`And We have created everything in pairs, that perhaps you may remember.' (Quran, 51:49)
So you are getting married? Congratulations, and may God bless you and bring you and your chosen partner to a long and happy life together!
Leaving your childhood behind, and becoming man and wife together, is the most important step short of actually becoming Muslim that any human being can take in the interests of their own happiness and well-being.
`And among Allah's signs is this: that He created for you spouses from among yourselves, so that you might find rest in them; and He has created between you love and compassion. Truly there are signs in this for people who reflect.' (Quran, 20:21)
`Our Lord, grant us the delight of our eyes from our wives and our offspring ... ` (Quran, 25:74)
Marriage is such an important step that our blessed Prophet (s) spoke of marriage as being `half the religion': `Whoever has married has completed half of his religion; therefore let them fear Allah in the other half!' (Bayhaqi)
You have only to use your eyes and your ears, and consider the marriages of those people you know in your own circle of family, friends and acquaintances, to know that this is so.
If your marriage is happy and fulfilled, then no matter what troubles may beset you, no matter what hardships you are obliged to face as you pass along your road of life, no matter what sicknesses or distressing circumstances, you will always face them as if your back were against a protecting fortress, inside the walls of which you may set aside all the terrors and traumas for a while, and be loved.
But marriage is also a most demanding training ground of faith. By claiming it to be `half the religion' the Blessed Prophet was not making an idle statement. When a human couple strive hard to get their marriage and family right in the eyes of God, they are indeed well on the road to Paradise.
For it is love which makes a marriage - not a soppy, sentimental kind of romantic dream, but the sort of love which will roll up its sleeves and get stuck into the mess; the sort of love which will hang on to you when everyone else has turned against you and is speaking wrongly of you, while you have confidence that your partner (who knows you better than any person) will justify that confidence, and spring to your defense.
Sounds too good to be true? Those of you who have grown up in unhappy circumstances, in families shaken by frustrations and depressions, where the adults were bitter and cynical, and overauthoritarian, may well wonder if it is possible to have such a loving relationship with another human being.
By the grace of God, it is possible, and it is what Allah intended for you, by the practice of Islam which is submission to His compassionate will.
But a happy marriage is not simply `made in Heaven'. It does not just happen by accident.
You could go into a most beautiful garden and be amazed at the profusion and lushness of the flowers, the neatness of the borders and grasses, the absence of marauding insects and pests - and you would never for a moment think that this had come about by accident. You would know, straight away, that the garden had been created by a person or team of people who loved gardening, and no matter what the setbacks and problems were determined to produce a thing of great beauty and joy. A marriage is cultivated in exactly the same way.
You have to be able to see in your mind's eye the sort of garden/ marriage you would like to have when it is finished, and aim towards it. If events turn out slightly different to what you expected, it does not matter all that much, because your master (Allah's) plan will be there to keep you heading in the right direction, and all unexpected events will simply be incorporated into moving towards this plan.
Carrying on with the garden imagery, you have to be able to recognize the seeds that you are planting, and weed out the plants you don't want before they cause trouble. Some seeds develop into beautiful flowers, while others are troublesome weeds - like bindweed, which climbs over everything else and chokes it, until the garden is buried and destroyed.
You have to be on the alert for invasions of malicious pests which, although they are themselves claiming a right to live, are nevertheless gaining their living at the expense of yours, and are ruining the things you have planted.
You have to keep an eye on the weather, and when there is not enough rainfall, you must do the long chore of going round the garden yourself carrying water, making sure everything is all right. In a long, dry spell, this might mean a great deal of drudgery - but you know that without it your garden will fail and die. It is up to you to keep everything going.
All devout Muslims, men and women, should remember this fact, in case they think that in marriage God has granted them something in which they can just lounge about and `watch the flowers grow'. God never grants human beings this privilege. Whatever they have that gives them pleasure, they have to work for it - they really have to earn the right to be its steward.
Everything in life is a gift, and does not belong as of right to any person. Even your body is a gift, enjoyed (or not enjoyed!) by your soul for the duration of its sojourn on earth. It is not there as a permanent feature of the universe; in fact, there are no permanent features of the universe - not even the rocks from which the great mountains are formed!
God has made us stewards, the khulafa; the guardians of this wondrous planet and its life forms. And the most important life form that we will ever have to cherish is our own partner, our husband or wife. From that person, we are intended to produce in love the Muslims of the next generation, and set them on their own ways with our examples and encouragement. With that person, we are supposed to build up our own lives, free from fears and resentments and uncertainties, so that we can concentrate on filling our `space' with love and the service of God.
This is why marriage is `half the religion'. Islam is intended to cover every aspect of a believer's life, twenty-four hours per day. Our relationship with our life partner and family certainly accounts for at least half of this time, and for some women, it occupies one hundred percent of their time.
We neglect this most vital charge laid upon us at our peril. No human being was intended to live in isolation - either splendid isolation, thinking himself or herself `better' than the common herd in any way, or in grief-stricken isolation, deprived of life's comforts and the satisfying of natural appetites and needs. God created Man and Woman from a single soul, and He intended them to live and work together.
`0 humanity; fear your Lord, Who created you from a single soul, and from it created its spouse, and from the two of them did spread forth a multitude of men and women.' (4:1)
`We created you from a single pair of male and female'. (49:13; see a 35:11)
In this is a sure sign. Each is necessary to the other. People may live and work and have faith on their own, but it is only a `half-life'. As any single person, or widow living alone, or abandoned half of a couple will tell you, it is possible to survive and live by yourself, and even to wring some enjoyment out of this life - for you are free to be selfish and do the things you want to do without much consideration of the needs and wants of others. But there is a terrible price for this solitary existence.
It is like a blind person developing extra sensitive hearing in order to compensate and cope with lack of sight; or a paralyzed person in a wheelchair developing extra large arm muscles to make up for the lack of legs. It can be done - but it is a miserable and long process.
Married life brings its pressures, but it can also provide the kind of relaxation that human beings naturally need. Imam al-Ghazali observes that:
`One of the benefits of marriage is the enjoyment of the company and the sight of one's spouse, and by shared amusement, whereby the heart is refreshed and strengthened for worship; for the soul is prone to boredom and is inclined to shun duty as something unnatural to it. If forced to persevere in something it dislikes, it shies and backs away, whereas if it is revived from time to time by pleasures it acquires new strength and vigour.'(Ihya Ulum al-Din)
The sign and the design that God intended is that it is best for men and women to come together as a team.
People work together as all sorts of teams - they cooperate for the sake of games and sport; they unite to do a task too great for an individual, like building a house; they sort themselves out into managers and workers in order to create businesses and earn a living. But the most fundamental team of all, and the one which is the most important, is that of a man and woman deciding to live together in one space as husband and wife.