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In the shades of Ayat 4:34 


Regulation of Family Affairs

The  sūrah  also outlines themeasures to be taken in order to protect this social institution against the effects of quarrels and disputes so as to eliminate, as far as possible, any negative effects that could destroy it.

Men shall take full care of women with the bounties with which God has favoured some of them more abundantly than others,  and with what they may spend of theirown wealth. The righteous women are devout, guarding the intimacy which God has ordained to be guarded. (Verse 34)

Before we comment on these verses and  outline their psychological and social objectives we need to speak briefly about  the Islamic view of the institution of the family and its method of building, protecting and promoting it.

God, who has created mankind, is the One who has made duality part of man’s nature, as it is indeed ingrained in all creation: “And of everything We have created pairs, so that you may bear in mind [that God alone is One].”  (51: 49) He then willed to make the human pair two halves of the same soul: “Mankind, fear your Lord, who has created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate.” (Verse 1)

Part of His purpose behind the meeting between the two halves of the same soul is that it should lead to peaceful existence and be a comfort to body and soul. It is also a means to protect purity and chastity and provides a secure, clean way for human reproduction and the continuity and promotion of human life, under the watchful care of parents.

Different verses in the Qur’ān stress these facts:

Among His signs is that He creates for you mates from among yourselves, so that you might incline towards them, and He engenderslove and compassion between you.”  (30: 21) 

They are as a garment to you as you are to them.”  (2: 187) 

Your wives are your tilth; go, then,  to your filth as you may desire, but prepare well for yourselves and fear God.” (2: 223) “Believers, ward off from yourselves and your families that fire [of the hereafter] whose fuel is human beings and stones.” (66: 6)

As for the believers whose offspring will have followed them in faith, We shall unite them with their offspring; and We shall not let aught of their deeds go to waste.” (52: 21)

 Because the two mates are two halves of  the same soul, they  stand in the same position in God’s sight. Since God has given mankind a position of honour, He has honoured women, assigning to them the same reward for their good deeds, the same rights of ownership and inheritance, and  the same rights of independence.

Similarly, as regards the great responsibility of the family, which results from the meeting of the two halves of the same soul, God has taken care to detail a complete set of elaborate measures which regulate all aspects of the family institution and all its affairs.

Together, these measures provide a complete and perfect system for the family. Their comprehensive outlook and attention to detail reflect the great importance Islam attaches to this crucial institution.

We hope that the reader may recall what we have said in earlier volumes about the length of the childhood period and the need of the human child for a caring and supporting environment until he is able to earn his living. What is even more important is that the child should receive the type of care which enables him or her to fulfil their social function in order to contribute to the betterment of human society, so as to leave it in a better state  than they receive it. All this is particularly significant in explaining the importance of the family and the great care Islam takes to ensure its protection.

With this in mind, the next verse makes it clear that the man  is in charge of the family institution, as God has given him  the necessary qualities and training to undertake this task and assigned to him the duty of meeting the family’s living expenses. It also outlines man’s additional task to protect the family against collapse as a result of fleeting whims, delineating  the way to deal with these, should they occur. It also explains other “external” measures to which recourse may be made when all “internal” efforts have failed, and a total breakdown threatens not only the spouses but also the young ones who are more vulnerable. We will now look at these measures in some detail.

The Partner in Charge

Men shall take full care of women with the bounties with which God has favoured some of them more abundantly than others,  and with what they may spend of their own wealth. (Verse 34)

We have already said that the family is  the first institution in human life in the sense that its influence is felt at every stage of human life. Moreover, it derives its importance from the fact that  it is within the family that man, the most noble of all creatures according to the Islamic concept of life, is brought up. The running and administration of much inferior institutions, such as those engaged in financial,industrial and commercial affairs is normally assigned to those who are most qualified for the job by their education, training and natural abilities. It is only logical that the same rule be applied to the family, the institution that looks after the upbringing of the noblest creature in the universe, namely, man.

The Divine code of living takes human nature into consideration, as well as the natural abilities given to both man and  woman to enable them to discharge the duties assigned to each of them. It maintains justice in the distribution of duties, giving to each of them only the type of duties to which they are suited.

Needless to say, both man and woman are the creation of God, who does not wish to do injustice to anyone He has created. Indeed, He gives each of His creatures the abilities and talents that befit the duties assigned to them.

God has created human beings as males and females, following the “dual” rule which is central to the system of creation. He has given the woman the great tasks of childbearing, breast-feeding and looking after her children. These are not tasks which can be fulfilled without careful preparation, physically, psychologically, and mentally. It is only just, therefore, that the other part, i.e. the man, should be assigned the task of providing the essential needs and the protection required for the woman to fulfil her highly important duties. She could not be given all those tasks and still be required to work in order to earn her living. It is only fair as well that the man be given the physical, mental and psychological qualities which enable him to fulfil his duties in the same way as the woman is given the abilities to fulfil hers. All this is clearly seen in real human life, because God maintains absolute justice among all.

Among the qualities the woman has been  given are tenderness, quick reaction, and an instinctive response to the needs  of children, without the need for much deliberation and reflection. The essential human need of even a single individual are not left to be deliberated upon at leisure. Response to them is made instinctively, so that they may be met more or less involuntarily. There is no external compulsion in this. It is an impulsive reaction, which the woman mostly enjoys despite the fact that it requires sacrifice from her. This is part of God’s work, which is always perfect.

These are not superficial qualities. Indeed, they are implanted in the woman’s physical, mental and psychological constitution. Some leading scientists believe that they are present in each cell in the woman’s constitution, because they are rooted in the first cell that multiplies to form the foetus and the child.

On the other hand, among the qualities a man is given are toughness, slow reaction and response, as well as proper thought and reflection before action. All his functions, from the early days of being  a hunter- gatherer, to fighting for the protection of his wife and children, to earning his living in any way, require some deliberation and consideration before taking a decision and implementing it. These qualities are also deeply rooted in man’s constitution.

Man’s qualities make him more able and better equipped to take charge of the family. Similarly, his duty to support his family, as part of that general distribution of functions, makes him more suited to overall authority. That is because earning his family’s living is part of being in charge. Moreover, looking after the finances of the family is closer to his family duties.

In highlighting these two elements, the Qur’ān states that in Islamic society men are required to look after women. It is an assignment of duties on the basis of natural abilities and the fair distribution of responsibilities. Each party is assigned the duties most suited to its nature.

The man has the proper natural abilities to take charge of the family affairs, a role essential for the proper progress of human life. It is a simple fact that one party is properly equipped for this role and assigned the duty to play it while the other is not.

Hence, it is totally unfair that the latter party should be required, in any situation, to take up these responsibilities in addition to its own. If women are given the necessary practical and scientific training to fulfil these duties, then their ability to play the other role, i.e. that of motherhood, is undermined.

These very serious questions should not be left to human beings to determine at will. When they have been left to human beings to decide, in both past and modern societies, the very existence of mankind was threatened and essential human qualities which distinguish man from other creatures were in danger of extinction.

There is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that the rules of human nature force themselves on man, even when people deny them altogether. One aspect of this is the decline in the quality of human life and the serious danger to which it is exposed whenever this rule, which gives man the task and the authority to look after the family, has been violated. Such violation leads to confusion within the family, and is bound to have serious repercussions.

Moreover, women prefer for the man to assume authority and responsibility for the family. Many women worry, feel dissatisfied and unhappy, when they live with men who relinquish their role for any reason. Even women who try to challenge the man’s role readily admit to this.

Another example of the social repercussions brought about by this unnatural family situation is one whereby children suffer from instability. This happens when the father does not play his role, either because of his weak character which allows the mother to overshadow or control him, or because of his early death or in one-parent families. This, in turn, can lead to mental perversion and behavioural deviation.

These are only a few examples through which human nature indicates its presence and the need to organise human life according to its laws.

To elaborate more on the role of the man as the one in charge of the family and its justification is beyond the scope of this commentary. What we need to state here, however, is that it does not by any means lead to the negation of the woman’s character and role in the family home and in society at large. Nor does it mean the cancellation of her civil status. It simply defines her role within the family and how it is run. This is necessary, because the family is a very important institution, and one which must be protected and maintained.  In any institution, the observance of certain values does not mean the abrogation of the character or the rights of the partners or the workers. Islam defines the role of the man and what his being in charge means, as well as his duties as the one who takes care of his family, protects it and earns its living.

In Recognition of Women’s Virtues

Men shall take full care of women with the bounties with which God has favoured some of them more abundantly than others,  and with what they may spend of their own wealth. The righteous women are devout, guarding the intimacy which God has ordained to be guarded. (Verse 34)

The verse moves on to explain the qualities of righteous women, their behaviour and duties within the family.  “The righteous women are devout, guarding the intimacy which God has ordained to be guarded”  (Verse 34) It is, then, in the nature of the righteous, believing woman and part of her essential characteristics to be devoted and obedient. Devotion means willing obedience, motivated by love, not the sort of obedience enforced against one’s will. Hence, the Qur’ān uses the term “devout”, or qānitāt to stress its pleasant psychological connotations, which fit perfectly with the sort of affectionate and compassionate relationship which exists between man and woman, the two parts of the single soul from which all mankind descend. Islam stresses that this relationship is essential in the family home where young ones are reared.

It is also part of the nature and essential characteristics of a devoted, believing woman to guard the sanctity of her relationship with her husband. This she maintains in his presence as well as in his absence. She does not reveal what belongs only to him, as one half of the single  soul which combines  both of them, even inasmuch as a passing look, let alone a  full dishonourable relationship. What is forbidden to reveal is decided neither by him nor by her. It is determined by God. It is “the intimacy which God has ordained to be guarded”. It  is not a matter of pleasing a husband or allowing what he does not mind to be revealed or what society requires to be exposed, should the husband or society deviate from the Divine code of living.

There is only one rule to determine the limits of what must be guarded. She has to guard that “which God has ordained to be guarded”.

We note that the Qur’ān does not put this in the imperative form. It places much stronger emphasis on it by saying that this guardianship is part of the nature of righteous women and one of their essential characteristics. This statement exposes the flimsiness of the excuses advanced  by some mentally defeated Muslims advocating ways and methods that are certain to lead to the collapse of the family only because these are practised in other communities. What must be guarded, willingly and obediently, is that which God has ordered to be guarded.

The ones who are not righteous are described here as rebellious. Their rebellion is given a physical description derived from standing on a high position to declare their mutiny. Islam does not wait for such a rebellion to take place, nor for the roles to become so confused that the family institution splits  into two camps. When the situation reaches that point, it is almost impossible to sort out. The treatment must be administered before the rebellion gathers momentum. Once rebellion establishes its roots, the family home is deprived of  the peace and affection necessary for the upbringing of children. The whole setup collapses and the young become the victims divided between the two parents or brought up in an atmosphere which makes the family home a fertile place for psychological, mental and physical disorders to multiply and a suitable place for perversion to establish itself.

It is, then, a very serious matter. Gradual treatment must be administered when the early signs of rebellion become apparent. In order to preserve the family and protect it from destruction, the one who is placed in charge is allowed to take some disciplinary steps that are often effective. He does not take them as retaliatory measures or to humiliate or torture his  partner, but to achieve reconciliation and preserve the family in the very early stages of dispute.

When Family Life Is Endangered

As for those women from whom you have  reason to fear rebellion, admonish them [first]; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them. Then, if they pay you heed, do not seek any pretext to harm them. God is indeed Most High, Great. (Verse 34)

Before we consider these measures and  how they progress from one stage to another, we need to remember what we have already said about the honour God gives to both men and women, giving  women their rights for which they are qualified by being human. We should also remember that a Muslim woman retains her independent civil status. The fact that  the man is placed in charge of the family does not deprive the woman of her right to choose her partner and to administer her personal and financial affairs. This, as also the great importance Islam attaches to the family, helps us to understand clearly why these disciplinary measures have been allowed and the nature of their application.

They are indeed pre-emptive measures aimed at achieving an early reconciliation when rebellion is feared. There is no question of trying to aggravate the situation or increase hatred. There is no battle between the man and the woman. These measures are not aimed at knocking the woman on  the head when she begins to rebel and confining her again to her prison cell. No such thoughts are ever condoned by Islam.

They might have crept into the traditions of certain societies at certain stages. Such measures, however, are an indication that mankind, not merely one sex, have sunk to a very low depth. In Islam the situation is widely different in form, substance and aim.

As for those women from whom you have reason to fear rebellion, admonish them (first).” (Verse 34)

Admonition, then, is the first stage. It is a responsibility of the one who is in charge of the family to admonish against untoward tendencies. Such admonition is required in a variety of situations: “Believers, ward off from yourselves and your families that fire [of the hereafter] whose fuel is human beings and stones.” (66: 6) In this particular instance, admonition has a definite aim, which is to treat the symptoms of rebellion before it develops and takes root.

In some cases, admonition may not bring about the desired results. This is possibly because of strongly held views, uncontrolled reactions, too much consciousness of one’s beauty, wealth, family position or the like. Any of these reasons may make a wife forget that she is a partner in an institution, not an adversary in a contest. At this stage the  second measure is employed, which is in effect a gesture of dignity, stressing that everything in which a certain woman takes pride, such as beauty or wealth, to stress her superiority does not count for much with him:

“ Then leave them alone in bed.” (Verse 34)

It is in bed that a woman’s temptation is most effective. A rebellious, self-conscious woman exercises her true power. When a man is able to overcome this temptation, he deprives the woman of her most effective weapon. In the majority of cases, a woman becomes more ready to give way when the man demonstrates a good measure of will-power in the most difficult of situations. There are, however, certain rules that apply as to how this measure is taken. It is confined to the room where the couple is alone. It should not be taken in  front of the children, this so that they are not adversely affected by it. Nor can it be exercised in front of strangers, because it becomes very humiliating for the woman who may, consequently, be hardened in her rebellion. This is a measure which aims at dealing with rebellion, and does not aim to humiliate the wife or to bring about a bad influence on the children.

Nevertheless, this measure may not be effective in certain cases. Are we, then, to leave the family institution to collapse? There is another measure, admittedly more severe, but it may protect the family:

“Then beat them.” (Verse 34)

When we remember the aim behind all these measures, we realise that this beating is not a form of torture motivated by seeking revenge or humiliating an opponent. Nor is it aimed at forcing the wife to accept life under all unsatisfactory conditions. It is rather a disciplinary measure akin to the punishment a father or a teacher may impose on wayward children. Needless to say, there is no question of any of these measures being resorted to in the case of a healthy relationship between a man and his wife. They are preventive measures taken in an unhealthy situation in order to protect the family against collapse.

When neither admonition nor banishment from one’s bed is effective, the situation may need a different type of remedy. Practical and psychological indications suggest that in certain situations this measure  may be the appropriate one to remedy a certain perversion and to bring about satisfaction. Even when such a pathological perversion exists, a woman may not sufficiently feel the man’s strength for her to accept his authority within the family, at least not unless he overcomes her physically. This is by no means applicable to all women. What we are saying is that such women do exist and that Islam considers this measure a last resort used necessarily to safeguard the family. We have to remember here that these measures are stipulated by the Creator, who knows His creation. No counter argument is valid against what the One who knows all and is aware of all things says. Indeed to stand against what God legislates may lead to a rejection of the faith altogether. What we  have to understand is that God has laid down these measures within a context that describes, in absolute clarity, their nature and aim and the intention behind them.

Hence, mistaken concepts developing in periods of ignorance cannot be ascribed to Islam. In such periods, a man may become a jailer and a woman a slave under the pretext of following religious teachings.  It may also happen that the man and the woman may exchange roles or that both of them are transformed into a third sex which is midway between man and woman claiming that this is the result of a new understanding of religious teachings. All such situations are not difficult to distinguish from the true sense and proper guidance of Islam.

These disciplinary measures have been approved of in order to deal with early signs of rebellion and before attitudes are hardened. At the same time, they are accompanied by stern warnings against misuse.

The practical example given by the Prophet in his treatment of his own family and his verbal teachings and directives serve  as a restraint against going to excess in either direction.

The Prophet answers Mu`āwiyah ibn Ĥaydah, who asked him what rights a wife may claim against her husband, by saying:

To provide her with food when you eat, and with clothes when you dress. You are not allowed to slap her on her face, insult her or banish her from your bed anywhere except at home.” (Related by al-Tirmidhī, Abū Dāwūd, al-Nasā’ī and Ibn Mājah.)

The Prophet is reported to have given this general directive: “ Do not beat up the women servants of God.” `Umar later went to the Prophet and said that many women had become rebellious. The Prophet then allowed that they be beaten. Many women then came to the Prophet with  complaints against their husbands. The Prophet addressed his Companions saying: “Many women have called at Muĥammad’s home complaining against their husbands. Certainly these men are not the best among you.” (Related by Abū Dāwūd, al- Nasā’ī and Ibn Mājah.)

The Prophet portrays this horrid picture of a man who beats up his wife: “Do not beat your wife like you beat your camel, for you will he flogging her early in the day and taking her to bed at night.” He also says:

The best among you are those who are best to their family, and I am the best of you to my family.” (Related by al-Tirmidhīand al- Ţabarānī.)

Taken in their proper context, these reports and directives give us a good idea of the conflict that existed in the early days of Islam between old habits inherited from the days of ignorance and Islamic directives. The same sort of conflict also took place in all other spheres before the new Islamic order managed finally to impress its values on human conscience.

God has, however, defined a limit when  such measures must stop. Once the objective is reached with any one of these measures, then recourse to them is over:  “Then, if they pay you heed, do not seek any pretext to harm them. God is indeed Most High, Great.” (Verse 34)

The aim is, thus, stated clearly: it is  obedience based on positive response, not forced obedience. This latter type of obedience is not suited to the establishment of a healthy family. Moreover, the Qur’ānic verse states clearly that to continue to resort to any of these measures after the goal of obedience is achieved takes the husband beyond his allowed limits:  “Do not seek any pretext to harm them.”  (Verse 34) This prohibition is followed by a reminder of the greatness of God so that people submit to His directives and repress any feeling of might or arrogance which they may

entertain. This fits with the Qur’ānic method of combining temptation with warning:

God is indeed Most High, Great.”

Last Resort to Save Troubled Marriages . All the measures so discussed apply in  a situation where rebellion has not yet taken place. These measures are meant to deal with its early signs. When rebellion is brought out into the open, these measures are useless. At that stage there is a war between two hostile parties, each of them going out to smash the other. Similarly, these measures should not be used if it is felt that they will be ineffective or even  counterproductive. In all such situations, Islam recommends a different process of saving this great institution, the family, from collapse:

If you have reason to fear that a breach may occur between a (married) couple, appoint an arbiter from among his people and an arbiter from among her people. If they both want to set things aright, God will bring about their reconciliation. God is indeed All-Knowing, Aware of all things.” (Verse 35)

The Islamic method, then, does not favour an early split when signs of rebellion and hostility begin to appear. Nor does it approve that this institution be left to collapse over the heads of its other members who may be caught in a situation over which they have no control. This institution is very dear to Islam because it supplies the society with its new members whom it needs for its continued development and progress. Islam recommends that this last measure be resorted to when a breach is feared, not after it takes place. An arbiter from each of the two families of the husband and the wife meet in a friendly atmosphere, away from the influences which have caused the relationship between the husband and the wife to be strained and free from all the complications which overshadow the constructive elements in the life of the family. These arbiters must be keen to protect the reputation of both families. They care for the welfare of the children. Neither of them may entertain thoughts of forcing a submission by the other party. They must try to achieve what is best for the husband, the wife and their children.

They must also keep the family secrets because they belong to the two immediately concerned families. Neither of them has an interest in publicising these secrets. Indeed, it is in their interest to keep them secret, unknown to other people.The arbiters meet in order to try to achieve reconciliation. If the man and his wife truly desire such a reconciliation, but are  only prevented from doing so by strong feelings of anger, then a serious effort by the arbiters will he successful, with God’s help:  “If they both want to set things aright, God will bring about  their reconciliation.”

(Verse 35) Their own desire to bring about reconciliation is endorsed by God, who responds favourably to their serious wish. This is the relationship between people’s efforts and God’s will. It is indeed by God’s will that events take place in people’s lives. People, however, are free to try and exert efforts. The end result is decided by

God on the basis of His knowledge of people’s inner secrets and His awareness of what is best for them: “God is indeed All-Knowing, Aware of all things.” (Verse 35)

Having studied this passage, we have now  a good idea of the seriousness with which Islam views the relationship between man and woman and the institution of the family and the social ties that are established through the family. We can see how Islam has taken care to organise this highly important aspect of human life in order to elevate mankind to the high standard achievable only by the implementation of Divine guidance. That is indeed the only true and right guidance.

Imam Sayed Kutb.

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