This is the month in which the marriage ceremony of Fatimat-az-Zahra (a.s) and Hazrat Ali (a.s) was solemnized. Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) told Hazrat Ali (a.s) that he was decreed by Allah (s.w.t) to give his daughter Fatimah (a.s) to him in marriage. Prophet Muhammad has said in this regard that an angel had come from Allah and told him: “The Lord sends his greetings unto you and has said, I have wedded your daughter Fatimah in the heavens to Ali ibn Abi Talib; you too should, therefore, wed Fatimah to Ali ibn Abi Talib!” Ref: Abdullah ibn Masud (r.a) (594-653).
It was Allah’s will that the offspring of the Messenger of God descended from Imam Ali (a.s) and Fatimat-az-Zahra (a.s), and their progeny be the Imams and guides for this Ummah. That is why the marriage of Imam Ali (a.s) and Fatimat-az-Zahra (a.s) took place upon a Divine order, and it possesses a special spiritual significance for all Muslims because it is seen as the marriage between the greatest saintly figures surrounding Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h).
And thus, the married life of Hazrat Fatimat-az-Zahra (a.s) and Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s) began. The establishment of the new house was completed, and its firm pillars were fixed by the Messenger of God. By them he secured the basis of the new legislation, life and philosophy of marriage and family. It was an example set for the generations to follow.
The Rites of Marriage – NIKAH
Marriage is a fundamental social institution and a sacred union between a man and a woman that developed in human communities and cultures globally, forming part of the family structure. Traditionally, marriages are formal agreements made valid by religion or civil law. In Muslim societies, marriage is viewed as a natural and necessary institution in the lives of human beings, in contrast to adopting an ascetic way of life.
God almighty says in the Holy Qur’an, “And among His signs is that He created for you, of yourselves, spouses so that you may live in peace and tranquility with them, and ordained love and compassion between you. Verily, there are signs in this for those who reflect” (30:21).
One way to understand marriage in Islam may be to see it as a sign of mercy and a blessing from God who has extended His own Love and Mercy to men and women by means of which we can encounter God’s Love and Mercy in each other.
Imam Sultan Mohamed Shah (Aga Khan lll) (a.s) highlights in his memoirs (1954, page 171) how the experience of love of one human being for another is a blessing from Allah:
“Those who have had the good fortune to know and feel this worldly, human love should respond to it only with gratitude and regard it as a blessing and as, in its own way, a source of pride. I firmly believe that the higher experience can to a certain extent be prepared for, by absolute devotion in the material world to another human being. Thus, from the most worldly point of view and with no comprehension of the higher life of the spirit, the lower, more terrestrial spirit makes us aware that all the treasures of this life, all that fame, wealth, and health can bring are nothing beside the happiness which is created and sustained by the love of one human being for another.”
As a social practice, customs related to marriage ceremonies vary widely in Muslim communities from one culture to another. A variety of marriage rites may be performed, reflecting the local culture and customs of the people. In Islam a marriage ceremony involves a simple procedure attesting to a solemn contract and accepting mutual responsibilities, in the presence of witnesses. The introduction to the Ismaili Muslim marriage (Nikah) text states: “As in Islam generally, marriage in the Shia Ismaili community is a social contract involving mutual consent and acceptance of definite rights and responsibilities between a man and a woman. The notion of sacrament is not ascribed to marriage, but it is customary to offer prayers for happiness, prosperity, posterity and good health. Thus, it is simply the principle of mutual consent and understanding that constitutes the essence of marriage.”
The word “Nikah-nama”, meaning ‘marriage contract’ is in traditional Arabic language reflecting the language of the Holy Qur’an. There are three principal elements in the Shia Ismaili Nikah:
(a) Khutba (sermon): A short homily, or wa’z, in praise of Almighty Allah and Invoking Allah’s blessing for Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) and his progeny, from Hazrat Ali (a.s) to the present Imam.
The recitation of ayats of the Holy Qur’an 1:1-7, 2:188, 7:189, 16:72, 24:32-3, 25:54, 30:21 and hadiths of the Prophet are also traditional elements of the Khutba. Verily the Almighty and exalted God speaks the Truth.
(b) Contract: The indispensable element of marriage in Islam is the contract, (i.e., ‘Nikah’) reflecting mutual consent and acceptance of definite rights and responsibilities. The contract, to be witnessed by two adults, requires an offer made by one party (the male) and its acceptance by the other (the female), with a clear intention to conclude a valid marriage with immediate effect. The contract must also stipulate a Mahr (dowry).
(c) Du’a: A prayer invoking Allah’s blessings for the newlyweds and to receive His favors for a happy marriage and fine posterity. Citing the favors that Allah bestowed upon His Prophets and their spouses, and on Hazrat Ali and Bibi Fatimah.
The Du’a includes a beautiful recollection of inspiring unions within our faith tradition. We pray:
O Allah, unite the two as you united Nabiyyina Adam and Hawwa (Eve) (alayhi-s-salam).
O Allah, unite the two as you united Nabiyyina Ibrahim (Abraham) and Hajar (Hagar) (alayhi-s-salam).
O Allah, unite the two as you united Nabiyyina Yusuf (Joseph) and Zulaykha (Asenath) (alayhi-s-salam).
O Allah, unite the two as you united Nabiyyina Musa (Moses) and Safura (Zipporah) (alayhi-s-salam).
O Allah, unite the two as you united Nabiyyina Muhammad al-Mustafa and Khadijat al-Kubra (alayhi-s-salam).
O Allah, unite the two as you united Mawlana Ali al-Murtaza and Fatimat az-Zahra (alayhi-s-salam).
This is followed by recitation of the ‘Shahada’ (i.e., ‘testimony’) as follows:
I bear witness that there is no deity but Allah.
And I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah’s last and final messenger.
And I bear witness that Ali, the commander of the faithful, is from Allah.
O Allah, bestow your blessings upon Muhammad the Chosen, on Ali the favorite, the Pure Imams and on the Proof of thy Command.
And praise be to Allah the Lord of the worlds.
As we reflect on these elegant prayers, we are also reminded of the beautiful relationship of trust and respect between Bibi Khadija and the Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h). The Prophet is said to have said: “She had faith in me when everyone, even members of my own family and tribe did not believe me and accepted that I was truly a Prophet and a Messenger of Allah. She accepted Islam and spent all her wealth and worldly goods to help me spread this faith, and this too at a time when the entire world seemed to have turned against me and persecuted me. And it is through her that Allah blessed me with children.”
In the last part of the Du’a we ask Allah to make the marriage a blessed one and grant them fine posterity.
The Nikah-nama ends with our declaration of faith and the recitation of Durood-O-Salaam (sending salutation) on the names of the Prophets and their spouses, Hazrat Ali and Bibi Fatima az-Zahra, and all the Imams.
The Nikah is performed only if both parties wish to voluntarily undertake this contract using the common Nikah text provided by the Ismaili institutions, which directly reflect Islamic traditions. The bride and bridegroom also agree to refer any dispute between them relating to their marriage, to the Aga Khan Conciliation and Arbitration Board (CAB).
A few other individuals also play a prominent role in the Nikah ceremony. It is customary for each family to select a Wakil (advocate), over the age of 18, to represent the bride and the groom respectively in marriage negotiations including an agreement on Haq Mahr. By custom and tradition, a Wakil is a male representative of the bride or the groom (who can be a volunteer advocate but could also be a family member or a friend). The bride is accompanied by the maid/matron of honor, and the groom by his best man. In addition to the Ismaili appointed representatives present at the time, they too sign the marriage contract as witnesses.
The Holy Qur’an however, forbids certain marriage relations: It will be seen that these prohibitions arise either from consanguinity, as in the case of parent, child, sibling, sibling’s child, parent’s sibling, grandparent/grandchild, or from foster-age, such as in the case of foster-parents and foster sister/brother; foster child, step son/daughter, or from affinity, such as in the case of spouse’s parent, spouse’s step child and children’s spouse (4:22-24).
According to the Holy Prophet’s teaching, no one should be forced to marry anyone that they do not desire. The way that both husband and wife should conduct themselves in marriage is also set out in the Qur’an. Marital relationships should involve the qualities of affection, repose and mercy, and the example of the Prophet is the recommended norm. Consultations which are enjoined on all Muslims in conducting their common affairs become important in marriage, and we find mutual consultations occurring frequently, always in the reciprocal form (mutual acceptance, and mutual consultation) (2:231-2:236, 65:6). The Holy Qur’an says in Surah An-Nisa [4:19], “A good believer should not loathe his wife. If he dislikes one characteristic of her – there are other characteristics which will be pleasing.”
In the Holy Qur’an, the rights of women are protected – the rights to dowry, lodging and maintenance, and the legitimacy of offsprings. The Qur’an sets out rights for the wife and then allows her to willingly waive some, such as the dowry if she chooses (4: 24).
In previous articles we have explored and discussed different religious occasions, rituals and ceremonies, which offer opportunities for our families and our communities to come together to witness, engage with, and pray for our safe voyages as the ship of our lives carries us along through our earthly passage in time.