Turning equity into equality in marriage

I mentioned in a previous post that I think that men and women are equal in religion – even though women menstruate and are thus not allowed to pray or fast while menstruating[i].

However, the social injunctions in Islam (Quran, Sunnah and Hadith) may not treat women and men equally even though the treatment of women was still very progressive for its time. In the eyes of Allah, all believers whether they are men or women are equal, but in the eyes of human beings there is always social hierarchy. I would like to deal with some aspects of social life between men and women in separate posts and would like to learn from you how you, feminists who are Muslim, deal with those issues.

The first important aspect I thought is marriage. I will not go into details which you already know, but will simply point out why I felt that there is equity in Islamic marriage but not necessarily equality (please correct me if I am wrong). Support for my conclusions is provided in footnotes.

From a sexual point of view, men and women are called each other’s garments (2:187) which is a wonderful thought and one that puts them on an equal level in terms of sexual enjoyment.  There are numerous hadith that tell men to be kind towards their wives and treat them with love and dignity. There are also hadith that women have rights over their husbands (Sahih Bukhari, Vol.7, No. 127).

However, in social hierarchy there are always some rights given even to those who are ‘maintained’ by the ‘maintainers.’ The point to note is the vocabulary that is used in Quran and Hadith to refer to the relationship between men and women. As Khan also noted in his book, men are asked to treat women with ‘kindness’ (Quran 4:19; 2:231), whereas women are told to be ‘obedient’ in the Quran (4:34) and in hadith.[ii]


In Muslim marriage one ‘partner’ can marry up to four times while the other can’t in which case it is not a partnership. Muslim men can also marry Jewish and Christian women (although at least a hadith of Ibn Umar in Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 63, Number 209 bans it). Men were also allowed to keep as many female slaves as they could financially afford, with whom they were allowed to have sex. This practice continued openly well up to the 20th century and even now there are Muslim men in some countries where slavery persists (like Sudan) who cohabit with their slaves and consider it permissible under Quranic law. Men also don’t have to seek permission from or inform their existing wives before marrying again.

Muslim women the other hand can have only one husband at a time. That husband has to be Muslim. They can own male slaves but can’t cohabit with them or mingle with them. Only eunuchs were allowed to enter the women’s sections of the houses in the past.

There is evidence that multiple marriages were based on social status so for example the female section of a ruler’s house (called the Harem – meaning, an area out of bounds for strangers) was always busy. There is also historical evidence that Muslim rulers did marry more than four times at a time and also had several concubines.

This also has effects on the crime of adultery since if a man is influential he will have ample access to women through multiple marriages and concubines and will not feel the need to commit adultery hence he is protected and helped by a system not to sin. (I recall explaining to a feminist friend once that men too must guard their chastity except from their wives and female slaves which left her yelling out at me in exasperation – “what is left of chastity after so much sex?!”)

Adultery then becomes the crime of the poor men, and married women because on the flip side allowing men to keep so many women makes women more vulnerable to look for attention elsewhere if their husbands are always busy with other women.

However, since women are advised to veil, stay at home and not mingle with strangers that possibility is reduced and a system is in place to ensure that they do not err. Similarly, Mahr creates a feeling of obligation in women not to cheat. There are other rules in place to minimize the chances of women cheating on their husbands[iii].


Mahr is the dowry that a man gives a woman upon marriage in Islam. Mahr was also called Sadak in early times and in pre-Islamic Arabia it was a payment given to the bride’s guardian as a bridal price. After Islam and the migration to Medina the law was passed that even though marriage contract (ahd) was still (at least in theory) between the groom and the wali (bride’s guardian) Mahr would only be given to the bride and not her wali. However, the basic meaning of Mahr did not change which was the price for sex:

Sahih Bukhari – Volume 7, Book 62, Number 81:

Narrated ‘Uqba: The Prophet said: “The stipulations most entitled to be abided by are those with which you are given the right to enjoy the women’s private parts (i.e. the Mahr).”

In verse 24 of chapter 4 as well the word used for Mahr is “ojoorahunna” meaning wages/alimony/fees given to the women because men have “istamtatum” (enjoyed/used/benefitted from) them. According to another hadith quoted in E.J. Brill’s first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Volume 2 (page 137) is that “every marriage without Mahr is null and void.” If a groom does not have money to pay the price for what he “enjoys”, he cannot consummate his marriage[iv].

Mahr is only given to free women who own their “private parts” before marriage; Mahr is not required to be given to slaves whose private parts are the property of the masters.  And women who gave themselves to men didn’t necessarily receive dowry either.

Men, on the other hand, are not paid by women for access to their ‘private parts.’

Age at marriage

In Islam the ‘official’ age of puberty for boys is 15 years and for girls it is nine years. This means that a boy younger than 15 years cannot enter into a bond of marriage (and there is actually no record of teenage boys getting married) where as girls as young as nine or even younger were allowed to be married off by their guardians. This is also confusing since in Islam a girl is supposed to give consent to her marriage whereas such age is quite young even for girls to give sound consent. There is ample evidence[v] that Umm Kulthum (daughter of Ali and Fatima) was a very little girl when she was married to Umar Ibn Khattab.


Divorce laws differ from one Muslim community to the other. In early Islam divorce was a very simple and a straightforward procedure. Technically a man can divorce a woman by simply uttering (or smsing!) “I divorce you” three times whereas a woman does not have that right. Moreover, if the divorced couple wants to get together after their final divorce they cannot do so if the woman is married to another man unless that man first has sex with her and then divorces her. If the woman is not married to another man then she cannot return to the first husband.


The temporary marriage is also a system that satisfied the sexual needs of men and financial needs of women since it is not a system for the gratification of women but for the gratification men.[vi] If women are abundant and men are scarce, then men are allowed polygyny. If men are abundant and women are scarce, Mutah is allowed.

Death of a spouse

If a Muslim man’s wife dies he is to mourn her death for three days after which he can resume his life normally and even remarry. Whereas not only is a Muslim woman not allowed to marry for up to four months after the death of her husband, she also must mourn for four months[vii].

Implications for Muslim Feminists

There are Muslim countries where polygyny is banned – Tunisia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey, and Indonesia. There are other countries where there are heavy restrictions on it like in Morocco, Syria and Egypt.

In South Asian Muslim communities Mahr has taken a completely new meaning. It is used as a ‘maintenance fund’ in case the husband dies or divorces the woman. Usually the Mahr is exorbitant in such marriages and is not given to the woman but exists as a huge sum on the marriage contract and is given only if the man divorces the woman. This does prevent some men from divorcing their wives without reason. It also helps a woman to survive for a while if she is divorced or widowed.

Many Muslim countries are now banning marriage of young girls. Yemen however is one Muslim country where majority of the girls are married off very young and the government is reluctant to ban child marriage.

Muslims are also getting stricter about allowing men to arbitrarily divorce their wives and most Muslim countries now demand that the couple go through proper court procedure to get divorced. Khula (divorce initiated by women) is still difficult in most Muslim societies. In Egypt, at least, khula is granted to a woman only if she returns the Mahr even if her husband has “enjoyed her private parts.”

Mutah is now practiced only in some Shia communities. Ismaili Shias strictly prohibit it. In Iran it has taken a new form where men ‘marry’ women for as little as 10-20 minutes for quick sex. They settle on a price for sex, a few verses are recited from the Quran and the couple proceeds to have sex. After that the couple can go off their own ways.

In some Muslim communities, women are finding it hard to commit to the four months iddah (waiting/mourning period) after the death of their husbands especially if they are working women and have little or no support from family. With scientific advancement women can know very early if they are pregnant and a long waiting period after divorce of widowhood makes little sense in today’s world. But there are still traditional families who insist that a woman stay indoors and does not even come in front of strangers for full four months.

My questions to you are:

  1. How much do all these Islamic laws affect you personally? How much value do you see in them today in the 21st century?
  2. Do you think these are religious commandments that are carved in stone or were these social laws that need to change with time?
  3. Which of these laws are you happy to follow without change and why? Which laws do you think need to change and why?
  4. How hard do you think it is to talk to clerics and make them understand that society is not static; how do you think a change in these laws can be brought about?
  5. Finally, do you think that a set of revised and standardized universal Islamic laws for gender equality for all Muslims of the 21st Century will serve the community better? If yes, who should revise and lay down those laws?

[i] Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 6, Number 321:

Narrated Aiyub: Hafsa said, ‘We used to forbid our young women to go out for the two ‘Id prayers. A woman … once asked the Prophet, ‘Is there any harm for any of us to stay at home if she doesn’t have a veil?’ He said, ‘She should cover herself with the veil of her companion and should participate in the good deeds and in the religious gathering of the Muslims.’ When Um ‘Atiya came I asked her whether she had heard it from the Prophet. She replied, “Yes. I have heard the Prophet saying, ‘The unmarried young virgins and the mature girl who stay often screened or … the menstruating women should come out and participate in the good deeds as well as the religious gathering of the faithful believers but the menstruating women should keep away from the Musalla (praying place).’ ” Hafsa asked Um ‘Atiya surprisingly, “Do you say the menstruating women?” She replied, “Doesn’t a menstruating woman attend ‘Arafat (Hajj) and such and such (other deeds)?”

[ii] Volume 7, Book 62, Number 128:

Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: The Prophet said, “All of you are guardians and are responsible for your wards. The ruler is a guardian and the man is a guardian of his family; the lady is a guardian and is responsible for her husband’s house and his offspring; and so all of you are guardians and are responsible for your wards.”

[iii] it is the Prophet’s tradition that if someone marries a virgin and he has already an older wife then he should stay for seven days with her (the virgin) and then by turns; and if someone marries a widow/divorcee and he has already a virgin wife then he should stay with her (the widow/divorcee) for three days, and then by turns (Volume 7, Book 62, Number 141)

[iv] In the History of Al-Tabari: Biographies of the Prophet’s Companions and Their Successors, translated by Ella Landau-Tasseron [State University of New York Press, Albany 1998], Volume 39, pp. 171-173, there is a narration that the Prophet had married Aisha but was postponing consummating their marriage so Abu Bakr asked the Prophet, “O Messenger of God, what prevents you from consummating the marriage with your wife?” The Prophet said “The bridal gift (sadaq).” Abu Bakr gave him the bridal gift, twelve and a half ounces [of gold], and the Prophet consummated his marriage. In the footnote it says, “It is not clear whether Abu Bakr pays him this sum as dowry (from guardian to groom) or gives the Prophet the money to pay the bridal gift because the Prophet was short of cash.”

[v] (see Al Istiab Volume 4 page 492; Tareekh Baghdad Volume 6 page 182; Asad al Ghaybah fi Marifathul Sahaba Volume 5 page 367; Tareekh Khamees Volume 2 page 384 Dhikr Umm Kalthum; Tabaqat ibn Sa’d Volume 8 page 463 Dhikr Umm Kalthum; Zakhair al Akba pages 168 and 169; Sawaiqh al Muhriqa page 94; Al Isaba Volume 4 page 321; and Asaaf al Ghaneen page 162)

[vi] Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 51:

Narrated Abu Jamra: I heard Ibn Abbas (giving a verdict) when he was asked about the Mut’a with the women, and he permitted it (Nikah-al-Mut’a). On that a freed slave of his said to him, “That is only when it is very badly needed and women are scarce.” On that, Ibn ‘Abbas said, “Yes.”

[vii] Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 6, Number 310:

Narrated Um-‘Atiya: We were forbidden to mourn for a dead person for more than three days except in the case of a husband for whom mourning was allowed for four months and ten days. (During that time) we were not allowed to put kohl (Antimony eye power) in our eyes or to use perfumes or to put on colored clothes except a dress made of ‘Asb (a kind of Yemen cloth, very coarse and rough). We were allowed very light perfumes at the time of taking a bath after menses and also we were forbidden to go with the funeral procession.


46 thoughts on “Turning equity into equality in marriage

  1. Zuhura says:

    Another great post, Metis!

    1. These laws don’t affect me personally because thankfully I don’t live under Islamic law. My partner has agreed to never marry additional wives and if he breaks that agreement we will divorce. We are married under US law so I have the right to divorce him. I think mahr is a nice tradition, but since my partner comes from a poor family in a “third world” country my mahr was a Qur’an and $10, a symbolic gift. I hate the idea that it’s payment for use of a women sexually, but I like the idea of it as a marriage gift, especially in societies (like my partner’s) where it replaced the previous system (of the husband’s paying a dowry to the bride’s family, which had to be returned upon divorce, but was often spent and thus prevented women from divorcing). Marriage at puberty makes sense in premodern societies but no longer. I see mutah as simply prostitution that (some) Muslims have tried to justify by finding ways to make it seem “Islamic.” I didn’t know that men’s mourning time is meant to be different than women’s — that doesn’t make sense to me at all.

    2. I don’t believe any of these are timeless commandments; all of them are tied to the time and place of the early Muslims.

    3. Mahr is the only one I follow, or would follow, for the reasons I gave above.

    4. I have no contact with clerics but orthodox Islam seems pretty resistant to change.

    5. Absolutely. But since Islam has no centralized leadership, and localized leadership systematically excludes women, I don’t see how that could ever come about.

    • Metis says:

      Thanks Zuhura! Really enjoyed reading your comment especially point 1 which I think is the perfect manner to get married. My Mahr was decided by my dad which he thought should be according to Shariah and it amounted to nothing more than $10 as well so I ate ice cream with it!

      I quite like the modern meaning Mahr is taken in some communities where it is paid only if/when a man divorces his wife.

      I think the mourning period is different for men and women because as soon as a woman dies the nikah is dissolved and the woman’s dead body becomes haraam for the husband to see or touch, whereas if a man dies the nikah does not dissolve for four months. A woman can bathe her husband’s dead body if required and is officially his widow for four months.So if she is in mourning, she is not attractive to other men who might possibly see her sometime.

  2. Zuhura says:

    PS: I don’t think women are meant to be obedient to their husbands, but rather to God. See my post on Qur’an 4:34 at http://muslimfeminist.blogspot.com/search/label/obedience

    • Metis says:

      I used to believe that too and had actually written a whole article for an online Quran magazine (if you recall Lat?) arguing that the qanitat refers to obedience to Allah rather than human beings. But I have revised my understanding and my copy of the translation/commentary.

      The verse is often translated as:

      Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, Great (above you all).

      The word that now sticks out to me (and didn’t in the past) is ‘therefore.’ ‘Therefore’ is written as ‘fa’ in ‘fa-alssalihatu’ and it describes a cause and effect situation – because men have been given more they are the protectors of women and because they are the protectors, women must be righteous and obedient. ‘Nushuz’ is rebellion/uprising/opposition and is an action related to obedience.

      Men and women are equal in religion; in religion men are not superior to women or haven’t been given more of religion. It is not their business (especially a husband’s) how a woman conducts her religious life. Moreover, obedience is also related to guarding their chastity/secrets/home in their husband’s absence. A man who fears that his wife is being disobedient which may result in her not guarding her chastity/his secrets is ordered to discipline her. Having said that, according to this verse at least, obedience is only linked to being sincere in marriage; it does not mean that a woman must obey a man like a slave.

      The word qanitat is used in verse 66:5 as well. That verse was revealed when the wives of the Prophet plotted against him ‘disobeyed’ him (by NOT guarding a secret he had asked not to be revealed) so Allah threatened them with the possibility of a divorce supplanting them with more devout and more ‘obedient’ women. In that incident the prophet had followed all the steps of discipline as outlined in 4:34. He first admonished them, then removed himself from them for 29 days during which time they repented or else they would have been divorced. Once they repented, the Prophet pardoned them as outlined in 4:34.

      I don’t know if any scholar relates these verses together (has there been anyone who saw the link?) whereas I think 4:34 stems from the problem discussed in 66:5 and it is possible that the two verses were revealed around the same time.

      • Lat says:

        I’ve read that the word qanitat is used in many instances in the Quran to mean obedience to Allah.So why depart when husbands are mentioned? Pious women and men are equal in religion as you said.Pious women do not act unchaste in any circumstances (unless they are framed or something) and “what Allah would have them guard” is the key word here.Is it not? It doesn’t say what the husbands would have them guard.Afterall it’s their property.Just my 3 cents 🙂

      • Metis says:

        Yes, some form of the word is used several times and in all cases it means devoutly obedient and one is only devoutly obedient to God. But in the two cases 2:256 and 66:5 it brings in a human agent as well where punishment or at least discipline is based upon the judgment of the human agent and not God. Plus, ” guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard” is a wrong translation. The correct translation is “keep the secrets like Allah has kept them.” I *think* the injunction is to guard secrets of the husband. There is a huge emphasis on guarding husband’s secrets in hadith as well with numerous ahadith telling women not to discuss husband’s secrets or his weaknesses in public. Perhaps it is more than chastity?

        My own interpretation for years was on the lines of Yuksel but I now read the verse as:

        Men are in charge of women because Allah has given the one more than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and keep the secrets like Allah has kept them. If you fear rebellion or ill conduct from the women, admonish them, refuse to share their beds, and beat/abandon them; but if they return to obedience, pardon them: For Allah is Most High, Great.

        But certainly I can be completely wrong and I accept that.

  3. Lat k says:

    I too believe that 4:34 refers to women being obedient to Allah not husbands or men as the words used in the verse like salihat and qanitat should refer to Allah first and foremost as true devotion should be.

    And I agree that when men have more than one wife then the marriage is not a ‘partnership’. I find it weird that some scholars cite the biological issue as proof for wanting polygny for men.For biologically women are also not meant for destiny to stay with just one man if we were to adopt the lifestyles of polygamous male groups in animals.Monogamous female animals, so far as I’ve seen and read,only mate with monogamous males for life unless the partner dies.Gorillas and lions do have many female mates in their pride but these females may not necessarily be monagomous.They will mate with another male if opportunity arises and produce an offspring as a result.They remain ‘monogamous’ because of the constant look out by the dorminant male to keep errant males out which seems to be the case here as well.

    Because men are not endowed with the womb,they need not be literally responsible for the nurturing of the child.That’s why they can easily get out of messy situations like pregnancy as proof for fornication or adultery in some muslim nations.This is grossly unfair to charge a pregnant female while letting the male go scot free.So laws need to be changed to this regard.

    I understand that muslim rulers esp in the past were allowed to marry more than 4 times.And that makes the law not standard for all,does it? One law for the rich and the other for the poor.And this gives room for arguement for monogamy since the law was not standardize for all.

    The mahr here isn’t exorbitant.The Malays request for a market standard price where I think it stands around 7000 to 10 000 now.And they can give it in installments.But you must understand that unlike Indians and many patriachial settings,Malay grooms leave their homes and stay with the brides! So whatever money that he earns does in a way go to the expenditure of the wife’s family.I’m sure they also take care of their parents as well.That’s one thing I like about the Malays traditional concept of marriage.A girl need not leave her home after marriage 🙂 She can fight her case if she was forced because it’s against her culture.

    The highest mahr price so far that I’ve seen in an Indian Muslim marriage is $1000.In many cases it’s only $101.Don’t ask me about the one dollar! 😀 It’s still an enigma to me!.So this petty amount doesn’t come into any divorce settlement.Divorce is taken care of in the muslim courts and any compensation or alimony due to the wife and children are undertaken after proceedings that the judge decides.In normal circumstances,the wife and chilldren do get compensation.If husbands do not pay,then the law makes sure they do!

    My contract agreement is rather simple.But as far as I know whatever my husband owns is mine 😀 So far I’ve not encountered any major muslim issues so far.Our secular govt eventhougth it allows the muslim court to deal with family issues,it will interfere with any rules that go against the acceptable norm in our country.

    Laws that affect us in all the spheres you mention definitely need change as the world is not the same as the first muslim community lived.The clerics still have some power here but there seems to be some changes made in the various fields but more needs to be done.I still think that by doing so in no way will we lose our muslim identity.Stupid fatwas should stop making rounds and help people make intelligent decisions for themselves.

    Having a revised set and standardized Islamic laws should be fine as long as they meet the peoples’ need to stay faithful and morally true.People of the 21 Century should make the decisions based on the current climatic conditions not the 7th Century caliphars.It’s true that they’ve laid the foundations for the river for the water to flow but waters do not stay in the same river.They keep flowing. I read somewere that the word sharia has a meaning of a river,does it? 🙂

    • Metis says:

      Oh please don’t apologise! The longer, the better!

      You said, “Our secular govt eventhougth it allows the muslim court to deal with family issues,it will interfere with any rules that go against the acceptable norm in our country.”

      Is that a good thing in your opinion or a bad thing? Do Muslim men and Muslim women feel differently about this interference from secular government?

      “In the Malays traditional concept of marriage.A girl need not leave her home after marriage”

      Wow! I know there are some Arab tribes that do that still and they are matrilineal so children are called by their mothers name so for example a boy would be called Muhammad Ibn Amina. I absolutely love that because it is after all women who through the pains of bringing a child into this world. I like the Malay culture. Must get a Malay boy for my daughter!

      “People of the 21 Century should make the decisions based on the current climatic conditions not the 7th Century caliphars.”

      Very poignant!

      Yes, in old Arabic Sharia meant the way that leads to the source of water 🙂

      • Lat says:

        “Is that a good thing in your opinion or a bad thing? Do Muslim men and Muslim women feel differently about this interference from secular government?”

        The situation is fragile.But with a quite a number of Malays in the present govt,they help to defuse any tensions that could arise because of religious issues.Mostly Malays here are very peace loving,modern even ultra modern and understanding people.

        1.There was the hijab issue that gave rise to some discontentment to the Malays.A few of the Malay parents wanted their daughters to wear hijab to secular schools where rules of dressing are very clearly drawn out.Their insistence made the headlines and became a talking point for some weeks.The already fulled madrasah schools couldn’t take in anymore students and so the parents were told to be patient for next year’s enrollment.Then the matter got big when Malaysian papers started to join in and claim that the govt was being anti-Islamic.

        2. A secular school wanted to run a 100% halal canteen.For muslims it was a happy deal.But this caused some unhappiness for some Chinese parents who were worried if their children can bring packed food that may contain pork ,cause this may not be accepted by some muslims who are halal consious.The school dropped the idea afterall.

        3.Inheritance issues.There’s one case where the muslim court ruled that a certain amount of property ( I think it’s a house)almost half of it,had to go to some muslim organisation after a man’s death .Can’t remember the details for this claim.But I know that the govt overruled it and gave the half to the wife instead.when a man dies,his property goes to the person he norminated unless he specified it otherwise.

        There have been tricky issues,no doubt.So far it’s muslim men who are at the forefront in these issues claiming this and that.Basically muslim women are not marginalised here.If they feel otherwise they can always appeal.

  4. Lat k says:

    I’m so sorry for the long comment,Metis!

  5. Shawna says:

    The only issue that affected me here is my parents had a temporary marriage prior to their permanent marriage. My dad is Shi’a. They had the marriage done in order to date and get to know each other better. He was in the US with no family and she had no access to a wali and was not Muslim at the time. To my understanding, they upgraded the terms of their contract (renegotiated) to be able to spend time alone, hold hands, etc. Further regarding marriage: I know the mahr ($20,000 paid upon divorce) actually kept my parents together more than once.

    I do believe nearly all practices with regards to sex and marriage need to be reexamined because Islam should reflect the times. Slavery and concubinage should be allotted their place as relics. Multiple wives should only happen when their is great need (to keep women and children safe/supported in times of crisis due to war). I can understand polygyny as a beginning to religion, but not the way it has been continued.

    As far as divorce, I learned that a woman can divorce her husband by purposefully withholding sex for 3 months. I learned that in a class on Islam and it came from Shafi fiqh, but I sadly do not have any references handy. When I find the book in my room, insha’Allah I’ll post the title and reference.

    Once, my dad was sharing this book on Shi’a Islam with me. It was written by a man who converted to Sunni Islam, then really got into some research. As he waded deeper into the ahadith, he began reading them in a different light. The result was that he became Shi’a. I began reading the book to bond with my father. I was reading and nodding away at this and that until I got to a passage that stated what the author was thinking when he read the research he’d just summed up. His conclusions were, to my mind, incredibly hateful. He hated the Companions and believed early Muslims to have agreed. He believed the Prophet (saws) scorned them.

    It was a horrible and powerful moment to find that the very statements that endeared these men and women to my heart were the same statements that perverted this man’s heart toward them. I know longer speak with my father about Sunni and Shi’a. It’s too painful to know that he agrees with this man.

    The point here is that the same words reaped different results. It all depends on the state of the vessel into which they are poured. So I’m for reform, because I think, not that these vessels before were damaged, but there are new vessels that need to be filled.

    Vote for reform. 😉

    • Metis says:

      “As far as divorce, I learned that a woman can divorce her husband by purposefully withholding sex for 3 months.”

      That is interesting! I would love to know more about it if you have the time. I never heard that before. In most circles it would be blasphemous to even say that since women are taught that they’d be cursed by angels all the time they refuse to sleep with their husbands.

      “So I’m for reform, because I think, not that these vessels before were damaged, but there are new vessels that need to be filled.”

      Very well said. You spoke my mind in a manner I couldn’t.

  6. Sumera says:

    I found out in Pakistan it is common to have a large mahr (potentially unafforable by the groom) in order to deter divorce! There they had no concept of actually giving the woman mahr before this point.

    Re Polygyny – I believe becuase it was a practised custom at the time, it was not seen as anything strange or bad. But times change and norms change, so polygyny for most societies in this day and age is a foreign concept – it should not be seen as the norm, for monogamy is more common. And this kind of arrangement isnt for everyone – just because there is dispensation for it in Islam doesn’t make it an outright obligation for all the men to engage in! Also since lineage was a very important thing for the people of that time, it was imperative for them they knew who the father of a child was – so perhaps this is why polyandry didnt occur.

    Divorce amongst the Sahabah’s was very common actually so I’ve read, it was almost a cultural norm to divorce your spouse (who didnt remain single for very long ). Some say the divorce has to be uttered in the presence of witnessess, other say the 3 times have to occur at different time points (so you cant do all 3 in one go) but the crux of the matter is the inequality in granting divorce – women have to endure a long drawn out process if her husband doesnt want to divorce her which is terribly mundane and even then has no guarantee of ending positively (in a divorce for her!)

    Mahr – as you already know :p after much extensive research into the issue on my end I reached following conclusion (although not entirely convincing): the “contractual” nature of the nikkah views the mahr as something that solidifies it (the contract) – and her acceptance of it grants him access to her that is legal and permanent and gives her the status of being the man’s wife (unlike mutah which is temporary)

    For iddah, afaik, its in anticipation of any potential pregnancy that the iddah is 3 months (3 monthly cycles) – which if she is menopausal or has a period after the 1st month then it no longer applies. No-one is literally meant to be under house arrest during this time (which many women are for some odd reason) – they can work, go out for shopping etc the only limitation is marrying again/looking for marriage proposals within those 3 months.

    Sorry for the long response !

    • Metis says:

      Yes, in Pakistan and also in India and Bangladesh. In some cases this means the man would be a nasty fellow but wouldn’t divorce the woman, but in most cases I think it works well!

      I read somewhere that Imam Hassan used to divorce his wives and marry new ones. Shias say he married 27 times but Sunnis claim the number could have been as high as 300. In the sirah of the Prophet he is supposed to have divorced 4-5 women well. I think it was just the culture.

      Sumera, can you please post your links here for that post on Mahr and Divorce? I don’t have them but I loved those posts.

      I loved your comment! How I miss your words of wisdom that always make sense to me. Thank you so much for the comment!

  7. 1. I am not married and may not be for a while still I know that both Islamic laws and my own culture will affect me in terms of who I can and cannot marry. As you’ve mentioned above, Islamic law means I cannot marry out of the Muslim faith and my own culture strongly discourages my marrying out of my ethnic group. As you can probably tell this seriously limits my prospective husband pool and I do not appreciate this at all. With this in mind, I’m tempted to say that I do not place that much value in Islamic laws today yet I highly appreciate the existence of the Islamic marriage contract.

    2. No I do not believe these are religious commandments set in stone. I feel that Islam is a religion for all ages and times precisely due to its flexibility. For example, on the subject of slavery, while it was rampant back in the day and it can still be said that Islam condones it, today most Muslim communities do not practice slavery (in the traditional sense at least) anymore except for the odd one. I also believe some of these marriage laws need to be changed. I, for one, cannot understand that divorce law that you mentioned where a divorced woman has to get married and have sex with her new husband before she can remarry her ex. I just don’t get it.

    3. I’m relatively okay with mahr because in my culture we’ve got the bride price, so yeah I have no problem with it. I am not a fan of polygny. I believe that the age of marriage for girls needs to go through some serious rethinking, the sooner the better. Matah is an interesting and new concept to me because I had not heard of it previously. From what I’ve read here, I believe women can use matah to meet their own ends but as you’ve said it is really for the gratification of men. And onto divorce, as I mentioned above some divorce laws confound me and I wish more often women were given the right to initiate divorce.

    4. I have always thought it would be impossibly hard to talk to clerics. As a woman who did not spend years learning Islamic law it may be difficult for them to take someone like me seriously. And while the odd cleric may actually understand how society constantly changes others may want to dismiss any new suggestion as ‘innovation’. I really believe change can come through talking and challenging previously accepted norms, getting more people to rethink stuff.

    5. I don’t think I can answer this one! Ideally a set of revised and standardized Islamic laws would be great but how do we know these laws will be universal? How would we choose who to revise the laws? I think something like a commission comprised of several Islamic scholars and feminists could be set with their primary objective being to revise and lay down Islamic laws, kind of like those authorities on languages.

    • Metis says:

      Ecc, that is the general ruling but I do know Muslim women married to non-Muslim men although I should add that they are not really accepted by the Muslim community.

      The condition for woman to sleep with another husband first is called Halala. It was a pagan tradition and while in hadith halala is cursed, there are also ahadith in which women were forbidden from remarrying the first husband until the second husband had slept with them. The condition for Halala is that the woman must not marry another man on the condition that he divorces her after consummating the marriage. But some scholars consider it praiseworthy if a man marries a woman to free her to remarry the first husband but keep this intention a secret! Other scholars advise that a woman should marry another man unconditionally and hope that he divorces her! The Quran does lay down the stipulation that sex must take place between the second husband and the woman:

      “And if he has divorced her (the third time), then she is not lawful unto him thereafter until she has married another husband. Then, if the other husband divorces her, it is no sin on both of them that they reunite, provided they feel that they can keep the limits ordained by Allah. These are the limits of Allah, which He makes plain for the people who have knowledge.” (2:229, 230)

      It is also supported in hadith (Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 63, Number 187; Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 63, Number 186; Abu Dawud, Book 12, Number 2302.

      Thank you so much for your comment, Ecc!

  8. susanne430 says:

    “I think the mourning period is different for men and women because as soon as a woman dies the nikah is dissolved and the woman’s dead body becomes haraam for the husband to see or touch”

    I didn’t realize that! Wow! So the husband can’t kiss his wife, hold her hand and grieve as soon as she dies?

    It’s cute that you bought ice cream with your mahr money. 😀 You’re so funny!

    “I quite like the modern meaning Mahr is taken in some communities where it is paid only if/when a man divorces his wife.”

    I think I like this better too, however, I guess mahr is taken in the place of alimony, right? I guess it’s thought that she will be married again quickly or live under the authority of her father so she won’t be too needy?

    • Metis says:

      Susanne, I do see the sense in it. There are all sorts of mad people and necrophilia is a reality. In the case where a woman dies first, her body is out of bounds for the man and I see a sense in it. He can see it but not touch it or bathe her. In case the husband dies first, even if the woman is mad and wants to indulge in necrophilia, she won’t have much success!

      • susanne430 says:

        Yes, but to think that all or most Muslim men would do this horrid thing….??? Really?!

      • Metis says:

        That is true but rules and laws are universal. It is a sad thing but…

      • Lat says:

        “…she won’t have much success” !Hahahaha! ROTFL 😛

      • susanne430 says:

        “That is true but rules and laws are universal. It is a sad thing but…”

        But it’s not universal, right? This was talking about Muslim men, wasn’t it? Why are Muslim men such horrible creatures that this law must govern them? Does their awareness of God being right there not stop them from doing disgusting things?

        Sorry, but I guess I’m finding this rule about not touching a dead wife to be weird. Sometimes when couples REALLY love and care for each other, they grieve for dead spouses. Maybe Muslim men don’t care this much because when your heart is divided between FOUR wives and possibly some female slaves, how can you have that deep attachment? (Of course I’m being general and a bit facetious, but it’s because I can’t believe how Islamic rules make their people out to be so … as someone wrote recently on another blog, like little children who can’t do anything without specific rules. )

        If you have an awareness of God – and Muslims do since they pray 5 times a day!- then you know God sees all you do and you won’t mistreat your wife’s corpse.

        • Metis says:

          Susanne, the Quran addresses all human beings and Islam is supposed to be a universal code of conduct. It is difficult to understand because Jews and Christians believe they are the chosen people and God made a covenant with them so their books and their codes of conduct are applicable to them alone. Also in early Islam, an Islamic law was supposed to be obeyed by everyone whether they were Jewish, pagan or Christian. There are numerous instances in which Jews came to Muhammad to ask for verdicts for criminal offences.

          There has been no instance of Muslim men committing crimes with their wives dead bodies. Islam is often more preventive and in other cases punitive. Also, we have a very modern view of mourning, death and spouses dying. We don’t know how people behaved back then. For example, there was a tradition that upon the death of a person a woman would rip off her clothes and beat her chest! Then there is this narration which is fascinating:

          Volume 7, Book 63, Number 251:
          Narrated Humaid bin Nafi’:

          … “I heard my mother, Um Salama saying that a woman came to Allah’s Apostle and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! The husband of my daughter has died and she is suffering from an eye disease, can she apply kohl to her eye?” Allah’s Apostle replied, “No,” twice or thrice. (Every time she repeated her question) he said, “No.” Then Allah’s Apostle added, “It is just a matter of four months and ten days. In the Pre-Islamic Period of ignorance a widow among you should throw a globe of dung when one year has elapsed.” I said to Zainab, “What does ‘throwing a globe of dung when one year had elapsed’ mean?” Zainab said, “When a lady was bereaved of her husband, she would live in a wretched small room and put on the worst clothes she had and would not touch any scent till one year had elapsed. Then she would bring an animal, e.g. a donkey, a sheep or a bird and rub her body against it. The animal against which she would rub her body would scarcely survive. Only then she would come out of her room, whereupon she would be given a globe of dung which she would throw away and then she would use the scent she liked or the like.”

          • Lat says:

            That one year is fascinating becauase Hindu culture has the one year of mourning period. And in India,muslim women do keep themselves aloof from others by practically living in a darkenned room.And African culture too has something similar .Separating the woman in a hut.

            So I’ve always associated this practice with Hindu culture.Nowadays widows go to work, do all the normal things and marriage isn’t the first thing in their mind at least not for most of them.

  9. Metis says:

    Some really valuable lessons here – http://www.islam-qa.com/en/ref/1105

    “Those who say that Islam is the religion of equality are lying against Islam.” Oops!

  10. mariam says:

    salam 🙂
    “I think the mourning period is different for men and women because as soon as a woman dies the nikah is dissolved and the woman’s dead body becomes haraam for the husband to see or touch” as I know there is not a such thing in Iran at all.

    thank God I am not married yet and not affected.

    I dont accept my Mahr be determined by my family,I like my husband give me any gift he want.

    I dont accept my husband think Polygyny is his God given right.

    I can determine any stipulations ( shart) in time of nikah, like right for divorce,custody of kids( you did not mentioned), right for determining place of living,inheritance and so many other thing.sadly most of muslim women dont use this right.

    “Mutah is now practiced only in some Shia communities” . on base of a UN report and so many articles I have read ,Mutah or Misyar ( they have no differency) is a growing trend in arabian countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. sexual hormones are far superior than any thing in our beliefs. 🙂

  11. Sara says:

    1. How much do all these Islamic laws affect you personally? How much value do you see in them today in the 21st century?

    Not at all, since I’m not living under Islamic law, nor do I see merit in them since Islamic “laws” are often man-made. Even the ones I do agree are from the Qur’an I do not see as being timeless, and were probably there to fulfill certain social functions at the time. Which answers the second question 😛

    2. Do you think these are religious commandments that are carved in stone or were thesesocial laws that need to change with time?

    Definitely theosocial laws that could change with time. However, I think it is important to value the moral underpinnings and messages beneath these laws, for example that a woman should agree to a divorce, that a man was limited to four wives (limited being the key word). Although the substance and specifics should change, we should focus on how progressive these laws were back then. Wouldn’t God want us to be just as progressive today?

    3. Which of these laws are you happy to follow without change and why? Which laws do you think need to change and why?

    To be honest none of them, but that’s because of the way I was raised and the society I live in now. However, that doesn’t mean I object to other Muslims practicing any of these laws. I don’t necessarily think they are wrong – I just don’t find them applicable in all settings.

    4. How hard do you think it is to talk to clerics and make them understand that society is not static; how do you think a change in these laws can be brought about?

    Very hard, mostly because of power relations and political reasons. Conservatism, Wahhabism, etc all make it hard to change the status quo. At the same time, Islam has ALWAYS been a conservative religion (as interpreted by scholars) so that makes it even harder to try and make it progressive.
    A change can be brought about by Western Muslims for sure, but also by higher standards of education in the Islamic world, and less influence from Wahhabi Islam.

    5. Finally, do you think that a set of revised and standardized universal Islamic laws for gender equality for all Muslims of the 21st Century will serve the community better? If yes, who should revise and lay down those laws?

    No. This will be problematic because like you said, WHO will lay down those laws? With 1.3 billion Muslims, why do we need to lay down laws and stick to them unwaveringly? Why can’t there be the basic message of Islam and that’s it? If progressives makes the laws, traditionalists will have the same problems we progressives are having now.

    Great post!!

    • Metis says:

      Thanks so much for that wonderful comment, Sara. I got a lot of stuff to think about from your comment.

      “Why can’t there be the basic message of Islam and that’s it?”

      So true!

  12. mariam says:

    again salam 🙂
    I forgot to talk about wali.on base of laws in Iran, all single women except divorced and widowed should have signature of their wali( father or husband) when they are taking passport or in time of nikah. this law is meaningless for me.I love my father but I dont want he sign my marriage documents.my wisdom is enough for me , I dont need permission of other people .

    “No. This will be problematic because like you said, WHO will lay down those laws? With 1.3 billion Muslims, why do we need to lay down laws and stick to them unwaveringly? Why can’t there be the basic message of Islam and that’s it? If progressives makes the laws, traditionalists will have the same problems we progressives are having now.”
    I am agree with sara , I wanted to add my view ,but I dont want put my finger on our differencies.if you talk about sharia law and should it be implanted or not in another post , I will say how I think.

  13. Metis says:

    Great comment, Mariam! Thanks.

    I think times have changed so much that we really all don’t follow shariah anymore. We know there is the iddah but why is it so? How long? How strict? That depends on our societies and cultures. Iran has such a beautiful and rich culture that Muslims there are quite different (in a good way :D).

    I will write a separate post on custody of children. Thanks for mentioning the marriage contract. Do you think a post on that would be a good idea? Misyar is so common in KSA! Yes. But it is not temporary. It is a marriage without time limit but the comfort (for the man) that he doesn’t have to support or live with the woman. In that case, yes it is just as promiscuous as mutah.

    The wali problem exists in all GCC countries even though only KSA is a theocracy. I didn’t know how strict it was in Iran as well.

  14. sarah says:

    A really though provoking post and some interesting comments. I had not heard of the injuction about a wife’s dead body before.

    From my personal perspective it is obvious that the rules of Islam are not all as set in stone as some may think. Seeing as there are so many different practices clearly then there is room for interpretation.

    I feel that if the main principle behind a certain injunction is understood – the great question of why?- then it is easrier to see the logic and to apply a logical interpretation. The ruling on female mourning. Clearly this was done for two reasons. 1) To enable the woman to know if she is pregnant and not to confuse the parentage of any future children. 2) To safeguard her against any potential allegations of lewdness. 3) To give her a period where her in laws cannot make her leave her marital home and therefore ensure that she is provided with food and housing for a time until she can make alternative arrangements such as contracting another marriage or returning home or begining her own finance. But. logially speaking in many places the woman may already be working and she will forfit her livelihood if she remains at home for four months. Such a move would actually be going aginst the reasons for this practice so I personally believe it is ok for a widow to work but it is not appropriate for her to attend parties or celebrations in the period.

    Similarly, I see the reasoning behind polygamy being allowed and polyandry being banned (hope i got that right). If a wife has to be ‘obedient’ she cannot have two providers. What if their requirements of obedience differ – she will have to disobey one whereas all wives are obeying the same man and he is not duty bound to obey 4 women. Similarly the issue of parentage is there again. However, while I support polygamy as a principle, I do not think that it is ‘virtuous’ to allow your husband to take another wife. There are plenty of single men and women so better those men match macke another couple than cause so much pain and heartache for the two women involved.

    I hate the idea that Mehr is payment for sex. Is sex the only role a wife has? I am not sure about the hadith you mentioned but I know that there are hadith that women must be treated like glass – i.e. they are a delecate and precious thing. Paradise lies at the feet of mother’s, etc and I have always been taught that women have a high status in islam. Reducing the Mehr to a sexual payment is demeaning and degrading and I do not take one hadith in isolation. In order to evaluate the full picture of Islam they must all be weighed up. My Mehr was between 1 to 6 months salary and is intended as an independent fund for me if I need it at any time.

    As for divorce, I think men have to pronounce the divorce once a ‘cycle’ for three ‘cycle’ so this is again a way of ensuring that the woman is not pregnant because if she is pregnant she is entitled to be paid for her upkeep until the child is two (or is weaned) according tot he Qur’an so the man’s responsability increases.

    I think the 3 month sex rule comes from the Qur’an where men who vow absitence from their wives must after 3 months either renounce that vow or begin divorce. This is to protect the woman so that she is not left ‘like a thing suspended’ neither fully married (as a vow demonstrates a rift) neither is she free to divorce and remarry unless she takes Khulla in which case she is a losing partner. Men can (and do) try to force the woman to take Khulla because then the dowry become returned to them or unpaid. If he divorces her she may keep all or at least half of the mehr.

    Those are just my thoughts. Essentially common sense and logic need to be applied to the rules of Islam but even as a feminist I do not think that the basic laws need to be changed and am happy and proud to support them as I find them in the Quran. Haditth and cultural practice are a different matter.

  15. wafa' says:

    let me expalin first that I am what my soceity call a “spinster”,lol. I am not married and wont. The funny thing is that no ones care to notice that it’s a “choice” .
    You know what EVERYONE’S favorites prayer to me !! that i will marry so soon.

    Marriage is not for me due to some of the above facts and mostly to my soceity.

    • Metis says:

      I quite dislike people thinking that a woman who is unmarried is unmarried because there is something *wrong* and she needs prayers!

      I commend you for your decision – it’s your life and you must lead it the way you like.

  16. Sumera says:

    Something else I found v interesting – I was speaking to my husband about hadiths in Bukhari that are sahih. He said by sahih it means that the chain of transmissions (the people) are all linked and they clarify they heard the same thing BUT that doesnt mean what the person was saying was accurate! Fascinating isnt it.

    He said that all Bukhari did was memorise hadith and compile them, he wasn’t a faqih.

  17. Salaam Alaikum,

    AFAIK, Ali (RA) washed Fatima’s (RA) body.

    I believe the injunction against the husband washing his wife’s body is in the Hanafi school (which has strong links to the sub-continent), but not the other schools. Certainly I’ve heard a Salafi scholar condemn this prohibition as imitation of Hindu practices.

    I’ll pop back with some links.

    • Metis says:

      Salaam Safiya!

      That is true and even the Prophet teased Aisha in a hadith that he would wash her dead body. I don’t know though when that changed. I know that most Malikis too hold the belief that spouses must not wash each others bodies and even a few Shafis.

      That is strange about Salafis thinking it is Hindu practice. First, Imam Hanafi was not Indian (even if he has a following in SE Asia it doesn’t make him Indian or his teachings to be influenced by Hinduism), he was from Iraq, and second Hindus don’t have any such rule in their religion.

      Interesting thing though how this changed in Fiqh. I do know that the mourning period is longer for women – not iddah or the waiting period but even mourning is longer than that of husbands’.

  18. Lat says:

    I was checking my notes and wondering where khul appears in Quran.Q 2.229 ‘…if she gives something for her freedom.” there’s no mention of khul here.

    As you’ve mentioned there’s sadak or is it nihla,bridal gift?

    A Azizah al-Hibri argues that Mahr is not the bride price.And taking it as such contradicts Quran.But she says it should be called sadak,according to Quran.What do you think?

    Normally when dowers are mentioned Quran uses the word ujuurahunna,their(f) dowers,right?
    So why do translations use dower to explain the verse 4:4 which has ‘saduqatihinna nihla’? This makes it quite difficult to understand the verse.Who are marrying the women if not for the guardians, who are told to enjoy whatever the women remit any part of this dower to them? Is this the guardian’s money or part of the women’s inheritance? Or are the women marrying other men,not the guardian and expecting the guardian to pay their mahr?

    I’m just confused here esp on 4:4. Reading translations don’t make it easy.Hope you can help me and sorry to impose!

    • Metis says:

      Lat, The word khul doesn’t exist in the Quran per se. It is the process by which a woman can ‘get’ a divorce since she cannot issue divorce in Islam. It refers to the right of asking for divorce. Both 2:229 and 4:128 refer to this process.

      Sadak is the same as Mahr and is used interchangeably. Nihla means “happily or graciously” so with sadak it means to give the dowry graciously. Bridal price was a pagan Arabic concept where the groom paid money to the guardian to buy the bride. This practice was a confusion of the original concept of the Hindus of India where according the Law of Manu a man must give something to the bride as a token of his love. It could be property, livestock, gold, money, whatever. There is no concept of dowry from bride to groom in the Law of Manu. The idea was that of what we call sadak/mahr today, but by the time it was brought to Arabia it had turned into a bridal price. Islam restored it to the original Manu concept of a gift for the bride even though according to the hadith it is the price that a man pays the woman for sex. Indeed this is the exact use of mahr in mutah marriage.

      Yes, Quran also used the word “ojoorahunna” to refer to the dowry even though ironically it means “fees/wages”!

      Regarding 4:4, it is clear that the dower has to be given to the “nisaa”, the women. It is explicitly mentioned there. However, if for example, a man gives a woman $1000 as mahr and she returns all of it or some of it, or spends it on him, then that is allowed. It is tricky because a woman can be emotionally blackmailed into returning it. However, it is allowed.

      Since the verse 4:4 is right after 4:3 (duh me!) it is possible that the verse is actually referring to those rich orphans that everyone wants to marry. Again there is some history missing because we are told to believe that before Islam women didn’t inherit anything so how are these orphan girls so rich in very early Islam?! Anyway, a man is told not to usurp an orphan’s property or inheritance and mix it with his own property. Instead he could marry her and look after her inheritance. He is still supposed to give her a dowry, even if she is richer than him; however, if this orphan returns part of the dowry or even her property to the man, then there is no blame on him if he accepts it.

      Hope I have cleared some stuff for you; if not, please ask further questions.

  19. Lat says:

    Thank you for explaining about Mahr and Sadak.

    “Islam restored it to the original Manu concept of a gift for the bride even though according to the hadith it is the price that a man pays the woman for sex. Indeed this is the exact use of mahr in mutah marriage. ”

    This is not how I understand the verses for a normal marriage.I can understand for mutah.Unlike the hadiths,the Quranic verses don’t explicitly say this, Mahr meaning paying a woman for sex,at least that’s how I read them.They sound more polite 🙂

    “we are told to believe that before Islam women didn’t inherit anything so how are these orphan girls so rich in very early Islam?!”

    I thought the verse saying about orphans refer to both male and female,yatama.But when it mentions marriage,it refers to just women.For male orphans I guess they employ a different technique 🙂 I don’t know. Verse 4:5 does uses the word yatama and when and how they can properly inherit.Just a thought.

    How is a guardian doing justice to the orphan by marrying her is still baffling me? People who are put in charge of looking after orphans or women of the deceased men are now considered marriageable partners? Is that how it works? After marriage is he not a legible heir to her inheritance as the orphaned woman’s husband? Is this justified? Is he not then consuming her property?

    Actually the whole concept here from 4:1 to 4:12,are speaking of inheritance issues concerning orphans.So the allowing of gaurdians to marry orphans is confusing to me.Unless it was somewhat an established practice in Arabia then.Thanks Metis!

    • Metis says:

      Lat, how I understand is that guardians of girl orphans used to usurp their inheritance and then marry them off to other men without giving any property to them. By allowing them to marry these orphans (“if you feel you can’t be just with them”) the property still remained in the family. Certainly, the guardian benefited from that inheritance but it was for the benefit of the whole family and the orphan was now his legal wife so he couldn’t just throw her out or marry her off to someone else. So a man could marry up to four orphans like that with the condition that he had to be just with them all (not favour the orphan with more money). If he felt he couldn’t be just then he had to marry only one woman, or keep himself satisfied with what his “Right hand possessed.” That is how many commentators have explained these verses.

  20. Sumera says:

    Re the husband not being allowed to wash or handle his dead wife’s body – I asked and was told that the death of a wife is seen as separation (similar in the way to divorce), so she becomes “strange” to him upon her death hence why he can’t handle her body and supposedly cant see her (which isn’t completely true in practice ..I’ve seen the casket on display and all and sundry coming to view the deceased including the husband!)

    • Metis says:

      Yes, that is what I read too. It is more a Hanafi and Maliki belief. A man can see his dead wife but not nude. There is a hadith of Aisha in which she said if she had known all the she knew when she was older none but the wives of the Prophet would have bathed and buried him. Many Muslims use that hadith to claim that surviving spouses can wash dead spouses bodies but I’m not sure. First, no one washed the Prophet’s body without clothes. He was washed over his clothes and second, women *can* wash their husband’s bodies because their nikah is still valid for four months.

  21. Lat says:

    “… guardians of girl orphans used to usurp their inheritance and then marry them off to other men without giving any property to them. ”

    According to a Islamic website on this ,the hadith by Aishah states that,guardians injustice done to orphan girls is by marrying them without giving the Mahr.So the verse was revealed requesting gaurdians to marry other women besides the orphan girls,who seem good to them.

    So we have here guardians marrying the orphan girls under their charge without giving Mahr or as you said,guardians marrying off the girls to other men without the Mahr.Mahr is definitely in the topic.But who are these girls told to be married to? To guardians or to other men or both?

    If it’s just the guardians then how did polygamy rules extend to other men? If it’s extended to other men like Aishah’s hadith,then how could “the property still remained in the family.”?
    Verse 4:6 says about the rich guardian not taking any remuneration whereas the poorer one can have just and reasonable amount.If guardians are allowed to marry the orphan girls and their property remains in the family then what does verse 4:6 mean? Afterall as husbands they inherit no matter the amount is small or big without them being rich or poor. I hope I’m not confusing you 🙂 I think I’ll do the analysis of this on my blog.I do not want to take up much of the space here 🙂 I feel terrible!

    • Metis says:

      Tafsir writers use the same hadith but the complete hadith states that these men used to take up their inheritance and also not give them Mahr. Not giving Mahr and marrying a woman is legally like concubinage. The slaves were not given Mahr because they were *owned*; a free woman is not *owned* by the man and should be given Mahr. Thus, these women, although born free, were reduced to the status of a bonded woman. Double jeopardy!

      The verse tells men, the guardians, to marry these women but if they can’t be just then not to marry them. What should then happen to these women – I assume they would get married to someone else.

      Polygamy laws, as we believe today, extend to other men based on a single hadith in which a man had 8-9 wives and when he accepted Islam, the Prophet told him to keep four and divorce the rest. I have problems with that hadith (what happened to those poor women who were suddenly abandoned?!); I don’t think the hadith is sahih. On the other hand, we do have men in history who did have more than four fives – it is reported that when Omar Ibn Khattab died he left behind 34 children and six wives. It is believed that Ali Ibn Abu Talib had more than four wives when he passed away. There are other men as well so I don’t know if the rule of four wives was so strict. I don’t mention this because it is such a sensitive subject with people.

      How did property remain in the family? Even if a man has more than one wife, money that one wife gives to the man for family is for her *part* of the family. Yes, after she dies it all mixes the way the man who inherits it wants; that is the part we don’t think about, do we?! You just did! 🙂

      Verse 4:6 refers to male orphans or orphan girls whom a guardian has not married.

      Please don’t feel terrible. This is your blog! 🙂

  22. sana says:

    1. How much do all these Islamic laws affect you personally? How much value do you see in them today in the 21st century?
    Thankfully none of the laws affect me personally, but I would still like to see a change and fairness in all the above mentioned laws. I really feel repulsed when it comes to “mutah” or “misyar” which is nothing but prostitution by another name.

    2. Do you think these are religious commandments that are carved in stone or were these social laws that need to change with time?
    Personally I think these laws were created to change with time. Some may think it is a huge sin or kufr to bring about any change in the laws practiced or words uttered by the prophet (pbuh). But blindly folllowing any rule without paying attention to the harm it is causing to people esp. women is very very harmful. Unfortunately some women too do not let this happen, may be out of fear of Allah.

    3. Which of these laws are you happy to follow without change and why? Which laws do you think need to change and why?
    Apart from the Mahr, I would be hesitant to follow some rules and some like polygyny and mutah and even marrying some one off at a young age, I would never tolerate them in mine or loved ones’ lives. In my country,the bride’s family has to pay a huge sum as dowry (dahej) to the groom’s and his family. Some may say they don’t want it, but mostly it’s an unwritten rule and usually what the bride’s family pays is much more than the ‘mahr” paid by the groom to the bride. Some brides demand amounts like rs.786/-Rs.101/- as their mahr. If someone demands more they are labeled as greedy. I would like to change that. [Also the rule that the bride has to leave her family and live with the groom’s family. Personally I feel both of them should live separately from their parents. I demand fairness. Unfortunately that too will mostly never happen.]
    Polygyny feels like cheating. Even worse. If a husband is unfaithful he will be discreet about it. Plus according to the law, the other woman cannot take away your share and your childrens’ share. But in polygyny, it is shamelessly flaunted in your face and there is not much you can do about someone else coming in and demanding a share in your husband and his time and money. Obviously because it is halal. I have never seen or heard anyone practicing it the “right” way. One person’s gain is another one’s loss. The “iddat” rule is followed blindly. But, again unfortunately, I do not see a change sooner:( As you said once that the muslim women know all the ‘hows’ but not all the ‘whys’. That is the problem. Back home many widows and divorcees are supported by their families. So the four months time may not be a waste to them. But last month a family friend passed away and since the wife had no other support she is back to work without mourning as she has to support her two children herself. I feel that is very sensible. I see no sense in the divorce and remarrying our wife rule. People say that it is a punishment to the man for getting a divorce in the first place. I really do not like it.

    4. How hard do you think it is to talk to clerics and make them understand that society is not static; how do you think a change in these laws can be brought about?

    Extremely difficult. And people who talk boldly about it and are open about bringing a change are very courageous. The government has the power to bring about a drastic change but many countries are ruled by the shariah itself. Best way is educating people.

    5. Finally, do you think that a set of revised and standardized universal Islamic laws for gender equality for all Muslims of the 21st Century will serve the community better? If yes, who should revise and lay down those laws?
    Equality, be it gender or racial or religious, will definitely serve community better. Definitely create a better situation for women in this case. Some men be offended by it but will definitely eradicate oppression of the women. And with time will become very normal for orthodox muslim men to respect women and treat them as ‘equals’, hopefully not view them as ‘uncovered flesh’. A house where a woman is disrespected never prospers.
    Revising and setting new laws will be easier if majority of the people are open to it. I don’t think it is easy to just sit and revise and announce that these are the new laws and now follow them. It may even be a risk. remember major clerics are very fond of issuing fatwas and label as kuffar. Many people protested child marriage ban in Yemen. From that I can estimate how difficult it is. That has to be done slowly and one by one.

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