Statistics have shown that the rate of marriage, particularly in recent years, has decreased considerably. In addition, the actual marriage age, especially in the bigger cities and places whose lifestyle matches such cities has increased considerably. This has resulted in the youth getting married at an age where their actual period of youth is practically at an end and the vitality and energy that is associated with this period of life has mostly faded away. This in essence means that the youth are getting married at a time when the prime age of marriage has actually ended.
This is caused by several various factors, of which the most important are as follows:
1. An extended period of education and schooling
2. The expanded possibility of illicit relationships
3. Heavy expenditures and material expectations related to marriage
4. A feeling of distrust between young boys and girls
Here, we will study in detail the first two points, which play a more significant part as a preventative factor in marriage.
Without really studying this issue in depth or trying to understand its causes, several social planners have proposed a plan by the name of ‘Compulsory Marriage’. This plan in reality means that the state should impose a type of special tax on ‘singleness’ with the intent of pushing youth towards becoming married at an earlier age. Another idea for proponents of this plan include denying employment to single people in various institutions, as well as other types of similar punishment. Some youth have asked about my opinion in regards to such plans and whether it would be a both effective and proper solution.
We believe that if such measures were enacted in society, and for example, employment was denied to those who were single, then this would be at best effective in the short term but it would not constitute a permanent solution. In addition, it may even bring about certain undesirable side effects.
The words marriage and compulsion are two terms that are completely at odds with one another. Saying compulsory marriage is similar to saying compulsory friendship and affection. Is it really possible to impose true friendship and affection between two people by the utilization of the force of law?
Marriage, in its proper understanding, is a kind of spiritual and physical relationship which will help establish a peaceful life in society and one of its most important conditions is that of sincerity and honesty. Due to this reason, marriages must be established in a free atmosphere without any external impositions. Therefore, Islam repudiates any marriage contracts that are drawn up without the full agreement of both parties. Marriage cannot be seen as a sort of ‘military duty’ where one is sent off to a camp in order to learn various techniques under the force of compulsion.
It is strange that various social planners are trying to reform the present day condition of our society, which is itself the result of a series of social abnormalities, without paying the least attention to its actual causes. It is our opinion that even if such plans are workable, they will prove to be only superficial fixes to the problems at hand. If we were to actually fix the root issues, then the abnormal and illogical present day situation of marriage would automatically resolve itself. Due to this reason, we have to undertake a deep study of each of the four aforementioned factors independent of one another in order to truly understand the problems that face us at a societal level.
The Extended Duration of Education: The First Great Barrier of Marriage
Although not all youths remain unmarried due to the long period of modern day education, it is the case that many of them do find this issue to be a significant factor. The educational period for most majors is approximately 18 years (and in some cases, it extends beyond this as well). When a young man or woman graduates from college they are about 22-25 years of age and it is at this point that they begin to look for an entry level job. The irony is that by this age the period of their youth has for the most part passed. Additionally, it seems very likely that as the extent of specialization increases, so will the period of education. At some point in the future, it is not unlikely that the age of study will lengthen until a well educated individual has reached the age of 35.
The main question here is whether marriage should depend upon graduation or not, even if the average age isn’t further prolonged and extended. Or should this qualification be eliminated when it comes to marriage? Even if this qualification is removed as a social barrier to marriage, how would a young man be able to support himself in married life without the benefits of a college degree and a job. Is it possible to deny a link between marriage and graduation?
We believe that if we think openly about this topic and avoid baseless cultural imitation, then solving this problem will not be too difficult. Consider the following possibility: What if young men and women selected their partners through consultation with their parents and friends during the period of their education. After finding someone suitable, the young couple would then join together in a marriage bond free of any expensive or elaborate wedding ceremonies in order that they may become familiar with one another and understand that in the future they would be fully married. After the passing of some time and further preparation, they could then hold a simple wedding ceremony. The first advantage of this plan is that the youth can find spiritual tranquility and hope, and they can be saved from fears of a vague and lonely future which troubles many of the single youth of today. The second advantage is that it helps insure the youth against various moral deviations and it also saves them time in later having to go through the trouble of finding a spouse.
This is a plan that most youth are able to follow and if the parents are observant and careful, they could help guide this process and many future problems would be resolved in regards to marriage. With the legal engagement of the couple to one another (through the formation of a marriage contract) sexual needs can be met and such an arrangement offers many of the advantages of marriage while compensating for the sexual deprivation of youth, which is a major problem that they face. Through such an arrangement, the youth can secure themselves from sexual indecencies and deviations without the imposition of extra expenses on either of their families, as well as being free from the issues related to pregnancies or other similar issues during the period of their education.
Another alternative is an official marriage, meaning the completion of a wedding ceremony but at the same time, enacting a plan to prevent pregnancy through various available and lawful means. One of the main problems related to early marriage is that of pregnancy and the subsequent raising of children; this is a major problem for someone who is occupied with a college education. However, both of these plans are only possible if the wedding ceremony is celebrated simply and without any undue formalities. Obviously, the present day rituals and expenses (which are without any rational basis) must be put aside in the implementation of such plans.
This is the solution if parents and the youth are truly seeking happiness and prosperity. Waiting for one’s graduation in order to find a suitable job and then attempting to buy a car, a home, and also pay the expenses of a high end wedding ceremony are all the causes of dozens of deviations found in the youth today, as well as delayed marriages which take place when one is 35 to 40 years of age. This is an age when one is nearer to retirement, rather than the age one should be getting married. Such a marriage is not only abnormal, but it also lacks in spirit and nobility, and it is not in harmony with man’s natural instincts and the very system of existence.
A Decrease in Matrimony: A Major Social Tragedy
The decrease in marriage and the actual reluctance of youth in marrying and in preferring the unnatural life of bachelors is one of the great tragedies of our modern times. It is one of the negative impacts of a more automated lifestyle. Amongst the problems related to a decrease in marriage is that which results in negative population growth; if such a thing is sustained, then the actual nation is at risk of population extinction based on the simple fact that not enough children are born to meet the losses taking place. Besides this issue, another even more important danger is that unmarried individuals lag behind others when it comes to their fulfillment of various social responsibilities. They do not feel like they belong to any community and they are in essence ‘rootless’. They easily move from one place to another and when faced with problems, they feel as if they have no support and at times, will even commit suicide due to this feeling. According to statistics, the suicide rate is much higher in single people than in people who are married. The problem of ‘brain drain’ is also more commonplace in single people rather than those who have settled down and married in their country of origin.
In addition, most criminals are either single or they live alone. Marriage in fact prevents a man from thinking that he belongs to himself and that any decisions made will only affect himself personally. Contrary to this, marriage helps people understand that they are responsible for their family and their family is in reality a microcosm of the ‘family unit’ known as society. This lack of social responsibility has other negative consequences. The most important of these are the non utilization and non mobilization of all the powers and faculties that are present in human beings towards the improvement and development of one’s life. It doesn’t take much to provide for a single individual, but it is another matter when a family is concerned.
There is a reason why the life of single individuals is filled with more depression, laziness, and indifference when it comes to pushing forward in life and in the full actualization of their potential. Many single individuals who are considered as being weak and unable to earn their own livelihood are transformed through marriage into serious, decisive, and observant people. This is derived from the power of the sense of social responsibility. In this respect, we can compare single people to ‘wandering gypsies’ who never try to stay in one place and improve the lands in which they live, easily emigrating to other places.
From a moral perspective, the vast majority of single people will never reach human perfection because many moral traits, such as loyalty, forgiveness, manliness, affection, kindness, dedication, and gratitude are realized in the family setting where one is confronted with various challenges and issues in the relationship with one’s wife and children. Those who are not placed in such a situation are never forced to face up to them and thus reach closer to human perfection.
While it can be said that undertaking the responsibilities of a joint life after marriage will be accompanied with various problems as well as obligations, it is also the case that perfection can only be found through facing various issues in life and safely learning how to navigate through them. In addition, there are certain natural needs of the body and spirit which have to be met; saying no to such needs will lead to various unfavorable mental and physical consequences. By understanding all of these issues as a whole, we would not be exaggerating if we were to call the modern day tendency towards singleness and the continuous decrease in the marriage rate as a social tragedy.
The question which continuously arises is how we shall deal with the issues that the youth face in fulfilling the natural and social obligations of marriage. Is it really possible to get young men and women married at an earlier point in time even in spite of the present day conditions of an automated lifestyle, various unreasonable life expectations, disagreements between parents and youth, educational conditions, unemployment of the youth, and the distrust present amongst them.
These points have to be carefully examined and the resolution of various social problems is impossible until this issue is first resolved. The reality that we must face is that the current dire situation of marriage and its related issues are something that we and our societies have created and in turn imposed upon ourselves. Such a dilemma did not come down from the sky or grow out of the earth; we are the ones who have established it as a result of selfish competition, ignorance, improper judgments, and involvement in a series of destructive customs and rituals. At the same time, just as this problem is a creation of our societies, we are also able to solve it and establish a better way of life based the realities on the ground and those things which have been divinely revealed to us. Such a way of life will be based on these realities and not based on various fictional and imaginatory concepts. Such a solution will not require a miracle, just simple and sound thinking and planning.
The Possibility of Illicit Relationships: An Important Factor for the Decrease in the Marriage Rate
In most parts of the world today, social life is not in a normal and healthy form. This is evidenced by the decrease in marriage and the preference of wide swaths of the youth to a life of singleness rather than married life. We previously mentioned that in addition to the obvious problems in the lack of marriage, another tragedy is the feeling of a lack of social responsibility and a feeling of having no ‘roots’, which is a consequence of a long period of bachelorhood. If we factor in the social moral deviations which many single people fall victim to, then the significance of this social problem will become even more evident.
At this juncture, let us study the main causes of this dangerous social phenomenon:
Without a doubt, this issue isn’t caused by one or two factors alone; however, it does have certain main factors which play a more major role. One of these major factors is that of the widespread occurrence of illicit relationships. Due to the easy availability of engaging in illicit relationships in society, women have been relegated to a very low value commodity that is easily accessible by all. In this manner, women have lost their previous value, significance, and prestige and they simply do not have the same preciousness that they possessed beforehand.
The increasing nudity of women in the modern day world has contributed to an initial superficial attraction which soon fades because while it superficially attracts it also cheapens women and thus causes them to lose their value with men. This is something which seems opposite to the effect that such women are trying to inspire, but it is one of the many negative effects of immoral public dress. It is for this reason that there is no trace at all of the pure, sincere, and passionate love which existed in the past, and this is because man always finds fervent love in what is not easily accessible. With this being the case, how can a man love something that is so easily available and in public view.
It is for this reason that many licentious men ask why they should undergo so many restrictions and responsibilities in order to marry, while they have easy access to many women without any terms or responsibilities. They ask such a question because they are not familiar with the ominous consequences of such immoralities and they see women as only a means of satisfying their sexual desires. Through such a perspective, they see the acceptance of marriage with its resulting terms and responsibilities as being a foolish decision and so they spend a major part of their life in being single.
Through taking these facts into account, the effect of the easy availability of illicit relationships in regards to the decrease of marriage becomes much more clear. In western societies, where such freedom and laxity is more commonly found, the decrease in marriage is also more dramatic. In such societies, people marry when they have reached middle age and even these marriages are weak and short lived; they often dissolve for small and sometimes absurd reasons.
The Selection Taken from “Sexual Problem of the Youth” by Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi.