“There is no need to mention that you smoke. You can quit after marriage with the help of your wife.”
“No need to tell them about your psychiatric history. It is a minor problem that doesn’t need to be revealed.”
“My aunt met a family seeking a girl for marriage. She recommended me, but deliberately misreported my age and educational qualifications, as much lower and higher, respectively. Now what do we do?”
Due to a myriad of factors, marriages in the Muslim ummah are facing obstacles that undermine their longevity and harmony. Divorce is becoming more common, and successful remarriage rare. Yet, the ever-present fitnah of temptation for young people has become the driving force behind their increasing desperation to seek a successful marital union sooner rather than later.
However, a commonly-witnessed situation is that the more desperate a family becomes to marry off their single son or daughter, the higher the chance that they will be dishonest during the proposal process. Facts regarding their ward’s age, education, income, nationality, familial and ethnic background, or visa/residency/citizenship status are intentionally misquoted or hidden.
Many a time, even if the single person seeking marriage wants to maintain honesty when negotiating a proposal, they are coerced by elders to hide their shortcomings or keep mum about some personal details. Some are forced to hide facts that could be detrimental to their marital success, such as sexual impotency, infertility, a past divorce, or joblessness.
Islam teaches us to cover our own and other’s sins and shortcomings, especially past misdeeds and mistakes. However, some crucial things about both parties involved in a marriage negotiation should be known before they commit to a union, and these details should never be hidden or “glossed over”. This is because when they emerge later on, as skeletons from the closet, they cause irreparable damage – if not divorce!
Let’s take a look at what the mother of believers, Umm Salamah (RA), said to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) when he proposed to her:
“O Messenger of Allah, I do not want you to lose interest in me, but I am a very jealous woman, and I am afraid that you may see in me something that could earn me the punishment of Allah. I am also a woman who is aging, and I have children.”
He said, “As for the jealousy you mentioned, Allah will take this away from you (according to another report: “As for you saying that you are a jealous woman, I will pray to Allah to take away your jealousy.”).
“As for what you say about age, the same applies to me as to you. As for your children, your children are my children.”
So I accepted his offer and the Messenger of Allah married me. Allah gave me someone even better than Abu Salamah, namely, the Messenger of Allah.” [Musnad Ahmad]
The hadith above gives us modern-day Muslims some major reality-checks:
First of all, complete and upfront honesty when negotiating marriage is a trait of the pious predecessors. It is indicative of complete trust in Allah (SWT) in matters of qadr, because only the one who firmly believes that all benefit and loss in this life is solely from Allah (SWT) can make a clean breast of things to the point of downgrading their side of the bargain before entering into a contract of any sort.
The first thing Umm Salamah (RA) came clean about was her innate trait of being a jealous woman, and her fear that this might cause displeasure to the Prophet (SAW), which in turn could lead to Allah (SWT) punishing her. Perhaps she mentioned this trait because she wisely foresaw that she would have co-wives.
Then, instead of hiding or misreporting her age, she reminded Allah’s Prophet (SAW) about the fact that she was no longer young. This imparts a great lesson for us during an age in which plastic surgery, digital image photoshopping and the multi-million dollar fashion industry decries women for the depletion of their youth and physical beauty!
Lastly, she reiterated what he already knew: that she came along with “baggage” from her previous union: children – an added moral and financial responsibility. Her humility made her showcase her perceived shortcomings to her prospective husband, so that he would know what he was getting into, so to speak.
The Prophet’s (SAW) reassuring reply indicates his approval and appreciation of Umm Salamah’s (RA) honesty in telling him her shortcomings. He then went on to marry her as he had intended.
The reason why we lie or hide our shortcomings when negotiating marriage is our fear that if we reveal them, the other party will get turned off and not go ahead with the proposal. We think that by being honest, we will lose out on good marriage prospects, or that the proposing family will move on to someone else.
This incident from the sunnah proves the opposite to be true, i.e. being honest ensures that you earn your future spouse’s respect, and that if marriage to them is decreed for you, it will happen even if you inform them and/or their family candidly about yourself.
A sincere suitor who possesses a lofty moral character of their own will undoubtedly appreciate your honesty, if not return the favour and respond with a list of their own shortcomings, similar to the reassuring reply of the Prophet (SAW).
With such well-intentioned exchanges of facts, the marital union that commences would then be blessed!
Sadaf Farooqi’s experience in marital life has proved that honesty is one of those crucial vertebrae that keeps the backbone of a successful marriage firmly in place.