The Status of Woman in Islam By Dr Yousuf al-Qaradawi

04 June 2012

The Woman as Wife

The actual biography of the Prophet (greetings and peace be upon him) has proved his gentleness towards his people, his excellent conduct with his wives, to the extent that he used to help them with their housekeeping. The extent of his playfulness is shown when he raced `isha twice; she won the race once and he won the second time. He then said, "Tit for tat".
 [Transmitted by Ibn Majah (1976) on the authority of isha.]

In return for these rights, a wife is obliged to obey her husband in everything except disobeying Allah. She is obliged to take care of his money, not to spend it except with his permission; and of his house, not to allow anyone in, even though they be a relative, except after asking him. Such duties are not too burdensome, nor unfair, in return for her rights. Therefore, every right has a duty in return. It is fair of Islam that it did not make all the duties a woman's concern nor a man's concern.

God Almighty says: " And they (women) have rights (over their husbands as regards living expenses, etc.) similar (to those of their husbands) over them (as regards obedience and respect, etc.) to what is reasonable".
 [Surah 2:228]

Therefore, women have as many rights as they have duties to perform. Of the laudable words transmitted are those telling of Ibn `Abbas standing in front of a looking glass to straighten his appearance and arrange his ornamentation. When he was asked about it, he said, "I adorn myself for my wife as she does for me." Then he recited the noble verse: "And they have rights (over them) similar to what is reasonable.
[Surah 2:228.]
This is a wonderful example illustrating the deep Qur'anic knowledge of the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them all.

Independence of the wife

Islam does not ignore the personality of any woman because of her marriage, as in some cultures which attach the woman to her husband in addition to giving her his name. Islam has kept the distinct, independent personality of the woman as it is, and that is the reason we know the Messenger's wives by their own names.

In addition, her civil personality is not diminished by marriage, nor does it lose its eligibility for making contracts, etc. She can sell and buy, rent her properties, buy properties, donate some of her money, give charity, deputise and dispute. These are matters attained only recently by the western woman, though she is still restricted in some countries by the husband's will.

The missionary and orientalist invasion of the previous age focused its attack on two issues meant to decry the Islamic attitude concerning women. These are divorce and polygamy, though in fact they are two of the good things Islam is proud of.It is unfortunate, indeed, that when these two issues are discussed among some Muslims, they refer to them as two problems of the family and society. They speak of them in a way that disparages our great Islam and its outstanding Law.The fact is, Islam did not make laws regarding these two issues except to cure many problems in the life of men and women as well as in the life of the family and society. The genuine problem is in misunderstanding what Allah has pecreed, or in misapplying it. If anything is misused, it leads to pernicious disservice.

Why did Islam legislate divorce?
Not every divorce is commendable in Islam. Some cases of divorce are disliked or even forbidden because they entail destruction of the family, which Islam takes care to build and form. That is why it is recounted in the tradition which was transmitted through Abu Dawud, "The most hateful halal (permissible thing) to Allah is divorce". [Surah 2:102]

No wonder the glorious Qur'an likens the separation between man and his wife to the work of heretic sorcerers, as the Almighty says: "And from these people learn that by which they cause separation between man and his wife".
[Surah 4:130]

Divorce according to Islamic Law is similar to a painful surgery; the sane human being endures the pains of his wound, even an amputation, in order to protect the remaining parts of the body to keep away greater injury. If the aversion between husband and wife is undiminished, and the means of reconciliation and attempts by reconciling parties fail to bring them together, divorce then is the bitter medicine which has no alternative.

This is the reason why if there can be no reconciliation, there is divorce. The Glorious Qur'an says, "But if they separate (by divorce), Allah will provide abundance for everyone of the them from His Bounty".
[Surah 4:130]

What Islamdecrees here is what is dictated by reason, wisdom, and Muslims" interests. It is totally illogical and unnatural to force, by the power of law, a life partnership on partners who do not feel comfortable with each other and do not trust each other. On the contrary, they undergo feelings of repugnance; they hate each other and cannot tolerate living with each other. To force such a life by the power of law is a severe punishment, undeserved by man except for committing a major crime. It is worse than life imprisonment and is certainly like the unendurable hell. In olden times a wise man said, "One of the great calamities is to live with someone who does not agree with you, but does not leave you." Abu Al-Tayyeb Al-Mutanaby said:Of the distressing matters in the world for the freeman, Is to perceive the inevitability of befriending a foe. If that is said about a companion one meets one or more times a week, for perhaps an hour or several hours a day, what about a wife who stays at his home, who is very close to him and is the partner of his life?

Limiting the circle of divorce
However, Islam has established a number of principles, teachings, and rules which, if followed and used with discretion, would lessen the need for divorce and limit its scope to a great extent. Some of these are considered:

1- To make a good choice of a wife, paying more attention to her religion and morals than her money, wealth and beauty. The Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) said, "A woman is married for four attributes, for her money, her family name, her beauty and her religion. Get the religious one and you will be comfortable".
[ Mutafaq aley (agreed upon) on the authority of Abu Huraira The Pearl and the Coral (Al-Lu'lu' wal-Marjan) (928).]

To behold the intended fiancee before the marriage contract to be reassured of the extent of her beauty in his own eyes and of her place in his heart, as this early view is the messenger of warmth and affection. For that reason, the Messenger (blessings and peace be upon him) said to a man who intended to marry a certain woman, "Go and behold her, for it is more likely it will lead to harmony between you".
[ See The Concise Comprehensive Book of Sound Hadith (Sahih Al-Jame' As-Sagheer) and its supplement (859).] i.e.,

it will bring about warmth and harmony. This prophetic command, "Behold her," if it does not indicate obligation, it certainly indicates preference. The Hadiths (prophetic traditions) referring to the same meaning are numerous. Jabber said about the woman he married, "I used to hide underneath a tree till I saw of her what led me to marry her".

Unfortunately, there are some Muslims, especially in the Gulf region, who perceive the man's beholding his intended fiancee as an unprincipled act. Therefore, he does not see her except on the wedding day, though she may be a school or university student who goes to the market and is seen by all the people except her fiancé.

In contrast, there are those who allow the man to sit alone with his intended fiancee and allow them to go out together and frequent cinemas, etc. Thus, what is correct is lost between two extremes of exaggeration and licentious behaviour.

3- For the interested woman and her guardians to choose a husband of noble character and to prefer the one whose faith and morals are satisfactory. We have already mentioned the following Hadith, "If the man who satisfis you in faith and morals comes to you, let him marry (your daughter)." The predecessors said, "When you get your daughter married, let her marry a man of faith; if he loves her, he will treat her nobly, and if he hates her, he will not be unfair".

4- A woman's approval of the one who proposes is a condition of marriage. It is never allowed to force a woman to marry a person she does not want. The Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) dissolved the marriage of a woman
who was married by force.

5- To consider the satisfaction and approval of the woman's guardian as obligatory or preferable, so that a woman does not marry while her people disapprove of the marriage or are dissatisfied with her, which would lead to estrangement between her and her family. Such estrangement might also be reflected on her married life and have a great effect on it.

6-To consult mothers about the marriage of their daughters in order that the marriage may be based on stable ground to the satisfaction of all parties. It is transmitted that the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) said, "Ask women about their daughters," as has already been mentioned in the Hadith and in the speech of Imam Al-Khattb in his report.

7- It is necessary to live together in marriage through mutualunderstanding, pointing out the details of rights and duties exchanged between the married couple, awakening the faithful consciences to adhere to Allah's Laws and to fear and obey Allah by following His Laws. The husband and wife each have duties in return for his or her rights. A Muslim is
supposed to perform his or her duties before asking for his or her rights. The Almighty says: "And they (women) have rights (over their husbands as regards living expenses, etc.) similar (to those of their husbands) over them as regards obedience and respect, etc., to what is reasonable. [Surah 2:228]

8- To persuade the husband to be realistic so as not to seek perfection in his wife, but to consider her merits as well as her weak points. If he dislikes one trait, he will find another to satisfy him. In the Hadith, "No believer should loathe a woman who believes in Allah; if he hates one of her manners, he is satisfied with another". [ Transmitted by Ahmad and Muslim on the authenticity of Abu Huraira, Op. cit. (7741)]

9- To ask the husband to use his reason and consider the general welfare of all involved if he feels a fomenting hatred towards his wife. He should not hasten to yield to his emotion and should hope Allah changes his urge to something good. The Almighty says: "And live with them honourably. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings through it a great deal of good".
 [Surah 4:19]

10- To command the husband to treat his disobedient, unruly wife with wisdom, progressing bit by bit from leniency, without weakness, to firmness, without violence. The Almighty says: "As to those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse them to share beds, (and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful), but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great". [Surah 4:34]

11 - To command the society to intercede when there is a breach between the husband and wife with a family council of the trustworthy persons of his relatives and hers, in an attempt to mend, reconcile and resolve the existing crisis through peaceful means. The Almighty has said: "If you fear a breach between them twain, appoint (two) arbitrators one from his family and the other from hers; if they both wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation. Indeed Allah is Ever All-Knower, Well-Aquatinted with all things". [Surah 4:35]

These are the teachings of Islam. If Muslims follow them and keep them, divorce will be greatly limited When and how does divorce take place?

Islam, however, does not decree divorce at all times nor in all cases. Divorce is permissible, according to the Qur'an and the Sunna (prophetic traditions) when the man is not hasty and chooses a suitable time. For instance, he should not divorce his wife when she has her menstrual period, nor when she is purified of her menses if he has had intercourse with her. [ That is, if she is purifies of her menses (i.e. between her periods) and he had had intercourse with her, he should not divorce her until she has completed her next menstrual period. This will ensure she is not pregnant. (editor's note)] If he did, his divorce would not be according to the teaching (Sunna) of the Prophet and would be forbidden. Some jurisprudents have gone so far as to say the divorce is not valid then because it does not follow what the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) has commanded us to do. In the authentic Hadith, "Whoever did what we did not command, his deed is invalid". [Transmitted by Muslim (1718) on the authority of isha.]

The man should be sober, in a well-balanced and judicious state. If he is not fully conscious, or forced, or in a state of wrath which causes him go beyond his intention and imagination and utter what he does not want to say, it is not considered valid.
[ Transmitted by Abu Dawud (2193) and Ibn Majah (2046) on the authority of- isha.]

The noble Hadith says, "No divorce in blind rage." Abu Dawud interpreted it to mean "anger," while another interpreted it to mean "by force." Both are correct.He should have the intention to divorce his wife and to be actually separated from her. But if he makes of the divorce an oath to swear with, blackmail or threaten, it will be invalid, as some ancient scholars have said. This is reiterated by the well-versed jurists Ibn Al-Qayyim and his Sheikh Ibn Taymeya.If such types of divorce are not valid, what remains is the intended, premeditated divorce which is reflected upon and studied by the husband before approaching it, and which he sees as the sole cure for an unbearable life. This divorce is described by Ibn `Abbas as "the divorce which is only according to an aim (an intention).
[ Mentioned by Al-Bukhari in Section 11, "Book of Divorce" (6/168) on the authority of Ibn Abbas.]

After divorce
However, when divorce takes place, it does not utterly cut off the marriage tie and make it irremediable. On the contrary, as mentioned in the Qur'an, divorce gives every divorced man two chances to go back and redeem the situation. If the divorces occur one after another, and if the two times do not succeed in changing their minds, the third divorce is the final and decisive one, after which the divorce cannot return to him unless she has first been married to another man (and widowed or divorced from him).Therefore, putting the three chances given by Allah in one utterance is against the decree of the Qur'an. That is what is indicated and illustrated by the Sheikh of Islam Ibn Taymeya and his disciple Al-Qayyim, and what the Islamic Law courts accept in several Arab countries.However, divorce does not deprive the divorced woman from taking maintenance during the legislated period that she stays without marriage (`iddah). [ Iddah is a waiting period. Its duration is usually (a) until she gives birth if she is pregnant, or (b) three menstrual cycles if she has regular periods, or three calendar months if she no menses. For details and exceptions, consult a book of Islamic jurisprudence (Fiquh). During the iddah the woman is not free to marry anyone else.

If it is a reversible divorce, her husband may choose to take her back at any time during the iddah. If he does not take her back after the waiting period, the divorce is final and the woman is free to marry someone else, or she may go back to her husband with a new marriage contract, and he must Pay her a new dower. (editor's note)] Divorce does not allow the husband to dismiss her from her home, but forces the husband to let her stay in her house with him (in the same house); perhaps sentiments would return, hearts be purified and urges renewed: "it may be that Allah will afterward bring some new thing to pass (i.e. to return her back to you if that was the first or second divorce)". [Surah 65:1]

Moreover, didoes not allow the man to consume the woman's dower or take back what was given before: "And it is not lawful for you (men) to take back any of your Mahr (bridal money given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage) (from your wives) which you have given them". [Surah 2:229]She also has the right of mut'a, the amount of which can be decided the social conventions. " And for divorced women, maintenance (should be provided) onreasonable (scale). This is a duty on Al-Mutaqeen (the pious)". [Surah 2:241] That is something general for every divorced woman to appease and compensate her. [ Muta is compensation or gift made in a lump sum rather than on-going maintenance. (editor's note)]It is also forbidden for the divorced man to spread rumours about his ex-wife or to scandalise her or offend her or her family after divorce: "either you retain her on reasonable terms or release her with kindness" [Surah 2:229] "And do not forget liberality between yourselves". [Surah 2:237]

That is divorce as decreed by Islam. It is a cure as it should be, at the right time, in the right measure, in the right style and with the right aim.On the other hand, Christianity has totally forbidden divorce for Catholics; except in the case of adultery, it is also forbidden by the Orthodox Church. Their reason is that what is united by Allah (whom they call God) cannot be separated (divorced) by man. As for Muslims, they believe that Allah unites and He is the One Who separates (divorces) through His decreed Laws. Allah makes Laws for His worshippers according to what is in their interest, and He is the One Who knows them better. The result is that many Christians have abandoned what is forbidden, which have obliged most Christian countries to set local laws allowing divorce without the restrictions, ties and morals of Islam. It is no wonder that many now get divorced for the most trivial reasons, and their married lives have been subjected to degeneration and collapse.

Why is divorce initiated by the man?
They ask, "Why is divorce initiated by the man alone?" The reply is that the man is the one in charge of the family and is its backbone. He is the one who pays the dower and what follows until the establishment of the family is built on his own shoulders. Therefore, it is very hard for him to destroy that establishment except for powerful reasons and inevitable necessities which would make him sacrifice all these expenses and absorb these losses. A man may be less hasty as he is less affected by emotions. As for the woman, she can be very affected by emotions, especially during the menses. What is more, it may not be in the parties" interests to leave the divorce to a court because not all the reasons for divorce are meant to be public, to be transmitted by lawyers and writers to become the subject of gossip on everyone's tongue. Yet, in the West divorce is achieved through court. This does not lessen divorce, nor does the court stand in the way of the man and woman who seek divorce.

How can an averse wife divorce her husband?
This is an important question for a great number of people: "`If divorce is initiated by the man-and we already know the reasons and justifications for this-what, then, is decreed concerning a woman's initiating a divorce? What is her way to get rid of the injustice of the husband if she loathes life with him for his harsh temper, his ill conduct, or for not performing his duties in an obvious way? Or there could also be physical or financial impotence which prevents him from fulfilling these duties, or other reasons.The answer is that the Judicious Law-Maker (i.e. Allah) has made several outlets for the woman through which she can overcome her dilemma:

1 - Her condition in the marriage contract to have divorce in her hands, which is eligible according to Abu Hanifa and Ahmad. In the authentic Hadith, "The truest condition is that which you made lawful, to have physical intercourse". [ Mutafaq aley (agreed upon) according Uqba Ibn Amer, The Pearl and the Coral (Al-Lu'lu' wal-Marjan) (2/894).]

2- By paying a ransom (Khul'). A woman who dislikes her husband can ransom herself by repaying what she took as a dower and things like that. It is not fair of her to be the one who wishes for the divorce and the destruction of the marriage bond; and then the husband becomes the only loser. Almighty Allah says:" Then if you fear that they would not be able to keep the limits ordained by Allah, then there is no sin for either of them of she gives back (the mahr or part of it) for her al-khul' (divorce)". [Surah 2:229]According to the prophetic traditions, Thabet Ibn Qais's wife complained to the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) of her strong loathing of her husband. The Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) asked her, "Would you give back his orchard?'1-which was her dower.- She answered, "Yes." The Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) ordered Thabet to take back his orchard and nothing more. He asked the husband to utter one irreversible repudiation". [ Transmitted by Al-Bukhari (6/170). "Book of Divorce" division 112, on the authority of lbn Abbas.]

3- Divorce through two arbitrators when there is a breach between husband and wife. Allah has said: "If you fear a breach between them twain (the man and his wife) appoint (two) arbitrators, one from his family and the other from hers; if they both wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation". [Surah 4:35]The Qur'an's calling that family council the "arbitrators" indicates that the two selected persons have the right to judge and decide. Some of the Prophet's Companions said to the arbitrators, "If you wish to unite them, then do so; and if you wish to divorce them, then do so."

4- Divorce for physicalimpotence. If the husband has a weakness which deprives him of having sexual intercourse, the wife can raise the matter to court for a divorce in order to prevent any harm touching her. In Islam, there should not be harm or any harming effect on others.

5- Divorce for injury falling on the wife. If the husband harmed his wife and hurt her, restricted her unfairly, such as by refusing to sustain her, for example, she can ask the judge to divorce her. In such a case, the judge will force a divorce to put an end to harm and injustice on her. The Almighty says: " But do not take them back to hurt them". [Surah 2:231]The Almighty also says: "either you retain her on reasonable terms or release her with kindness". [Surah 2:229]One of the injuries befalling a wife is to be struck without provocation. And some scholars of Islam have gone so far as to divorce a wife from her poor husband if he failed to sustain her and she asked for divorce. Islamic Law does not commit her to be patient when it comes to hunger with a poor husband if she does not accept it out of loyalty and nobility.

With these outlets, Islam has opened many doors for a woman to be liberated from the cruelty of some husbands and their being domineering without having the right to be. [ See "The Right of the Averse Wife in my book Contemporary Legal Opinions (Fataawa Mu'aserah), 2/361-366]
The laws laid down by men may be against the rights of women, but the Law decreed by Allah, the Creator of men and women, is a Law void of injustice or prejudice. It is perfect justice: "And who is better in judgement than Allah for a people who have firm Faith". [Surah 4:129]The abuse of using divorceIt remains to say that a great number of Muslims have abused divorce and have set it in the wrong place, making of it a sword pointed at a wife's neck. They have used it as an oath to swear with about everything great or small. Moreover, many jurisprudents have widened the scope of divorce, even to include the divorce of the drunkard and the one in wrath, and also the forced one, though the Hadith says, "No divorce in blind rage". [ Transmitted by Abu Dawud - his own wording - (3133), Al-Termithy (1141), Al-Nisa'i, 7/63, Ibn Majah (1969), Al-Doramy p.539, and Ahmad, 2/347,471. All on the authority of Abu Huraira.]

Ibn `Abbas says, "Divorce is only according to an aim (an intention)." But they take seriously the three times a man mentions divorce in one utterance in a state of anger, meant to be a threat in a fight outside the house, though he is totally happy and satisfied with his wife However, what is indicated in the texts and the intentions of the forgiving nature of the Islamic Law, in order to establish a family and protect it, is to narrow the scope of divorce. It is not valid except by a certain utterance, at a certain time, with a certain intention. We owe this to Allah; that is what Imam Al-Bukhari and other predecessors perceived, and which has been confirmed by Ibn Taymeya and Al-Qayyim and others. This expresses the spirit of Islam. As to miscomprehension or misapplication of the rules of Islam, it is the responsibility of Muslims not of Islam.