By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009
May 13, 2012.
- The article is complete by itself and complementary to the one on divorce, captioned: The Qur’anic Sharia (laws) on divorce. Triple divorce, temporary marriage, Halala stand forbidden (Haram):
On the defence of this discourse: The article is extracted from a focused exegetic work , evolved over a span of some fifteen years that interprets the Qur’an’s core commandments and family laws primarily from its own illustrations. This source material is approved by al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo and recommended by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, Alfi Distinguished Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law as "an authoritatively reliable text to teach young Muslims or even the Muslims who never had time to study the Qur'an or the fundamentals of their religion." [1. p.xx]. As it attempts to capture the essence of divine speech on the captioned theme and is the outcome of a prolonged exercise involving a number of Islamic scholars of diverse backgrounds and using computer data base, the readers are requested to treat it as a serious reading material and comment on it accordingly.
Executive Summary/ Conclusion: The following synopsis of the Qur’anic enunciations on the theme may give the modern reader who is pressed for time and wants to see the bottom lines, an overview of the Qur’anic message on the captioned theme.
The Qur’an treats sexuality as a divine bounty. It recognizes human impulse of love and mercy for the opposite sex (30:21), allows the members of either sex without specifying any age to have admiration for a believing member of the opposite sex (2:221). Its verses directly relating to sexuality also invoke divine mercy (7:189) and heedfulness of God (taqwa) (2:223) thereby precluding any notion of sexual abuse or coercion as widely practiced in many Muslim lands and committed by some Muslim husbands against their wives. Sexual intimacy is however forbidden during the fasting hours in the month of Ramadan (2:187) and with the wives who are in their monthly courses (2:222). There is, however, no restriction on women during their courses with regard to their religious or temporal duties and activities. As a woman is divinely ordained to bear the burden and pain of pregnancy, delivery and nursing of the baby, a man remains under the divine obligation to take her full care as her qawwamah (4:34) and acknowledges this by compensating her with a gift or dowry (saduqat) as the essential part of marriage contract authorizing sexual intimacy with a woman (4:4). Men and women in wedlock, however, act as guardians (awaliya) of one another and, notwithstanding the man’s normative role as qawwamah, a woman can have independent income (4:32) and be the co-qawwamah of the household depending upon her financial contributions.
Given the socially imposed heterosexual behavior of women in the pre-Islamic era as discussed in the opening section of the article below, women were susceptible to extramarital lapses. Hence an admonition regime – counseling, temporarily suspending sexual relation and assertively admonishing are prescribed (4:34) failing which the couple is advised to take the issue to the arbitrators (4:35) and if they failed to settle the matter amicably, the marriage could be terminated. Under compelling circumstances however, a woman can unilaterally terminate the marriage paying a reasonable compensation (2:229).
This in sum pieces together the Qur’anic verses on the theme covering his romantic impulses, his infatuations, choice of spouse through to married life.
The Setting of the Revelation
The sexual norms were relaxed in the pre-Islamic Arabia. A woman could cohabit with strangers when their husbands were away on trading missions. Even otherwise, a casual encounter between the strangers of opposite sexes could readily culminate into intimate relationship, often openly promoted by women, leading to their motherhood. This created controversy in establishing paternal lines, which was decided by comparing the looks and features of a child with its likely fathers, assembled for the purpose. The practice, established as a social norm, absolved men-folk of all social and financial responsibilities towards the women they espoused or cohabited with and their offspring, forced women into commercial adultery, and left children born of such unions at the mercy of the society. The Qur’an had to correct this social malaise that drew on the oppressively patriarchic heritage of human civilization. Since man-woman relation has many facets, it had to proceed in a phased manner by issuing ordinances relating to the different aspects of this relationship. This article attempts to capture the Qur’anic ordinances on the subject in a holistic way in order to give a Qur’anic vision of man-woman relationship.
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 feel tranquility and relief (taskunu) in her 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 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, and leaves no ground to privilege one of the pair (such as male as traditionally held) over the other.
Choice of a Spouse (Zauja)
“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) 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]
The Qur'an uses identical expression (in bold 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 protect her.
• safeguard the interest of a simple and gullible girl, lest she may be cheated by an aggressive, but unworthy suitor.
The Qur’an makes a very passing reference to sexology blending this core human instinct with moral imperatives.
“He is the One who created you from a single soul and made its spouse (zauja) from it that he may feel tranquility and relief (yaskun) in her. Then when he has covered her, she bears a light burden and goes about with it. And when she grows heavy, they both pray to God, their Lord, ‘if you give us a healthy (child), we shall indeed be grateful” (7:189).
By employing the root SKN for the blessings of the sexual union the Qur’an acknowledges the divinity of sexual gratification and fulfillment. Elsewhere in the Qur’an the same root word (sakinah) is employed to convey the divine bliss and serenity that God sent down upon the Prophet and his companions at moments of utmost anguish and despair .
The Qur’an, however, allows sexual relationship between a man and a woman only through wedlock and gives full freedom in this regard – albeit within broader paradigms of morality.
“Your wives are a field of yours. So approach your field as you please, but take steps for yourselves, and heed God (attaqu al-Lah), and know that you will meet Him (on the Day of Judgment); and give good news to believers” (2:223).
Addressed to men folk who inevitably play an active role in sexuality, it combines the sanction of freedom in physical sexuality with sacredness (heeding God) implying courtesy, kindness and understanding, and concludes with a reminder of an ultimate meeting with God. However, as for the statement in bold, Abul Kalam Azad has connected it with containment of family size by adding a qualifying bracket rendered below (translated from Urdu) :
“…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), and against tasking any person beyond his or her capacity (2:233, 65:7) 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 .
The Qur’an features two other verses on the subject:
2:187 allows conjugal intimacy after breaking the fast during the month of Ramadan.
2:222 (below) forbids conjugal intimacy when women are in their monthly courses.
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).
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).
This sole verse on women’s courses does not impose any restriction on women during their periods with regard to their religious or temporal duties and activities. Even otherwise, the Qur’an does not put to question the purity or fitness of a woman as God’s representative (khalifah) on earth side by side with man, and describes the twain as each other’s guardian (9:71). Thus there is no Qur’anic basis to bar a woman from discharging her routine religious rituals during her monthly periods.
Men to Give Women Dower at the Time of Marriage
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 , an iron ring , or gold equal to the weight of a date-stone . The Qur’an, however, cites the generous example of a fortune, (4:20), that obviously reflects its concern for women.
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 favored in different measures to each of you (ba‘dakum ‘ala ba‘din): 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 and on broader social responsibilities 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 community.
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 favored each of them in different measures (ba'dahum ‘ala ba'din), 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, Great” (4:34).
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. 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. [See this link for detailed interpretation:
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. 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 favored a woman with a higher level of earning than her man, she could also play the role of the ‘supporter (qawwamah),’ as a joint awliya’ (protector) of the family (9:71).
“The believing men (mu’minin) and the believing women (mu’minat) are protectors (awliya’) 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, our rendition (‘to assert’) symbolizes only 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. 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. He 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 befitting this situation. Therefore 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 awliya’ (protector) of one another as enjoined by the Qur’an (9:71 above)
“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 Informed” (4:35).
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 Wise” (4:130).
Under compelling circumstances however, the Qur’an also empowers women with unilateral right of separation (2:229).
“… And if you (O arbitrators) do indeed fear that they would be unable to keep within the limits set by God (and must separate), there is no blame on either of them if she gives up (something to her husband) for her freedom. These are the limits set by God; do not exceed them - for any who exceed the limits set by God, it is they who are unjust” (2:229).
What about a Marriageable Age for the Girls?
The brevity, the legal tone and the omission of any reference to the parents or any guardian of either spouse in all the Qur’anic verses relating to the captioned theme and the express acknowledgement of the matured roles of either spouses as the guardians of one another (9:71) totally removes the notion of the marriage of a minor girl or the one just reaching the threshold of puberty. However, through the medieval ages, families were large, incomes were low, living conditions were harsh, personal security was lacking and women had no significant economic role. The growing girls were then a burden on the family to be disposed off through marriage even before they reached a matured age commensurate to the Qur’anic ordinances. But with changed gender dynamics, civilizational paradigms, the emergent financial role and responsibilities of women and increasing oppressive attitude of men and exploitation risks in recent times, a girl must reach a matured age before she is made to enter the wedlock. This is, however, another matter that a section of ulema insist on the lawfulness of marriage of a minor girl or a girl who has just reached her puberty, either out of ignorance or their own sexual inclinations – God knows best. There is also another side of the coin. Many impoverished Muslim families living in small rural towns or slums find it virtually impossible to feed and protect their growing girls who are often stalked by local goons. They would better protect the safety and well being of their young daughters by contracting their marriages before they reached maturity. The Qur’an, however, does not specify any minimum marriageable for either sex.
1. Muhammad Yunus and Ashfaque Ullah Syed, Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA 2009, approved by al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo (2002) and authenticated by the renowned jurist and scholar, Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, USA.
2. God sends down Sakinah upon the Prophet and his companions at moments of utmost anguish and despair:
• As the Prophet and Abu Bakr lay hiding from their enemies in a cave outside of Mecca on way to Medina (9:40).
• As the unarmed companions of the Prophet waited in the planes of Hudaibiyya, in utter despair and growing uncertainty, for permission to enter Mecca to perform the Umra (48:4).
• As the unarmed companions of the Prophet at Hudibiyya swore allegiance to him to defend him against any attack from the Meccan army. (48:18).
• As the Muslims began to enter Mecca and the most fanatic among the Quraysh tried to resist and provoke them (48:26).
• As the Hawazins ambushed the marching Muslim forces, and scattered them into a rout (9:26).
3. Abul Kalam Azad, Tarjuman al-Qur’an, 1931; reprint New Delhi 1989, Vol.2, p. 182.
4. Muhammad al-Ghazali, Ihya ul-‘Ulum, Urdu translation by Ahsan Siddiqee, Karachi 1983, Vol.2, Chap. 2, p. 74.
5. Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi, 1984, Vol.7, Acc. 24, 54, 58, 66, 72, 79.
6. Ibid., Vol.7, Acc. 80.
7. Ibid., Vol.7, Acc. 78, 85.
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. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.