It would not be an exaggeration to say that nowadays, the worldly pursuit and acquisition of wealth and material comforts is a high priority for most people, towards which their efforts are directed from a very early age.
Success in today’s world is gauged on one predominant factor: being wealthy,- at least apparently so. Anyone who falls short on the wealth scale is considered to still have some way left to go on the road towards success, albeit even if they enjoy a plethora of other blessings, such as righteousness, health, a loving home and family, education, honor, love, respect, popularity. If they are not materially wealthy, they don’t usually enjoy the “oomph” factor in being considered successful by others.
The institution of marriage is not immune either, from the effects of this contemporary rat race to amass wealth. In fact, since time immemorial, wealth has remained a considerably key factor in convening most marriages.
Islam has endorsed this trend, of the giving and taking of wealth in return for rewards from Allah and the establishment of the dynamics of blood, marital and business relationships. The spending of wealth upon others also determines the line of authority and mutual interdependence of almost all human relationships in Islam.
The Dynamics of Wealth in Muslim Marriage
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has clearly stated that one of the reasons for which a woman is married by a man, is her wealth (or the wealth of her biological family).
Also, Allah has obligated Muslim men to spend upon (i.e. financially support) their wives, who are considered their dependents in an Islamic marriage, and not force their wives to contribute any of their own money to the household. A wife has to be financially supported by her husband even if she is wealthy and not in need of financial maintenance from him.
This obligatory spending by the husband on his wife is actually one of the reasons why he holds a clear and unconditional degree of authority over her in their marriage, obligating her obedience to him in all matters that Allah has permitted.
Unfortunately, even though a Muslim nowadays may meticulously study the big books of rulings that contain thousands of rules of jurisprudence in a classroom/under a teacher as part of their Deen-related education, it does not mean that they will eventually act upon all the knowledge that they have acquired.
And that right there is the real life test that we all have live through, for which we will be accountable to Allah: how much we acted upon the Deen (religion).
What I mean is, that even though Islam has defined the economic dynamics of Muslim marriage, most Muslims do not act according to all of them in practical life.
You Don’t Get to Pick and Choose
Many a marriage nowadays comes rife with unique challenges and problems from day one.
Your spouse, no matter how righteous you are, will always come with certain qualities that you will dislike.
Shopping for stuff we need from the stores is so much easier than receiving what Qadr(Divine decree) doles out for us in the shape of a life partner in real life. You can cry out long, earnest dua’s before Allah day and night asking Him for a righteous spouse, listing out all the qualities and attributes you want in them, and yet, what you get handed eventually, might be quite different from your expectations.
This is because Allah wants all of us to work for getting what we want: He doesn’t just hand us what we desire on a platter, without our lifting a finger in efforts to acquire it. That is just one of His many laws.
And one of the factors about your future spouse and/or in-laws that you might end up disliking, could be their wealth and their family mindset regarding money, which is a result of their past economic status, lifestyle and standard of living.
It is often assumed, especially when marriages are being negotiated and discussed, that if a young girl or boy marries into a wealthy, influential and materially well off family, this surely implies a good fortune for him or her, along with future happiness and a lack of hardships after marriage.
However, a cursory look at middle-aged or elderly married couples who are wealthy, and the state/level of happiness of their marriages, clearly repudiates this belief.
Economic prosperity and poverty, each come with their unique related challenges and problems after marriage.
It is all about which hard nut a person is dealt out to crack, by the decree of Allah. And neither is easy.
When Economic Expectations are Not Met..
*65 year old Safiyyah lives in a traditional family setup: her son and daughter-in-law live upstairs in her home. Their children go to school, both of whom she and her husband babysat during their early preschool years. Because her daughter-in-law lives with them, her parents visit often and send gifts to Safiyyah and her husband.
The elephant in the room is Safiyyah’s other daughter in law, who dwells in the same city.That daughter-in-law couldn’t adjust to the lack of privacy in Safiyyah’s home, and wanted to move out. Since her parents were financially well off, they provided her with a small home of her choosing near their own residence, where she and her husband raised their children alone, without any support from her parents in law, struggling with financial hardship in the process.
As a result, whilst the parents of Safiyyah’s live-in daughter-in-law visit and send gifts to them often, the parents of her other daughter-in-law never call on them.
While on the surface this might seem unjust and harsh, it actually reflects the practical result of the worldly expectations that two families harbor when a marriage between their adult children takes place: the parents of the bride expect the family of their daughter’s husband to dwell her in their home honorably, and to treat her well.
For this reason, some of them insist on furnishing her future husband’s parents’ home (where she will be living) expensively, from their own pockets, at the time of her marriage, as a form of ‘insuring’ her future good treatment by them.
On the other hand, the parents of a married son expect his wife to take care of them by living with them amicably, serving them docilely, and being respectful towards them at all times, all the while happily bearing children to populate their home.
When this expected future outcome doesn’t happen, for one reason or the other, and one party doesn’t receive what they desired from the other, it leads to a straining of their mutual relations. Many a time, all contact might be dropped over the passage of years, fueled by let-downs related to economic circumstances.
Indeed, most amicable in-law relationships are sustained in the long term only through the exchange of mutual benefits, like marriage itself. It is very difficult for a happy marriage to be sustained in the long-term if the expected benefits from it are not received at all by one or both parties.
Conclusion: Expect the Economically Unexpected
Many Muslims claim that they are getting married only for the sake of Allah; for completing half their Deen, for guarding their chastity. Yet, almost all of them have certain pre-set expectations from their future spouse and in-laws, either cultural or personal.
In every marriage, hardships come. Jobs are lost. Careers get switched. Debts get incurred. Homes need to be sold. Cars become worn.
While factors like money, owning other forms of wealth, and the couple’s standard of livingdo affect the happiness of their marriage, keeping low expectations regarding future economic prosperity helps sustain the bond in the long term.
In this regard, it is my personal opinion that the parents of the husband and wife play a pivotal role in ensuring the long-term happiness of their wards’ marital union, by consciously refraining from judging it’s success only with the “economic power and prestige” yardstick.
*Not her real name
First published: January 2014