Why men are in charge of women

Edited for ease of reading comprehensibility.

I was going through Quran and Woman by Amina Wadud for my margin notes when I had a revelation that I thought I’d put down here so I remember when I am writing my dissertation.

Amina Wadud devotes 17 pages to explain the verse 34 of Surah Nisa. In short, Wadud accepts that men do have a degree (darajah) of preference above women in terms of divorce only (2:228) although she doesn’t point out that women have rights similar to men and not the same.  She continues to call those rights equal (but they are similar, not equal). Therefore, she argues that the fadala (preference) in 4:34 does not mean that men have a higher darajah because that was only related to the verse on divorce.

Wadud asks if all men are preferred over all women. Her most significant argument is that ‘men are qawwamuna ‘ala women only if the following two conditions exist. The first condition is ‘preference’, and the other is that they support the women from their means. If either condition fails, then the man is not ‘qawwam’ over that woman.’ (Underlining mine).

Now here is when I had my revelation! The first point I noticed is that despite Wadud’s insistence that Quran addresses both men and women, the entire Surah Nisa addresses only men. In fact, this verse is so crucial to Muslim women, yet it is directly addressed only to men. It tells men that “good women” are obedient to God and that obedience is related to their being faithful in marriage by guarding their chastity like Allah would have liked them to guard.

Second, like Sayyid Qutb, whom Wadud has cited at length, I believe that the verse addresses a very narrow subject – that of a married relationship. Thus, all men are not in charge of all women, but I believe that only husbands are in charge of their wives. Let me explain.

I would have liked Wadud to mention the reason for the revelation of this verse. According to most classical sources, this verse was revealed when a woman came to the Prophet to complain that her husband had hit her (her face had turned green – the colour of her cloak, as mentioned by Aisha who said no kafir hits his wife like a Muslim man does).  The Prophet instantly replied, “get even with him!” Then he hesitated and asked the woman to wait for a revelation. That is when this verse was revealed and the Prophet explained that he had wanted equal treatment for the husband from the wife but Allah ordered otherwise.

I think this reason for revelation is crucial to understand two points: 1) the correct meaning of the imperative verb ‘daraba’ as beat, and 2) the narrow focus of the verse as related to matrimonial hierarchical relationship only.

Hence it becomes important to understand the meaning of the words fadala (preference) and wabimaanfaqoo min amwalihim (and because they spend on them from their maal – material resources).

Unlike Wadud I think that the fadala in 4:34 is related to the daraja of 2:228. Husbands are in charge (as opposed to several non-native Arabic translations, I believe qawwam doesn’t mean ‘maintainers’ in this verse but means ‘in charge’) of their wives because:

1)      They have been preferred (fadala) by Allah in terms of their higher (daraja) in the event of divorce whereby a husband can proclaim a divorce without arbitration but a wife can’t. Hence, the focus on matrimonial relationship is maintained.

2)      They spend on them from their material resources as Mahr.

These are the only two conditions whereby a husband becomes ‘preferred’ to a wife. And these two conditions will always remain in the Islamic institution.

I believe that the phrase ‘wabimaanfaqoo min amwalihim’ refers to the institution of Mahr. There are several marriages in which the real breadwinner is the wife (like the Prophet’s marriage to Khadeejah who was his employer and financially ‘in charge’). There are marriages in which it is the husband’s family that essentially supports the married couple. But even in those marriages the wives must be salihat and qanitat (righteous and obedient). Wadud argues that in such marriages a husband is not in charge of the wife, but I think that a husband is always in charge in every marriage because a Muslim marriage is invalid without Mahr.

Mahr, according to hadith (See Volume 7, Book 62, Number 81 in link), is given to gain access to a woman’s “private parts.” I believe that Mahr is the price for access to the monogamous rights of a woman. When a woman accepts Mahr she vows that she will only have intercourse with the man who has paid her the Mahr. On the contrary, a man does not receive Mahr because his right is polygynous and he doesn’t need to make a vow to have intercourse with only one woman. He can own the monogamous rights of up to four free women through Mahr and as many concubines as he can afford.

Thus, if a woman breaks the marriage contract by being sexually dishonest to her husband when in fact she had promised to be monogamous, she has in fact broken the sanctity of the vow sealed by Mahr. It is not only her sexual promiscuity but also breaking of the contract for which she must be punished or disciplined depending on the degree of her ‘crime.’

No matter how rich or poor a man is, he must under all circumstances pay the Mahr to his wife before he has sex with her. Thus, no matter how rich or poor a man is, he is in charge of the marriage bond because he pays the Mahr and he owns the right to divorce. We know from sirah that the Prophet did not consummate his marriage to Aisha until Abu Bakr had given him 12 ounces of gold which he then paid Aisha and consequently had sex with her. This is how important Mahr is in an Islamic marriage. We also know that when there was rumour of Aisha’s adultery, the Prophet first talked with her and then removed himself from her. This he did because he thought she had broken the sanctity of the marital bond. Then there is the example of Hind who was reminded by the Prophet when she took the oath of allegiance not to commit adultery and she retorted, “Does a free woman commit adultery?” It is noteworthy that, like Fatima Mersini points out, Islam ended matrilineal and polyandrous marriages, making only a free woman entitled to Mahr under patriarchal (Islamic) marriage laws whereby her husband owns full and sole rights to her sexuality.

In short, I believe that 4:34 is related only to a married relationship in which husbands are in charge in the relationship since Allah has preferred them by giving them the right to divorce without arbitration and because they pay Mahr to their wives. Righteous and obedient women are those who guard their chastity like Allah wants it guarded. Mahr promises men monogamous right to their wives’ sexuality and if a wife breaks that contract she is liable to punishment from both social and religious points of view. We all want loyalty and devotion in a relationship and this is all the verse ensures.


93 thoughts on “Why men are in charge of women

  1. Lat k says:

    I’m aware of the hadith and have read somewhere that might be weak.

    I thought that all along the verse mentioned refers to married people because of chastity issues of the wife and guarding it in the husband’s absence.But I like that you’ve separated husbands from categorizing the verse to all men.

    “…linguistically the verse shows preference to men by addressing them and not the women.”
    This is mostly found everywhere in the Quran.So nothing much new to me. But I can’t deny this,

    “Thus, in an Islamic marriage men will always be in charge of women.” In muslim weddings,the groom is the important man taking the vows to accept all that normally goes with the marriage duties.So I agree. But what if the wife puts in conditions in her marriage certificate that may reduce his ‘charge’? Or does it not reduce his charge?Putting conditions by the wife-to-be is also valid, as long as she doesn’t overstep many of his rights,right?

    “Islam ended matrilineal and polyandrous marriages, making only a free woman entitled to Mahr under patriarchal (Islamic) marriage laws whereby her husband owns full and sole rights to her sexuality.”
    So Mahr didn’t exist before Islam? and why call women,free women when they aren’t exactly free? Of course I know that they needed to be differentiated from slave women.Is that why some women didn’t want to marry the prophet,because by becoming free,they know they’ll lose out?

    I’ve learnt quite long ago that there can be no mutual love and respect in a marriage that has more than one partners.I don’t know how that can be attained or in a manogamous marriage where the husband behaves more like a ruler instead of a partner in a marriage.I believe in Chinese marriages the groom had to pay a dowry too,read it somewhere.As such,I guess they also very much run on alomg the same lines with the wife told to be an obedient and honourable DIL.The man always gets the easy way out too.So I wouldn’t exactly say that only Islamic marriages have such institutions.perhaps it was the culture evolvment of those times to own women thru’ marriages?

    Very interesting thoughts,Metis! Keep being cunning! hahaha!

    • Metis says:

      Lat, the hadith with the exact wording is from Razi’s Tafsir al-Kabir, Al Baghawi’s Maalim al-Tanzil, and Al Tabari. While the first two claim that it is only narrated by Hasan Al Basri, Tabari offers a chain of transmission that only ends in Al Basri. However, the hadith occurs in different versions in sahih hadith as well. For example, it exists with correct isnad in Volumn 007, Book 072, Hadith Number 715 (with reference to the green mark it left that I mentioned). I actually thought the hadith explains very well that the ‘in charge’ status of men is only in the case of marriage.

      I too have always read the verse as related to marriage and was surprised that there are people who believe it is more general.

      “This is mostly found everywhere in the Quran.So nothing much new to me. ”

      Yes, but Wadud insisted in the first part of her book that Quran addresses men and women. I was also surprised that she never once mentions the incidence when Umm Salamah lamented that Allah never spoke to or about women. So even if that hadith is fabricated it is established that even early Muslim women noticed that they were being ignored.

      I was thinking about the clauses in the marriage contract. When I was reading that dissertation on pre-Islamic matrilineal marriages I noticed that in such marriages women could put clauses like no polygamy. This is why the author argued that the Prophet’s marriage to Khadeejah was a matrilineal marriage. But there is no example of his later wives making any demands in the contract. His great granddaughter did have clauses in her contract but then she was Khadeejah’s great granddaughter 🙂 Plus, I think that Mahr still buys the monogamous surety.

      The other thing I wanted to point out is that the ‘in charge’ status is not a general or universal status even in marriage. I think a man can ONLY discipline a wife in the case of sexual misconduct. So if a woman is disobedient in that she isn’t cooking for days or weeks, it doesn’t give the man the right to beat her. Separating from bed must have usually worked because in early Islam at least a man was still getting sex from his other women but a wife he removed would suffer and if she didn’t miss the sex it might have indicated that she was getting it from somewhere else 😀

      Mahr existed before Islam and the term didn’t change but it was usually paid to the guardian of the woman (not always though) and after Islam it was paid directly to the woman.

      “Is that why some women didn’t want to marry the prophet,because by becoming free,they know they’ll lose out?”

      You mean Raihana? I think she didn’t want to marry him because she didn’t believe in his prophethood and consequently she refused to convert to Islam. But I guess for slaves there was still hope for freedom through pregnancy and eventual death of the master, or through ransom etc. It got more difficult for wives to get a divorce especially if they were married to influential men.

      Mahr is even mentioned in the Laws of Manu so I think all early societies believed in purchasing the woman.

      Cunning Metis 😀

  2. Fatima says:

    Brilliant! Very niecly explained, Metis.

    The thing I have noticed about Western converts to Islam is that they convert knowing a very different version of Islam from those who want them to convert very much. Once they convert they understand the ocmplexities of Islam and spend the rest of their lives justifying Islam to suit their liking.

    Anyway, you have explained the verse very well and it makes much better sense. Thank you for this post.

    • unsettledsoul says:

      Fatima, I could not agree more.

    • Metis says:

      That’s an interesting observation, Fatima. I don’t know because I’m Muslim by birth but I have read on blogs convert women saying that they were offered a very different version of Islam before they converted, like you point out. I used to be bluntly honest with a woman who was reading Islam to convert for her Love but I noticed that sometimes she didn’t appreciate it. Perhaps she thought I didn’t want her to convert. In many ways I felt forced to lie or be dishonest so I stopped communicating with her about Islam. Perhaps that is why other Muslims are cautious about what they say to potential converts? It is tricky.

      Thanks for the support!

      • Fatima says:

        I would also say that most Muslims are ignorant themselves so what they tell new converts is what they think is right. We should be proud of our religion. I am a proud Muslimah and maybe patriarchy doesn’t make sense to me in this world but it is best for me because Allah has His wisdom which is beyond our understandning. We have to understand that we are precious roses that need nurturing and support. Men protect us like gardeners. They lead tough lives for us and if that means we should be obedient what is wrong with that?

        • Zuhura says:

          Do you consider yourself a feminist, Fatima?

          • Fatima says:

            No. I don’t need to be a feminist. Allah is the greatest feminist and our beloved Prophet was the first Arab feminist. When he has given us everything that was never allowed to women before Islam then why should i want to become a feminist? I don’t have to work and if I do the money that I make is only mine. I am not forced to go out of the house to pray like men. Knowing my physical weakness I am exempted from prayer and even fasting when I’m having my period. Men are not. What can feminism give me? I have everything from Islam. Feminism is for women who are not satisfied with their superior Muslim status and want to imitate others. I’m fully satisfied with what the Prophet Muhammad gave me in the 7th century.

        • Metis says:

          “We have to understand that we are precious roses that need nurturing and support. Men protect us like gardeners. They lead tough lives for us and if that means we should be obedient what is wrong with that?”

          You are fully entitled to your opinion, Fatima, although what you said troubles me.

    • Zuhura says:

      Did you mean that to be critical of converts, Fatima? What you wrote is similar to my experience as a convert, although I knew at the time I converted that my beliefs about Islam were different from those who wanted me to convert (my husband and his family). What was important to me in deciding to convert was realizing that there is room for, and a tradition of, interpretation in Islam, and that Allah, in fact, commands us to think. I think that’s a more positive description of converts than “justifying Islam to suit their liking.”

      Metis, I’m with Lut in saying that I hope you’re wrong. I simply can’t believe that Allah would give a husband power over his wife.

      • Zuhura says:

        PS: I meant Lat, not Lut. Sorry!

      • Metis says:

        Zuhura, thanks for your comment. I think that Allah is not giving power to a husband over his wife. In fact, I’m saying the opposite (it isn’t clear, but… 🙂 ). I think that interpretations that generalise the situation to include all men and all woman are not entirely accurate and I think that even in marriage a man does *not* own a wife and shouldn’t or can’t command that he obey her. But I understand that he owns the right of her monogamy. And so only in the situation where she is unfaithful and hence ‘disobedient’ can he discipline her. In all other areas of marriage (except for polygamy and divorce) a husband and wife are equal.

        It may seem unfair that women don’t have the same rights in these two areas as well, but divorce laws can be changed making it impossible for men to divorce their wives without arbitration and polygamy can be outlawed. But that will cause great uproar.

        • Zuhura says:

          If a wife’s infidelity is the sole context in which a husband is allowed discipline her, it seems surprising that the discipline isn’t harsher. And if they agree in the marriage contract that he will be monogamous too, does that make their rights equal? And for Muslims who live in the U.S. where polygamy is outlawed and divorce laws (in most states) do not favor men, do men have any power over their wives?

          PS: Even in my correction, I still said I was agreeing with Lat but I realize now it was actually Wafa’.

          • Metis says:

            Zuhura, punishment for adulterous sexual intercourse is anything from whipping (as in the Quran) to incarceration (in Quran) to stoning (in sunnah). So I think the punishment was extremely harsh for infidelity, but also the point to note is that if/when adulterous sexual intercourse was suspected and was established through proof, the matter no longer belonged to the married couple and became a state issue. However, as long as proof could not be established and there was only suspicion or mild flirtation, the husband was in charge of disciplining the wife, like the Prophet behaved with Aisha when he suspected her. There is the incidence of one of Prophet’s lesser known wives who used to stare at men in the mosque adjacent to her house from cracks in the walls. The Prophet was told about it. He refused to believe it until he witnessed her staring and he instantly divorced her because she was unfit to be the wife of the head of state. So even staring at other men was a big no-no.

            “And if they agree in the marriage contract that he will be monogamous too, does that make their rights equal?”

            Like I mentioned to M below, a woman can’t demand that her husband never remarry but she can put in a clause to say she will be given the right to ‘khula’ if he remarries. So even those rights are not equal. That is in the Islamic contract. But a woman can dictate a secular pre-nup as she wishes.

            “And for Muslims who live in the U.S. where polygamy is outlawed and divorce laws (in most states) do not favor men, do men have any power over their wives?”

            Some of my friends who are married both Islamically and in court in the UK think that their rights are equal to the husbands under the secular law. I suppose it is not a matter of whether or not a man can practice polygamy or whether or not divorce laws favour him that makes him ‘powerful.’ In fact I don’t think Islamic marriage gives him power over his wife/wives. It just gives him the sole rights to his wife’s/wives’ sexuality because of Mahr. So as long as a woman is married to a Muslim man she can’t think about another man, while religiously he has the right to court and marry up to four women. If a Muslim women is caught chatting on Facebook with a man, her husband can discipline her, for example. But if he is married and is in (non-physical) contact with another woman for possible subsequent marriage, the wife doesn’t have the right to discipline him because he is allowed polygamy. She can ask for a divorce and if he has allowed that in the marriage contract then he should divorce her without problems, but that is about it. That is my argument. Some may see that as unfair and a source of power. I understand that.

            • unsettledsoul says:

              I think your argument may ring true for many. Alas, that is a scary way of seeing things. I would call that abuse in all sense of the matter if a husband is “allowed” to treat his wife in such ways. By all means and definitions if a woman came to my agency and told me her husband was disciplining her for such things as you pointed out above, I would by all means see her as being abused and coach her through how to get out. That is way too much control within a marriage, and when a man exercises that control he is called an abuser.

      • Fatima says:

        No I was critical of Amina Wadud but more than that I was being sympathetic. I don’t think many converts convert to the Islam that is and later want to make Islam what they envision it should be. Amina Wadud calls herself an experton Islam and goes on to break basic rules. She has a vision of what Islam should be and to justify that she trashes all classical scholars.

        I don’t know you but if you enter a marriage with the intention of reinterpreting Islam and knowing well that your beliefs will always be different from your hsuband’s then why even convert?

        • Zuhura says:

          Because I don’t believe there is one true interpretation of islam other than surrender to Allah. I don’t believe there is such a thing as what you refer to as “the Islam that is”—something timeless and free of culture. I believe every approach to Islam is an interpretation and I have as much a right (indeed I have been commanded by Allah) to interpret the Qur’an and Islam as does my husband. As far as my husband and I go, I hope our beliefs won’t always be that different; both of us have changed to some extent in the year we’ve been together. But before we married I wanted to get a sense of how different they are, whether he believed anything that I would find problematic and whether he would be bothered by my more liberal take.

        • unsettledsoul says:

          Ok Fatima, I was with you for a bit, but now it is getting a bit prejudice. First, Amina Wadud is a fully educated scholar, she is labeled a fraud because she is interpreting texts differently than classical scholars, but does that qualify someone as a fraud? Are differing educated opinions fraudulent?

          So a woman’s beliefs have to be the same as her husband’s in order to be in a marriage? There are MANY ways of living Islam, your way is just one. My husband’s way is just one. As is my way.

          • Fatima says:

            Unsettledsoul I was not calling her a fraud. That is the term you have used. I said that she calls herself an expert and then disagrees with basic Islamic laws. Education changes nothing. The closer you are in time with the start of Islam the better you know what could have been said or done. The problem with feminists like Amina Wadud is that they call all that patriarchal rubbish. Has she ever wondered why women’s voices were abbsent from previous interpretations? Maybe that is what should be accepted. Islam was brought upon a man and he clearly showed us our place in society. If you forget that place you are not doing any favor to yourself or to others.

            Women’s beliefs don’t have to be like their husband’s but they have to be like the Prophet’s.

            • unsettledsoul says:

              You are wrong Fatima, education can change many things. For one, it can open our eyes to what feminism actually stands for. I assure you it is not a dirty word as you seem to think.

              “Has she ever wondered why women’s voices were absent from previous interpretations? Maybe that is what should be accepted. Islam was brought upon a man and he clearly showed us our place in society.”

              I am sorry you have swallowed this whole Fatima

  3. wafa' says:

    a very beautiful post and a shocking one too.

    I never realized that the reason for paying mahr is what you explained in your post. And forgive me for saying this but i honestly hope you are wrong, sorry 🙂
    But the idea that someone is paid mahr to be able to have sex is not different than a legalized sex in some countries. Beside, how about those who asked for a symbol thing as a mahr like memorizing the Quran or build a mosque or something like that and it happens a lot in here. And sometimes it’s one of the conditions -by the wife probably-of the marriage that the man wont pay the mahr and the marriage is legal and accepted.
    i don’t know but i am shocked, cuz if a man pays me to have sex with him with the knowledge of the state and my family or in secret, it’s still the same.

    As for the preferences of men over women , i agree that it’s only in the condition of being responsible of the house and being the breadwinner, other than that he is not.

    • Metis says:

      Wafa, thank you and for your sake I too hope that I am wrong 😀 LOL

      I read quite a bit on it some 2-3 years ago when I had a discussion about Mahr with someone and she was shocked like you but unlike you was very rude in challenging that I was wrong. So to be sure I read on it. What I understand is that “every marriage without Mahr is null and void” (E.J. Brill’s first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Volume 2 (page 137)) and that there is a hadith explaining Mahr:

      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).”

      This is one reason that most scholars say that marriages without Mahr like Misyar and Mutah are haraam. They may be legal in the country but illegal in Islam. Mahr could be anything even a Quran or an iron ring etc but it has to be there.

      If it helps, I was also extremely shocked the first time I understood the meaning of Mahr. I thought, my God, I had ice cream with the Mahr money which means my husband bought me for a cup of cheap ice cream?! LOL Later I proved to be very high maintenance!

      • wafa' says:

        i have been reading and asking about it since i read it here yesterday and it’s all say the same. So ok i accept that but i don’t accept it- if you get what i mean- . anyway, thanks God i wont marry or else i will be in sin for not taking mahr, lol

  4. Coolred38 says:

    I remember reading through a blog years ago in which a particular post had hundreds of comments arguing about the posters claim. She was very learned in Sharia, Islam etc…was an Sharia lawyer etc…for the life of me I cant remember her name…anyhow…she said the same thing…maher is payment for exclusive sexual rights to the womans body. The uproar that ensued was amazing but she was extremely articulate…well versed in Islamic juris prudence and could argue the socks off anyone (the few muslim men that dared take her on) with logic and intelligence. She was one of the most interesting people I had ever read and she went by the name Miraj at the time. She told me her name in a personal email one time but I forgot it long ago.

    Ive also argued that Surat al Nisa ignores women and speaks directly to Muslim men. Yes…it is ABOUT them but does not address them directly. Not much in the Quran does…they are either ignored completely or included under the “ummah” umbrella…so to speak.

    • Metis says:

      I can understand what she was talking about. I’m not a Sharia expert or even a student of Sharia but I have read the works of others and it is established, like you also indicate from Mairaj’s post, that Mahr is a payment for sex. It may be shocking, but it isn’t wrong. And what isn’t shocking the first time? The first time I heard about concubinage in Islam and that even the Prophet had slaves, I couldn’t sleep for nights. Houris gave me sleepless nights as well; I didn’t understand how the pious men wanted to be lured by promises of sex with ethereal beings. I was also shocked to learn that Mary the Copt was not a legal wife. I still can’t wrap my head around raids even though I have read everything on them that may show them in a positive light.

      Now I’m ok with everything but I blame my parents who never taught me the truth but either ignored simple facts or sugar coated them. There are many parents like mine who choose to talk only about the ‘happy, sweet and good stuff’ and when these children grow up to find the truth, “an uproar ensues” because we are shocked that someone says something that clashes with our happy, sweet and good vision.

  5. M says:

    Dear Metis –
    Could you elaborate more on the term “matrilineal”? I also noticed that you used that term to define the Prophet’s first marriage contract. Is it linked to monogamy? If so, are you saying that since –
    “Islam ended matrilineal and polyandrous marriages, making only a free woman entitled to Mahr under patriarchal (Islamic) marriage laws whereby her husband owns full and sole rights to her sexuality.” – a woman can’t stipulate monogamy in her marriage contract if she is receiving a Mahr?
    Sorry if I’ve completely got the wrong end of the stick!

    • Metis says:

      M, I’d like to direct you to an excellent study on matrilineal marriages titled “The Origin of Mutah (Temporary Marriage) in Early Islam.” Before Islam, mutah was a matrilineal marriage. Mutah means enjoyment and it was for the ‘enjoyment’ of a woman. In such marriages the contract was created by the woman and almost always included the clause that a man could not remarry as long as the wife was alive. She was the one “in charge” in such a marriage. She was the breadwinner and influential in the marriage bond. I mention it here at great length (https://musfem.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/the-happy-celibate-and-the-cult-of-the-hymen/#comment-823). The author argued that the Prophet’s first marriage was a matrilineal marriage because it fulfilled all the criteria of being one.

      So, no it isn’t really linked to monogamy of a man per se, but since it was woman-centered a wife could demand that her husband never remarry as long as she was alive.

      You asked – “a woman can’t stipulate monogamy in her marriage contract if she is receiving a Mahr?”

      She most definitely can. But we have to differentiate the contract of a matrilineal marriage and that of a patrilineal marriage. In pre-Islamic matrilineal marriages a woman could outright say that a man give up his right to polygamy. Let’s say that wasn’t a ‘right’ then and was more of a choice that he gave up willingly if he wanted to marry a woman who wanted a matrilineal marriage. After Islam the marriage system became patrilineal so a woman can still put a clause in the contract that her hsuabnd not remarry as long as she is living but that is not written as he can’t remarry but that polygamy is his Islamic right and *if* he decides to remarry the first wife will automatically receive the right to quick divorce with simple and minimal arbitration. So it basically makes divorce easier in case the husband remarries.

      • M says:

        So, what is it called when the wife IS in charge but not the breadwinner? She controls the financial structure, the aesthetic look of her home, helps in raising the children and influences most life style choices of the family. Not to mention being completely sexually satisfied and forbidding polygamy to her spouse 🙂 Sounds pretty enjoyable to me.
        We had a Pakistani Nikkah and I don’t even know what’s in it! All I know is that my husband is completely repulsed by polygamy and actually considers it adultery. Thanks Shaykh Adhami! haha.

        Thank you so much for the explanation and the other link. Very interesting stuff.

  6. Lat says:

    “When I was reading that dissertation on pre-Islamic matrilineal marriages I noticed that in such marriages women could put clauses like no polygamy”

    Haha! I’m having the same thoughts as M 🙂

    That means perhaps the prophet or the scholars allowed certain matrilineal customs to stay because as part of the prophet’s sunnah.And thanks for clarifying that Mahr existed before Islam.I can now tie it to some Arab custom 🙂 This makes it very interesting as to why pre-Islamic matrilineal marriages have the Mahr concept and why muslim women were allowed this priviledge.Hail Khadija! Alhamdulillah! hahaha! I’ve always admired her as a kid and have more reason to do so now 🙂

    “I think that Mahr still buys the monogamous surety. ” To counter polygamy from both genders,people thought of Mahr as a means to ‘establish’ monagomy.Sounds like an evolution to me 🙂 Very interesting!

    “Mahr existed before Islam and the term didn’t change but it was usually paid to the guardian of the woman (not always though) and after Islam it was paid directly to the woman. ” Unfortunately in certain countries the guadians still receive the Mahr instead of the woman.An that can make divorce from the woman virtually impossible.She’s chained for life.Very sad!

    Thanks Metis,I really enjoyed the discussions and the comments above!

    • Metis says:

      Most Muslim women admire Khadijah. But the irony is that all laws related to women were established in Medina after her death. Even Amina Wadud mentions that there were no specific laws in Mecca. I wonder what she would have thought about all these laws had she lived to experience them. So yes, we admire her but that admiration is ironically linked to her pre-Islamic status part of which she carried into the last 13 years of her life into Islam in Mecca.

      In fact the study I cited for M has a passage on Khadeejah that starts with, ““The transition to Islam and a changed lifestyle was difficult for many women in the early years where the memory of women’s previous possibilities was still retained. There is a sharp contrast between the pre-Islamic and later status in the lives of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad himself. ”

      “To counter polygamy from both genders,people thought of Mahr as a means to ‘establish’ monagomy.”

      No, I think I was unclear in my comment. I’m sorry. Mahr is a payment for a promise of monogamy from a wife, not from a husband. It is payment for the right to “enjoyment of a woman’s private parts” and the Prophet was clear that Mahr was the “stipulation most entitled to be abided” by the woman. A man must pay her the Mahr and she must abide by the stipulation because she has participated in the transaction of which the marriage contract is a written documentation.

  7. mariam says:

    “This is one reason that most scholars say that marriages without Mahr like Misyar and Mutah are haraam. They may be legal in the country but illegal in Islam. Mahr could be anything even a Quran or an iron ring etc but it has to be there.”
    Mutah has Mahr like Nikah, what is your meaning?
    I see” Mahr as a price for sex” in Mutah than Nikah.
    why we cant see Mahr as a gift?

    • Metis says:

      Mariam, in some mutah marraiges amongst Sunnis there is no Mahr. But then they are more like misyar than mutah.

      “why we cant see Mahr as a gift?”

      I think most contemporary Muslims do see it as a gift.

  8. Metis says:

    Mariam, I should have also added that Mahr in different communities holds different meanings. For a woman from the Gulf it is a payment a man has to pay. They demand high dowry and if it was a gift it wouldn’t have been so painful for the man 🙂 In South Asian communities, Mahr is not paid at the time of Nikah but only paid when/if a woman is divorced so high Mahr ensures a man will not divorce her upon whim and that she will be looked after if divorce happens.

    Plus, Quran uses the verb ‘atoo’ for Mahr which translates as ‘pay’ as in atoo zakah (pay zakat) and atoo haqahoo (pay the dues). One, we don’t ‘pay’ a gift and two, zakat are dues are not gifts either.

    You said, “I see” Mahr as a price for sex” in Mutah than Nikah.” That is interesting since the literal translation and original meaning of Nikah is ‘sexual intercourse.’ So whether it is price or gift, Mahr (which literally means a seal or stamp) is for sex.

    • mariam says:

      I didnot know literaly meaning of Nikah!!!
      after reading your comment I thought what is the problem if I accept that” Mahr( seeing it as gift,price….or any thing else) is for having sex with a muslim woman”. is it in contradiction with my feminist ideas?does accepting that makes women in lower situation than men? maybe I am a idealistic person.or definition of equality in my femenist beliefs is not completely true.
      this post reminded me a quote from Dr Ali Shariati : Islam is a realistic religion not a idealistic religion.
      I doooono how to think about this issue 🙂

      • Metis says:

        Mariam, culture is so fluid it is impossible for any value to remain acceptable especially after 1400 years. We have an idealistic vision of how and when Islam started, but like you I don’t know if Mahr is even realistic.

  9. susanne430 says:

    Enjoyed the post and comments, but I lost my train of thought on what I was going to say. I’ll start with this:

    So are you saying men are only ‘in charge’ of their wives’ sexuality and nothing else? Since they bought access rights to it. (This sounds like a corporation buying access to a mine.) It’s not that he has a degree over her due to his being a maintainer (breadwinner) of the family? Just that he paid for access to her private parts therefore if she strays, she is breaking the contract and thus can be disciplined.

    I’ll find out the answer to this before I say what was really on my mind. Thank you for this post!

    • Metis says:

      “So are you saying men are only ‘in charge’ of their wives’ sexuality and nothing else? It’s not that he has a degree over her due to his being a maintainer (breadwinner) of the family? Just that he paid for access to her private parts therefore if she strays, she is breaking the contract and thus can be disciplined.”

      Yes! That’s what I’m saying.

  10. Coolred38 says:

    But rememeber…according to Muslims and hadith…a Muslim wife is supposed to be on hand whenever the husband wants to exercise his rights to sexual access….and because he has paid for those exclusive rights…she must be “on call”…which of course means he he has control over his “property”. This I believe is what has lead to this all consuming control over Muslim women…sexual access to the” bought goods” must be readily available…and preventing sexual access by “pirates” is paramount.

    • Metis says:

      I think you have summed it up very well. While writing this I was thinking how exactly was the status of women improved by Islam since patriarchy became the standard and all forms of matriarchy was abolished. Before Islam the price for sex was paid to the father/guardian of the woman. After Islam it was paid to the woman. Is that really an improvement? I guess guardians couldn’t exploit their girls anymore but that didn’t change the meaning of Mahr nor did it ensure that women only married good men.

      In fact, once it became an established standard that a woman’s sexuality belonged to her it also gave rise to some women giving themselves to men independent of their fathers/guardians permission and without accepting Mahr which was explicitly allowed in the Quran. At that time sex without Mahr was looked down upon and indeed Aisha thought it was shameful that women offered themselves to the Prophet. When the verse was revealed allowing the Prophet to accept women without Mahr Aisha retorted that “I think that your Lord is hastening to confirm your desire.”

      So I think women took pride in the fact that they were entering into a transaction with a man where they would offer their “private parts” in exchange for a price and high Mahr was celebrated back then just as much as it is celebrated today.

      • Tasmiya says:

        This really troubles me. I often hear women saying that the institution of marriage is tantamount to prostitution and the more I think about it, the more I see that is certainly the case for marriage in Islam.

        I never give my husband “access to my private parts” (I am going to steal this phrase – I love it!! LOL!) if I’m not in the mood for it and I would hate to have that sort of relationship where he owns my sexuality. I don’t doubt that other Muslim women put out because they believe that’s their duty and I sincerely hope that they are happy with that arrangement. It’s simply not the way I or my husband operate.

        • Metis says:

          Tasmiya, I know what you mean. I didn’t know the meaning of Nikah or the reason of Mahr when I got married, if I did I don’t know if I would have liked to get married in a religious ceremony.

  11. Sumera says:

    I think some are of the opinion that because men are the providers, they are thus “in charge”. This refers to every woman who is a recipient of their provision – wives, daughters etc I believe perhaps it also extends to nieces also if the man is providing for her. Why people seem to believe that means a certain superiority is beyond me as being a provider doesnt normally yield extra benefits.

    • Sumera says:

      And because of this reasoning that the provider is incharge, it does not always necessitate sexual access – for example fathers who provide for their daughters and are financially responsible for them have no sexual claim to them. So IMO the line in charge I believe refers to all those who fall under as beneficiaries of the man’s income.

  12. susanne430 says:

    Sumera wrote:

    “Why people seem to believe that means a certain superiority is beyond me as being a provider doesnt normally yield extra benefits.”

    I can understand parents telling their children “as long as you live in this house, you will obey our rules” and having a degree of authority over the children because the parents are providing for the child’s food, clothes, shelter most of the time. BUT as far as wives are concerned I hate the fact that some believe men are ‘in charge’ because they provide materially for their wives. This implies that the women’s role is merely reclining on the couch, watching TV, prettying up her looks for her man and pleasing him in the bed. You know easy stuff that’s not worth much and certainly a reason to claim superior status to a mere woman.

    But most stay-at-home women that I know work very hard for their families. They may not get money for their work, but they are busy cleaning house and watching their children and rearing them to be honest, decent adults. Children don’t just turn out good with no one investing in them. I detest the thought that men have a degree over their wives somehow because their wives are not bringing in money for the family. As if all that work she does at home including having sex with him when he wants it (for those who believe angels curse them if they refuse) is useless. Bah!

    The thought of a man paying me for access to my private parts seems like a man taking a whore. Only she gets paid once instead of each time he accesses her private parts. Sorry, but this stuff is just disgusting to make marriage into all about contracts for sex.

    And though some women may be, I am not some puny little rose that needs protecting and nurturing from my gardener. Even if I were a rose, I have thorns and I will prick you if you handle me with abuse!

    For the record, I’m not some jewel that needs to be hidden either. People usually like to show off their jewelry, don’t they?

  13. Metis says:

    Susie, Well, I see this was a thorny issue 😀

    Sumera and Susie, I don’t think that the verse is general and encompasses all situations where a man, be he father, husband, brother or son, is ‘in charge’ of his women. I completely understand the logic that ‘fathers who provide for their daughters and are financially responsible for them have no sexual claim to them’ which is why they are not called ‘in charge’ in the verse in which men are told to discipline the woman by separating their beds. A father, brother or son doesn’t share his bed with the daughter, sister or mother.

    Quran refers to the superiority of men over women only twice and both times it is in reference to the marital bond – once when talking about divorce (2:228) and then when talking about a rebellious wife (4:34).

    There was a time when my father was supported by my sister and there are many cases like ours. That didn’t mean that my sister became ‘in charge’ of my father and could discipline him. Why is it that when a son supports his mother, he becomes in charge? Similarly, I was the breadwinner for my family for the first couple of married years but I never once thought I was ‘in charge’ and could discipline my husband. Now I don’t expect him to do that to me either but in Islam he has the right to do it! We may not like to admit it, but he does.
    There was this blog of a convert woman who had a new immigrant husband who couldn’t earn much and he met a woman who was a divorcee with a son and was financially independent and he married her as well. Both his wives worked and were financially independent so he didn’t have to support either; on the other hand they supported him, but he never once let them think that *they* were in charge. That is the classic case of what I am talking about. He paid mahr to both women to own sole rights to their sexuality and even though they were not supported by him, his sexuality belonged to him and he was polygynous (incidentally this women is the author of ‘Polygynous Blessings’!!).

    • M says:

      Forgive me if I’m making you repeat yourself but;
      How do you see it when no mahr has been paid, for whatever reason. Does superiority over the wife and sole rights to her still apply? Also, does that mean the typical marriage vows/ intentions of being loyal and faithful to one another are not a part of the term Nikkah but instead belong to transaction of Mahr? How can that make sense if some muslims don’t bother with that practise? I find it hard to believe that the marriage would then be null and void in the eyes of God…

      • Metis says:

        M, in Islamic law, Mahr must be paid. There is no room for its non-payment. The insistence is so strong that if a man has nothing but knows some verses from the Quran by heart, he must give those to his wife (symbolically) and seal the deal.

        “Also, does that mean the typical marriage vows/ intentions of being loyal and faithful to one another are not a part of the term Nikkah but instead belong to transaction of Mahr?”

        The traditional vows are important, of course, by Mahr does two things: 1) it seals the deal so now a woman vows to be loyal and faithful to one man from whom she has received the payment of Mahr, 2) it ensures that a woman knows that if she breaks that vow she is also breaking a deal for which she can become liable to punishment from the state.

        “How can that make sense if some muslims don’t bother with that practise? ”

        I would just say their nikah, according to Islam, is “null and void.” Any relationship without Mahr is seen as immoral. There is the hadith of Aisha asking the Prophet what kind of shameless women offered themselves to him for sex without Mahr. It is also important to note that Mahr was not given to slaves when they were taken as concubines because their sexuality didn’t belong to them but belonged to the master upon capture/sale. The act of capture or payment when buying a slave automatically included “access to the private parts.” But since all Muslims are free human beings, there is no reason for Muslim men not to give Mahr to free Muslim women today.

        “I find it hard to believe that the marriage would then be null and void in the eyes of God…”

        Verse 4:24 preconditions that giving of Mahr is what makes a nikah lawful. There is an ayah in the Quran asking men how they can think about asking for the return of Mahr once they have consummated the marriage: “But if you decide to replace one wife for another, even if you have given the first wife a whole treasure for dower, do not take it back: Would you take it by slander and manifest wrong?And how could you take it (back) when you have gone in unto each other, and they have taken from you a strong pledge?” (4:20-21). But a man can ask for half of the Mahr back if he hasn’t had sex with the woman and divorces her. In khul, a woman is often asked to return some of the Mahr as ‘payment for release’ (also mentioned in the Quran) which quite evidently shows the importance and role of Mahr in Islam.

        • M says:

          I see.
          But, what about certain cultures who don’t pay mahr before the consummation of the marriage? The amount just floats around in the contract but never actually materialises. Sometimes not even upon divorce. Does that mean those marriages were null and void too?

          • Metis says:

            M, there are lots of things that happen in Muslim communities that have nothing or little to do with the original Islam. I think it would have been inconceivable and even reprehensible to the early Muslims if Mahr was deferred or not paid ever. Remember that the Prophet didn’t have sex with Aisha without it? And I think no shame or stigma was attached to the payment because in actuality Abu Bakr paid the Mahr to the Prophet to give to Aisha so they could consummate their marriage. In early Islam marriage was Mahr and Valima and nothing else. There was usually no written documentation involved. There is no evidence of the Prophet’s marriages have been contracted through written documentation. The Prophet even had a marriage where his wife was in another country and her Mahr was paid by the king of that state and upon her return to Medina is automatically began living with the Prophet. So I conclude that Mahr is essential to Nikah. It is the Nikah. But then are many Muslims who only have a secular wedding especially in the West so I guess we have moved on. However, that is not how the Prophet got married or even got his daughters married. He refused to allow Ali to have sex with Fatima until he offered his chain-mail (his only possession) as payment.

  14. Seema Rehan says:

    Metis, I am sorry beforehand that this comment may be long. I also want to make it clear that I don’t hope to change anyone’s mind on this blog. We are all mature and I’m hoping intelligent women. I don’t have friends on this blog so I’m not going to be saving anyone’s soul. I just want to understand why all this doesn’t look suspicious to all of you bright and confident women?

    I don’t want to harp on my tragedy but do Muslim women wait for a tragedy to happen before they realize what they have done? It seems that I was actually waiting for my tragedy to happen, but I was very young when I was married off. I don’t think anyone here is 15 years old. Is it fear that keeps Muslims Muslim? How sad is it that women would rather never marry than “sin” by refusing mehr! What does that tell us about the Islamic vision of God? I’m not trying to be patronizing. Like I mentioned once before women on this blog are very kind and courteous and I don’t want to take advantage of your generosity.

    I want to know what makes women become so dishonest even to themselves? Honestly, I can see that Islam was made patriarchal but it was very much patriarchal to begin with. I am sorry if I can’t see Muhammad as a feminist and no honest woman would say that he was. Does a feminist pay a woman for sex? I just don’t understand how all this mental juggling is helping anyone because all I see on every Muslim woman’s blog is justification of what is immoral (Aisha wasn’t really 9 years old), reinvention of what is misogynist (daraba doesn’t mean beat), and rejection of what is promiscuous (mehr must mean something else). If women have to reinvent everything why not start a new religion? If Islam is for all times it should have been perfectly moral to begin with so we didn’t have to justify and reinvent anything today. We all know that the “pure form of Islam” was always patriarchal. It may not have been misogynist according to the standards of that time but it is misogynist according to modern times. Even aggressive feminists like Amina Wadud hasn’t denied that men are allowed to beat their wives. If Islam is for all times, then wife beating is not time-bound, mehr is not time-bound, child marriage and polygamy is not time-bound. Does a God who sees both genders as truly equal and equally deserving of respect create such laws? How can you believe that if a man doesn’t pay his wife for sex God will make that sexual union (nikah) “null and void”?

    • Zuhura says:

      I agree with much of what you say here, Seema. I don’t believe that Islam with a capital I can be for all times precisely because it is so patriarchal and culture-bound. However, surrender to Allah may be, and perhaps learning how to surrender does require “a new religion,” e.g. new ways of practicing islam.

  15. Metis says:

    Seema, thanks for your comment. You asked, “How can you believe that if a man doesn’t pay his wife for sex God will make that sexual union (nikah) “null and void”?” and I guess you were asking me because of my response to ? I didn’t say that *I* believe that such a marriage is null and void. I wrote that “their nikah, according to Islam, is “null and void.”” I was talking about the Islamic pov as I have understood from what I have studied.

    Also, I’m careful about offering interpretations; I only discuss what I have read and I do that to better understand what I am studying. I can totally understand what you mean in your comment and I think Zuhura’s reply hits the nail on its head, for me at least. I think any and every religion is a means to achieve communion with and submission to God. Every woman has the right to choose which path she takes. I have recently begun to notice that many Muslim women don’t know the details of their religion but as long as those details are not affecting their lives, what’s the harm in submitting to God as a Muslim? I would just be careful not to glorify Islam by fabricating tales about the low status of women before Islam. The more I read, the more I know that women’s status was far from being low in pre-Islamic times. But it is also untrue that Islam invented misogyny or lowered the status of women. It simply created standards which benefited women from patriarchal clans and negatively affected women from matriarchal clans. I have always said that Islam is patriarchal and I agree when you say “We all know that the “pure form of Islam” was always patriarchal.” My point is that Islam didn’t invent patriarchy; it merely replaced all and any form of matriarchy with patriarchy making it the only standard. Feminists are against that standard but being Muslim they can’t trash it all like secular feminists did, can they? Thus the reinvention, reinterpretation and justification, as you put it.

  16. Seema Rehan says:

    Zuhura and Metis, I understand what you both are saying, but don’t you think that when Muslim women teach others the myth that Islam elevates the status of women they are fooling others? If Islam “replaced all and any form of matriarchy with patriarchy” then how is it women friendly? Even if I accept the argument that many born Muslim women and new converts don’t know the details about Islam, don’t you think when apparently educated and intelligent women convert to Islam they set examples that even they don’t fully understand? Even if Lauren Booth realizes tomorrow that the Islam she has discovered after detailed study is not the Islam she thought she was converting to, what will happen? It troubles me.

    • Metis says:

      Seema, I have often said that women should be given the right of choice. If they choose something that demotes them socially, figuratively or symbolically then it is their choice. I have seen bright and highly talented women choose to marry losers and live a life raising their dozen children. And I have seen women who are dumb as logs choose to marry men who changed their lives for the better. There is a lot of research on how women dominated once. They don’t anymore so they must have chosen a life that subjugated them. Surely we all are suffering because of their choice but I also think we have come so far that we will not collectively suffer for the choice of a few. So don’t worry 🙂

    • Zuhura says:

      I think we set examples that there is more than one way to practice islam. We can choose to follow the man-made aspects of Islam or not. Those who believe that Islam is the only form of islam may not accept me as a Muslim but that doesn’t mean feminism and islam are incompatible.

  17. Lat says:

    Whaooo!! I come back to read a hot debate on Mahr! How interesting!

    When I read the topic on marriage in a booklet here,Mahr is always interpretated as a gift to the bride,not as payment for sex.The scholars who are predominantly male,perhaps knowing the true meaning don’t like the idea themselves(?) and thus use the word gift.And that’s how most muslims will see it here.Mahr has evolved and evolving in our times.7th century Arabs are not coming back to question us any time soon.So why worry about it? 😀 Many women here know about Mahr,mostly at wedding ceremonies…only,as a symbolic gesture,and don’t get ‘ruled’ by Mahr in their lives.There’s too much in a marriage to work out anyway.

    I’m thinking of Seema’s earlier comment above.But marriages in other non-muslim societies also expect their wives to be obedient to their husbands,whether it is religious or not.And dowries are also paid for in marriages.Why money/payment or gifts is always a factor in a marriage is something our early foreparents thought of. We are not them and they are not us.And therefore we are not equal in that respect.So simply put we don’t have to think the same way like them.

    Enjoyed reading all about Mahr! Thanks Metis!

    • Seema Rehan says:

      “Mahr has evolved and evolving in our times.7th century Arabs are not coming back to question us any time soon.So why worry about it? … We are not them and they are not us.And therefore we are not equal in that respect.So simply put we don’t have to think the same way like them.”

      Finally someone understands what I was saying! We need to evolve beyond Islam. No 7th century Arab who created Islam will return to ask how we live our lives. Islam can’t be for all times because “We are not them and they are not us.” If Islam was eternal and Quran was the eternal word of God we would have had “to think the same way like them”.

      If a ‘revealed religion’ requires feminism then it is nothing more than a social system that has been biased towards women. At least revealed religions shouldn’t need human activism or feminism but Islam requires both.

      • Zuhura says:

        Seema, you sound just like the Muslim fundamentalists who say we have to live a 7th century version of Islam or we’re not muslims. I think most of us (including Lat) are arguing that we want to find ways to live as muslims today. Not everything that is considered “Islam” today was revealed, and even that which was may be reinterpreted.

        • Seema Rehan says:

          I tried to be every kind of Muslim because I was too scared to leave Islam before finally realizing what I was doing. I realized that “finding ways to live as muslims today” is different from saying Allah allowed men to pay their wives for sex, allowed them to marry small girls, allowed Muslim men to annual the marriages of captured women so they could rape them, allowed Muhammad a dozen women, but that was needed to live in the 7th Century. You believe that Allah who is everyone’s God revealed all these laws word for word in the Quran and because these laws can’t be changed although they seem immoral to us, they should be reinterpreted. I am not against reinterpretation but against the idea that all that brutality and immorality is ignored by Muslims today because it directly affects the presumed infallibility of the prophet and his book. If there are more than one meanings of the word darraba then I am happy to accept that not everyone reads it as beat. That reinterpretation makes sense to anyone, but how are you reinterpreting when you say that the “perfect example” and “mercy to all mankind” paid money for sex but it doesn’t matter anymore and should be seen as a gift? That is not reinterpretation but moral dissonance.

          Anyway I am sorry Metis and others if I have said things that seems rude and confrontational. Like I said in my first comment on this blog, I don’t want to challenge anyone or change minds. I got carried away because so much seems like what I have struggled with in the past which was psychologically very painful.

          • Zuhura says:

            Personally, I don’t believe that the Prophet was a perfect example in every action he did, at least not one that can be followed in different times and places. I understand that mahr existed prior to Islam and that it was changed to be something given to the bride rather than to her father; that is progress. Insufficient progress, but progress nonetheless. My own interpretation of the “laws” of the Qur’an with regard to women is that we need to follow the progressive spirit of that message, as kind of the baseline rights of women, but not that we need to stop there.

  18. Stephanie says:

    Seema– Your comments resonate very strongly with me as I’ve recently been very close to leaving Islam after 7.5 years. Honestly, if I wasn’t married to a Muslim man and have 4 children, I probably would have by now.

    While I still consider myself Muslim, in some sense I AM in the process of reinventing my own religion. My attraction to Islam is based on it’s pure monotheism, the belief that the Prophet’s existed and brought the message, and an attraction to the five pillars as a sensible and beautiful avenue in which to worship God. For me, however, I don’t believe the Quran should be taken literally. I look at it much like some Christians and Jews view their texts today–divinely inspired, full of wisdom and truth, and yet in some instances not compatible with our modern values and standards. Of course for most Muslims, that statement right there would put me out of the fold.

    Thanks Metis for the though provoking blog. I’ve been following for awhile but this is my first time commenting!

    • Metis says:

      Thanks for your comment Stephanie and I welcome you to Metis. I hope you are finding peace. I find your approach very rational.

  19. Metis says:

    Lat, Zuhura, Seema and the rest

    Thank you all for your awesome comments that are extremely thought-provoking and are helpful to not only understanding MF but also Islam.

    I have always been attracted to unbiased history and while I read positively biased Islamic history that glorifies everything, like Muhammad Asad I believe neither in miracles nor in glorification that may lead to little white lies. To me Islam is first a political movement, a reformation of Arabia and then a religion. When one reforms a society there is need for standards and I feel Mahr was standardised.

    There is ample evidence that Arabians did give Mahr directly to the woman even before Islam. It was not an Islamic invention like many scholars would have us believe. But it can’t be denied that after Islam, it could not be given to the guardian in any case. It was always given to the woman and became a standard. Obviously it served a great Islamic interest. The first few Muslims were invariably slaves and lower class women. It was important to convert women because that meant more Muslim children. The first Muslim men certainly all wanted wives and no pagan family was willing to give their women to the new ‘heretics.’ Giving the Mahr directly to the women served two purposes:

    1) It attracted more women to marry Muslim men because now they received the Mahr so they were even willing to defy the demands of their families and approach Muslim men for marriage (there is ample evidence of such cases)
    2) It meant Muslim men didn’t have to pay Mahr to a pagan father or brother or other guardian

    Thus, Muslim money remained in Muslim family. I mean look at Aisha; what could she have possibly done with her Mahr? None of the Prophet’s other wives were as independent as Khadeejah. Aisha’s Mahr was in fact provided by her father to the Prophet who gave it to her. She was eight years old. What could she do with it? It gets absorbed in looking after the family/household. We can always find a rational reason for established standards in Islam.

    This is why I think that the reformative politics of Islam are far greater in spirit than the religious side which is why in religion men and women are equal but in society there is a hierarchy. This is what Leila Ahmed maintains as well in her book that I’m currently reading. MFs want to be equal in society as well and that is why there is need for reinterpretation. I don’t know if there is room for reinterpretation of scripture, but there is a need and the one way I think we can succeed is by reaffirming that the reformative politics were a stronger driving force in creating laws in early Islam rather than believing that God dictated gender-biased laws for all people of all times.

  20. Organica says:

    I think I spent close to 2 hours frowning as I read through the post and comments. Metis, I trust you as a friend, scholar and academic. I wasn’t sure what you meant by this post, but now I realize a few things.

    1) You are merely stating facts and not citing opinions. Like all good scholars, you cite your sources and present them to the readers with commentary either challenging or supporting the original claims.

    2) Through the comments and inquires you conduct further research in which it opens up possible topics and further notes for your dissertation.


    Questions after reading all the comments and post:

    1) What do you think of the Quran? Is the Quran God’s work or…?

    2) Where does God fit in all this?

    3) Why do you think that God directed this particular surah to men, and in a way, the rest of the Quran? What is God trying to tell us? Curious (I know this question was partially answered throughout the comments, but I would like a response when you get a chance)


    My Comments:

    1) Have I ever told you that your writing is very calming?

    2) You are very talented at taking a very complex topic and specifying it for the rest of us who would probably shy from reading texts you reference in fear of not fully grasping the meaning.

    3) It could be said that your interpretation: dowry=husband owns a woman’s sexuality exclusively. But this thought process sheds light on how it evolved the current Muslim patriarchal views: Dowry=a wife with all kinds of services, including the sexual ones and ownership of a woman’s body, mind and soul–and in some instances her eternal placement!

    4) This comment made things clear after reading your post:

    “In fact I don’t think Islamic marriage gives him power over his wife/wives. It just gives him the sole rights to his wife’s/wives’ sexuality because of Mahr. So as long as a woman is married to a Muslim man she can’t think about another man, while religiously he has the right to court and marry up to four women. If a Muslim women is caught chatting on Facebook with a man, her husband can discipline her, for example. But if he is married and is in (non-physical) contact with another woman for possible subsequent marriage, the wife doesn’t have the right to discipline him because he is allowed polygamy. She can ask for a divorce and if he has allowed that in the marriage contract then he should divorce her without problems, but that is about it. That is my argument. Some may see that as unfair and a source of power. I understand that. “

    • Metis says:


      Thanks for your comment and such encouraging words. I really admire your honesty and bravery, both. You are an inspiration for me in ways you don’t even know and you are one of the few young Muslim women I really look up to because while many may *speak*, I have witnessed you *do* so thank you for being you!

      When I began reading the Quran as an adult I approached it not doubting for a moment that it was misogynist and frankly even if I had to try, I wouldn’t find anything misogynist in the Quran. I agree with Wadud that Quran speaks highly of several pious women; that those women are believed to be pious in the other two Abrahamic religions is a strong indicator that Islam respects goodness, both pre and after Islam.

      Thus, when I read 4:34, I noted immediately that the verse is related only to the matrimonial bond and that disciplining a wife was closely related to ‘nushuz’ in the sense of sexual promiscuity of the wife. But I didn’t understand until now how it was linked to the financial support from the husband. I thought was unfair that only because a man earns and supports the wife that she should be righteous and obedient and could be disciplined. I thought: if a man doesn’t support his wife, can she be lewd since the precondition for righteousness and obedience is clearly the financial support? But while reading my notes I suddenly realised that the phrase ‘spend on them from their means’ might be a reference to Mahr and it all made sense. Because a man pays Mahr, the woman pledges to be honest only to him and if she is dishonest, she deserves to be reprimanded. I think it is perfectly natural for any couple to expect loyalty and devotion.

      I think anything that has the capacity to reform an entire population and give them a direction is divinely inspired. So God fits in everything. I was reading about this female saint of Ireland and how she was inspired by God to speak and preach goodness and most of her disciples and followers were women and so most of her addresses were made to women. I think when the Prophet preached most of the people constantly around him were men and so they were the ones who constantly asked him questions that needed answers.

  21. Organica says:

    Fatima: “Has she ever wondered why women’s voices were abbsent from previous interpretations? Maybe that is what should be accepted. Islam was brought upon a man and he clearly showed us our place in society. If you forget that place you are not doing any favor to yourself or to others. ”

    Your comments make me sick to my stomach. Not because I am appalled that a woman would utter/write such words, BUT that I used to hold the exact same views not so long ago. I accepted defeat and subordination over challenging the man who brainwashed me to believe that I was lesser sex thanks to my chromosomes!

    I am no Dr. Phil, but I think our writings–as our words–give away so much about a person.

    A total avatar moment: I see you!


  22. luckyfatima says:

    I suppose your research is to look at original information and see how feminists (academic or otherwise) understand or accept it in our lives, especially as pro-woman Muslims. Regarding the original post, when I read the supposed original context of certain verses, I see them as very constrained to the times in which they were revealed. They set up a framework of guidance, but we certainly don’t have to emulate the context in which that framework was laid down. That life, those circumstances, they are so far removed from my life. When I have seen these ahadith tied to these verses and applied literally and in the spirit of the original contextual situation, they bring nothing but misery to women. Reinterpretation is a perfectly justifiable way to apply and appreciate the verses in modern times. Without it these verses are unjust to women.—But maybe that’s just because I am an idiot convert.

    • Metis says:

      LF, I don’t think that you are an “idiot convert” (and I don’t even know where you got that idea from, if from this post), but I do think you misunderstood the entire premise of this post. To put it again would be to rewrite everything but I am assuming you think I am against reinterpretation even though that is exactly what I’m supporting in the post by saying that men are not superior to women but can *only* discipline their wives if they have solid proof of their infidelity through successive steps depending on the severity of their conduct.

      If you are not assuming that I am against reinterpretation than *I* have misunderstood your comment – But maybe that’s just because I am an idiot born Muslim 🙂

    • Organica says:

      Your words are so wise! I love them.

      This thought is exactly my conclusion after a night of debating CRAP with a woman who repeats things verbatim she heard on Islamic TV shows.

      My Epiphany tonight:

      The quran is a miracle from God. This miracle can fit in any time or place.

      It’s time to reinterpret the Quran to our modern times.

      • Sumera says:

        I agree with you Organica. Nowhere has it said that mankind should not reintrepret and make applicable the verses in the Quran to their era, its just people these days believe we should all live EXACTLY as though we were still back 1500 (odd) years ago

  23. luckyfatima says:

    Oh, that part about idiot converts wasn’t directed at you at all, dear Metis.

  24. Metis says:

    I think reinterpretation is imperative. Some of the verses are universal and straightforward but there are others that need to be read with modern eyes. Literalism can seriously damage Islam from within and the more people who support reinterpretation, the better chances there are that we will make a difference.

    I tend to rationalise all the time why something is done or said and I honestly think the verse in question must have been a source of comfort for early Muslim women. One, we don’t hear that women complained against the verse. And two, I think there is a grander scheme behind the apparent context. I think the verse supports women who may have been suspected or accused of adultery. It tells men that they can’t jump to conclusions by either beating their wives black and blue or condemning them in public. All three steps of disciplining are very private in nature if we observe closely. It is only after a man fails to correct his wife’s behaviour and she continues to be lewd that he can bring the matter out into the public where she could be punished for adultery in the court of law.

    On the other hand, if a woman feels cheated by her husband or feels that he has been bad towards her, she can directly take the matter to a mutual arbitrator. I was just thinking today how this may have actually worked really well. How many women do we know who reprimand their husbands verbally? How many Muslim women do we know who will punish their husbands by stop having sex with them? In the past this would have been useless when men had several wives and were getting sex regularly! Even if a Muslim wife were to beat her husband, how many men would take a beating? I think there are chances that in the event of steps two and three, a wife could possibly be raped by an angry husband who thinks ‘how dare you refuse sex to me?’ and beaten severely in retaliation if she hit him. Certain things just don’t work both ways. By bringing in an arbitrator, a woman perhaps had the best chance of getting a fair trial and perhaps the public humiliation involved would make men behave themselves.

    Just my two pence!

  25. Little Ami says:

    *Edited for language

    I find it stunning that people claiming the title, history and theories of feminism would post anything like this and agree with it. Perhaps it is better, then, that the term is modified by “Islamic” to denote that the feminism in question is limited by the deen — which takes and always will take precedence when the person in question is a believer in these books.

    A simple, literal, forward reading of the hadiths in question would show that, arguments or not, the mahr is a payment for access to the vagina, period. This is not a radical feminist position, it is the position of the traditional ulama. There’s nothing new here, it’s what women hating mullahs have been saying for 1400 years. No, one must begin dancing with the language to make the words into something other than “pay for her *****”, something more dignified and humane and less misogynistic. Is it not interesting that it is the misguided proponents of dawah to potential converts who put a new spin on the meaning of mahr – that it is in case of divorce or death, that it is a gift to show how prized she will be as a mother and so on? This is the truly heterodox position, not the idea that mahr is a payment for sex.

    How is it fresh and radical to take up a position argued by the beards and used to categorize women as little more than **** holes? Pardon my language, but without the flowery politeness used by the ulama and their followers, this is exactly what they are really saying and we should not fear to be very, very plain and up front about what the teachers and leaders and the books of this deen are saying, about women, about the kufar, about gays or anyone / thing else.

    Every now and then I feel a sliver of hope for this deen and ummah when I come across “Muslim feminists” from Wadud to every day people, but then I start listening and reading and I remember – it is impossible to truly explore the liberation of women and of the intellect when one is constrained by an invisible being who can cast you into the fires or reward you by eternally making you the head of your husband’s heavenly harem. All the best, but please… this is not feminism, it’s misogyny dressed up in a long sleeved shirt under a cutesy t-shirt with jeans and a pretty hijab.

    • Metis says:

      Little Ami, thank you for your comment and welcome to Metis.

      I found a few very interesting points in your comment and I hope you wouldn’t mind if I pick you mind a little?

      You said, “Perhaps it is better, then, that the term is modified by “Islamic” to denote that the feminism in question is limited by the deen — which takes and always will take precedence when the person in question is a believer in these books.”

      That is exactly why Islamic Feminism intrigues me because I want to learn how much can be negotiated in this type of feminism. For Muslims Quran is the literal word of God, simple and clear, unambiguous and non-contradictory. Yet when we see feminist interpretations, there are often very complex, ambiguous arguments and interpretations; some are, as pointed out by skeptics, even cognitively dissonant. So what I want to ask you is: do you think adding the modifier “Islamic” makes Islamic Feminism *inferior* to secular feminism? Do you think Muslim feminists are wasting their time trying to reinterpret the Quran?

  26. Susan says:

    Hi everyone and forgive me for commenting on this post a full year later but it was linked onto to another post “Who will speak for abusive Muslim men?”
    A nice big Thank You to you and all the women commenting; I have been seeking Islam for about 18 months and the status of women is a huge question. It is hard to put my thoughts into words because Islam is very large, very confusing to separate culture (my own mostly) and the religion and also trying to trawl through the many interpretations of the Qu’ran… particularly when men speak about women.
    So glad to find your blog when I did and I hope you don’t mind me asking questions. Again Thank You.

  27. Mariam says:

    Hello Metis,

    Thank you for your insightful blog, I love reading it.

    I just wanted to clear some concepts with you. This concept of Mahr ‘buying’ a woman’s chastity and ensurance of her faithfulness to her husband sounds a little absurd to me. To me mahr looks more a gift a husband gives as a show of respect and that he can fulfill the responsibilities required by him as a support to the woman. And yes, the fact that he will be having access to conjugal relations with the woman. But apart from that, what Hadith or ayah do you know that mahr is given to ‘ensure’ the husband’s right to total monogamy from the wife? Because from your definition mahr is translated as a ‘bride price’ than a gift, which means he essentially bought the woman for himself or something. Which displays a rooted patriarchy mindset.

    Also I am not sure about polyandry being totally forbidden. In Surah Nisa 4:24 it says also married women, except what your right hand possess. Which means slaves or war captives, atleast from the interpretation of the right hand possess, are allowed multiple husbands. If interpretors like to mean that it means having sex with married slaves only but not marriage, they are again displaying the patriarchal mindset that we are all fighting against. Men having access to sex but the women not having access to a decent marriage.

    What do you have to say to this? I feel in Islamic interpretations the concept of a woman’s chastity is far too emphasised, in a way to protect men’s feelings of insecurity when it comes to sharing their spouse.

    • Mariam says:

      As for me, I would expect faithfulness from my husband as I would be faithful to him. If he thinks my chastity is an automatic given just by giving a gift, and he has a free right to take multiple wives and unlimited concubines from slaves, that means my chastity is worth a thousand times over his just by me being a woman, which is mistaken, to me atleast. Just ask any woman in a polygynous marriage; the pain and heartbreak she experiences naturally shows we are wired to also expect faithfulness from our husband.

    • Metis says:

      Dear Mariam
      Thank you for your kind words, comments and visit to the blog. I’m so happy to read you enjoyed it.
      I haven’t interpreted the meaning of Mahr. I have simply shared the meaning as explained in pre-Islamic, early Islamic and hadith texts. That initial meaning is very different from what we understand Mahr to be today and personally I’m grateful for this. I think that meanings change over time and with culture and that is a good thing in many ways. The idea that a woman never gives a “sweet gift” to the husband is in itself patriarchal, but that discussion is for another time. The point is that Mahr is not described as a ‘gift.’ It is a “compulsory” payment without which there is no marriage contract. The fact that it could even be symbolic solidifies its contractual importance. The other point is that if a woman is divorced and the couple has not had sex, Mahr is to be returned linking it directly to sex. The idea that “Mahr sweetens a marriage” and is a “beautiful gift” is a contemporary notion.
      I have referred to a few ahadith in the post and comments that show that Mahr is “the stipulation most entitled to be abided by are those with which you are given the right to enjoy the (women’s) private parts.” I have full access to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition so if you are interested I can quote passages from it that describe the historical development of Mahr. It is quite interesting.
      As far as 4:24 is concerned, Muslim males were allowed to sleep with female slaves even if they were married. The rationale for this is that under Islam their non-Islamic marriage is null and void. The asbab al nuzool for 4:24 explain this in detail. Women who were captured in wars were given to Muslim men along with their husbands and if the Muslim men wanted to sleep with these women they were given permission by Allah to do so as they initially hesitated since the captured women often had their husbands with them. Allah then revealed the verse saying that men were allowed to have sex only with unmarried free women or married/unmarried slaves. The marriage of the slaves was dissolved by the Muslim captors upon capture so essentially they only slept with their masters until or unless they were sold or given to someone else (or freed). Hence they too were required to be monogamous as a resulting pregnancy could potentially set them free after the death of the master.
      I agree that there is an obsession with women’s chastity but I think it was because paternity was not easy to detect. I assume that Islamic laws would have been very different if they were created in modern times. These laws reflect the times in which they were created/revealed. Just my two cents 🙂

      • Mariam says:

        Hello Metis,

        I am sincerely grateful for your detailed answer. Although truthfully when I read some explanations for some Quranic verses it causes me a lot of pain inside and I feel deeply upset. I am a religious Muslim woman myself by the way.

        There is not much point trying to fight patriarchy when all this is present. Muslim men dictating to the non-Muslims that their marriage is void, and they are free to take the wives away from the husbands and have sex with them at will in monogamy. This is rape and oppression. The slave women are set free when she has a child (and perhaps given a part of the inheritance to the child). This is also another type of oppression, because the woman is stuck raising the man’s child with no help from the master at all. Even though she was in monogamy with him.

        In the Prophet’s time, men were in happy marriage with their trusting wife when all of a sudden he demands the hand of marriage of another woman/women. He doesn’t bother taking the first wife’s permission, even though such a huge decision where time and money is reduced from 50% to 75% is taken, not to mention sex, love, companionship and family with another woman with the same equal status as the first wife. He has unlimited concubines and the wife/wives should suck it up. The man and slave could be moaning and having sex in another room which the wife can hear, but she isn’t supposed to oppose it. She can actually be punished for opposing. They have a child together, he gives away part of his savings to raise the child, the wife/wives still can’t do anything. All the while women being TOTALLY faithful and monogamous to men, since apparently she has been blessed with chastity and eyes for her husband only. Even noticing other men is considered unchaste. And women are the twin halves of men??!

        We women are not blessed with chastity in our genetics, any more than men. Our hijab does not mean we have magic chastity keeping powers. Our need for faithfulness from our husband is exactly the same as a man from his wife. Also our levels of jealousy and being manipulative, same as men. Why would God create us women this way and then demand these rules from us? We women end up feeling small and filled with fear as a result. The more traditional the society, the more so.

        Today we have foolproof DNA testing home kits and paternity tests in hospital available, at a moderate price. Only saliva or a pinprick of blood is required from the mother, potential fathers, and child. Why would a woman then be prevented polyandry, particularly to keep her own sense of sanity and retain her self as human when her husband takes another wife today? The woman then suffers less humiliation, and can use the 50-75% time given up on her to be a widow and single mother to be with another man. She regains her self esteem and need for companionship and a father figure for the children too. Children don’t grow up with a dysfunctional idea of family and patriarchy.

        Anyway, I have seen enough oppression to women and children for this one-sided polygamy. Slaves are abolished thankfully. Now what I feel: forced polygamy needs to be abolished too, with the exception being consensual polygamy and equal polygamy for males and females. If not possible, then monogamy being the full law. We are no longer living 1400 years back or thousands of years back with rules devoid of human rights and women rights rooted in society. Check this out, google searches for polygamy for a popular polygamy website:


        • Mariam says:

          Also the rate of STD such as human papilloma virus (which can cause cervical cancer) is being spread because of Muslim polygyny. The men don’t bother doing STD check on their to-be second or more wife. These viruses are five times more spread among women than men. So the man is safe while his monogamous wives aren’t. Interestingly, in polyandry, only the woman is at risk five times more than the husbands, which is how it should be; only the polygamous spouse ought to be taking the risk. Imagine if slavery and polygyny was more widespread nowadays, there would be huge rates on infection all over the world. What is your opinion?

  28. Rokaya says:

    I disagree on mahr part. In my tradition although a mahr is agreed upon during Nikah we never ask for mahr even when divorced. So that doesn’t mean we can have four husbands since we don’t receive it. Also, usually people agree on such high amount that the man will not be able to pay whatsoever.
    No one is superior over another human being but the degree of Iman/Taqwa. If men translators translate quraan to their benefit women shouldn’t blindly accept it.
    Allah says there is no contradiction in Quraan if we accept these translations it does contradicts that the higher degree/position is not due Taqwa but gender.

    • Metis says:

      Thank you for your comment, Rokaya and welcome to the blog.

      I think cultures vary from one another and this is why one of my latest guest posts is about Islam not being monolithic. And of course, you can disagree with the mahr part according to your cultural traditions. However, I’ll just point out that this post is not about different cultures, how they have changed from the one culture of the 7th C Arabia, and how Mahr is perceived as today.

      The post is about Mahr, its position in Muslim marriage in the beginning of Islam, and its relationship with the differences in statuses of men and women. I would also like to point out that it is a mere assumption on the part of many women that anytime any Muslim, be it man or woman, reads the Quran and concludes that there are gender roles dictated in the Quran that they are “blindly accepting” the translations of men. It is also rather lazy on the part of the reader to assume that because it ends the conversation or turns it into a futile debate rather than the reader going back to those verses and proving that they are different from the translations that they are attacking. I would highly recommend the book ‘Feminist Edges of the Qur’an’ by Aysha A. Hidayatullah (http://www.amazon.com/Feminist-Edges-Quran-Aysha-Hidayatullah/dp/0199359571) that dispels some of the myths and accusations that male scholars of early Islam who wrote extensive tafsirs and dedicated their lives to the study of Islam had the ulterior motives of subjugating women through their work.

      In any case, this post isn’t about anyone’s translation. It is about the way *I* see the verses. There are several ahadith about Mahr. It is also mentioned several times in the Quran. According to Sunnah and Seerah, a marriage is invalid if Mahr is not paid (with or without divorce). In the case of divorce, it is clear in the Quran that a man must offer the Mahr but the woman can choose to forgo it or take a part of it, but the man *has* to offer it. Then there are different stipulations within that: was there sex before divorce? Was the woman previously married? etc. The only women who didn’t receive Mahr but had to have sex in the union where the “Right Hand Possessions” (concubines). Mahr and its payment indicated the free status of a woman. There are also ahadith that show that Muslim men (including the Prophet) did not have sex with their wives unless they could afford to pay the Mahr (read the narrative on the Prophet’s consummation of marriage with Aisha). Thus, if in your culture Mahr is not paid to the woman it does not mean that the original intention of Mahr and its immense importance in the marriage either never existed or is wrong. Mahr is a fact and this post tries to look at why it was so important and how it dictated other gender roles. The fact that Mahr is always paid by the man to the woman and never vice versa (whether you ask for Mahr/ accept it or not) is in itself indicative of a strictly defined gender role.

      I also believe that it is very clear in the Quran that all Muslims have two very distinct statuses – one in this world, and another in the Hereafter. All Muslims irrespective of their gender are equal in the Hereafter and only taqwa determines their fate. But no where is the word ‘equal’ used for men and women in this world. Their rights are termed as ‘similar’ and there is talk about ‘equity’ and ‘fairness’ but not once are men and women called ‘equal’ in terms of their rights. In fact, it is clearly written that “وللرجال عليهن درجة” (and men have a degree of advantage over women – 2:228). Gender roles are very clear in the Quran even for the ‘eunuchs.’ And within the different gender roles there are subdivisions based on the social statuses of the people – are they free or enslaved etc.

      I hope this further discussion has been useful. It definitely helped me. Thank you again for your comment as it helped me clarify some ideas for myself as well.

Comments are closed.