Islam In Focus
DISTORTIONS ABOUT ISLAM
The Holy War ( Jihad )
Was Islam spread at the point of sword? Was the Muslim emblem “The Qur’an or the sword?” Were the Muslims imperialist and after mundane power or loot ? Some people like to think about that in affirmative terms; some others in the negative, and some are undecided, perplexed and reluctant. But where does the Qur’an stand? What does the history of Muhammad reveal in this connection? It is certainly imperative on every honest person who has respect for truth and human dignity to find out for himself, and to reveal his findings to others.
The Qur’an makes it clear that, whether we want it or not, war is a necessity of existence, a fact of life, so long as there exist in the world injustice, oppression, capricious ambitions, and arbitrary claims. This may sound strange. But is it not a matter of historical record that humanity – from the early dawn of history up till now – has suffered from local, civil and global wars? And is it not also a fact that, more often than not, victorious allies settle their disputes over their gains and the status of their defeated enemies through wars and threats of war? Even today humanity lives under constant fear and buzzes of war over many hot spots in the world. Could God overlook these facts of life? Or could the Qur’an fail to deal with the matter in a realistic and effective manner? Certainly not! And that is why Islam has recognized war as a lawful and justifiable course for self- defense and restoration of justice, freedom and peace. The Qur’an says:
Fighting is prescribed for you, and you dislike it. But it is possible that you dislike a thing, which is good for you, and that you love a thing, which is bad for you. God knows, and you know not (2:216).
And did not God check one set of people by means of another, the earth would indeed by full of mischief: But God is Full of bounty to all the worlds (2:251). And did not God check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure (22:40).
Although realistic in its approach, Islam never tolerates aggression from its own side or from any other side, nor does it entertain aggressive wars or the initiation of aggressive wars. Muslims are commanded by God not to begin hostilities, or embark on any act of aggression, or violate any rights of others. In addition to what has been already said in the previous chapter, some particular verses of the Qur’an are of significant bearing. God says:
Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, and do not transgress limits (begin not hostility): For God loves not transgressors. And slay them wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. But if they cease, God is Forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more persecution or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression (2:190-193).
War is not an objective of Islam nor is it the normal course of Muslims. It is only the last resort and is used under the most extraordinary circumstances when all other measures fail. This is the actual status of war in Islam. Islam is the religion of peace: its meaning is peace; one of God’s names is peace; the daily greetings of Muslims and angels are peace; paradise is the house of peace, the adjective ‘Muslim’ means Peaceful. Peace is the nature, the meaning, the emblem and the objective of Islam. Every being is entitled to enjoy the peace of Islam and the kindness of the peaceful Muslims, regardless of religious or geographical or racial considerations, so long as there is no aggression against Islam or the Muslims. If non-Muslims are peaceful with the Muslims or even indifferent to Islam, there can be no ground or justification to declare war on them. There is no such thing as religious war to force Islam on non-Muslims, because if Islam does not emerge from deep convictions, from within, it is not acceptable to God, nor can it help its professor. If there is any religion or constitution to guarantee peaceful freedom of religion and forbid compulsion in religion, it is Islam and Islam alone. To this point the Qur’an refers as follows:
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error; Whoever rejects Evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks, And God hears and knows all things (2:256).
Even in the propagation of Islam a Muslim is not only forbidden to employ force but is also commanded to use the most peaceful methods. To Muhammad God says:
Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: For your Lord knows best who have strayed from His path and who receive guidance (16:125).
And dispute you not with the people of the Book (Jews and Christians) except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): But say: ’We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; our God and your God is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam) (29:46).
Now if Islam is so designated for peace, and if the Muslims are so dedicated to peace, and if the Qur’an is favorable to peace, why then did Muhammad launch wars and command battles? Why does the Qur’an say ‘slay them’ and fight them? To examine this seemingly innocent inquiry, it is indispensable to mention some historical facts that accompanied and anticipated the Muslim wars against the infidels.
After receiving the Charge from God, Muhammad called a public meeting and told the assembly of what he had received, appealing to them to give up their idol-worship and believe in the One True God. His first peaceful and logical appeal was met not only with resistance but also with jeers, mockery and laughter. He tried continually to present his people with the blessed call but had little success. Because he was not left free to propagate Islam in the open, he had to resort to private preaching for some years to save the lives of his few followers and mitigate their hardships. When instructions from God came to him to preach in the open, persecutions and torture increased and were brutally inflicted on the Muslims. But the more the persecutions increased, the higher the number of Muslims arose. The infidels tried all kinds of pressure and temptation to silence the Call of God. But the more they tried, the firmer Muhammad and the Muslims stood. When the infidels failed to shake the Faith of the Believers by threats, pressure, confiscation of property, jeers, etc., they organized a harsh boycott, a fierce campaign of ostracism, against the Muslims. For some years the Muslims were forced to remain within a very tight circle of association, unable to preach or sell or buy or marry or contact any of their fellow Meccans. Even this did not shake the Muslims’ Faith. The boycott went on until the infidels themselves were tired of its observance and had to call it off.
Bringing the severe boycott to an end was no indication of peace or anticipation of tranquillity on the part of the infidels. On the contrary, pressure and persecution continued with a rapid increase, but it was all in vain as far as the Muslims were concerned. Finally, the infidels convened a summit conference behind closed doors to discuss what to do next to eliminate Islam and get rid of Muhammad once and for all. A unanimous resolution was adopted to select a strong man from every tribe and murder Muhammad in his bed. The mission of Muhammad was not destined to end at that level. So, God instructed him to leave Mecca, his dear hometown, and migrate to Medina to reunite with the native Muslims and the earlier emigrants who had fled from Mecca to Medina (see Qur’an 8:30; 9:40). This was the Great Event of Hijrah or Emigration with which the history of Islam began and by which the Muslim Calendar goes.
Fleeing from Mecca, the Muslims were forced by a variety of circumstances to leave behind practically all their properties, belongings and even families. As soon as they settled in Medina, Muhammad resumed his peaceful preaching and his gracious invitation to Islam. Some natives responded favorably to the Call of God and immediately became full-fledged members of the Muslim community. Others did not embrace Islam but maintained their traditional beliefs. And because Muhammad was dedicated to dignified peace and reform, he concluded treaties with the non-Muslims assuring them of freedom and security, and creating in their hearts, for the first time, a socio-national conscience instead of the narrow tribal allegiance.
While Muhammad was engaged in these reforms, trying to organize the Muslim community at Medina and lay down the foundations of a stable and peaceful society wherein Muslims and non- Muslims could live side by side, the enemies at Mecca were restless. Their hatred of the Muslims was burning, and their determination to eliminate Islam was getting stronger and stronger every day. They reviewed their tactics and as soon as they completed their new plans, they started to implement them. They decided to make trouble for the Muslims from within and from without. Plundering and fighting raids were organized to attack Medina and get back to Mecca with whatever loot they could lay their hands on. The non-Muslims at Medina were getting increasingly envious of the popularity of Islam and the novel spirit of brotherhood among the Muslims, something which they themselves did not experience or particularly like to see experienced. So, the enemies at Mecca hastened to exploit the situation and stir internal troubles for the Muslims. The response of the envious non-Muslims of Medina to the instigation of the Meccans was quick and manifest, and serious troubles were arising all over Medina.
Now the Muslims were being constantly threatened from within by the disenchanted at Medina as well as by the raids organized from Mecca. They were driven to a point where they could not stand any more persecution and threats. Their families were separated from them by force. Their properties were confiscated. Their blood was shed. They were forced to leave their dear hometown in three waves of migration: two to Abyssinia and one to Medina. They endured for over thirteen years. With the new tactics of the Meccan enemies there was no course for the Muslims except to await their final annihilation in a plural massacre or defend themselves against oppression and persecution.
It must have been a paradox. Islam came to assure them of dignity and strength, freedom and security, and to ally them with God the Supreme Source of goodness and help, power and peace. Yet here they were helpless and anxious, threatened and terrified. Islam commissioned them to establish peace, to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, to support the oppressed and emancipate the subjugated, and to prove how reliable and helpful to His servants God is. But how could they do that, if they themselves were oppressed, subjugated to terror and projected to helplessness?
What perplexed them most of all was that the Qur’an had been silent on the matter, and had given them no specific instructions as to what to do. Their perplexity did not last long, and God relieved their grief by a Divine resolution to solve their problems and those of any who might find themselves in a similar situation. Here is how God words His resolution:
Verily God will defend those who believe: Verily God loves not any that is a traitor to faith or shows ingratitude. To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged; and verily, God is Most Powerful for their aid; (they are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right, (for no cause) except that they say: ‘ Our Lord is God’. Did not God check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure. God will certainly aid those who aid His (cause); for verily God is Full of strength, Exalted in Might, (Able to enforce His Will). (They are) those who, if We establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid the wrong. With God rests the end (and decision) of all affairs (22:38-41).
With this permission from God there was no more persecution or oppression to be inflicted on the Muslims. There was resistance from their side to restore tranquillity, to regain their peace and freedom, to reunite with their families and take back their belongings. There were battles and wars with the malicious infidels who flagrantly denied the Muslims peace and freedom. But never was there any aggression from the Muslim side, or any destruction of homes, crops, supplies, etc., or any killing of non-fighting children, women, elders and disabled people. The Muslims observed these rules and remained within the limits of God. That was something which had never been experienced before nor has been experienced after. It was under these circumstances that the Muslims had to fight, and it was with these principles and instructions of God that they in the end achieved decisive victories.
So much has been said or written about the “ruthless” Muslims, who emerged from the burning and dry deserts of dark Arabia to conquer the Roman and Persian protectorates, and even to venture around the walls of Europe. Many have expressed the opinion that those Muslims were motivated by religious zeal to spread Islam by force as far as they could reach. Many others consider this opinion silly and naive, because Islam - by its nature - cannot be forced; and even if it were supposedly forced on the conquered people, it could not have lasted there for long, and non-Muslims would have been liquidated from the conquered regions. History bears witness to the fact that wherever Islam reached it survived – with the exception of Spain on account of certain reasons, and that wherever the Muslim conquerors went, they lived side by side with non-Muslim natives. Moreover, they argue, one cannot force a religion like Islam on anyone and find him so sincere and honest about his faith as were those Muslim converts of the new lands. It needs more than compulsion to develop such good Muslims out of a defeated people, and it requires much more than suppression to make them uphold and cherish the ”forced” religion.
Another trend of thought is adopted by some who like to call themselves intellectuals or enlightened critics and authorities. They are not satisfied with that silly and naive opinion about the spread of Islam by force. They attribute the expansion of Islam to the aggressive wars launched by Muslims who suffocated in the heat and drought of Arabia, and were simply motivated by economic needs and circumstances. Those wars and adventures were not religious or spiritual but merely the outcome of pressing wants. This may indicate that the Arabs had not arisen to such a high level of sacrifice and devotion, or that after the death of Muhammad, his successors and their successors lost interest in religion altogether and took off to satisfy their immediate wants. It may also indicate that Islam itself is incapable of generating such fervor and zeal in those Muslim Arab warriors. The indication here is manifold, and the “intellectuals” of this opinion are uncertain as to which probability should have preference over others.
There is still one more trend adopted by some people who ascribe the Muslim wars out of Arabia to passionate lust for plunder and raiding. They cannot see any motive or appreciate any appeal in the Muslims except hunger for blood and desire for loot. They refuse to see any virtue in Islam and to associate the Muslims with any high motives.
The dispute between these various sections is quite serious and sometimes takes the shape of academic discussion. But be that as it may. The fact of the matter is that none of these critics has made any serious attempt to understand the whole question and present the truth in any honest manner. None of them has had the needed insight and the moral courage to come out with the true version of the entire case. How heavy their burden will be when they discover some day that they have misled and misinformed millions of people! How serious their responsibility will be when they know that they have committed grave offenses against the truth, against the Muslims and against their own followers!
It will be impossible to present here the viewpoint of Islam in detail concerning each war or battle. However, there are certain main points which will, when mentioned, give a fair idea of the whole Matter.
1. It should be remembered that Muhammad, who was commissioned by God as a mercy for all mankind, tried to approach the rulers of the neighboring territories, inviting them to embrace Islam and share in the mercy of God. It should also be remembered that they did not only reject his gracious invitation but also derided him and declared open wars against the Muslims. In his lifetime the Roman and Persian soldiers crossed the Muslim borders in various raids. So by the time of his death the Muslims were involuntarily at war with their neighbors.
That state of affairs continued, and whatever happened later in the following generations has to be seen in the context of those first incidents. This meant at the time that all Christendom, including Spain and France, was at war with the emerging world of Islam. The adventure of the Muslims in Europe has also to be seen in the light of these circumstances. The fact that all christendom was operating as one power is proven by the unquestionable authority of the Roman papacy over Christians. It is also proven by the general mobilization of Christian powers against Islam during the Crusades of the Middle Ages and even of the first quarter of this twentieth century.
So, when Rome sanctioned war against Islam, the Muslims could not be denied the full right to fight back on any battleground – whether in Palestine or in the Fertile Crescent, Italy or Hungary. This is what took them to Spain and Southern France. They could not afford to be encircled from all around by the mighty power of Rome and Persia. Nor could they just wait to be wiped out from the face of the earth. Orders were issued from Rome to slay Muhammad and present the Royal Court with his cut head, something which the pagan Romans had done to the early Christian pioneers. However, it must be admitted that some wars of later centuries had no relation to Islam, although they were fought by Muslims. They were not for the spread of Islam. Rather, they were motivated by certain local and, perhaps, personal reasons. Aggression is aggression, whether it be from or against the Muslims, and the attitude of Islam toward aggression is known and unchangeable. So, if there was aggression in those later wars, it could not be justified by Islam or acceptable to God.
2. None of the said critics tries to understand the nature and circumstances of those early centuries. The media of mass communication did not exist. There was no press or radio or television or even regular mail service. There was no way of public information or preaching except by personal contacts. There was no respect for life or property or honor or treaties of the individuals and of the weak nations. There was no security or freedom of expression. Whoever stood for a noble cause or came out with unpopular beliefs was menaced. This is revealed from the history of Socrates the Greek philosopher, of the Christian pioneers, and of the early Muslims. Many emissaries commissioned to deliver special messages to rulers and governors never came back alive. They were cold-bloodedly murdered or captured by their very hosts.
With all these hardships the Muslims of Arabia had to cope, and under all these circumstances they had to work. They had a message to deliver to mankind, a contribution to make to humanity, and a formula of salvation to offer. The Qur’an says invite to the Way of God by wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue in the most gracious manner. But who was there prepared to listen to the peaceful Call of God? It is a fact that many disbelievers used to avoid hearing the Prophet lest they might be affected by his peaceful preaching. They even resisted by force the peaceful Call of Islam. The early experience of Arabia taught the Muslims that it is more effective to be peaceful and at the same time stand on guard; that you can move in peace only when you are strong enough to guard your peace; that your voice of peace would echo better when you are able to resist pressure and eliminate oppression.
Now they had, by the order of God, to make Islam known to the outside world, but there was no telecommunication system or press or any other mass medium of communication. There was only one course to take, namely, personal and direct contacts, which meant that they had to cross the borders. But they could not do that in small or unarmed groups. So they had to move in large protected groups which must have appeared like an army, but was not an army in the real sense. They crossed the borders in various directions at different times. What took place then deserves consideration. In some areas they were warmly welcomed by the natives, who had long been oppressed and subjugated by the foreign powers of Rome and Persia. In some other areas they were first to offer Islam to those who were prepared to accept it, and there were many. Those who did not embrace Islam were asked to pay tributes equivalent to the Islamic tax (Zakah). The reasons for demanding the kind of tax were (i) that they wanted to be sure this taxpayer knew what he was doing, and that Islam was presented to him but he rejected it with his own free will and choice; (ii) that they undertook to protect the taxpayer and guarantee his security and freedom in a way equal to that of the Muslim himself, because any danger to him was a danger to his Muslim compatriot – and, to defend the Muslim, they had to defend the non-Muslim and insure his security; (iii) that the new state of affairs demanded the support and cooperation of all sectors, Muslims and non-Muslims alike: the former by Zakah, the latter by tributes, which were all spent in the public interest; and (iv) that they wanted to be certain he was not hostile to them and their new brethren, or inclined to make troubles for his Muslim compatriots.
Those who rejected Islam and refused to pay tributes in collaboration with other sectors to support their state made it hard for themselves. They resorted to a hostile course from the beginning, and meant to create trouble, not so much for the new Muslim comers as for the new Muslim converts and their compatriots, the tribute-payers. In a national sense, that attitude was treacherous; in a human sense, mean; in a social sense, careless; and in a military sense, pro- vocative. But in a practical sense it needed suppression, not so much for the comfort of the newcomers as for the sake of the state in which these very traitors were living. This is the only time force was applied to bring such people to their senses and make them realize their responsibilities: either as Muslims by accepting Islam freely, or as loyal citizens by being tributepayers, capable of living with their Muslim compatriots and sharing with them equal rights and duties.
3. It may be wise for these critics to study the Qur’an with honest intentions to see what it ordains with regard to war and peace. It may be wiser still for them to investigate the status of the “conquered” people, and the conditions under which they lived before and after their contact with the Muslims. What will they say, if they find out that urgent appeals were made to the Muslims by natives of the Persian and Roman protectorates to come and deliver them from the oppressing foreign rule? What will they think, if they happen to discover that the Muslim “conquerors” were joyfully welcomed by common people as well as by the religious patriarchs, who were longing for Muslim protection and Muslim justice of administration? How would they explain the phenomenon that some of the “conquered” people not only welcomed the “invading” Muslims but also fought on their side against the oppressors? How would they conceive the prosperity, freedom and progress of the “invaded” regions under Islam, in comparison to what had prevailed therein before?
We are not ascertaining any particular point of view on the matter or making any hasty conclusions. We simply believe that the question is worth reconsidering and deserves serious investigation. The findings will certainly by interesting and significant. Perhaps a Western mind can understand better, if the whole matter is considered in the light of the prevailing conditions in today’s world. The deep concern of the Western Allies over Berlin, the appeals of the oppressed everywhere, the anxiety of the South Koreans, the fears of the Laotians, the NATO business, the SEATO affairs, the Instability of the Communist Satellites - all that may help the Western mind to understand the events of those remote centuries and the actual policies of the Muslims of those days.
4. The idea that Muslim wars in the outside world were motivated by economic needs of the Arabs is worth considering too. Although seemingly certain of their own assumptions, the upholders of such an idea have not really studied the case seriously. Do they honestly think that the economic needs were the reasons to urge the Muslims to cross their Arabian borders? On what ground do they assume that Arabia – with its ancient centers of business, valleys and oases–was no longer capable of producing enough for the Muslims? Have they made any serious inquiry as to how much the “invading” Muslims made for themselves, how much they distributed among the people under their rule, and how much they sent back to the Central Administration in Medina or Damascus or Baghdad or Cairo? Have they compared the revenues of the “invaded” territories before and after Islam, and found out whether or not the “invaders” were simply self-interested business adventurers? Have they any reasons to believe that those Muslims took more than what they gave, or drew more than what they had deposited, or made more than what they had invested? Have they come across any evidence to prove if the Central Government in Arabia had at any time received tributes or taxes from its “conquered” protectorates which were needed for the development of these very protectorates, and if so how much was received, and was it worth the adventure in the unknown world? Have they collected any reliable information to show that Arabia was privileged or given preference, in expenditures or development programs over the “invaded” areas? Finally, did Arabia, all of a sudden feel the threat of a “population explosion” which forced the Muslims to carry out adventurous wars and / or economic explorations?
The attempt to interpret the Muslim contacts with non- Muslims in terms of economic needs may sound novel and worthy of sympathy, but it does not seem to have much truth in it or carry much bearing on serious scholarship. The least reservation that can be made as regards this attempt is that it is so far from being satisfactory and complete. There is so much yet to be done in terms of research, investigation, analysis and comparison. Until this is done, no critic has any moral right to pass his own theoretical assumptions as valid or binding. This presents another gracious invitation of Islam to all critics to make more serious attempts to search for the truth.
5. There is not much need to take as serious the opinions of those who consider the Muslim wars in terms of plunder and loot. What can be more casual or more stereotyped than such an opinion? It is a short cut in the field of scholarship and an easy way out of some Intellectual and moral problems, but it is so far from being the truth. The same questions of points 3 and 4 above can be asked again, just to find out how much loot the Muslim adventurers took or sent back to Arabia, and how many of their men returned home with spoils. This is not to mention the flourishing, the renaissance and prosperity of the “looted” territories under these very “looters”. It is not even to mention the harsh persecutions and heavy losses of lives and properties inflicted on Muslims, or the provocation and threats hurled at them. It is simply an appeal to those of such an opinion to make more careful studies of the case and present more responsible conclusions. However, they have to remember that whatever loot collected by the Muslims was very little compared to what they had lost by confiscation, usurpation, persecution and other provocative action inflicted on them from the hostile camps.
Whether or not the critics of these various grades accept the point of view of this survey, the fact remains that Islam is the religion of peace in the fullest sense of the term; that unjust war was never among its teachings; that aggression was never in its tenets or tolerated by it; that force was never employed to impose it on anyone; that the expansion of Islam was never due to compulsion or oppression; that misappropriation was never forgivable by God or acceptable to Islam; and that whoever distorts or misrepresents the Islamic teachings will do more harm to his own self and his associates than to Islam. Because it is the religion of God and the straight path to Him, it survived under the most difficult conditions, and it will survive to be the safe bridge to happy eternity. Should these critics have any doubt about this fact, they would be wise to study Islam, re-read the Qur’an, and refresh their memory of history.
The fact that economic prosperity and cultural renaissance followed the spread of Islam into the “conquered” regions does not necessarily mean that the Muslims were after economic gains and military spoils. Even if such alleged gain and spoils became incentives in later periods of Islamic history, it still does not follow that Islam prefers war to peace and the Muslims relish war spoils. There are better explanations. One of these should be very clear to those who are familiar with the classical discussion of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism where Protestantism, along with other factors, led to the rise of modern capitalism. No serious mind would contend that the Protestants developed their ethic to become economically prosperous or that modern capitalism still depends on the Protestant Ethic.
6. Finally, the word “Jihad” when associated with the word “Terrorism” become an abused term; the common meaning of Jihad is the action of a Muslim to defend his Muslim country when attacked, but it will never be a Jihad if you break the Muslims rules of engagement. It is a fact that Islam is both a faith and a set of rules of conduct, even in times of war Muslims are not allowed to kill anybody except the one who is engaged in face to face confrontation with them. The Muslims rules of engagement insist that children, women, the infirm, the aged, the men of religion and all those who are not engaged directly in battle should not be harmed. Moreover, Muslims in times of war are not allowed to destroy buildings housing innocent people or to destroy lands or to cut trees or to poison wells or to endanger the environment. Also Islam forbids haphazard killing where innocent people are killed along with wrongdoers.
At the same time the wide meaning of the word Jihad is ‘striving to do good’. So if you educate your family correctly your action is a Jihad, if you do your job properly your action is a Jihad, if you control your anger continuously your action is a Jihad, and the greatest Jihad is to restrain your soul from impure evil lower desires and lusts.
It should be stated that Islam, the religion of tolerance and forgiveness, holds the human soul in high esteem, and considers the killing of innocent human beings a grave sin and a terrible crime; This is backed by the Qur’anic verse which reads: ” …that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people, and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people…” (Qur’an 5: 32)
The Prophet is reported to have stated that: ‘ a woman would go to Hell because she locked up a cat that died as a result ’; If such is the ruling on protecting animals, no doubt aggression against human beings deserves greater prohibition, for human beings are honored by God.
Also Islam teaches justice: “O you who believe, stand out firmly for God as witnesses to fair dealing; and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just; that is next to piety, and fear God.” (Qur’an 5:8).
The Prophet said God had revealed to him: “O my servants, I have prohibited myself from doing anything unjust and have forbidden you from doing anything unjust as well. So don’t do anything unjust”.
Muslims who are aware of the teachings of Islam, the directives of the Holy Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet will never involve themselves in any kind of terrorist acts of aggression against innocent civilians. Such acts are considered an injustice to innocent people who are terrorized without any reasons.
If any terrorist attacks were carried out against innocent civilians then Islam reject the act and incriminate the perpetrator, and the aggressor deserves the punishment irrespective of religion, race or gender. It is unfair to hold a whole nation accountable for a crime carried out by a limited number of fanatic extremists, or to characterize a certain religion as a faith giving support to violence and terrorism.
Jesus, Son of Mary
One of the most controversial problems in human history is the question of Jesus.Was he completely Divine or only human, or was he semi-Divine and semi-human at the same time? Was he true or just another pretending impostor? Was he born in an ordinary way to a father and a mother like any other child? Was he born in the winter or in the summer? Many questions like these were and are still raised by Christians and non-Christians alike. Disputes and arguments about such matters have been continuous from the time of Jesus until today. Many denominations among the Christians have arisen on account of little differences in the interpretation of some insignificant aspects of these questions. This is all known to Christians as well as to non-Christians. But just where does Islam stand? Can Islam offer any interpretation to settle these perplexing questions? ( There are many arguments regarding Jesus' life: how, when, and where he was born, lived, received his Message, died, and was buried; his " miracles". Lack of space and the blasphemous defamatory character of the arguments force us to limit our discussion of these provocative questions. For a critical survey and an excellent bibliography, see Qazi Muhammad Barakatullah, Jesus Son of Mary , Fallacy and Factuality - Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1973. )
Before anything can be said, three points must be made clear. First, a Muslim is quite at ease as far as the attitude of Islam towards Jesus is concerned; his mind is settled, his conscience is clear, and his belief is sound. Secondly, a Muslim' s concept of God, religion, prophethood, revelation and humanity makes him accept Jesus not only as a historical fact but also as one of the most distinguished apostles of God. It should be remembered here that acceptance of Jesus by Muslims is a fundamental article of Faith in Islam, and that a Muslim can never think of Jesus in any derogatory terms. A Muslim is happily denied the liberty of defaming Jesus or any other prophet of God Thirdly, whatever will be mentioned here is what the Qur'an says and teaches. Although very unpopular among the Christians, the Islamic beliefs about Jesus do not intend in any way to belittle his role or underestimate his character or degrade his great personality. On the contrary, these Islamic beliefs depict Jesus in a most
respectable manner and place him as high in status as God Himself has placed him. In fact, the Muslim is more respectful of Jesus than many Christians. But the attitude of Islam should not be misunderstood. It must not be interpreted as appeasing or flattering or compromising. It is to be taken as the truth in which the Muslim unshakably believes and will continue to believe. It is the truth of yesterday, the truth of today, and the truth of tomorrow.
The environment in which Jesus was born and raised deserves some attention. The people to whom he was sent had peculiar characteristics, among which were:
(I) that they interpolated and misinterpreted the Scriptures of God in meaning and word alike;
(ii) that they rejected some of their prophets, including Jesus, and killed
(iii) that they were outspoken and irresponsible as regards their wealth.
The Qur' an says :
Is it that whenever there comes to you ( children of Israel) an apostle with what you desire not, you are puffed up with pride? Some you called impostors, and other you slay! (2:87)
God has heard the taunt of those who say: 'Truly, God is indigent and we are rich! , We shall certainly record their word and (their act) of slaying the-prophets defiance of right, and We shall say: ' Taste you the penalty of the Scorching Fire! ' (3: 181 )
God did aforetime take a Covenant from the Children of Israel. But because of their breach of their Covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard: They change the words from their (right) places and forget a good part of the Message that was sent them (5:13-14)
This was the second nature of the people to whom Jesus was sent. As for the date of his birth, Christians have not been able to establish any specific season or year." Astronomers still have not pinned down any scientific explanation of the Star of Bethlehem' . . . . . . 'Neither the year of Christ's birth nor the season of the year when it (the star) occurred are known with certainty' . . ...' Historians estimate the earliest year was 11 BCandthelatest,4BC ....' Also, 'while the time of year when the birth occurred has not been fully established most probably it occurred in the springtime, rather than in December. . . . . . ."(Mrs. Simone Daro Gossner of the U .S. Naval Observatory, quoted on p.12 of The Edmonton Journal of December 23, 1960)
Be that as it may, the more important question to the Muslim is how Jesus was born. Up to the time of Jesus three kinds of creation had been experienced, in each of which the power, the knowledge and the wisdom of God the Creator were clearly demonstrated. First, there was human being created without the physical interference or presence of any known human father or mother, and that was Adam. Secondly, there was a human being created without the physical existence or the precedence of any known mother or female ancestor, and that was Eve. She was anticipated by Adam who might be thought of as the symbolic or figurative father of mankind. Thirdly, there were millions of people created through the normal intimacy of fathers and mothers. Curious and inquiring minds might have pondered on the possibility of the fourth kind of creation, namely, the creation of a human being without the physical interference of any human father. This possibility seems to have been
translated into reality by God in the creation of Jesus to, perhaps, complete the four possible kinds of creation, and to illustrate the power of the Creator in every possible shape and form. The birth of Jesus to the pious Mary was a miraculous action, an act of the will of God. The choice of this kind of creation at that particular time may be as much intelligible as it is interesting. It seems that medicine was quite popular in one way or another, in one region or another. The contemporaries of Jesus swerved so far from the Path of God and were also stubborn. God showed them His power in a new form of creation. He showed them that His power is infinite, and that their salvation would come about only by submission to Him and belief in Him. The illustration was presented in the vivid manifestation of the creation of Jesus. This, perhaps, was also an anticipation of the kind of miracles which Jesus was to perform later on with the help of God, the miracles which were more or less of a medical nature
It should be pointed out that this hypothetical interpretation of the birth of Jesus is not based on the authority of the Qur' an or the Traditions of Muhammad. These four logically possible forms of creation and the induction that the birth of Jesus constitutes the fourth and final form are the personal views of the writer and his own hypothesis. This personal view has no bearing whatsoever on the authority or genuineness of the Qur' an and the Traditions of Muhammad. Whether this hypothesis about the four kinds of creation is valid or not, it does not in any way affect the Muslim's belief in the truth of the Qur'an and its statement about the birth of Jesus being the miraculous will and work of God. At any rate, the whole point is worth pursing
Now if anyone wishes to call Jesus the son of God or God because he was created without the precedence of a human father, and because God Himself adopted him or acted as his father, if this holds true the-same1hing should even be more applicable to and more appropriate for Adam, who had neither a father nor a mother. And if the fatherhood of God is interpreted in a figurative sense then it should apply to all mankind, particularly those who distinguished themselves in the service of the Supreme Lord. Human beings are the magnificent creation of God and, in a sense, are His children. Whether the Fatherhood of God is interpreted literally or figuratively it would be quite arbitrary to confine it to Jesus alone, discarding Adam in the first interpretation and the rest of mankind in the second. The Qur' an reveals the birth of Jesus in the following manner:
And relate (O Muhammad) in the Book (the story on Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East. She placed a screen (to screen herself from them; then We sent to her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. She said: 'I seek refuge from you to (God) Most Gracious: (come not near) if you do fear God. ' He said:' Nay, I am only a messenger from your Lord, (To announce) to you the gift of a pure growing son.' She said:' How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?' He said:' So (it will be): your Lord said: That is easy for Me,-and (W ~ wish)!o appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us. It is a matter so decreed' . So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: She cried (in her anguish ): ' Ah! how I wish I had died before this! how I wish I had been
a thing forgotten or out of sight!' But a voice cried to her from beneath the palm-tree:' Grieve not! for your Lord has provided a rivulet beneath you; and shake towards yourself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon you. So eat and drink and cool (your) eye (be happy). And if you do see any man, say: 'I have vowed a fast to (God) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into no talk with any human being.' At length she brought him to her people carrying him (in her arms). They said: 'O Mary! truly an amazing thing you have brought! O sister of Aaron! your father was not a man of evil, nor your mother was a woman unchaste!' But she pointed to him. They said: 'How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle? He said:' I am indeed a servant of God: He has given me revelation and made me a prophet; and He has made me blessed wheresoever I be, and (He) has enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live; and (He) has made me kind to my mother, and not
overbearing or miserable; so peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!' Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary. (It is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute. It is not befitting to (the Majesty) of God that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When he determines a matter, He only says to it: 'Be' ; and it is. Verily God is my Lord and your Lord: Him therefore serve you: this is a Way that is straight.( 19: 16-36; cf.3:42-64; 4: 171-172;
5: 17, 72- 75; 25:2,43:57-65)
The mission which God entrusted to Jesus was not salvation through total atonement by blood sacrifice, but salvation by virtue of right guidance and self -discipline, by quickening the stagnant minds and softening the hard souls. It. ~as to install the true religion of God and restore His revelations which had been misinterpreted and abused. In approaching those stagnant minds arid hard souls, Jesus not only preached the word of God but also brought tangible Signs and performed "Miracles" in support of his mission. Logical and spiritual as well as "supernatural" and extraordinary proofs were provided by God at the hands of Jesus to show those hard-hearted people the true path of god. Relating the mission of Jesus and the "miraculous" nature of his proofs, the Qur'an says:
Behold! the angles said: 'O Mary! God gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him:his name is the Messiah Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company on those nearest to God; he shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous'.' And God will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law (Torah) and the Gospel, and (appoint him) an apostle to the children of Israel, (with this message): ' I have come to you, with a Sign from you Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God's leave: and I heal those born blind and the lepers, and I quicken the dead by God's leave; and I declare to you what you eat and what you store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if you did believe: (I have come to you), to attest the Law (Torah) which was before me, and to make lawful to you part of what was (before) forbidden to you. I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear God' s displeasure and obey me. It is God Who is my Lord and your Lord; then worship Him. This is a Way that is
straight (3:45-51 )
Then will God say: 'O Jesus the son of Mary! recount My favor to you and to your mother. Behold! I strengthened you with the holy spirit, so that you did speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught you the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel. And behold: you make out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and you breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by My leave, and you heal those born blind, and the lepers by My leave. And behold! you bring forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the children of Israel from (violence to you )when you did show them the Clear Signs, and the unbelievers among them said: 'This is nothing but evident magic.' And behold! God will say: 'O Jesus the son of Mary! did you say unto men, 'worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of God? 'He will say: 'Glory to You ! never could I say what I have no right (to say) . . .
Never said I to them aught except what You did command me to say, to wit, ,
Worship God my Lord and your Lord; , and I was a witness over them while I dwelt amongst them; when You did take me up You were the Watcher over them, and You are a Witness to all things (5: 110-117)
These verses are only representative of numerous similar ones throughout the Qur'an. They all emphasize the fact that Jesus never claimed to be a god or the son of God, and that he was only the servant and apostle of (he Lord in the pattern of those before him. The Qur'an stresses this fact in the following way:
And in their (the prophets') footsteps we sent Jesus the son of Mary confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear God's displeasure (5:46)
They do blaspheme who say: 'God is Christ the son of Mary .' But Christ said: 'O children of Israel! worship God my Lord and your Lord. Whoever joins other gods with God, - God will forbid him the Garden, and the Fire will be his abode: There will for wrong-doers be no one to help' They do blaspheme who say: 'God is one of three in a Trinity: ' for there is no god except one God. If they desist not from their word ( of blasphemy), verily, a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. Why turn they not to God, and seek His forgiveness? For God is Most Forgiving,Most Merciful, Christ the son of Mary was no more than an apostle; many were the apostles that passed away before him. His mother was woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how God does make His Signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth! . . .Say: 'O People of the Book! exceed not in you religion the bounds (of what is proper), trespassing beyond the truth. Nor follow the vain desires of people who went wrong in times gone by, who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the even Way (5:72- 75; cf. 4: 17l-172)
The beginning of Jesus was controversial. So was his end. In between he was
persistent in can-ying out his mission, strengthened by the Book of God, by wisdom, by the Clear Signs and by the holy spirit. Yet very few were those who accepted him whole-heartedly. Although tolerant and peace-minded, Jesus could not tolerate the hypocrisy of the children of Israel and their devotion to the letter of the Law at the expense of its spirit. He was rejected and opposed by them, and they plotted to kill him. It was customary among them to reject some of their prophets and kill some. Jesus was no exception to this rule. In fact they believed that they did crucify him.The story was climaxed and dramatized at this stage, and religious mourning became sacred for the Christians as was wailing for the Jews
A plot was planned to crucify Jesus; an actual execution on the cross took place; someone was really crucified. But it was not Jesus; it was someone else who was crucified in his place.
As for Jesus himself, God came to his rescue and saved him from the enemies. God crowned his mission on the earth by saving him from violent death and raising him up high to Heaven. Whether he was raised in rank by means of excellence or whether he was raised alive in soul and body or in soul only after he died a natural death has not much bearing on the Islamic beliefs. It is no article of Faith, because what is important and binding to a Muslim is what God reveals; and God revealed that Jesus was not crucified but was raised to Him. The Qur' an related the end of Jesus as follows:
The people of the Book ask you (Muhammad) to cause a book to descend to them from Heaven: indeed they asked Moses for an even greater (miracle), for they said: 'Show us God in public' . But they were dazed, for their presumption, with a thunder and lightning. Yet they worshipped the Calf even after Clear Signs had come to them; even so We forgave them; and gave Moses manifest proofs of authority. And for their Covenant We raised over them (the towering height) of Mount (Sinai); and (on another occasion) We said: 'Enter the gate with humility' ; and ( once again) We commanded them: 'Transgress not in the matter of Sabbath' . And We took from them a solemn Covenant. (They have incred divine displeasure); in that they broke their Covenant; that they rejected the Signs of God; that they slew the Messengers in defiance of right; that they said:' Our hearts are the wrappings (which preserve God's Word; we need no more) , ; nay God has set the seal in their hearts for their blasphemy, and little is it they believe; that they rejected Faith that they uttered against Mary a
grave false charge; that they said (in boast the dersion): 'We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of God.' But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them. And those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge except only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not. Nay, God raised him up to Himself; and God is Exalted in power, Wise (4:153-158; cf:3:52-59)
Islam rejects the doctrine of the Crucifixion of Jesus by the enemies of God and also the foundations of that doctrine. This rejection is based on the authority of God Himself as revealed in the Qur' an, and on a deeper rejection of blood sacrifice and vicarious atonement for sins. Islam teaches that the First Sin of Adam was forgiven after he himself had made the atonement; that every sinner, if not forgiven by God, will himself be accountable for his sins; and that no one can make atonement for the sins of another. This makes no room for the entertainment of the doctrine of Blood Sacrifice or atonement on another person's behalf. However, some of the early Christian sects did not believe that Jesus was killed on the Cross. The Bacilidans believed that someone else was crucified in his place. The Docetae held that Jesus never had a real physical or natural body, but only an apparent body, and that his cricifixion was apparent, not real. The Marcionite Gospel (about 138 A.D.) denied that Jesus was born, and merely said that he appeared in human form. The Gospel of Saint Barnabas - of which there is an English translation in the State Library of Vienna and an Arabic version in the Arab world-supports the theory of substitution on
As regards the end of Jesus, the Muslim is quite at ease as he is with regard to his beginning. The Muslim believes that Jesus was neither killed nor crucified, but God raised him up to Himself in honor and grace. The mind of the Muslim is clear as far as the whole matter is concerned. The Qur'an has settled the disputes for him once and for all. The belief that Jesus was crucified raises a number of unavoidable inquiries. Some of these may be presented here
1. Does the crucifixion of Jesus as conceived by the Christian churches befit the
Justice, the Mercy, the power, and the Wisdom of God?
2. Is it just on God's part, or anybody's part for that matter, to make someone repent for the sins or wrongs of others, the sins to which the repenter is no party?
3. Is it consistent with God's Mercy and Wisdom to believe that Jesus was humiliated and murdered the way he is said to have been?
4. Is it a fulfillment of God's promise ( to defend His allies and protect His beloved ones) that Jesus was so deserted that he became an easy prey to God's enemies'? Is this to be taken as a way of fulfilling one's obligations or as a precedence in honoring one's word?
5. Is it justifiable and proper to believe that God, the Most Forgiving, was unable to forgive Adam and his children for the Original Sin, and that He held them in suspense or bewilderment until Jesus came to make the atonement with his own blood?
6. Does the belief of crucifixion and blood sacrifice appear in any religion apart from the pagan creeds of the early Greeks, Romans, Indians, Persians, and the like?
7. Is there any parallel to Jesus in human history besides the fictitious figures of
Bacchus, Apollo, Adonis, Horus and other Virgin-born gods?
8. Does it not give new insight to compare the words attributed to Jesus with those of Bacchus, who said that he was the Alpha and Omega of the world, and had came to redeem humanity by his blood? Could the similarity of these words to those ascribed to Jesus in later years stimulate a new zeal to search for the whole truth of the matter?
9. What did the Roman authorities have against Jesus? He was no threat to their
control. In fact he did many favors for their leading personalities and their
households. He taught his followers to render unto Caesar what belonged to Caesar and unto God what belonged to God. He was a peaceful preacher and a great help to the Roman authorities in keeping law and order in the land. Why then would they crucify him and lose such a good law-abiding citizen and supporter?
10. How much is known about the character of the Roman Governor, Pilate? Was he on good terms with the contemporary Jews who appealed to Rome against him? Was his rule in Judaea not expressive of his hail-ed and contempt of them? Was he not vulnerable to bribes? Why then would he hasten to do their will or implement their order? Why would he not accept the bribe of a rich admirer of Jesus such as Joseph of Armathaea? This Joseph, according to Luke, was wealthy and very interested in Jesus, and was a counselor who did not consent to the counsel in the decision to refer Jesus for crucifixion. Could he not have tried, even by bribing the corruptible governor, to save Jesus from crucifixion after he had failed to do so in the council chamber?
11. How many disciples did actually witness the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, and
what were their reactions? Can it be true what Matthew says (26:56) that all the
disciples forsook Him and fled? Is this the criterion of the integrity and character of such great disciples of a great teacher? Only the beloved John is reported to have been present at the scene. But how long was he present and how long did it take the condemned person to die on the cross in those days? According to some reliable historical sources (see the article on the Cross, The Chambers' Encyclopedia, 1950), it usually took a few days for the condemned to die on the cross. But why was it only a few hours, not the usual few days, in the case of Jesus? And why did he "die" on the cross while his two other companions survived him? What about the darkness which overshadowed all the land for three hours of the crucifixion period (Matthew, 27:45; Mark, 15:33; Luke, 23:44); Could a replacement or substitution have taken place on the cross under the purple robe during that period of darkness and confusion?
12. How familiar with Jesus were those Roman soldiers who came to take him to
cross? How certain were they that it was the right person they took to the scene? Did they really recognize him when they went to an-est him? Did they have any particular interest or urge to identify Jesus at that time when public festivities were taking place and fear of public outburst was imminent?
13. Can a believer imagine that Jesus (who was one of the five most determined and persistent messengers of God) would speak to God from the cross in the manner he is said to have spoken, in a tone of reproach or at best of anxiety? Is it proper for a distinguished prophet like Jesus to say to God at a trying time that God has forsaken him? Is that to be taken as a pattern or precedence in addressing God or in reacting to the trying experiences?
14. Was God the Most Merciful, the Most Forgiving and the Most High unable to
forgive men's sins except by inflicting this cruel and most humiliating alleged
crucifixion on one who was not only innocent but also dedicated to His service and cause in a most remarkable way? Is this the application of God's mercy and
forgiveness or the reflection of His justice and love'?
A study of the surrounding circumstances of the time, the behavior of the mundane authorities, the public reactions, the concept of God, the status of man, the purpose of religion and the life - a study of these can provoke interesting thoughts similar to the ones I have mentioned. Until a satisfactory explanation of such inquiries is found, the
believer cannot be at ease, nor can he enjoy any true peace of mind. So it may be advisable for all parties concerned to make a serious study of the matter and embark on a deeper course of investigation
However, as far as the Muslims are concerned, such inquiries never arise, and such perplexities are irrelevant, for Islam stands firm in maintaining that Jesus was not crucified or killed, but was honored and raised to God Himself. It is reported in Christian Literature that Jesus appeared, after crucifixion, to some disciples. His appearance is quite probable and conflicts in no way with the Islamic beliefs. If it was true that he appeared, the Muslim would believe that this appearance was not after death on the Cross but after the asylum; which he had taken by the order of God as a step in God's plan to save him and counteract the vicious conspiracy of the enemies. Instead of being crucified and humiliated as had been planned by the enemy, he was more exalted in rank and more honored as had been counter-planned by God
The greatness of Jesus and the distinction of his role do not, according to the
Muslims, emanate from the Christian belief that he was cold-bloodedly crucified
because of his teachings and to atone for man's sins. If this popular belief is valid, one might be tempted to say that the sacrifice of Jesus for atonement was in vain because sin has not been eliminated. Or one may even say that there are thousands of great heroes, like Jesus, who died in promotion of their causes, worthy and otherwise. These can be found everywhere, among the Germans, the Allies, the Communists, the officials of the United Nations Organization, the religious wan-iors, the freedom fighters, etc. So if this violent death is going to deify the dead, humanity must have countless gods and deities, and it would be arbitrary on anybody's part to confine
such deity to Jesus alone, disregarding the other heroes who died in similar situations
Again, the Muslim does not face such a paradox. He believes that the greatness of Jesus arises from the fact that he was chosen by God and honored with His word; that he was entrusted with the revelations of God and commissioned to teach His message; that he was a prophet of character and personality; that he was sincere inwardly and outwardly; that he fought hypocrisy and blasphemy; that he was distinguished in the beginning at the time of his birth and in the end at the time of his ascension; and that he was a Sign to the people and a mercy from God. Peace be on him and his fellow prophets
The nature of this survey does not permit us to deal thoroughly with the statements of the Qur'an on Jesus and his mission. What has been given here is only the fundamental part. For further study and investigation the reader may be referred to the Qur'an itself. To facilitate the references, a table showing the relevant chapters and verses in the Qur' an is here presented
CHAPTER NUMBER VERSE NUMBER
4 156-159, 171-172
Polygamy (Plurality of Wives)
Strictly speaking, polygamy means the plurality of mates. More specifically, if a man has more than one wife at the same time, this is called polygyny. But since the average common reader makes no distinction between the two terms, they will be used here interchangeably. When we say polygamy in this context, it actually means polygyny in the proper sense of the term. On the other hand, if a woman has more than one mate, it is called polyandry. If it is a mixture of men and women, it is a group or communal marriage.
These three basics types of plural marriage have been more or less practiced by different societies in different ages under different circumstances. The most common pattern is polygyny; yet it is still necessarily limited to a very small minority of any given population for various reasons. This is the only pattern permitted by Islam. The other two, plurality of husbands (polyandry) and group marriages are absolutely forbidden in Islam.
However, it is not correct that Judaism and Christianity have always been monogamous or categorically opposed to polygyny, not even today. We are informed by some prominent Jewish scholars, e.g. Goitein (pp. 184-185), that polygynous Jewish immigrants cause the Israeli housing authorities a great deal of both difficulty and embarrassment. The position of the Christian Mormons is well known. So is the view of Afro-Asian bishops who prefer polygyny to infidelity, fornication, and mate swapping. In the United States alone, mate swappers are estimated to number hundreds of thousands.
It will be revealing to examine the high correlation between strict formal monogamy and the frequency of prostitution, homosexuality, illegitimacy, infidelity, and general sexual laxity. The historical record of the Greek-Roman and the Jewish-Christian civilizations is even more revealing in this respect as any standard sociological history of the family will show. (S.D Goitein, Jews and Arabs: Their Contracts Through the Ages. New York: Schoken Books, 1964; L.T. Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution: a study of comparative Ethics. London: Chapman and Hall, 1951; E.A. Westermark, A Short History of Marriage. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1926)
Turning to the case of Islam we find many people in the Western world who think that a Muslim is a man who is possessed by physical passions and himself in possession of a number of wives and concubines, limited or unlimited. Many more among these people show a feeling of surprise when they see a Muslim with one wife or a Muslim who is unmarried. They believe that the Muslim is at full liberty to shift from one wife or a number of wives to another, and that this is as easy as shifting from one apartment to another, or even as changing one’s suit. This attitude is aggravated partly by sensational motion pictures and cheap paperback stories, and partly by the irresponsible behavior of some Muslim individuals. The inevitable result of this situation is that stationary barriers have cut off millions of people from seeing the brilliant lights of Islam and its social philosophy. And it is for such people that an attempt will be made to discuss the question from the Muslim point of view, after which anybody is free to draw his own conclusions.
Polygamy as such has been practiced throughout human history. It was practiced by prophets like Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, etc.; by kings and governors; by common people of the East and the West in ancient and modern times alike. Even today, it is practiced among Muslims and non-Muslims of the East and the West in various forms, some of which are legal and some illegal and hypocritical; some in secret and some in public. It does not require much search to find out where and how a great number of married people maintain private mistresses, or stock spare sweethearts, or frequent their beloved ones, or simply go around with other women, protected by common law. Whether moralists like it or not, the point remains that polygamy is in practice and it can be seen everywhere and found in all ages of history.
During the time of Biblical revelations, polygamy was commonly accepted and practiced. It was accepted religiously socially, and morally; and there was no objection to it. Perhaps this is why the Bible itself did not deal with the subject because it was then a matter of fact, a matter of course. The Bible does not forbid it or regulate it or even restrict it. Some people have interpreted the ten-virgin story of the Bible as a sanction for maintaining ten wives at a time. The stories of biblical prophets, kings, and patriarchs in this regard are incredible.
When Islam was re-presented by Muhammad the practice of polygamy was common and deeply-rooted in the social life. The Qur’an did not ignore the practice or discard it, nor did it let it continue unchecked or unrestricted. The Qur’an could not be indifferent to the question or tolerant of the chaos and irresponsibility associated with polygamy. As it did with other prevailing social customs and practices, the Qur’an stepped in to organize the institution and polish it in such a way as to eradicate its traditional evils and insure its benefits. The Qur’an interfered because it had to be realistic and could not condone any chaos in the family structure which is the very foundation of society. The benevolent intervention of the Qur’an introduced these regulations:
1. Polygamy is permissible with certain conditions and under certain circumstances. It is a conditional permission and not an article of Faith or a matter of necessity.
2. This permission is valid with a maximum of four wives. Before Islam there were no limits or assurances of any kinds.
3. The second or third wife, if ever taken, enjoys the same rights and privileges as the first one. She is fully entitled to whatever is due to the first one. Equality between the wives in treatment, provisions and kindness is a prerequisite of polygamy and a condition that must be fulfilled by anyone who maintains more than one wife. This equality depends largely on the inner conscience of the individual involved.
4. This permission is an exception to the ordinary course. It is the last resort, the final attempt to solve some social and moral problems, and to deal with inevitable difficulties. In short, it is an emergency measure, and it should be confined to that sense.
The Qur’anic passage relevant to the subject reads as follows:
If the fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans (whom you marry or whose mothers you take as wives for you), marry women of your choice, two or three, or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess. That will be more suitable to prevent you from doing injustice (4:3).
The passage was revealed after the Battle of Uhud in which many Muslims were killed, leaving widows and orphans for whom due care was incumbent upon the Muslim survivors. Marriage was one way of protecting those widows and orphans. The Qur’an made this warning and gave that choice to protect the rights of the orphans and prevent the guardians from doing injustice to their dependents.
With this background it is apparent that Islam did not invent polygamy, and that by introducing the said regulations it does not encourage it as a rule. It did not abolish it because if it were abolished, that would have been in theory only, and people would have continued the practice as is observed today among other people whose constitutions and social standards do not approve polygamy, Islam came to be enforced, to be lived, to be practised, and not to stay in suspense or be considered a mere theory. It is realistic and its outlook on life is most practicable. And that is why it permits conditional and restricted polygamy; because had it been in the best interest of humanity as a whole to do without this institution, God would have certainly ordered its termination. But who knows better than He?
There is a variety of reasons for which Islam permits polygamy. One does not have to imagine such reasons or make hypotheses. They are real and can be seen every day everywhere. Let us examine some of these reasons.
1. In some societies women outnumber men: This is especially true of industrial and commercial regions, and also of countries that get involved in wars. Now if a Muslim society is in this category, and if Islam were to forbid polygamy and restrict legal marriage to one wife only, what would the unmarried ones do? Where and how would they find the naturally desirable companionship? Where and how would they find sympathy, understanding, support and protection? The implications of the problem are not simply physical; they are also moral, sentimental, social, emotional and natural. Every normal woman – whether she is in business or in foreign service or in the intelligence department – longs for a home, a family of her own. She needs some one to care for and some one to care for her. She desires to belong socially and familially. Even if we look at it from a strictly physical point of view, the implications are still very serious, and we cannot just ignore them; otherwise, psychological complexes, nervous breaks, social disgust and mental instability would develop as legitimate results of leaving the problem unsolved. Clinical evidence of this is overwhelming.
These natural desires and sentimental aspirations have to be realized. These needs to belong, and to care, and to be cared for, have to be satisfied somehow or other. Women in such a situation do not usually transform their nature or lead an angelic course of life. They feel that they have every right to enjoy life and obtain their share. If they cannot have it in a legal and decent way, they never fail to find other channels, although risky and temporary. Very few women can do without the permanent and assured companionship of men. The overwhelming majority of unmarried women in such a society find their way to meet men. They put up lavish parties, organize social cocktails, attend business conventions, pursue outgoing roads, and so on. The results of this desperate hunting is not always moral or decent. A certain married man may appeal to some woman, and she would try to win him legally or otherwise. Also, some woman may attract a certain man, who might be demoralized or depressed for some reason or other. Such a man will try to have some intimate relationship with her in the open or in secret, in a decent manner or otherwise, in a legal form or just by common law. This would certainly have serious effects on the family life of the married man involved, and would ruin from within the morale and social morality of society. Wives would be deserted or neglected; children would be forsaken; homes would be broken, and so on.
The woman who meets a male companion under such circumstances has no security or dignity or rights of any kind. Her male companion or professional lover could be with her, maintain her and frequent her residence with gifts and readiness to shower on her all expressions of passionate romance. But what assurance has she got? How can she stop him from walking out on her or letting her down in times when he is most needed and his companionship is most desired? What will prevent him from calling off this secret romance? Morality? Conscience? The Law? Nothing will help; morality was given a death blow when they started this kind of intimacy; conscience was paralyzed when he indulged in this relationship against all regulations of God and man; the Law of society does not recognize any intimacy except with one’s only wife. So, the male can enjoy this easy companionship as long as he wishes, and once his feelings cool off he can go to meet another woman and repeat the same tragedy without regulated responsibilities or obligations on his part.
The woman who has had this experience may still be attractive and appealing, or desirous. She may even look for another man and give it a second trial. But will this give her any security or assurance or dignity or right? She will be running in the same vicious circle all the time hunting or hoping to be hunted. Her burden will grow heavier and heavier, especially if there are children involved. Yet in the end she will be forgotten. That does not befit human dignity or feminine delicacy. Any woman in this situation is bound to become either a nervous wreck or a rebellious revenger and destroyer of morality.
On the other hand, no one can pretend that all married men are happy, successful and satisfied with their marriages. Whether it is his own or his wife’s fault, the unhappy husband will look for some other kind of companionship and consolation from somebody else. This is made easy for him when women outnumber men. If he cannot get it through honest channels, he will get it by other means with the result of immoral and indecent intimacies, which may involve illegitimacy, abortion and other endless troubles. These may be ugly and bitter facts, but they are real and acute problems. They have to be solved in a way that will secure the individual, male or female, and protect society.
The solution which Islam offers in this respect is a permission to the unhappy and dissatisfied husband to marry a second wife and live with her openly in a responsible way with equal fulfillment of all obligations to the first wife and to the second. Similarly, it helps unmarried women satisfy their needs, realize their longings and fulfill their ligitimate aspirations and natural desires. It gives them a permission to associate with men by marriage and enjoy all the rights and privileges of legal wives. In this way Islam does not try to evade the question or ignore the problem. It is realistic and frank, straightforward and practical. The solution which Islam offers is legal, decent and benevolent. Islam suggests this solution because it can never tolerate hypocrisy in human relations. It cannot accept as legal and moral the attitude of a man who is by law married to one wife and in reality has unlimited scope of intimacies and secret relationships. On the other hand, it is deadly opposed to adultery and cannot condone it. The penalty of adulterers and adulteresses can be as severe as capital punishment, and that of fornicators can be as painful as flogging each of them with a hundred stripes. With hypocrisy, infidelity and adultery forbidden, there is no other alternative except to allow legal polygamy. And this is what Islam has done with the above –mentioned regulations and conditions.
If some people think it unacceptable, they have to resort to the other alternatives which Islam does not accept or particularly favor. And if some other people can control themselves and exercise self- discipline in every aspect, they do not need polygamy. The main concern of Islam is to maintain the dignity and security of the individual, and to protect the integrity and morale of society.
Now anybody can ask himself as to what is better for a society of this kind. Is it commendable to let chaos and irresponsible behavior ruin the very foundations of society, or to resort to and implement the Islamic resolution? Is it in the interest of society to ignore its acute problems, to tolerate hypocrisy and indecency, to condone adultery and secret intimacy? Is it healthy to suppress the legitimate desires and natural longings of man and woman for companionship, the suppression which cannot be effective in reality and which would only drive them to illegal and indecent outlets? Whether the question is considered from a social or moral or humanitarian or spiritual or any other point of view, it will be realized that it is far better for the society to permit its individuals to associate on a legal basis and in a responsible manner, with the protection of the Law and under the supervision of the authorities concerned.
Even if we look at the matter from a feminine point of view, it will be clear that by this very resolution, Islam assures the woman of due respect, secures her rights and integrity, recognizes her legitimate desire for decent companionship, gives her room in society where she can belong, and provides her with opportunities to care for someone dear and to be cared for. This may sound unpleasant to a woman who already has a husband and resents seeing any other woman having access to his companionship and protection, or sharing with her his support and kindness. But what is the feeling of the other women who have no husbands or reliable companions? Should we just ignore their existence and believe that they have no right to any kind of security and satisfaction? And if we ignore them, will that solve their problem or give them any satisfaction? How would this very wife feel and react if she were in a position similar to that of the companionless women? Would she not desire to belong and to be respected and acknowledged? Would she not accept a half cup or a half husband, as it were, if she cannot have it full? Would she not be happier with some protection and security, instead of being deprived of it altogether? What will happen to her and her children, if the dear husband becomes attracted to or by one of those “surplus” women over a social cocktail or a dancing party? What will become of her if he deserts his family or neglects his responsibilities to make time and provision for the new attraction? How would she feel if she comes to know that the only man in her life is having some affairs with other women and maintaining another person in secret or frequenting another spare sweetheart? Such a man is not only a loss but also a menace. He is mean and wicked. Granted! But is this curse going to help anyone involved ? Such a man is no longer, in reality, a husband of one wife. He is a mean hypocrite, but the harm is done, and the soul is injured. It is the woman - the legal wife as well as the illegal companion – who suffers from a state of affairs of this kind. Is it not better for both women involved to equally share the man’s care and support, and have equal access to his companionship and be both equally protected by the law?. It is to protect all parties concerned, to combat unchastity, to prevent such harm and save souls from injuries that Islam benevolently interferes and allows the married man to remarry if there is good reason or justification.
2. In some instances of marriage the wife may not be capable of having any children for some reason or other. To have a family life in the full sense of the word and contribute to the preservation of the human kind, the presence of children is fundamental. Besides, it is one of the major purposes of marriage, and man desires by nature to have children to preserve his name and strengthen the family bonds. In a situation like this a man has one of three ordinary alternatives:
(i) to forget it and suppress his natural desires for children; (ii) to divorce his childless wife through a course of separation, adultery or otherwise; and (iii) to adopt children and give them his name.
None of these alternatives fits the general outlook of Islam on life and nature. Islam does not encourage or approve suppression of anyone’s legitimate desires and natural aspirations. It helps to realize those aspirations and desires in a decent and legal way because suppression in such a case is not part of its system. Divorce under these circumstances is not justifiable, because it is not the wife’s fault that she cannot have children. Besides, divorce is the most detestible thing in the sight of God and is permissible only when there is no other alternative. On the other hand, the wife may be in need of the support and companionship of her husband. It will be cruel to let her go when she is in need and desperate, and when she has nobody particularly interested in her, knowing that she is unable to give birth.
Adoption is also out of the question, because Islam ordains that every child must be called by his real father’s name, and if the name is unknown, he must be called a brother in faith (Qur’an, 33:4-5). This, of course, does not mean that a child who has no known father or supporter should suffer deprivation or lack of care. Far from it. It means that adoption as practiced today is not the way to give that child secure and prosperous life. No one can really and fully substitute for the actual father and mother. The daily course of events, the complicated procedures and cases in courts, and the disputes between families attest that adoption never solves a problem. How many cases are there in courts today where the real parents are demanding the return of their children who have been adopted by strange families and introduced to different environments? How long can a normal mother or father see his child in a strange home? How far can they trust artificial parents to bring up their child in the proper way and give him due care? How will the child himself feel when he grows up to find that his real parents gave him away and that he has had artificial parenthood? How will he react when he discovers that his real parents are unknown, or that his mother gave him up because of fear or poverty or shame or insecurity? How much is the adopted child liked by other members of the adopting family? Do they like a strange child to take their name and inherit the properties to which they are potential heirs? How will the breeders feel when the real parents demand the return of their child, or when the child himself wishes to join his original parents? Many complications are involved. The institution is no doubt unhealthy and may cause much harm to the child, to the parents, artificial and real, to other relations of the adopting family, and to society at large. Adoption is one of the major reasons that encourage many people to indulge in irresponsible activities and intimacies. It is being commercialized nowadays. There are some people who put up their children for “sale” or trade as the news media show. That is not in the African or Asian jungles; it is right here in Canada and America. Because of all that, Islam does not accept the institution or tolerate its practice among Muslims ( See Qur’an, 33:4-6)
With these three alternatives, discarded for the reasons mentioned, Islam offers its own solution. It permits a man in such a situation to remarry, to satisfy his natural needs and at the same time maintain his childless wife, who probably needs him now more than at any other time. This is, again, a permission, a course that a desperate man may take, instead of adoption or divorce or unnatural suppression of his aspirations. It is another instance where remarriage is the best feasible choice, another way out of a difficult situation to help people to live a normal and secure life in every aspect.
3. There are cases and times where the wife is incapable of fulfilling her marital obligations. She may fail to be as pleasant a companion as she should be or even as she would like to be. She may be in a state where she cannot give the husband all the affection, satisfaction and attention he deserves and desires. All this can and does actually happen. It is not always the wife’s fault; it may be nature itself. It may be a long illness, or a period of confinement, or some of the regular periods. Here, again, not all men can endure or exercise self-control or adopt an angelic manner of behavior. Some men do fall into the pit of immorality, deception, hypocrisy and infidelity. There are actual cases where some husbands fall in passionate love with their sisters-in-law or their babysitters or housekeepers who come to look after the family during the illness of the wife or the period of confinement. It has happened many times that while the wives were undergoing the difficult operations of delivery or surgery, their husbands were experiencing fresh romance with other women. The sister or friend of the sick lady is the most frequent character in such a play. With all noble intentions, perhaps, she comes to help her sick sister or dear friend and look after the children or just after the house temporarily, and from there on things develop and get complicated. When there is a sick wife at home or in the hospital, the husband feels lonesome and depressed. The other woman around the house – whether the wife’s sister or friend or anybody else, takes it as part of her help to show the husband some sympathy and a bit of understanding, which may be sincere and honest or may be otherwise. Some men and women exploit this simple start of sympathy and use it to the end. The result is a broken heart here or there, and probably a broken home too.
Problems of this kind are not imaginary or even rare. They are common among people. Newspapers deal from time to time with such problems. Court files also bear witness to this fact. The act of man in this respect may be called mean, immoral, indecent, vicious, etc. Granted! But does this help? Does it change the fact or alter human nature? The act is done, an offense is committed repeatedly, and an acute problem is calling for a practicable and decent solution. Should the lawmakers satisfy themselves with an outright condemnation of such a man and his acts? Should they let him ruin his own integrity and destroy the moral foundations of society? Should they allow hypocrisy and immorality to replace honesty and faithfulness? Outright prohibition and condemnation have not stopped some men from committing the offense or quickened their conscience. On the contrary, they have made room for hypocrisy, secret infidelity and irresponsibility in the face of which the law and lawmakers are helpless.
Now Islam cannot be helpless. It cannot compromise on moral standards or tolerate hypocrisy and infidelity. It cannot deceive itself or man by false and pretended satisfactions. Nor can Islam deny the existence of the problem or simply resort to outright condemnation and prohibition, because that does not even minimize the harm. To save a man of this kind from his own self, to protect the woman involved – whether she is the wife or the secret friend – against unnecessary complications, to maintain the moral integrity of society, and to minimize evil, Islam has allowed recourse to polygamy with the reservations and conditions mentioned above. This is to be applied as an emergency measure and is certainly much healthier than nominal monogamy and irresponsible relations between man and woman. Men and women, who find themselves in a desperate state or in a difficult entanglement, may resort to this solution. But if there is any fear of injustice and harm to any party, then monogamy is the rule.
4. Nature itself requires certain things and actions of man in particular. It is man who, as a rule, travels a lot on business trips and stays away from home for various periods of time, on long and short journeys, in his own country and abroad. No one can take the responsibility of ascertaining that all men under such circumstances remain faithful and pure. Experience shows that most men do fall and commit immoral offenses with strange women during the period of absence from home, which may be months or years. Some people are weak and cannot resist even the easily resistible temptations. As a result, they fall into sin, and that might cause a break in the family. This is another case where restricted polygamy may apply. It is much better for a man of this type to have a second home with a second legal wife than to be free in committing immoral and irresponsible offenses. This is even much better for the wife herself; when she knows that her man is bound by legal regulations and moral principles in his intimacy with another woman, she is most likely to be less irritable than when he enjoys the same intimacy otherwise. Naturally she does not like her man to be shared by anybody else. But when she is confronted with a situation wherein the man has the choice to be either legallly responsible and morally bound, or illegally and immorally associated with someone else, she would certainly choose the first alternative and accept the situation. However, if she is harmed or her rights are violated, she can always refer to the law or obtain a divorce if it be in her best interest.
By applying Islamic polygamy to this case, the man’s integrity, the second woman’s dignity and the moral values of society would be more safeguarded. These cases need no elaboration. They are factual elements in daily life. They may be rare, but rarer is the practice of polygamy among Muslims. Those Muslims who resort to polygamy are much rarer than the infidel husbands and wives who live in monogamous societies.
Although it is risky and contingent on many prerequisites, as explained earlier, polygamy is far better than negligence and infidelity, hypocrisy and insecurity, immorality and indecency. It helps men and women to solve their difficult problems on a realistic and responsible basis. It brings down to a minimum many psychological, natural and emotional complications of human life. It is a precautionary measure to be applied in the best interest of all parties concerned. Yet it is no article of Faith in Islam nor is it an injunction; it is merely a permission from God, a solution of some of the most difficult problems in human relations. The Muslims maintain that legal and conditional polygamy is preferable to the other courses that many people take nowadays, people who pride themselves on nominal marriage and superficial monogamy.
To complete the discussion one has to examine the marriages of Prophet Muhammad. These marriages are no problem for a Muslim who understands the ideal character of the Prophet and the circumstances under which his marriages were contracted. But quite often they stand as a stumbling block for non-Muslims to understand the personality of the Prophet, and cause irresponsible and premature conclusions, which are not to the credit of Islam or the Prophet. Here we shall not give any conclusions of our own or denounce the conclusions of others. We shall present certain facts and let the readers see for themselves.
1. The institution of marriage as such enjoys a very high status in Islam. It is highly commendable and essential for the sound survival of society.
2. Muhammad never said that he was immortal or divine. Time and again, he emphasized the fact that he was mortal chosen by God to deliver God’s message to mankind. Although unique and distinguished in his life, he lived like a man and died as a man. Marriage, therefore, was natural for him, and not a heresy or anathema.
3. He lived in an extremely hot climate where the physical desires press hard on man, where people develop physical maturity at an early age, and where easy satisfaction was a common thing among people of all classes. Nevertheless, Muhammad had never touched women until he was twenty-five years of age, when he married for the first time. In the whole Arabia he was known by his unimpeachable character and called al-Ameen, a title which signified the highest standard of moral life.
4. His first marriage at this unusually late stage in that area was to Lady Khadeejah, an old twice-widowed lady who was fifteen years senior to him. She herself initiated the contract, and he accepted the proposal in spite of her older age and in spite of her being twice- widowed. At the time he could have quite easily found many prettier girls and much younger wives, if he were passionate or after things physical.
5. With this lady alone, he lived until he was over fifty years of age, and by her he had all his children with the exception of Ibraheem. She lived with him until she passed the age of sixty-five, and in her life he never had any other marriage or any other intimacy with anybody besides his only wife.
6. Now he proclaimed the message of God, and was well over fifty and she over sixty-five years of age. Persecutions and perils were continually inflicted on him and his followers. In the middle of these troubles, his wife died. After her death, he stayed without any wife for some time. Then there was Sawdah, who had emigrated with her husband to Abyssinia in the early years of persecutions. On the way back her husband died and she sought a shelter. The natural course for her was to turn to the Prophet himself for whose mission her husband had died. The Prophet extended his shelter and married her. She was not particularly young or pretty and pleasant. She was an ordinary widow with a quick and loose temper. Later in the same year, the Prophet proposed to a minor girl of seven years, Aishah, the daughter of his dear companion Abu Bakr. The marriage was not consummated till some time after the migration to Medina. The motives of these two marriages can be understood to be anything except passions and physical attractions. However, he lived with the two wives for five to six years, up to his fifty-sixth year of age, without taking any other wife.
7. From his fifty-sixth year up to the sixtieth year of his life, the Prophet contracted nine marriages in quick succession. In the last three years of his life he contracted no marriages at all. Most of his marriages were contracted in a period of about five years, when he was passing the most difficult and trying stage in his mission. It was at that time that Muslims were engaged in decisive battles and entangled in an endless circle of trouble from within as well as from without. It was at that time that the Islamic legislation was in the making, and the foundations of an Islamic society were being laid down. The fact that Muhammad was the most dominant figure in these events and the center around which they revolved, and that most of his marriages took place during this particular period is an extremely interesting phenomenon. It invites the serious attention of historians, sociologists, legislators, psychologists, etc. It cannot be interpreted simply in terms of physical attractions and lustful passions.
8. Muhammad lived a most simple, austere, and modest life. During the day he was the busiest man of his era as he was Head of State, Chief Justice, Commander-in-Chief, Instructor, etc., all at once. At night he was the most devoted man. He used to stay one to two-thirds of every night vigilant in prayers and meditation (Qur’an, 73:20). His furniture consisted of mats, jugs, blankets and such simple things, although he was the king and sovereign of Arabia. His life was so severe and austere that his wives once pressed him for wordly comforts but they never had any (cf. Qur’an, 33:48). Obviously, that was not the life of a lustful and passionate man.
9. The wives he took were all widows or divorced with the exception of one minor girl, Aishah. None of these widowed and divorced wives was particularly known for physical charms or beauties. Some of them were senior to him in age, and practically all of them sought his hand and shelter, or were presented to him as gifts but he took them as legal wives.
This is the general background of the Prophet’s marriages, and it can never give any impressions that these marriages were in response to physical needs of biological pressures. It is inconceivable to think that he maintained so large a number of wives because of personal designs or physical wants. Anyone, a friend or a foe, who doubts the moral integrity or the spiritual excellence of Muhammad on account of his marriages has to find satisfactory explanations of questions like these: Why did he start his first marriage at the age of 25 after having had no association with any female? Why did he choose a twice-widowed older lady who was 15 years senior to him? Why did he remain with her only until her death when he was over fifty? Why did he accept all those helpless widows and divorcees who possessed no particular appealing qualities? Why did he lead such an austere and hard life, when he could have had an easy and comfortable course? Why did he contract most of his marriages in the busiest five years in his life, when his mission and career were at stake? How could he manage to be what he was, if the harem life or passions overtook him? There are many other points that can be raised. The matter is not so simple as to be interpreted in terms of manly love and desire for women. It calls for a serious and honest consideration.
Reviewing the marriages of Muhammad individually one does not fail to find the actual reasons behind these marriages. They may be classified as follows:
1. The Prophet came to the world as an ideal model for mankind, and so he was in all aspects of his life. Marriage in particular is a striking illustration. He was the kindest husband, the most loving and cherishable partner. He had to undertake all stages of human experience and moral test. He lived with one wife and with more than one, with the old and the young, with the widow and the divorcee, with the pleasant and the temperamental, with the renowned and the humble; but in all cases he was the pattern of kindness and consolation. He was designated to experience all these variant aspects of human behavior. For him this could not have been a physical pleasure; it was a moral trial as well as a human task, and a hard one, too.
2. The Prophet came to establish morality and assure every Muslim of security, protection, moral integrity and a decent life. His mission was put to the test in his life and did not stay in the stationary form of theory. As usual, he took the hardest part and did his share in the most inconvenient manner. Wars and persecutions burdened the Muslims with many widows, orphans and divorcees. They had to be protected and maintained by the surviving Muslim men. It was his practice to help these women get resettled by marriage to his companions. Some women were rejected by the companions and some others sought his personal patronage and protection. Realizing fully their conditions and sacrifices for the cause of Islam, he had to do something to relieve them. One course of relief was to take them as his own wives and accept the challenge of heavy liabilities. So he did and maintained more than one wife at a time which was no fun or easy course. He had to take part in the rehabilitation of these widows, orphans and divorcees because he could not ask his companions to do things which he himself was not prepared to do or participate in. these women were trusts of the Muslims and had to or participate in. These women were trusts of the Muslims and had to kept jointly. What he did, then, was his share of responsibility, and as always his share was the largest and heaviest. That is why he had more than one wife, and had more wives than any of his companions.
3. There were many war prisoners captured by the Muslims and entitled to security and protection. They were not killed or denied any right, human or physical. On the contrary, they were helped to settle down through legal marriages to Muslims instead of being taken as concubines and common mistresses. That also was another moral burden on the Muslims and had to be shouldered jointly as a common responsibility. Here, again, Muhammad carried his share and took some responsibilities by marrying two of those captives.
4. The Prophet contracted some of his marriages for sociopolitical reasons. His principal concern was the future of Islam. He was most interested in strengthening the Muslims by all bonds. That is why he married the minor daughter of Abu Bakr, his First Successor, and the daughter of Umar, his Second Successor. It was by his marriage to Juwairiah that he gained the support for Islam of the whole clan of Bani al-Mustaliq and their allied tribes. It was through marriage to Safiyah that he neutralized a great section of the hostile Jews of Arabia. By accepting Mary the Copt from Egypt as his wife, he formed a political alliance with a king of great magnitude. It was also a gesture of friendship with a neighboring king that Muhammad married Zaynab who was presented to him by the Negus of Abyssinia in whose territory the early Muslims found safe refuge.
5. By contracting most of these marriages, the Prophet meant to eliminate the caste system, the racial and national vanities, and the religious prejudices. He married some of the humblest and poorest women. He married a Coptic girl from Egypt, a Jewess of a different religion and race, a negro girl from Abyssinia. He was not satisfied by merely teaching brotherhood and equality but he meant what he taught and put it into practice.
6. Some of the Prophet's marriages were for legislative reasons and to abolish certain corrupt traditions. Such was his marriage to Zaynab, divorcee of the freed slave Zaid. Before Islam, the Arabs did not allow divorcees to remarry. Zaid was adopted by Muhammad and called his son as was the custom among the Arabs before Islam. But Islam abrogated this custom and disapproved its practice. Muhammad was the first man to express this disapproval in a practical way. So he married the divorcee of his "adopted" son to show that adoption does not really make the adopted child a real son of the adopting father and also to show that marriage is lawful for divorcees. Incidentally, this very Zaynab was Muhammad's cousin, and had been offered to him for marriage before she was taken by Zaid. He refused her then, but after she was divorced he accepted her for the two legislative purposes: the lawful marriage of divorcees and the real status of adopted children. The story of this Zaynab has been associated in some minds with ridiculous fabrications as regards the moral integrity of Muhammad. These vicious fabrications are not even worth considering here (see Qur'an, 33:36,37,40)
These are the circumstances accompanying the Prophet's marriages. For the Muslims there is no doubt whatsoever that Muhammad had the highest standards of morality and was the perfect model for man under all circumstances. To non-Muslims we appeal for a serious discussion of the matter. They, then may be able to reach sound conclusons.
Marriage and Divorce
One of the most distorted concepts of Islam is the real meaning of marriage. In addition to the brief statement made earlier in this survey, a few more remarks may be useful. Marriage in Islam is not a business deal negotiated by two partners, nor is it a secular contract whereby material benefits and obligations are evaluated in contrast to one another. It is something solemn, something sacred, and it would be erroneous to define it in simply physical or material and secular terms. Moral charity, spiritual elevation, social integrity, human stability, peace and mercy constitute the major elements of marriage. It is a contract to which God Himself is the First Witness and the First Party; it is concluded in His Name, in obedience to Him and according to His ordinances. It is a decent human companionship, authorized and supervised by God. It is a Sign of His blessings and abundant mercy as He clearly says in the Qur’an, (30:21).
It is evident, therefore, that marriage in Islam is a means of permanent relationship and continuous harmony not only between man and women but also between those and God. It is also clear that when two Muslims negotiate a marriage contract, they have every intention to make it a lasting success, for good or for bad, for better or for worse.
To insure this result, Islam has laid down certain regulations to give every possible assurance that marriage will serve its purpose fully. Among these regulations are the following:
1. The two parties should acquire a fair knowledge of each other in a way that does not involve any immoral or deceptive and exploitative behavior
2. Man in particular is exhorted to choose his female partner on the basis of her permanent values, i.e., religious devotion, moral integrity, character, etc., and not on the basis of her wealth or family prestige or mere physical attractions.
3. Woman is given the right to make sure that the proposing man is a suitable match, worthy of her respect and love, and capable of making her happy. On this ground, she may reject the proposal of a man whom she finds below her level or unfit, because this may hinder the fulfillment of her obligations as a wife and may even break her would-be marriage.
4. Woman has a right to demand a dowry from her suitor according to her standards and also according to his means. If she wishes to disregard this right and accept him with a little or no dowry, she may do so. The injunction of dowry on man is to assure the woman that she is wanted, needed, and that the man is prepared and willing to undertake his responsibilities, financially and otherwise. Dowry is also a symbolic gesture indicating that the woman will be secure, and that the man is not looking for any material gains as his motive for entering the marriage. It draws the clear lines between what each party should expect and not expect of the other.
5. Marriage should be made public and celebrated in a most joyful manner. The free consent of both parties is an essential condition without which marriage is not valid.
6. Every marriage, in order to be legal, must be witnessed by two adults and registered in official documents.
7. Complete maintenance of the wife is the husband’s duty. She is entitled to that by virtue of marriage. If she happens to have any property or possessions, that will be hers before and after marriage; the husband has no right whatsoever to any portion or share of his wife’s property. This is to restrict marriage to its noble purposes and disentangle it from all unworthy objectives.
With all these measures, it can be seen that Islam has given all possible assurances to make marriage a happy companionship and a solid foundation of continuous harmony and permanent peace. But in view of the fact that human behavior is changeable and sometimes unpredictable, Islam takes a realistic outlook on life and makes allowances for all unexpected events. Marriage, as has been said, has decent and noble purposes which must be fulfilled. Islam does not accept or recognize any marriage which is not functional and effective. There can be no nominal or idle marriage. There must be a successful marriage or no marriage at all. Marriage is too solemn a contract to be stationary or non-effective. So if it does not serve its purpose or function properly, it may be terminated by divorce with conservation of all rights of the parties concerned. This is because there is no point in keeping a nominal and worthless contract, and to save human kind from being tied by vows which cannot be honored.
When the Islamic marriage, which is based on the said regulations and governed by the said precautions, does not function properly, there must be some very serious obstacles in the way, something that cannot be overcome by reconciliation. In a situation like this, divorce is applicable. However, it is the last resort because it is described by the Prophet as the most detestable of all lawful things in the sight of God. But before taking this final and desperate step, some attempts must be made in the following order:
1. The two parties involved must try to settle their disputes and solve their problems between themselves.
2. If they fail, two arbitrators, one from the husband's relations and the other from the wife's, must be commissioned to try to make peace between them and settle their differences.
3. If this attempt also fails, divorce might be applied.
In applying divorce to such a difficult situation, Islamic Law requires that it should be agreed upon by both parties, and grants each of them the right of seeking divorce. It does not confine the right of divorce to the man only or to the woman alone. Both can exercise this right. If either one of the two parties does not feel secure or happy with the other who arbitrarily refuses to grant divorce, and if the demand of divorce is found justifiable, the court must interfere and help the wronged party to obtain a divorce. It is the duty of the Law administrators to see to it that all rights are preserved and that harm is minimized.
After the divorce takes place, there is waiting period during which the divorcee is completely supported and maintained by her former husband. She cannot marry another man before the expiration of this period, which is between three months to 12 months time depending on the circumstance of the woman. If one divorces his wife after touching her (made love to her), it will be mandatory for her to pass three consecutive full periods of menstruation if she is of those who got menstruated and is not pregnant. Allah says in the Holy Qur'an "Divorced woman shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods…" (2:228)
“For those who are pregnant, their period is until they deliver their burdens…" (65:4)
If the woman is of the type who is not menstruating for some reasons (i.e., young girl, one who removed her reproduction organ or one who for some reasons have no more hope to menstruate) her waiting period shall be three months.
"Such of your woman as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the prescribed period, if ye have any doubts, is three months, and for those who have no courses (it is the same).." (65:4)
In another circumstance, if the woman is one who used to menstruate regularly, but the blood has stopped for a certain reason, such as being afflicted with sickness or fostering a baby. The woman must be confined in an unlimited period of waiting even if it will last long. Under such circumstance, she has to wait until the blood comes out. Then her period of waiting will be calculated by the days in which the blood will be remaining and nothing else. However, if the woman gets cured or finished fostering (i.e., the cause of stoppage of blood has ceased) and yet she is not menstruated, she must then wait for a full year period (as Iddat) after which the reason thereof is cleared. It is said further, that if the reason for the interruption of the blood has been cleared but still no presence of the blood, she will be like one whose blood of menstruation has stopped for an unknown reason. Thus, she must wait for a period of one full year (i.e., nine months attributed to pregnancy being the maximum period as step for precaution in addition of the three months waiting period). (A Treatise on The Natural Blood of Woman by Sheikh Mohammad As-Salih Al-Othaiymeen, translated by Mohammad mostafa Shamma and revised by Dr. Huda Afshi).
The waiting period is another chance for both to reconsider their attitudes in a more serious manner and deliberate on the reflections of their separation. If they desire during that period to reunite, they are permitted to do so. In fact, they are encouraged to reunite because separation in this way usually helps them appreciate one another more. When the waiting period expires, the divorcee is free to marry another man. They are no longer obligated to one another.
Should there be a reunion between the divorcee and her former husband, their marriage will be just like fresh one. If their relations do not improve, they can resort to the same solution of divorce, after which they may reunite by a new marriage in case they so desire. But if this second reunion does not succeed, then a final divorce may be applied.
By allowing divorce in the first place, Islam declares its policy that it cannot tolerate unhappy, cold and stagnant marriages which are much more harmful than divorce. By making it twice, one after the other, with the choice of the parties to reunite, it offers every conceivable chance to make marriage effective and purposeful. Here, Islam is prepared to tackle all kinds of problems and cope with all situations. It does not endanger marriage by allowing divorce. On the contrary, it insures it by the very same measure, for the wrong person would know that the wronged one can free himself of herself from injustice and harm by divorce. By realizing that marriage is binding only as long as it is functional and successful, both parties would do their utmost to make their marriage fulfilling before doing anything that might affect the continuance of marriage. It makes each party careful in choosing the other partner before marriage and in treating that partner afterwards.
When Islam makes divorce obtainable by mutual consent or by the interference of the court on behalf of the wronged party, it stands firmly on guard for morality and human dignity. It does not force a person to suffer the injustice and harm of an unfaithful partner. It does not drive people to immorality and indecency. It tell them this: either you live together legally and happily or else you separate in a dignified and decent way. What is morally and humanly most remarkable about Islam in this respect is that it does not force any person to lower his or her dignity and degrade his morality just to obtain a divorce. It is not necessary for a Muslim to "separate" from his or her partner some years before divorce can be granted. Nor is the granting of divorce conditional on adultery. "Separation" as endorsed by many systems can and certainly does involve immoral and indecent actions. In case of "separation" of this kind the person can neither enjoy his rights not fulfill his obligations of marriage. He or she is officially married, but how much does he enjoy married life? He is tied as tightly as can be, yet he is loose that no restrictions can affect him. He cannot get a divorce or remarry, but is there any legal limit to his scope of extramarital relationships? He can move with whomever he likes unchecked and unrestricted. These are things which happen every day and need no elaboration. "Separation" of this kind might help someone to finally get a divorce, but how costly it is to morality and how high the price is for society to pay! This is something that Islam can never accept or endorse, because it would violate the whole system of moral values which Islam cherishes.
Considering the case of adultery and its endorsement by some systems as a basis for divorce, we can only say this: it is so humiliating to human dignity and detrimental to morality that a person should commit adultery or pretend to have committed it to obtain a divorce. The viewpoint of Islam on adultery has been already stated above. What happens, however, in most cases is this: people are not divorced because they have committed adultery or pretend to have committed it, but they commit adultery or pretend it in order to obtain divorce decrees, which are not granted otherwise. What a reverse and disgraceful course in human relations!
This is the stand of Islam on the matter. If divorce has to be obtained as a last resort, it must be granted with dignity and due respect. When Islam is applied to married life, there will be no room for "separation" or "adultery" as bases for divorce. Nor will there be that easy Hollywood-type divorce, which sprang as an extreme reaction to an extreme rigidity. Any system dealing with human nature has to be realistic and moderate, making allowances for all circumstances with preparedness to cope with all conditions. Else, it would be self-destructive and groundless, a state of which Islam is absolutely free (see Qur'an, 2:224-232; 4:34-35; 4:127-130).
One final remark will conclude this discussion. In virtually every known society and religion, there are ways to terminate any marriage. The divorce rates in industrialized world are rapidly rising and divorce laws are increasingly liberalized. However, divorce in Islam remains a remarkable moral act. Mates are commanded by God to be kind and patient and are reminded of how one may dislike something in one's mate in which God has placed much good and virtue. They are assured of God's help if they mean well and stay together. But if they must part by divorce, it is to be sought without intent of injury or harm. If they part gracefully and honorably, God assures them of enrichment of His all-reaching bounty. The whole marital context, from beginning to end, is centered around and oriented to the belief in God. The verses dealing with divorce are not dry legal stipulations; they commence and conclude with moral exhortations of a high order. The moral commitments of the parties extend far beyond the divorce date. Indeed, the entire question is so incorporated into a highly moral system that divorce is rightly regarded as a moral act in the main.
The Status of Woman in Islam
The status of woman in Islam constitutes no problem. The attitude of the Qur'an and the early Muslims bear witness to the fact that woman is, at least, as vital to life as man himself, and that she is not inferior to him nor is she one of the lower species. Had it not been for the impact of foreign cultures and alien influences, this question would have never arisen among the Muslims. The status of woman was taken for granted to be equal to that of man. It was a matter of course, a matter of fact, and no one, then, considered it as a problem at all.
In order to understand what Islam has established for woman, there is no need to deplore her plight in the pre-Islamic era or in the modern world of today. Islam has given women rights and privileges which she has never enjoyed under other religious or constitutional systems. This can be understood when the matter is studied as a whole in a comparative manner, rather than partially. The rights and responsibilities of a woman are equal to those of a man but they are not necessarily identical with them. Equality and sameness are two quite different things. This difference is understandable because man and woman are not identical but they are created equals. With this distinction in mind, there is no problem. It is almost impossible to find two identical men or women.
This distinction between equality and sameness is of paramount importance. Equality is desirable, just, fair; but sameness is not. People are not created identical but they are created equals. With this distinction in mind, there is no room to imagine that woman is inferior to man. There is no ground to assume that she is less important than he just because her rights are not identically the same as his. Had her status been identical with his, she would have been simply a duplicate of him, which she is not. The fact that Islam gives her equal rights - but not identical - shows that it takes her into due consideration, acknowledges her, and recognizes her independent personality.
It is not the tone of Islam that brands woman as the product of the devil or the seed of evil. Nor does the Qur'an place man as the dominant lord of woman who has no choice but to surrender to his dominance. Nor was it Islam that introduced the question of whether or not woman has any soul in her. Never in the history of Islam has any Muslim doubted the human status of woman or her possession of soul and other fine spiritual qualities. Unlike other popular beliefs, Islam does not blame Eve alone for the First Sin. The Qur'an makes it very clear that both Adam and Eve were tempted; that they both sinned; that God's pardon was granted to both after their repentance; and that God addressed them jointly. (2:35-36; 7:19,27; 20:117-123). In fact the Qur'an gives the impression that Adam was more to blame for that First Sin from which emerged prejudice against woman and suspicion of her deeds. But Islam does not justify such prejudice or suspicion because both Adam and Eve were equally in error, and if we are to blame Eve we should blame Adam as much or even more (In connection with this discussion, see the Concept of Sin above.)
The status of woman in Islam is something unique, something novel, something that has no similarity in any other system. If we look to the Eastern Communist world or to the democratic nations, we find that woman is not really in a happy position. Her status is not enviable. She has to work so hard to live, and sometimes she may be doing the same job that a man does but her wage is less than his. She enjoys a kind of liberty which in some cases amounts to libertinism. To get to where she is nowadays, woman struggled hard for decades and centuries. To gain the right of learning and the freedom of work and earning, she had to offer painful sacrifices and give up many of her natural rights. To establish her status as a human being possessing a soul, she paid heavily. Yet in spite of all these costly sacrifices and painful struggles, she has not acquired what Islam has establish by Divine decree for the Muslim woman.
The rights of woman of modern times were not granted voluntarily or out of kindness to the female. Modern woman reached her present position by force, and not through natural processes or mutual consent or Divine teachings. She had to force her way, and various circumstances came to her aid. Shortage of manpower during wars, pressure of economic needs and requirements of industrial developments forced woman to get out of her home - to work, to learn, to struggle for her livelihood, to appear as an equal to man, to run her race in the course of life side by side with him. She was forced by circumstances and in turn she forced herself through and acquired her new status. Whether all women were pleased with these circumstances being on their side, and whether they are happy and satisfied with the results of this course is a different matter. But the fact remains that whatever rights modern woman enjoys fall short of those of her Muslim counterpart. What Islam has established for woman is that which suits her nature, gives her full security and protects her against disgraceful circumstances and uncertain channels of life. We do not need here to elaborate on the status of modern woman and the risks she runs to make her living or establish herself. We do not even need to explore the miseries and setbacks that encircle her as a result of the so-called rights of woman. Nor do we intend to manipulate the situation of many unhappy homes which break because of the very "freedom" and "rights" of which modern woman is proud. Most women today exercise the right of freedom to go out independently, to work and earn, to pretend to be equal to man, but this, sadly enough, is at the expense of their families. This is all known and obvious. What is not known is the status of woman in Islam. An attempt will be made in the following passages to sum up the attitude of Islam with regard to woman.
1. Woman is recognized by Islam as a full and equal partner of man in the procreation of humankind. He is the father; she is the mother, and both are essential for life. Her role is no less vital than his. By this partnership she has an equal share in every aspect; she is entitled to equal rights; she undertakes equal responsibilities, and in her there are as many qualities and as much humanity as there are in her partner. To this equal partnership in the reproduction of human kind God says:
O mankind! Verily We have created you from a single (pair) of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other. . . .(Qur'an, 49:13; cf. 4:1).
2. She is equal to man in bearing personal and common responsibilities and in receiving rewards for her deeds. She is acknowledged as an independent personality, in possession of human qualities and worthy of spiritual aspirations. Her human nature is neither inferior to nor deviant from that of man. Both are members of one another. God says:
And their Lord has accepted (their prayers) and answered them (saying): 'Never will I cause to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female; you are members, one of another …. (3:195; cf. 9:71; 33:35-36; 66:19-21).
3. She is equal to man in the pursuit of education and knowledge. When Islam enjoins the seeking of knowledge upon Muslims, it makes no distinction between man and woman. Almost fourteen centuries ago, Muhammad declared that pursuit of knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim male and female. This declaration was very clear and was implemented by Muslims throughout history.
4. She is entitled to freedom of expression as much as man is. Her sound opinions are taken into consideration and cannot be disregarded just because she happens to belong to the female sex. It is reported in the Qur'an and history that woman not only expressed her opinion freely but also argued and participated in serious discussions with the Prophet himself as well as with other Muslim leaders (Qur'an, 58:14; 60:10-12). Besides, there were occasions when Muslim women expressed their views on legislative matters of public interest, and stood in opposition to the Califs, who then accepted the sound arguments of these women. A specific example took place during the Califate of Umar Ibn al-Khattab.
5. Historical records show that women participated in public life with the early Muslims, especially in times of emergencies. Women used to accompany the Muslim armies engaged in battles to nurse the wounded, prepare supplies, serve the warriors , and so on . They were not shut behind iron bars or considered worthless creatures and deprived of souls. 6. Islam grants woman equal rights to contract, to enterprise, to earn and possess independently. Her life, her property, her honor are as sacred as those of man. If she commits any offense, her penalty is no less or more than a man's in a similar case. If she is wronged or harmed, she gets due compensations equal to what a man in her position would get (2:178;4:45, 92-93). 7. Islam does not state these rights in a statistical form and then relax. It has taken all measures to safeguard them and put them into practice as integral articles of Faith. It never tolerates those who are inclined to prejudice against woman or discrimination between man and woman. Time and again, the Qur'an reproaches those who used to believe woman to be inferior to man (16:57-59, 62; 42:47-50; 43:15-19; 53:21-23). 8. Apart from recognition of woman as an independent human being acknowledged as equally essential for the survival of humanity, Islam has given her a share of inheritance. Before Islam, she was not only deprived of that share but was herself considered as property to be inherited by man. Out of that transferable property Islam made an heir, acknowledging the inherent human qualities in woman. Whether she is a wife or mother, a sister or daughter, she receives a certain share of the deceased kin's property, a share which depends on her degree of relationship to the deceased and the number of heirs. This share is hers, and no one can take it away or disinherit her. Even if the deceased wishes to deprive her by making a will to other relations or in favor of any other cause, the Law will not allow him to do so. Any proprietor is permitted to make his will within the limit of one-third of his property, so he may not affect the rights of his heirs, men and women. In the case of inheritance, the question of equality and sameness is fully applicable. In principle, both man and woman are equally entitled to inherit the property of the deceased relations but the portions they get may vary. In some instances man receives two shares whereas woman gets one only. This is no sign of giving preference or supremacy to man over woman. The reasons why man gets more in these particular instances may be classified as follows: First, man is the person solely responsible for the complete maintenance of his wife, his family and any other needy relations. It is his duty by Law to assume all financial responsibilities and maintain his dependents adequately. It is also his duty to contribute financially to all good causes in his society. All financial burdens are borne by him alone. Secondly, in contrast, woman has no financial responsibilities whatsoever except very little of her personal expenses, the highly luxurious things that she likes to have. She is financially secure and provided for. If she is a wife, her husband is the provider; if she is a mother, it is the son; if she is a daughter, it is the father; if she is a sister; it is the brother, and so on. If she has no relations on whom she can depend, then there is no question of inheritance because there is nothing to inherit and there is no one to bequeath anything to her. However, she will not be left to starve; maintenance of such a woman is the responsibility of the society as a whole, the state. She may be given aid or a job to earn her living, and whatever money she makes will be hers. She is not responsible for the maintenance of anybody else besides herself. If there is a man in her position, he would still be responsible for his family and possibly any of his relations who need his help. So, in the hardest situation her financial responsibility is limited, while his is unlimited. Thirdly, when a woman gets less than a man does, she is not actually deprived of anything that she has worked for. The property inherited is not the result of her earning or her endeavors. It is something coming to them from a neutral source, something additional or extra. It is something that neither man nor woman struggled for. It is a sort of aid, and any aid has to be distributed according to the urgent needs and responsibilities, especially when the distribution is regulated by the Law of God. Now, we have a male heir, on one side, burdened with all kinds of financial responsibilities and liabilities. We have, on the other side, a female heir with no financial responsibilities at all or at most with very little of it. In between we have some property and aid to redistribute by way of inheritance. If we deprive the female completely, it would be unjust to her because she is related to the deceased. Likewise, if we always give her a share equal to the man's, it would be unjust to him. So, instead of doing injustice to either side, Islam gives the man a larger portion of the inherited property to help him to meet his family needs and social responsibilities. At the same time. Islam has not forgotten her altogether, but has given her a portion to satisfy her very personal needs. In fact, Islam in this respect is being more kind to her than to him. Here we can say that when taken as a whole the rights of woman are equal to those of man although not necessarily identical (see Qur'an, 4:11-14,176). 9. In some instances of bearing witness to certain civil contracts, two men are required or one man and two women. Again, this is no indication of the woman being inferior to . It is a measure of securing the rights of the contracting parties, because woman, as a rule, is not so experienced in practical life as man. This lack of experience may cause a loss to any party in a given contract. So the Law requires that at least two women should bear witness with one man. If a woman of the witnesses forgets something, the other one would remind her. Or if she makes an error, due to lack of experience, the other would help to correct her. This is a precautionary measure to guarantee honest transactions and proper dealings between people. In fact, it gives woman a role to play in civil life and helps to establish justice. At any rate, lack of experience in civil life does not necessarily mean that woman is inferior to man in her status. Every human being lacks one thing or another, yet no one questions their human status (2:282). 10. Woman enjoys certain privileges of which man is deprived. She is exempt from some religious duties, i.e., prayers and fasting, in her regular periods and at times of confinement. She is exempt from attending the obligatory congregation of Fridays. She is exempt from all financial liabilities. As a mother, she enjoys more recognition and higher honor in the sight of God (31:14-15; 46:15). The Prophet acknowledged this honor when he declared that Paradise is under the feet of the mothers. She is entitled to three-fourths of the son's love and kindness with one-fourth left for the father. As a wife she is entitled to demand of her prospective husband a suitable dowry that will be her own. She is entitled to complete provision and total maintenance by the husband. She does not have to work or share with her husband the family expenses. She is free to retain, after marriage, whatever she possessed before it, and the husband has no right whatsoever to any of her belongings. As a daughter or sister she is entitled to security and provision by the father and brother respectively. That is her privilege. If she wishes to work or be self-supporting and participate in handling the family responsibilities, she is quite free to do so, provided her integrity and honor are safe-guarded. 11. The standing of woman in prayers behind man does not indicate in any sense that she is inferior to him. Woman, as already mentioned, is exempt from attending congregational prayers which are obligatory on man. But if she does attend she stands in separate lines made up of women exclusively, just as the under-aged children compose separate lines behind the adult men. This is a regulation of discipline in prayers, and not a classification of importance. In men's rows the head of state stands shoulder to shoulder to the pauper. Men of the highest ranks in society stand in prayer side by side with other men of the lowest ranks. The order of lines in prayers is introduced to help every one to concentrate in his meditation. It is very important because Muslim prayers are not simply chanting or the sing- a song type. They involve actions, motions, standing, bowing, prostration, etc. So if men mix with women in the same lines, it is possible that something disturbing or distracting may happen. The mind will become occupied by something alien to prayer and derailed from the clear path of meditation. The result will be a loss of the purpose of prayers, besides an offense of adultery committed by the eye, because the eye-by looking at forbidden things-can be guilty of adultery as much as the heart itself. Moreover, no Muslim man or woman is allowed during prayers to touch the body of another person of the opposite sex. If men and women stand side by side in prayer they cannot avoid touching each other. Furthermore, when a woman is praying in front of a man or beside him, it is very likely that any part of her dressed body may become uncovered after a certain motion of bowing or prostrating. The man's eye may happen to be looking at the uncovered part, with the result that she will be embarrassed and he will be exposed to distraction or possibly evil thoughts. So, to avoid any embarrassment and distraction, to help concentrate on meditation and pure thoughts, to maintain harmony and order among worshippers, to fulfill the true purposes of prayers, Islam has ordained the organization of rows, whereby men stand in front lines, children behind them, and women behind the children. Anyone with some know ledge of the nature and purpose of Muslim prayers can readily understand the wisdom of organizing the lines of worshippers in this manner. 12. The Muslim woman is always associated with an old tradition known as the "veil". It is Islamic that the woman should beautify herself with the veil of honor, dignity, chastity, purity and integrity. She should refrain from all deeds and gestures that might stir the passions of people other than her legitimate husband or cause evil suspicion of her morality. She is warned not to display her charms or expose her physical attractions before strangers. The veil which she must put on is one that can save her soul from weakness, her mind from indulgence,her eyes from lustful looks,and her personality from demoralization. Islam is most concerned with the integrity of woman, with the safeguarding of her morals and morale and with the protection of her character and personality (cf. Qur'an, 24:30- 31). 13. By now it is clear that the status of woman in Islam is unprecedentedly high and realistically suitable to her nature. Her rights and duties are equal to those of man but not necessarily or absolutely identical with them. If she is deprived of one thing in some aspect, she is fully compensated for it with more things in many other aspects. The fact that she belongs to the female sex has no bearing on her human status or independent personality, and it is no basis for justification of prejudice against her or injustice to her person. Islam gives her as much as is required of her. Her rights match beautifully with her duties. The balance between rights and duties is maintained, and no side overweighs the other. The whole status of woman is given clearly in the Qur'anic verse which may be translated as follows:
- "And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but man have a degree (of advantage as in some cases of inheritance) over them" (2:228).
This degree is not a title of supremacy or an authroization of dominance over her. It is to correspond with the extra responsibilities of man and give him some compensation for his unlimited liabilities. The above-mentioned verse is always interpreted in the light of another (4:34) . It is these extra responsibilities that give man a degree over woman in some economic aspects. It is not a higher degree in humanity or in character. Nor is it a dominance of one over the other or suppression of one by the other. It is a distribution of God's abundance according to the needs of the nature of which God is the Maker. And He knows best what is good for woman and what is good for man. God is absolutely true when He declares:
- "O mankind! reverence your Guardian-Lord, Who created you from a single person, and created of like nature his mate, and from them twain scattered
- countless men and women" (4:1).