Is it true that marriage constitutes one half of our faith? How about people who do not get the opportunity to get married? I have an aunt who never got married simply because the offers of marriage she received when she was young did not meet her expectations. She did not feel that she would be comfortable with anyone. Does this mean that she is at fault from the Islamic point of view?
— Name and address withheld
Nothing in the Quran or the Hadith speaks of marriage as constituting one half of our religion. Yet this notion is commonly held throughout the Muslim world. Wherever you go in Muslim countries you hear it as an accepted fact. So, where does it come from?
One Hadith reported by Anas ibn Malik quotes the Prophet (peace be upon him) as saying: “When God grants someone a good wife, then He has helped him with one half of his religion. Let him remain God-fearing in attending to the other half.” (Related by Al-Tabarni and Al-Hakim.) When you carefully examine the wording of this Hadith you realize that it gives a totally different concept from the common notion. It does not speak of marriage as a concept, institution, or common practice. It speaks of a good wife, which means one who is devout, loving, attends to her duties and takes good care of her family and home. Yet having such a wife is not half the religion. According to the Hadith, she represents God’s help in attending to one half of the religion. She helps her husband in steering away from what is forbidden and in doing his Islamic duties. Such help is invaluable in following God’s commandments and resisting the temptation of sinful practices. Therefore, the Prophet urges a person who has received God’s help in the form of a good and devout wife to remain God-fearing in the other half, i.e. where his wife has no influence on his actions and behavior.
Some people, however, go through life without ever getting married. Are they lesser Muslims? Certainly not. Yet they are at a disadvantage because they do not have the help that a good wife represents. Moreover, they do not have the opportunities that marriage provides to earn more reward from God. For example, when you take good care of your wife and children, work hard to provide them with good living and good education, you receive rich reward from God. If you are unmarried, you lose this opportunity. If your wife or husband is ill and you take care of them until they have recovered, you earn good reward. If you bring up your children as good Muslims, implanting in their minds the values Islam is keen to nurture in Islamic society, you are doing your duty for which God rewards you generously.
Needless to say, people who remain celibate have more free time which they can use in a variety of ways to earn God’s reward. Yet they may find it more difficult to resist the temptation of sin. However, the fact that they remain celibate does not mean that they are lesser Muslims. Over the centuries, there were some highly renowned scholars who did not have the chance to get married. The most notable of these was Ibn Taymiyyah. He ranks with the top scholars throughout Islamic history. Some contemporary scholars point out that because Ibn Taymiyyah never got married, some of his rulings, or fatwas, concerning women did not have the same standard of scholarly insight as his fatwas in other areas.
Having said that, I would like to add that Islam urges all Muslims to marry. Several Quranic verses and Hadiths make clear that marriage is the proper status for Muslims, as it helps them to remain God-fearing, steering away from sin. To quote just one Hadith, the Prophet says: “This life is mere enjoyment, but the best that is enjoyable in it is a good wife.” (Related by Muslim).
To sum up, a person who goes through life without getting married is not a lesser Muslim simply because of remaining celibate, but marriage is an important institution that helps a Muslim to lead a proper Islamic life.