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Islamic Q and A ( 17 Aug 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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What Was Eela Or Ila In Pre-Islamic Arabia And How Did Islam Abolish Oppression Inflicted On Women By Their Husbands Staying Away From Sex For An Extended Period?

By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi, New Age Islam 

17 August 2021

The Pre-Islamic Form of Eela, Oppression over Women, Abolished by Islam

Main Points

1.    Men in Pre-Islamic Arabs intended by Eela to harm their women

2.    Women in Pre-Islamic Arabs had to bear two-fold problems After Eela

3.    They could neither take conjugal benefits nor marry any other man after Eela

4.    Islam abolished this tyranny and prescribed a maximum time of four months for Eela


One of the pre-Islamic practices in the form of oppression of women was that they were intentionally persecuted by their husbands through the practice of the Eela. Once a husband, in those days, uttered the words of Eela, his wife had to bear two-fold persecution; she was given neither the sexual benefits of marriage nor freedom to marry another. The men intended by that to oppress their wives. Islam took a balanced approach and repealed what was the part of persecution in this Eela practice by setting a maximum time of four months for that. Allah Almighty says in the Quran:

“For those who swear not to have sexual relations with their wives is a waiting time of four months, but if they return [to normal relations] - then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”

This verse addresses the pre-Islamic oath of a man that he would stay away from his wife and deny her sexual benefits of marriage, without divorcing her or giving her freedom to marry another. In Arabic, this kind of oath is known as Eela or Ila. The Eela practice in the days of Jahiliya could be for one, two, or even more years.

In the pre-Islamic era, it was the custom of the people to ask their wives for money and if they refused to give it, they would swear not to approach them for one, two, three or more years, leaving them in trouble. The women were then neither widows so as to find out any other living place, nor the ones to take conjugal benefits from their husbands. Islam abolished this tyranny and prescribed a period of four months for such people, stipulating that if they made an oath for not having intercourse with them [which is known as Eela] for four months or more than that or even for indefinite periods, then they have a waiting period of four months. During this time, they ought to think carefully about whether it is better to leave or keep their women. If he thinks it is better to keep her and returns [Ruju’] to her [or resume conjugal relations] within this period, then the marriage will remain valid and only the expiation [Kaffaara] of the oath will have to be paid. And if he does not return to his wife [Ruju’] within that period and does not break his oath, then the marriage will come to an end, and one Talaq-e-Baain will automatically take place [Talaq-e-Bain is a divorce pronounced in unclear words, after which new marriage within or outside Iddah period is required for the husband to take his wife back].

After pronouncing the words of Eela, If a man is capable of doing intercourse within the four months, then the Ruju [the process of taking wife back] will be termed valid only by way of intercourse, and if he is not capable of it due to any reason, sickness or otherwise, then the promise of intercourse will be termed ruju.

If a person swears not to have intercourse with his wife, if it is for a period of less than four months, this will be treated like any other oath, and if he breaks it, he must offer expiation, but if he fulfils this term, he will not have to do anything.

However, if it is an oath of permanent abstention, or for a term longer than four months, a limit of four months from the moment of the oath must be imposed on him if his wife demands that because that is her right. Within the period of four months, he should be instructed to go back to normal intimate relations; if he does so, then he is not required to do anything apart from offering expiation for his oath. However, if he refuses to break his oath within the four months, then one Talaq-e-Bain will take place and the marriage will be declared dissolved. This means that if he wants to return to his wife after the four months since he uttered the words of Eela, he will have to renew his marriage with her within or outside the Iddah period.  


A regular Columnist with, Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi Dehlvi is an Alim and Fazil (Classical Islamic scholar) with a Sufi background and English-Arabic-Urdu Translator.


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