The Status of Women in Islam
It has been said that Islam, as a social system, had been a total failure, because “It has misunderstood the relations of sexes,…and by degrading women, has degraded each successive generation of their children down an increasing scale of infamy and corruption until it seems almost impossible to reach a lower depth of vice.” This is certainly strong language and calls for an investigation, as to whether Islam has really misunderstood the relations of the sexes, and whether it has really degraded women.
Very few of the critics take pains to determine what actually are the teachings of Islam in this respect, as embodied in the Holy Koran; and fewer still is the number of those who care to study the life of the Prophet, which is the most authentic commentary on the text of the Holy Book. It is therefore most regrettable that misconception should have arisen about the status of women in Islam a point, on which the attitude of Islam is clear and unmistakable. I am afraid, many in Europe and in America form such strange opinions from a study of the tales or romance or books of traveling, written by professional globe, trotters. They see in the ‘harem’ which is by the way a name in the East for the ladies ‘apartment’ a home of gross sensuality and voluptuous pleasures. Such ideas have unfortunately prevailed in the West for a very long time; and supported by the wrong interpretations that have been put, from time to time, on certain verses of the Koran and certain savings of the Prophet of Islam, they have a firm hold on the imagination of the critics of the West.
One of the verses of exquisite beauty which have been subject to misconstruction in certain quarters, is: “They (the wives) are a garment for you and you are a garment for them”. It is garment that hides one’s nakedness; so do husband and wife, by entering into marriage relations secure each other’s chastity. The garment gives comfort to the body; as does the husband find comfort in his wife’s company, as she in his. The garment is the grace, the beauty, the embellishment of the body, so too are wives to their husbands, as the husbands to them.
Another verse which has been similarly misconstrued is the verse which the Rev. Rodwell translates thus: “Men are superior to women on account of the qualities, with which God hath gifted the one above the other, and on account of the outlay they make from their substance for them. Virtuous women are obedient, careful during the husband’s absence, because God hath of them been careful”. From this verse several critics have drawn the erroneous inference that in Islam woman holds a very subordinate position, and that she has been placed under man’s tyrannical sway, she having no choice but to submit to his arbitrary dictates and self-willed decrees. Even accepting Rev. Rowlell’s translation of the verse as correct, the sense of the verse appears to be nothing more than this: that man should treat his wife with love and affection and provide for her from his abundance, while woman should preserve her honour, attend to domestic duties and look up to him as her friend, philosopher and guide. Understood thus, the verse has nothing revolting to our feelings, and describes the relationship between husband and wife as it naturally ought to be. There is nothing in the verse to imply that the wife’s judgment is in any way fettered that she is simply the slave of her husband’s desires or that she is at best an ‘ornamental article of furniture’. Neither, according to respectable commentators of the Koran, does the verse admit of the meaning which superficial critics have willfully put upon it. These commentators understand the verse to point out a man’s right to exercise a certain control over his wife, and his duty to provide for her security and sustenance. The superiority of man over woman rests on certain innate qualities which man generally possesses in greater proportion, in regard to knowledge and power. In power of endurance, in audacity and courage, man has a decided advantage over his fair sister. Prophet, apostles, distinguished philosophers and commanders of armies have all been men, not women. Lecky, himself undoubtedly a clear thinker and discerning critic, while discoursing on the distinctive difference between the sexes observers thus: “Physically, men have the indisputable superiority in strength, and women in beauty. Intellectually, a certain inferiority of the female sex can hardly be denied, when we remember how almost exclusively the foremost places in every department of science, literature and art have been occupied by man…It is impossible to find a female Raphael, or a female Handel, or a female Shakespeare, Newton.” Lecky, however, thinks and perhaps rightly enough, that morally the general superiority of women over men is unquestionable. Be that as it may when once we admit the physical and intellectual superiority of man over woman, we cannot deny that woman has to depend upon, and take advantage of, the intellectual resources and superior strength of the opposite sex; and this is precisely what Moslem doctors hold to be the important and significance of the verse under consideration.
Some critics made needless comments on the following saying of the Prophet: “Treat women with kindness, for woman was made of a rib which is crooked in the upper part; if you try to bend it straight, you will break it, and if you leave it as it is, it will remain so,” In these words the Prophet only appeals to the good sense of man and the kindliness of this heart, by reminding him of the natural weaknesses of the fair sex; so that we may not expect of women things out of proportion to their talents and capabilities; for in such expectations we are likely to be disappointed, and our disappointment may tempt us to accord to them harsh treatment. The Prophet, therefore, exhorts his followers to be rather generous and forgiving than severely exacting and calculating. It is as if the Prophet said to his followers: “I am giving you sound advice relative to what your treatment should be towards women, carry out therefore my will respecting them. Do good to them; and be not angry with them, if they act in a way not acceptable to you, unless, of course, the deed involves any positive sin; for they are made of a crooked rib (and, as such, are naturally liable to error)
Elsewhere, the Prophet has positively warned us against running after scandals and constant searching after the secrets and faults of women, since such a course of action may impair the conjugal relations, and finally lead to the absolute dissolution of the marriage bond.
Close acquaintance with the teachings of Islam repudiates the false charge, that the Prophet is responsible for the degradation of woman. The Prophet saw the weak points of woman’s character, as well as its strong points. He regarded woman as physically and intellectually inferior to man in general, but richer in nobler emotions of the heart, in tenderness and delicacy of feeling. No body can be so bold as to say, that the Prophet saw nothing good in woman and conceived her to be a bundle of unmixed evils. He said: “Let not any Moslem be harsh in his treatment of his wife: for if certain aspects of her conduct displease the husband, certain others will please him.” He neither desired that woman should be the bond–slave of her husband, nor did he countenance the idea, that woman should be so far free as to overstep her proper limits and encroach upon the sphere of her husband. On the principle of division of labour, Islam assigns to each a particular sphere of work, on the faithful discharge of which depends the happiness of hearth and home. Woman, in her capacity of a good mother and a devoted wife, is the queen of her home, while the husband is to protect her from all danger and temptation, earn his bread by the sweat of his brow in the open world, and provide for the maintenance of the family. In connection with this setting apart of spheres of work with regard to the nature constitution mental habitude and position of the person concerned, the Prophet of Islam said: “All of you are so many sovereigns, and all of you will be required to render account in respect of whatever persons or things you have under your charge. So the chief who is sovereign over his subjects; shall be questioned about the treatment he accorded to his subjects the head of the family is the sovereign of the house and he shall be questioned with respect to the members of the house; and woman is sovereign in the house of her husband, and rules her children and she shall be questioned about these, and the slave is sovereign over his master’s belongings, and he shall be questioned about them.”
The ruling idea in the teachings of Islam with regard to man and woman, is that the husband and the wife should supplement each other, call into play the distinctive excellence of their respective character, and, in mutual confidence, strive to work out their united happiness. Woman is to exercise her beneficent, humanizing influence over husband, soften the hardness of his nature and level down the stiffness of his character; while man, for his part, is to educate her mind and help her to realize those womanly qualities, in which she by her very nature excels. This is the conception of wifehood which the Prophet of Islam favoured, as is inferred from his teaching. “A woman is married for four reasons.” said he, “either in consideration of her wealth, or her noble parentage, or her beauty, or her piety. Succeed then in getting a woman of piety for your wife, for she is to her husband a helper in life and she remains content with little.”
On another occasion he hold a certain woman who had brought a complaint against her husband: “There is no woman who removes something to replace it in a proper place, with a view to decorate her husband’s house, but that God sets it down as a virtue for her. Nor is there a man who walks with his wife hand in hand, but that God sets it down as a virtue for him; and if he puts his arms round her neck in love his virtue will be increased tenfold.”
Once again, he was heard praising the women of the Koreish, ‘because’, said he, “they are the kindest to their children while they are infants, and because they keep a careful watch over the belongings of their husbands.”
In another instance the Prophet of Islam said: “There are four things, such that if a person is endowed with any one of these, it is as if the blessings of both worlds were showered upon him: first, a heart that is grateful; second a tongue that utters constantly the name of God; third, a mind that is patient and calm amid troubles; fourth, a wife that is never guilty of a breach of trust either in respect of her own person or in respect of her husband’s property.”
I will now give some further saying of the Prophet Mohammad, on the question under discussion, which I hope will shed more light on the position assigned to women in Islam.
- “Among my followers the best of men are they who are best to their wives, and the best to women are they who are best to their husbands…To each of such women is set down the reward equivalent to the reward of a thousand martyrs. Among my followers, again, the best of women are they who assist their husbands in their work, and love them dearly for everything, save what is a transgression of God’s laws. The best of men, on the other hand, are they who treat their wives with the kindness of a mother to her children. To each of such men is set down a reward equivalent to that of hundred martyrs. “On being asked by Omar, who afterwards rose to be the second Caliph, why woman’s reward should be ten times greater than man’s the Prophet said: “Do not you know that woman deserves greater reward than man? For, verily Almighty God exalts the position of a man in heaven, because his wife was pleased with him and prayed for him”.
- “The best among you is he who is the kindest to his wife, and I am the kindest of you all to my wives.”
- “What are the rights that a wife has over her husband?” asked Moawiyah; and the Prophet forthwith replied: “Feed her when thou takest thy food; give her clothes to wear when thou wearest clothes, refrain from either giving a slap on her face or even abusing her; separate not from thy wife, save within the house.
- “Verily of the believers he has the most perfect faith who has the best manners, and shows the greatest kindness to his wife and children.”
- “Fear God in regard to the treatment of your wives, for verily they are your helpers. You have taken them on the security of God, and made them Lawful by the words of God.”
- Once the Prophet portrayed an ideal wife in the following words: “She is the ideal wife who pleases thee when thou lookest at her, obeys thee when thou givest her direction; and protects her honour and thy property when thou art away.”
- “The world is full of objects of joy and delight, and the best and the most profitable source of delight is a pious, chaste woman”.
- “ Paradise lies at the feet of mothers.”
- “Search after knowledge is obligatory both on Moslem men and Moslem women.”
- The Object of Marriage
The object of marriage was defined by the Prophet in clear unambiguous words. It was never meant to be a means of satisfying the sensual appetite; but on the other hand, it was instituted, in the first place, as a safeguard against lewdness and incontinence, and in the second place, as a means of procreation. It is on these and similar grounds, that he always encouraged a married life in preference to a life of celibacy, and laid so much stress on the piety and fruitfulness of women. “Whoever marries a woman solely for her power and position,” said the Prophet “God but increases his humiliation; whoever marries a woman solely for her wealth, God but increases his poverty; whoever marries a woman solely for her beauty. God but increases his ugliness; but whoever marries a woman, in order that he may restrain his eyes, observe continence, and treat his relations kindly, God putteth a blessedness in her for him, and in him for her.
Thus piety and continence are uppermost in the conception of Islam, as the prime motive of marriage. This is clear enough in another saying of the Prophet. “There are three persons,” said he, “whom the Almighty Himself as undertaken to help–first, he who seeks to buy his freedom’ second, he who marries with a view to secure his chastity; and third, he who fights in the cause of God”.
Another saying of the Prophet is equally clear on this point: “He, who marries, completes half his religion: it now rests with him to complete the other half by leading a virtuous life in constant fear of God”. That Islam viewed marriage as means of procreation, and not for gratification of sensual desires, is clear from a short but pregnant saying of the Prophet: “Marry and generate”. On another occasion he said: “Marry a woman who holds her husband extremely dear, and who is richly fruitful”. The Prophet advised great circumspection in the selection of the bride, and even permitted that the intended bride be seen, before her betrothal’ by him who seeks her hand, lest a blunder in choice or an error of judgment should defeat the very end of marriage.
- Marriage and Divorce
The laws of marriage and divorce were so framed by the Prophet that they may ensure the permanence of marriage relations, without impairing individual freedom. These laws display a wonderful insight into human nature, inasmuch as they never lose sight of exceptional circumstances, requiring special treatment. In the formulation of the laws of marriage and divorce, extremes have been avoided in favour of a golden mean. If, under certain circumstances, more than one wife is permitted, or dissolution of marriage is favoured, it is because of the operation of the same principle of flexibility that governs the entire body of the Islamic laws. It is certain that the Islamic laws of marriage and divorce have been abused; and sometimes flouted in certain Moslem lands; but the laws themselves are not responsible for the delinquencies of the individual.
The Islamic laws have recognised women as free and responsible members of society and have assigned to them a convenient position. A Moslem woman is entitled to a share in the patrimony, along with her brothers, and though the proportion is different, the distinction is founded on a just appreciation of the relative position of brother and sister. No male member of the family, not even her husband, can manipulate her property which during the marriage remains absolutely her own and quite at her disposal. The exigible portion of the stipulated dower is payable to her on demand, as soon as the status of marriage is established, and the deferred portion on the termination of the marital relation, unless the woman is guilty of a manifest wrong. Under the Moslem law, the dower settled upon the wife, is an obligation imposed by the law on the husband, as a mark of respect for the wife, the non- specification of which, at the time of marriage, does not affect the validity of the marriage. In the event of dissolution of marriage, the husband can retain no part of the wife’s property, including her ante-nuptial settlement; and if the administration of the wife’s estate was entrusted to him, he must render the wife an account of such administration. Her property is in fact jealously guarded on all sides, and no restrictions are placed on the individual right she has in her belongings. She possesses the right of dividing and alienating her property, and this right of alienation is in regard, not only to her husband but also to every body else. She can sue her husband, as she can sue her other debtors, in the open court. She does not require her husband or father, to represent her at law. She can act as an executive and can enter into any contract independently.
A Moslem wife retains her distinct individuality even after marriage, and she never assumes her husband’s name. Coverture has no place in the marriage of Islam. Marriage under Islam is but a civil contract, and not a sacrament, in the sense that those who are once joined in wed–lock can never be separated. It may be controlled, and under certain circumstances, dissolved by the will of the parties concerned. Public declaration is no doubt necessary, but it is not a condition of the validity of the marriage. Nor is any religious ceremony deemed absolutely essential. Two witnesses are required to attest the contract has been concluded. 
- The Guardian and the Consent of the Bride
Though the Islamic Laws recognise the consent of a woman as an indispensable element of a valid marriage; they recommend the consent of her guardian be also taken. Moslem jurists are, no doubt, divided in their opinions, as to whether the consent of the bride’s guardian is essential but they all agree in holding that ‘a woman who is sui-juris can under no circumstances be married without her own express consent.’ According to the Hanfi Islamic School of Law, the capacity of a woman who is adult and of sound mind, to contract herself in marriage is absolute. The same school explicitly lays down that ‘a woman who is adult and of sound mind may be married by virtue of her own consent, although the contract may not have been made or acceded to by her guardian and this whether she be a virgin, or a ‘Thayyiba’. On the same principle, the marriage of an adult woman under compulsion has been held to be invalid. It is related on good authority, that an adult woman who was married by her father to a man against her will, came and spoke about it to the Prophet who declared the marriage void. According to the Hanafi School also, the marriage of a minor under compulsion of her father or grandfather, holds good, on the assumption that a marriage thus contracted is prima facie in the best interests of the child, and therefore she cannot cancel the contract of marriage when she arrives at her full age, unless there be good grounds for such a step. If, however, she was given in marriage by guardian, other than her father or grandfather, she can exercise, if she like, ‘the option of puberty’, and ask the court to set aside the marriage.
It is clear, then, that under the Hanafi School of law, a marriage can be contracted with or without a guardian, provided the girl is adult and has given her consent to the contract.
The Shafie and the Maleki School of law, on the other hand, maintain that a maiden cannot personally consent to marriage. According to them, the Wali’s (the guardian’s) consent, in the case of a mainden, is one of the essential factors of marriage, though not in the case of a thayyiba. The distinction seems to have been derived from the idea that a thayyiba’s judgment is naturally more reliable than a virgin’s and that she is expected to understand better the nature of the marriage contract. In support of their view they refer to the tradition, related by Ayesha, that the Prophet said that the contract of marriage is absolutely void, if a woman enters into such without the consent of her guardian.
The great majority of the girls being quite innocent of the nature of the contract, it is therefore necessary that the guardian of the girl should intervene and protect her from being duped by interested persons, or from the evil consequences likely to flow from the choice of the girl, when injudicious or against her own interest.
- The Inequality of the Two Sexes with regard to Divorce
Marriage being regarded as a civil contract and as such not indissoluble, the Islamic law naturally recognises the right in both the parties to dissolve contract under certain given circumstances. Divorce, then, is a natural corollary to the conception of marriage as a contract, and it is regrettable that it should have furnished European critics a handle for attack. Even Sale, that eminent scholar has fallen into the same error; for he too seems to entertain the view, that the Islamic law permits a man to repudiate his wife “even on the slightest disgust”!  Whether the law permits, or favours, repudiation on the slightest disgust, we shall presently see. But as to the other point raised by the same learned critic, namely; the inequality of the two sexes in regard to the right of obtaining a divorce, one has to remember that this inequality is more seeing than real. The theory of marriage, no doubt, points to a subordination of the wife to her husband, because of her comparative inferiority in discretionary powers; but in practice the hands of the husbands are fettered in more ways than one. The theoretical discretion must not be understood as giving a tacit sanction to the excesses of a brutal husband; on the other hand it is intended to guard against the possible dangers of an imperfect judgment. The relations between the members of the opposite sexes which marriage legalises are, however, so subtle and delicate, and require such constant adjustment, involving the fate and well–being of the future generations, that in their regulation the law considers it expedient to allow the voice of one partner, more or less, predominance over that of the other. 
Perhaps it is here worthy of notice that in Europe the two sexes are not placed on an equal footing in respect of the right of the divorce. Lord Helier, P.C., K., C.B., who was President of the Probate Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice, 1892 – 1905, observes on this point: “Much comment has been made on the different grounds, on which divorce is allowed to a husband and to a wife – it being necessary to prove infidelity in both cases, but a wife being compelled to show either an aggravation of that offence or an addition to it. Opinions probably will always differ whether the two sexes should be placed on an equality in this respect, abstract justice being invoked, and the idea of marriage as a mere contract, pointing in one direction, and social considerations in the other. But the reason of the legislature for making the distinction, is clear. It is that the wife is entitled to an absolute divorce only if her reconciliation with her husband is neither to be expected nor desired. This was no doubt the view taken by the house of Lords.” 
- Limitations of Divorce
A Moslem is not free to exercise the right of divorce “on the slightest disgust.” The law has put many limitations upon the exercise of this power. Then, again, the example and precepts of the Prophet in this particular have rendered divorce, most repellent to the Moslem mind. A Moslem is permitted to have recourse to divorce provided there be ample justification for such an extreme measure. The whole Koran expressly forbids a man to seek pretexts for divorcing his wife, so long as she remains faithful and obedient to him, “If they (namely, women) obey you, then do not seek a way against them.”  The law gives to the man primarily the faculty of dissolving the marriage, if the wife by her indocility or her bad character, renders the married life unhappy; but in the absence of serious reasons, no Moslem can justify a divorce either in the eyes of religion or the law. If he abandons his wife or puts her away from simple caprice, he draws upon himself the divine anger, for ‘the curse of God’ said the Prophet, ‘rests on him who repudiates his wife capriciously’.
Intrinsically, divorce is an evil, and must be regarded as such, wherever there is the least respect for the law of God and the precepts of the Prophet. The pagan Arab, before the time of the Prophet, was absolutely free to repudiate his wife or wives, whenever it suited his whim or purpose. He was not bound to offer any reasons for the exercise of the power of divorce. The mere expression of his will was enough to effect a separation. The wife was a mere plaything. Sometimes the husband would revoke the divorce and again divorce her, and again take her back, to divorce her again, and so on indefinitely. Sometimes, again she was divorced, but she was not free to marry. Women under such circumstances, were in a perpetual state of suspense, as it were. At last the Prophet, the Mercy for the Universe, came. He declared divorce to be ‘the most disliked of lawful things in the sight of God. He was indeed never tired of expressing his abhorrence of divorce. Once he said: “God created not anything on the face of the earth which He loveth more than the act of manumission, nor did He create anything on the face of the earth which He detesteth more than the act of divorce. On another occasion he said: Forbidden is the fragrance of paradise to her who demands divorce from her husband without unavoidable reasons. Nor is this all. The Prophet actually imposed many conditions on the exercise of the power of divorce, and so vehemently did he protect the women against the tyranny of their husbands, that there soon grew up a general feeling among the women of the time, that the Prophet would defend their cause, whether it be just or unjust, and that his decision would be invariably in their favour. His defence of the cause of women, and of orphans and of children, had in fact passed into a byword.
In the Holy Koran, there is a most edifying verse which is generally overlooked. “Associate with the wives”, so runs the verse, “with goodness; and if ye dislike them, it may be that ye dislike a thing and God may put abundant good in it.”  Thus the Koran enjoins forbearance, even with a wife one does not like. One really wonders at the boldness of the critics who say that the law of Islam permits divorce “even on the slightest disgust.”
Many and various are the saying of the Prophet of Islam that teach love, untiring patience, forgiving disposition and, above all, fear of God in the treatment of women. “The man who bears with the ill manners of his wife,” said the Prophet, “shall receive from God rewards equivalent to what the Lord gave unto Job, when he suffered his affliction: And to the woman who bears with the ill manners of her husband, God granteth rewards equivalent to what He granted to Assiyah, the wife of Pharaoh”
A great Moslem commentator, observes that divorce is allowable when the object is not to trouble the wife by divorcing her without just grounds, as refractory or unseemly behaviour on her part, or extreme necessity on the part of the husband.
It is clear, then, Islam discourages divorce in principle, and permits it only when it has become altogether impossible for the parties, to live together in peace and harmony. It avoids, therefore greater evil by choosing the lesser one, and opens a way for the parties to seek agreeable companions and, thus, to accommodate themselves more comfortably in their new homes.
For, under Islam, a divorced woman, like the husband who divorces her, acquires the right of marrying any person she or he likes, the moment the separation is recognised by the law. 
Fully recognizing the arise from divorce, the Prophet of Islam took very cautious steps in framing the laws; and the ruling idea seems to be, that divorce should be permitted only when marriage fails in its effects, and the parties cease to fulfill the duties that spring from the marriage relation. There is in fact no justification for permanently yoking together two hostile souls, who might make themselves quite comfortable in new homes, if they were permitted to effect a separation. To compel them to live together “in pursuance of a most vexatious law under a yoke of the heaviest slavery, -for such is marriage without love– would indeed be a hardship more cruel than any divorce whatever. God, therefore, gave laws of divorce, in their proper use, must equitable and humane.” For, most appalling consequences sometimes follow, unless divorce is permitted where it is desirable. Justinian, the great Roman emperor, had to repeal the prohibition of his predecessor on divorce by mutual consent, despite the opposition of the clergy, and the ground stated by the enactment was, that it was difficult “to reconcile those who once came to hate each other and who, if compelled to live together, frequently attempted each other’s lives” “He yielded” writes Gibbon, “to the prayers of his unhappy subjects, and restored the liberty of divorce by mutual consent, the civilians were unanimous, the theologians were divided, and the ambiguous word which contains the precepts of Christ, is flexible to any interpretation that the wisdom of a legislature can demand.”
- Islam’s Suggestions for Reconciliation
A careful study of the laws of the Koran which relate to marriage and divorce, will show that the spirit of the verses unmistakably points to a prevention of divorce, and that everywhere a reconciliation is recommended in the most appealing terms. Before the parties proceed to the extremity of divorce for unavoidable reasons, it is expressly laid down, that all lawful means be adopted for avoiding a breach; and it is only in the event of their failure that a separation is permitted, of course, as a last recourse. Under such extreme circumstances, divorce is not merely permissibly, but has been held quite expedient, and recourse to it is recommended, in spite of deterrents, like poverty. It is believed. God Himself opens out many a way for those whose intentions are honest: “And if they separate, God will make them richer out of His abundance, for God is extensive and wise.” It is interesting to note that nearly the same idea is expressed in the Koran where those who are single are exhorted to marry. “Marry those who are single among you, and such as are honest of your menservants and your maid servants, if they be poor, God will enrich them of His abundance.” It follows, then, that according to the Islamic laws, divorce, under certain circumstances, is as necessary marriage.
The directions of the Koran in respect of the adoption of the courses that tend to make reconciliation possible, are as explicit as they are full of wisdom. Thus, in the chapter on women, we read:-
“Virtuous women are obedient, careful during the husband’s absence, because God hath of them been careful. But those, for whose refractoriness ye have cause to fear, chide; remove them into beds apart; and chastise them, but if they are obedient to you, then seek not occasion against them: verily God is High and Great. And if ye fear a breach between husband and wife, send a judge out of his family, and a judge out of her family: if they are desirous of agreement, God will effect a reconciliation between them; for God is knowing and apprised of all.” 
If woman is chaste and mindful of her duties as wife, the Islamic law makes it obligatory upon the husband to associate with her on the best of terms, and with kindness and courtesy. But, if she proves refractory in her behaviour, the law confers on the husband the power of correction if exercised in moderation.” 
The drift and tone of the verses quoted above, point to the desirability of exercising the power of correction in three degrees. He may begin with a reprimand, if her conduct calls for such. Then, if she still remains rebellious, he may banish her from his bed for a few days. If this also proves unavailing, he may next beat his wife, but not so as to cause her permanent injury, for he is not allowed to use violence, even under extreme provocation.” In the event of the failure of all these expedients, divorce need not follow, but a resort to arbitrators is advised, each party being represented by a member of his or her family. The arbitrators after hearing both sides, shall endeavour by all possible means, to bring about a reconciliation, if their efforts prove unsuccessful, they may grant a repudiation, when empowered by both parties to do so.
The Prophet, who no doubt understood the import of the Koranic verses better than anybody else, is reported on good authority to have said: “Feed thy wife as thou feedest thyself, clothe her as thou clothest thyself, ‘strike her not on her face, separate not from her, except within the house; but if she persists in her refractoriness…begin with admonitions, and awaken in her the fear of God the Most High; if she does not submit, banish her from thy bed, and converse not with her for three days; if she still refuses to mend her manners, beat her but not so as to leave any mark on her person, as would be the case if a rod were used: for the object is to correct her, and not to destroy her. Should this course fail to mend matters, let the case be referred to two Moslem arbitrators, free and just, one chosen from the family of each of the parties; and they shall see whether in that particular case reconciliation or separation is desirable; and their decision shall be binding upon them both.” 
When, however, the cause of disagreement proceeds from the husband, the wife is certainly not given the power the correction, but then, she is empowered by the Islamic law to obtain a divorce, if she so desires. Before the advent of Islam, neither the Jews nor the Arabs recognised the right of divorce for women: and it was the Koran that, for the first time in the history of Arabia, gave this great privilege to women. And at the same time, it must be remembered, the spirit of the Koran is opposed to an indiscriminate exercise of this privilege. The Prophet warned women, not to play the hypocrite, and men are advised in the most emphatic terms, to refrain from seeking a breach, where a little moderation on their part, may perhaps do away with the difference. I give below some of the verses of the Koran, and the reader will see how they ask us to make allowance for the frailties, to which our human nature is prone, and in what manner a reconciliation is recommended. It is impossible to read the verses without being impressed with their appealing tone and graceful simplicity. “And if a woman”, so runs the fine verse. “Fear ill usage or aversion, on the part of her husband, it shall be no fault in them, if they can agree with mutual agreement; for agreement is best.  Souls are prone to avarice , but if ye act kindly and fear God, then verily your actions are not unnoticed by God. And ye will not have it at all in your power to treat your wives alike, even though you fain would do so; but yield not wholly to disinclination, so that ye leave one of them, as it were, in suspense; but if ye come to an understanding, and fear God, verily God is forgiving and merciful; but if they separate, God can compensate both out of His abundance, for God is Vast and Wise.” 
We have seen, then that divorce is permissible in Islam only in cases of extreme emergency. When all efforts for effecting a reconciliation have failed, the parties may proceed to a dissolution of the marriage by “Talaq” or by “Kholaa”.  When the proposal of divorce proceeds from the husband, it is called “Talaq”, and when it takes effect at the instance of the wife it is called “Kholaa”.
Under many systems of law, divorce was certainly permitted, but it could not be revoked. But the Islam legislator, while he permitted divorce, recognised under certain circumstances, the light of return in the husband. This privilege, in the infancy of Islam was indefinitely exercised, and often abused to the detriment of women, until the Prophet received revelations, setting limits to the act of divorce, and forbidding wanton cruelty to wives, by keeping them in suspense for an indefinite period. “You may divorce your wives, and then either retain them with humanity, or dismiss them with kindness.”  “When ye divorce women, and the time for sending them is come either retain them with generosity, or put them away with generosity; but retain them not by constraint so as to be unjust toward them. He who doth so indeed injures himself.” 
- The form of Separation- A Check on Separation
The Prophet imposed certain such conditions on the exercise of the power of divorce that while, on the one hand, they served as a powerful check on the injudicious and arbitrary use of this power, they afforded, on the other hand, many opportunities to the parties for an amicable agreement, if they so desired. Of the several forms of divorce recognised by Islamic law, the one that bears the impress of the Prophet’s sanction and approval is the “Ahsan” type of “Talaq.” This form of repudiation involves the following conditions, each of which being intended to prevent a permanent breach.
- a)The husband, in the first place, must pronounce only one repudiation, the object of this limitation being, that the may subsequently, when better sense prevails, revoke the repudiation–if he has produced it from caprice or in a moment of excitement– within the period of the wife’s retirement consequent upon that repudiation and that he may re-marry her, if the period expires without the right of return having been exercised by the husband. 
- b)The repudiation must be pronounced when the wife is in a state of purity, and there is no bar to sexual intercourse, it being declared unlawful to pronounce repudiation when the wife is in menses, or when she is pure, but has already been approached.”
- c)The husband must abstain from connubial intercourse with his wife after pronouncing repudiation for the period of three months.”
There is a tradition of accepted authenticity that throws considerable light on the wisdom underlying the last two restrictions. Abdullah Ibn Omar divorced his wife while she was in her menses; and the matter was reported to the Prophet who, much exasperated at the levity of his conduct, said: “Let him take her back and retain her; till she be pure and again have her courses and again gets pure. Then, if he thinks it prudent, let him divorce her, but he should do so when she is clean and has not been approached: and this is the period of retirement (Iddat) which God has ordered for divorce.”
Some learned commentators observe in connection with this tradition that the purpose of this condition is, to avoid a rash and hasty procedure on the part of the husband, through aversion arising from the wife’s impurity, and by fixing a long period of abstinence to give him opportunities to reconsider his decision about the divorce, so that perchance he may repent, and exercise the right of return before the expiry of the term.
During this period of probation, the marriage subsists between the parties, and the husband retains his marital authority over his wife. He may, therefore, have access to the wife even without her permission, and can treat her as his wife, but this would actually amount to his exercising the right of return. During ‘iddat’, the husband id under legal obligation to lodge the wife in his house, though in a separate apartment, and maintain her. The laws of the Koran are quite clear on this point. “O Prophet, when ye divorce women, divorce them at their appointed time and compute the term exactly, and fear God your Lord. Oblige them not to go out of their apartments, nor allow them to depart, unless they be guilty of manifest uncleanness.” 
“House the divorced as ye house yourselves, according to your means, and distress them not, by reducing them to straits. And if they are pregnant, then be at charges for them, till they are delivered of their burden; and if they suckle your children, then pay them their hire and consult among yourselves, and act generously.” 
If, the husband has pronounced one, or even two repudiations, and if within the prescribed period, he abstains from intercourse with his wife, and does not exercise the right of return on the repudiated wife, he loses the power of recantation at the expiration of the term, and complete cessation of the marital rights and duties takes place, a fresh marriage being necessary for the parties to re-unite” 
It is obvious, that the very spirit of the prescribed traditional form of repudiation is towards a revocation of the divorce and a reconciliation between the parties concerned. If, however, the parties fail to take advantage of the prescribed interim, and are determined to break from each other, the husband may pronounce the repudiation for the third time and thus dissolve the marriage definitely. The divorced wife is forthwith rendered unlawful to him and he cannot remarry her, unless the wife marries first another person by a valid and binding contract, is divorced by this person, after a bona fide consummation of marriage and completes the period of ‘iddat’ consequent upon such repudiation. 
This severe condition, has been the subject of much comment by the critics; but they forget that the very existence of such a condition demonstrates most strongly that the principles of Islam are entirely opposed to the alleged facility of divorce. The object of laying down such a rule, was to prevent a definite dissolution of marriage, by appealing to the sense of honour of the people.
“Sautayra and Sedillot agree with the Mohammadan jurists, in thinking that his rule was framed with the object of restraining the frequency of divorce in Arabia. Sedillot speaks of the condition as a ‘very wise one’ as it rendered separation more rare, by imposing a check on its frequent practice among the Hebrews and the Heathen Arabs of the Peninsula. Sautayra says that the check was intended to control a jealous, sensitive, but half cultured race, by appealing to their sense of honour.” 
Sir W. Muir erroneously think that Islam positively sanctions the hiring of a temporary husband, to legalise re-marriage with a thrice–divorced wife. The idea of getting the divorced wife married to a third person, on an express understanding that he would divorce her in favour of her former husband, was condemned by the Prophet in the most emphatic terms.
In the other form of divorce three repudiation are pronounced in the period of purity, either on one occasion or on three separate occasions. This divorce is valid, but is an act of sin. This form of divorce is called “Talaq Bid-a,” i.e. not in conformity with pious practice.
It is to be remembered that the abuses, likely to arise from the laxity of the laws, may conveniently be counteracted by other lawful impositions. The wife or her guardian for instance, may stipulate, at the time of marriage, against the arbitrary exercise of the power of divorce by the husband. The right of dissolution of the contract may be stipulated to be with the wife, instead of with the husband, if necessary. The same object may also be achieved indirectly, by fixing the dower at a large sum, beyond the means of the husband to liquidate. The wife may also, by stipulation reserve to herself the power of dissolving the marriage under certain legitimate circumstances, for example, if the husband marries a second wife.
In the event of a divorce the Islamic laws are very particular in providing for the protection of the wife’s property against the avarice of the husband: If the divorce is due to a cause imputable to the husband; he has to make over to her all her property, and pay off the dower that had been settled upon her. If, however, the divorce has been restored to at the instance of the wife, without any justifiable cause, she has simply to abandon her claim to the dower. “The wife thus occupies,” observes Syed Ameer Ali, “a decidedly more advantageous position than the husband.”
- “ Kholaa Divorce”
Kholaa divorce is defined thus: When married parties disagree and are apprehensive that they cannot observe the bounds prescribed by the divine laws, -that is, cannot perform the duties imposed on them by the conjugal relationship – the woman can release herself from the tie, by giving up some property in return, in consideration of which the husband is to give her a “Kholaa”, and when they have done this, an irreversible divorce would take place”.
“Kholaa” is therefore a repudiation with consent, and at the instance of the wife, in which she agrees to give a consideration to the husband for her release from the marriage tie. But if the wife fails to pay the compensation, there is yet another means to dissolve the marriage, namely, “Mubarat,” according to which no compensation has to be paid, and a complete separation is effected, merely by mutual consent of the parties. If, however, the husband gives a “Kolaa” to his wife without any compensation, the respective claims of husband and wife are not cancel-led forthwith, and they are quite competent to sue each other for the payment of any debts which may be due.
The compensation is a matter of arrangement between the husband and wife. The wife may return the whole, or a portion of the dower, if it has been paid; or she may simply surrender her dower or other rights, such as the right to maintenance and lodging during the “iddat” period, or she may make any other agreement for the benefit of the husband such as for instance, to nurse their child during its two years of suckling, or to keep and maintain the child for a fixed period at her own expense after having weaned it.
It should be remembered that the distinction between “talaq” and “Kholaa” is real and not merely technical. If the cause of disagreement proceeds from the husband or if he alone wishes for a “talaq”, he must pay off the settlement debt to the wife. But, in case the proposal for a divorce emanates from the wife because of her aversion to the husband, and her consequent failure to perform her duties as a wife, or if she alone wishes for a “Kholaa,” she has to surrender her dower or abandon some of her rights, as compensation. If the wife be so unfortunate as to be subject to abuse by a brutal husband who may wish her either to forfeit the whole of her dower, or live with him, she need not forfeit the whole of her dower. Let her only go to the judge, prefer a complaint against her husband and demand a formal separation by the decree of the Court. If her allegations are true, the judge will call upon the husband to repudiate her. In case he refuses to do so, the judge himself pronounces a repudiation which will operate as a valid repudiation and the husband will be liable for the whole of the deferred dower. This procedure is known as “tafriq” or legal separation, in the Islamic law, and is based on the words of the Prophet: “ If a woman be prejudiced by a marriage, let it be broken off.” 
The first “Kholaa” case in Islam is quoted by Bukhari in the following words: the wife of Thabit Ibn Qais came to the Prophet and said “O messenger of God, I am not angry with Thabet for his temper or religion; but I am afraid that something may happen to me contrary to Islam, on which account I wish to be separated from him. The Prophet said: “Will you give back to Thabit the garden which he gave to you as your settlement? She said, “Yes.” Then the Prophet said to Thabit. “Take your garden and divorce her at once” 
This tradition clearly tells us that Thabit was blameless, and that the proposal for separation emanated from the wife who feared she would not be able to observe the bounds set by God namely not to perform her functions as a wife. The Prophet here permitted the woman to release herself by returning to the husband the ante-nuptial settlement, as compensation for the release granted to her.
In the “Kholaa” from the basic principle of repudiation is, that the husband is lawfully entitled to compensation, only when he is not at all responsible for the breach –neither wholly nor in part,- but when the wife is alone responsible, as in the tradition quoted above.
Moslem jurists are all agreed that the compensation extorted from an innocent wife is unlawful. Compensation is absolutely unlawful for the husband, even when the wife happens to be partly responsible for the disagreement. The religion of Islam is the only one that can produce a set of laws which jealously protects the properly and person of a wife against her “husband’s” cupidity and tyranny.”
I now advert to a passage in the Koran which expressly forbids the husband to resort to cruelty or other violent means, with a view to compel a woman to enter into “Kholaa” and to relinquish her dowry. “O believers, it is not allowed you to be heirs of your wives against their will; nor to imprison them, in order to take from them a part of the dowry you gave them, unless they have been guilty of manifest crime; but associate kindly with them; for, if ye are estranged from them, haply ye are estranged from that in which God hath placed abundant good. And if ye be desirous to ex-change one wife for another, and have given one of them a talent, make no deduction from it. Would ye take it by slandering her, and with manifest wrong? How, moreover, could ye take it, when one of you hath gone in unto the other, and they (the wives) have received from you a strict bond of union.”  It is impossible to think of a more appealing and forcible exhortation to a husband, to deal kindly with his wife, even if she happens to be a woman of unseemly manners. It is forbidden in the strongest terms, to lay hold on her property in the event of a separation.
Before these verses were revealed, brutal husbands used to maltreat their wives, and even to imprison and torture them until, unable to bear their sufferings, they were forced to relinquish the dowry settled upon them at marriage; and this property they used to endow their new wives with. This was expressly forbidden by the verses quoted above. According to the Malikite School of law, -if a husband has forced his wife to enter into a “kholaa,” the wife is entitled to get back the dowry, but the separation will be valid in law. I have already made mention of the procedure known as “Tafriq” which legally means dissolution of the status of marriage by a judicial decree. I give here some of the cause for which a wife can demand a divorce by authority of the Court. It must be remembered that, where the wife has the right to prefer a claim of “tafriq” the husband is entitled to no compensation, as he is so entitled in “kholaa”. A divorce may be granted by the Court for: -
- Habitual ill–treatment of the wife.
- Non–fulfillment of the terms of the marriage contract
- Incurable in competency.
- Quitting the conjugal domicile without making provision for the wife
- Any other similar causes which in the opinion of the Court justify a divorce
We have seen, then, the position of woman and her legal status in Islam. To sum up: “Her legal status is decidedly superior to that of European women. The social immunities she enjoys allow the fullest exercise, on her part, of the powers and privileges which the law gives to her. She acts, if sui-juris, in all matters which relate to herself and to her own property, in her own individual right, without the intervention of husband or father. She appoints her own attorney, and delegates to him all the powers she herself posseses. She enters into valid contracts with her husband and her male relations, on a footing of equality. If she is ill-treated, she has the right to have the marriage tie dissolved. She is entitled to pledge the credit of her husband for the maintenance of herself and her children. She is able, even if holding a creed different to that of her husband, to claim the free and unfettered exercise of her own religious observances… Her ante-nuptial settlement is her own by absolute right, and she can deal with it according to her own will and pleasure. To become entitled to its enjoyment, she requires no intermediates, trustees or next of kin. When she is aggrieved by her husband, she has the right to sue him in her individual capacity.”
It is both interesting and instructive to compare this extract with another, from the writings of J.S. Mill which gives us an idea of the corresponding position of women in Christianity: “We are continually told” says he, “that civilisation and Christianity have restored to woman her just rights. Meanwhile the wife is the actual bond- servant of her husband; no less so, as far as legal obligation goes, than slaves commonly so called. She vows a lifelong obedience to him at the altar, and is held to it all through her life by law. Casuists may say that the obligation of obedience stops short of participation in crime, but it certainly extends to everything else. She can do no act whatever, but by his permission, at least, tacit. She can acquire no property, but for him; the instant it becomes hers, even if by inheritance, it becomes ipso facto his. In this respect the wife’s position under the Common Law of England is worse than that of slaves in the laws of many countries; by the Roman Law, for example, a slave might have peculium which to a certain extent, the law guaranteed him for his exclusive use.”
- Female Seclusion
The Islamic laws regulating the social intercourse of Moslems, have often given rise to needless criticism in Europe. In their enthusiasm for social liberty, the Western critics say, that these laws are degrading to Moslem women, and are responsible for the low state of morality among Moslems. However, the true fact is, that these laws, strict as they are, had for their very aim the preservation of good morals in society. Indeed, preservation of good morals –and not unrestricted freedom of social intercourse among men and women, such as is prevalent to-day in Christian Europe– is the intention of the Islamic laws. Female seclusion is misunderstood in many quarters in foreign countries, for the apparent reason that sanctions of religion and usage have not been kept apart, as they ought to have been but have been grossly mixed one with another. Failing to distinguish between the two, our Western critics have fallen into the very serious fault of disseminating a false notion among their countrymen, that Islam is responsible for the seclusion of females, and for all the evils that flow therefrom.
I will dwell on the subject a little and make an attempt to show whether the religion of Islam actually sanctions the seclusion of women, as is misunderstood by European critics.
The following verse occurs in the Koran, which touch on our present subject: “Speak unto the female believers that they restrain their eyes, and keep themselves from immodest actions; and that they display not their charms and ornaments, except to their husbands or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers, or their brother’s sons or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male domestics who have no natural force, or to children who distinguish not women’s nakedness. And let them not strike their feet together, so as to discover their hidden ornaments. And be ye all turned to God, O ye believers, that it may be well with you.” 
The chief object of these verses is to secure greater purity of heart and increasing chastity of mind; and hence the believers are here reminded that God is well aware of what they do, and that it shall be well for them, if they constantly turn to him. To attain this moral purity, the believing man is first directed to retrain his eyes and observe continence. Then the believing woman is likewise directed to cover her person and ornaments from public view, to restrain her eyes and observe continence. A Moslem woman is at liberty to go out of her house, if necessary, after she has obtained permission from her husband or guardians. Only, she has to take good care to dress herself properly, so as to cover her person from head to foot, and to walk in the street with downcast eyes.
It is needless to point out, that the injunction with respect to looking down, is useless and uncalled for, if the women are never to walk abroad. Likewise the reference to external ornaments too becomes pointless, if women are to appear only before per-sons mentioned in the verses quoted above. It is allowable for a woman to uncover part of her face, fingers of her hands, soles of her feet, when she feels the necessity of going out. The rest of the body must be concealed before strangers, but before the persons enumerated in the verses, it is enough that the part from breast to knee remains covered.
It is clear then, that the verses quoted above deal with propriety of dress, and forbid women to flirt and coquet, in order to gain admirers. On the other hand, they enjoin upon the faithful women modesty of deportment, purity of heart and fear of God.
It can be confidently asserted that the excellent teachings upon chastity, together with the remedies for incontinence, as contained in the Holy Koran, are a peculiarity of Islam. One particular point deserves especial attention. The natural inclination of man is to sexual desire, over which he cannot have full control except by undergoing a thorough transformation. The divine injunction in this respect is, therefore, not that we may look at strange women and their beauty and ornaments, or their gait and dancing, so long as we do it with pure looks, nor that it is lawful for us to listen to their sweet songs, or to the stories of their love and beauty, provided it is done with a pure heart; but that it is never lawful for us, to cast glances at them, whether to lust or otherwise and to listen to their voices, whether with a pure or an impure heart. We are forbidden to do an act, in the doing of which we are not treading upon sure ground. If the eyes are accustomed to look after strange women, there is a fear, lest this practice should, some time, lead to dangerous consequences. That World of God; as revealed in the Holy Koran, therefore, restrains the carnal desires of man and enjoins upon him, to avoid the occasions, where there is danger of the excitement of the evil passions.
We now advert to another passage in the Holy Book, where the ‘mothers of the faithful’ are addressed: “O Wives of the Prophet, ye are not as other women. If ye fear God, be not too complaisant of speech, lest the man of unhealthy heart should lust after you, but speak with discreet speech. And abide still in your houses, and go not in public, decked as was common in the days of ignorance, but observe prayer and give alms, and obey God and the Apostle: God but desireth to put away all impurity from you. O ye the household of the Prophet, and purify you thoroughly. And study what is rehearsed to you in your houses, of the Book of God, and of Wisdom: God is Keen-sighted and Congnisant of all.” 
The wives of the Prophet, who were destined to be patterns for all faithful women, are here given positive injunctions, to fear God, purify their hearts, observe prayer, give alms, obey the Prophet and read constantly the Holy Koran, - in short to lead a life of purity, devotion and piety. In the sublimity of their thoughts, these noble women were not unmindful of the humbler duties of domestic life. The great lesson which their noble husband taught, was that woman’s proper sphere is her house, and the claims of domestic duties should receive her first and best consideration. He set up an ideal before his wives, and through them, to all believing women: it was the ideal of plain living and high thinking.
It is to be remembered, that the wives of the Prophet were all accessible to religious inquiries. Ayesha was, as it were the repository of the traditions, and was frequently consulted on matters of religion and ritual. Men came from distant parts of the country and straightway saw the wives of the Prophet, and all of these visitors were certainly not of blameless character. It was quite natural, that the wives of the Prophet should have received guidance with regard to general deportment and propriety of speech. By “discreet speech”, in the above quoted verse, is meant that the wives of the Prophet should speak to these religious inquirers as mothers would do to their sons.
The next verse, to which we would like to allude, is called the verse of the veil, and it occurs further on in the same chapter: “And when ye would ask any gift of his wives ask it from behind a veil. Purer will this be for your hearts and for theirs.” 
According to some commentators, strangers may approach the wives of the Prophet, and talk to them, if they are veiled; and presumably this applies to the generality of Moslem women as well. Aiming, as it does, at the purification of the heart; the verse only forbids too familiar an intercourse between strangers and the wives of the Prophet. It does not warrant the conclusion, that the Koran laws are responsible for the immurement of the fair sex.
There are other commentators, who follow a stricter interpretation of the verse, namely, that the wives of the Prophet were here commended, not to appear before strangers, even though they were veiled. Those who uphold this interpretation are careful to limit the applications of the verse to the Prophet’s wives only. “If any other Moslem woman appears before stranger, she commits no fault; but if she does not appear at all, it is better still.” 
The occasion of this verse, in accordance with one version, also lends support to the view, that the verse was intended for the wives of the Prophet alone. Omar, who afterwards was elevated to the Caliphate, once happened to come upon the wives of the Prophet, who were still sitting in a mosque in company with many other women. Such a sight was not to Omar’s liking for he was always in favour of the seclusion of the Prophet’s wives. He there and then exclaimed– “What a happy thing it would have been, if the ‘mothers of the faithful’ had been under veils.”  In that case thought he, their superiority would have been established over other women much in the same way as the superiority of their noble husband is established over other men. 
In studying these verses, many forget to take into account the circumstances and conditions that prevailed in those times in Arab Society. A sort of chivalrous spirit doubtless existed; but it existed in Arab poetry, rather than in the actual life of the people. Women were no better than cattle and furniture. Free women, as well as, slave women, freely walked in the open, with their heads bare, and often with scanty clothing. The houses were not large enough, and the rooms were narrow and few in number. In most cases, one and the same room served many different purposes. It is easy to see, therefore, that aimd such conditions, it was very difficult to maintain privacy. Indeed violation of privacy, and even of decency, was an every day occurrence. It was to put a stop to such an undesirable state of things, that the following teachings were revealed:-
“O ye who believe, enter not into other houses than your own, until ye have asked leave, and have saluted the family thereof; this is better for you: haply ye will bear this in mind.”
“And if ye find no one therein, then enter it not, till leave be given you; and if it be said unto you, ‘Go ye back; then go ye back.. This will be more pure for you, and God knoweth what ye do.”
“There shall be no harm in your entering houses, in which no one dewelleth. God knoweth that which ye discover and that which ye conceal.” 
Commentators mention a significant tradition about a person who, after the revelation of these verses, inquired of the Prophet, if it were necessary for him to get permission even from his mother, before entering into her chamber, “Yes,” said the Prophet. But she has none to attend to her, except myself,” put in the Arab inquirer. “Likest thou to see your mother naked?” observed the Prophet. “Certainly not.” Replied the man. “Ask her permission then,” said the Prophet emphatically.
Likewise, we find that, at certain times of the day, even domestics and children should not come into our presence without notice. Here are the instruction bearing on the occasion:
“O ye who believe, let your slaves and those of you who have not come of age ask leave of you, three times a day, ere they come into your presence; before morning prayer, and when ye lay aside your garments at mid-day, and after the evening prayer. These are three times of privacy. No blame shall attach to you or them, if after these times, when ye go your rounds of attendance on one another (they come in without permission). Thus doth God make clear to you His signs: and God is knowing, wise. And when your children come of age, let them ask leave to come into your presence, as they who were before them, asked it.”
Under such circumstances and conditions Arab society grew. The influence of Islam was a blessing to the Arab race. It was Islam that awakened in the Arab mind respect for women, and a high sense of decency, and social decorum. It was only an extension of the laws of decency and social decorum, when too close intercourse between strangers and the Prophet’s wives was forbidden, as we have seen in the verse of the veil. It is really to be much regretted, that the critics of Islam will not see all this, and should obstinately ascribe the framing of all these healthy rules, to motives of selfish jealousy.
There is one more verse, in the same chapter, to which reference may be made in this connection: “O Prophet, speak unto thy wives and thy daughters, and the wives of the true believers, that they cast their outer garment over them (when they walk abroad); this (will be) more proper, that they may be known (to be matrons of reputation), and may not be affronted (by unseemly words or actions) God is Gracious (and) Merciful.”
The purport of this verse is quite clear, and requires no elucidation. The wives of the Prophet, as well as the wives of the faithful, are permitted to go abroad, if necessary, - and they are required to cover themselves with large wrappers. The object of this qualification, as briefly indicated in the verse, may be best understood by a reference of the fact, that before the revelation of this verse, both the free women, as well as the slave women, used to go abroad, without any wrappers on and with their heads bare; and wicked men very often affronted them in the streets. If in the case of a free woman, any altercation ensued, these men were ready with their explanation that they took them for slave women. The free women were, therefore, commanded by this verse, to cover themselves with wrappers, when they walked out of doors, so that they might easily be distinguished from slave women, and thus be safe from the insolence of street-men. Nor was the wrapper, a mere mark of their social states – it was a mark of their chastity as well. For, by using large wrappers, and thereby covering the bodies, including the faces which it is not at all obligatory to cover, they bore a silent, but strong testimony to their moral purity, and inspired awe, even in the tainted hearts of wicked people.
The Koranic verses are very clear on this point, and leave little room for doubt. Leaving aside the difference of interpretation, two facts stand out in bold relief:
- That the object of the verses is to secure chastity of heart and mind, and purity of looks for man and woman.
- That the verses actually forbid an unrestrained and promiscuous mingling of both sexes, and this in the interest of good morals and social well–being.
Islam does not compel a woman to remain within her house under all circumstances. It permits her to go out, whenever there arises any legitimate necessity for her to go out. It is certain, that she has to take permission, either express or implicit, from her husband. There are, however, occasions when the husband cannot deny his wife such a permission, as for example, when she intends to acquaint herself with the opinion of the learned on any matter affecting herself, or to visit her sick parents, etc.
As regards attending public prayers, there is nothing to prevent women from doing so under certain reservations, but it is preferable that they should pray at home. “It is more meritorious” said the Prophet, “that a woman should say her prayers in the courtyard of her house, rather than in the mosque; it is more meritorious that she should say her prayers within the house, rather than in the courtyard; and better still, in her closet, rather than in her house; and all this with a view to conceal her from public view.”
I hope that I have succeeded in presenting the correct teaching in accordance with the Islamic laws, in regard to the question of female seclusion.
It can be emphatically asserted, that Islam never favours woman’s seclusion in any extravagant from. Seclusion or the Islamic veil system is defined as throwing a wrapper over the body form head to feet, and it is clear, that in this sense, it is not incompatible with a woman’s stepping beyond the threshold of the house, particularly when occasion demands, and when she obtains the consent of her husband or guardian. Certain restrictions have, doubtless, been imposed on the freedom of her movements, as we have shown above. But this is due as much to moral considerations as to the fact, which has been so often ignored that woman’s proper sphere of action and influence is her own house. Man, to go abroad with a view to earn a living for himself, his wife, and children, -and woman, free from such cares, to remain at home, in order to watch over the trust committed to her, and to discharge her own responsibilities, as a mother and a wife such is the Islamic conception of the relation between the two sexes.
() The whole History of the Christian Laws of Marriage and divorce, furnishes a very interesting and instructive reading to a Moslem jurist: for, he perceives, perhaps not without a feeling of just pride, that his Christian brethren are coming nearer to Islam, at least in their conception of marriage and the relations to which it gives rise. In all European countries, the laws relating to marriage and divorce have been revised and recast, and the changes introduced, when examined will be found to exhibit in some of their board features, a very close analogy to the Islamic Laws, framed several centuries before. Thus, in Germany, for instance, the code 1900 reccognises civil marriages alone. ‘It is effected, by the declaration of the parties before a Registrar, in ht epresence of each other , of their intention to be married. Two witnesses of full age must be present. The Registrar asks each of the parties whether he or she will marry the other, and on their answer in the affirmative, declares them duly married, and enters them in the register. The marriage must be preceded by a public notice. Dissolution of marriage has long been recognized in Germany and the United States of America. In England, divorces were very rare till 1857, when the powers exercised in marrimonial matters by the house of Lords, the Ecclesiastical Courts of Common Law were transferred to a lay court termed ‘The Court for Divorce and marrimonial Causes,’ and constituted for the adminstration of all matters connected with divorce. In France, a similar change came about in the year 1884. In Italy divorces are still almost unknown.
() Koran. IV: 34. Obedience here signifies obedience to man onlyin matters recommended by the law of God. This significance is made clear by a comparison with Koran, 33:31, 33:35 and 66: 5. This verse holds to mean “Seek not a pretext for separation.”
() With Christians the case is not so: Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” Matt. V:32.
() The law of England similarly vested in the husband the right of chastising his wife for levity of conduct, “and the husband in quite recent times, was allowed to restrain her personal liberty, but his right so to do was first expressly negatived by decision of the Court of Appeal in the year 1891.” Holland’s Jurisprudence, “page 240.”
() “ The Mohammadan Law,” stated the Lord of the Privy Council, on a question of what is legal cruelty between man and wife, “would probably not differ materially from our own” (Abdul Kader 1886.)
() “Avarice” here implies whatever is an impediment to reconciliation. On the part of the wife it takes the form of an uncompromising attitude and a tenacious insistence on her rights which may prevent a meeting half-way, and as applied to the husband, it means unwillingness to associate with the wife for ugliness of her features or old age, or other like causes. (Razi Commentary)
() There is a third way, also called “Mubarat,” which is divorce by Mutual consent. Again : “ Men used to divorce wives, and take them back, not because they intended to retain them, but because they wanted to tease their wives by putting off the divorce indefinitely; so God revealed the verse: “ Retain them not by constraint etc.” (Malik’s Mowattaa).
() “A man divorced his wife, took her back, when the period of retirement was coming to an end, again divorced her, saying-by God, I will neither accept thee, nor allow thee freedom to marry another. So God revealed the verse: “ You may divorce your wives etc.” (Malik’s Mowattaa).
() These htree months constitute the ‘iddat’ period which is obligatory on such wives with whom the marriage has been consummated. “ The women who are divorced shall wait concerning themselves until they have their courses thrice,” Koran. II:228.