I had the privileged of co-presiding over a Christian/Muslim wedding this past weekend. The couple wanted to honor both traditions so they divided the ceremony into two segments. During the first segment the couple signed an Islamic marriage contract with an Imam. I lead the couple through the second segment, which was essentially a western style Christian ceremony.
During the signing of the marriage contract the Imam spoke directly to the couple saying, ” You have both reached the age of authority in your lives and God has granted you the right to choose your own path. You are responsible for the choices you make.” The Imam’s words point towards an often lost understanding of marriage.
Marriage has often be understood as a right of passage. The argument goes something like this: Parents have authority over a child’s life and are charged with the responsibility of teaching him or her to become a compassionate and self-disciplined Person. Compassion and self -discipline are the characteristics of one who posses inner authority and no longer needs to be disciplined by an adult. An adult is ready to choose their own path — to choose a spouse. When a couple is married they are recognizes by their community as adults and joyfully sent down the path that they have chosen.
Most of the couples that I marry have been following their path for several years and are already recognized as adults. None the less, the Imam’s words are helpful. Getting through college and finding a job does require maturity; but, I would argue that Marriage requires more — more compassion and self-discipline. I think it’s helpful to understand marriage as passing from one stage of adulthood into another even more demanding stage.