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Selma Cook

For most young people, marriage is a major part of life. It is something they dream of, hope for, and plan for. Some might even think that if they are not married, that they are of less value; somehow incomplete. 

While young people are hoping and dreaming about marriage, many others are busily getting divorced! Statistics from around the world show a steady increase in divorce which has negative repercussions on all levels of society. One such consequence is disillusionment; when a young person comes to marry, he or she has a niggling feeling that "maybe this is not going to work."

But young Muslims should not back off from the whole idea of marriage because, after all, marriage is an important part of Islam and it is supposed to be a means of happiness, mercy, and tranquility. So rather than hesitate and retreat from the idea, let's try to pinpoint some areas that should be understood well before venturing forth.

Knowing Me, Knowing You
Someone asked me about what questions he should ask his potential wife. I looked at him puzzled and said, "I really don't know!" The thing is, by the time you are ready to talk to someone about sharing your lives together, you should have got past the "practicing Muslim, praying, fasting, good with the family, and give charity regularly part."

Those basics of Islam should be well-established and understood; after that it is time to move on to know the real person inside. This part is to check that he or she matches you! So how can you know what to ask unless you know yourself; your likes, your dislikes, what you find disgusting, what you find funny, how to define "love," how important is family, work, interests, socializing, learning, and so much more.
There are many young people who know themselves very well, and then there are those who do not. If you do not know yourself well yet and do not feel comfortable with who are you, regardless of your age, chances are you are not yet ready to marry.

Qualities to Look for
I asked about which qualities should a youth look for in his or her potential spouse to a number of young people and the same answers kept popping up.
"I have to be able to trust my husband/wife." When I asked for clarification, they did not mean just fidelity, but included the ability to keep a trust, keep a secret, to be loyal and to keep one's word.
Another group of young people said, "Honesty! He or she must be truthful." When I prodded for more information, they added that telling lies is a sign of weak character and that a person who can lie about small things will easily betray or do other things that could threaten the entire relationship. I thought that was a really good point.
Another group mentioned the importance of having good communication skills. One young woman said, "I don't want a problem-maker, I want a problem-solver." I asked her if she thought communication solves problems, and she replied that it is the first and very important step.

A young man commented saying that modern city life has alienated people from one another to a large degree and that people do not really communicate well anymore. He blamed the increasing divorce rate on people's general lack of communication skills. I tend to agree.

Meeting the Parents
When you marry someone, you are to some extent also marrying his or her family. Therefore, your relations with the family are vital if you are to be content and happy. Some families are easygoing and do not like to involve themselves in your problems, while others might be interfering and even difficult to get along with.

So when you first meet them, all these variables are likely to be swimming around in your head, and you may not be sure how to act. So I asked some young people how to cope with that and this is what they suggested:

"Just be yourself. If you pretend to be someone you are not, they will see right through you and think you are insincere!"
"I think you should find out what they like and take them some small gifts; this would show that you are kind and generous. Everyone likes kind people so you will be off to a good start."

"You really have to understand their culture, especially if you are marrying outside your own. Do a bit of research and find out what is acceptable and considered respectable in their culture, and make sure you respect those norms. This will make them feel respected and they will think you are trying to fit in. If they are good people, they will try equally as hard to make you feel comfortable."
"Speak clearly and directly; do not be arrogant, but don't be too easy either. Through discussion, show that you have opinions and points of view, but also show that you listen to those of others."

Is He or She Compatible?
Even people who come from the same cultural background, speak the same language, and are related may not be compatible! Compatibility is something that you have to sense yourself; it is how you feel when you are with the person.
Do you both share similar interests?

You do not want to have someone who is exactly the same as you because that would be boring, and to be very different from each other would not be positive either.

Compatibility is somewhere in between these two extremes; the couple should be able to share interests or at least be able to tolerate each other's hobbies. For example, if someone loves collecting stamps and can talk for hours about this or that stamp, that is just fine if you are interested in them, too. However, if you are not, there won't be much happiness. Then, there might be a husband who loves fishing and can spend the whole day beside the river or the sea. Now his wife may not like fishing, but she might like to sit with him and read or do something she likes and they both respect each other's differences. He does not expect her to touch the worms and hooks and all that and she does not try to stop him.

You do not have to agree on every single thing; a bit of healthy discussion can be enjoyable and enlightening. However, you have to be able to respect each other's opinions; this brings about harmony. When one person tries to dominate over the other, they will inevitably lose love, respect, and harmony between them.

Questions in the First Meeting
 Your stomach feels tight, your palms are sweating, you are trying to smile and look confident, but you cannot think of a single thing to talk about! You are afraid you look foolish. The first meeting can be really exciting but also extremely nerve-wracking. So it is best to be well-planned ahead of time. I did a bit of research and found some good ideas. Here they are:

If you want to know if the person is superficial or responsible, you could ask: If you were given USD10,000, how would you spend it? Now, the young woman might say that she would buy a whole new wardrobe of clothes and the guy might say he would spend it all making his car faster and noisier. Such things tell a lot about a person. Another young lady might say she would buy books, pay for her brother to do a course, or something along those lines. Very different answers, aren't they?

Another suggestion is to ask about how he or she believes children should be raised. Maybe the guy will say he should be strict and restrictive and even aggressive. Then you have to ask yourself if that is what you really want.

Also, ask about how important family is. It is common these days for people to be career-minded; although having a career is important, it is certainly not everything.

Ask, listen, and think about what the person says and see if it matches with how you think.

A very important thing is to find out if the person has a sense of humor and even the ability to laugh at himself or herself. People who are overly sensitive can be very difficult to live with and almost impossible to communicate with. Watch and see if he or she gets upset about trivial little things and then watch how he or she takes criticism, even if it is given very kindly and indirectly.

For the ladies, it is also good to know if the man is likely to take a second wife and if that is the case you will have to know whether you are ready for that. Be sure he has the habit of consulting others before making decisions, because this means he will treat you the same way.
And you can also ask what his or her ambition in life is. It seems like an easy question, but it really requires a lot of thought and soul searching. Carefully consider the answer you receive.

As we are all aware, we come into this life alone, and we die alone, and we will be resurrected alone. In such context, where is our life partner?

The person you choose to be your partner in life should be someone who will help you to do the right things and make the right decisions, someone who will remind you of Allah and the fact that you are going to stand in front of Him alone one day; someone who helps you be a better and stronger you.

Do not think you will change the person after you marry him or her. Marry the person as he or she is!

So make sure you take in the whole picture of your life, your marriage, and your future so that after having said "I do," you don't have to say "I wish I hadn't"!


This article was first published at youth 4 the future at Islamonline.net