PART IV MORALITIES
Chapter XV - Muslim Ethical Basis
of Social Life
The ethical Muslim social life is rather a difficult subject to write about in anything like adequate fashion. Islam is international, and Muslim, who inhabit different parts of the world live in different stages of social development, are attached to their inherited customs of ages, some of them of pre-Muslim origin. The ethical basis on which Muslim society is built up may be traced back to the last address delivered by the Prophet soon after his farewell pilgrimage, in which he said:
“O men. Listen to me, for I may not be with you after this year in this place. Let it be well understood that your lives and property are sacred and inviolable to each other. Everyone will have his share of inheritance. The child belongs to his parents. You have right over your wives and they have right over you. They should not be faithless to you and you must treat them with loving kindness. Do not transgress, and be faithful to any trust placed in you. Usury is prohibited and also vengeance for blood. Treat your slave (servants) with kindness, feed them with what you eat, and clothe them as you do yourselves. Forgive them if they commit fault. The slaves in your possession, who perform prayers, are your brothers and all Muslims are brothers to one another. I ask you all to guard yourselves against all sorts of injustice.”
Such was the fraternal spirit under which Muslim society came to be first established and later developed, first and foremost in Arabia and then Central and South Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe. The same spirit made itself felt in less or more degree, wherever Islam permeated even in a mild or attenuated form.
Among the more important factors which influence the development of society is the status assigned to men and women as members of the family.
In Islam man is the maintainer of the family and as such holds greater power and responsibility, though women take a prominent part in it. In fact, one of the most striking features in Muslim culture is the position assigned to woman in social life.
Position Of Women In Islam
Among the pre-Muslim Arabs, the custom of polyandry was prevalent. A woman could break off her relations with her husband, simply by turning the side of her tent. She was free, too, to choose her husband either directly or through her parents, and dismiss him at her pleasure. A woman could possess several husbands, and children were born to an unknown father, and not knowing the father they had to live with the mother. Thus, kinship was recognized from the mother’s side and the affection of children was built up more among the relative of the mother than of the father. The eldest member of the family was recognized as the head, and several brothers had one wife in common between them, and the man who was with her at any time, used to fix his stick on the door of the tent, which was a sign for others not to enter it
Women among the pre-Islamic Arabic were included in the property inherited, and on the father’s death, a son could marry his step-mother. Mothers-in-law were also taken as wives. Islam, however, definitely abolished all these relations, and made the father’s side stronger to safeguard the chastity of women, to prevent polyandry and to make man responsible for the support of his wife and children. Thus, while Arab women lost certain indecent privileges and freedom, they gained security in livelihood, and a higher social position.
Islam also abolished the evil custom of female infanticide, which was common among the pre-Islamic Arabs, where a father used to consider it his sacred duty to take his daughter of tender age and bury her alive.
Islam contributed towards the improvement of the position of women in various ways:
- Retaining certain of the more ancient healthy customs, such as respect and good treatment of a foster mother.
- Making woman the mistress of her own property, in which the husband had no right to interfere except with her permission.
- Giving her the right of claiming divorce on the following grounds: impotence of the husband; leprosy or insanity on his part; inferior social status; non-payment of the dowry; and conversion to any religion other than Islam. Divorce is allowed to woman in certain other cases. Thus, if the wife is suspected and accused by her husband of adultery, and he cannot prove her guilt and swear that she is guilty, and she swears she is not guilty, she becomes free from her husband. If she accepts marriage on certain conditions, which cannot be fulfilled by her husband, she secures freedom of action (). If, again, she is not paid for nafaqa, (maintenance), or if she is highly maltreated or if she can establish sufficient reason why she should be allowed to have recourse to divorce proceedings, she becomes free.
- She needs not take part in fighting lines in case of war, though she may help the fighting men and nurse or encourage them against the enemy.
- She is free to re-marry after divorce.
- She is encouraged to study and acquire learning.
- Then, again, if the husband remains absent from home in an unknown place for a very long time and does not pay for her maintenance, the wife may procure a decree of divorce from the judge, etc.
Divorce was very common among the pre-Islamic Arabs and, though a lawful act, it was condemned by the Prophet who said:
“The thing most disliked by God (of lawful acts) is divorce.”
He has also praised a good wife by saying :
“The world and its pleasure are valuable but more valuable than all pleasure is virtuous wife.”
The Prophet also said: “The best of you in the consideration of the Almighty God is the man who treats his wife best.”