There are instances when women of Arabia in the pre-Islamic era used to be on the bargaining end when it came to marriages. One can assume that, like in other societies, here too, women when in a position of considerable power, wealth, and independence, would propose a suitable candidate for marriage. In a relationship like this, the woman would assume the power to end the marriage and also have an equal say in matters of inheritance etc. The marriage between Prophet Muhammad and his first wife Khadija falls under this category of pre- Islamic unions. After the Prophet started receiving Jibraeel Farishta in caves and all sorts of other secluded places, the women lost the right to this kind of independence.
There is an ongoing argument about the way a respectful Muslimah should behave inside a marriage. The way she conducts herself with her husband, her in-laws, and other extended family members is defined in a lot of detail among secondary scriptures like authentic Hadees compilations and Tafseer by various Ulema of Islam. Everything that a woman is subjected to in the Muslim society of today has its roots in the scripture. There is an incident mentioned in the “Asbab al Nuzul” (Context and ocassions of revelations in Quran), by Al-Wahidi. An accomplice of the Prophet, Saad Ibn Al Rabi, and his wife Habiba had an argument, during which, Saad slapped his wife. Habiba approached the Prophet along with his father to complain of this, who initially told the father to ‘leave her with her husband with retaliation’, which means let her settle scores with him on an equal footing. However, as they were on the way out, the Prophet called them and told them he had just been visited by Jibraeel Farishta who brought a verse from Allah for this very ocassion. This is how the famous verse about Wife Beating (Chapter 4 – Woman, Verse 34) was revealed.
Many scholars and other apologists have argued that the verse does not mandate wife beating in any manner. Some reluctantly agree that yes, maybe there is some direction given on being physically aggressive with the wife, but only in extreme circumstances when the wife does not stand down after verbal reprimanding, followed by separating her bed. According to four authenticated translations of the scriptures by Yusif Ali, Shakir, Mohsin Khan, and Arberry, the word used in the verse is BEAT them. Pickthall uses the word SCOURAGE instead. It is stated pretty clearly that the husbands who even suspect disobedience or ill conduct from their wives are given the go-ahead to beat them.
One group of Islamists insists on the instrution of ‘lightly beating’ the wife, and mentions of beating with a feather, or a toothbrush etc are floated about to make light of the issue. The fact is, nowhere in the scripture is it mentioned that wives should be beaten lightly. It is more or less left at the discretion of the husband as to what should be the velocity of the slap or how forcefully should he kick her, on which part of the body, and how many times. This theory is supported by another incident which is narrated in the Book of Dress, the Chapter called Green Clothes, Sahih Bukhari. A man called Riffa had divorced his wife, wanted to marry her again, and she was married to Abdur Rahman for Halala. One day, she came to the open court of Prophet Muhammad with visible green-looking bruises. She was closely pursued by Abdur Rehman who came with 2 sons in toe from another wife. She said that she wanted to go back to her previous husband as Rehman was impotent (so the marriage could not consummate, which is a pre-requisite for Halala), but Rahman refused to divorce her and was beating her up badly. The Prophet however did not reprimand Rahman, and took his sons from the other wife as his ‘proof of impotence’. His wife did not get any relief.
Muslims are allowed to keep up to four wives at a time according to Sharia, whereas various references reveal that Prophet Muhammad did not have to observe the limitation of 4 wives. It is mentioned that he would assign nights to each of his wives to be just. There is one incident mentioned in the compilation called Sunan Nasai, Kitab Ishrat e Nisa (The Book of Kind Treatment To Women), under the chapter 4 called ‘Jealousy’. It mentions the conduct of Prophet’s wife Ayesha on a particular night, when it was her turn to host him. She mentions that the Prophet came to her room and after co-habiting with her, attempted to sneak out as he thought she was asleep. However, Ayesha proceeded to follow him without his knowledge as he went to meet one of his other wives. He soon realised he was being followed and upon finding out that the follower was Ayesha, he shoved her in the chest for being jealous and not trusting him.
Looking after the husband is taken to new heights, in the Muslim community, where Imam Ali has equated taking care of one’s husband to Jihad (holy war in the path of Allah). At one place: “The Prophet of Islam stated: ‘ Any woman who dies while her husband is pleased with her, enters Paradise’.” A detailed description of Jahannum is shared by Prophet Muhammad, after he came back from his trip to Meraj. He mentions that he saw women hanging from their chests there, and said that these were women who had given birth to children out of wedlock. The primary scriptures carry nearly 500 verses on Jahannum, and many of them depict punishments handed out to women over various sins. This requires a separate write- up, which will be shared at a later date.
The Muslim communities make it mandatory for the women to observe Purdah, wear Hijab and refrain from showing any part of their bodies to men. According to Wiki Islam, the context of the revelation of the hijab was an epoch when, during the life of the prophet, Madina was teeming with aggressive sexual harassers who harassed women when they left their homes. Faced with this situation, rather than rebuke the comportment of these man, it was ordered for (free) Muslim women to wear the hijab to be easly distinguished from female (sex) slaves who continued to be harassed and aggressed upon by men. In order not to take this notification lightly, Umar Khattab who was the father in law and companion of Prophet Muhammad, would go so far as to beat with his own hand his slaves who dared to wear the veil. Those who speak today of freedom of choice to take up the veil, should know that even back in the times of the Prophet, only those who were considered ‘deserving’ were to wear veils.
A Muslim wife leads her life according to the guidelines provided by the primary and secondary scriptures, and it is laid out very clearly, that her husband is her keeper. The husband is empowered to discipline her, reprimand her, groom her and use her according to his wishes, as he is the designated provider. A wife’s identity is a mere extension to her husband’s, and there is no place in Islam for her to exist in an independent capacity.
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