Islam and Divorce
By: Ayatullah Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari
The first point this chapter must make is that divorce is contrary to the laws of nature. The annulling of the marriage-bond and the separation of those who should be life-partners is a denial of the true nature of man as created and as at his best. Any society in which divorces become numerous, with the consequent break-up of families, evidences its deviation from nature and her requirements.
Psychologists, jurists and sociologists, concerned by the effects of divorce on the moral and juridical personality of those involved, have gone deep into the subject, and given it as their considered verdict that the ejection of a man and wife, let alone the children, from the warmth of home-life into the cold unwelcome of any substitute establishment they may find, deals a mortal blow to their spirits and exposes their children to the onset of moral ailments and psychic traumas against which family life had immunized and protected them. These scientists further hold, almost to a man, that for these reasons divorce should be rendered practically impossible by severe sanctions, except in a few cases where some cause, generally from outside, like the onslaught of insanity or criminality, makes an exception to the rule.
But what should be done in cases of irreparable breakdown of relation ships? Must the partners stay in the hell they have made? Or may a way-out be found for them? Christianity says blankly: "No divorce!" But Islam more realistically faces the consequences of irreparable breakdown as a fact, and provides a way-out. Every possible safeguard is laid down in the statute book to prevent such a way-out by divorce being abused.
But it is clear that the bankruptcy of the relationship is only worsened by forcing the partners to stick together; and their misery is only increased. Hence divorce, though stigmatized as "the most loathsome of states in the eyes of the Lord" is made possible when it is the better of two bad roads. It may even be that the very separation removes the cause of the irritation between man and wife, while the lapse of time in absence softens the hearts and recalls the good points which had been lost under the pains of discord; so that the couple seek reunion, and in some cases actually start the same partnership up again in pardon and joy.
Since Islam's aim is the firm establishment of marriages, in the interests of this objective certain liberties are denied. The right of divorce is given to the man only, except in very exceptional cases. This is to safeguard the best interests of women and save them from falling victim to passions. Manifestly, if two people both have the right to institute divorce proceedings, the basis of confidence is made very shaky on both sides. What better safeguard can there be, therefore, than to give the right of divorce proceedings primarily to the one who has by nature more subjection to the powers of reason, and patience in the face of lack of tenderness; and who stands to lose the sum he has given as a marriage portion, as well as having to undertake the financial burdens of the children's upbringing?
The differences in the constitution of a man and woman are manifest. The head takes first place in the man's decisions and the heart in the woman's. Reason and emotion are the gifts given to each respectively in their creation. As Dr. Alexis Carrel puts it: "The differences between men and women are, obviously, the physical ones: and then, less obviously, the internal ones like the dispositions of the nerves, the different mental and emotional talents, both of which are of supreme importance for the future of civilization. Partisans of Women's Liberation aim at a false conception of equality, as if that desirable condition meant precise similarity and identity in upbringing, employment, responsibilities and duties." ("Man, the Unknown" pp. 84-87).
It is for these reasons that Islam's Fiqh lays down: "Divorce is in the hand of the man." And it is in consideration of the woman's delicacy of spirit that the power of ending a shared life is not granted to her. Islam, in addition to the manifold measures it has taken to make it easier for people to enter the married state and start families, also makes it more difficult to break up the home. Everything possible is done to ensure happy sound home-life, for the sake of the family's members and of the society to which they belong. It is therefore that it is written in Sura IV: Nisa'a —"The Women" verse 19: "O men, live with your wives in kindness and equity. If you dislike anything in them, that may be the very point which God will use to bring about much blessing."
In order to take away such feelings of dislike and prevent their turning to hatred, and to remove their discomfort, Islam awakens the man's conscience to live in kindness and equity with patience, and not to cast off a wife who is temporarily in disfavor, since it may be that goodness and blessing may come through those very wives; so that it would be stupid to end the relationship hastily. As is written in the same Sura IV: Nisa'a — "The Women", verse 128: "If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband's part, there is no obstacle to their arranging an amicable settlement between them for which the wife must renounce some of her rights. But if they return through reconciliation and peace through such unselfishness, such a settlement is better than separation and divorce."
The same dislike of divorce, as the most detestable of extreme measures to be adopted only in the direst emergency, is advanced by all Islam's greatest scholars and leaders, an attitude summed up in. the sentence in the book "Mustadrak" (Vol. 3, p.2): "Any woman who seeks to be divorced from her husband, save in cases of extreme necessity, falls out of the grace and mercy of the Lord." Or again in Vol. 3 of the "Wasa’il ash-Shi’a " (p.144): "Enter upon matrimony: but do not divorce your wives, since divorce shakes the very throne of God."
Islam fences in the man's power of divorce with many limiting safeguards. A man may not put away his wife by violence, harassment, injury or in a way which may drive her to a life of immorality and corruption. Thus Islam has for centuries surpassed anything yet achieved in Western countries, in its initiative to remove differences and restore understanding in family life.
This is particularly true of the family courts, where well-meaning relatives have a large say, and everything is done to bring about reconciliation. Causes of differences are deeply studied; and, as relatives, they are able to go deep into confidential matters without either of the couple feeling that their private secrets are being exposed or their feelings excoriated in too public an ambience.
When the causes of the difference have been brought into the light of day, the members of the family court exert all their powers of sincerity and heart and affection to bring about reconciliation and to quench the fires of temper, exhorting both sides to unselfishness, tolerance, and an effort to understand each other's point of view. Since both man and wife respect these elders and have full confidence in their compassionate affection, they frequently accept the family court's recommendations for adjustments they should make in their relationships and behavior towards each other. As it is written in Sura IV: Nisa'a —"The Women" (verse 35): "Should you fear that division will arise amongst them, appoint an arbitrator on the husband's side and an arbitrator on the wife's side from amongst their relatives and send them to them. As soon as they desire peace and reconciliation the Lord will vouchsafe it to them for He is all-knowing and all-wise."
Should the causes and roots of the initiation of divorce proceedings prove to be too deep, so that there is an irreparable breakdown in marital relationships, and all the efforts of the relatives fail to bring about any sort of hope of reconciliation, Islam in its realism recognizes that each party must take their own road. It must be plain that such a family court is far more likely to succeed than all the public courts of law or marriage guidance clinics.
In fact these only too often, being strangers to the family and not privy to their inmost secrets, merely increase the rift, because of the clumsiness of their well-meaning efforts. A public court has the duty to hear the evidences produced by both sides; and then, in the cold dry heartless atmosphere in which only exact truth and not mercy or clemency reigns, decide which side has most right and give verdict accordingly. It has neither the heart nor the spiritual influence of relatives to press for reconciliation, and cure the causes of the quarrel. In the Qur'an, Sura LXV "Talaq" — "Divorce" ordains in verse 2: "Two just persons from amongst yourselves shall bear witness to the evidence before God when a divorce is settled."
Without these two witnesses, there is no legal divorce. An advantage of their appointment is that they can exert every pressure of affection and wisdom to avert the final catastrophe for quite a period before reluctantly, if they have to do so, agreeing that there is no other way out. They frequently succeed in the better course.
It is further laid down that no divorce may be made absolute save after the woman's period of purification after menstruation or childbirth is completed. This need to wait awhile often proves a breathing-space in which the man's feelings of tenderness once more assert themselves over his irritations, and make him decide against divorce.
Further when a man finds sharing his life with a particular woman wearisome and irksome and decides on divorce, this decision of his does not suffice in itself to end their living together not does it become effective until the expiry of the "Iddat", i.e. the period fixed by the Fiqh during which a divorced or widowed woman may not be married to another man: and this period also gives a breathing-space which frequently results in the man's change of heart and decision to continue the married bond with the wife he planned to divorce.
Finally, after the execution of the formalities for a "revocable divorce" (Talaq-i-raj') a man may not expel his wife from the home until the termination of the period of the "'iddat" which may last anything up to three months, nor may the wife quit their joint home except in a desperately exceptional case during that period. As the Sura LXV "Talaq" —"Divorce" enacts (verse 1): "You may not expel women from their houses, nor may they themselves quit, except if they have been proven guilty of some open lewdness (during the "iddat' period). These -are limits set by God. Should any man transgress these limits he does so at the peril of his own soul, and to his own harm: for you know not whether God may bring about some new situation later (than the decision to divorce)."
No formalities are necessary to abrogate a revocable divorce during these months. A mere indication of desire for renewal of the marriage relationship by the man suffices.
Should the wife feel such hatred for her husband that she repays him the statutory portion of marriage settlement he had given her, or a portion of her own property, that counts as her divorcing him; but this type of divorce is revocable within the stated period, so that if she changes her mind, and her husband agrees, he can still take her back into their home.
By these many means Islam safeguards the holy estate of matrimony from shipwreck on the rock of hasty decisions onto which emotional storms may drive some couples.
Islam had also done much to protect the wife's rights and to save her from having to continue to live in an unhappy environment. Among beneficent measures are the following:
1. The wife can insert a clause in the marriage contract ensuring that
(a) Incompatibility of temperament
(c) Refusal of maintenance
(d) Unannounced journeys
(e) The taking of another wife without consultation are so provided against that if any of the above five conditions is broken she can approach a lawyer to obtain a divorce for her through the courts;
2. The wife can make it impossible for her husband not to divorce her by being intolerably refractory, vexatiously shrewish or deliberately incompatible in relationships, familial, sexual or social;
3. the wife can resort to the courts if the husband has been incapable or negligent in supplying her with maintenance or has put obstacles in the way of her obtaining it; or if either partner deprives the other of conjugal rights or fails in marital duties; the Muslim Qadhi, if the woman's plea is proved, can compel the husband to treat her right, to be reconciled, to disburse the proper sums, to confer her rights upon her in every form : and if the husband proves recalcitrant, or refuses to obey the judge's orders, the judge can then compel him to divorce his wife;
4. The wife can enter a plea in the Islamic court and obtain an injunction if the husband accuses her of lewdness, unchastity or unfaithfulness, or denies his own paternity of her child : if the husband cannot prove his case the judge will order the husband to separate himself from his wife in accordance with the relevant legislation;
5. the wife may, in the case of intolerable revulsion or aversion, in a simple fashion bring about a discontinuance of their union by renouncing a large part of her marriage portion, while freeing her husband from his obligation to pay her alimony during the "'Iddat" breathing-space period;
6. The wife, if the husband absents himself so that no news of him reaches her and she falls into financial or other difficulties, can resort to the courts and request a divorce; the judge will then perform the necessary formalities to annul her marriage contract.
It is written in Sura II: "Baqara" —"The Heifer" (verse 229): "A divorce is only permissible twice: after that the parties should either hold together in equity or separate in kindness. It is not lawful for you men to take back from your wives any of that portion which you have given them except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the God- ordained limits. If you judges have reason to fear that the parties will be unable to keep the God-ordained limits, so decree, for there will be no blame on either of them if she hands over a sum in exchange for her freedom. These limits are God-ordained so do not transgress them since that is to wrong yourself as well as others."
In the "Exegetical Collection" it is related in Volume I on page 167 that 'ibn Abbas reported that Jamila, wife of Thabit bin Qais, sought audience of the Prophet and complained to him: "0 Apostle of God! I cannot stand one moment more of life with Thabit bin Qais, nor shall my head ever rest again on the same pillow as his." After a pause she added: "I am not accusing him of a lack of faith or of moral and marital virtues: but I am afraid that I myself will fall into infidelity and blasphemy if I have to spend another minute with him.
I turned up the tent-skirting and my eye fell on my husband in the middle of a crowd of other men. He looked so ugly, a black-vised, dwarfish runt, and I hated him, and I can't go on. " She ran on thus, and the Prophet, after absorbing her -outpouring, tried to advise and admonish her, but she paid him no heed. So he sent for Thabit bin Qais and laid the situation before him. Thabit was deeply attached to Jamila, but self-sacrificingly and for her sake agreed to take back the marriage portion he had settled upon her— a beautiful garden - and give her a khul' divorce.
There are cases in which resort to the court by the wife is statutory. There are also cases in which she can divorce her husband without legal aid, as in cases of certain grave chronic diseases like leprosy or elephantiasis; or because of the onset of lunacy, or of physical defects which prevent marital intercourse, like impotence or castration of the husband. For these Fiqh gives the wife haqq-i-faskh— the right to the rescinding or annulment of the marriage, which "faskh" is not the same as the khul' divorce, and does not involve the same financial renunciations by the wife as khul' does.
Germany and Switzerland, in Europe, also recognize lunacy as grounds for the annulment of a marriage or for separation. France does not admit either grave chronic disease or lunacy as an adequate ground, and insists that the healthy spouse must care for the leprous or lunatic partner. Undoubtedly such longsuffering and loving kindness is highly praiseworthy; while extolling it as a counsel of perfection, Islamic realism prefers to leave the partners free to choose separation or continued care, according to their own conscience.
The West is suffering terribly from the laxity it has allowed in the break-up of marriages and the violently increasing incidence of divorce. These disasters are really reactions to over-pressure by the churches, which prohibited and condemned divorce one hundred percent for many centuries, while the secular governments gave recognition to it.
For instance, divorce was totally prohibited in France until the French Revolution of October 1789. In 1804, in response to popular demand, divorce was legalised; but in the following 12 years it increased so appallingly that the religious bodies brought renewed pressure to bear, until in 1816 the law legalizing divorce was rescinded though physical separation of the parties was permitted. However, public pressure built up again so much that in 1884 divorce within certain limits was legalised once more.
Here follow the conditions on which in Western lands divorce for wife and husband was legal until recent times:
1. A criminal act committed by either party which involves the penalty of life-imprisonment, exile, loss of civil rights or temporary imprisonment with hard labor;
2. Physical violence, mercenary prostitution, and a few other similar criminal acts of the one partner against the other;
3. Adultery by either partner—though in such cases the wife has the right of divorce only if the man commits adultery with another woman in the house which belongs to his wife and himself.
The following is the road by which a wife's infidelity was proved: note it well! "The infidelity of a wife must be proved completely in the eyes of the police. The wife or the husband plan to be in different places for however a short time. They must agree about some third person to be cited as co-respondent and this person must be prepared to undertake this service. And then at the stated hour the wife must be caught in flagrante delictu with the third party; and the husband must have the police on the spot to catch her out and so prove her infidelity. Thus the police accompany the husband to the trysting-place; and when they catch the wife in flagrante delictu this is accounted adequate grounds for her husband divorcing her." (The Law of Divorce and Renewal of Marriage p.99).
See what a mass of further impurities the impurity which wrought the need for divorce in the first place has carried in its train. And this is the "civilized" world of the West, which allows women entry into public and political life, and with the other hand takes away her honor, her femininity, and the high standards which it should be her privilege to set, and turns her chastity into a mercenary bargaining-point. It must be admitted that since I first put pen to paper on this matter, efforts have been made in many Western lands to eradicate the worst of these abominations.
America makes divorce easier for both parties. It is not surprising, therefore, that American divorce figures are the highest of all. The wise tremble at the results: the wisdom of Islamic dispositions shines by contrast like the sun in darkness. At a conference in Strasburg, statistics of one year's divorces which could be attributed to the overwhelming desire of wives to be "in the fashion", "a la mode", "comme faut" and to "keep up with the Joneses" in modernity of garb and guise were quoted as being:
1. in France, 27% of all divorces;
2. in Germany, 33%;
3. in Holland, 36%;
4. in Sweden, 17%.
Not every Parisienne is an excessive slave of fashion. Nonetheless it is reckoned that the costs of unnecessary purchases made by women simply to keep up with "mode" come to no less than 5,000 tomans per head (£300-£400 per head per annum). Yet all this expenditure adds nothing to the woman's natural beauty, moral stature, ease of spirit or calm of mind!
European statesmen and responsible thinkers everywhere, are well aware of the danger, and fear it acutely. All who possess the slightest sense of philanthropy must seek the means of stemming the sweeping tide of this flood of evil through the world.
Islam offers its regulations on family life, matrimony, and the respective positions of men and women, as a way which all nations might do well to follow, remembering that it was a Westerner, Voltaire, who said: "The Prophet Muhammad reduced the unlimited harems of unfortunate women maintained by pre-Islamic potentates to a maximum of four wives: and his legislation on marriages and divorces is the most noble and effective ever conceived, formulated and enacted by any authority at any time in the world's history, religious, political or social."
Islam is a realistic and practical religion. Divinely inspired, it fits human nature like a glove. It does not exalt, as ideals, ways of life which are contrary to nature. It therefore rejected the doctrine (which the Christian Church had promulgated during its first six centuries) that celibacy was a desirable or meritorious way of life, estimable as a work of supererogation (i.e. adding to the store of merit which could be shared amongst the saints and even turned to the salvation of sinners for whom they prayed) while marriage, though not an unlawful state, falls in a moral category called "makruh" which lies halfway' between the "mubah" or "indifferent" and the "haram" or totally forbidden.
Popes and Catholics tend to follow this doctrine to this day, as also do the higher ranks of the Orthodox hierarchy. It was one of the Catholic doctrines against which Luther and his Protestants revolted, and it is forming a great source of controversy within the Church of Rome at this very date at which we write. After long discussions at a Vatican Congress, it was decided that "marriage is still less meritorious than celibacy; and no alteration in the Church's doctrine can be allowed on this point."
The sexual instinct has the deepest roots in human nature. Unless it is properly catered for and regulated, it avenges itself. It responds to suppression by psychological explosions that can be volcanic in their effect if they take place simultaneously in large numbers of people. It might well be held that the disastrous breakdown of the family institution in the West is precisely such an explosive reaction against Christian attempts to suppress the sex instinct instead of sanctifying and subliminating it in its natural channels.
Christians must ask themselves whether they have not committed the very sin of which their Lord and Master accused the Pharisees of His day, that of "binding on men's backs burdens too heavy to be borne." Like caged beasts escaping from captivity, the people of the West dash forth from the bondage in which Christianity had tried to hold them, and in an equal and opposite reaction go much too far in the other direction.
Islam makes a proper marriage, when a man and woman reach adult hood, a merit and a virtue. Thus it turns the God-implanted instinct to its correct operation in the strengthening of society. It bans bestial abuse of the instinct, but exalts its truly human use in accordance with the way in which God has made mankind. A man was made to love a wife and children. This is acknowledged in every race in every clime.
It is written in Sura 3: Al-i-Imran — "Imran's Family" (verse 14, in part): "Fair in the eyes of men is the love of objects which are the desire of their instinct, women and sons.”
Islam during the 14 centuries of its existence has done its utmost to end the scandal of prostitution which takes such a heavy toll in family and social life, and degrades both the women who are compelled to practise it and the men whose incontinence exploits them. The law of "the temporary marriage" (ezdevaj-i-muwaqat or mutä'a) by the formula (or seeghe) laid down in it, was instituted to establish conditions under which a man who was compelled by the necessities of his business or for other causes to be away from home for long periods, or who desired to give temporary assistance to a woman whose life had fallen into difficulties, could undertake a union for a specified period under strictly controlled conditions.
Remember that this beneficent piece of legislation was produced through the Prophet of Islam in the environment of those "days of ignorance" when men walked in darkness; and when illicit relationships were as common as other types of immorality in those generations of unregenerate and unenlightened persons. Most places had official "red-light districts" and houses of ill-fame as a matter of course. To raise the thinking and living of men, and to put an end to illicit sex, the Prophet of Islam brought in this law of "temporary marriage", to -canalise the sex instinct in sound channels.
The chapters on "Temporary Marriage" in the book "Wasa’il ash-Shi’a " report that the Prophet posted an edict in the streets and bazaars which read: "O people! God's Apostle has made temporary marriage permissible for you, for the quenching of the fires of the sex instinct, and for turning it to sound uses, that ye may not be the slaves of sexual licence, fornication or illicit relationships."
By this law the man and woman enter upon a marriage, not of permanence, but of a limited time, and live as man and wife until the expiry of the stated period. The only difference in this type of marriage is that it does not carry with it the same rights of inheritance, nor does the man have to continue to provide the woman's food, clothing and shelter after the termination of their relationship. But to preserve proper order all the other rules that govern permanent marriage must also be observed in the temporary marriage.
A woman who enters such a contract is counted as the man's real wife and can claim all the rights which are legally specified as such. As it is written in Sura IV: Nisa'a — "The Women" (verse 24): "To women whom you choose in temporary and conditional (muwaqat and muta'a) marriage, give their dowry, as a duty."
The only difference between permanent marriage and temporary marriage, so far as its social status is concerned, is its duration. If the contract specifies a definite and limited period, that is a temporary marriage. But the wife is as much a wife as if the contract had specified "a permanent and unlimited period."
The children of the temporary marriage are recognized on precisely the same footing as those of a permanent marriage, and enjoy all the legal and canonical and customary rights of children whose paternity is recognized. One reason for prostitution is that some men find it not within their reach to enter upon a permanent marriage, either because their personality or their finances prevent them undertaking the heavy lifelong responsibility, or because their stay in any one place can only be short. Merchants, soldiers, students and even tourists find themselves in these conditions. It is the realistic recognition of these facts, and Islam's consistent "yes!" to life, which have produced the institution of "temporary marriage".
What better solution could there be? Properly practiced, this institution is a powerful antidote and preventative of ills like prostitution and other social ailments. It blocks the way to women's selling themselves, raises the general tone of public morality, and gives needed assistance to women who, through no fault of their own, either by the death of their husband or some other disaster, have fallen on bad times. We say "properly practiced", because there are licentious and ignorant persons who abuse this law, including opponents of Islam who make misuse of it a basis for false propaganda and misrepresentation.
Temporary marriage preserves the aspect of purity and saves people from sin. That something right can be misused by wicked persons exposes those persons' wickedness, but does not invalidate the right institution. The answer is to change them by replacing their wickedness with piety of spirit and absolute moral standards. The Prophet of Islam was "sent to bring about the excellences of virtue", and it is to this end that all Islam's efforts are directed.
There exists no law anywhere in the world which is not twisted by the wicked to their own ends and against its original purpose. This is true of laws which are of the greatest benefit to society. The law of "temporary marriage" is one such. It should be backed with the full authority of the state. Those who misuse it should be punished. Those who use it right should be supported and aided in their righteous living.
In the "Temporary Marriage" chapters of the book "Wasa’il ash-Shi’a " it is reported that the Fifth Imam said, quoting the Imam Ali: "If the 2nd Caliph had not prohibited temporary marriages, no Muslim, save perchance a few utterly degraded lewd fellows of the baser sort, would have ever committed fornication."
Close attention to the words of Omar (the 2nd Caliph) as reported by the learned Islamic leaders and Ulema, and reflected in both the Sunni and the Shia Fiqh, leaves no doubt that in the time of the Prophet himself "temporary marriage" was both permitted and frequent; but Omar, for reasons which are not clear, towards the close of his Caliphate prohibited it in the notorious phrase: "There were two dispensations which were both legal and frequently practiced during the time of the Prophet of God (on Whom be blessing), both of which I cancel, annul, prohibit and will punish; and they are (1) the dispensation permitting enjoyments prohibited to wearers of Ehram (Hajji's white garments) during the interval between 'umra' ('little pilgrimage') and the full Hajj: (2) the dispensation allowing 'temporary marriage' in particular circumstances."
Sunni Fiqh gives more information. But it is clear enough that in this proclamation Omar was acting merely on a personal viewpoint, which was far from carrying with it the assent of other companions of the Prophet, who both held that temporary marriage is a true Islamic institution, and also practiced it themselves in many instances.
Division is the hallmark of our age. Our magazines, newspapers, films and television are filled with meretricious pictures: our radio with salacious stuff: our hoardings with posters of erotic enticement, while our -women dress seductively and go around half-naked. The whole ambience entices youth off the path of virtue. Those who wish to be chaste are in grave danger all the time. People of poor background, and little knowledge of Islamic law, criticize the law of "temporary marriage" in foolish and illogical ignorance and prejudice; and this lays a further obstacle before the feet of our young people.
What then should we do? We can hardly expect even the best to master a total control of themselves and stem this powerful flood, so stimulating to sexual instincts, which, in the critical age of youth, are so close to the surface and so impatient of outward control. Even if we imagined that the ideal is the real, and that every one of our youth is endowed with what amounts to a supernatural self-control, will this not of itself annul the purpose of the creation of this instinct within humankind, prevent the continuance of the race, prevent the use of that vital sperm, prevent the spirit and teachings of Islam being truly practiced, in accordance with the law proclaimed in Sura XXII: Hajj —"Pilgrimage" (verse 78): "Strive in God's cause as ye should ; for He has chosen you, and has in His religion not laid a difficult or insupportable task upon you"?
Should we now return to the low morals of our pre-Islamic past, and to that dirty habit of prostitution, with all the social ills and personal misfortunes with which it has filled the Western world? Shall we leave humanity to fall into that confusion of passions which is the law of the jungle and the behavior of brute beasts?
It is written in Sura II: Baqara —"The Heifer" (verse 61): "Remember, O Israelis, that ye said: '0 Moses! We cannot keep on with only one kind of food; so pray thy Lord to give us vegetables!' And he replied: 'Will ye exchange the better for the worse? Go down to Egypt and there find what you want!' They were covered with humiliation and misery, for they had drawn upon themselves the wrath of God."
We should merit Moses' rebuke if we, who have been shown that is good, preferred to return to fleshpots of our own past and the West's present. Shall we barter a heritage of glory for a mess of pottage?
It is to prevent precisely this disaster that the law of "temporary marriage" was introduced. What better way could there be to rescue millions of women, who are divorced or unmarried or widowed, from the pressure to keep alive in wrongful ways and to prostitute their sex to meet the cost of living? Some might be able to get a job and so a livelihood.
But can that satisfy a woman's inmost feelings and spiritual needs? Can it satisfy the emptiness left in her soul by the loss of a husband's love and nearness? And what of her innate emotions and her instinct of motherhood? Are not all these temptations to lead her astray unless proper provision is made?
Men and women have taken up temporary marriages in the West without legal, social or religious sanctions— and their society has been cast into chaos. The West's thinkers are feeling after an institution like Muslim "temporary marriage" to end this chaos.
Thus Bertrand Russell writes: "Modern social and financial difficulties put obstacles in the way of youthful marriages, contrary to our liking. A -century or two ago the student completed his studies between the ages of 17 and 20; and, when the pressures of instinct and the age of puberty made him marriageable, he was able to enter that state. Very few remained unmarried until they were 30 or 40. But today students only enter on their serious studies after the age of 20 and proceed to their specialization in industry or science.
Even after they have got their degree and left college, they have to spend quite a period securing their means of livelihood; so that they may be 35 before they can afford to get married and found a family. The long gap between adulthood and marriage causes emotional and instinctive upheavals in the sexual life, and drives the victims to find relief where they had better not.
Would it not be better for the sake of the proper order of human society that we should end this touchy problem by finding some proper outlet for the sexual instinct and the marital urge to replace or to fill in that lengthy gap, and so safeguard public health, posterity, morality, the principles of communication between men and women? Some sort of temporary marriage for our girls and boys would be a solution and prepare them for a permanent marriage later when they can afford it, saving them from the corruptions of illicit sex and the spiritual pangs of conscience which follow that type of wrongdoing as well as from the venereal diseases which only too often result."
Wilhelm van Loom "Matrimonial Health as seen by Islam" (p.175) wrote: "Psychology has confirmed that when men pass early marriageable age without getting wed, tendencies to homosexuality or other forms of sexual satisfaction beset them. Statistics show that some 65% of men who have wives are unfaithful to them. To lessen their burdens the government ought to introduce legislation making temporary marriage by consent of both parties legal, with definite regulations and a proper form for them to sign and register."
Laws for the ordering of society are truly progressive and profitable when they fit human nature and the Creator's laws, and take into account the widest possible conspectus of human needs in each particular society. Unless they fulfill these conditions they cannot be durable; nor can the society they set out to regulate. Islam has taken these points into consideration, and made reasonable and stable regulations, not for any particular region of the world, but for all humanity in all periods in every -clime. And so these laws will subsist and be beneficial for man so long as he continues to exist on the face of the earth.
Christians calumniate Islam as polygamous. The churches are hard put to it to maintain their footing in this lubricious age, and use contumely against Islam to bolster up their own position, exploiting the general ignorance of the truth of Islamic law and the regulations about the number of wives. In the West they go in for multiple marriages and change partners by their own caprice without any attention to legal conditions. But if they grasped the facts about Islam's law of marriage and then practiced that law, they could save themselves a world of troubles.
Before the rise of Islam the tribes went in for unlimited polygamy. Indeed it was a status symbol to have many wives—the more wives, the greater the man. The prophets of God in the early ages, and the sacred scriptures of their different religions, reveal the same situation in mankind's early centuries. In China the Li-Ki law gave every man the right to have up to 130 wives. In Israel one man could have several hundred.
Charlemagne had 400 and Ardeshir Babekan had about the same. Nor did the Gospel, following the Torah, abrogate or condemn this practice or utter a decree to ban it; so that up until the second half of the 8th century AD and the time of Charlemagne polygamy was -customary in Europe and not condemned by the Church. At that date, or soon after, the Church promulgated a decree throughout Christendom which compelled men with many wives to divorce them all save one. They may have obeyed; but they were driven to fornication and adultery and prostitution in consequence.
In the days of ignorance the Arabs also practiced polygamy, and very unpleasantly. It was possible for a man to take as many women as he wanted into his harem; and these unfortunates had no rights at all of any kind, financial or otherwise. A woman's value sank to pitiable depths. All her legal and human rights were violated.
Islam changed all that. The number of wives was limited by law to a maximum of four. The social needs of the day made it essential that men should be prepared to take on more than 'one wife, if they could afford it, since in a nomad desert society it was next to impossible for a woman to make her own way through life unaccompanied by a man to stand between her and the worst buffets of those difficult days.
Even this beneficent provision was hedged in by Islam with a number of conditions, and in particular the basic demand that a man who took more than one wife must be quite sure he would treat them all equally, and not favor one above another in the dispensation of his own attentions or in his care for their needs.
Note that the law permitting four wives was not a command that a man must have more than one. On the contrary, if he did confine himself to one wife he committed no crime. The number four was a maximum limit. It was frequently charity and compassion for the widows of his comrades slain in battle that compelled a man to offer the shelter of his home to such a bereaved woman. Such was the case with several of the Prophet's wives. Such compassion saved the women from a fate that was worse than death.
If the numbers of nubile men and women were equal, there would be no need for a man to take on more than one. But men are always fewer in number in the world's population than women. For this there are numerous causes. First, men are more prone to illness than women. -Second, it is the men who are killed in war. Third, work in heavy industry or in the mines often causes fatal injuries. And fourth, more girl-babies survive infancy.
Thus, in France statistics show that for every 100 girls 105 boys are born; and yet, out of France's population of 40 million there -are 1,765,000 more women than men. This is because 5% of the boys die during the first year of their life. Another 5% have died before they are 25. Male mortality continues until the final figure cited above is that of the total living population at any one moment.
Furthermore, women live longer than men, so that for every 100 widowers in France there are 150 widows.
In America there are 20 million girls without husbands. Because of this deprivation many fall into unfortunate habits. Professor Peter Mudawar, zoologist at London University, confirms this in his writings.
It is in the nature of woman to desire a home, a husband and children. This need can only be met properly in a society which supports sound family life. The same need is germane to the nature of man, though he is also made to undertake a number of different tasks besides the basic one of fathering a family. It is downright unhealthy for a woman to have to live alone. Because of her nature a spinster always lives looking out for the man who will be her partner.
The spinster is always living in the waiting-room of life. She begins to cease to feed herself properly. Her natural care enjoys preparing food to be shared with others, while it seems pointless to her to go to all that trouble for herself alone. The spinster wakes to a purposeless day with nothing to live for and goes to bed with a sense of emptiness and of nothing done. So the psychologists tell us.
Islam is the only system which has deliberately set out to plan a satisfactory life for all these supernumerary women, in allowing them to become wives of men who have a wife already, and so save themselves from a life of loneliness and multifarious deprivation. It must also be remembered that men preserve their power of begetting children pretty well to the end of their days, while a woman's physique is only capable of bearing children for some 35 years in the middle period of her life. Unless she can find a husband for that period, she is bound to live in the misery of failing to fulfill a function for which she was made and for which she longs.
Sometimes an unfortunate wife finds that she is sterile. Because she and her husband love each other they do not wish to part. Yet both desire children. Is the man to live in the burning hell of frustrated desire for the whole of the rest of his life? Why should he not give the joy of being a mother to a second wife? In practice the first wife, who is herself sterile, frequently expresses her desire that he should do that very thing.
Our national daily "Ettela'at" on the 20th of the month of Bahman, AHS 1348 (February 9th 1970) carried an interesting story from Rasht under the headline: "A man's three wives accompany him to the registrar to witness his fourth wedding".
The gentleman explained to the registrar that his three wives had all proved barren, but all helped on the farm and were a happy company, so he did not wish to divorce them; and it was with their full accord that he now wished to marry a young woman who had taken his fancy in order that he might have children. The young bride, for her part, said: "My husband-to-be is one of the good men of our village, where there are 1,000 women and 400 men, half of whom are children below the age of 16: that is one fifth of a man per woman. So you can see why I am very glad to become a fourth wife."
A law which deprives a man of the right to fulfill his innate desire to be a father violates his human rights; and a law which forces women to live in solitary childlessness violates their human rights and undermines society's institutions. How can these two injustices be cured save by the legalisation of a limited polygamy? Realism; truth; social, vital, and spiritual needs demand such a measure.
If a wife falls victim to a chronic disease, what is a charitable husband to do? He does not wish to cast her off in her incurable illness. Islam makes his way plain before him. If a husband falls to an incurable and chronic disease which makes intercourse with him dangerous for the wife lest she also be infected, she may go to the shari'a court where the Islamic judge will order her husband to grant her a divorce, and use the powers which the law gives him to enforce his decision even on reluctant husbands. But many women themselves refuse to take this way, saying that they have shared their husband's home in joy and sorrow, and their conscience will not allow them to desert in his illness a husband with whom they have enjoyed the days of his health and wellbeing. A painful disease needs a nurse and care and kindness, so that humanity and good sense both outline the path to be followed.
Financial poverty hinders marriage and family-founding. This too prevents a number of nubile women from finding husbands. Why should those who can afford it not relieve them both of poverty and spinsterhood in an ordered union? Islam's law has conferred this blessing on millions of women.
In World War II millions of men died leaving women husbandless. These husbandless women in Germany formed an association which asked the German government to enable a man to have more than one wife. Unfortunately church opposition prevented the desired result (v. "Ettela'at" for AHS 29/8/1340 — AD 20/11/1961).
More recently "Ettela'at" (AHS 3/3/1349 — AD 24/6/1970) carried an article asking "if the fear of spinsterhood haunted 20-year-old girls, what must the feelings of the 30- and 40-year-old spinsters be?" Eve still looks for her Adam. For Eve, employment, which in Federal Germany is easy for all women, does not replace the desire for marriage. Women of 20 -find it hard to discover a husband: women of 30 and 40 almost impossible: women of 50 despair. Yet in Germany only 50% of 30-year-old women and 20% of 40-year-old women are married.
Six million women of 40 and over in Federal Germany are and will always be husbandless. There are no unmarried men in this age-range; and the total number of unmarried men in Germany is not above 350,000; so, even if they all got married, not more than one in twenty of the unmarried women has a hope even of the most unsuitable of husbands. Some emigrate to find husbands. Nothing but a law allowing limited polygamy like that of Islam could solve the problem of Germany's post-war women.
Why does not the West, which vaunts its respect and compassion for women, and bows to the Women's Liberation movement, not also yield to their desire for family life and for the fulfillment of their primary function, the bearing and bringing up of children? We must leave the answers to the consciences of our readers. The fact that so many women, in lands where it is lawful, opt to marry men who already have a wife proves that they think such a shared life better than spinsterhood. If a man is prepared to undertake the added burdens of the responsibility for a more numerous family, which will be for the benefit of so many, why should the state prevent him from doing so?
A highly skilled woman lawyer, who took her doctorate in matrimonial law, writes: "To be part of a family where there is more than one wife brings no disadvantages to the first, the second, the third or the fourth. The men, it is true, have to undertake heavier loads of responsibility, and are bound by law, by morality, by statute and by common usage to provide a fitting form of living for each wife with all due respect to her dignity and position, insure her against illness, see to her medical care and cure, and defend her rights and interests to the last. Should he fall short of these duties, both canon and common law can dictate penalties to compel him to their performance: while before God and man he is held to his obligations. The women's silence, and the absence of feminine objections to multiple wedlock bear its rightness out.
"Some women parrot objections invented by men, it is true. Men do not take naturally to permanent unions and the responsibilities they entail. The worst of them put ideas into the heads of silly women who do not grasp that their comments tend to undermine marriage and family-life as such, and instead, to encourage illicit sex for the gratification of male sexuality.
A woman does not suffer sexually from her husband having two wives: and spiritually and mentally she is at rest in peace of mind. It is only men who have played on some women's suggestibility to pretend otherwise. Men are promiscuous. But from the dawn of history families with several women and one man have lived happily under the feminine influence. Islam's shari'a (religious law) brought order into these relations and laid down beneficent regulations for their welfare. The institution of multiple wedlock proves its worth from its ancient tradition and practical application."
Western permissiveness frustrates its own ends, and denies nature. Islam regards justice as the guarantor of human welfare and happiness, both for the individual and for society. It therefore lays down just regulations on which multiple marriage can be founded, and right be observed. Islam's Fiqh establishes independence, equality and full recognition for the rights of women in marriage. It is in this assurance that so many women voluntarily enter on the marriage state with a married man. The fact that they do so shows that the condition fits the feminine nature. Those few women who object, do so on the grounds that their husband's position does not permit him to do justice to the rights of more than one woman. Such conflicts as arise spring from a man's failure to do justice to his wives.
It is written in Sura IV: Nisa'a —"The Women" (verse 3): "If you fear that you will not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four. But if you fear you will not be able to deal justly with that number then take only one."
This verse was revealed after the battle of Uhud which left the Muslim community with many widows and orphans, and some captives of war. In order that the orphans and widows might be given the best protection and perfect justice, the Muslim men were told to marry the number they could deal with justly, up to the maximum of four. Their treatment was to be governed by principles of humanity and equality. The precise occasion is past, but the principles remain.
The fact that the behavior of some men is harsh and wrongful and causes the breakdown of family life is the exception that proves the wisdom and value of the rule. Islam's shari'a lays down a moral code of the duties of husbands to wives, and decrees that the family must be the source of love, kindness and sincerity. Without this it can be hell. Muslims who contravene it must be recalled to Islam's lofty laws, to Islam's profound principles, to Islam's fascinating philosophy. Then in the light of its true face, corruption and wrongdoing will vanish and the sound society come to view.
The laws governing a man's just treatment and equal care for each of his wives lay down:
1. That he must provide enough for each wife to have the proper food;
2. That he must pay the same marital attentions to each;
3. That he must fulfill all the heavy responsibilities he has undertaken for each wife and her children.
Human nature being what it is, a man may well feel more drawn to one of his wives than to another. The three provisions above are meant to ensure that such personal preference does not injure the rights of any wife to her livelihood, her home and her conjugal rights, or to any need of body, mind or spirit—all things which are within a man's reach quite apart from his predilections.
By ensuring these rights to women, Islam provides the basis on which heartfelt affection and loving-kindness can flourish, while the necessities like food, clothing, a house and the other material needs are properly cared for. It is written in Sura IV: Nisa'a — "The Women" (verse 129): "It is not given to man to be able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire to be so. But you must not turn away so as to leave a woman hanging in the air (meaning if you have married her and she in your house you must treat her in absolute equality with your other wives, and not leave her as if she was an unmarried woman). If you come to a friendly understanding and practice self-restraint (you will find that) God is oft forgiving and most merciful."
Thus a man may not neglect one wife, or show her disfavor, or treat her as a creature that is hanging, like a garment, on the wall of his house, or deprive her of her conjugal rights.
In the days of the Apostle of God, on whom be peace, the enactment of this commandment made men who had up to four wives, should they prove unable to do due justice to each, reduce their household to one wife: while ensuring that even those who could do justice to many married only a maximum of four. Thus from the very beginning Islam brought order into the multiple marriage which the society of the day made necessary, outlawing neglect of a woman's rights, depriving the men of the unlimited freedom and absolute authority which they had in earlier days, and totally banishing the tyranny and oppression of women which pre-Islamic Arabs had exercised.
We find exemplary histories of Muslims who religiously performed the duties laid down for married men by Islam. In the "Majmu'-ul-Bayan" (Vol. 3, p.121), we read that one of the companions of the Prophet named Mu'az bin Jabal had two wives who both died of the same illness during the plague at about the same moment. Mu'az was so desirous to maintain true Islamic equality even after their death that he didn't want to bury one before the other, in case it seemed to show an irreligious preference, so he cast lots which should be the first to receive the funeral rites.
Some Westerners have a just and realistic attitude towards marriage as a social institution. Thus Arthur Schopenhauer in his book "Some Words about Women", writes: "In nations in which multiple marriage is legal, it is made possible for practically all women to have a husband, children and a true family life which meets their spiritual needs and satisfies their feminine instincts.
Unfortunately church laws in Europe have not allowed multiple marriage and left many women to a lonely life of spinsterhood. Some died unsatisfied; some were driven by their desires, or by the need to earn their livelihood, into immorality; some perished with qualms of conscience and broken hearts. Nor can I understand, after giving much thought to the matter, why a man, whose wife falls ill of a chronic and incurable disease or proves barren or unable to bear a living child, should not take a second wife alongside the first.
This is a question the Church should answer. Unfortunately it cannot. Good laws are those which ensure a happy life when obeyed, not those which deprive people of happiness or bind them hand and foot in trammels of unnecessary bondage or which incite people to despise them and so to rush to the other extreme of corruption, prostitution or other kinds of vice."
Mrs. Annie Besant, the theosophist, wrote: "The West claims to reject multiple marriage. But Western men have found ways round the official law, and take many women without the responsibilities of proper marriage, so that they are able to throw off their unwanted mistress when they have had their will with her, leaving her no alternative but to take to the streets. He never meant to take any responsibility for her future.
The fate of such a woman is a hundred times worse than that of one who enters a multiple marriage, who although she shares her husband with another woman, at least enjoys a husband's care and becomes a mother of a family in a family. When I see the thousands of women on our streets at night I am convinced that the West must learn from slam and cease to be so hypocritically shocked by its dispositions concerning multiple marriage; for Islam makes it possible for a woman to have a husband and children in her bosom legally, with all due respect, instead of enduring the shame of walking the streets trying to sell her body, probably bearing an illegitimate child in circumstances in which the law will do nothing for her, and she is simply the victim of the passions of men."
Dr. Gustave Le Bon writes: "Nothing has been more criticized in Europe than Eastern customs of multiple marriage. No view held in Europe has shown the same amount of ignorance and error as this criticism. Surely the legal multiple marriage of the East is better than the hypocritical secretive multiple marriage of the West. The clandestine nature of the illicit relationship is degrading to both parties. The legalisation of multiple marriage is far more seemly in every respect."