Intended audience: College age muslims and their parents.
Disclaimer: I’m not saying any of this to discourage getting married. It’s the sunnah. Do it! But do it the right way.
During this past week’s discussion about gender roles at the MSA event, the topic of marriage came up. One of the issues mentioned was that while the sisters may be ready to marry, the guys in the same age group are still behaving immaturely, and are not prepared for such responsibility. I absolutely agree that this is a problem and a big one. The solutions lie in the sunnah, but in this post, I want to follow up that conversation with a few questions to garner more perspectives, and give my own here and there as well.
The first question is specifically for the sisters. If the situation was reversed and you found that it was now your Islamic duty and obligation to provide for the complete maintenance of your husband-to-be, how many would still be ready to get married? To be clear, I’m not complaining about the obligation. I embrace it! If this is the system Allah gave us, I am happy to fulfill my responsibilities and it makes a lot of sense to me. But I also am not going to create a situation where I set myself up for failure in my obligations. So, these brothers in college, who are working part time or internships, and many of whom do not have a wealthy family to back them up, they can’t pay your rent, groceries, half of them can’t even pay your cell phone bill. So to an extent, college aged Muslim men know they’re not getting married for a while, they won’t embrace the maturity and emotional intelligence it entails. It’s not their fault, it’s the system they’re placed in.
The second and third questions are for everyone. Let’s just move the money issues aside. Allah provides in ways we can’t understand. Here’s the second question. You might be ready to get married, but are you ready to be a husband? A wife? To put down major sacrifices for your spouse? Getting married is an event that takes place and is over in a couple days. But the spouse is there with you for life. Marriage is a transformational experience, and you have to be ready to give up parts of yourself.
Next, most college students don’t even have a vague idea of what they want after college. For example, what if you want to go study in another city for grad school (grad school is not just like undergrad, you don’t just pick the convenient one. If you’re going to grad school you find the best program, no matter where it is) but your partner to be wants to plant their roots in their home town? Do you get married and live apart? If we’re getting married to avoid the fitnah, this is not a real solution for it. (Or maybe you want to go to med/dent/pharm/law school etc. or jump into an extremely demanding career. Not everyone is interested in or prepared for a relationship a live-in student who is going to be unavailable to them time and company wise for the next 3-7 years. I don’t discourage marriage in this circumstance. This my own view on what I want from life and marriage. There are plenty of people who would be happy with this set up and would in fact thrive in it!) You have to sort these things out before a nikah and have a clear agreement on it way beforehand.
It is from the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH to get married. I hope that the one thing you take away from this post is not a distaste for marriage, or a sense of doom about it. Rather, I hoped to provide some perspective on the challenges I felt are present for Muslim college students. I did not delve into many other issues (expensive weddings and mahr, expectations about education, cross cultural and racial boundaries, waiting to marry till after you have “had fun”, the increasingly long definition of adolescence) , but remained focused on those related to the college setting. The reasoning here is not that we should refrain from responding to issues of immaturity with the right measures like tarbiyah, mentorship, and guidance, but that we should also tackle some of the institutional challenges that underlie the reasons young men may not be “stepping up” to their responsibilities.
Relevant Media – Discussing Gender Roles in Islam with Sheikh Mikaeel Ahmed Smith and Dr. Shadee Elmasry, as well as the following Q&A.