As the engine of the car turns off and heavy footsteps approach the front door, she smiles shyly, a little breathless.
As the key turns in the lock, she is barely able to contain her glee.
Taking a last look in the dresser mirror, she adjusts a strand of her hair with a flick of her finger and smacks her lips together to enhance the lipstick. Then sprints from the room, her heart beating faster.
He walks in, the hard day’s toil apparent on his disheveled face and beard, slightly out of breath. As the tranquility of the clean, warm apartment envelops his senses, and he smells the enticing aroma of coffee that fills the hall, his worries of the day begin to dissipate.
Placing his attaché case on the table, he quickly runs his fingers through his hair and discreetly whips out an oral spray to sneak in a quick spritz. His heart skips a beat as he hears light, dainty footsteps on the stairs, the intensifying scent of her perfume and the tinkle of her jewelry giving him goose bumps with excitement.
Describing the close, comforting and fortifying relationship between a husband and wife, God calls it one of His signs in the Quran:
And of His signs is that He created for you mates from yourselves that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for people who give thought. (30: 21)
This verse describes how God moulds the marital relationship between a husband and wife, making it undergo a gradual metamorphosis with time, so to speak, so that at first, it embodies mawaddah (affection, love) but as time wears on, it becomes a paradigm of rahmah (mercy).
The root of the first Arabic word used in the verse is “sakan”, which means ‘it went into a state of rest, quiet, calm; unruffled, appeased, allayed, or motionless’.
Translated as “finding tranquility”, this word describes the motive of marriage – the basic reason why God created man as a spouse for woman, and vice versa.
The Arabic word mawaddah stems from the root word “wadd”, which means “he loved”. Finally, the third and most familiar Arabic word in this verse, rahmah, has its root in the word “rahm”, and it means mercy, pity, compassion, tenderness of the heart, and an inclination to favor that requires exercise of beneficence towards the object thereof.
A Maturing Relationship
The order in which these words appear in this verse of the Quran holds special significance, because they point out the pertinence of the gradual change that comes about in the spousal relationship with the passage of time, as the dynamics of age and experience come into play.
When one finds a caring mate through marriage, one enters a realm of calm, soothing companionship that becomes a source of peace for their soul.
The restlessness, loneliness, irritability, desperation and agitation associated with being a virile but unsatisfied young singleton is gone.
Consequently, the spouses consummately lie together in pleasurable tranquility every night, no longer desiring the company of single friends to eliminate solitude.
“She cranes her neck, looking towards the far end of the street from the window, the setting sun highlighting the silver-grey wisps of hair that have escaped from her braid. “I wonder if he has taken his evening pills,” she mutters to herself, the imminent sound of the car engine still elusive.
With a sigh, she makes her way into the kitchen to make sure that his supper is ready for his arrival, picking up the morning newspaper to bide her time. “Now, where did I put my spectacles?” she wonders.
As a faint car engine suddenly sounds in the distance, a sense of peace suddenly descends upon her heart, and a sigh of relief escapes her lips as she impulsively whispers, “Oh thank God!”
The familiar, enticing aroma of warm whole-wheat flatbread and cinnamon-laced green tea, prepared for decades exactly the way he likes them, greets him as he steps inside. Exhaling deeply, he hangs up his coat and greets her using the nickname he gave her decades ago. She responds from the kitchen, the tinkle of the crockery muffling her soft voice.
“Did you…?” she asks as soon as he walks in.
“Yes, I had them half an hour ago,” he replies before she can finish, putting up the grocery bags on the counter top.
“Look, I got your favorite,” he says fondly, extracting a jar of jam.
“Thank God you remembered this time! I thought you were getting old,” she teases with a mischievous cackle. He lets out a hoarse laugh, his eyes twinkling with glee at her effervescent sense of humor.
In an instant, his fatigue is gone.
Read: Making Allah the Heart of Our Marriage
The way a warm bed facilitates slumber and fulfills the body’s need for rest, the same way, physical and emotional intimacy with a spouse satisfies the body’s carnal desires, paving the way for satiated sexual urges, and fulfills the soul’s need for camaraderie, leading to a calming sense of psychological security and well-being that no other relationship, not even that with one’s parents, siblings or children, can bring.
Hence, the initial years of a marriage involve more physical intimacy and romantic love, whereas with the passage of decades, the love between the spouses becomes more of a comforting source of mercy and compassion for each other, akin to a mother’s womb that encompasses the embryo completely, providing warmth, nourishment, and an all-enveloping embrace that makes the latter feel totally protected from all kinds of harm.
Read: Five Cs of a Happy Marriage: Legacy of the Prophet
The mercy between spouses as they age and mature morphs into a more tender kind of love that entails caring for the other when they are ill, fulfilling each other’s emotional needs, craving and enjoying each other’s company, listening to the other’s problems, granting counsel, pertinent advice and moral support, and covering each other’s shortcomings and mistakes from the rest of the world like a protective armor.
The Arabic words mawaddah and rahmah are thus quite poignant in how they encompass the changes, with time and experience, which come into the marital relationship, describing its gradual evolvement from a young seedling sprout into a sturdy tree, analogously speaking.
This ‘tree’ then eventually embodies not just the epitome of a firm foundation and inner strength, but also the source of many kinds of good for the environment around it, namely: shade, fruit, oxygen and foliage.
It is thus how a union that began with hesitant baby steps and unintentional mistakes goes on to become the source of new people, new loving relationships, and productive households brimming with activity that leave positive marks indomitably etched in the history of humankind.
(From Reading Islam’s archive.)