Marriage is Half of Dīn, Not Isrāf: What we learn from the wedlock of ‘Ali (‘a) and Fatimah (s)
By: Agha Shabbir Abbas
As the marriage of Fatimah (s), the most-beloved daughter of Muhammad (s), to ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (‘a) took place on the first of Dhū al-Ḥijjah, it is imperative to derive some lessons for our own matrimonies on its anniversary date.
For us Muslims, the Sunnah (the practices) of the Messenger of God, are set-precedents guiding and governing our daily affairs; we seek to emulate al-Mustafa (s) in everything we do. Therefore, his steering principles in the marriage of his daughter, should too steer our course of affairs when in the pursuit of union.
Now amongst the plethora of lessons found within this holy sacrament, from the esoteric and metaphysical to the many worldly lessons, the simplest to grasp for the laity is the rejection of economic demands and the upholding of the intrinsic worth of man.
The Prophet of Islam, in the eyes of his followers was the representative of God, the axis connecting mankind to the Divine, and for the Arabs in general he was the chieftain of Madinah, in all he occupied the most reverent position of peninsular Arabia. Therefore, when al-Zahra (s) reached the age of marriage, suitors possessing the greatest of gravitas came to the doorstep of the Prophet (s) in hopes for attaining her hand. Immeasurable amounts of wealth was being offered, but one by one the Prophet (s) on behalf of his daughter rebuked and rejected the materialistic proposals, of which ‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Awf and ‘Uthman have been made as examples in the texts of history.
روى الشافعي محمد بن أدريس، عن حميد الطويل، عن أنس بن مالك، قال: ورد عبد الرحمان ابن عوف الزهري، وعثمان بن عفان إلى النبي صلى الله عليه وآله فقال له عبد الرحمان: يا رسول الله تزوجني فاطمة ابنتك؟ وقد بذلت لها من الصداق مائة ناقة سوداء، زرق الاعين، محملة كلها قباطي مصر، وعشرة آلاف دينار… وقال عثمان: بذلت لها ذلك، وأنا أقدم من عبد الرحمان إسلاما. فغضب النبي صلى الله عليه وآله من مقالتهما، ثم تناول كفا من الحصى فحصب به عبد الرحمان، وقال له: إنك تهول علي بمالك ؟ (قال:) فتحول الحصى درا، فقومت درة من تلك الدرر فإذا هي تفي بكل ما يملكه عبد الرحمان، وهبط جبرئيل في تلك الساعة، فقال: يا أحمد، إن الله يقرئك السلام، ويقول: قم إلى علي بن أبي طالب عليه السلام، فإن مثله مثل الكعبة يحج إليها ولا تحج إلى أحد..
‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Awf said to the Prophet (s): “O Messenger of Allah, may I marry Fatimah, your daughter? I offer in dowry a hundred black camels, blue-eyed, carrying upon their backs the riches of Egypt, and on top of that ten thousand dinars.”
Hearing this ‘Uthman said: “I offer the same, but I entered the fold of Islam prior to ‘Abd al-Rahman.” Hearing this materialistic discussion the Prophet (s) became angry, and tossed a handful of pebbles at ‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Awf saying: “You thought I would be swayed by money!?”
By prophetic miracle, the pebbles thrown at ‘Abd al-Rahman transformed into pearls, worth more than the entirety of his wealth. At that moment, Gabriel descended and said: “O Ahmad, verily Allah conveys his peace upon you, He says: “Go to ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (‘A), for truly his example is that of the Ka’aba, pilgrimage is only made to it and pilgrimage is made to nothing else…”
We learn from this that no matter how wealthy a suitor is, and no matter how large the dowry being offered is, the sanctity of marriage is priceless. By putting a price on it, marriage is being abased, it is being devalued.
So, when ‘Ali (‘a) approached the Prophet (s) concerning marrying Fatimah (s), he informed the Prophet (s) of how little he had:
قال: يا رسول الله، إني لا أملك إلا سيفي وفرسي ودرعي. فقال له النبي صلى الله عليه وآله: اذهب فبع الدرع
‘Ali (‘a) said: “O Messenger of Allah, I possess nothing except for my sword, my steed, and my shield. The Prophet (s) responded: “Bring your shield, and sell it.”
All the money in the world was not enough to attain the hand of Fatimah (s), but the shield of ‘Ali (‘a) was sufficient to fulfill the right of a dowry. Why?
قال: لو لم يخلق الله علي بن أبي طالب ما كان لفاطمة كفو
The Prophet (s) said: “If Allah had not created ‘Ali, there would be no equal (suitable match) for Fatimah”
Therefore, the criterion for marriage should not be based on wealth, but instead on the worth of the individuals being married, are the two worthy for each other. Do they better each other’s spiritual and internal existence, do they comfort each other? The bringing of two individuals together should result in harmony, this is why Islam tells us that:
من تزوج فقد استكمل نصف الدين
“Those who marry perfect half their dīn.”
However, when we return to the marriages of our current era, it seems we have strayed far from the set-precedent of ‘Ali (‘a) and Fatimah (s). Marriage may perfect half of one’s faith, but what about the isrāf (excesses) demanded on the newlyweds by society? Exorbitant dowries imposed by in-laws, and lavish ceremonies wherein the bride and groom know not most of the people. Is $50,000+ in crippling debt truly an appropriate cost for getting married; and that’s not even mentioning the massive student debt our young people are already burdened with. Is it fair that two perfectly compatible beings are prevented from being married because of differing socioeconomic statuses?
When the daughter of the greatest in creation, who herself is the greatest of women, can reject the treasures of this world in favor of a shield as dowry, we must stop, reflect, and rectify. Why not us?