x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Some thoughts in praise of idealism

The Quran says of one's spouse, 'they are like garments for you and you are as garments for them'. The purpose of clothing is to protect us from the elements and to cover our shortcomings.

"Is not marriage an open question, when it is alleged, from the beginning of the world, that such as are in the institution wish to get out, and such as are out wish to get in?" - Ralph Waldo Emerson "Sometimes it was worth all the disadvantages of marriage just to have that one friend in an indifferent world." - Erica Jong Ideal: 1. the idea of something that is perfect; something that one hopes to attain; 2. a model of excellence or perfection of a kind; 3. one having no equal.

Idealism: 1. a tendency to live according to some standard of perfection, or pursuit of high and noble goals; 2. romanticism; 3. elevated ideals or conduct; the quality of believing that ideals should be pursued; 4. high-mindedness, noble-mindedness; 5. a theory that ultimate reality lies in a realm transcending phenomena; 6. the practice of forming ideals or living under their influence; 7. the practice or habit of giving or attributing ideal form or character to things; 8. treatment of things in art or literature according to ideal standards or patterns; 9. as opposed to realism.

Realism provides us with the cold unembellished facts of our circumstances, the raw data. But it is insufficient alone to move us from one set of circumstances into a more vibrant, more fulfilling, more inspiring existence. Ideals provide us with just that moving inspiration. They formulate a set of objectives towards which our actions and efforts are directed and given meaning. They inform the criteria by which we calibrate the useful and the useless, as well as the meaningful and the meaningless.

When it comes to marriage, people enter into this institution to achieve an array of possible goals; to make one's contribution to the survival of the species, to secure a retirement plan, to bag that trophy husband, to please one's parents, to secure one's chastity, to tether the object of one's desire, or to "settle down" and pursue the ideal of "stability". There are marriages of convenience, marriages of the heart, marriages of the head, marriages of alliance, and marriages of immigration.

These objectives however, can all be categorised as either material or physical. But marriage also has its spiritual objectives. The Islamic tradition offers three: uns, tuma'ninah, and sakinah. According to al Fayruzabadi, uns is the opposite of loneliness. We could translate it as intimacy and friendship. From it comes spiritual comfort. The Quran says of one's spouse, "they are like garments for you and you are as garments for them". The purpose of clothing is to protect us from the elements and to cover our shortcomings.

Peacefulness, reassurance, calmness, trust, and confidence can all describe the meaning of "tuma'ninah". The Prophet Mohammed had this in his first wife Khadijah; Ali and Fatimah had it in one another. Emotional safety and support is what makes a house a home. But serenity and tranquillity, this is what Allah has made the intrinsic purpose of the marriage bond. It is called "sakinah". "And from His signs is that He has made for you spouses from your very selves that you might find tranquillity in them."

Each of us can reflect on the degree to which, "I am the source of these meanings for my significant other". Each of us can reflect on the objectives for which "I entered into this bond of marriage"; as well as the potentially inspiring objectives that will, "define the future of my relationship". Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi