Muslim Marriage Makes Men Nicer!

By Zaufishan Iqbal– As a cynical Muslim I approach the topic of marriage as I would an erupting volcano: with pain-resistant clothing, an idiot’s guide to avoiding explosions, and a book of final prayers. Psychological analysis however, has claimed that marriage isn’t too painful; in fact, it can be quite pleasant.

A recent study by Michigan State University discovered that married men had better character than the single men by the age of 29. The academics conducting the study followed a selected group of men from the age of 17 to 29, when 60 per cent were married. The study concluded that married men tended to have fewer anti-social incidents and that they were less likely to indulge in anti-social behaviour, than those who remained bachelors. In other words, married men were nicer. This gives me some hope.

The immediate counter argument to this is that it is nicer men who marry anyway. Compared to the chronic party-goers or sloth-ridden men who are ‘way too free’ to settle down, of course it’s going to be the charming, stable and wiser men who are married first. In Muslim culture men have a multitude of valid reasons to want a partner in crime from loneliness to spiritual development. Sometimes not-as valid reasons such as family pressure or peers can also make one reevaluate his bachelor pad and microwave lifestyle. Regardless, when a Muslim man starts looking for his better half, that’s a good sign of his grown-up thinking and progression.

I still have contentions with the study though. Surely, not all men are positively affected by marriage, are they? The results do not take into account how the wives perceive their husbands and whether the men felt they were better people, if at all. However, the study did take into account a set of twins and still found that marriage had a profound active effect on the married twin, whose anti-social behaviour “tailed-off rapidly”, while the other continued in his bad ways.

In the journal Archives of General Psychiatry, Professor S. Alexandra Burt wrote that married men “are just not as anti-social to begin with. And when they get married, they get even less antisocial”. Most married men entered their marriage with serious goals and maintain this sense of seriousness throughout the relationship.

In Muslim marriages men are educated to become improved people through their responsibilities as qawwam – a protector – for another human being. After marriage, in addition to looking after themselves husbands are accountable for the wellbeing of another person. Successful Muslim marriages are usually led by a man who is not only concerned with his own health and wealth, but who is attentive to his wife’s soul, her spiritual development, her health and her wealth. From this spark of concern the wife (who is naturally predisposed with rahma – compassion) builds an admiration to which the husband responds with a more loving nature. And thus the initial kindness from men creates a circle of mercy and compassion, that which is emphasised profoundly by Allah in the Qur’an

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“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates so that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who reflect.” (Qur’an, 30:21)

Because of these new roles as provider, lover, protector, it reduces the amount of time a man may ‘hang out’ in large social groups, and with his friends. This tends to lead to more ‘boyish’ behaviour: the play fighting, the competitive games and unpleasant language (i.e., the profanity). Single Muslim men are more “expressive” in their singleton behaviour (that’s putting it politely) than married men who have more worries, who joke less about life’s responsibilities, while the single man is “just chillin’ akhi” (my brother).

At larger functions married men have a greater social standing and accountability as a representative of husbands everywhere! Just as women have their codes of communication, men will silently nod heads, sigh and hand-signal in unison with their brothers across a hall, almost to say, “I feel your pain, man.

A chapter heading of a marriage advice book reads, “commitment isn’t a prison, it’s a means to greater freedom”. Shaikh Abdal-Hakim Murad noted that men who recognise this spend more time with their wives and children which reduces their natural immaturity and instills a sense of ‘adulthood’ in them. Men are more like children who generally mature at a slower rate, and we do find this boyishness endearing but to an extent. Therefore “manhood” is a woman’s prerequisite to a marriage. The roles of Muslim masculinity are being tested: how chivalrous and masculine are you?

Ryan King, associate professor at Albany University in New York speculated that married men had “more to lose” by behaving badly. There is great truth to this. Islamically speaking a marriage is primarily a contractual relationship that binds the husband and wife on a ‘business’ level: there is something to gain, something at stake, both need to give 100/100, and if both parties haven’t read the small print, somewhere down the line there will be trouble. This order of events is not part of the contemporary understanding of relationships where a typical guy can string along a succession of relationships, love them, dump them, but have no legal responsibility.

A man can have many girlfriends without owing them anything, he’s not obligated to be kind and “that’s cool, that’s o.k.” Compared to this status quo Islam has higher standards and women expect more from men. This is not only because Allah gives them more responsibility but also because we as women choose our husbands from the potential we see in them, and the greatness we think our men can achieve. Interestingly, we can also be pushy in our demands for nicer men. In a hilarious Chris Rock sketch he asked, “have you ever seen your woman just lookin’ at you? That’s because you weren’t her first choice.”

Some Muslim men avoid marriage knowing that it opens up the gates to permanent nagging, a drastic change in family dynamics and inescapable duties – ideals that no human can achieve. But men who are fully aware of living an Islam-filled lifestyle do aspire to their wife’s ideas of greatness, to their personal self-development and to Allah’s guidance to be the best of men.

Take for example, driving. Men are statistically more likely to ignore seat-belt laws so despite the popular stereotype of women as dangerous drivers, more men are the cause of road related accidents. With a passenger a male driver suddenly pays attention to the highway-code and restrains his ‘joy riding’. The same can be said for a Muslim marriage; whoever is in the driver’s seat, both partners depend on one another for direction and to balance out one another’s weaknesses and strengths in reaching a destination.

Imam Faraz Rabbani overheard someone say on why they married, “at first I was just a safety net for him”. While this can be criticised there is a reality that needs to be understood. Marriage is a protection from social harm, from illicit sexual tendencies, from depression and other pressures of what I term “singleitis”. Marriage is the safety net for Muslims who have a genuine need to progress in another lane, and get in the drivers’ seat of a convertible with ABS and airbags. After experiencing the benefits of a marriage, neither partner would want to lose them thus women need kind men with clean driving records just as men need smart women who can take the wheel from time to time.

From a sociological perspective, according to Fundamentalists (that’s the theorists, not the extremists) a stable family is the core to a functioning society. Social scientist Halim Naeem wrote that many of the problems the Muslims have today is because “the Muslim males do not know how to be men”. He said if the men were properly developed Muslim men, women would follow suit, as it is women’s nature to follow good leaders. This is true, properly developed men are those who are best to their families.

Abu Hurairah (ra) narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said: “Among the Muslims the most perfect, as regards his faith, is the one whose character is excellent, and the best among you are those who treat their wives well.”

Constructed as a hypothetical formula, this means, Good men + good women = good marriages + good parents = nurturing family + stable society.

When there are peaceful marriages, where both men and women fulfill their roles without smashing plates, the foundation to a stable community is strengthened, and likewise for the breakdown of marriages creating cracks in the community. Without marriage it leaves us in a spiritually stagnant state whereas if a person has someone who supports them through thick and thin, they tend to be less brittle.

Biology also plays a role in understanding why ‘married men are nicer’. Ask a man his hopes for his marriage and one answer will be: children, or specifically: sons. Cultural preconditioning determines many of these hopes but lets stick with science and Islam. Men have less of the ‘nurturing’ neurotransmitter oxytocin than women and so in choosing a potential partner, men seek women for 1) their affection (or admiration), 2) their youth and 3) their apparent childbearing abilities. Similarly, estrogens impel women to choose partners who are assertive and powerful, yet insightful and nurturing, ‘poetic warriors’, so to speak.

In Islamic culture, marriage demands an intrinsic gentility from husbands, with the Prophet’s final khutbah (sermon) instructing them twice to “treat your women kindly”. If men don’t, they lose one of the greatest blessings they acquire from Allah.

There is always more to be advised on the expectations, roles and problem-solving in marriage and why Marriage overall is productive. Marriage is from Allah and integral to the Muslim deen (lifestyle/path). Marriage is good for us. It socialises us, it’s a Prophetic tradition with the hadith insisting that,

“Marriage is my Sunnah, and whoever departs from my Sunnah is not of me” (Muslim).

The study highlights why marriage can bring out the better side of men, but it fails to do what Islam has always done: advocate a healthy heterosexual marriage. In a world where divorce is more common than a niqah (marriage contract), single-parent families and single-sex relationships are a norm, a large dose of healthy Muslim marriage could potentially be the nicest thing to do.

Now, if only we could find a few good men.

Comments

  1. Salams Sister Z, mashAllah very good article and one can easily tell that you made a good effort on discussing this topic so jazakallah khair.
    With all due res

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