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Lesson 39

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Lesson - 39


"And women have rights similar to those against them in a just manner, and men are a degree above them. And Allah is Mighty, Wise." Ch. 2:228

An example of the purity of speech and eloquence

I have discussed this verse in two of my previous lessons. It is not only the charter of women rights, but it also establishes a balance between the rights of men and women. It, therefore deserves to be studied in great depth. I would briefly like to draw your attention towards another point. This blessed verse is a very good example of the purity of speech, and eloquence of the Holy Quran. Unfortunately, eloquence is sometimes considered to be the use of multiple superfluous words to convey a simple thought or idea. The so called eloquent speakers, or writers use difficult words of Persian and Arabic to convey simple ideas in Urdu, and a poor listener fails to comprehend. Often these words are used out of context, and do not convey the real meaning to begin with. Thus, such speakers take advantage of the ignorance of their audience or readers. In order to impress, such speakers also bring in poetic verses to assert the magic of their eloquence.

In the pre-Islamic society too, poetry was considered as the eloquent form of expression and was used to impress people. Contrary to this, the Holy Quran embraced prose as the means of its expression. Glory be to Allah! All praise is His! The like of this prose has never been written before or since. This is evidenced by the repeated challenge of the Holy Quran that if this is not the Book of Allah, let the opponents of the Holy Quran combine together to produce even one chapter in poetry or prose to match its excellence. This challenge requires the humanly produced product to meet all the qualities of the Holy Quran, including its purity of speech and eloquence. This challenge has never been met by any enemy of Islam at the time it was first given, or since. The prose of the Holy Quran excels any poetic verse. Its eloquence lies not in the use of numerous meaningless words, but in the expression of the greatest amount of meaning and wisdom in the simplest possible words. This is eloquence, in the real sense.

Take for example, the verse under discussion today. A great depth of knowledge has been expressed in a few and simple words. The thorny issue of the mutual rights of billions of men and women, which has not been solved in hundreds of years by the best minds in sociology and economics, are solved in an excellent manner in just a portion of this verse. No human being could have stated, or solved this problem in such a few and simple words.

Disruption of family order

I mentioned in the preceding lesson that the Holy Quran gives equal rights to men and women, but if a situation arises where a decision cannot be reached by mutual consensus, the Holy Quran offers the solution that under such circumstances the opinion of the husband should be accepted. The Holy Quran assigns, the responsibility of earning for the household expenditures and maintenance to the husband, and these are the issues, which frequently become the source of conflicts. Thus, if the woman of the house wants to spend beyond the man's means, or on things which are injurious to the morals, faith, chastity and honor of the woman, then the man has the right to fulfill his responsibility and his opinion should be accepted. Maulana Muhammad Ali, in his Urdu translation and commentary of the Holy Quran (Bayan-al-Quran) has written an excellent note on this verse. I would like to quote that for the reader over here:

"The Holy Quran has solved two problems in this verse in an excellent manner. It has first established the principle, that just as men have rights against women, they have similar rights against them in a just manner. As far as rights are concerned, both men and women are thus on an equal footing. This is a truth which has been ignored by all religions except Islam. In fact it has not even been fully adopted by the civilized nations today. On the other hand, a difficulty arises with equality of rights, and that has to do with the maintenance of order in family matters. Such an order cannot be maintained unless one party is given some precedence over the other. Proper family relationship and household management is the basis of the welfare of the whole human race, and the first step in the development of human civilization. Civilization means mutual coexistence and it begins with the family unit. The Holy Quran has established, that without this balance order in the family unit would be disrupted."

How perceptive is this commentary by Maulana Muhammad Ali. It has been sixty years since He wrote this, but even today in Europe and America and wherever such unnecessary liberty is taken by women, family life seems to be adversely affected. The number of divorces and separations has risen, and domestic discord is on the rise. This has adversely affected the younger generation, crime is on the rise, and has caused a great deal of anxiety amongst the intelligentsia in the society. Most people agree that this affliction has destroyed the family life. Besides criminal behavior, the use of drugs has risen, and has caused a public outcry.

I have apprised the ladies in our community, who are obsessed with freedom, about the consequences of unlimited freedom. However, they are unwilling even on some occasions to accept the opinion of their husband, despite the fact that such behavior could result in his loss of love and affection for them. For a wife there could be no greater misfortune, divorce being something that may only occur later on. It should be remembered that it is the woman who bears the brunt of the adverse consequences of a failed marriage. Because of attitude of women towards their husbands and the bitter experience of marital life, there is a tendency in men, in Europe and America to avoid marital life altogether. Men and women live together without marriage, and the relationship is broken off when desired. What has happened after sixty years in the West as a result of women's attitude towards their husbands, will occur in the East sixty years from now, if a similar course is followed. This situation is very disadvantageous for women, because not only are they treated as mistresses, but also are unable to establish a permanent home to rear children, which is their greatest natural desire.

Quranic remedy for women who desert their husbands

Some western oriented women also object to another verse of the Holy Quran in which certain injunctions are given directly to men only without reciprocity for women. The verse in question is:

"And (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion (nushuz), admonish them, and leave them alone in the beds and chastise them. So if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Surely Allah is ever Exalted, Great." (4 :34).
The answer to this is that in case of irreconcilable differences, the Holy Quran has enjoined that the opinion of the husband should be accepted. Therefore the Arabic word nushuz (which means desertion, also means rising against, in this case the husband) in light of the Quranic injunction mentioned earlier, applies only to a woman. It is only for her reformation that these measures have, therefore, been recommended. They are to be undertaken in the order recommended i.e., first counseling, then temporary suspension of marital rights, and if that is also ineffective, then chastisement. This chastisement according to the Hadith should be so light that it should merely be a means of expressing displeasure, and must not be with the intention of causing injury.

Western oriented women counter by saying that "even such a chastisement is uncivilized." To this my reply is that a civilized woman does not rise up against her husband, and even when she does, counseling is usually effective. Temporary suspension of relationship is a matter of deep concern for a rebellious wife, and usually results in reformation. The stage of chastisement is never reached. For the uncivilized woman light chastisement is effective. In Islam such a situation seldom arises. I also pointed out to them that in the western world whose culture has so greatly impressed them, spousal abuse, and that also to an extreme degree is quite common. They readily agreed with me on this point, and I appreciate their honesty in this matter.

Translator's Note:


Maulana Muhammad Ali has written an excellent note on this verse in his English translation and commentary of the Holy Quran which is being reproduced here for the reader's facility:

The word nushuz, which I have translated as desertion, primarily means rising, and as spoken of a woman in connection with her husband it means her rising against her husband. This is explained in a number of ways; according to one of these explanations it means her leaving the husband's place, and taking up an abode which he does not like (Abu Hayyan). Lane's Lexicon quotes various authorities showing that nushuz on the part of the woman means that the wife resisted her husband and hated him and deserted him. The remedy pointed out in the case of the wife's desertion is threefold. At first she is only to be admonished. If she desists, the evil is mended, but if she persists in the wrong course, her bed is to be separated. If she still persists, chastisement is permitted as a last resort (Razi). Regarding this last remedy two things must, however, be borne in mind. Firstly it is a mere permission, and sayings of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) make it clear that, though allowed, it was discouraged in practice. Thus the Holy Prophet is reported to have said, on the complaint of certain women, the ill-treatment of their husbands, "You will not find these men as the best among you" (Abu Dawud, 12:42 ). According to Shafi, it is preferable not to resort to chastisement of the wife (Razi). In fact, as the injunctions of the Quran are wide in their scope, the example of the Holy Prophet, and his constant exhortations for kind treatment towards women, so much so that he made a man's good treatment of his wife the gauge of his goodness in general — the best of you is he who is best to his wife — show clearly that this permission is meant only for that type of men and women who belong to a low grade of society. Secondly, even this permission cannot be adopted indiscriminately, for sayings of the Holy Prophet make it quite evident that chastisement, when resorted to in extreme cases, must be very slight. Ibn Abbas says, "it may be with a tooth-brush, or something like it" (Abu Hayyan). The Holy Prophet is reported to have said, "You have a right in the matter of your wives that they do not allow anyone whom you do not like to come into your houses; if they do this, chastise them in such a manner that it should not leave an impression" (Tirimizi, 10:11). Thus very slight chastisement was allowed only in extreme cases.

End of quote from Maulana Muhammad Ali.

Testimony of a woman in Islam

Another question frequently asked by women is, " Is it correct that in Islam the testimony of a woman is equivalent to half that of a man?" My answer is that the Holy Quran has instructed only on one occasion in reference to witnessing debt records, that if one man is not available to witness, two women could witness instead (2:282). The reason for this is also given in the same verse, "so that if one errs, the other one may remind her." This, in fact, is a Divine favor for women, because they are not usually very well versed in complexities of financial transactions and the lawyers may confuse them, and make their testimony appear suspicious. Another instruction implied in the Quranic statement, "so that if one errs, the other one may remind her," is that both female witnesses should appear together in the court, so that they are not awe-inspired, or brow beaten by the attorneys, particularly during technical cross examinations of cases involving financial transactions.

In other situations, where financial complexities are not involved, the Holy Quran discusses the acceptable number of witnesses without reference to their sex, and does not mention that a male witness is equal to two female witnesses. This follows from the fact that under ordinary circumstances, only the truthfulness of the testimony is the essential requisite, and the Holy Quran has repeatedly mentioned the women to be truthful. I quote only one such verse:

" …..and the truthful men and the truthful women…" (33:35).
Here truthfulness of man and woman is mentioned as being equal. If there is a situation when only one woman is available as a witness, even in matters involving financial transactions, there is no restriction in accepting her testimony, for as far as truthfulness goes, both men and women are on equal footing. If she forgets, she will not have a helper to remind her, but this will not make her testimony inadmissible. In cases where a crime has been committed against a woman, or a woman is a witness to a crime, the Holy Quran does not debar her testimony, or says that it is equivalent to half that of a man. In case of a wife accusing a husband, or vice versa, or in case of slander, the Holy Quran has given equal credibility to a male, or a female witness. I do not want to involve myself in a discussion of what opinion the jurists formed afterwards. I only want evidence and confirmation from the Holy Quran.

The marriage of a Muslim woman to a 'follower of the Book'

Finally another question asked by the western oriented ladies is that if a Muslim man can marry a woman from amongst the followers of the Book [Jews, Christians, and other believers in a revealed book before Islam], then why is it that a Muslim woman cannot do the same? In reply to this I would like to state that ordinarily it is the husband who is the dominant figure in the household. If a Muslim woman therefore marries a non Muslim man, her faith, culture and existence as a Muslim can be in jeopardy. Further, children are generally identified through the race and religion of their father (and not of the mother), and in later life, continue to follow the religion of their father. That is why the Holy Quran frequently blames the non-Muslims that they blindly follow the religion of their forefathers. The children of a man who is the follower of the Book will, therefore be considered, and will remain as followers of the Book. Because of this danger, a Muslim woman, who has even a small degree of faith in Allah in her heart, and who fears the accountability in the Hereafter, will not like to be married to a man who is a follower of the Book. I am grateful that the western oriented Muslim ladies generally concede this point.

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