By Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari
Infidelity in marriage is not new to human society. Although in God-conscious or more traditional societies it has remained rarer, none have been safe from this immorality. However, in recent decades the cases of marital infidelity has dramatically increased, especially in developed societies. This is due to a number of emerging social factors, including the weakening of the religious or spiritual anchor of people, transient attraction or lust for someone seemingly more attractive, social acceptance of fathering or mothering outside of marriage and often boredom of living with the same person for a long time.
Short-termism, allurement of fun and self-indulgence have over-arching influence in modern life. Just as cohabitation without marriage is today accepted as a norm, infidelity is often seen as something to be expected. Yet again and again, it provides for sensational news about politicians, wealthy people and famous celebrities who are followed by the media. The recent news relating to renowned personalities such as IMF boss Dominic Strauss Kahn’s alleged rape charges in a New York hotel, and film star and former California governor, Arnold Schwarzeneggar, on fathering a child outside marriage just before his own wife gave birth, seems like the tip of the iceberg of this social malaise of the infidelity industry. Only a few are caught in this growing phenomenon, but most people simply get away with their sexual indulgence without the knowledge of their spouse.
What makes people break the trust once they get married and why is this phenomenon on the rise? The issue appears to stem from the worship of transience rather than permanence. Lust seems to trump love. Both of these powerful emotions are embedded in human nature, but lust can be overwhelming depending on one’s philosophy of life; it may be exacerbated by exposure to eroticism and pornography as well as real life experience of ‘safe sex’. Responsibility in relationships takes a back seat whilst transitory phases of lust – the focus on someone’s looks and body – take control.
Marriage may not necessarily bind two people in love, but those tied in wilful wedlock, should no doubt try to make the marriage successful. If for practical reasons two married people cannot stay together there are ways of getting out of marriage without resorting to lustful extramarital relationships.
Marriage, like life, is a compromise. Partnership in marriage may not be perfect, but one must try to make it work as best as they can for their life. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)* advised people to choose partners who are of good character. He also advised people to look for alternative good qualities in marriage partners if something negative is seen in a partner. At the end of the day, we all consist of strengths and shortcomings.
Love is the cement that binds marriage partners together. Love is a timeless feeling and wonder of human life. It is the essence of creation, according to transcendental religions. It creates bonds between human beings. The chemistry of love between two spouses is, of course, different from that between a parent and a child or between two siblings or friends. Love is the long haul; it gives stability and soothing tranquillity in mind. Love of God, the creation and environment gives higher understanding and meaning of life.
Commercialisation and over-sexualisation of modern life (which has been in the news recently) are at the heart of many problems in our society today. When lust for more money, fame and power dictates people’s lives they lose the meaning of love. They become so busy that they cannot spend quality time with their spouses, children, family members and friends. Physical interaction, and innocent quality time with nearer and dearer people become impossible. With increasingly sophisticated features on mobile phones, internet and television, we remain ever hooked, busy; machine-like. We do not have ‘time’, which according to Islam is ‘life’.
We all need a certain level of stability in our life. A common catchword in the world of politics and economy, the search for stability is a common human urge. Political stability gives developed countries an economic and social progress; instability keeps developing countries backward. On a micro-level, family instability affects our day-to-day life, creating unhappiness, insecurity and disorientation. With family being the core of human society, the ever increasing prevalence of such instability is affecting our societies massively..
In my last job as a Behaviour Support Teacher at secondary level – a role I undertook for over a decade – I dealt daily with children with EBD (emotional and behaviour difficulties). What I experienced was, in most cases, the cry of unsettled and seemingly troublemaking children for love and security in their life. Behind discourteous and often aggressive external behaviour, there tends to lie great insecurity and a craving for love from those around them. Family difficulties including absence of father figures or violence among parents contribute greatly towards such challenging behaviour.
Social scientists would agree that as our family type and structure changes rapidly; we are becoming increasingly unhappy. We have advanced enormously technologically and economically, but have started paying the penalty of unstable and neglected family life. Love, passion for each other’s well being and a greater sense of responsibility for one another in the neighbourhood and society are the solution to our social woes.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is an educationalist; community activist; author and parenting consultant. He has been involved with the East London Mosque, the Muslim Council of Britain and Muslim Aid. He is a board member of the LOCOG and an Honorary Fellow of Queen Mary, University of London.
* Muslims repeat the phrase “peace be upon him” after mentioning the Prophet Muhammad’s name. It is abbreviated to (pbuh) elsewhere in the text.
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