks a living, or who marries a woman, or who transcribes a hadith.”50
Hasan* [al-Basri] has said, “When God wishes the servant well, he does not preoccupy him with a family or with possessions.” Ibn Abu al-Hawwari51 once said, “A group exchanged views over this hadith and came to the conclusion that it did not mean that a man [in this case] could not have both, but that he could have both and they would not preoccupy him.” This is a reference to the saying of Abu Sulayman al-Darani, “Whatever diverts you from God-whether wife, possession, or children -is a curse upon you.”
In general, none has been quoted as discouraging marriage unconditionally. As for encouragement to marriage, it has been related both unconditionally and conditionally. Let us, therefore, remove the veil from this subject by delineating the advantages and disadvantages thereof.
[ADVANTAGES OF MARRIAGE]
There are five advantages to marriage: procreation, satisfying sexual desire, ordering the household, providing companionship, and disciplining the self in striving to sustain them.
The first advantage-that is, procreation-is the prime cause, and on its account marriage was instituted. The aim is to sustain lineage so that the world would not want for humankind. As for sexual desire, it was created as an ingrained urge: like an overseer unto the male. In the male it is, as it were, an overseer to produce the sperm; in the female it serves to facilitate cultivations so as to produce children out of coitus.” It is like luring the bird by spreading about the seed which it likes in order to lead it to the net.
The eternal powers of the Almighty were not incapable of creating beings from the beginning without tilling (hirathah) or coupling. But wisdom decreed the ordering of causes and effects together with the lack of need to demonstrate the power of God to complete the wonders of creation and to fulfill what the Divine Will decreed beforehand; thereby the Word was fulfilled as decreed by the pen [Qur’an 96:4].
To bring forth a child” is a four-faceted intimacy which is the original reason for encouraging it even after being safeguarded against excessive desire, so that no one wants to meet God as a celibate. The first: to conform to the love of God by seeking to produce the child in order to perpetuate mankind. The second: to earn the love of the Prophet* of God by increasing those in whom he can be glorified.” The third: to seek the blessing of the righteous child’s invocation after him.55 The fourth: to seek intercession 56 through the death of the young child should he precede his [father’s] death.
As for the first facet: It is the most delicate of all the facets, the most removed from the understanding of the common folk, and the most meritorious as well as the strongest in the eyes of those with keen insight into the wonders of the Almighty’s creation and into the course of His wisdom. It may be illustrated thus: if the master should give seed and cultivating tools to his slave, and prepare for him the soil to cultivate; if the servant is able to cultivate; if he [the master] should appoint someone to supervise him [the servant]; and if he [the servant], nevertheless, is lazy or does not use the ploughing instruments and neglects the seed until it rots, and he rids himself of the supervisor through some trickery, then he [the servant] would deserve contempt and reprimand from his lord.
God Almighty has created the pair; He has created the male organ and the two ovaries, as well as the sperm in the sheath; He has prepared for it [the sperm] in the ovaries, arteries and ducts, and created the womb as a depository for the sperm; He has endowed both the male and the female with desire. These deeds and instruments bear eloquent testimony to the design of their creator and declare their purpose unto those imbued with wisdom. This would be the case [even] if the Creator had not revealed the design through His Prophet* in the statement “Marry and multiply”; how [much more] if He had openly declared the matter and revealed the secret! Everyone who refrains from marriage neglects tilling, wastes away the seed, does not use the prepared instruments which God has created, and is a violator of the aim of nature as well as the wisdom implied in the evidences of creation foreordained upon these organs by divine writ, unexpressed in letters or voices-writ which can be read by every [person] who has divine insight to understand the intricacies of everlasting wisdom. For that reason, divine legislation exceedingly made the killing of children and the burying [of girls] alive57 an abomination, for they [such acts] were forbidden for the fulfillment of existence. To this alluded the one who said, “coitus interruptus (‘azl) is one of the two burials.”“
The one who marries is seeking to complete what God has desired, and the one who abstains, wastes away what God de
tests to have wasted. Because of God’s desire that mankind should survive, He made feeding [the hungry] a decree, encouraged it, and referred to it by the term “loan” when He said, “Who is it that will lend unto Allah a goodly loan?” [Qur’an 2:245].59
Should you say: your statement, that sustenance of the species and of self is desirable, on the assumption that their passing away is detestable to God, which is the difference between life and death, not to mention the will of God Almighty, it being known that all is by the will of God and that God is not in need of creation, then what can the distinction be with Him between their life, or survival (bags chum), and their extinction (fana-‘uhum)? Know then that this word is a truth from which an untruth was sought, for what we have mentioned does not invalidate the relation of all things-good and bad, beneficial and detrimental-to the will of God. Love and abomination (karah-iyah) contradict each other but they do not oppose the will [of God]; for many a desired aim is hated and many a detested aim is loved; acts of defiance are detestable and they, in spite of being hated, are desired; acts of obedience are desired and they, along with being desired, are loved and pleasing. As for apostasy and evil, we cannot say that they are pleasing and loved but, nevertheless, they are desired. For the Lord has said, “And He is not pleased with ingratitude in His servants.”“
How then could the extinction of man, or the hatred thereof, with respect to the love for God, be the same as his subsistence? For the Almighty has said, “I have never hesitated over anything as I hesitate in taking the soul of my Muslim servant. He detests death and I detest harming him, but there is no escape for him from death.”“ His saying, “There is no escape from death for him” is a reference to predetermination and to the decree stated in His words, “We have ordained death for all of you” [Qur’an 56:60]; and in His saying, “Who hath created life and death.”“ There is no contradiction between the Almighty’s words, “We have ordained death for all of you,” and His saying “and I detest harming him.”
However, elucidating the truth therein requires defining the meaning of will, love, and hatred; it also requires revealing their essences, because preliminary to understanding them are matters which suit the desire of created beings, their love and their hatred. How preposterous! For between the traits of Almighty God and those of created beings, there is as much distance as between His beloved essence and theirs. The essence of creations is substance and form, while that of God is hallowed beyond theirs; and just as that which is not essence and form cannot be the same as that which is essence and form, likewise His traits are not the same as the traits of creation. These facts lie within the realm of that which could be disclosed. Beyond them lies the mystery of divine decree, the disclosure of which has been prohibited. So let us stop short of mentioning it and let us confine ourselves to that about which we have been told concerning the difference between undertaking and refraining from marriage. For one of the two would cause the loss of lineage, perpetuating its existence from Adam,* generation upon generation, thus ending with him [Adam]. Therefore, he who refrains from marriage cuts off continuous being from himself [back] to Adam* and dies childless with no descendants.
If, however, the inducement to marriage is simply warding off desire, Mu’adh would not have said when he contracted the plague, “Get me married, I will not meet my Lord celibate.” Should you say, “But Mu’adh could not expect to have children at that time, so why was he interested in it [marriage]?” I would reply, “Children result from coitus,63 which is a consequence of desire.” That is a matter which does not fall in the realm of choice; what is dependent upon the servant’s choice is providing the motivation for desire. That is expected in any event. Thus, whoever contracts [marriage], fulfills his obligation and what is incumbent upon him. The rest is beyond his choice. For that reason marriage is desirable also for the impotent; for the urges of desire are veiled and cannot be seen. Even the eunuch who cannot be expected to have an offspring still desires it, in the same manner that a bald man desires to have the blade pass over his head in emulation of others and in keeping with the precedent of the righteous progenitors, and in the same manner that trotting (al-ramal) [while performing the circuit around the Kaaba] and cloaking (al-idtiba ‘) oneself over the left shoulder during the pilgrimage today are desirable.” The purpose at first was to indicate [physical] endurance to the infidels. The emulation65 of those who manifested endurance has become a religious duty for those who succeeded them.
This desire is weak when’ compared to the desire of one who is capable of tilling. Perhaps it is even weaker when compared with the undesirability of impairing the woman [that is, not using her] with regard to the gratification of desire, for this is not free of danger. Such an interpretation explains the great disapproval [by the righteous] of eschewing marriage in spite of languid sexual desire.
The second facet: striving to attain the love of the Messenger* of God and to please him by increasing that which he can boast of, inasmuch as Messenger of God has openly declared it. Concern for procreation is indicated by what has been related concerning ‘Umar*: that he used to marry often and used to say, “I marry for [the sake of producing] children.” It was related in the akhbar that the Prophet* said regarding the deprecation of the barren woman, “A straw mat in the corner of the house is preferable to a barren woman.”66 He also said, “The best of your women are the affectionate childbearers.”67 He also said, “A black childbearer is better than a beauty that cannot give birth.”68 This indicates that seeking children has been considered a greater virtue in marriage than satisfying the demands of sexual desire, seeing that a beautiful woman is more suitable for fortification [against desire], in averting the eye, and curtailing desire.
The third facet: that he should be survived by a righteous child who would invoke blessings upon him, as related in one khabar that all the works of the son of Adam will cease except for three, and he mentioned [among them] a righteous child, and in another that “invocations are offered to the dead on platters of light.” The saying that “the son might not be virtuous,” would not make any difference for he is a believer. Virtue predominates in the offspring of religious parents, particularly if it is resolved to bring him up in and direct him along the path of virtue. By and large, the invocation of the believer for his parents is beneficial be he pious or wicked. He [the believer] is rewarded for his invocations and good deeds, for he has earned them, and he is not rebuked for his ill deeds; for the sin of a sinner is not superimposed upon another. For that reason the Almighty declared, “We cause their progenies to join them, and We deprive them of naught of their (life’s) work” [Qur’an 52:21]; that is, we do not take away from their deeds and we make their children an addition to their good deeds.
The fourth facet: that the child should die before him [the parent] and thus he has an intercessor. It has been related concerning the Prophet* of God that he said, [The child drags his parents into heaven.” 69 In some akhbar, it is related that “the child takes him [the parent] by the garment the same [way] as I now take you by the garment.”“ He* also said, “the progeny is told to enter paradise, but he stands at the gate of paradise in rage and anger saying, ‘I will not enter paradise except in the company of my parents.’ Then it is said, ‘Let his parents enter paradise with him.’ “ 71
In another tradition, it is stated that “the children gather at the place of resurrection when created beings are brought to judgement, and it will be said to the angels, ‘Take these [the children] to paradise,’ but they will stand at the gate of paradise and it will be said to them, `Welcome to the progeny of the Muslims. Enter! There is no reckoning for you.’ They will say, `Where are our fathers and mothers?’ The keepers will reply, ‘Your fathers and mothers are not like you, for they have committed sins and ill deeds and they are now rendering account and are making amends for them.’ He [the Prophet] said, ‘They shout and scream in unison at the gates of paradise.’ The Lord Almighty who knows more about them says, ‘What is this noise?’ They [the keepers] will reply, ‘Lord, the children of the Muslims say “We shall not enter paradise except in the company of our parents.” Almighty God will say, ‘Go through the crowds, take the parents by their hands, and lead them into paradise.’ “72 The Prophet* said, “Whoever has lost two of his children will be shielded from the fire.”73 He* also said, “Whoever has lost three that did not attain puberty, God will make him enter paradise by virtue of His mercy for the children’s sake.” The Prophet was asked, “0 Messenger of God, what about two?” And he replied, “Even two.”74
It is related that marriage was propounded to one of the righteous men, but he hesitated for a while. The Prophet said, “One day he [the righteous man] awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Get me married, get me married!’ So they got him married. He was asked concerning that matter, to which he replied: ‘God may grant me a child, and then receive him unto Himself; thus he would serve as a prelude for my afterlife.’ Then he said, ‘I saw in a dream that resurrection had come to pass and myself among the created beings there. I was suffering from mortal thirst; the other created beings were also suffering from intense thirst and distress. While we were in that state, behold a group of children75 filtered through the crowds covered with veils of light, carrying silver pitchers and golden goblets in their hands and offering drink to one [person] then to another; they filtered through the crowd yet bypassed most of the people. I stretched out my hand to one of them and said, “Give me water to drink, for I am extremely thirsty.” But he [the child] replied, “You do not have a child amongst us; we only offer our fathers water to drink.” So I said, “And who are you?” They replied, “We are the deceased infant children of the Muslims.” “’76 One of the meanings incorporated in his statement, which is mentioned in the Almighty’s saying, “so go to your tilth as ye will, and prepare beforehand for your souls” [Qur’an 2:223], is children for the hereafter. Thus it has become clear from these four facets that the greatest virtue of marriage lies in its being the means of having children
[Satisfying Sexual Desire]
The second advantage: fortification against the devil, curbing lust, warding off the excesses of desire, averting the eye, and safeguarding relief. To this the Prophet* referred when he declared, “He who marries fortifies half of his religion, so let him fear God for the second half.” To this he also referred when he stated, “You are enjoined to establish homes. He who cannot do it should fast, for fasting is a [form] of castration.” Most of what we have quoted from the athar and the akhbar points to this interpretation; and this purpose is inferior to the former one because desire is a charge to produce children. Marriage is sufficient for bringing this about, a reason for causing it to be, and a safeguard against the evil of it becoming dominant. One who obeys his master in order to please him is not like one who obeys in order to be freed from a heavy obligation. Sexual desire and children are foreordained and between them exists a tie. It is not appropriate to say that the aim is pleasure and the child is a necessary result, just as elimination is a necessary result of eating, not an aim in itself. Rather, the child is the aim by instinct and decree, and sexual desire is merely an inducement thereto. I cannot conceive of any purpose for sexual desire except procreation. The pleasure which accompanies it -pleasure which would be unrivaled were it to last-is a harbinger of the promised pleasures in paradise. For to encourage pleasure which one cannot enjoy is pointless. Thus were an impotent male encouraged to seek enjoyment of coitus, or were a young boy encouraged to seek rule and power, encouragement would be to no avail. One virtue of the world’s pleasures is that people wish to see them [pleasures] continue in paradise; thus they are an inducement to the worship of God.
Behold the wisdom, the mercy, and the divine fulfillment (al-ta’biyah al-ilahiyah):77 how two lives, one external (zahirah) and one internal (batinah), were fused together by one desire.” The exoteric life is the perpetuation of the individual through the preservation of his lineage, which is a form of the perpetuation of existence. The esoteric life is the life in the hereafter, “so if this pleasure, diminished by the speedy passage of time, activates the desire for [attaining] pleasure by becoming everlasting, then it encourages the kind of worship which leads to it [pleasure].” Consequently the servant [of God] benefits by becoming so desirous of it and gains the ability to persist in that which leads him to the blissfulness of paradise.
There is not an atom in the body of man, internal or external in the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth, within which one would not discover a measure of wisdom and wonder that baffles the mind. Nevertheless, it can be revealed only to a pure heart in proportion to its purity and to the extent that it resists the world’s pleasures, its enticements, and its snares. Thus, marriage for the sake of curbing excessive desire is important in religion to all who do not suffer from impotence-these happen to constitute the majority of created beings. For if sexual desire prevails and encounters no resistance from the force of piety, it will lead to the commission of an abomination (fahishah).
To this the Prophet* referred when conveying the word of the Almighty, “If ye do riot so, there will be confusion in the land, and great corruption.”“ If it [sexual desire] is bridled with the bridle of piety, and the purpose [of marriage] is to curtail the limbs [of the body] (jawarih)80 from responding to desire, then marriage would avert the eye and preserve relief by guarding the heart as well as the mind against temptation. For that is not a matter of one’s choice, rather the self will continue to entice him and tempt him to have coitus, and the tempting devil will not abandon him most of the time. That could occur during prayer; thus he may envision such details of coitus which, were he to confess them to the lowliest of creatures, they would blush. Yet God knows [the secrets of] his heart because the heart is to God as the tongue is to man. For the chief preoccupation of the novice (murid)81 who wants to pursue the path of the hereafter is his heart.” [Moreover], persistence in fasting does not eliminate the element of temptation as pertains to most people, unless it is coupled with weakness of the body and disturbance of the temperament. For that reason Ibn ‘Abbas* declared, “The asceticism of the ascetics cannot be complete without marriage.”83 This is a universal ordeal from which few can be delivered.
Qatadah84 said, in interpreting the words of the Almighty, “Impose not on us that which we have not the strength to bear”:86 that is, lust. It is said that ‘Akramah88 and Mujahid87 interpreted the Almighty’s words “for man was created weak” [Qur’an 4:28] by saying, “He cannot refrain from women.” Fayyad b. Najih said that “When the male experiences an erection, he loses two-thirds of his mind”; others say “He loses a third of his religion.” One of the rare interpretations rendered by Ibn ‘Abbas* of the verse “From the evil of the darkness when it is intense” [Qur’an 113:3]88 is to the male erection, which is an overpowering catastrophe should it rage, as no mind or religion can resist it; for, although it can become an impetus for the two lives as was mentioned earlier, it is the devil’s strongest instrument against the sons of Adam. To this he* referred in these words: “Among those who are deficient in intelligence and religion, I have never seen any who are more successful than you [women] in prevailing over those [men] of intelligence.”89 And that is because of the rage of desire. The Prophet said in his invocation, “0 God! I seek refuge in Thee from the evils of my hearing, my seeing, my heart, and the evils of my semen.”“ He also said, “I ask you to purify my heart and safeguard my genitals”;” so how can there be laxity for others wherefrom the Messenger* of God seeks refuge.
A righteous man used to marry frequently; he never had less than two or three [women]. Some Sufis criticized him, to which he replied, “Has any of you presented himself before God or stood (waqafa) before Him92 and experienced sexual desire?” They replied, “This thing occurs frequently.” He retorted, “Were I to accept throughout my life such a state as you have experienced once, I would not have married; but never did a distracting thought occur to me which I did not carry through, thereby relieving and enabling myself to return to my work. And for forty years, no transgression has befallen me.” Some people criticized the status of the Sufis, to which a man of religion replied, “What is it you blame them for?” He [one of the people] replied, “They eat a lot.” To this he retorted, “And you, also, if you hungered as they do, would eat as they do.” He [one of the people] said, “They marry often.” To which he replied, “If you should safeguard your eye and genitals as they do, you, too, would marry as they do.” Junayd used to say, “I am as much in need of coitus as I am of food, so the wife is definitely nourishment and a means for the purification of the heart.”
For that reason the Messenger* of God commanded that everyone who sees a woman and is attracted to her should have intercourse with his wife,93 for that would ward off temptation from his soul.”’ Jabir* related that the Prophet* of God saw a woman, so he had intercourse with Zaynab [his wife], fulfilled his desire, and departed. The Prophet* declared: “When a woman approaches, she approaches in the image of the devil; so should a man see a woman who appeals to him, let him approach his wife because she has what that woman has.”95
The Prophet* said, “Do not have intercourse with a woman whose husband is absent96 because the devil flows through your veins as does the blood.” So we said, “And your veins?” He replied, “And mine; but God has fortified me against it and therefore I am safe.”“’ Sufyan b. ‘Ayyinah said, “’safe’ means delivered from it [temptation]. That is its meaning because the devil does not deliver.”
It was also related that the son of Umar*, one of the ascetics among the companions, also of the ulema among them, used to break the fast by coitus before eating. It is probable that he had intercourse before the evening prayer, after which he would perform absolution and pray, all for the purpose of emptying the heart to enable it to concentrate on the worship of God and to remove from it the implements of the devil. It has been related that he [son of ‘Umar] had coitus with three of his concubines during the month of Ramadan before the last evening prayer.
Ibn ‘Abbas has declared, “The best of this nation is mostly women”;98 and since sexual desire was a predominant force in the temperament of the Arabs, the frequency of marriage among their righteous men was more common.
It was for the purpose of freeing the heart that marriage with the bondmaid was permitted when there was fear of hardship, even though it results in enslaving the son,99 which is a kind of attrition; such marriage is forbidden to anyone who can obtain a free woman. However, the enslaving of a son is preferable to destroying the faith, for enslavement affects temporarily the life of the child, while committing an abomination results in losing the hereafter; in comparison to one of its days the longest life is insignificant.”’
It has been related that one day some people departed from a gathering with Ibn ‘Abbas, except for one young man who did not leave. Ibn ‘Abbas asked him, “Do you have something to ask?” He said, “Yes, I wish to ask you a question, but I was ashamed [to ask] in front of the people. Now I stand in awe out of respect for you.” “An alim101 takes the place of the father,” said Ibn ‘Abbas, “so what you would have divulged to your father, disclose to me.” He said, “I am a young man with no wife. On occasion I have feared distress for myself, and thus sought relief in masturbation. Is there an act of transgression in it?” So Ibn ‘Abbas turned away from him, then said, “How disgusting! Marrying a bondmaid is better than that, yet it is better than committing fornication.”
This is an indication that a youthful bachelor is torn among three evils: The least of these is marrying a bondmaid, which would lead to enslavement of the offspring; worse than that is masturbation; and the most abominable of the three is fornication. Ibn ‘Abbas did not permit the commission of either because both [the first two] are forewarned against and should be resorted to only to prevent committing a greater evil, in the same manner as one would eat carrion to avoid self-destruction. Preponderance over the lesser of two evils cannot be construed as unrestricted permissiveness or as absolute virtue; cutting off a malignant arm is not a good act even though it is permissible when death is impending. Therefore marriage is meritorious in this respect, but this does not apply to all [people], only to most. Many a person’s desire cools off on account of old age, illness, or the like, and therefore this factor would not apply to him; and what has already been mentioned concerning procreation remains intact. This is general except in the case of the eunuch, which is rare.
It is preferable for a person with temperament so overcome by desire that one woman cannot curb it to have more than one woman, up to four. For God will grant him love and mercy, and will appease his heart by them [women]; if not, replacing them is recommended. Seven nights after the death of Fatimah,* ‘Ali* got married. It is said that al-Hasan, the son of ‘Ali, was a great lover having married more than two hundred women. Perhaps he would marry four at a time, and perhaps he would divorce four at a time replacing them with others. The Prophet* said to al-Hasan, “You resemble me in appearance and in character.”’ He* also said, “Hasan takes after me and Husayn takes after Ali.”` It was said that his indulgence in marriage is one of the characteristics in which he resembled the Messenger* of
God as well as al-Mughirah Ibn Shu’bah who married eighty women.”“ Among the companions were those who had three and four [wives] while those who had two cannot be counted.
No matter how well known the inducement, the cure should be in proportion to the ailment; for the aim is tranquilizing one’s self, and therefore this must be taken into consideration in deciding how many wives one should have.
The third advantage: comfort and relaxation for the soul through companionship; seeing and dallying comfort the heart and strengthen it for the performance of the obligatory rituals. For the self grows weary and has the tendency to shun work because that is contrary to its nature. If compelled to adhere to what disagrees with its nature, it becomes recalcitrant and defiant. If it finds an outlet for itself periodically, it becomes stronger and more energetic. The companionship of women provides relaxation which relieves distress and soothes the heart. It is incumbent upon the pious to acquire such comfort by permissible means. For that reason Almighty God declared, “that he might take rest in her” [Qur’an 7:189] and ‘Ali said, “Relax the heart an hour, for if it is compelled it is blinded.” A khabar states, “A wise man should divide his time three ways: one for meditating, one for self-examination, and one for eating and drinking. In this [latter] time, there is help for the other period.”“’ The same is stated in another expression: “The wise man is desirous106 only of three things: provisioning himself for a return journey (ma’ad),107 seeking a livelihood (marammah), or [seeking] pleasure in something not forbidden.”“’ The Prophet* states, “For every desire (iradah)109 there is a shirrah (eagerness), and for each shirrah there is a fitrah (natural disposition). 10 He whose fitrah leads to my sunna is guided.” I” Shirrah is the striving and the enduring which come about in the beginning when exercising the will, while fitrah means stopping for rest. Abu al-Darda’ used to say, “I find relaxation for myself with a little diversion (lahu), thereby gaining strength to walk in uprightness thereafter.”
In some akhbar pertaining to the Prophet,* he said, “I complained to Gabriel* of my inability to have coitus, and he suggested [I eat] harisah.”“’ If this be true, it can be interpreted only as a preparation for relaxation and cannot be interpreted to imply warding off desire; for it is rather a kindling of desire, and whoever is deprived of sexual desire is denied most of this intimacy.
The Prophet* also said, “Three things of your world have been made desirable to me: perfume (Sib), women, and my delight (qurrat al-‘ayni) in prayer.”“’ This, too, is a benefit that cannot be denied by one who has experienced the weariness of thoughts and remembrances (dhikr)114 and different types of work, which lie outside the two previously mentioned benefits. Indeed, it extends even to the eunuch and to the one who has no sexual desire. As a matter of fact, this advantage renders marriage meritorious if it is concluded with such an intent, but rare are those who marry for this end.
As for the aim of having an offspring as well as that of warding off desire and the like, they are prevalent. Besides, many a person finds pleasure in looking at flowing water, greenery, and the like and is not in need of relieving himself by conversing and dallying with women. Thus this [aim] varies with circumstances and individuals; so let it be taken into consideration.
[Ordering the Household]
The fourth advantage: being free from the concerns of household duties, as well as of preoccupation with cooking, sweeping, making beds, cleaning utensils, and means for obtaining support. If a human being had no desire (shahwah) for coitus, it would still be difficult for him to live in his house alone; because if he were saddled with all the work of attending the house, he would waste most of his time and have very little of it left for learning and working.
The virtuous woman who takes care of the house abets religiousness in this manner, and any disturbance of these preoccupations would perturb the heart and impede life. For that reason Abu Sulayman al-Darani’ declared, “The virtuous wife is not of this world, for she liberates you for the hereafter. Her contribu
tion to freeing [the man] is by both taking care of the house and by satisfying sexual desire.” Muhammad b. Ka’b al-Qarazi said in interpreting God’s words, “0 Lord! Give unto us in the world that which is good” [Qur’an 2:201]; he meant a virtuous woman. The Prophet said, “Let each among you have a grateful heart; a tongue which invokes [the name of God]; and a faithful, virtuous wife who assists you toward the hereafter.”“’ Behold how he has equated her with invocation and thanksgiving.”’ In a commentary regarding the Almighty’s word, it is stated: “him verily We shall quicken with good life” [Qur’an 16:97]; he meant a virtuous wife.
‘Umar b. al-Khattab* used to say, “Next to faith in God, the best gift which has been given to man is a virtuous woman. There are some women that are priceless and others that are yokes from whom one cannot be redeemed”; by priceless is meant that she [woman] cannot be replaced by any other gift.
The Prophet* also said, “I was preferred over Adam by two gifts: His wife abetted him into transgression, while my wives urge me in obedience; his devil was a blasphemer and my devil [is] a Muslim”’ who only enjoins to good.”“’ Thus he [the Prophet] considered her helping him towards obedience as a virtue. This, also, is one of the virtues to which the righteous [men] aim, except that it is pertinent to some individuals who have no legal guardian or manager. It does not call for two wives, [since] plurality may render life miserable and disrupt the affairs of the home.
The aim of such an advantage is the expansion of kinfolk [through the wife] as well as gaining strength by virtue of interfamily relations. This is one of the things that is needed in warding off evil and seeking tranquility. For that reason it was said, “Abased is the one who has no protector; but he who finds someone who repels evil from him, his state is secured and his heart is freed for worship.” For abasement disturbs the heart while strength in numbers wards off abasement.
[Disciplining the Self]
The fifth advantage: disciplining the self”’ and training it to be mindful, faithful, loyal, and respectful of the rights of the ahl (wives),12O tolerating their manners, enduring harm from them, striving to reform them, guiding them to the path of religion, striving toward making lawful gains for their sake, and undertaking the upbringing of their children. All these are deeds of great merit, for they are an exercise in compliance [with God’s injunction] and trust and loyalty; the wives and the offspring being the protected ones, and the virtue of guardianship is great. Those who avoid these responsibilities do so for fear of being unable to do justice by them, otherwise the Prophet* would not have said, “One day of just guardianship is more preferable than seventy years of worship.” Then he said, “Indeed, every one of you is a shepherd, and every one of you is responsible for his flock.”“’
The one who is preoccupied with reforming himself and others is not the same as the one who is preoccupied with reforming himself only; nor is the one who endures harm like the one who seeks pleasure and comfort for himself. Bearing the burden of wives and of offspring is equivalent to jihad for the sake of God. For that reason Bishr said, “Ahmad Ibn Hanbal was preferred over me on three counts, one of them being the fact that he sought what was lawful for himself and for others.”“’ The Prophet* also said, “Whatever a man spends on his wife is a sadaqah,123 and a man will be compensated for the morsel of food he offers his wife.”124
Someone told one of the ulema, “The Lord has granted me a share of every deed!” and he mentioned the hajj (pilgrimage), jihad, and the like. So he replied to him, “Where do you stand as concerns the deeds of the substitutions (ibdal)?”125 He asked: “And what are those?” To which he retorted, “Lawful gain and spending on dependents.”
Ibn al-Mubarak said while with his companions during a battle, “Do you know of anything better than what we are doing?” They said, “We know of none.” He answered, “I do.” They asked, “What is it?” He said, “A virtuous man.” He continued, “A virtuous man rose during the night and beheld his sleeping children uncovered, and so he covered them with his garment. His deed is more virtuous than what we are doing.”
The Prophet* said, “He whose prayer is good, and whose children are many and whose possessions are few, and who does not neglect (yaghtub) the Muslims will be with me in paradise like these two women.”“’ In another hadith it is said, “The Lord loves the poor, virtuous father of children.”““’ Another hadith related, “If the sins of the believer become many, God preoccupies him with the burden of children [in order] to make restitution for them [the sins].” 128
One of the forefathers said, “There are offenses that cannot be atoned for except through family burdens.” A tradition relates that the Prophet* said, “There are certain sins that cannot be atoned for except by the burden of seeking a livelihood.” 129 He also said, “Whoever has three daughters whom he supports and to whom he is kind until the Lord renders them independent of him, God will most certainly make paradise his reward -unless he commits a deed for which he cannot be forgiven.”“’ Ibn ‘Abbas would say whenever he referred to this hadith, “By God, this is one of the strangest (gharib)131 and most misleading articles of the hadith.”
It has been related that a devout person used to provide well for his wife until she died. It was suggested to him that he remarry after her death, but he refrained and said, “Solitude is more soothing to my heart and allows me to concentrate better on my meditations.” He continued: “I saw in a dream, a week following her death, the gates of heaven open, and men descending and marching in succession through the air. Every time one descended, he looked at me and told the one behind him, ‘This is the unfortunate one.’ The other would reply, ‘Yes!’ I refrained from asking them out of awe until the last one, who was a child, passed by me. I asked him: ‘Say, who is the unfortunate one to whom you are referring?’ He replied, ‘You.’ And I asked, ‘Why so?’ He replied, ‘We used to exalt your deeds among those who have striven for the sake of God; but a week ago we were commanded to record your deed with those who have been inimical, and we do not know what you are guilty of.’ “ So he said to his brethren, “Get me married, get me married.” After that, he was not without two or three [wives].
It is related in one of the akhbar of the prophets* that a group entered upon Jonah, the prophet, and he* was hospitable to them. He [Jonah] would enter and leave his house and be mistreated by his wife, yet remain silent. They were astonished, but he said, “Don’t be; for I have beseeched Almighty God saying, ‘Hasten upon me in this life whatever punishment thou hast prepared for me in the hereafter’; so He said, ‘Your punishment is the daughter of so and so whom you should marry.’ So I married her and am enduring from her what you see.”
Such endurance is a form of self-discipline, an appeasement of anger, and an improvement of character. A person who secludes himself or who associates himself with someone of a refined character does not reflect on the evils of his inner self, nor are his hidden faults revealed. It is, therefore, the duty of one who walks the path of the hereafter to tempt himself by being exposed to the like of such agitations, and to become accustomed to enduring them so that his character should be set straight, his soul should be calm, and he should be purified of the base qualities hidden within him.
Enduring the burden of dependents, which is a form of exercise and struggle to provide for them and sustain them, is an act of worship in itself. However, only one of two types of men benefits from it: either a man who seeks striving, exercising, and character training because he is at the beginning of the Path and is therefore not unlikely to consider this a manner of striving by which his soul is exercised; or, a worshipper who does not pursue virtue through the path of the esoteric (sayr bil-batin), mental activity, and the experiences of the heart, but whose [virtuous] deeds are physical,132 such as prayer, performing the pilgrimage, and the like. His working to gain lawfully for his wives and children, maintaining them and bringing them up properly, is better for him than acts of worship which are imposed upon his body and whose benefits do not extend to others.
As for the man whose character is well formed either. through inherent traits or through a previous effort, if he wants to succeed in obtaining an inner life and an intellectual and spiritual activity in the domain of religious and mystical sciences, then he should not marry for that reason because he has no need for exercise.”’ As for worship in the form of providing for dependents, seeking knowledge is better than that because it [seeking knowledge], too, is a form of work, but its benefits are more numerous and more encompassing than the benefit of providing for dependents. These then are the advantages of marriage, which in religion are decreed to be virtuous.
[DISADVANTAGES OF MARRIAGE]
[Inability to Seek Lawful Gain]
The disadvantages of marriage are three: one-the strongest-is the inability to seek gain lawfully.”“ For that is not available to every person, especially nowadays, because of social instability and because marriage encourages the amplification of attempts to provide [for dependents] through unlawful means. In it [marriage] is, thus, a man’s destruction and the destruction of his family; a bachelor is safeguarded therefrom. As for a married man, he is most often driven into the paths of evil by following the whims of his wife and selling his hereafter for this world.
There is a khabar which states that “the servant (‘abd) is made to stand before the scales with good deeds that resemble mountains in weight.”’ He then is questioned concerning the care and support of his family, the source of his wealth and how he spent it, until such reckoning absorbs all his good deeds, thus not one good deed remains to his account; whereupon the angels cry out: `Behold, here is the man whose dependents consume his good deeds in the world and is today mortgaged by his
Is is said that those first to cling to man on the day of resurrection will be his wife and children who will cause him to stand in the presence of Almighty God and then say, “0 Lord! Give us our just due from him, for he taught us not what we were ignorant of, feeding us by unlawful means and we did not know it.” He [God] will punish him for their sake. One of the forefathers said, “When God wills evil to a servant, He sets upon him fangs in this world to devour him”; meaning dependents.
The Prophet said, “No one will meet God with a greater offense than one who ignores [the needs of] his dependents.”“’ This is a general calamity from which few are delivered, excepting one with possessions that are inherited or gained lawfully, which he uses to redeem138 himself and his family, provided he is content not to seek more. Such a person will be delivered from this calamity as will be a craftsman who is able to gain lawfully through permissible means, such as gathering firewood, hunting, or engaging in a craft that is not dependent upon rulers, and thereby is able to deal with virtuous people; also, the one who manifests blamelessness and most of whose possessions are lawfully gained [will be delivered by God].
Ibn Salim said when asked about marriage: “It [marriage] is more desirable in this time of ours for someone who is overcome by lust: like the male donkey who sees a female donkey and can neither be dissuaded from her by beating nor can he control himself; should he control himself, it is preferable to leave him alone.”
[Failure to Uphold Wives’ Rights]
The second disadvantage: the failure to uphold their [wives’] rights, to tolerate their manners, or to endure harm from them. This is less prevalent than the previous [disadvantage], inasmuch as it is easier to overcome the latter than the former. Improving one’s manners with women and upholding their rights are easier than seeking lawful gain. There is also danger in this because he [the husband] is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The Prophet* said, “It is sin (ithm) enough for a man to destroy those for whom he provides.” 139
It has been related that one who deserts his family is like a runaway slave in that his prayer and his fasting are not acceptable until he returns to them. Whoever fails to uphold his wives’ rights, even though he might be present, is like a fugitive. The Lord has said, “Ward off from yourselves and your families a [hell]Fire” [Qur’an 66:6]. He commanded us to safeguard them from the Fire as we would safeguard ourselves.
A person might fail to uphold his own right, and were he to get married this obligation would be compounded, and to his self another person be added. Self is an impellent to evil; if self is increased, the incitement to evil usually increases. For that reason, a certain man declined to get married and said, “I am afflicted with my [own] self; how can I add another self to it?” 140 As has been said, “The mouse hole would not be large enough to contain it [the mouse] if a broom was tied to its tail.”
Ibrahim Ibn Adham*141 also declined [to get married] by saying, “I will not attach a woman unto me, nor do I have need for women; that is to say, I am unable to care for them, protect them, and provide for them since I lack the means.” Likewise Bishr declined saying, “I am prevented from marriage by the Almighty’s words, ‘And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men).’ 1114′ He used to say, “Were I to care for a chicken, I would fear becoming a butcher on the bridge.”“’
Sufyan b. ‘Ayyinah* was seen at the gate of the sultan and was told: “This is not your place!” He replied, “Have you seen a man with a family who is more successful?” Sufyan used to say, “I yearn for celibacy, the key, 114 and a place of dwelling which the wind can penetrate and where no commotion or shouting [exists].”
This [the second disadvantage] is, too, a common evil though less prevalent than the first-from which only an intelligent, wise man can be delivered: A man possessing good character and insight into the ways of women, is tolerant of their tongues, is not driven by their desires, is careful to fulfill his obligations towards them, can overlook their mistakes, and is cognizant of their manners. Most people are given to impudence, boorishness, irascibility, frivolity, bad manners, and injustice while seeking full justice. Inevitably, such men through marriage become more corrupt in this respect. Hence celibacy is safer for them.
[Distractions from God]
The third disadvantage-which is less [of an evil] than the first and the second-[lies in the possibility] that the wife and the offspring could distract him from Almighty God, luring him to pursue the world and indulge in providing a comfortable life for his children through gathering wealth and hoarding it for them, and enticing him to seek exaltation and multiplication through them. Whatever distracts [one’s attention] from God-whether wife, wealth, or offspring-brings misfortune upon the possessor. I do not imply by this that it would lead to forbidden deeds, for that [whatever leads to forbidden deeds] has already been listed under the first and second disadvantages, but rather that it would entice him to indulge in the enjoyment of what is permissible, leading into excesses in dallying, flirting, and excessive enjoyment of them [women]. From marriage arise various types of such distractions that engross the heart; thus night and day would pass and the person would not have time to think about the hereafter or prepare for it. For that reason Ibrahim Ibn Adham* said, “No good can come out of one who becomes accustomed to the thighs of women.” Abu Sulayman* said, “Whoever marries attaches himself to the world.” That is to say, he is lured to depend on the world.
This is the sum total of disadvantages and advantages. To judge that a person is absolutely better off [by] being married or single falls short of taking into consideration all these matters. Rather, such advantages and disadvantages can be considered a precept and a criterion against which the novice should measure himself. If the disadvantages [of marriage] are nonexistent in his case and the benefits are all present, that is, if he has lawfully gained possessions, good character, and earnest pursuit of religion, marriage would not distract him from God; if he [the novice] is, nevertheless, a young man in need of appeasing his sexual desire, if he is a bachelor in need of someone to take care of his house, and if he needs fortification through family associations, then marriage is unquestionably better for him even though its [primary] aim is to produce offspring. If the advantages are refuted and the disadvantages are brought together, being celibate is preferable for him; but if the two are equal, which is most likely, it is necessary to weigh on just scales the extent to which the advantages contribute to the promotion of his religion and the extent to which the disadvantages detract from it. If it appears that one group outweighs the other, it should be acted upon. For the most obvious advantages are procreation and appeasing desire, while the most obvious disadvantages are the need for unlawful gain and distraction from
God. Let us assume that these matters are comparable in importance: We would then conclude that if a man is not troubled by sexual desire, if the benefit of his marriage lies in the endeavor to obtain an offspring, and if the evils of his marriage lie in the necessity to gain unlawfully and to be distracted from God then celibacy is preferable. There is no advantage in whatever distracts one from God or in earning unlawful gain.
The matter of offspring cannot compensate for the absence of these two considerations, [because] marriage for the purpose of obtaining an offspring is illusory and this constitutes a consummate deficiency in religion. To preserve his own life and to, guard it from destruction is more important than seeking to produce an offspring; that is a gain, and religion is an investment. For in the corruption of religion lies the loss of the hereafter and the dissipation of the investment. Such a benefit cannot counteract either of those two disadvantages. However, if to the matter of the offspring is added the need to appease desire, which results from one’s yearning for marriage, then one might consider marriage. If the reins of righteousness are not strengthened in his mind, and if he fears committing fornication, then marriage is preferable for him because he is hesitant between committing fornication and attaining unlawful gain; earning unlawful gain is the lesser of the two disadvantages. If he trusts himself not to commit fornication, and is unable at the same time to avert the eye from what is unlawful, then abstaining from marriage is preferable. For, to look [lustfully] is unlawful and to earn gain in an improper way is unlawful. Seeking gain takes place continually and in it lies his [ultimate] ruin and the ruin of his family, while looking takes place occasionally and this pertains to him [and does not involve his relations] and passes away quickly. Looking constitutes adultery by the eyes but, if not rectified by relief, is easier to forgive than eating forbidden fruit, unless it is feared that looking should end in the defiance of relief, thus entailing the threat of affliction.
If this be the case, then we are confronted with the third situation: that is, to have the strength to avert the eyes but not to ward off thoughts distracting the heart; here it is preferable to abstain from marriage because the [evil] deeds of the heart are easier to forgive. Emptying the heart for the sake of worship is desirable; [besides] the act of worship is precluded by unlawful gain, consuming it [gain], and feeding it to others. Thus it is necessary to weigh these disadvantages against the advantages and to judge accordingly. Whoever becomes aware of this will not find it difficult to comprehend what we have transmitted from the righteous forefathers, namely encouragement of marriage in certain situations and in others discouragement therefrom inasmuch as this is dependent upon circumstances.
If you should ask, “Which is better for someone who is safeguarded from the disadvantages [of marriage], seclusion for the worship of God or marriage?” I would reply: Combine the two, because marriage is a contract and does not preclude seclusion for the worship of God; rather, it pertains to the need for lawful gain. If he is able to earn lawful gain, then marriage is also better, because it is feasible for him during the night and the rest [that is, the unoccupied portion] of the day to be in seclusion for worship; persistence in worship without relaxation is not feasible. If it be assumed that earning a livelihood preoccupies his whole time to the extent that he has none left other than that prescribed-sleeping, eating, and performing the necessaries and if he is one of those who do not pursue the hereafter except through the supererogatory prayer, pilgrimage, or similar physical activities, then marriage is better for him. For earning lawful gain, supporting a family, seeking to obtain offspring, and tolerating the manners of women constitute forms of worship whose merits do not fall short of supererogatory acts of worship. If he should worship by means of knowledge, meditation, and the path of esotericism, and should lawful gain complicate that, then abstaining from marriage is preferable.
Should you ask, “Why then did Jesus* abstain from marriage in spite of its virtue? And if it is preferable to free oneself for the worship of God, why then did our Prophet* take on numerous wives?” Know ye, then, that it is preferable to combine the two in the case of one who is able, whose desire is strong, and whose ambition is high, because no preoccupation can distract him from God.
Our Messenger* armed himself with strength and combined the virtue of worship and that of marriage. In spite of his nine women, 14′ he still dedicated himself to God. For him, the satisfaction of the sexual need was not an obstacle. At the same time, those who are preoccupied with worldly needs are not constrained in their affairs by the fulfilling of natural needs; outwardly, they perform that which is necessary, but their hearts are preoccupied with solitude not unmindful of their important duties. The Messenger* of God, because of his elevated status, was not deterred by the dictates of this world from the presence of the heart with God. He used to receive revelation (wahy) while he was in his wife’s bed.”’ If this is true in the case of someone else, it is not inconceivable that irrigation canals can be altered by what cannot alter the mighty ocean; in other words, one cannot compare others unto him [that is, the Prophet].”’ As for Jesus,* he armed himself with resolutions and not strength; he took precautions, for perhaps his state was such that preoccupation with a family could have affected it, or made it difficult to seek lawful gain, or made marriage and seclusion for worship irreconcilable. Thus he preferred to devote himself to worship. For they [prophets] are more aware [than others] of the secrets of their states, of the precepts of their times regarding virtuous gain, of the manners of women, of the calamities of marriage upon the marrier, and of the benefits he [that is, the marrier] has therein. No matter how different the circumstances are, in some cases it is preferable to marry and in others to abstain. We should deem the deeds of the prophets as preferable in all cases -and God knows best.