By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah
21 August 2015
(Published Exclusively On New Age
Islam with Permission of the Authors and Publishers)
31. Protection of Orphans / Orphaned Women
31.1. Qur’anic Laws Protecting Orphans and
The Qur'an evolves a set of laws to protect
the interest of orphans and women, who were oppressed and exploited in
pre-Islamic Arabia, as elsewhere in the contemporaneous world.
It asks men to honestly manage the property
of the orphans, and by implication, of those under their lawful trust (2:220,
17:34) until they reached a matured, marriageable age (4:6, 17:34). It calls
for the grooming of such orphans, and then handing them back their properties
with due witnessing (4:5-6). It also warns men against absorbing any property
under their trust, or exchanging any valuables under their trust with their own
worthless assets (4:2, 4:10). It, however, authorizes the needy custodian of an
orphan's property to claim reasonable charges (4:6).
“…(Thus does God clarify His messages, that
you may reflect) on this life and the hereafter. They ask you (O Muhammad,)
about orphans. Say: ‘Their welfare is the best, but if you mix up their affairs
with yours, (remember,) they are your brethren; and God knows the corrupt from
the benefactor. If God wished, He could have ruined you, for God is Almighty,
Wise’” (2:220). [Bracketed qualification is from the lead verse 2:219/Ch.
restore their property to the orphans, without exchanging bad for good, and do
not absorb their property into your wealth, for this will be a grave sin”
“And do not hand over to the feeble minded,
(their property in) your wealth, which God has assigned to you for (their)
support, but provide them out of it, and clothe them, and speak to them kindly”
“And test the orphans (in your charge) until
they reach the marriageable age. If you then find them matured enough, hand
over their property to them, but do not consume it wastefully or hastily before
they grow up. If one [the guardian] is rich, let him abstain (from claiming
charges). But as for one who is poor, let him take what is fair. And when you
hand over their property to them, have it witnessed for them, though God is
Sufficient in taking account” (4:6).
“Those who unjustly consume the property of
orphans, devour fire into their bellies; and soon they will endure a blaze”
“Do not approach the property of an orphan,
except for (its) improvement, until he reaches maturity, and fulfill (your)
commitments, for (every) commitment will be questioned.” (17:34).
In the course of the revelation, many men
were killed in battles resulting in a disproportionate rise in the number of
women, many of whom were orphaned. For the permanent settlement of these women,
the Qur'an allows Muslim men to marry up to four orphaned women provided they
could treat them with equity (‘adl)* and justice (qist)*, but otherwise only
one of them, or a female under their lawful trust (4:3). *[See Ch. 21.1 for
common usage of words]
“If you fear that you cannot do justice
(qist) by the orphans, marry women who please your - two or three or four; but
if you still fear that you cannot treat (them) equitably (‘adilu), then only
one, or (marry) someone under your lawful trust. Then it is most likely that
you will not act unjustly” (4:3).
In a later verse (4:127), the Qur’an
admonishes the early Muslims for their selfish desire to marrying the orphaned
women under their charge, and discourages them from marrying more than one
woman, as they could never treat them equitably (4:129).
“They consult you about (the laws) concerning
women. Say: ‘God enlightens you about (the laws) concerning them in what is
(already) conveyed to you in this divine Writ (kitab) about female orphans
(under your charge,) to whom you do not give as prescribed for them, though you
desire to marry them; and about the helpless children; and that you must
support the orphans justly (bi al-qiste).’ (Remember,) whatever good you do,
surely God is Cognizant of it” (4:127).
“You will never be able to treat (more than
one) wife equitably (‘adilu), however eager you may be; and so do not be
completely partial, so as to leave her in suspense. But if you reconcile and
are heedful (Tattaqu), God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (4:129).
31.2. The Qur’an Recommends Monogamy as A
The Qur’anic conditional clause of treating
the wives (if more than one) equitably (4:3) coupled with the underlined
stipulation of the verse (4:129) suggests that the primary recommendation of
the Qur’an is for monogamy. The Qur’an furnishes further illustrations to fully
Wherever it refers to the wives of other prophets, such as those of
Abraham,1 Noah,2 Lot,3 Imran,4 Job,5 and Zakaria 6 it is suggestive of each
Prophet having one living wife.
The Qur’anic word Zauja for spouse denotes a pair: one each of opposite
sex. Thus Adam’s spouse is referred to in the singular,7 and the two of them
are referred to as a pair.8
The Qur’an’s reference to the wives of its other characters, such as
Pharaoh,9 the Egyptian nobleman who had bought Joseph,10 and Abu Lahab11 are
suggestive of each having one living wife.
The Qur’anic inheritance laws (Ch. 38) refer to the shares of sons and
daughters (4:11), two or more daughters (4:11), brothers and sisters (4:176),
two sisters (4:176), more than two brothers and sisters (4:12), implying the
plurality of each of these family members. But in the case of a widow, the
inheritance is reciprocal with the husband (4:12), which admits of a man
leaving behind one widow as a social norm.
The Qur’anic permission to a woman who just lost her husband, to avail
of a year’s maintenance and lodging at her deceased husband’s home (2:240/Ch.
35.2) is suggestive of a man leaving behind one widow.
These Qur’anic illustrations clearly show
that the Qur’an espouses a monogamous society as a social norm. This view was
propounded as early as the third century of Islam and is shared by many eminent
Islamic scholars, notably Yusuf Ali,12 and Ameer Ali.13 Muhammad Asad and
Husayn Haykal refer to the conditional clause of the verse 4:3 and observe that
such plural marriages are allowed only in ‘exceptional circumstances.’14,15
As the issue has been debated since early
centuries of Islam, it merits further discussion as tabled in the footnote.16
11:81, 15:60, 29:33, 66:10.
2:35, 7:19, 20:117.
2:36, 7:20-22, 20:121.
Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy
Qur’an, Lahore 1934, reprinted, Maryland 1983, note 509.
Syed Ameer Ali, The Spirit of Islam, Delhi 1923, reprinted 1990, p. 229.
Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 4, Note 4.
Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, English translation by
Ismail Ragi, 8th edition, Karachi 1989,
The critics who insist on labelling Islam with polygamy may cite the
example of the Prophet who had taken many wives. But the fact remains, the
Prophet lived in monogamy with his first wife Khadija for about 25 years until
her death, and his later marriages were the result of exceptional circumstances
(Enc. 2). The critic may still question, if recommendation was ‘towards
monogamy’, why wasn't it clearly spelled out? The answer is simple: Strict
monogamy would have inevitably resulted in increased suffering and exploitation
of women at the hands of the constitutionally lustful man:
In the context of the revelation,
introduction of monogamy in a single stroke and without any other option would
have required the new polygamous converts to part with all but one of their
wives, leaving a good number of women without a protective husband. This would
have created serious problems relating to the status, preoccupation, source of
income and future of such an unprotected women, and the custody and maintenance
of the children born to them after their separation from their former husbands.
In historical perspective, only menfolk
took part in trading missions or other civil, political or military assignments
leaving their wives behind, as journey to distant places was hazardous and took
long. These men, living away from their wives for months and sometimes years,
needed women to meet their physical, emotional and biological needs. Strict
monogamy in such a setting would have inevitably led such travellers to use
women without the bond of marriage resulting in gross exploitation of women and
concomitant social vices.
As a universal fact of life, a man's wife
may be permanently impaired from discharging her marital role because of ill
health, accident etc. Strict monogamy would prevent any second marriage of such
a man, and inevitably drive him either to divorce his incapacitated wife and
remarry, or to keep a mistress with no marital responsibilities. In either
case, the injustice to womenfolk, and to the society as a whole, would be far
greater than if the man was to take a second wife, and maintain his first
disabled wife as well.
The inveterate sceptic may still contend
that as a man is allowed to take a second wife under certain circumstances, a
woman should also be given the reciprocal option. The answer is simple: God has
made men and women in different biological models: a man has the physiological
constitution to impregnate and meet the sexual callings of more than one wife,
but a woman’s long pregnancy period constrains her from bearing a child for
more than one husband, and meeting the recurring sexual callings of even one
husband. Moreover, there will be serious complications in determining the
inheritance of children born to a woman who has several husbands. Hence, the
notion of a woman having a number of husbands is contrary to her biological
constitution and socially untenable.
32. Marriage Eligibility for Muslims
32.1. Wedlock with Polytheist Is
The Qur'an declares (2:221):
“Do not marry (Tankihu)* women who
associate (others with God), until they believe (in God). A believing
maidservant (amah) is better than a woman, who associates (others with God,)
even if she allures you. Do not marry (Tunkihu)* men who associate (others with
God) until they believe (in God). A believing male-servant (‘abd)1 is better
than a man who associates (others with God,) even if he allures you. They
invite you to hellfire, whereas God invites you to the garden and to
forgiveness by His Grace, and clarifies His messages to people, that they may
be mindful” (2:221). *[Based on the technical meaning of Nikah as coupling, the
verb also connotes an ongoing marriage bond]
In the context of the revelation, this
verse was directed mainly towards the couples, either spouse of which had
remained a pagan (polytheist). Thus the instruction, as phrased, is more of a
prohibition against keeping a pagan spouse in wedlock, than an explicit
permission to marry a believing person. This was to come later (5:5/32.3 below).
32.2. Muslim Men and Women to Choose Their
The Qur'an uses identical expression
(2:221/32.1 above) in phrasing its permission to men and women regarding
choosing a spouse and admiring a suitor. A Muslim woman’s prerogative to choose
her own mate is also demonstrated by the absence of any reference to her father
or guardian from practically all the Qur’anic verses on marriage and divorce.
Traditionally, scholars have put additional words in bracket while rendering
the verse, to imply that the father or guardian of a girl has the final say in
choosing her spouse. This has been done, understandably to:
protect the historically vulnerable girl from exploitation by any
unscrupulous man who could force marriage upon her, if a guardian does not
safeguard the interest of a simple and gullible girl, lest she may be
cheated by an aggressive, but unworthy suitor.
32.3. Muslim Men to Marry Any Believing
Towards the concluding phase of revelation
(5:5), the Qur’an gives explicit permission to Muslim men to marry from among
the ‘People of the Book' (Jews and Christians), or those who believe in One God
“This day (all) good things are made lawful
for you. The food of those to whom Scripture [Book] was given is lawful for
you, and your food is lawful for them; and so are chaste believing women (Mu’minat),
and chaste women from among those (who have been) given the Scripture [Book]
before you - after you give them their dowers (and take them in wedlock) as
chaste women, not in lewdness, nor as secret love-companions. Anyone who
rejects faith (in God), his deed is in vain, and he will be among the lost ones
in the hereafter” (5:5).
The verse does not require women from among
the believers in One God (mu’minat), and the people ‘to whom Scripture was
given’ (Jews and Christians in the context of the revelation) to embrace Islam
while marrying Muslim men. Thus, there are plenty of examples in Islamic
history of believing non-Muslim women marrying Muslim men and living together
with their privileges enhanced, and religions unchanged, unless they opted to
The verse does not bar Muslim women from
marrying believers in One God (mu’minin) or from among the ‘People of the
Book’. But historically this has not happened obviously because a Muslim woman
would have lost all her Qur’anic privileges as well as individual legal status
by marrying a non-Muslim believer (Mu’min) – who could also compel her to adopt
his faith. However with the permeation of Islamic values across the global
multi-religious communities and the remoteness of the Qur’anic ideals from many
Islamic societies, the table has turned and there have been cases of interfaith
marriages between Muslim women and believing non-Muslim men.
32.4. The Qur’an Abolishes Incest
The Qur’an forbids marriage with a defined
set of close relatives (4:22/23), as well as married women (4:24):
“And do not marry (tankihu) women whom your
fathers had married, except what is already past. It is indeed abominable and
abhorrent, and a sinful way (4:22). (Also) forbidden to you (in marriage) are
your mothers, your daughters, your sisters, your paternal aunts, your maternal
aunts, your brother's daughters, your sister's daughters, your foster-mothers, your
foster sisters, your wives' mothers, your stepdaughters under your
guardianship, (born) of your wives with whom you consumed marriage; (but there
is) no blame if you did not consume marriage with them; and the wives of your
own begotten sons; and two sisters (in wedlock) at the same time - unless it
was a thing of the past. (Remember,) God is Most Forgiving and Merciful (4:23).
Also (forbidden in marriage are) married woman - except those under your lawful
trust. This is God’s ordinance for you. With the exception of these, all others
are lawful provided you seek them (in wedlock), using your wealth, as chaste
women, and not prostituting them. And give them their dowers as a duty to those
with whom you seek enjoyment (by marrying them). There is no blame in what you
mutually settle (regarding your affairs) after the duty (has been performed).
Indeed God is All-Knowing and Wise” (4:24).
32.5. The Qur’an Forbids Extramarital
Read in isolation, and ignoring the
elliptic language of the Qur’an, the verse 4:24 (32.4 above) may be
misconstrued to imply Qur’anic sanction for extramarital cohabitation of a man
with a woman under his lawful trust, even if she was a married bondmaid. The
verse must be read in the context of the passage (4:22-4:25), which features
root words of nikah (tankihu, yankih), in the opening and closing verses (4:22
and4:25/Ch. 30.1), making it absolutely clear that the marriage clause applies
to the intermediate verse 4:24 as well. We have incorporated this in the above rendering
by adding the underlined bracketed words, thus ruling out the notion of sexual
relation with bondmaid or any other woman outside the wedlock. The Qur’an, in
its immaculate consistency, drives home the point in the verses 4:3 (Ch. 31.1)
and 4:25 (Ch. 30.1), and leaves a clear clue in 24:32 (Ch.30.1) on the
requirement of marriage for single adults:
The verse 4:3 asks men to marry women under their lawful trust, if they
are not in a position to marry free orphan women.
The verse 4:25 asks men to take permission from the families of those
under their lawful trust, before taking them in wedlock.
The verse 24:32 calls for marrying off ‘the singles’ among those under
one’s lawful trust.
Thus, read together, the verses 4:3, 4:24/25
and 24:32 clearly and conclusively prohibit sexual relation of a man with any
woman in his possession - be it a call girl or a hired maid in the present day
context, or a bondmaid, slave girl, unmarried spouse etc. in historical
perspective - except through honourable wedlock. In a word, as stressed by
Muhammad Asad quoting al-Razi and al-Tabari2 the Qur’an prohibits sexual
relation with any woman other than one’s lawful wife.
32.6. The Qur’an Does Not Support Marriage of
The Qur’anic directive to men and women to
choose their own mate (2:221/32.1 above) also implies that they should marry
after reaching a matured age, when they should be in a position to take a
decision on the choice of spouse. The Qur’anic injunctions on the obligations and
privileges of men and women in conjugal bond (Ch. 33-34) also indicate that
both men and women have to attain a level of maturity to comprehend and
implement their respective roles. Finally, the opening injunction of the verse
4:6, “test the orphans until they reach marriageable age,” (Ch. 31.1), is
explicit about the notion of a ‘marriageable age’ that is not supportive of
marrying off minors. Thus, the Qur’anic illustrations are clear in support of a
marriageable age for both the sexes.
In Qur’anic usage, the word ‘abd
(pl. ‘ibad) normally means a servant, though the Qur’an also connotes it with
slaves (female and male), such as in the verses 2:178 (Ch. 39.1) and 24:32
(Ch.30.1), and Yusuf.Ali, Marmaduke Pikthal and Shakir have rendered the word
‘abd in the verse 2:221 (Ch. 32.1) as slaves.
Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar, 1980, Chap. 4, Note 26.
33. Man, Woman, Sex and Marriage
33.1. Love and Mercy between the Sexes Is a
‘Sign’ Of God
“And among His signs is that He has created
for you, of yourselves, spouses (Azwaj), that you may console yourselves with
them, and (He) has set love and mercy between you. There are signs in this for
a people who reflect” (30:21).
Historically, in most societies, love
before marriage was condemned, while spouses in wedlock often concealed their
love. This was because the feeling of love between man and woman was eyed with
mute contempt or perhaps jealousy, while marriage was regarded as a purely biological
necessity aimed primarily at procreation. The verse acknowledges the spiritual
and emotional attachment between the opposite sexes, and asks humans to reflect
on this. Furthermore, the etymology of the word azwaj, (spouses) is suggestive
of a pair of the opposite sexes, which indicates monogamy as a social norm, as
earlier reviewed (Ch. 31.2).
33.2. Sexual Relation between The Spouses
The Qur’an allows unqualified sexual
freedom in wedlock (2:223).
“Your wives are a field of yours. So
approach your field as you please, but take steps for yourselves, and heed God,
and know that you will meet Him (on the Day of Judgment); and give good news to
This verse is a classical example of the
uniqueness of Qur’anic vocabulary. Addressed to menfolk, it combines the
sanction of freedom in physical conjugal relations with spiritual precept
(heeding God) and concludes with a reminder of an ultimate meeting with God.
However, as for the underlined statement, Abul Kalam Azad has interpreted it
(rendered below from Urdu) as suggestive of containing family size:1
“…Take steps for yourselves (make necessary
arrangements for the coming of your offspring)…”
The Qur’anic exhortations on giving ease,
rather than hardship (2:185/Ch. 48), and against tasking any person beyond his
or her capacity (2:233, 65:7/Ch. 34.5) provide further Qur’anic illustrations
for curtailing family size on health and, or income grounds. Muhammad
al-Ghazali, who lived almost a millennium ago, also held similar views.2
The Qur’an features two other verses on the
2:187 (Ch. 48) allows conjugal intimacy after breaking the fast during
the month of Ramadan.
2:222 (below) forbids conjugal intimacy when women are in their monthly
Women during Their Menstruation
The Qur’an removes all taboos against
menstruation. It refers to it as a mere inconvenience, a discomfort, and asks
men not to approach women for conjugal relations during their menstruation.
“They ask you (O Muhammad) about menstruation.
Say: ‘It is a discomfort (adha)*. So, do not approach them until they attain
purity (yathurna). And when they have attained purity (tatahharna), you may
approach them (freely) as God has ordained for you.’ Indeed God loves the
penitent and loves those who purify themselves (Mutatahhirin)” (2:222). *[See
the renderings of 33:53/Ch. 3.15 and 33:59/Ch. 28.6 for use of common
The verse uses THR root-words to denote a
state of purity or fitness. This is different from physical cleanliness, as the
Qur’an does not impose any cleanliness requirement on women in sexual matters
(2:223, above). Furthermore, the pairing together of the concluding words Tawwabin
(those who repent) and Mutatahhirin (those who are pure) lends the root THR,
the broader connotation of purity of heart and faith. The verse thus concludes
by giving a spiritual note to an otherwise mundane matter (women’s courses), as
in the succeeding verse (2:223 above).
33.4. Men to Give Women Dower At the Time of
The Qur’an states:
“Give women their dower as a gift
(saduquat), but if they voluntarily favor you with anything from it, take it
and enjoy it in good spirit” (4:4).
The dower marks a man’s commitment to take
the financial responsibility of his wife, and accordingly it should be of a
substantive value, as underscored by the underlined waiver clause. There are
traditions on marriage being contracted, in case of extreme scarcity, over the
symbolic remittance of a Qur’anic memorized Sura,3 an iron ring,4 or gold equal
to the weight of a date-stone.5 The Qur’an, however, cites the generous example
of a fortune, (4:20/Ch. 34.2), that obviously reflects its concern for
33.5. Women Are Entitled To Independent Income
The Qur'an treats men and women in wedlock
as separate individuals, with respective capabilities, and independent incomes.
“Do not desire what God has favoured in
different measures to each of you (ba‘dakum ‘ala ba‘din):6 men are to have a
portion of what they have earned, and women are to have a portion of what they
have earned. Ask therefore God of His bounty, and (remember,) God is Cognizant
of everything” (4:32).
The verse introduces a notion of corporate
ownership of personal income by reminding men and women that they have a share
in their own income and not the whole of it for themselves. The verse
complements Qur’anic clear dictates on kindness to parents (Ch. 17.4) and on
broader social responsibilities (Ch. 17.2), and thus requires either of the
spouses in a conjugal relationship to share income, particularly with parents,
and generally with personal relatives and the needy. The verse also legitimizes
state taxation as a compulsory way of sharing of income with the
33.6. Role Of Men And Women In Wedlock
The Qur’an spells out the reciprocal role
of men and women in wedlock (4:34):
“Men are the supporters (Qawwamah) of
(their) wives because God has favoured each of them in different measures
(ba'dahum ‘ala ba'din),6 and because of what they spend (for them) of their
wealth. The righteous women are devout (qanitatun) and guard the unseen that
God would have them guard. As for those (women), of whom you fear extramarital
perversity (nushuz), counsel them, leave
them (alone) in their beds and assert on them (wadribuhunna); but if they
listen to you, do not seek a way against them. (Remember,) God is Sublime,
It is one of the most critical and
important verses of the Qur’an. Most commentators have interpreted it in a
manner that i) admits of a man’s superior and commanding role, and a woman’s
inferior and subordinate role in marriage and ii) empowers a man to beat an
allegedly wayward or disobedient wife. They interpret the critical words and
phrases of the verse in the following traditional lines:
as ‘In charge’ (Marmaduke Pikthall), ‘Protectors and maintainers’ (Yusuf
‘ala ba'din as a preferential comparison.
as obedience (to husband).
as disloyalty and ill-conduct.
as beating (the wives).
Thus Marmaduke Pikthall’s rendition of this
verse, which is typical of the traditional, reads as follows:
“Men are in charge of women, because Allah
hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their
property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding
in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear
rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then
if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted,
Our rendition does not support a husband’s
superiority or a wife’s obedience to, or being beating up by her husband
regardless of cause, and is based on the interpretation of its critical words
and phrases from Qur’anic illustrations. Since this is a somewhat exhaustive
exercise, we have placed it in the footnote for those who may wish to verify
it, or fully satisfy themselves.7
Let us now try to further probe this
keynote verse from Qur’anic illustrations.
First, as the opening statement suggests, a
man is expected to support his wife – financially and otherwise. In the context
of the revelation, this gender-specific pronouncement was an historical
necessity. Men left homes on trading missions without providing for their wives,
who cohabited with strangers to sustain themselves (Note 7/Ch. 1.1). This
needed correction and hence the gender-specific responsibility. However, the
Qur’an connects the role of the man as a ‘supporter’ with his spending for his
wife. Thus, in the event God favoured a woman with a higher level of earning
than her man, she could also play the role of the ‘supporter (Qawwamah),’ as a
joint Auliya’ (protector) of the family (9:71).
“The believing men (Mu’minin) and the
believing women (Mu’minat) are protectors (Auliya’) of each other: they enjoin
the good and restrain the evil; they keep up prayer and give charity, and obey
God and His Messenger. They are those on whom God will have mercy. (Remember,)
God is Almighty, Wise” (9:71)
The verse (4:34) is directed to the
community at large and is not an injunction to be executed by the husband, and
as such does not accord him any superior position over his woman.
Second, the linking together of the
stipulations “devout (women) guard the unseen that God would have them guard,”
with the exception clause, “As for those (women), of whom you fear extramarital
perversity...”suggests that a devout woman is one who abstains from
extramarital perversity, and therefore, the unseen (Ghaib) that she is asked to
‘guard’ is nothing but her chastity.
Third, regarding the highly controversial
issue of wife beating, the concluding God’s attributes (Sublime, Great) rule
out any notion of beating – even symbolically. Our rendition (‘to assert’)
symbolizes a gesture of beating and is based on the Qur’anic use of this verb
form in the verse 38:44, in which the Prophet Job is commanded to take a ‘tuft
of grass’ in his hand and fadrib (his wife) rather than break his oath. While
the Qur’an leaves it there enigmatically, Biblical accounts are accommodative
of the classical Muslim commentators’ view that this simply meant flinging the
tuft of grass towards his wife, as a symbolic gesture of beating.8 Some of the
early scholars of Islam including al-Tabari, al-Razi, al-Shafi’i, also
interpreted this verb form (Wadribu) in the verse 4:34 in similar manner, while
the Prophet detested the idea of beating one’s wife and is reported to have
said: “Never beat God’s handmaidens.” The English language does not have any
suitable word for the symbolic gesture of beating to match this situation, and
so the word ‘assert’ in our rendering may be more appropriate and less
misleading than the traditional word, ‘beating’ to maintaining thematic
continuity with the next verse and compatibility with the broader reciprocal
and equitable role of men and women as the Auliya’ (protector) of one another
as enjoined by the Qur’an (9:71 above).
This brings us to the concluding injunction
of the verse: “but if they listen to you, do not seek a way against them.” This
raises the question, what measure a man should take if his assertiveness fails,
and a breach is established between a man and his wife and the community gets
to know of it. This is answered in clear and simple terms in the very next
“If you (the community) fear breach between
the two, appoint an arbiter from his family and an arbiter from her family. If
they wish reconciliation, God will unite them. Indeed God is All-Knowing and
Thus, read together the verses 4:34 and 4:35
(the passage 4:34/35) spell out not only the roles of men and women in wedlock
but also the measures to be taken if a woman continues to show marital
infidelity, and recommends arbitration as the final option for settling
conjugal disputes. In a later verse, the Qur’an prescribes the same ultimate
course of action for the reverse situation, and declares:
“If a wife fears extramarital perversity (Nushuz)
or desertion (i‘rad) from her husband, there is no blame on either of them if
they mutually settle (the matter) amicably. Such settlement is best, though
(our) souls are (drawn to) greed.9 But if you do good, and are heedful (Tattaqu),
(remember,) God is Informed of what you do” (4:128).
If the breach persists and the peace and
stability of the family is destroyed, the Qur’an allows for the termination of
a marriage (4:130). Since this is an extremely painful decision that can also
have serious financial implications for the financially dependent partner of
the marriage, the Qur’an declares:
“And yet if they do separate, God will
provide each out of His Abundance, for God is Boundless (in resources) and
Under compelling circumstances however, the
Qur’an also empowers women with unilateral right of separation (2:229/Ch. 34.2)
Qur’an’s Worldview on Women’s
Role In Society
A deep-rooted misogynistic heritage (Note
10/Ch. 28), fostered by the dicta of some patently weak accounts, led the
Muslim ‘Ulema to impose various restrictions on women. Any cataloguing of such
restrictions will not serve any purpose, but it is sufficient to say that until
very recent times, Muslim women were discouraged from pursuing higher
education, working side by side with men in corporate offices, travelling by
themselves, or even taking up a profession of their choice – just to cite some
glaring examples. However, so far as the Qur’an is concerned, it does not
impose any such restrictions on women. In fact, from the Qur’anic perspective,
if men can travel by themselves or pursue studies, or work for a livelihood, so
can women. However, it goes without saying that the choice of both men and
women for taking part in any activity is conditioned by their external
environment and by the facilities at their disposal. Thus today, a woman can
travel around the world without the need of a protective guardian while just a
century ago, she would need a male guard or companion to go to a neighbouring
village to ensure her safety. In sum, the Qur’an does not invest men with the
guardianship of women and expects them to live together as friends and
protectors of one another (awliya’, 9:71/33.6 above).
33.8. The Qur’an Overrules Any Notion of Male
The Qur’an also offers the following clear
and undeniable illustrations to overrule any notion of male superiority or
It acknowledges the position of a head of state by a woman, ruling
discretely by consultation through her chieftains, and later embracing the true
It does not blame a woman for any of man’s infirmities, vices or
misfortunes. Thus for example, it blames both Adam and his spouse (and not the
latter alone, as mentioned in the Bible) for their temptation by Satan and
their primordial fall from Paradise.11
In sum, the notion of male superiority has
no Qur’anic basis, and the various demeaning accounts on women’s inferiority
appearing in various theological literatures are no more than myth.12
33.9. Paradox of Linking Islam with
Some Muslim communities have retained their
pre-Islamic misogynistic customs, notably honour killing and female genital
mutilation (FGM), legitimizing them by some weak traditions and controversial
law school rulings. This is simply absurd. Neither any verse of the Qur’an, nor
its collective message gives any basis whatsoever to support these inhuman
practices. In fact, at an early stage of the revelation, the Qur’an condemned
female infanticide (Note 1/Ch. 1.1). The Qur’an also prohibited the prevalent
custom of killing the women who committed adultery, and introduced laws that
paved the way for the dissolution of a marriage if a woman, or for that matter,
a man betrayed any extramarital perversity. Therefore, there is no Qur’anic
basis at all for FGM and honour killing, and they are no more than pre-Islamic
customs that some communities have retained even after their conversion to
Abul Kalam Azad, Tarjuman al-Qur’an, 1931; reprint New Delhi 1989 ,
Vol.2, p. 182.
Muhammad al-Ghazali, Ihya ul-‘Ulum, Urdu translation by Ahsan Siddiqee,
Karachi 1983, Vol.2, Chap. 2, p. 74.
Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi, 1984,
Vol.7, Acc. 24, 54, 58, 66, 72, 79.
Ibid., Vol.7, Acc. 80.
Ibid., Vol.7, Acc. 78, 85.
The Qur’an uses the expression ba‘dahum ‘ala ba‘din for a relative
comparison as conveyed in our rendition. However, many scholars have connoted
it with a preferential comparison between men and women, with men having been
given more favor than the women. This is misleading as the Qur’an uses the
connective clause fauqa and not ‘ala, where a preferential comparison is
implied as illustrated below:
6:165, 43:32: God raised some people in rank over others.
24:40 layers of darkness in a see – darkness and yet more darkness until
one can hardly see his own hand.
Meanings Of The Critical Words In 4:34 Based On Qur’anic Illustrations:
i. qawwamah (sing. qiwam, root QWM): The
Qur’an uses QWM root-words with the broad connotation of protecting, establishing,
and upholding something that needs to be protected, supported or upheld:
Establishing or performing prayer in a
regular manner (aqim, yuqim) (over a hundred verses
across the Qur’an).
To be upright (qawwamah) in justice (4:135,
To uphold (aqim) (an evidence) (65:2).
To establish (aqim) (correct) weights (55:9).
(aqwamu) (17:9) (guidance).
More valid (aqwamu)
(as a testimony) (2:282).
An upright or straight forward (qayyimah)
law, religion, or book (18:2, 98:5).
To be constant (qa’imah) (in following up) (3:75).
To be upright (qa’imah) (as a community)
To support (qiyamah, taqumu) (the orphans) (4:5, 4:127).
Qur’anic common use of the word qawm for
community, which is nothing but a group of people held together to protect and
support each other.
Our choice of word (‘Supporters’) is
consistent with this.
ii. ba'dahum ‘ala ba'din: See 6 above.
iii. qani’atun: In practically all (9)
instances of its use, the Qur’an connotes this word and its other derivatives
with obedience or devotion to God, or to God and the Prophet (2:238, 3:17,
3:43, 16:120, 30:26, 33:31,33:35, 39:9, 66:5).
iv. nushuz: Etymologically, the word
features a combination of zina (adultery), and shahwat (sexual passion), and in
the verses 4:34 and 4:128 (33.6 above) it connotes sexual or passionate
relation with someone other than the lawful spouse. Hence our choice of the
expression, ‘sexual perversity’.
v. wadribu: In a generic sense, the Qur’an
uses the verb form daraba with two broad shades of meanings:
Relating to expression, such as to coin a parable, to mention, propound,
Relating to traveling, such as to go forth in a civil or military
The Qur’an also uses it with the following
be covered with (humiliation, or clothing) (2:61, 24:31).
block or fully cover (the ear) (18:11).
slay (47:4) or knock down (Abraham knocking down the idols) (37:93).
symbolically ‘strike’: Moses ‘striking’ the rock or sea with his staff (2:60,
20:77, 26:63); angels ‘striking’ the souls of the disbelievers (8:50).
make a gesture (of striking) (38:44).
The Bible (the Book of Job, ii.9) relates that for a long time, Job
lived in deep agony, as he was afflicted with sores from the sole of his foot
to the crown of his head. On one occasion, his wife reproached him for his
perseverance in faith and said: ‘Curse God and die.’ Early Muslim commentators
have suggested that Job took an oath to beating his wife a hundred stripes if
God should restore him his health. As he regained health, he realized that his
wife’s outburst only reflected her deep frustrations at his sufferings, and he
bitterly regretted his oath. The verse 38:44 refers to the revelation Job
received to fulfill his oath without hurting or beating his wife.
A man in the given situation would like to get his wife to divorce him
and claim compensation while a woman would be tempted to get her husband to
divorce her so that she could leave him with all the gifts he might have given
her in addition to claiming the marriage dower.
Examples of such mythical accounts:
morning, the angels curse a woman who refuses to come to the husband at night.
- Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by
Mohsin Khan, New Delhi, 1984, Vol.7, Acc. 121, 122.
Until morning, the angels curse a woman who refuses to come to her
husband at night; and (the Lord) who is in heaven remains angry until the man
is pleased with his woman.
The woman whose husband is satisfied at night and spends the night
contentedly will enter Paradise.
- Sahih al-Muslim, Urdu translation by
Wahiduz Zaman, Delhi 19…, Vol.4, Kitabun-Nikah, Acc. 43,44, p. 55.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical
Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired
corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since
early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred
exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in
2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated
by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications,
Maryland, USA, 2009.