Saturday, 13 December 2008

Early Marriages

I'm not a therapist, nor am I a counsellor. However, for whatever reasons, in my five years working at the university, I've had on a number of occasions, students who came to me for advice for various personal problems. These are young adults, and as can be expected many of their problems centred around the issues of marriage and romantic relations.

Sheikh Abdallah Adhami, a Muslim preacher in America, was once asked to deliver a talk on marriage in Islam. In preparing for the talk, he asked the organiser what exactly about marriage they want him to talk about. The organiser requested the sheikh to focus on what happens before marriage. To that, Sheikh Adhami said: "that will be a very short talk because in Islam NOTHING happens before marriage."

If 'nothing' here means no social interactions whatsoever between men and women, it certainly is a big challenge for youngsters today to adhere. Of course, in the past the situation was different. Both my grandmothers got married at the age of fourteen while my paternal and maternal grandfathers were eighteen and twenty respectively; both immediately upon completing their education (the former upon graduating from Tanjung Malim Teachers' College, and the latter after passing his Senior Cambridge examination). Needless to say, when my grandparents got married they hardly knew their spouses.

Allah SWT has instilled in the hearts of human beings the ability to experience love. To love and wanting to be loved is part of human nature. Hence, for a person to fall in love with another is something natural and in most instance unavoidable. The only question then is how does one manage and respond to this emotional experience?

Marriage is the natural solution ordained by both religious and cultural traditions. It is not easy however for people today to get married. Here in Malaysia, social-cultural expectations dictate that only those (men especially) who are financially stable can begin contemplating marriage. To be exact, you should have a stable job, a car and at least able to rent a decent house before you can think about getting married. All of these of course are in addition to saving enough money for the dowry, wedding gifts and expenses for a lavish ceremony. To meet all these requirements, a young man would need to work fulltime for at least a few years. That would mean pushing the age of marriage to the late twenties if not later.

Can a young man (or a young woman for that matter) wait that long? Of course, I'm posing this question in the context of the Malay-Muslim society here in Malaysia where conservative religious values are still largely adhered to (to be exact, the strict prohibition on pre-marital sex). Studies in developmental psychology have shown that humans develop romantic feelings and sexual desires from the period of adolescence. And it grows even stronger and remains strong during the entire period of young adulthood. Can we just simply expect young men and women today to suppress these feelings? Suppressing them entirely during high-school, throughout their years studying at universities, and a couple of more years of working life?

To me, the answer is quite simple: encourage early marriages! During my undergraduate studies, I once wrote a term paper on encouraging early marriages. And one of the earliest publication projects I worked on was to translate a book entitled 'Marriage in Islam' from English to Malay in which the propagation of early marriages is the thesis statement of the very first chapter. Of course, the call for early marriages would run directly against social-cultural expectations. One has to decide then which one is more important: marriage as a religious duty to preserve one’s chastity or adherence to social-cultural norms?

Without a doubt, anyone who decides to get married at a young age would face some serious challenges. I have never failed to caution students who have consulted me, about these challenges that they should be mentally prepared for. Certain sacrifices of course need to be made, but rather than making things more difficult, the society can and should facilitate young married couples. At IIUM, back in the 1990’s, married students received additional allowances for living expenses. In fact, family apartments for married students were part of the original design of the university’s main campus in Gombak. Such facilities should be reintroduced and offered by other social institutions.

What we have now is more cultural than religious. When religious values and socio-cultural expectations collide, religion values must and should always prevail.


Ari said...

Salam brother Zaki,

As far as i know, you didnt get married when you were studying? How come you are now encouraging others to do that?

Tanya saje. Jangan marah..

siti nur said...

Brother Zaki,

Kalau 'nothing happens' sebelum berkahwin, macamana kita nak cari dan kenal pasangan? Mintak pandangan.

Zaki Samsudin said...

Dear Ari,

Yes, I only got married after I finished my Masters degree. The fact that I didn't get married earlier wasn't because of lack of trying :) It just didn't happen. Also, just to clarify, I am not encouraging EVERYONE to get married early. My main point was, if any young adults feel that they've met someone whom they like, and feel confident and convinced they can spend the rest of their lives with that person, go on and get married even if they are still studying. That will be the better option compared to prolong periods of courting.

Sister Siti Nur, your question reminds me of a story of a friend about his 'methodology' of getting to know more about his candidate. I'll write about that once I get his consent to do so.

Thank you, Wassalam.

bubu said...

I'm all the way to supporting early marriages. I've been asking a lot too to my friends that have married while they were/are studying and some, earlier.

I'd like to think that they're living happily in that situation as compared to when you hear problems faced by "couples" (defined as having a boyfriend girlfriend relationship), but they're not married.

Of course, I am not saying that there will be a no-fight-at-all marriages, especially early marriages, where people believe that young married couples are not matured enough to handle a marital relationship.

Then again, I would respond to that that there are young couples who are matured enough to handle that. Even so, how can you actually define 'maturity that enable people to handle marital relationship'? It's too subjective to define that.

Knowing that you need to conform to that social/cultural expectation of that 'maturity' aforementioned, will make it less possible for those who like each other to get married, instead of thinking in a productive way (i.e. how to get married and seriously thinking of living). This reply is not generalized to all, but in reference to those who thinks "It's too early too get married."

..with my humble voice. Thank you.

Zaki Samsudin said...

When do you know that you are ready to get married? A simple answer to that is, when you no longer enjoy being single. As one my friends once said (before he got married): "I don't want to wake-up in the morning looking at the wall." :)

How do you know you are mature enough to marry? Well, I don't think anyone is ever mature enough at the point of marriage. You learn and become more mature along the journey. Thus, the more important thing is to have the willingness to adjust to marriage life and accept when you are married, whatever you do it is not only about you, it's about you and your family. Anyone who can truly accept that I believe is 'mature' enough to get married. Allahu'alam.

bubu said...

Totally agree on "You learn and become more mature along the journey." I do really think that adaptation to new responsibilities will happen when you're in that place already, not before. (Acknowledging that there are exceptional cases.) But of course I'm not saying that people shouldn't look before they leap, carelessly, but sometimes, I believe that people should delve into what they're always worried about delving in.

Responsibility is what pushes you to be what it demands. I felt that when I was surprisingly expected to accept an important position before where I thought I was not ready, but in fact, I was ready-ing myself during the period of that responsibility. (Although marriage and what I was entrusted might not be the same, but responsibility-wise speaking, I assume it is quite similar.)