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MARRIAGE IN ISLAM

The female has the right to accept or reject marriage proposals. Her consent is a prerequisite to the validity of the marital contract, according to the Prophet’s teaching. It follows that if an “arranged marriage” means the marrying of a female without her consent, then such a marriage may be annulled if the female so wishes:

Ibn Abbas reported that a girl came to the Messenger of Allah, and she reported that her father had forced her to marry without her consent. The Messenger of God gave her the choice...(between accepting the marriage or invalidating it) (Ahmad, Hadith no. 2469). another version of the report states that “the girl said: ‘Actually, I accept this marriage, but I wanted to let women know that parents have no right to force a husband on them.’” (Ibn-Majah).

The husband is responsible for the maintenance, protection and overall leadership (qiwamah) of the family, within the framework of consultation and kindness. The mutuality and complementary of husband and wife does not mean “subservience” by either party to the other. Prophet Muhammad (P) helped with household chores although the responsibilities he bore and the issues he faced in his community were immense.

The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years, if the father desires to complete the term. But he shall bear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms. No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear. No mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child, nor father on account of his child. An heir shall be chargeable in the same way. If they both decide on weaning by mutual consent. and after due consultation, there is no blame on them. If you decide on a foster-mother for your offspring, there is no blame on you, provided you pay (the mother) what you offered on equitable terms. But fear Allah and know that Allah sees well what you do. (Qur’an 2:233)

Prophet Muhmmad (P) instructed Muslims regarding women, “I commend you to be kind to women.” He said also, “the best of you is the best to his family (wife).” The Qur’an urges husbands to be kind and considerate to their wives, even if a wife falls out of favor with her husband or disinclination for her arises within him. It also outlawed the pre-Islamic Arabian practice whereby the stepson of the deceased father was allowed to take possession of his fathers widow(s) (inherited them) as if they were part of the estate of the deceased:

O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the martial gift you have given them, except when they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary, live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them, it may be that you dislike a thing through which Allah brings about a great deal of good. (Qur’an 4:19)

Should maritual disputes arise, the Quran encourages couples to resolve them privately in a spirit of fairness and probity. Under no circumstances does the Qur’an encourage, allow or condone family violence of physical abuse. In extreme cases, and whenever greater harm, such as divorce, is a likely option, it allows for a husband to administer a gentle pat to his wife that causes no physical harm to the body nor leaves any sort of mark. It may serve, in some cases, to bring to the wife’s attention the seriousness of her continued unreasonable behavior (refraction, and may be resorted to only after exhausting other steps discussed in endnote. If the mild measure is not likely to prevent a marriage from collapsing, as last measure, it should not be resorted to. Indeed the Qur’an outlines an enlightened step and a wise approach for the husband and wife to resolve persistent conflict in their marital life: In the event that dispute cannot be resolved equitably between husband and wife, the Qur’an prescribes mediation between the parties through family intervention on behalf of both spouses.

Divorce is a last resort, permissible but not encouraged, for the Qur’an esteems the preservation of faith and the individuals right--male and female alike--to felicity. Forms of marriage dissolution include an enactment based upon mutual agreement, the husband’s initiative, the wife’s initiative (if part of her marital contract), the court’s decision on a wife’s initiative (for a legitimate reason),and the wife’s initiative without a “cause,” provided that she returns her marital gift to her husband (khul’, or divestiture).

The truth of the matter is that Islam has the most humane and most just system of divorce that exists. Firstly, many options are taken and tried before coming to the decision of the divorce. If the man and woman decide that they can no longer live together successfully as a husband and wife, the husband (in most cases, not always) pronounces the divorce by saying “I divorce you.” At this point the waiting period begins. The waiting period lasts for three menstrual cycles to assure the woman is not pregnant. This period allows the couple time to think about what they are doing and if this is what they really want to do. There are no lawyers involved to antagonize an already delicate situation.

In the case that it is realized, that the woman is pregnant, the waiting period lasts the entire time she is pregnant. During the waiting period (whether the woman is pregnant or not) the man is obligated to provide food, clothing and shelter to the woman as he did before the divorce pronouncement. If the couple carries the divorce through to the birth of the child and the woman suckles the baby, the man is obligated to feed and clothe both his ex-wife for the time the woman suckles (the maximum being two years). After this weaning, the child will be provided for by the father until he/she is no longer in need of support.

It is quite ironic that in such an “advanced society” as America, there are divorce cases in which women are being forced to pay alimony to their ex-husbands. Can this and many other things we know about the American system of divorce compare to the Islamic system of divorce?

Priority for the custody of young children (up to the age of about seven) is given to the mother. A child later may choose the mother or father as his or her custodian. Custody questions are to be settled in a manner that balances the interests of both parents and the well-being of the child.

Last Updated on November 13, 2000

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