Matrimonial Rights in Islam - Part 1
Adopted from the book "A New Perspective : Women in Islam" by : Sayyid Mustafa Qazwini and Fatma Saleh
“And women shall have rights similar to the rights upon them in a just and equitable manner; but men have a degree over them”(2:228).
Fatma: This verse is perhaps one of the most controversial and misrepresented verses regarding the relationship between a husband and a wife. Does the verse only pertain to conjugal rights within the family structure, or does it also extend into the whole of society as well? Secondly, could you expound and exemplify the entirety of this verse?
Sayyid: The verse, which you quoted, may not be a suitable translation. Sometimes it can be difficult to translate the precise meaning of an Arabic word into English. There are many Arabic words that cannot be translated from their original meaning or meanings into any language. Transcribers have to search for alternative words in attempt to most accurately define a particular Arabic term. In some instances the precise meaning of the word can be lost, misrepresented, or misinterpreted. Let me attempt to translate that verse:
And the rights of the wives—in relation to their husbands—are equal [just/enabled] to their obligations—toward their husbands—but men in their obligations—toward their wives—stand a step further: Wa lahunna methullathi ‘al ayhinna bil-ma’uruf: walir-rijaali ‘alayhin-na darajah. (2:228)
Regarding your first question, Islamic jurists (fuqaha) commentthat this verse only pertains to family affairs, not to the relationships of men and women in society or outside the boundaries of family life.
In regards to society, the Qur’an states that Muslim men and women share life’s moral and social responsibilities equally and jointly. In addition, they are equal in front of the law and in all religious obligations 28 and punishments. 29
In addition to the verse mentioned, there is another verse in the Qur’an that is conjointly related, and, thus, it is important to explain them simultaneously.
Men are the supporters and sustainers of women according to what Allah has given [or enabled] advantages of one over the other and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are truly devout ones: Ar-rijaalu qaw-waamuuna ‘alan-nisaa-‘i bima faz-zalallaahu ba’-za hum ‘alaa ba ‘zinwwa bimaa ‘anfaquu min’amwaalihim. Fas-Saalihaatu qaanitaatun. (4:34)
The Qur’an has decreed,
“Men in their obligations—toward their wives—stand a step further: walir-rijaali ‘alayhin-na darajah” (2:228).
The “step further” of which the Qur’an speaks is not a position of greater rank or nobility. The “step” the Qur’an makes reference to is the obligatory duty given to the man in the care of the woman; it is not a degree of superiority. Allah ordained men with the responsibility to preserve and solely sustainwomen. This is supported by the verse that states,
“Men are the supporters and sustainers of women: ar-rijaalu qaw-waamuuna ‘alan-nisaa-‘i”(4:34).
The “step further” is in no way a form of dominance or preferment.
The Qur’an reminds us that men and women were created from the same essence.
“[Allah] created you all out of one living entity: khalaqakum min-nafsinw-waahida” (4:1).
The Qur’an consistently makes reference to equity, parity, and equilibrium among the genders. It disposes of genders and makes no distinction whatsoever between the superiority or inferiority of men and women. On the contrary, it is the piety of a person that distinguishes him or her by ranks or degrees, not gender or lineage.
“The most honored of you [male or female] in the sight of Allah is he who is most righteous of you: in-na ‘akramakum ‘indal-laahi ‘atqaakum” (49:13).
Islam does not represent favoritism or show partiality in the interest of men. Precedence is given toward the general welfare of society, not genders. It is equilibrium of interest between both genders which benefits all members of society. The totality of society always supersedes one sector of society. The rights and responsibilities of a woman are equally proportioned to those of a man, but they are not necessarily identical. Equality and identicalness are two different issues.
“Certainly we sent Our Messengers with clear proofs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance, so that humankind may conduct itself with equity” (57:25).
Women and men are symmetrically balanced when it comes to their relationship with Allah. On the other hand, the symmetrical balance differentiates when it comes to men and women’s roles and responsibilities, not only toward themselves and each other but also to society as a whole. It is never implied that one gender surpasses the other; in essence, both genders must be in an equal pace with one another, each recognizing the importance of its unbiased contribution. Women and men in Islam are complementary to each other. According to a tradition of the Prophet, “Men and women are siblings of one another.” 30
The Qur’an mandates that the husband exclusively shoulders the responsibility of maintaining his wife financially, and that he safeguards the interest of the family. In Islam, the wife is not obligated to pay for her living expenses, and it is incumbent upon the husband to maintain her according to his means. If the husband is wealthy, then he must provide for his wife an affluent lifestyle or, on the other hand, if the husband is poor, then the wife forestalls a less than moderate way of living. 31
Referring to the two verses (2:228 and 4:34), assuredly, they have defended the honor and integrity of women. When a Muslim woman marries, she has the privilege of never working outside the home. She does not have to contend with raising children, managing a home, and contributing additional income to support the family. Islam has acknowledgedthe noble responsibility and tasks that a woman must endure in raising a family. Therefore, Islam has freed her from the additional undertaking of providing for the family financially. In fact, she is not obligated for any of the domestic affairs.
Fatma: Are you implying that there is no such concept as a “homemaker” in Islam?
Sayyid: There is no such term as “homemaker” in Islam. A woman in Islam is not compelled to cook, clean, launder, or perform any other domestic duties. If the wife chooses to do the work, it would be considered noble and thoughtful; otherwise, she is not obligated to do so. Besides, she can also request monetary compensation for any of the work, even that of nursing her own child. Nonetheless, Islam does not want to undermine the importance or the need of the wife to assist with the household duties. To be considered a homemaker is prestigious, if not the noblest of all roles, for a woman. Not to deter from the subject, it is important to note some very important traditions from the Prophet regarding domestic duties.
“How much reward is there for a woman’s housework?” Um-Salamah (wife of the Prophet) asked the Prophet. The Prophet replied, “Any woman who in the way of improving the order of the house, takes something from somewhere and places it somewhere else would enjoy the grace of Allah and whoever attracts the blessings of Allah would not be tormented by Allah’s anger.“ 32
The Prophet said, “O women! Whosoever among you is busy in arranging the domestic affairs, Allah willing, she will get the reward of Islam’s soldiers and Mujahidi-n 33.” 34
Sequentially, in reference to the two verses, they have not only sanctified the prestige of women, but have underwritten a fostered relationship for raising and caring of children by assuring that the mother would be home and exempted from toilsome domestic work. She is then able to dedicate all her time, thoughts, and love toward nurturing the family.
Some people have taken these two verses and adversely interpreted them as a form of male dominance, or as a form of superiority over women, even defining the verses as the wife being compelled to submit herself to her husband’s will unconditionally. These interpretations are entirely contrary to the foundations and principles of Islam. Islam, by no manner or mean, would allow any form of ascendancy. Islam adamantly opposes tyranny, oppression, dictatorship, abuse, or the infringement of rights. The Qur’an specifically states,
“Treat them [wife] in a just manner: wa lahunna methullathi ‘al ayhinna bil-ma’ruuf” (2:228),
“Live with them on a footing of kindness and equity: wa ‘aashiruuhun-na bil-ma’-ruuf” (4:19).
These verses, among many others found in the Qur’an, and hundreds of noted traditions of the Prophet, constitute the basis of marriage.
“And the rights of the wives—in relation to their husband—are equal to their obligations—toward their husbands” (2:228).
This verse affirms that the husband is neither an authoritative partner who cannot be questioned, nor one who is to be favored with absolute obedience. Allah has enunciated in this verse entitlements for wives similar to those of husbands. To clarify, the matrimonial rights are conditional, and are dependent upon a reciprocal compliance in which each partner has a set of responsibilities or duties that must be fulfilled. If one or both partners fails to perform his or her duties, then, subsequently, an injunction and verdict may be implemented.
Fatma: Later, I would like you to explain these conditions, but in continuance of 4:34, the Qur’an mentions two things that need clarifying. One is the word “fadallah,” which has been translated as “given or enabled advantages of one over the other,” and the other is “truly devout: qaanitaat.” What do they mean exactly?
Sayyid: The word “fadallah” may mean given, enabled, preferred, or distinguished in responsibilities and duties, depending on the content and context of the sentence. In reference to this particular verse, it is best to use the word enabled, given, or distinguished, but not preferred.
“Fadallah” is interpreted as distinguishing men from women concerning the undertakings and responsibilities of supporting, sustaining, and taking full care of the family. Itdoes not signify that men are preferred or greater in excellence than women. In fact, upon studying the Qur’an and traditions of the Prophet, one may conclude that admiration, leniency, and preference are sometimes given more to women. There are extraordinary traditions by the Prophet that summarize the eminence of women. Once a man came to the Prophet asking:
“O Messenger of Allah, who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man said, “Then who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man asked for the third time, “Then who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man further asked, “Then who is next?” Only then, the Prophet said, “Your father.” 35
Also, the Prophet said, “Heaven lies beneath the feet of mothers.” 36
Allah would not permit any form of injustice or deficiency among His creations. Allah bestowed unique and distinguishable features upon each individual—mentally, physically, and spiritually.
“And wish not for the things in which God hath bestowed His gifts freely on some of you than others” (4:32).
This verse denotes that every man and woman is created with notable qualities.
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