“…he doesn’t have the dazzling wrapping paper that the other brothers had…But with him, when you open the box, you have something priceless inside.”
I still remember the night before I accepted my husband’s marriage proposal. My mother was at her sewing machine, and the humming of the motor filled the brief silence between us. I had just expressed the only reservations I had about saying yes to the young man who’d asked to marry me: that he and I were the same age – nineteen (I wanted someone older), and that he was reserved and quiet (I’d imagined that my husband should be the ‘imam type’).
My parents had raised me and my siblings to look beyond the superficial and to value lasting traits in a mate, so I didn’t have a long list of worldly ‘must haves’ that so many women (and men) insist on when getting married. But I did feel that having someone ‘more mature’ (I’d assumed that being older equals maturity) and inclined to give Islamic lectures (again, the ‘imam type’) were pretty important traits.
My mother paused her sewing momentarily before she responded to me.
“Ruby,” my mother said, using my English birth name, which had become a term of endearment for those close to me, “what you have in this proposal is different from the others.” She glanced at me to let me know her heart was focused on me despite the sewing job in front of her. The humming resumed after she repositioned the fabric beneath it. “Many of the other brothers who asked about you were wonderfully wrapped gifts. But once you removed the wrapping paper, there was nothing inside.”
I listened, reflecting on her words. I couldn’t deny the truth in them. Though I had been genuinely interested in some of the other proposals, I was eventually compelled to turn them down – even though the brothers had had the two traits that were so important to me.
“But with this young man,” she said calmly, fully confident in what she was sharing, “he doesn’t have the dazzling wrapping paper that the other brothers had.” She paused, then added, “But with him, when you open the box, you have something priceless inside.”
Today, I remain eternally grateful to my mother for her wise words. These simple words inspired me to rethink my reservations and pray to Allah I to open my heart to the proposal if it was good for me.
And He did.
The lesson I learned that day was that marriage is, more than anything, an issue of the ghayb – the unseen. Other than insisting on what Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (SAW) taught us regarding marriage, choosing the right mate is not something you can sit down and plan based on your limited knowledge and understanding. Yes, we should certainly think carefully about what we imagine we want and need in a spouse, but, more importantly, we should think carefully about what Allah (SWT) knows is best and necessary for us to have in a mate.
No, this doesn’t mean entering marriage with blindfolds on our eyes. But it does mean entering marriage with tawakkul – complete trust in Allah (SWT) – in our hearts. Trusting Allah (SWT) means that we couple ‘tying our camel’ (insisting on some worldly ‘must haves’) with prayer to Allah (SWT) for what’s best for us. It may also mean letting go of some inconsequential ‘must haves’ which may not be crucial to holding a marriage together in the long run.
I’m saddened when I hear the ‘must haves’ on many sisters’ (and parents’) lists when describing the ‘right man’. So often these are more related to the man’s stability in finances and career than in his stability in character and iman. While it’s absolutely essential that a husband must have the means to financially support his wife, it is even more essential that he has the means to emotionally and spiritually support her – and himself – in the long run. Wealth and work come and go. However, emotional well-being and good Islamic character are relatively stable traits.
When we put so much emphasis on a man’s bank account or attractive career, we are forgetting that we won’t be living with a man’s money or work. We will be living with the man himself.
Allah (SWT) says, “And certainly We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits. But give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere.” (Al-Baqarah:155)
Finances and career aside, what traits does this man have to support me in hardship? How does he respond to stressful and difficult circumstances? Is he equipped to be patient through times of hunger, poverty, and adversity?
These are amongst the ‘must haves’ we should be listing before marriage – for our spouse and ourselves.
And while there are certainly men who possess both the attractiveness of wealth and the strength of good character, we’ll never know this unless we mentally remove the dazzling wrapping paper and seriously reflect on what package we’re getting underneath.
Yes, this is a difficult process. After all, no one other than Allah (SWT) Himself truly knows what is beneath the surface, that attractive package that others see. From this perspective, I believe that all potential spouses are packages without wrapping paper. No matter what we think we see, we cannot know what is truly there, even when something dazzling meets our eyes.
Thus, we must make the crucial decision of marriage based primarily on what we believe Allah (SWT) has in store for us in the mysterious box presented to us.
Is this package empty? Is something harmful inside?
Or does this unwrapped box conceal the priceless gift we’ve been waiting for all along?
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of the If I Should Speak trilogy and the novels Realities of Submission and Hearts We Lost. To learn more about the author, visit themuslimauthor.com or join her Facebook page.