Marital Life Social Responsibility Distribution*
Prof. Dr Amani Saleh**
Marital life is not represented in the Quran as an abstract concept. Depending on a socio-historical perspective, the Quranic discourse builds a comprehensive system for this relationship. Since integration is the most significant feature of marriage, such feature dominates the relevant Quranic system …We, here, intend to grab the attention towards an important point concerning the (historical) significance of the Noble Quran. Regarding the Quranic discourse, Historicity concerning standards, systems and rulings is not limited to a certain time span, but it includes the global human history and its religious discourse and issues. That’s why such discourse does not focus on characteristics and changes of a certain phase or age, but it focuses on common characteristics of human traits and relationships.
Accordingly, the issue of the man-woman relationship is not tackled in the Quran separately. It is tackled in the light of a comprehensive Islamic vision of human life and mission (the Divine obligation and test). Distributing duties between males and females raises the question of: how can both genders/ spouses cooperate in fulfilling this duty and guaranteeing its stability? Naturally, the woman, due to her physical characteristics, is assigned to carry the burden of the most important function which is reproduction through the process of childbirth. This function, generally, requires a large amount of effort and power….Yet, for many ages with no means for birth control, woman dedicated her life to this role. On the other hand, man, who is only assigned to a small role (in terms of quantity, not quality) in the natural process of reproduction, carries the burden of another task which is the provision of financial and environmental needs required for this process (housing, food, drink..etc.). So, the concept of functional integration in distributing social responsibilities between both spouses is historically achieved; as woman carries the biological/ social burden; while man carries the burden of financial/ social support.
Obviously, these two roles perfectly achieve human sustainability, reproduction and civilization. In fact, they complement each other and could not stand alone. Such distribution of social responsibility between the two spouses is the pillar of the social/ historical system organizing man-woman relationships from the marital concept deduced from the Quran.
We intend, here, to refer to a set of important points regarding man-woman relationships in marriage.
A-This system reflects the needs, dilemmas and historical circumstances across human history which are not affected by contemporary dilemmas, challenges and values. This system depends on a comprehensive historical view which is beyond time and space. Financial support always represents one of the vital problems faced by women during childbirth and caring.
The Quran settles this issue by distributing the roles and responsibilities and obliging man to carry the financial burden. In fact, this distribution is a main principle in the Islamic social strategy managing man-woman relationship despite of the individual exception or collective circumstances that differ across generations and ages. This strategy greatly influences Islamic legislation and rulings.
B-Assuming that the Quranic vision sets such distribution as a general principle for all kinds of people, it does not impose it as an obligatory rigid system. This is because Allah, the Creator, knows the changing nature of the social and historical reality of both nations and individuals and the possibility of success or failure in fulfilling different roles and functions. This flexibility can be proved through many applied Islamic rulings, such as the verdict permitting optional financial support for affluent woman.
C-The Quran does not differentiate between both social- biological and social- financial responsibilities or maximize the importance of one of them neglecting the other. Instead, the Quran praises the party who performs his role following the Quranic guidelines and condemns the one who refrains from this. Allah Almighty says:
“يَاأَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِير”
“O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female and made you into races and tribes, that you may know one another; indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah are the most mindful (of Him) among you; indeed, Allah is All-knowing, All-Aware.” (49:13)
Here, an important question should be raised about the nature of the marital system; is it a canonical system or realistic one?. Usually, religious and dogmatic structures are deemed as standard systems dealing, according to ideal standards, with what should exist not what really exists. Under this frame, other intellectual systems, observing and organizing human life, gained great value in modern history as they establish all aspects of humanitarian life; intellectual, scientific, legislative and political from the inside. Yet, they have obvious shortcomings at the top of which is exaggeration and selection in observing the features and rules of human life and focusing on a single variable which contradicts the complexity of human existence. In fact, the western cognitive system, since the age of renaissance, has represented the most important manifestations of such perspective. And from the western epistemology emerged the contemporary feminist epistemology. It established its roots on the historical women inferiority experience and men’s dominance in the prevailing social, cognitive and value systems and the inevitability of the male-female conflict.
The marital relationships in the Quranic system is not only canonical; but it’s also historical and realistic. Across Human history, Integration and role distribution is a dominant social historical system due to some physical and social facts, such as women’s biological nature and the relationship of the two genders with the surrounding physical social environment (like the man’s muscle strength and its suitability with the production patterns in the pre-modern industrial societies)….etc. Clearly, such system does not include textual rulings only but it is a historical realistic pattern…In fact, the Quranic perspective is apart from the dilemma of the canonical and realistic. There is a strong harmony between the two dimensions, as the text and reality are attributed to one Creator; the Generator of the fixed cosmic laws, history and community and the Sender of the Divine Verses and Rulings.. Thus, we can say that both the canonical and realistic, according to the Quranic perspective, are functionally complementary. Thus, the canonical is a moral support and a frame of values which guarantees and encourages both couples to perform his/her task perfectly as much as possible.
Although the Quranic system harmonizes between these two dimensions, the realistic and canonical, each one has its own independent fundamentals and rules. In fact, this tests individuals and group obedience. And when violations occur, this new reality with its violations generates its own culture and standards. The Islamic Arab Social history was a good example in this matter. Despite of the Quranic Texts, Muslim history witnessed many examples of oppression and injustice like the social system leading to woman oppression and the cultural frames justifying and legislating such oppression and superiority…In response to this historical situation, and under the influence of the western culture, the contemporary Islamic history witnesses a rebel movement against the concept of role distribution among genders. This movement adopts a conflict concept and deconstructs the existing social and cognitive systems to achieve freedom…It is important to say that these two extreme systems (masculism and feminism), whatever their life span or great influence, can never substitute or eliminate the Quranic system (like the attempts of the oppressing masculism to monopolize the efforts in Tafsir and Fiqh). This is because each one of them possesses the elements of its death. In fact, it presentes a one-sided humanitarian ideology, excluding or marginalizing the other half of the society. Indeed, The Quranic system, with its optimum balance, is a reference for evaluation and reformation. For example, Allah Almighty says:
“لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا رُسُلَنَا بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَنزَلْنَا مَعَهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْمِيزَانَ لِيَقُومَ النَّاسُ بِالْقِسْطِ”
“And We certainly set Our messengers with evident proofs, and We sent down with them the Scripture and the Balance, that mankind may uphold justice.” (57: 25)
The Organizational Dimension of Marital Relationships: Family as a Pillar for Social Organization
Family, according to the Islamic perspective in particular (and the religious perspective in general), is the pillar of the social structure….Under the shadow of this institution, “marital life” is defined as a special bond between specific individuals through marriage where the concepts of functional integration and reproduction are practically introduced. In addition, social roles are distributed and allocated between the two genders through a specific binding system consisting of rights and responsibilities resulted from marriage contract.
Allah, the Creator, implants inside us internal motives for such social connection through an innate inclination incarnates in the sexual desire, motherhood, possessiveness, longing for offspring..etc. Thus, all the historical and organizational elements beside the physical, social, natural, psychological and value-based dimensions is gathered in one unit; the family structure. It is no wonder then that family and marriage system is a significant topic according to the Quranic perspective. This significance can be explained through the following three points deduced from the Quranic Text:
1-Family (and marital life) is one of the most important means to achieve harmony, coherence and solidity in any human community, as these elements are among the Divine purposes and laws. In this regard, Allah Almighty says:
“يَاأَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِير”
“O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female and made you into races and tribes, that you may know one another; indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah are the most mindful (of Him) among you; indeed, Allah is All-knowing, All-Aware.” (49:13)
In fact, marriage is a way for acquaintance and social connection and also a way to end conflict and contradicting self-interests resulted from lusts, greed and self-love.
The purpose of “marriage system”, as a way for acquaintance and social connection, is reflected through the Quranic Legislations managing the marital relationship. That’s why marriage is forbidden if it fails to fulfill its purpose. For example, marriage is forbidden between relatives with a sort of consanguinity between them like mothers, sisters, daughters, sister’s daughters, brother’s daughters, paternal and maternal aunts, foster suckling mothers, foster suckling sisters, step-daughters, son’s wives and wife’s sisters. Nevertheless, marriage from other relatives or other women not mentioned in the Verse is permissible as a way to strengthen the divergent connections. By the presence of an actual close relationship, the wisdom of establishing a marital bond is negated, so marriage, in this case, is prohibited. Whenever the wisdom is found marriage is around. Similarly, it is prohibited to seek married women (for the same reason; to support social solidity and end the factors leading to conflicts, disintegration and destruction).
The function of marriage, as a mean to support social solidity, construction and limit the factors of conflicts, divisions and disintegration, is explicitly mentioned through many Quranic Chapters at the top of which is Surat An-Nisā’ (Women). This Surah tackles family rulings and marriage, the causes of quarrels…etc. Then, it clarifies a set of other rulings outside the scope of family life imposing negative impacts like the previous prohibitions in the scope of marriage, because they lead to social conflicts and hostility (like unjustly devouring people’s properties, violating others’ rights and attacking their properties…etc).
2-Family is the optimum shelter for the process of reproduction which is its pivotal domestic roles. In fact, the family, in Islam, is the optimum legitimate social hub for the reproduction process due to several reasons:
First, it guarantees a reproduction process following an organized frame of rights and commitments and a recognized system for paternity and Lineage.
Second, the family system is the optimum way to properly bring up and protect new generations.
Third, it organizes the process of social responsibility distribution between both spouses depending on the duality of biological and financial role. In this regard, the Quran explicitly determines the responsibility of each spouse; woman’s biological/social role (pregnancy, childbirth, weaning, breastfeeding… etc) or man’s financial/social role. The Quran explicitly assures that man is responsible for supporting his wife and family financially. It is a strong pact and an inevitable commitment for man, as the husband should pay the dowry, financial support during marriage, differed part of the dowry (Mu’akkhar As-Ṣadāq) and financially support pregnant divorcee and financial support after divorce (amenity payment, breastfeeding fees, child custody fees).
In addition, the Quran emphasized the financial rights of a wife from her husband. The Quran prohibits any violation of those rights, as violating those rights is like violating Divine boundaries.
وَإِنْ أَرَدتُّمُ اسْتِبْدَالَ زَوْجٍ مَّكَانَ زَوْجٍ وَآتَيْتُمْ إِحْدَاهُنَّ قِنطَارًا فَلاَ تَأْخُذُوا مِنْهُ شَيْئًا أَتَأْخُذُونَهُ بُهْتَانًا وَإِثْمًا مُّبِينًا.
“And if you want to replace one spouse with another spouse and you have given one of them a fortune, then take nothing back of it. Would you take it back (by committing) perjury and evident sin? (4:20)
In addition to men’s financial/social burden, they carry the burden of earning a living not for their wives only but for their children till the age of puberty, mothers, sisters and retired vulnerable fathers. In fact, such role makes it necessary to permit special rulings for men such as polygyny. For example, the Quran permits polygyny as a way to sustainably support vulnerable female orphans or widows with children. Polygyny is mentioned within the context of supporting the most vulnerable and needy women who have lost their natural financial support (a husband or a father).. It is obvious, according to the Quranic Verse in Surat An-Nisā’ (Women), that polygyny is a way of giving a helping hand to such kind of people. In such case, marriage is a legitimate frame to provide sustainable and binding financial support instead of non-obligatory charitable financial support. Allah Almighty said:
“وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تُقْسِطُوا فِي الْيَتَامَى فَانكِحُوا مَا طَابَ لَكُم مِّنَ النِّسَاء مَثْنَى وَثُلاَثَ وَرُبَاعَ فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تَعْدِلُوا فَوَاحِدَةً أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ ذَلِكَ أَدْنَى أَلاَّ تَعُولُوا”
“and if you fear you cannot be just towards the orphans, then marry the women you like – two or three or four but if you fear you will not be equitable, then (only) one or (consider) those whom you rightfully possess. That is more likely to make you avoid bias.” (4:3)
C– Marriage as a way to gratify natural instincts: In fact, Allah has embedded inside man many innate instincts which are connected with his physical or psychological needs. The religious discourse focuses on controlling those instincts, which are among the toughest inflictions facing mankind, through certain frames to maximize their positive functions such as reproduction, solidity and coherence, and reduce their negative consequences such as conflicts, destruction and disintegration … One of the most significant and dangerous innate instincts is the sexual desire embedded inside males and females as well. Sexual desire is among the most significant internal factors of attraction between males and females. Yet, the Quranic system regulates the process of feeding this instinct through many values and social functions. To feed it, one should establish a social bond; guaranteeing distributed responsibilities, respecting the rights of all parties and securing the future of the offspring. Thus, family is the only legitimate frame to feed this sexual desire, as it is the only approach to practice a sexual intercourse guaranteeing the social, legal, moral and financial responsibility and helping in performing human’s duty on earth.
Different rulings, dispensations (Rukhaṣ) and original rulings (‘Azimah) between men and women in the Quranic legislations, had produced many theoretical interpretations differentiating between the nature of sexual desire in men and women. For example, one of the most famous claim is the one stating that men have a stronger sexual desire which is the reason behind the legislation of special rulings like polygyny.. Despite of the scientific progress, it is awkward to blindly follow the conclusions of scientific research in this regard, as the last two decades have witnessed contradictory conclusions influenced by different dominant authorities and ideologies such as the Radical Feminism which negates the presence of natural different cultural tendencies due to the natural biological distinction between both genders or Homosexuality which differentiates between gender and sexual identity. Influencing and directing science leads to many misconceptions. That’s why no one could blindly apply psychological research to interpret and understand the Quranic approach about gender issues. In this regard, reflecting on the internal logic of the Quranic Text is the best approach. Obviously, the Quran differentiates between the motivations for marriage among both males and females. It also implicitly and explicitly declares that sexual desire is basically the main factor motivating men to marry. Accordingly, this factor is among the most important rights gained by men from the marital relationship by regarding it as a contract of exchanging social benefits as in:
“…فَمَا اسْتَمْتَعْتُم بِهِ مِنْهُنَّ فَآتُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ فَرِيضَة…”
“…so if you wish to enjoy them, then bring them their rewards (as) an obligation…”(4:24)
On the other hand, according to the woman, the matter is totally different and more complicated. In fact, woman seeks marriage to fulfill a set of motives including her sexual desire. The Holy Quran states “Chastity” as the main factor of woman’s motivation for marriage. Chastity, in general, means protection. It does not refer to the external protection only (such as the legal framework, or marriage). Yet, it mainly provides women with the internal chastity, the psychological and moral one, leading to decency; another important meaning for chastity. This concept of chastity is the most important goal achieved and sought by woman from the marital relationship. It provides her with a set of natural, emotional, materialistic and social needs which keep her chaste. As a result, those female needs influence the contract of the marriage, as the absence of any of those rights, such as husband’s failure to fulfill his duties or to provide her with the essential financial needs or maltreatment, violates the essence of chastity and the purpose of marriage for woman.. Thus, the Quran emphasizes a set of psychological and materialistic rights for woman. Beginning by the financial support for her and her family, as a firm obligation for men, “… then bring them their rewards (as) an obligation…”, and ending by her moral rights such as the feelings of affability, justice, kindness, affection, tranquility and mercy. The Quran emphasizes the importance of these rights which fulfill woman’s essential emotional needs by regarding them as a key to righteousness and success in the Hereafter. Practically, marriage is a social contract to exchange the needs of each spouse by following a legitimate and responsible way.
According to the Quranic perspective, family is the pillar of the social structure and the key to applying many values, virtues and Islamic practices individually and collectively.. Thus, the Quran tackles the issues concerning the family with great care through a set of detailed rulings concerning legislation, behaviors and morals:
The Quran, in the field of legislation, detests impulsive divorces and advices spouses to avoid the reasons of discord, by blocking the means of negative feelings and settling disputes by seeking two judges. In fact, this guarantees family stability if both parties have good intentions. Finally, marriage shall be terminated by imposing financial burdens on the one who wants to break the marital bond. Several divorce fees is paid by the husband and a release for payment from the wife is imposed to secure her divorce (Fidā’). Nevertheless, divorce, according to the Holy Quran, is not forbidden but detested. This is because divorce might be the best solution if the reasons of discord and hatred are incurable.. Moreover, the legislative protection imposes severe punishments for several destructive manners which break the marital bond, such as committing adultery or charging married women with adultery. In fact, the Quranic legislation totally forbids cohabitation like fornication (or adultery) which is prohibited because it is an illegitimate and irresponsible sexual intercourse. It fails to guarantee the rights of the main parties of this relationship such as women and children, fails to provide a healthy environment and break lineages, and fails to fulfill the social function of the man-woman relationship in maintaining the social coherence through lineage and affinity. As a result, it leads to disintegration, corruption and destruction. Allah Almighty says:
“وَاللّهُ يُرِيدُ أَن يَتُوبَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَيُرِيدُ الَّذِينَ يَتَّبِعُونَ الشَّهَوَاتِ أَن تَمِيلُوا مَيْلًا عَظِيمًا.“
“And Allah wants to give you repentance and accept it from you, while those who follow desires want you to deviate (with) a great deviation”(4:27)
For all these reasons, the Quranic legislation sets severe punishments for fornication and adultery. For example, Allah Almighty says:
“الزَّانِيَةُ وَالزَّانِي فَاجْلِدُوا كُلَّ وَاحِدٍ مِّنْهُمَا مِئَةَ جَلْدَةٍ وَلاَ تَأْخُذْكُم بِهِمَا رَأْفَةٌ فِي دِينِ اللَّهِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ وَلْيَشْهَدْ عَذَابَهُمَا طَائِفَةٌ مِّنَ الْمُؤْمِنِين”
“The fornicating woman and the fornicating man _whip each one of them hundred lashes and let no compassion towards then keep you from carrying out Allah’s religion, if you (truly) believe in Allah and the Last Day, and let their punishment be witnessed by a group of believers. ” (24: 2)
Furthermore, one of the other legislative protection methods is combating unsupported rumors that may break marital bonds. This keeps the family apart from falsity. In this regard, severe punishment is decreed for the one who charges married women with adultery and specific procedures should be applied to affirm imprecation between spouses.
Regarding the etiquettes and manners, the Quranic Verses are full of direct and specific guidelines to protect the family from any harm and keep it away from any external or internal destructive factors. One of these guidelines calls for respecting family’s privacy by regarding houses as sacred places that should not be attacked, and asserts the importance of spreading self-purification, virtue and decency among both men and women. This can be practiced daily such as lowering one’s gaze, keeping chastity and decency, preserving their private parts, staying away from any act leading to temptation and keeping chaste… etc. Allah Almighty says:
“قُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَغُضُّوا مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِمْ وَيَحْفَظُوا فُرُوجَهُمْ..”
“Tell the believing men to restrain their sight (s) and to preserve their private parts…”(24: 30)
He Almighty also says:
“وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلاَ يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلاَّ مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَى جُيُوبِهِنَّ وَلاَ يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلاَّ لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ.. حتى قوله تعالى – وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُون”
“And tell the believing women to restrain their sight (s) and to preserve their private parts, and not to display their adornment except what is apparent thereof, and to draw their head coverings over their bosoms and not to display their adornment except to their husbands or their fathers or….. Thus, repent to Allah, all of you, O believers, that you may succeed. ” (24:31)
Furthermore, this legislative protection expands to include the rules of refining behaviors inside the house; such as tiding up one’s clothes, the etiquettes for maids and children on seeking permission to enter a room during specific time..etc.
Significant Gender Issues
The issue of gender, according to contemporary studies, raises many critical problems. Our research focuses on the Quranic discourse tackling three significant issues: the issue of spouse /Gender egalitarianism and discrimination, the issue of social male-female relationships and the theory of woman’s empowerment.
First: The Issue of Spouse Egalitarianism/ Discrimination
We can summarize the Quranic vision concerning egalitarianism/ discrimination through two connecting topics:
- A totally equal role, human nature and obligations (Divine Obligation, judgment, reward and punishment) between man and woman. This means that they share the same essence and purpose of existence, according to the Islamic perspective…
- A system of partial distinction and a balanced distribution of social roles and rights.
- Egalitarianism in humanitarian role, nature and obligations:
As previously mentioned, spouse equality is generated from the unity of the soul and origin and humanitarian obligation and role. These two elements altogether form the backbone of gender equality in Islam. In fact, the Holy Quran expresses, with no discrimination or exception, this equality in all stages and dimensions starting from the origin and first creation, as in: “أَيَحْسَبُ الإِنسَانُ أَن يُتْرَكَ سُدًى، أَلَمْ يَكُ نُطْفَةً مِّن مَّنِيٍّ يُمْنَى، ثُمَّ كَانَ عَلَقَةً فَخَلَقَ فَسَوَّى“
“Does man think that he will be left without purpose? Was he not a drop of emitted semen? Then he became a clinging form, which He then created and formed?” (75:36-38),
Passing by the humanitarian mission to choose between disbelief and faith, evil and good, between the Divine Path and satanic path, and its designed punishment or reward in the Hereafter. Allah Almighty says:
“وَمَن يَعْمَلْ مِنَ الصَّالِحَاتَ مِن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَى وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَأُوْلَـئِكَ يَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ وَلاَ يُظْلَمُونَ نَقِيرًا“
“But whoever does of righteous deeds, whether male or female, and is a believer-those will enter the Garden (of Paradise) and will not be dealt with unjustly by as much as the dint on a date-stone.” (4:124)
In addition, Allah Almighty says:
“يَوْمَ تَرَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَسْعَى نُورُهُم بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِم بُشْرَاكُمُ الْيَوْمَ جَنَّاتٌ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا ذَلِكَ هُوَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيم، يَوْمَ يَقُولُ الْمُنَافِقُونَ وَالْمُنَافِقَاتُ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا انظُرُونَا نَقْتَبِسْ مِن نُّورِكُمْ قِيلَ ارْجِعُوا وَرَاءكُمْ فَالْتَمِسُوا نُورًا فَضُرِبَ بَيْنَهُم بِسُورٍ لَّهُ بَابٌ بَاطِنُهُ فِيهِ الرَّحْمَةُ وَظَاهِرُهُ مِن قِبَلِهِ الْعَذَاب“
On the day when you see the believing men and believing women with their light radiating ahead of them and to their right: “Glad tidings for you today: Garden beneath which rivers flow, abiding therein; it is that which is the great triumph (12) On the day when the hypocritical men and hypocritical women say to those who believed, “wait for us so that we may borrow from your light. They were told: “go back behind you and seek light.” Then a wall with a door was raised between them: within it is mercy and outside of it is punishment (13) (57:12-13)
At this point, it is noteworthy to discuss some issues raised by studies interested in the issue of gender, such as assuming that there is discrimination against females in the Quran… For example, Quran, with an angry tone and harsh warning, responds to the infidels’ claims that angels are females, although males for them are superior. Allah Almighty says:”أَفَأَصْفَاكُمْ رَبُّكُم بِالْبَنِينَ وَاتَّخَذَ مِنَ الْمَلآئِكَةِ إِنَاثًا إِنَّكُمْ لَتَقُولُونَ قَوْلًا عَظِيمًا”
“Has your Lord favored you with sons and taken for Himself from angels females? You are certainly saying a great saying.” (17:40)
Allah Almighty also says:
“أَفَرَأَيْتُمُ اللاَّتَ وَالْعُزَّى، وَمَنَاةَ الثَّالِثَةَ الأُخْرَى، أَلَكُمُ الذَّكَرُ وَلَهُ الأُنثَى، تِلْكَ إِذًا قِسْمَةٌ ضِيزَى”
Have you seen Al-Lāt and Al-Uzza? And Mānat, the third one, the other? Are you to have the males and He the females? What a bizarre distribution! (53:19-22)
Obviously, this angry tone and asserted negation can be understood apart from the contemporary fanatic feminism by adopting a more objective and authentic analysis of the Quranic Text. The style of negation and condemnation does not intend to humiliate females and praise males. Yet, it intends to praise and emphasize the importance of a high value in Islam which is the TRUTH… The truth, in the Quranic analysis, may refer to justice in allocating values. Yet, it refers in some Quranic contexts to a different meaning which is the FACT. The Quranic condemnation, against those claims which become a myth, emphasizes the fact that the angels have no gender. Here, the Quran emphasizes a formal refusal against any sort of unsupported human claims or assumptions about the Angels. The Quran asserts, through many Verses, that such rejection and condemnation reflects the importance of sticking firmly to the truth. In Surat An-Najm (The Star), Allah Almighty says:
“إِنْ هِيَ إِلاَّ أَسْمَاء سَمَّيْتُمُوهَا أَنتُمْ وَآبَاؤُكُم مَّا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ بِهَا مِن سُلْطَانٍ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلاَّ الظَّنَّ وَمَا تَهْوَى الأَنفُسُ وَلَقَدْ جَاءهُم مِّن رَّبِّهِمُ الْهُدَى”
These are nothing but names which you have named, you and your forefathers, for which Allah sent down no manifestations. They follow nothing but assumptions and what the (inner) selves desire, even though guidance has come to them from their Lord. (53:23)
And in another Verse, He Almighty says:
“إِنَّ الَّذِينَ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالآخِرَةِ لَيُسَمُّونَ الْمَلاَئِكَةَ تَسْمِيَةَ الأُنثَى، وَمَا لَهُم بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلاَّ الظَّنَّ وَإِنَّ الظَّنَّ لاَ يُغْنِي مِنَ الْحَقِّ شَيْئًا”
Indeed, those who do not believe in the Hereafter name the angels with female names, though they have no knowledge of that. They only follow assumptions, yet surely assumptions do not substitute for the truth. (53:27-28)
What emphasizes the Quranic attitude against stating a gender for the angels is a further rejection of other claims raised by other nations stating that Allah has a son. This monstrous claim does not just attack the real essence of angels in His Presence but the real essence of the Divine Self and its Oneness and Perfection.
“وَقَالُوا اتَّخَذَ الرَّحْمَنُ وَلَدًا، لَقَدْ جِئْتُمْ شَيْئًا إِدًّا، تَكَادُ السَّمَاوَاتُ يَتَفَطَّرْنَ مِنْهُ وَتَنشَقُّ الأَرْضُ وَتَخِرُّ الْجِبَالُ هَدًّا، أَن دَعَوْا لِلرَّحْمَنِ وَلَدًا، وَمَا يَنبَغِي لِلرَّحْمَنِ أَن يَتَّخِذَ وَلَدًا، إِن كُلُّ مَن فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ إِلاَّ آتِي الرَّحْمَنِ عَبْدًا”
And they said, “The All-Merciful has taken (for himself) offspring.”(89) You have come up with something monstrous! (90) The heavens almost rupture at it, and the earth splits and the mountains fall, crumbling: (91) that they have attributed a son to the All-Merciful! (92) And in no way is it fitting for the All-Merciful to take (for Himself) a son. (19: 88-93).
In both cases, the Quran assures major unseen facts which are out of discussion and which are beyond assumptions because it constitutes the essence of faith… It is important to mention that reading and understanding the issue of gender or any other issue through the Quran should not be restricted to certain gender-oriented approaches or concepts. It should depend on the Quranic concepts and epistemology, which go beyond the issue of gender or other secondary issues, following a more comprehensive system guided by supreme concepts such as the Oneness of Allah (Tawḥeed), faith, justice and truth.
Furthermore, the topic of egalitarianism raises another problem about the story of Adam, his wife and the first disobedience … In general, the Quranic discourse differs from the previous Divine discourses in many aspects. First, the Quran does not regard Adam’s fault as a major sin but a disobedience which requires a sincere repentance to be forgiven. Most importantly, the Quranic discourse does not blame Adam’s wife for the temptation. Yet, the Quran directly blames Satan for his temptation, while Adam and Eve bore the consequences of their disobedience. In this regard, Allah Almighty says:
“فَأَزَلَّهُمَا الشَّيْطَانُ عَنْهَا فَأَخْرَجَهُمَا مِمَّا كَانَا فِيهِ وَقُلْنَا اهْبِطُوا بَعْضُكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ عَدُوٌّ وَلَكُمْ فِي الأَرْضِ مُسْتَقَرٌّ وَمَتَاعٌ إِلَى حِين”
“Yet, the Satan made them slip therefrom, so he brought them out of what they were in. then We said, “Descend, as enemies to one another, for in the earth you have a place of settlement and enjoyment for a while.” (2:36).
The Quranic Verses mainly blame Adam for yielding to the satanic temptation to win immortality and authority; disobeying His Creator. Furthermore, the Quran blames him for encouraging his wife to follow him, so his sin is greater, but at the same time she is responsible for her own action. Allah Almighty says in Surat Ṭāhā:
“فَوَسۡوَسَ إِلَيۡهِ ٱلشَّيۡطَٰنُ قَالَ يَٰٓـَٔادَمُ هَلۡ أَدُلُّكَ عَلَىٰ شَجَرَةِ ٱلۡخُلۡدِ وَمُلۡكࣲ لَّا يَبۡلَىٰ. فَأَكَلَا مِنۡهَا فَبَدَتۡ لَهُمَا سَوۡءَٰتُهُمَا وَطَفِقَا يَخۡصِفَانِ عَلَيۡهِمَا مِن وَرَقِ ٱلۡجَنَّةِۚ وَعَصَىٰٓ ءَادَمُ رَبَّهُۥ فَغَوَىٰ”.
But Satan whispered to him. He said, “O Adam, shall I show you the Tree of Immortality and a kingdom that never decays?”. So they ate from it, whereupon their private parts became exposed to them, and they started covering themselves with the leaves of the Garden. Thus Adam disobeyed his Lord and was deluded. (20-120:121).
In fact, Adam’s disobedience, which begins when he first yielded to the satanic temptation to win the dream of immortality and authority following his whim, is greater than that of his wife. Perhaps, this is the reason of his great sense of remorse and keenness to repent.
فَتَلَقَّى آدَمُ مِن رَّبِّهِ كَلِمَاتٍ فَتَابَ عَلَيْهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيم””
Thereupon, Adam received words from his Lord. Thus, he granted him repentance and accepted it from him. Indeed, it is He Who is the superb Granter and Accepter of repentance, the Bestower of mercy. (2:37).
- A System of Partial Distinction (Difference) and Complete Equality Concerning Rights and Social Roles
Assuming that the Quran emphasizes an equal obligatory role for the two spouses by regarding it as the original humanitarian role, human’s response to all kinds of trials, in different situations, times and places, varies. Regarding the issue of gender, the system of rights, duties and roles is determined within the frame of role distribution; man has the role of financial support, and woman the biological process of pregnancy and childbirth. These are the main responsibilities but not the only one, as there are other significant social responsibilities. Through this basic role distribution, the Quranic vision is apart from the concept of egalitarianism which depends on the partial direct equality in the roles and rights adopted by contemporary Western egalitarianism. Instead, egalitarianism and equilibrium is the final result of the equation of the distributed responsibilities and rights… Moreover, the Quranic human rights system depends on two principles: (1) Any right has in exchange a commitment, and (2) any privilege or empowerment given to a party is accompanied by a privilege or empowerment given to the other party. Thus, egalitarianism is the final result of human rights system and not the distribution rule of partial commitments and rights.
Fiqh scholars define marriage, practically, as male’s ownership of women’s sexual parts. This means that the marriage contract permits the conjugal intercourse to a specific man and any resulted offspring is ascribed to him. In return, woman is entitled to be provided by her husband with materialistic rights such as the financial support for her and their children, starting from the dowry till the marital financial support, beside her moral rights such as the feelings of tranquility, affability and affection.
Whereas marriage contract is a mutual agreement between both parties, the decision of terminating or continuing this marital relationship depends, normally, on a mutual agreement. Hence, if any party decides to act individually, he/she shall bear the consequences of his/her actions and shall give the other party the appropriate compensation. For example, if the husband alone decides to terminate the marriage contract, he shall pay his ex-wife the divorce fees. On the other hand, if the wife alone decides to terminate the marriage contract, through a release for payment to secure her divorce (Fidā’), shall compensate her ex-husband. Again, egalitarianism is achieved materialistically, spiritually and morally through the marital and domestic relationship. In fact, it is inappropriate to separate between the materialistic and moral side. If so, the relationship will lose its validity and legality. For example, the Quran assures that the action of returning after divorce and retaining during woman’s post-marital waiting period should be in all fairness and without any harm. Allah Almighty describes this action when it is apart from any moral dimension with transgression, injustice and taking the revelations of Allah in mockery. Through this description, there is a command to be righteous and to avoid preventing (female) divorcees from marriage.
The paradox between both the comprehensive and partial perspectives on the scope of rights is reflected through a very significant issue which is the issue of inheritance. When the advocates of the partial perspective conclude that it includes women’s discrimination, the advocates of the systematic comprehensive perspective have an opposite point of view. For them, it is a system that add to the rights the commitments, to achieve a precise scale. In fact, allocating a bigger amount of inheritance for the male (Twice the share of the sister from the dead parents, and one-half of his dead wife, while she gets one-fourth of what he left) is not an extra privilege. This is because every (Muslim) man is obliged to financially support his wife and children plus his needy parents and sisters, while every (Muslim) woman has full access to her inherited share as she is not obliged to provide any financial support to anyone.
This systematic reasoning, regarding egalitarianism as the final result of the system of rights and duties, give and take, inputs and outputs, seems to be effective in understanding and interpreting other problematic issues such as the issue of Nushūz (recalcitrance). In fact, Nushūz is an issue which cannot be understood except within a wider context. It is a special system designed to face the factors of family destruction.
The Dilemma of Nushūz Facing Marital System
The Noble Quran presents a comprehensive system to prevent the collapse of the family, this pivotal institution. In fact, such system adopts a general principle detesting divorce. It does not regard it as impermissible to allow a final solution if both parties could not fulfill the religious and humanitarian requirements of marriage at the top of which is tranquility and kindness…Furthermore, the Quranic system combats different reasons of discord which are divided into three levels as follows.
–Individual Reasons: at the top of which is the psychological factors of one individual which lead to the feelings of reluctance and hatred. The Holy Quran does not belittle its effect, in contrary to many autocratic man-made legislations, as Allah Almighty knows human’s soul. Yet, the Creator commands the believers to fight the feelings of hatred and reluctance by dealing with its reasons to maintain family pillars. He Almighty encourages the believers to do so, as in:
“وَعَاشِرُوهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ فَإِن كَرِهْتُمُوهُنَّ فَعَسَى أَن تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَيَجْعَلَ اللّهُ فِيهِ خَيْرًا كَثِيرًا”
“..and let your relationship with them be in accordance with what is fair. And if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike something in which Allah has placed much good.” (4:19)
This is also the approach adopted by the prophet Muhammad (ﷺthe story of Zaynab bt Jaḥsh complaining about her life with Zaid b. Harethah, and the story of the wife of Thābit b. Qays asking for divorce)….Yet, according to the Quran and Prophetic Tradition, it is acceptable for the harmed party to seek divorce to get rid of such toxic marital life which can lead to the transgression of the Divine limits. However, the individual decision to terminate this relationship without any mistake made by the other party shall be accompanied by a just compensation paid by this party to the harmed one.
Specific Disputes: The Holy Quran discusses the ways of facing and solving such disputes through:
“وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ شِقَاقَ بَيْنِهِمَا فَابْعَثُوا حَكَمًا مِّنْ أَهْلِهِ وَحَكَمًا مِّنْ أَهْلِهَا إِن يُرِيدَا إِصْلاَحًا يُوَفِّقِ اللّهُ بَيْنَهُمَا إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا خَبِيرًا”
“And if you fear discord between them, then send a judge from his family and a judge from her family; if they want reconciliation, Allah will bring about harmony between them. Indeed, Allah has always been All-knowing, All-Aware.”(4:35)
Through this arbitration, the two parties accept the judgment of a superior impartial party who is keen to maintain their marital life.
–Nushūz: The concept of Nushūz is one of the most serious dilemmas tackled by researches concerning woman’s status in family legislations, because its punishment is beating; the toughest judgment and the only judgment which even was not imposed on any type of sinners. In fact, the concept of Nushūz which is associated with such judgment, is vague. Linguistically, this concept has no specific definition due to its broadness. The Arabic word Nashaz (نَشَز) refers to what is upper than the surface of the floor. The Arabic verb Nashaz (نَشَزَ) refers to the action of standing after sitting down. This concept has different significance between the exegetists. In this regard, Al-Qurtubī said:
“(The Arabic verb Nashazat “نَشَزت” describes the action of a woman who disobeys her husband, while the verb Nashaz “نَشَز” refers to the action of a husband who beats and abandons his wife.’Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Awf in Ibn Kathir stated that Nushūz describes the recalcitrant woman who disobeys and hates her husband. At the same time, Al-Qurtubī stated, on the authority of Al-Muhallab, that Nushūz is the action of refraining from conjugal intercourse. He said that it is permissible to beat wives if they refrain from conjugal intercourse. Yet, there is a disagreement about the permissibility of beating them if they refuse to serve their husbands. In conclusion, if it is permissible to beat her if she refrains from conjugal intercourse, it is permissible to beat her for refusing to serve her husband”. Nevertheless, these controversial individual reasonings, despite their different cultural tendencies and prejudice, have some shortcomings. The Prophetic Tradition does not support any of these interpretations. For example, the Prophet faced many marital disputes which exceeded the limits, yet he never resolved them by beating his wives. So, such interpretation is excluded. Thus, the ultimate way to understand this issue is to return to the Book of Allah. The issue of a recalcitrant woman is discussed in Surat An-Nisā’ (The Women) through the Verse No. (34) which is known as the Verse of guardianship. It compares between two types of women; the righteous and the recalcitrant. Such comparison refers to the meaning of recalcitrance which, according to this, is opposite to piety and similar to vice. Thus, recalcitrant women are those immoral ones. And the definition of recalcitrant women is opposite to that of the righteous. The Quranic Verse describes the righteous women by saying that they are devout, preservers of virtue and regarding hidden matters, as Allah commanded matters to be preserved…Scholars agree that this refers to the act of caring about their husband’s reputation, wealth and offspring during his absence. On the other hand, the description of the “devout” is ambiguous. Its meaning determines the intended meaning of Nushūz. In this regard, many exegetists say that the word “devout” refers to women who obey their husbands. However, the usage of this word in another Quranic Verse does not support this interpretation approach. In fact the Arabic word Qunut “قنوت” (English: devoted obedience) is mentioned in the Quran thirteen (13) times. Throughout most of the Verses, it refers to the action of devoted submission and obedience to Allah. In fact, the usage of this word in general refers to the highest levels of faith and submission to Allah, the Creator, with no associate. The Quran mentions that such devoted obedience is for Allah alone and his Messenger, Muhammad. According to Lisān Al-Arab (an Arabic lexicon), Qunut “قنوت”, in general, means submission, acknowledgement of servitude and obedience to Allah. It is said that it means night prayer. Thus, this word donates different statuses of a slave before Allah, the Creator and the One.
Regarding the previous description of the meaning of righteousness which is opposite to Nushūz, Nushūz can be defined as the act of deviation, revolting against Allah and betraying one’s husband by not preserving his wealth, reputation and offspring during his absence. Therefore, the phrase: “those women from whom you fear disloyalty” refers, according to this definition, to betrayal. Betraying the husband includes any act harming his wealth, reputation and offspring during their ongoing marital relationship. It refers to a severe violation of the pillars of domestic life. Perhaps, the Messenger through the Farewell Pilgrimage, referred to this meaning. According to Sahih Muslim, the Prophet said:
Fear Allah regarding women. Verily, you have taken them as a trust from Allah, and intercourse has been made lawful by the word of Allah. Your rights over them are that they do not let anyone in the house you dislike. If they do so, you may strike them without violence…
According to At-Tirmidhi, ‘Amr b. Al-Ahwaṣ reported that he had heard the Prophet saying on his Farewell Pilgrimage:
“I enjoin you to treat women well, for they are like captives in your hand. Verily, you may not treat them otherwise unless they commit flagrant immorality. If they do so, then you may separate from their beds and strike them without causing pain but if they return to good conduct, then you may do nothing against them. You have rights over your wives and they have rights over you. Your right is that they will not allow anyone you dislike to enter your home, and their right is that you should treat them well regarding food and clothing “.+
[At-Tirmidhi, who categorized it as Hadith Hasan Sahih].
The procedures of dealing with Nushūz follows gradual steps according to the level reached (first steps towards marital betrayal). In fact, light beating is the final procedure to prevent her from reaching the level of adultery which violates the Divine Legislation and break up the marital life when proving adultery and going through the known procedures of public imprecation. According to this contextual vision, we can reflect on many Quranic Rulings which cannot be interpreted out of context.
Finally, the Holy Quran sums up its legislative rule concerning the issue of gender at the end of the Verses discussing women-men relationships in Surat Al-Baqarah (Cow) (220:242), then the Divine rule concerning women-men relationships is wonderfully emphasized through the Saying of Allah Almighty:
“…ولَهُنَّ مِثْلُ الَّذِي عَلَيْهِنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَلِلرِّجَالِ عَلَيْهِنَّ دَرَجَةٌ ، وَاللّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكُيمٌ.”
“…and women have rights equal to their obligations in accordance with what is fair. But men have a degree over them, for Allah is Almighty, All-Wise.”(2:228)
This rule includes two points. The first point is the equality in the balance of obligations and rights for both spouses, while the second point is fairness (ma’rouf) referring to the moral side which is pivotal in the marital relationship***. As an exception, this rule states that men have a degree over women but without specification. In this regard, Fiqh scholars do not reach a consensus in determining such degree. Yet, they regard it not just a degree but a comprehensive system of privileges under the degree of guardianship which replaces egalitarianism with discrimination. However, the general context of the Verses legalizing specific rules for divorce specifies such degree by stating that men are entitled to enforce divorce and taking back his divorced wife….and Allah knows best.
In conclusion, it is obvious that family rights system, stipulated in the Noble Quran, does not negatively affect women-men relationships whether explicitly or implicitly. It supports the status of woman as a dignified effective member in the family. However, this system requires women’s devoted efforts in the field of Fiqh, exegesis and deduction.
Rehab Jamal Bakri****
* This Article is written in Arabic, (see the original copy):
أماني صالح (2002). قضية النوع في القرآن: منظومة الزوجية بين قطبي الجندر والقوامة. المرأة والحضارة. ع. 3. ص ص. 17- 53.
** Professor of Political Science at Misr International University, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Association for Women and Civilization Studies.
 Gould, Carol c. (ed), Gender (Atlantic Highlands, NJ.: Humanities Press International, 1997), pp xvii-xviii.
Linda Alcoff, Cultural Feminism versus Post structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory, in Signs, Spring 1988, p 415, p 416.
 فازة بن حديد، التنمية والنوع الاجتماعي: اطار نظري وعملي، ورقة مقدمة إلى الملتقى الدولية حول السكان والصحة الإنجابية وقضايا النوع الاجتماعي من منظور إسلامي (القاهرة: من 18 إلى 20 أكتوبر 2000) ص20.
 Surat Al-Ikhlāṣ (The Sincerity)
 see Verse No. 23 in Surat An-Nisā’ (Women).
 for more information about these rulings and obligations, see Surat At-Ṭalāq (The Divorce).
 check different Quranic exegesis to reflect on different meanings of chastity mentioned in the Verses No. 24 and 15 in Surat An-Nisā’
 Surat An-Nur (The Light): 6-8
 Surat An-Nur (The Light): 17-18
 Surat An-Nur (The Light), Surat Al-Baqarah (Cow): 58-60-61
 Surat Al-Baqarah (Cow): 230-231
 Surat Al-Baqarah (Cow): 229-231
 Al-Qurtubī’s book of Tafir, Vol.5, p.171.
*** for more information about this topic, see:
هند مصطفى، الفضاء المعنوي لعلاقة الزوجية في القرآن الكريم.
**** Egyptian Researcher and Translator.