By Dr. Jamal Badawi
Woman as a Daughter
1- The Qur’an ended the cruel pre-Islamic practice of female infanticide(wa’d):
Parents are duty-bound to support and show kindness and justice to their daughters.
When the female (infant) buried alive is questioned for what crime she was killed…. (At-Takwir 81:8-9)
The Qur’an went further to rebuke the unwelcoming attitude of some parents upon hearing the news of the birth of a baby girl, instead of a baby boy:
When news is brought to one of them of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! With shame he hides himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on (sufferance and) contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide on! (An-Nahl 16:58-59)
3- Parents are duty-bound to support and show kindness and justice to their daughters. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
Whosoever has a daughter and does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favor his son over her, Allah will enter him into paradise. (Ahmad)
Whosoever supports two daughters until they mature, he and I will come on the day of judgment as this (and he pointed with his two fingers held together). (Ahmad)
4- A crucial aspect in the upbringing of daughters that greatly influences their future is education. Education is not only a right but a responsibility for all males and females.
Prophet Muhammad said, “Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim”. (Al-Bayhaqi and Ibn-Majah)
(The word “Muslim” here is inclusive of both males and females.)
As a Wife
1- Marriage in Islam is based on mutual peace, love and compassion, and not the mere satisfying of human sexual desire.
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); verily in that are signs for those who reflect. (Ar-Rum 30:21)
(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves and pairs among cattle: by this means does He multiply you: there is nothing whatever like unto Him and He is the One that hears and sees (all things). (Ash-Shura 42:11)
Marriage and Divorce
2- The female has the right to accept or reject marriage proposals.
Her consent is a prerequisite to the validity of the martial contract, according to the Prophets’ 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)
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)
3- 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 complementarity of husband and wife does not mean “subservience” by either party to the other. Prophet Muhammad 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. A 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. (Al-Baqarah 2:233)
Prophet Muhammad instructed Muslims regarding women,
“I commend you to be kind to women.” (Al-Bukhari) He said also, “The best of you is the best to his family (wife).” (An-Nawawi in his book Riyad As-Saliheen)
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 father’s widow(s) (inherit 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 marital 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. (An-Nisaa’ 4:19)
4- Should marital disputes arise, the Qur’an 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 or 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 to the seriousness of her continued unreasonable behavior (refraction), and may be resorted to only after exhausting other steps discussed in endnote.
If that mild measure is not likely to prevent a marriage from collapsing, as a 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 martial life: In the event that disputes cannot be resolved equitably between husband and wife, the Qur’an prescribes mediation between the parties through family intervention on behalf of both spouses.
5- Divorce is a last resort, permissible but not encouraged, for the Qur’an esteems the preservation of faith and the individual’s 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 martial 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).
6- 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.
The article is an excerpt from the author’s “Gender Equity in Islam: Basic Principles”.