I am Muslimah... pt. III

This is the third part of the I am Muslimah series. click here to read the first and second part. 

One of the hardest thing for people unaccustomed to the workings of Islam to see is the beauty of the Islamic marriage. Elements like early marriage, triple Talaq (divorce), forced marriage, roles of a wife, multiple wives etc. have been taken out of the Islamic circumference, and have been distorted into practices and rituals not resembling Islamic matrimony. The truth is marriage and the interactions between men and women within wedlock are very sacred in Islam. There are many verses in the Qur'an that are aimed at marriage such as verse [30:21] which says: "And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts. Undoubtedly in these are signs for those who reflect".  
Before I break down the common misconceptions of Islamic marriage and the so-called oppression it has on women, here are some of the rights of a wife on her husband according to Islam:
1. Maintenance and Residence
2. Living with Them in Kindness
3. Not Engaging in Aggressive or Hostile Actions against her
4. Defending Her, Representing His Honour

Early Marriage
In order to explain Islam's stance on early marriage, I am going to use the controversial marriage of Prophet Mohammad (ﷺ) and A'isha (RA), his second and youngest wife as an example. There are contradicting stories/ documents on the age A'isha (RA) was when she got married which ranges from 9-19, however, the consensus is that she was engaged to him at the age of 6 after the dissolution of her first engagement. And that they consummated the marriage several years after the wedding, which occurred when she was 9 years old. Nevertheless, verse 4:6 of the Qur'an explains how marriage is only permissible between consenting ADULTS. And according to those times, a child became an adult at the onset of Puberty. Therefore, A'isha (RA) was considered to be an adult by Islamic law as well as societal law. It is also important to understand the context of the marriage between A’isha (RA) and Mohammad (ﷺ), which occurred after the death of his first wife Khadija (RA). The marriage was not initiated by the Prophet (ﷺ) but rather was a decree by Allah, which the prophet explains to A’isha (RA): “You have been shown to me twice in my dream. I saw you pictured on a piece of silk and some-one said (to me). ‘This is your wife.’ When I uncovered the picture, I saw that it was yours. I said, ‘If this is from Allah, it will be done.” {Bukhari: 5:58:235}
In the end, the marriage of the Prophet (ﷺ) to A’isha, though –Islamically- perfect cannot be used as a blanket example to promote or justify child marriage. Despite, marriage at a tender age is acceptable it cannot be applicable to everyone in every situation.

The first issue with child marriage as practiced today in Muslim dominated populations comes from the title itself. The girls who are usually forced into child marriages are yet to go through puberty (menstruation) therefore are still children. And marriage, as decreed in the Qur'an, is an agreement between adults (people who have reached physical and mental maturity). The second thing that makes child marriage null and void is the fact that the girl isn’t given a say on the subject. Therefore, why does this occur when both the Qur’an and Hadiths oppose child marriage? In reality, child marriage in Muslim regions are not done for spiritual reasons, rather these girls are used as means (commodities) to achieve economic, political or social status. Often ignorance of the actual stipulations for marriage is also lacking.

Forced Marriage

The common perception of Muslim women has for a long time and still is that of women who have been forcefully stripped of their rights and bent into misogynist submission. Forced marriage is the best example anyone could use to prove this notion. I cannot claim that this practice doesn’t occur in Muslim communities, on the contrary, it is a sad reoccurring fact of many Muslim communities. However, although forcing women and girls into marriage without their consent happens within Muslim communities, it is an un-Islamic practice and cannot be singled out as an Islamic issue. The reality is countless communities and societies across many nations, cultures and religions practice this inhumane act.
But before I explain where Islam stands on forced marriage, I want to differentiate between forced and arranged marriage- which is in accordance with Islam. Arranging for two people to get together in matrimony despite no romantic entanglement is acceptable as long the two people approve. This was a common custom practiced during the Prophet’s time in order to reconcile and strengthen ties between families, tribes and/or monarchs. Nevertheless, however important these marriages are to the families they become a no-go as soon as one or both individual(s) rejects the proposal. Or in other words, families can arrange marriages but they can’t force the individuals to marry.  

The Qur’an [4:21] says: "And how could you take it while you have gone in unto each other and they have taken from you a solemn covenant?" This verse refers to marriage as mithaq, i.e. a solemn covenant or agreement between a man and woman, which further decrees that it be put down in writing. And therefore, since no agreement can occur between the two parties unless they are willing and give their consent, marriage can be contracted only when there is free consent from both parties. This rule applies to all marriages including those of a virgin (which used to be regarded as a person who was never been married before), a divorcee and a widow. 
There are numerous examples throughout the prophet’s (ﷺ) lifetime in which he enforced this rule, some examples are:
•    Narrated by Al-Qasim:  “A woman from the offspring of Ja`far was afraid lest her guardian marry her (to somebody) against her will. So she sent for two elderly men from the Ansar, `AbdurRahman and Mujammi’, the two sons of Jariya, and they said to her, “Don’t be afraid, for Khansa’ bint Khidam was given by her father in marriage against her will, then the Prophet canceled that marriage.” (Sahih al-Bukhari volume 9, Book 86, Hadith 99)
•    Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari (RA) reported that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “When one of you wants to give his daughter in marriage, he should take her permission.” [At-Tabarani]
•    The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “A previously-married woman should not be married without consulting her and a virgin should not be married without asking her permission.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, how does she give her permission?” He said, “If she remains silent.” Narrated by al-Bukhari, 4741; Muslim, 2543.

Forcing women into marriage has existed long before Islam and any father or male figure who uses his daughter’s silence (which used to be accepted as ‘agreement’ because women used to be shy about speaking to their father’s in regards to marriage and would only speak out if they were against it) to force her into a marriage she doesn’t want, has taken away from her a right given to her by Allah and her religion. And as such shall answer for it in the hereafter. 

Multiple wives
So, who hasn’t heard about the 72 virgin wives promised to Muslim men? Probably no one, and honestly that is a topic of its own, that I don’t wish to explain, yet. Instead let’s talk about polygamy, or more precisely polygyny i.e. the marrying of more than one wife. It is a known fact that Islam permits the marriage of more than 1 wife, which has garnered the religion criticism for being anti-feminist, misogynistic, antiquated or even plain unfair. Nevertheless, to understand Islamic polygamy, you have to take in context the era in which this commandment was revealed as well as its modern implication. 
During the seventh century of the Common Era, when Islam came into existence, there was a shortage of males in most communities. This was because by nature males were more susceptible to illness in childhood and as result, more male children died than females. There was also the reality of war which drastically cut down the population of men instantly; not to mention the everyday sentence to death that was implied. All in all, there was an imbalance and women were at a surplus.

The second element that needs hashing out is the fact that polygamy existed long, long, long before Islam came into being. All through history men have been known for having more than one wife or a wife and multiple concubines or multiple wives and numerous more concubines. Polygamy as a practice can actually be traced in the Bible back to Lamech, the grandson of Adam, who had two wives. Not only that, polygamy has existed in almost every religion including Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and even pre-modern religions like Celtic pagans. And in reality, except for the Qur’an, there is no religious book that contains the phrase “marry only one” wife. Religious scriptures like the Vedas, the Ramayan, the Mahabharat, the Geeta or the Bible do not limit the number of wives one should have, therefore one can marry as many as one wishes. Polygamy became a controversy because of revised interpretations of holy books, demonization of the practice by religious leaders/priest as well as state intervention. However, since Islam is the only religion that refuses to modernize its scripture it has become the poster-child for polygamy.

Going back to where polygamy stands in Islam, verse 4:3 of the Qur’an states “Marry woman of your choice in twos' threes' or fours' but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly, (with them), then only one”. This means that a man can marry up to four wives if, and only if, he can justly live with them equally. This means Islam permits limited polygyny and only in special situations. Furthermore, there are also strict stipulations that have to be met before one is able to marry more than one wife, which includes treating them equally; financially and in status. Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “A man who has two wives and he does not deal justly with them will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment with half his body paralyzed.” (Sunan Tirmidhi, no. 1141). Therefore, the idea that all Muslim men are expected to marry four wives at a time and do with them as they wish is far from the truth.

Polygyny in Islam became the means to empower all women through marriage. This means widows, divorcees, slaves, poor women and ‘ugly’ women could all be protected by the status that being a married woman entailed (especially in that time), and most importantly it awarded women protection from men who preyed on women without families or guardians. It also gave women all the freedoms and benefits that being a Muslim allowed. 

However you see it, polygamy, when done right and fair towards all the parties involved, should not be a cause for society to frown upon. After all, aren't we today fighting for the rights to live in our truth and if being in a marriage with multiple partners doesn't reduce the love, respect and happiness of the individuals involved who are we to judge or tell them how to live their lives. 
Part iv of the series is out, click here to read it. Don't forget to let me know what you think in about the post in the comment box. And like, share and subscribe!!!

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