Your Vows: The Implications of ‘I do’

Fellow Husband,

Congratulations on one of life’s most important feats! You’re ecstatic. The beautiful lady is finally yours. No more sleepless nights on phone calls. The sleepless nights you are having now are sweet and intimate. As I extend this warm greetings to you and sincerely wish you a blessed matrimony, I know there are some days you flash back on your wedding day – of joys and smiles, and you may or may wonder if the officiating imams did explain to you the meanings of what they refer to as aq’dah tu-nikkah which essentially means the marriage contract. If you’re like many husbands, the elation and stress of that day is enough to make you forget the contents of the wedding speech also known as khitbah-ti nikkah.

So I think, as a friend and fellow compatriot in this beautiful yet changing path of life called marriage, there are a few points which need to be addressed and elaborated upon regarding what we’re signing up for, when the Imam in his large agbada asked us: “Do you taker her as your wife?” and we replied in euphoria, smiling as though advertising Close-Up toothpaste, “Yes!”

The first thing I think you should understand, fellow husband, is the meaning and importance of vows and contracts in the religion of God, Islam. A vow is a serious promise to do something or to behave in certain ways, and a contract is a binding, sometimes legal agreement between people. In numerous places in the Qur’an, God specifically mentions fulfilling one’s vows or oaths as serious signs of true believers. And in another ayah of Surah Tawbah, God goes on to say that He does not love people who intentionally breach contracts. The significance of being true to one’s words by keeping firm to contracts cannot be overstated. Life stories of the prophets of God exemplify this, especially that of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, whom people nicknamed The Trustworthy, The Honest. So, there is no way you and I can lay claim to be on the sunnah if we’re not first and foremost known as men of our words.

Now that we have established the importance of vows and contracts, let’s do some Arabic breakdown. I have found that when people, mostly young brothers, talk about aq’du nikah what usually goes with it is the fact that it is the minimum requirement in Islam for a man and a woman to become husband and wife in the sight of God hence legitimizing thereafter any sexual encounter between them.

However, this view of seeing aqdu nikah as a mere door opener for sex is at the very least simplistic and at the most actually dangerous to the whole concept of marriage in Islam. Many horror stories of such myopic view of aqdu nikah abound in our communities, and frankly, I would rather not bore or anger you with them.

The term aqdu nikah literally translates to marriage contract. Aqdu is an Arabic term which comes from a root verb that means to tie or knot something together. Plural of aqdu is uqood which means ‘contracts’.

For us to understand how important uqood (contracts) are in Islam, God, the Almighty, begins the last chapter of the Qur’an to be revealed, Surah al-Maidah with a direct command to the Muslims, saying: O Believers! Fulfil all contracts… And in another instance, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was reported to have said that of all the contract conditions to be respected, marriage contracts have even higher, special significance in the sight of Allah to be fulfilled. I believe you’re getting the picture, brother. It’s not just some light, trivial stuff, bro.

The Vows (Or if you prefer, Serious Promises)

On that Saturday afternoon of Owanbe, when the photographer is standing and squatting, and flashing the lights of his camera on you and the bride, the following discussions will touch on the serious promises or vows you’re making with your wife that day to Allah, Lord of the worlds. Note that I did not say you’re making vows to your wife, I said to Allah. And this is perhaps one of the crucial differences between a Muslim marriage and marriages of those who are not Muslims.

The conditions of the marriage which you’re vowing to respect and abide by weren’t from the bride herself or from her parents but from the Book of Allah and the sunnah of His Messenger. Her body which becomes permissible for you to enjoy from that day onwards was not from her parents but, as Khalil Gibran beautifully puts it, from God through her parents. Even the woman you’re marrying, while her body to a finite extent belongs to her, ultimately her self and her body in fact belong to Allah, The One with Incredible Might.

So naturally, while the bride has some autonomy to input some conditions for the marriage, the main conditions you’re vowing to abide by and respect come from God. And if you break those conditions, you’re answering to Him.

Friend, essentially, when you say ‘I do’ you’re agreeing to the terms and conditions set by Allah for marriage. I know you may say: yes, I know this. I gave her her mahr(bride-gift). Her father or guardian agreed, and there were witnesses. But in my opinion, that’s where many people get things conflated. The conditions you just allude to are the basic requirements to get a marriage started, but there are more terms and conditions set by Allah in His infinite mercy to keep the marriage going, and going through the sweet, passionate times and during the not so sweet, difficult time when life happens and love seems to fade…which you also agreed to in that short, two word statement: I do.

You’re probably asking what those conditions that I have been circumventing ever since are. Well they’re simple and straightforwardly taken from the Qur’an and Sunnah, and they include:

• Kindness as mentioned in Surah an-Nisa, or the Chapter titled, The Women in the Qur’an: …and live with them with kindness.

• Forgiveness as mentioned in numerous ayah of the Qur’an when Muslims are encouraged to be patient with one another.

• Patience as mentioned in Surah al-Furqan: …and we have made some of you a means of test for the other, won’t you have patience?

• Compassion as mentioned in the oft-quoted ayah of Surah ar-Rum: …and we have put between you love and compassion.

• Security as identified by God in this same Surah ar-Rum: Among His signs is that he has created for you spouses from amongst yourselves so that you may find repose in them. The Arabic word used is taskunnu and it means to find peace of mind, comfort and assurance. So basically, taskunnu means to give emotional and physical security to wives – or in other words, to make their minds be at peace.

• Fairness as mentioned in many ayahs of the Qur’an, especially ayahs dealing specifically with marriage.

My brother, to wrap it up, when you said “I do” or “I take her as my wife” on the wedding day, what you were saying is that I am making this serious, binding promises in front of witnesses that I will treat this wife of mine with kindness, and I will use forgiveness a lot of time when she offends me, I will be patient with her, compassion will govern my behavior towards her, and I will offer her all forms of security to the best of my ability. This is what an aqdu nikah or marriage contact means. And it is a contract entered upon under the rights of the Creator of heavens and earth.

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