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Woman in Islam was created by God to be man's partner. The Creator built into both man and woman a mutual correspondence so that each would find contentment in the other. The Qur’an calls man and woman a "garment" for each other (what is physically and continuously closer to oneself than one's clothing?), their mutual interdependence. Although the Holy Quran grants women the same rights as men, it allows that "the men have a degree above the women." As far as religious duties are concerned, however, Islam made the sexes absolutely equal. It has exempted women from these duties when they are menstruating, pregnant, or recovering from childbirth.


Unlike most other societies of the time, Islam, from its beginning, recognized women as autonomous legal personalities with civil rights. As a complete legal person the adult Muslim woman is granted title to keep her name forever. She has the right to acquire, keep and sell property as she pleases in perfect freedom. Her consent of her property, the cultivation of her field or above all her marriage. She cannot be coerced into anything. Unless she is a minor, and hence dependent upon her parents or guardians, or unless she has appointed another person to be her attorney-at-law or representative, she must exercise her rights in person in order to make a transaction legally valid.


Woman in Islam is not considered the source of evil. In Islamic belief she did not tempt Adam; nor did the devil or death, whether physical or moral come into the world through her. The Holy Qur’an tells that God had prohibited Adam and Eve from touching a certain tree and they disobeyed and had to be expelled from the paradise. It does not say that the act of disobedience was sexual nor did it have anything to do with the "tree of knowledge." Islam regards sex as an innocent good and the pursuit of knowledge as a paramount duty, not as evil. Furthermore, the Holy Qur’an adds that the disobedient act was repented and that God forgave its perpetrators. Evidently, the guilt was purely that of disobedience. The Holy Qur’an even explains the act as the result of human forgetfulness, (Holy Quran 20:115) which Islam regards as punishable because of the tremendous importance it lays on moral responsibility. Hence, there is no "fall" in Islam, and no resultant original sin in any form. Woman, therefore, is innocent. She is a positive good, a consoler, a source of happiness and fulfillment to man, as man is to her. For Muslims, sex is as natural as food and drink, growth and death. It is God created, God blessed, God instituted. It is not laden with guilt, but, like woman herself, is innocent. Indeed sex is highly desirable. The Holy Quran prohibits celibacy for the sake of God, and the Holy Prophet ennobled marriage by making in his Sunnah, or example, and hence the norm for every Muslim male and female. Like everything else pertinent to life on earth, Islam made sexual gratification of men and women a thing of piety, virtue and felicity.


Since woman is not property or an object but a full legal personality, sexual intercourse cannot be a random affair but must be done with the woman's consent and with responsibility, a responsibility that falls on both parties. Sexual promiscuity is vehemently condemned because it is, by definition, a violation responsibility of one or the other party. That is why Islam counsels its adherents. Have as much sex as you please, but always responsibly.


Male-female relations have to be ordered and governed if the ethical demand of responsibility is to be met. To this end, Islam provided a whole system of laws governing those relations, for it believes that man-woman affairs cannot be left to the whimsy of the moment nor to the arrangements of others. Marriage itself, as an institution, is regarded by Islam as a solemn compliance with the ethical requisite of responsibility. In condemning sexual acts outside of marriage as punishable crimes, Islam does so not because sex is evil in itself but because it has been engaged in irresponsibly and out of passion.


Islam considers that in male-female relations there is physical side and an emotional side, as well as a spiritual side. Further, it maintains that adultery is a fulfillment of the physical side, and that it is often entered into at the cost of the long-run emotional side, and always at the cost of the spiritual. For in adultery one partner is always using the other or allowing himself or herself to be used, as an object. Where one partner has proper regard for the other, surely, he or she should be willing to transform the relation into marriage. Marriage in Islam is not a sacrament but rather a civil contract by which the partners freely proclaim their plan to regard each other henceforth as ends, and not as means. Let us then turn to the laws of marriage.



Marriage in Islam is not a sacrament. It is a bond made not in heaven, but right here on earth. Like all human bonds, it can be dissolved. It is a pledge or contract by which the partners regulate their mutual relations. Like any other contract, it has a few necessary provisions. If these are satisfied, the contract may contain any other provisions the two partners agree to include. The contract requires that there must be two adults consenting in total freedom to marry each other. The minor may be given in marriage by his parents, but upon reaching adulthood - on age which may vary slightly from community to community, but which may not come before sexual maturity - he or she has the full right to consummate the marriage contract or to reject it. Even if the marriage had already been consummated, Islam gives the right to either partner, upon reaching adulthood, to dissolve it.


The second requirement is that the contract contains specification of two dowries, both to be paid by the male to the female. The first, which is to be given and received before consummation of the marriage, usually consists of gifts of jewelry and clothing which become the woman's personal property and hence cannot be taken from her without her consent. The second is a commitment that falls due only if the marriage is terminated by divorce. Since divorce in Islam is possible for the male by repudiation, the second dowry acts as the female's “insurance policy" against irresponsible conduct on the part of the male and thus counter balances the prerogative granted him by the law. If it seems to betray equality that the male alone may divorce by repudiation, this is more than offset by the deterrent power of the second dowry which a woman is free to specify in any terms and amounts she pleases and which may constitute the male's total economic and social ruin.


The third component of the Islamic marriage contract is the presence of two witnesses, one of whom must be a male and their attestation to its content or terms. This contract is not valid unless it is more likely to be kept.


Besides these three provisions the parties to the contract can add others as they wish, provided the additional provisions do not violate the law. A marriage contract may stipulate the style of life to which the man or woman is entitled. It can provide for the marriage to be monogamous by stipulating that it would terminate (and hence the second or deferred dowry would fall due) if the husband contracts another marriage. But it cannot stipulate that husband and wife shall cooperate in thievery, other crimes, or rebellion against the state. Islam does permit divorce. As previously noted, a husband can divorce his wife by an act of solemn repudiation. But the law requires that such repudiation be made three times in three months to be effective. After the first and second repudiations, the law demands that the husband and wife deal with their dispute and try to restore domestic harmony through marriage counseling and arbitration by near relatives or other of their mutual choice. On the third repudiation, divorce becomes final, though Muslims believe that God called it "most hateful." In order to prevent the husband from frivolously or irresponsibly entering into a divorce, Islam decrees that no man may take back in marriage a wife whom he had divorced unless that woman had married another man and had been divorced by him. Such marriage constitutes a terrible humiliation for both and its specter acts as a second deterrent, after the second dowry.


A wife may divorce her husband by court decision, not by repudiation. In this case she would have to establish in court one of the legal reasons justifying divorce such as contagious sickness, prolonged absence, impotence, cruelty, adultery, lack of support, or the like. A divorce granted by the court is always final.


Islam also permits polygamy. That is, a man may have more than one wife (but not more than four) at the same time. Such polygamous marriages have never been the rule but the exception. Moreover, the law enables a woman to make her marriage monogamous, if she so whishes, by entitling her to write monogamy into her marriage contract. There are situations in human affairs where Muslims consider the best solution to be a polygamous arrangement. They feel that such arrangements may contribute to human happiness where there is an excess of women over men or where there are widowed or divorced women, often with children and devoid of support. The plural marriages of the Prophet in Madinah after the death of his first wife were of this kind. A refugee widow with five children whom nobody, a divorced wife of a former slave whom everybody was too proud to approach, an old matron whose relatives the Prophet wanted to reconcile - such were the women he married in his later life.


Besides legal provisions, Islam prescribed a whole range of ethical directives concerning women. They are to be treated with love and kindness, for they are a gift from God. They are to keep their chastity, to run their homes, and with their husbands, to implement the highest injunction of Islamic society and State. Having declared women innocent, having invested men and women with identically the same religious duties and privilege, having recognized women as legal persons and endowed them with civil rights, and finally, having protected women against the ravages of social chaos and license, Islam clearly afforded women greater honour and protection than most of the societies of the Prophet's time.



It is quite possible that some women may not be inclined toward married life as envisaged by Islam. Some women have a penchant for different kinds of careers - for art, science, or some productivity other than is usually associated with some married home life. This need is now new. It did not start with the industrial revolution which extricated women from their homes. However, the problem is more often than not that the career bound woman wants to have both a career and marriage, home and children, and finds the two option irreconcilable.


To relieve woman from having to have a career in order to provide for herself, Islam prescribed support for woman, whether minor or adult, by her nearest male relative on the same level as his own. This prescription is not suspended except when she marries, at which time her support falls upon her husband. Islam prescribed that woman would inherit only half the share other brother.


Nonetheless, there are women for whom even this economic guarantee is not sufficient. Some women are creative and their creativity may well demand external occupation for self fulfillment. If a woman is the sole female adult living in a nuclear family, either her career or her home has to bear the cost. One of the two has to give in. Otherwise, she can have both only in succession - children and home in the early period of her married life and career in the later period. But advanced age and long absence from the period of learning might have already ruined her chances for a creative career. In this case, she would more likely be able to do supportive service as a secretary, assistant, sales clerk, or factory hand. If she were to take up her career in her prime age, the children would suffer, as would the happiness of the home. To fulfill themselves, humans need beauty, a measure of home leisure where beauty of ambiance combines with friendly converse and pleasant activity. This is not likely to be available in homes where both parents are out working. Such parents would not be prepared to give one another the quiescence each needs.


It would be otherwise if the home also contained other adult males and females, if it were an "extended family" home. Parents, sisters and brothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts, all living together, would give the home the care it needs so that the woman could pursue a career without feeling obliged or superfluous. For the home belongs equally to all. The love and attention the relatives give the children are a blessing because of the blood relation. This does not necessarily prevent the mother from putting her own touch to her quarters or to the home as a whole, nor from taking her children into her own care after work hours. Thus point is that in her absence, the house is not left unattended or attended by foreign servants; and the children are not left to the television set, the foreign baby sitter, or the day-care center.


Moreover, the variety of characters and personalities and of moods and temperaments in the extended family home provides the opportunity for everybody to do what he or she pleases in company of those who love one another most. But his or mood one of joy or despondency, of friendly converse or meditation, of hard work or rest, or an outdoor promenade or a private conversation, husband, wife, son, or daughter would nearly always find someone in the extended family to join him or her in that activity. If the mood is one of isolation and withdrawal that too is permitted without offense or guilt, for the people in question are one's beloved, ones near relatives. Such company is absolutely essential for personal sanity and social health.


Human beings need love, counsel, company and altruistic concern as much as they need food and air. Total privacy can be obtained only at the cost of loneliness and is unworthy of it. The consequence of loneliness far outweighs the satisfaction which privacy sometime furnishes.


Not only does the extended family make careers both within and outside the home possible but it makes the whole of the society healthier. The extended family is the best guarantee against psychic ills and aberrations of all sorts. Islam has not only recommended it as a good, but has buttressed it with laws. Every human in need, it prescribed, is entitled to the support of that person's nearest relative. In complement of this, it prescribed that a person's legal heirs are not only one's spouse and children, but all one’s living parents and grandparents, and all one's grandchildren and their children. All these members of the family are hence kept together by love as well as by law.




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