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God and Your Marriage

I won't pretend I know what God expects of us married folks, but I like to hear what others believe about this. So, back in August, I listened to a webinar on the subject by Ustadha Hedaya Hartford. It was an intro to an 11-week webinar course on The Successful Islamic Marriage.

Unfortunately, when I went to publish this review a day after writing it, everything I had written had vanished. I had really wanted to tell any Sunni Muslim readers about it in time to sign up, because I really enjoyed this sample of her work, but it was gone. Last night, the missing post suddenly reappeared. If you're interested in the course, please contact Qibla.com or do a web search for Hedaya Hartford, as she appears to teach for other organizations, write books, and even show up on YouTube.

What was especially interesting to me was that much of what she said sounds like it should apply as well to Christian or Jewish marriages, even though she based everything on her own religious texts. If you are familiar with the sacred writings of Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion, I would love to hear from you on how her ideas fit with what you believe.

One of her frequently repeated points was that if you cannot protect your spouse from your angry outbursts, your addictions, or your parents' meddling, you don't meet the criteria for getting married. You are not fit to do what is required of a spouse. If you marry anyway, your temper or inability to control your parents' role in your marriage is no excuse for what happens. "Fix yourself," she said.

Another was that in the wedding ceremony (nikkah), you make promises in front of witnesses and acknowledge that God (Allah) is the best of those witnesses. Your marriage thus becomes a way of worshiping God. When you swear, belittle your husband or wife, behave unkindly, withhold generosity, or hurt the person you married, there are no excuses. How badly your spouse behaves should never dictate how you behave.

Under Islamic law, you concern yourself with your own character and should not to try to change anyone else's. This includes your wife or husband. It also means wives accept their husbands' decisions, up to the point where doing so would require them to disobey God's other rules.

Her answers to questions from women all over the globe were great. I am paraphrasing here.

Q: My husband wants to take a second wife, and I don't think I could ever get along with her.
A: Islam allows him up to four wives. It does not require that you remain one of them. Talk to him about how you feel. Some women can handle this situation, but not many.

Q. I want to get married, but I am a strong and independent woman. Must I really submit to my husband?
A. I, too, am a strong and independent woman, but this does not give me permission to invent other rules I think would be better than the ones handed down to us. I made sure I found a man who likes my strength and independence and is willing to discuss things before making decisions. With any other husband, I would have a very difficult time doing what is required of me.

Q. A man wants to marry me, but he says he will only marry a virgin. I want to marry him. Must I tell him I am not a virgin?
A. No, but you must tell him you are not a suitable marriage partner for him. You cannot start a good marriage by lying or pretending you know better than he does what's right for him.

Although she got there from religious texts and I got there through trial and error, I found myself agreeing with her quite often. If you are currently incapable of protecting your spouse from your problems, fix yourself. Don't react to your spouse from your gut; behave in a way you'll feel good about. Do not try to change your spouse to fit your expectations. Don't stay married if you cannot abide the life it offers you, but do look for a Third Alternative before you go. Don't marry under false pretenses; choose someone with whom you can enjoy being married.

I don't think I expected to agree with so much. I was almost tempted to sign up for the course just to learn whether she gets into the how-to. That is what I try to offer you. How do you behave in a way you'll feel good about when you don't like your spouse's words or deeds? How do you deal with a husband (or wife) who needs to fix himself? How do you stop expecting different character strengths? How do you choose someone with whom you can make a good marriage? If you take her course, please let me know.

And if you're from another religion, please leave a comment about how her beliefs about marriage mesh with those you have been taught. And please let me know about webinars where I can learn more about what's expected of married folks by your religion.

Comments

Patty --

This is fascinating! SO glad the post re-appeared for you. I WISH I'd been explicitly taught this way! Perhaps the teachings were available and I wasn't listening.

I'm going to search for Love and Respect webinars for you. Of all the Christian material out there, Emerson Eggerichs was the first that my husband could stomach, both as playing fair with what the Bible actually says (vs. what the writer/speaker wanted it to say) and as treating men and women fairly (vs. making everything the man's fault.)

Cherie, I LOVE Emerson Eggerichs' insights. Because his Bible quotes did not convince me, I paid little attention to them when I first read the book. I had not yet seen the data on the biochemical side of men's need for respect nor fully understood they really do see respect as a necessary foundation for any relationship, not something the other person can grant or withhold. You know, pretty much the way most women see cherishing.

Then I heard him speak at a marriage conference. The audience (maybe 2,000 people) was pretty much evenly split between men and women, but all were pastors, rabbis, imams, therapists, marriage educators, or peer counselors. No one there like your husband (or most husbands). Even so, the men's loud and spirited responses made it very clear he was onto something major.

Now I see men's need for respect everywhere. When men initiate divorce, which they do less often than women do, they often mention the pain of losing her respect. When they defend themselves as good husbands, they say they respect their wives. When they talk about dating, they mention finding someone who respects them. And when wives roll their eyes or mock their husbands as behaving like children, you can watch the intense hurt in their husbands' eyes.

I have respect for your excellent blog, but in this case, I have to warn, please live it before you celebrate it. Islam has some wonderful, useful things to say about marriage, and I've read a lot if it, but it is dangerous to confuse doctrine with cultural realities. In some if not most Muslim countries, men can be so privileged that they can be excused for anything no matter how venal it would be considered in US. I know. I am a non muslim woman married to a muslim man - in most ways wonderful - who, after partaking 100% of western culture for years in a very loving marriage, may yield to the pressures of his family back home and take a next wife. No matter the love, dedication, that I am the main breadwinner, and that I said NO WAY NEVER about a second wife before we married. "Talk to him about how you feel" is offensive. Yes cultures are different but here pretty words are hiding what is often very low consideration of women. Prayer, no alcohol, quranic study, etc. do not equate to evolved emotional development or to the moral reasoning that is needed to handle these "rights of men." Far more important than debates about hijab.

Hi, Aly. I don't believe adherence to any religion has anything to do with moral reasoning or emotional development. It's all about faith.

Many of my readers are Muslims, and there are few English-language marriage blogs not aimed specifically at Christians.

No matter what our religion, it can be hard to know which of the things we've learned (and our spouses, too) are part of the religion we believe God has decreed and which are part of local culture due for an overhaul.

Ustadha Hedaya Hartford was speaking to women like herself who believe God has decreed men may take multiple wives under certain conditions. (For what it's worth, my understanding of those conditions would not allow your husband to take another wife, even if you agreed, because you are the main breadwinner.) She was reminding other believers God has also decreed women are free to leave if he takes another. This makes the decision to have more than one wife in the family always a joint decision, not one a husband can ever make alone, something I was not aware of.

"Talk to him about how you feel" acknowledges the reality that men who have grown up in a polygamous society may not have a clue their wife might object to something they view as normal. They also may not be aware of the differences between what people do and what their religion condones.

But this is definitely not the case for you. Your husband knows you will object. If you two live in the western world, he knows his government will object. He also knows you do not share his religious beliefs and are not bound by them unless you live in one of the very few countries where Islamic law is government law. If he does it anyway, don't blame it on his religion or his family. Blame it on either extreme hubris or a childish inability to stand up for himself.

Deal with it as you would any strong difference of opinion. Look for a Third Alternative, a way to get whatever he's looking for from this arrangement while protecting you from infidelity and competition for his affections. And protect your health, mental health, and money if his behavior threatens them.

Thank you for your kind words about my blog. I hope you find this explanation to be consistent with the rest of it. I don't celebrate any particular religion or lifestyle, and I believe the things I write apply no matter which ones my readers choose.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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