The New World Order
by Maulana Muhammad Ali
Chapter 3: The Home
A right solution of the sex problem is as essential for a well-built social order as that of the economic question. The home is the unit of human society. The sum total of human happiness under ordinary circumstances is determined by the happiness which prevails in the home, and the stability of the home is an index of the stability of society and of its civilisation. As the male and the female together make a home, it is on a right understanding of their position and relations that the happiness and stability of the home depends.
Humanity has taken a very long time to understand the true position of woman. For long ages, she was looked upon as a slave, as the property of her husband, not as his equal. A person was one who could own property but a woman could not own any property or carry on any transaction in her own name, and she was not therefore a person in the real sense of the word. She had very few rights as a daughter, as a wife, even as a mother. As a daughter, she was the property of her father; as a wife, that of her husband. Half the human race—the very half that was responsible for bringing up the human race—was relegated to the position of slavery. If woman was thus deprived even of the material benefits of life, how could she be deemed fit to receive spiritual benefits? Marriage itself was considered to be a hindrance in the spiritual progress of man even by Christianity.
With the slackening of the hold of Christianity, and the advancement of material civilisation, woman started a fight for her rights, and in this she has been successful to some extent. But along with this gain in the temporal field, there has been a set-back so far as the happiness and stability of home-life are concerned. Materialism weakened the controlling force of religion and led to loose ideas about the relationship between the sexes. The result is that Europe is leaning more and more to “free love,” and marriage is discarded, not on account of any inherent defect in it, but because it entails certain responsibilities on the two partners who are required to build up the home. The materialistic outlook on life makes a man selfish, and while he runs after every enjoyment, he shirks the serious responsibilities of life, so that he may be able to lead a carefree life. But life has its cares and sorrows as well as its pleasures, and marriage, while strengthening the ties of the mutual love between the male and the female, thereby increasing their happiness, requires them to share each other’s cares and sorrows as well. “Free love” makes each of the mates selfish in the extreme, because while the male and the female become each other’s partners in pleasure, each is free to leave the other uncared for in his or her sorrow.
The social system of Islam brought about a revolution in stabilising the relations between the two sexes. It started with the strengthening of the foundations by recognising woman as a free person who had the legal right to own property and to dispose it of as she liked. In this regard, she was the equal of man in all respects. She was no more the property of the male but his partner and his equal having the same rights to earn and own property as the male. The foundation was thus laid of removing the bondage of half the human race. From being a property woman became a person whose status was not in any way inferior to that of man. She could earn money; she could do any work which she liked and she was entitled to the fruit of her labour just as man was. This revolution regarding the position of woman was brought about thirteen hundred years ago, in the following words:
“Men shall have the benefit of what they earn and women shall have the benefit of what they earn” (The Holy Quran, 4:32).
Woman could thus earn and own property just as man could. The social system of Islam recognised no difference between the two sexes in this respect. She could buy or sell as a man could; she could even give it as a free gift to anyone she liked:
“But if they (the women) of themselves be pleased to give to you a portion thereof, consume it with enjoyment and pleasure” (The Holy Quran, 4:4).
Islam, however, did not stop at this reform which was in itself a marvel. It also made woman inherit property just like the male. The Arabs had a very strong tradition that only he could inherit who was able to defend the tribe against the onslaughts of an enemy, a work for which nature had not designed woman. The principle, however, with which Islam started equality of the status of woman with that of man was worked out in all details of life. If she could earn and own property, if she could dispose it of as she liked, she could not be deprived of inheriting property, and the general rule is thus laid down:
“For man is a share of what the parents and the near relatives leave, and for women a share of what the parents and the near relatives leave” (The Holy Quran, 4:7).
Such was the change brought about by the social system of Islam in the temporal position of woman. The same principle was applied in the spiritual domain; woman was on a par with man spiritually too:
“I (God) will not suffer the work of any worker among you to be lost whether male or female, the one of you being from the other (The Holy Quran, 3:194).
“And whoever does good, whether male or female, and he (or she) is a believer, these shall enter the Garden” (The Holy Quran, 40:40).
“Whoever does good, whether male or female, and he (or she) is a believer, We shall certainly give them their reward for the best of what they did” (The Holy Quran, 16:97).
The Holy Quran speaks of women even receiving Divine revelation, God’s greatest gift to man (The Holy Quran, 3:41; 28:7). Hence marriage, according to Islam, is not a hindrance in the spiritual progress of man; it is rather a help, a means leading to the development of the spiritual faculties of man. God created mates that they may find
“quiet of mind”
in each other (The Holy Quran, 30:21);
“The women are an apparel for you and you are an apparel for them” (The Holy Quran, 2:187).
Mutual love between husband and wife—a love based not on momentary passion but on a life-long connection—and the consequent parental love for the offspring—leads to a very high development of the feeling of love of man for man as such, and this in its turn leads to the disinterested service of humanity. The natural inclination of the male to the female and of the female to the male finds expression through marriage, and is developed, first, into a love for the children, then into a love for one’s kith and kin, and ultimately into a disinterested love for the whole of humanity. The home is in fact the first training ground of love and service. Here a man finds real pleasure in suffering for the sake of others, and the sense of service is then gradually developed and broadened.
Marriage is thus regarded by Islam as a means to the moral uplift of man, a means for the development of those feelings of love and service which are the pride of humanity today. Hence, according to the social code of Islam, marriage is the normal condition in which every man and woman ought to live. The Holy Quran enjoins upon all its followers to live in a married state:
“And marry those among you who are single” (The Holy Quran, 24:32).
The Holy Prophet is reported to have said to certain young men, on noticing monkish inclinations in them:
“I am married; whoever inclines to any way other than my way, is not of me” (Sahih Bukhari, 67:1).
And on another occasion:
“O assembly of young people! whoever of you has the means to support a wife, he should get married, for this is the best means of keeping the looks cast down and guarding chastity” (Sahih Bukhari, 67:2).
According to another of his sayings,
“The man who marries perfects half his religion.”
According to the Islamic social system, marriage is a contract (The Holy Quran, 4:21), and it is entered into by mutual consent expressed by the two parties, the man and the woman, in the presence of witnesses. This again shows that the male and the female in the Islamic home are two partners standing on the same level and having both their rights and obligations. Being, however, the basis on which human society is built, the marriage contract is not like an ordinary contract. It is necessary that publicity should be given to it. The one fact that distinguishes marriage from fornication is its publicity (The Holy Quran, 4:24; 5:5). Every contract of marriage must be made publicly known, even with the beat of drums, and it must be made in a public place:
“Make public this marriage and perform it in the mosques and beat drums for it” (Mishkat al-Masabih, 13:4).
In addition to its publicity, the marriage contract is given a sacred character by the delivery of a sermon, before the announcement of marriage is made. In the sermon, certain verses of the Holy Quran (3:111; 4:1; 33:70, 71) are recited. These verses call attention to the one great need of life, its central fact; that there is a God above to Whom both the male and the female are responsible. The contract, therefore, must not be taken lightly. Every right which the parties have, and every obligation which they owe to each other, is a duty imposed by God, Whose Law is the greatest of all the laws. A dowry is also settled on the woman at the time of the marriage. The settling of a dowry which amounts to making her owner of some property shows that on accepting her position as wife, the woman, instead of losing any of her rights as an individual, acquires a full and independent status as a person.
The individuality of the wife is not merged into that of her husband in the social system of Islam. While she loses none of her rights which she possesses as an individual member of society, her new life brings with it new responsibilities which carry with them new rights:
“They (the wives) have rights similar to their obligations in a just manner” (The Holy Quran, 2:228).
The broad rule is laid down in the Hadith:
“Everyone of you is a ruler and everyone shall be questioned about those entrusted to his care; the king is a ruler, and the man is a ruler over the people of his house, and the woman is a ruler over the house of her husband and his children” (Sahih Bukhari, 67:91).
The home is a unit in the greater organisation of a nation, and just as in the vaster national organisation, there must be somebody to exercise the final authority, the smaller organisation of the home needs a similar arrangement. The husband is first spoken of as being
“a ruler over the people of his house,”
and the wife is then described as
“a ruler over the house of her husband and his children.”
The home is thus a State in miniature, where authority is exercised by both the husband and the wife. But unless one of them is given a higher authority, there would be chaos in this kingdom. The reason for giving the higher authority to the husband is thus stated in the Holy Quran:
“Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property” (The Holy Quran, 4:34).
The husband provides maintenance for the wife and has the final charge of the affairs of the home, thus exercising authority over the wife when there is need for it. It is the man who can be entrusted with the maintenance of the family, and therefore it is he who must hold the higher authority.
The functions of the husband and the wife are quite distinct, and each is entrusted with the functions which are best suited for his or her nature. Man excels woman in physique and constitution; he is capable of bearing greater hardships and facing greater dangers. On the other hand, woman excels man in the qualities of love and affection. Nature, for her own purpose of helping the growth of creation, has endowed the female among mankind as well as the lower animals, with the quality of love to a much higher degree than the male. Hence there is a natural division as between man and woman of the main work which is to be carried on for the good and progress of humanity. Man is suited to face the hard struggles of life on account of his stronger physique; woman is suited to bring up children because of the preponderance of the quality of love in her. The duty of the maintenance of the family has, therefore, been entrusted to man, and the duty of bringing up the children to woman. And each is vested with the authority suited to the function with which he or she is entrusted.
This division of work is only the general rule; it does not mean that woman has entirely been excluded from other kinds of activity. Notwithstanding her rightful position in the home, as the manager of the household and the upbringer of children, woman took interest in all the national activities of the Muslim community. The care of the children did not prevent her from repairing to the mosque to join the congregational prayer (Sahih Bukhari, 10:162); nor was this care an obstacle in her way to join the soldiers in the field of battle to perform a large number of duties, such as the carrying of provisions (Sahih Bukhari, 56:66), taking care of the sick and the wounded (Sahih Bukhari, 56:67), removing the wounded and the slain from the battlefield (Sahih Bukhari, 56:68), etc. She could do any work she liked. Women helped their husbands in the labour of the field (Sahih Bukhari, 67:108); they could carry on business (Sahih Bukhari, 11:40); they could sell to and purchase from men, and men could sell to and purchase from them (Sahih Bukhari, 34:67). Similarly, men would help their wives in the household work.
Great stress is laid on good and kindly treatment towards the wife in the Islamic social order.
“Keep them in good fellowship,”
“Treat them kindly”
are the oft-recurring orders (The Holy Quran, 2:229, 231; 4:19). Kindness to the wife is recommended even when a man dislikes her, for
“it may be that you dislike a thing while Allah has placed abundant good in it” (The Holy Quran, 4:19).
The Hadith lays equally great stress upon good treatment of the wife. There is a most famous saying of the Holy Prophet:
“The most excellent of you is he who is best in his treatment of his wife” (Mishkat al-Masabih, 13:11).
In his famous address at the Farewell Pilgrimage, he again laid stress on the good treatment of women:
“O my people! you have certain rights over your wives and so have your wives over you. They are the trust of Allah in your hands. So you must treat them with all kindness” (Sahih Muslim, 15:19).
Though marriage, according to Islam, is only a social contract, yet the rights and responsibilities consequent upon it are of such importance to the welfare of humanity that a high degree of sanctity is attached to it. But in spite of the sacredness of its character, Islam recognises the necessity, in exceptional circumstances, of keeping the way open for the dissolution of the marriage tie. Before Islam, people went generally to one or the other extreme in the matter of divorce. According to the Hindu law, marriage once performed can never be dissolved. The right of divorce, according to the Jewish law, belongs to the husband who can exercise it at his will. The Christian law recognises the right of divorce only when there is faithlessness on the part of either of the parties, but the divorced parties are precluded from marrying again. Islam adopts a middle course among all these extremes. It allows divorce but considers it a hateful thing; it requires the exploration of all possible ways of reconciliation; and, while recognising the wife’s right to divorce for any sufficient reason, restricts the husband’s right to it.
The principle underlying divorce, according to the Holy Quran, is the decision no longer to live together as husband and wife. In fact, marriage itself is an agreement to live together as husband and wife, and therefore when either of the parties finds itself unable to agree to such a life, divorce must follow. The Muslim mentality in this matter is, however, one of hatred for getting a divorce:
“With Allah the most detestable of all things permitted is divorce” (Abu Dawood, 13:3).
When one of the couple feels that he or she cannot pull on with the other, he or she is told to bear in mind that
“it may be that you dislike a thing while Allah has placed abundant good in it” (The Holy Quran, 4:19).
Remedies are also suggested to avoid divorce so long as possible:
“And if you fear a breach between the two, appoint a judge from his people and a judge from her people; if they both desire agreement, Allah will effect harmony between them” (The Holy Quran, 4:35).
It is due to such teachings that the mentality of a Muslim is to face the difficulties of married life along with its comforts, and to avoid disruption of marital relations so long as possible, turning to divorce only as the last resort. Hence, in spite of the facility with which divorce may be effected, there being no need to go to the court in most cases, its incidence is much smaller among Muslims as compared with Christian countries, where the binding force of the social laws of Islam does not exist, and where therefore the percentage of divorces is very great.
Another distinguishing characteristic of the Islamic social order is that it places the highest value on chastity. To guard the chastity of women it has adopted certain measures which have been misunderstood by the critics of Islam. A cursory glance at the different societies of the world would show that so far as sexual morality is concerned, the Islamic society stands on a very high level. Prostitution which is so rampant in Western countries, and which in India is associated even with religious life, is almost unknown to Muslim countries. It prevailed in Arabia before the advent of Islam, but Islam eradicated it so thoroughly that it has not taken root anywhere in Muslim society. The prevalence of this evil is due, among other reasons, such as uncurbed sexual lust and a low moral standard in sexual matters, to the excess of women over men in most countries, a fact which census figures have now made only too clear. The number of women in almost all European countries is much in excess of men and the terrible wars which seem to have become now a part of the normal life of Europe are further increasing that number. How is that excess number of women to be dealt with, is a question for the moralists of Europe. Nature will have its course, and if no measures are adopted in time, the growing evil of prostitution, already a blot on the fair name of the womanhood of Europe, will bring down the very foundations of European society.
Islam was faced with a similar situation in its early history. The wars with the non-Muslim Arab population, which were forced on Muslims because of the determination of their opponents to destroy Islam, reduced the number of the males to a very large extent, and many homes were filled with widows and orphans. Islam foresaw the evil result in all its clearness. An arrangement could be easily made to supply the destitute with bread, but the nature made by God could not be changed, and sexual appetite was as certain a reality as physical appetite. It was under these conditions that Islam allowed a limited polygamy. The verse which permits polygamy clearly refers to these circumstances. It opens with the words:
“If you fear that you cannot act equitably towards (widows and) orphans1 marry such women as seem good to you” (The Holy Quran, 4:3).
Polygamy was permitted not because men wanted more wives than one, but because widows and orphans were left unprotected and it was necessary to provide homes for them. Islam aimed at the building up of character in the first instance, and it could not be satisfied with the sympathetic materialist’s solution of giving bread to woman without caring for her soul, without providing a home for her, without making arrangements for guarding her chastity, without giving her the means by which she could attain to her perfection as a woman. The materialist’s solution is easy, but it is a solution relating only to her body; he would not care for her chastity or for her soul; he would not care even if she has to sell her chastity for a few shillings, sometimes even to support her body. This is not an exaggeration; this is what is actually happening in every great centre of the materialistic civilisation, where woman is sometimes forced to sell her chastity for food or for shelter.
Such a solution was repugnant to Islam. Its concern was the soul in the first instance; it placed a high value upon the chastity of woman and it had to provide a means to guard it first. So, the Holy Prophet under Divine guidance allowed a limited polygamy, which prophets before him had also allowed. Other arrangements could be made for the maintenance of widows, but home-life could not be given to them in any other manner, and home-life is the real source whence spring all those good qualities of love and affection which are the greatest assets of social life and civilisation. Islam bases its civilisation on home-life, and under exceptional circumstances, where monogamy fails to provide homes to women, it allows a limited polygamy to extend to them that advantage. Even if it be half a home that a woman finds in a polygamous family, it is better than no home at all. And what does this ‘no home’ mean? Not only that woman has no shelter; not only that she is deprived of an occasion to develop her God-given faculties of love and affection; it also means in most cases a moral depravity which is the greatest danger to civilisation. Monogamy is undoubtedly the right rule of life under normal conditions, but when abnormal conditions are brought about by the excess of females over males, monogamy fails, and it is only through a limited polygamy that this difficulty can be solved. Europe is today confronted with that question independently of war, and war which must always be a source of decrease in the number of the males, bringing about a corresponding increase in the number of women, only aggravates its seriousness. Professions may be opened for woman to enable her to earn bread, and Islam never closed the door of any profession against woman. But the crux of the question is not the provision of bread but the provision of a home. It must be clearly understood that polygamy in Islam is, both in theory and practice, an exception, and as an exception it is a remedy for many of the evils of modern civilisation. Even if Europe considers it to be an evil: let it ponder which is the greater evil—a limited polygamy or an unlimited prostitution and moral degeneration.
In another way, too, Islam aims at raising the moral status of society and to minimise chances of illicit sexual relations growing up between the sexes, so that the home may be a haven of peace for the husband, the wife and the children. This is effected by a division of work, woman being concerned more with the management of the house and the upbringing of the children, and man with their maintenance. The division reduces to the minimum the chances of the intermingling of the two sexes. It does not mean that woman shall not go out of her house; she has full liberty to go out for her needs (Sahih Bukhari, 65:33:8).
The division of work not only improves the quality of work; it also improves the moral tone of society. Another measure to gain this end is the stress laid upon the privacy of home-life. Going into houses without permission is strictly forbidden (The Holy Quran, 24:27), and may be avoided so long as the necessary work can be done without interfering with the privacy of women (The Holy Quran, 33:53).
The third measure to achieve this end is that the women should be properly dressed when appearing on public occasions, or when otherwise intermingling of the sexes becomes necessary. Their proper dress is that the whole body should be covered with the exception of the face and hands (The Holy Quran, 24:30, 31; Abu Dawood, 31:30). They are forbidden when going out of their houses and appearing in public to make a display of their finery (The Holy Quran, 33:33), or to uncover parts of the body which excite the sensual passions of the opposite sex (The Holy Quran, 24:31). As a further precaution both sexes are required to behave modestly and to develop the habit of keeping their looks cast down in the presence of each other:
“Say to the believing men that they lower their gaze and restrain their sexual passions. That is purer for them. And say to the believing women that they lower their gaze and restrain their sexual passions and do not display their adornment except what appears thereof. And let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms” (The Holy Quran, 24:30, 31).
With these precautions, women have every liberty to go anywhere they like and to do any work that they like. It should be clearly understood that the veil was only a mark of rank; there is no injunction in the Holy Quran or the Hadith requiring women to wear a veil. On the other hand, it is an admitted fact that women joined the prayer service daily in mosques without wearing a veil, while in the pilgrimage they were actually forbidden to wear a veil.
- Yatama is the plural of yatim which means, in the case of children one who has lost his father, and in the case of women, one who has lost her husband. Even if the word yatama meant only children who had lost their male parents, the context shows that the widows or the mothers of the orphans are included here. ↩