Is Marriage Obligatory?
At first, I would like to state that Islam, being a moderate religion, generally encourages marriage as the pure and legitimate way for regulating man’s sexual appetite and procreating, and it is against curbing man’s desire through celibacy. Marriage was the Sunnah of the Prophet, as explained in the following Hadith reported by Al-Bukhari on the authority of Anas ibn Malik:
“A group of three men came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet asking how the Prophet worshiped (Allah), and when they were informed about that, they considered their worship insufficient and said, ‘Where do we stand in relation to the Prophet as his past and future sins have been forgiven.’ Then one of them said, ‘I will offer the prayer throughout the night forever.’ Another said, ‘I will fast throughout the year and will not break my fast.’ The third said, ‘I will keep away from women and will never marry.’ Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) came to them and said, “Are you the same people who said such-and-such? By Allah, I am more obedient to Allah and more afraid of Him than you; yet I fast and break my fast, I do sleep and I also marry women. So he who does not follow my tradition in religion is not from me (not one of my followers).”
However, the Islamic ruling on marriage differs according to the state and conditions of each person. It can be highly recommended in some cases, or even obligatory under certain conditions. It can also be prohibited or only permitted under other circumstances.
Although marriage is generally considered a highly recommended act, yet from the point of view of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) – because of diverse circumstances – it can readily fall into one of the four categories listed below: Fard (obligatory) or mustahabb (recommended) or haram (forbidden) or simply halal (permitted).
1. Marriage is considered fard (obligatory) if a person is so tormented by sexual desire that he/she fears falling into the sin of fornication. Since staying away from fornication is obligatory, and since marriage is the only avenue for legitimate sexual satisfaction, it becomes obligatory for such a person to get married. This is based on the principle in jurisprudence that says: “If an obligatory thing cannot be fulfilled except by fulfilling another, then fulfilling the latter becomes equally obligatory.”
2. If, however, he or she is not so tormented by sexual desire, and, hence, there is no fear of falling into sin, then it is highly recommended to get married if one has the means to do so. By doing so, one is fulfilling one of the great Sunnahs of the Prophet (peace be upon him), our perfect role model.
3. If a person knows for certain that he or she cannot fulfill the duties required in marriage, and there is no fear of his/her falling into sin, then it becomes haram for such a person to get married. Islam forbids us from doing injustice to another person; this would definitely be the case if one were to neglect his/her spousal duties.
4. If a person has no means to marry and is, therefore, incapable of fulfilling his spousal duties, but has a strong desire, it is permitted for him to get married – provided he tries earnestly to seek an honest source of living. Allah has promised to help such a person. We must also add here a further note that the Muslim community has a duty to assist such people until such time that they become self-reliant.
If, however, no such measures are available, and a person finds himself unable to fulfill his spousal duties, he is advised to curb his desires through the discipline of fasting and other acts of sublimation.”