Women In Islam versus Judaeo-Christian Tradition The Myth & The Reality

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  • Women In Islam versus Judaeo-Christian Tradition The Myth & The Reality

  • 14. Plight Of Widows

    Because of the fact that the Old Testament recognised no inheritance
    rights to them, widows were among the most vulnerable of the Jewish
    population. The male relatives who inherited all of a woman's deceased
    husband's estate were to provide for her from that estate. However,
    widows had no way to ensure this provision was carried out, and lived
    on the mercy of others. Therefore, widows were among the lowest classes
    in ancient Israel and widowhood was considered a symbol of great
    degradation (Isaiah 54:4). But the plight of a widow in the Biblical
    tradition extended even beyond her exclusion from her husband's
    property. According to Genesis 38, a childless widow must marry her
    husband's brother, even if he is already married, so that he can
    produce offspring for his dead brother, thus ensuring his brother's
    name will not die out. "Then Judah said to Onan, 'Lie with your
    brother's wife and fulfil your duty to her as a brother-in-law to
    produce offspring for your brother' " (Genesis 38:8). The widow's
    consent to this marriage is not required. The widow is treated as part
    of her deceased husband's property whose main function is to ensure her
    husband's posterity. This Biblical law is still practised in today's
    Israel. 48 A childless widow in Israel is bequeathed to her husband's
    brother. If the brother is too young to marry, she has to wait until he
    comes of age. Should the deceased husband's brother refuse to marry
    her, she is set free and can then marry any man of her choice. It is
    not an uncommon phenomenon in Israel that widows are subjected to
    blackmail by their brothers-in-law in order to gain their freedom.

    The pagan Arabs before Islam had similar practices. A widow was
    considered a part of her husband's property to be inherited by his male
    heirs and she was, usually, given in marriage to the deceased man's
    eldest son from another wife. The Quran scathingly attacked and
    abolished this degrading custom: "And marry not women whom your fathers
    married--Except what is past-- it was shameful, odious, and abominable
    custom indeed" (4:22). Widows and divorced women were so looked down
    upon in the Biblical tradition that the high priest could not marry a
    widow, a divorced woman, or a prostitute: "The woman he (the high
    priest) marries must be a virgin. He must not marry a widow, a divorced
    woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his
    own people, so he will not defile his offspring among his people" (Lev.
    In Israel today, a descendant of the Cohen caste (the high priests of
    the days of the Temple) cannot marry a divorcee, a widow, or a
    prostitute. 49 In the Jewish legislation, a woman who has been widowed
    three times with all the three husbands dying of natural causes is
    considered 'fatal' and forbidden to marry again. 50 The Quran, on the
    other hand, recognises neither castes nor fatal persons. Widows and
    divorcees have the freedom to marry whomever they choose. There is no
    stigma attached to divorce or widowhood in the Quran: "When you divorce
    women and they fulfil their terms [three menstruation periods] either
    take them back on equitable terms or set them free on equitable terms;
    But do not take them back to injure them or to take undue advantage, If
    anyone does that, he wrongs his own soul. Do not treat Allah's signs as
    a jest" (2:231).

    "If any of you die and leave widows behind, they shall wait four months
    and ten days. When they have fulfilled their term, there is no blame on
    you if they dispose of themselves in a just manner" (2:234). "Those of
    you who die and leave widows should bequeath for their widows a year's
    maintenance and residence. But if they [the widows] leave (the
    residence) there is no blame on you for what they justly do with
    themselves" (2:240).

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