Nineteenth Call: Prohibition of Abusing Women
Prohibition of Abusing Women
Almighty Allah says (what can be translated as): “O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion. And do not make difficulties for them in order to take [back] part of what you gave them unless they commit a clear immorality. And live with them in kindness. For if you dislike them - perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good. But if you want to replace one wife with another and you have given one of them a great amount [in gifts], do not take [back] from it anything. Would you take it in injustice and manifest sin? And how could you take it while you have gone in unto each other and they have taken from you a solemn covenant?” (An-Nisaa: 19-21)
Before Islam, people used to treat women as if she is a property or inheritance, if a man dies that means his heirs have more rights to marry his widow without a dowry (according to the concept of Islam it is called Mahr or Sadaq)1 or even her consent. She was treated as a sort of inheritance that the husband left behind upon death. His heirs might marry her if they wanted or they might give her in marriage to someone else, they might also ban her from getting married. So, they were acting like they have rights on her more than her family. So, Allah Almighty has revealed this verse to revoke this oppressing treatment.
In this verse, Allah commands men not to harm women and not to treat them with harshness in order to get back the mahr they paid for them or even part of their rights over them. Men should not also take anything of women’s property or inheritance by means of compulsion and harshness.
Yet, if a woman commits adultery then the man can get back the mahr that he paid. He can also put pressure on her till she gives him his right (that means he can only use that method if she commits adultery). In case of not committing any fornication, then men are commanded by Allah to live with women in kindness. That means to be kind to her in words and deeds, even if they hate them because perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes in this thing a lot of goodness for you. This goodness might be that this woman gives birth to a child that becomes a leader or great figure. She can also be the source of his happiness because of her good nature and faith.
A man might want to leave his wife because he hates her and does not have any patience to be with her, or because he wants to replace her with another wife while she did not commit any immorality such as fornication. If this man gave her a great amount of wealth or gifts, he should never take back from it anything. On the contrary, he has to pay her all her rights and what he promised her even if it was a big amount of money. Then Allah Almighty condemns the sinful men who accuse their wives with immorality in order to intimidate the wives so that they feel afraid and they avoid this evil targeted against them by renouncing the mahr for the husbands who accuse them in injustice and manifest sin.
Almighty Allah repeats his condemnation of men who think of taking anything of what they have given to women as mahr or sadaq. So, Allah says to them: How come you accept to take anything of what you have given to women, whether part of the mahr or all of it. Would you still accept to take it in injustice and sin? How could you take it while the connection between you as a couple has been affirmed by the most vital and solemn covenant? Both of you are like garments to each other and you have gone in unto each other through the physical relationship. So, both of you have completed each other. Allah has taken a covenant from you that you will keep them as your wives with kindness or you will divorce them also with kindness if you have to.
At the time of Jahiliyyah (the pre-Islamic era), before Islam rescues humanity from ignorance and elevates it to an honorable status, if a man died then his custodians would have the right to inherit his wife as they inherit cattle and properties. If they want, they could marry her or they could give her in marriage to another in return for a dowry as if they sell cattle or belongings. Or they might make it more difficult for her by keeping her at home until she can buy her freedom by paying something for them.
At some cases, if the husband died his custodian would come and throw his garment on the widow and by this act he bans anyone of having her and she would belong to him like booty or spoils of war. If she was beautiful, they he might marry her and if she was ugly then he would keep her like an inheritance and she could buy her freedom in return for money! If the wife could hurry to her family’s house before her husband’s custodian reaches her to throw his garment on her, then she would be rescued from him and liberated herself.
Some of them would divorce their wives on the condition that she would only marry the one he approves so that she redeems herself by paying what he gave her whether all or some of it. Some of them would take the widow whose husband just died and keep her for a young boy they have until he grows up and then he can take her and her money.
All these harsh methods of dealing with women do not agree with the kind treatment that Islam dictates men to use with women, for they are the other half that completes men. This unkind treatment from a husband towards his wife is a humiliation for the humanity of the woman and the humanity of the man on equal basis. It turns the relationship between the two sexes into a sort of trade or even something worse.
Islam elevates marital relationship from this low position to the high kind standard that fits the dignity of humans because Allah has honored them and favored them over the rest of his creations. So, this elevation of the relationship of marriage that humanity has never known before except from this kind source is based on the Islamic concept of humans and the human life.
Islam prohibits inheriting women like cattle or commodity, it also prohibits treating them with harshness as a method to harm them, unless they commit adultery and that was before the establishment of the prescribed punishment of fornication. Islam gives the woman the freedom to choose their spouse whether when she marries for the first time or later and whether she iss a virgin, divorced or widowed. Islam makes it an obligation on the man to treat and live with his wife in kindness and cordiality even if he hates her, unless living with her becomes difficult for him. At this point Allah teaches Muslims to trust the knowledge and wisdom of Allah that we sometimes do not fully realize or know so that the person does not respond to his initial emotions of hating his wife and accordingly he might leave her. Allah encourages men to reconsider these emotions as they do not know; maybe there is a lot of goodness in what he hates while he does not know. May be this goodness is hidden and not clear yet, so if he calms down and control his feelings, he might find this goodness later in his wife.
“O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion. And do not make difficulties for them in order to take [back] part of what you gave them unless they commit a clear immorality. And live with them in kindness. For if you dislike them - perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good.”
This last touch in the verse attaches the spirit of the believer to Allah and accordingly the outburst of anger calms down and the intensity of hatred cools off. Then, the person can think carefully and contemplate his feelings so that the relationship of marriage does not become the subject of anger like a feather in the wind. Based on this reminder, the marriage relationship becomes fastened with the solemn covenant. It is a covenant that links the heart of the believer to his Lord so it is the strongest and most enduring covenant.
Islam looks to the house as a stability, security and safety and looks at the relationship between the married couple as intimacy, mercy and amiability, it also establishes this relationship on the absolute freedom so that the marriage will be strengthened by compassion, love and approval. It is also Islam that tells the husbands: “For if you dislike them - perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good.” This guidance aims to strengthen the covenant of marriage so that it does not unfasten against the first feeling or emotion, this way it will not be liable to break down upon facing the first impulse. This saves the seriousness of this huge human institution (marriage), it does not make marriage subject to any emotional fluctuating whim or idiotic thought that might occur to people.
Indeed, how marvelous are the words of Omar ibn al-Khatab (RA) when a man came to him and told him that he wanted to divorce his wife because he disliked her, Omar (RA) said, “Woe to you! Are families only built on love? Where is your consideration and care?”
Indeed, how cheap are the words that the narrow-minded people use to justify their actions with “love”! By love they refer to every shaky whim or fantasy. In the name of love, they permit the separation of the married couple and the destruction of the marriage institution. They also permit the wife to cheat on her husband because she does not love him and they permit the husband to cheat on his wife because he does not love her?!
Nothing preoccupies these trivial souls more than their uncontrolled whims and wild lusts. Certainly, it does not even occur to them that there is more in life than the low thinking they blindly hang to such as unselfishness, nobleness, patience and endurance. It is also certain that they do not think of Allah because they are far away from him due to their deluding Jahiliyyah! This is why, they do not even feel or realize what Allah says to the believers: “For if you dislike them - perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good.”
Only belief can raise spirits and cares, it raises the human life from the beastly caprice, the dealer’s greed and the meaningless triviality.
If it turns out that life is unbearable between the couple after a lot of patience, endurance, forbearance and attempts of reconciliation and if separation is the only solution so that they marry another one, then the divorced woman should keep her mahr and any money she inherited. Men should never take back any of her due rights even if it was a heap of gold. Taking any of her mahr or sadaq is a manifest injustice and doubtless sin: “But if you want to replace one wife with another and you have given one of them a great amount [in gifts], do not take [back] from it anything. Would you take it in injustice and manifest sin?”
Then the Qur’an adds a spiritual sentiment when it refers to the marital life in an amazing expression:
“And how could you take it while you have gone in unto each other and they have taken from you a solemn covenant?”
The Qur’an uses the Arabic verb “Afda” that is translated in English as “gone into each other”. It does not have a specific object in the sentence so that it refers to unlimited meanings or implications. It refers to everything that a couple may share in their marriage; it does not stop at the physical limits. It embraces all the feelings, emotions, secrets, concerns, sentiments and all types of things exchanged between the couple. The verb pictures tens of images of the marital life they share at the morning and evening. Tens of memories experienced under the shades of this institution that combined them for a period of time. It implies every feeling of love and every look of passion. It refers to every physical touch and mutual feelings of pains and hopes. It is every thought of the present and the future. It refers to every yearning to the past and every meeting that happened between them.
This momentum of feelings, visualizations, shades, friendliness, emotions and passions is painted in this amazing expression: “while you have gone in unto each other.” So, the small materialistic desire will fade out beside this reminder of their shared life. Accordingly at the time of the sorrowful separation, the man would feel too shy to ask for what he paid as mahr when his mind remembers and retrieves this pile of past images and memories of living together as a married couple.
This gathering of images, feelings and passions contains another reminder for the man: “and they have taken from you a solemn covenant?”
It is the covenant of marriage in the Name of Allah and following His religion. It is a solemn covenant that must not be insulted or violated by the heart of the believer. Allah addresses the believers; He calls them with the character that distinguishes them the most which is belief to respect the solemn covenant of marriage.
(1) Al-Mahr or As-Sadaq: This is the bride's marriage portion paid to her by the groom. It represents his commitment to take care of all the family expenses, including her personal expenses. It should be specified and any value is acceptable. Al-Mahr and As-Sadaq are different than the concept of dowries paid in pre-Islamic societies.