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Islam's response to contemporary world problems (21)

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Equal rights for women

One hears all the time about women's freedom and women's rights etc. Islam expounds a broad fundamental principle that covers all situations:

وَلَہُنَّ مِثۡلُ الَّذِیۡ عَلَیۡہِنَّ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ ۪ وَلِلرِّجَالِ عَلَیۡہِنَّ دَرَجَۃٌ ؕ وَاللّٰہُ عَزِیۡزٌ حَکِیۡمٌ 

"...And they (women) have similar and equal rights to them (men) in justice; that is to say, women have exactly the same rights over men as men have over women. There is, therefore, complete equality and no difference as far as the fundamental human rights of women and men are concerned. But men have a degree of advantage over women. And Al'lah is Mighty and Wise". (Ch. 2: Al-Baqarah: 229)

Elsewhere in a verse of the Holy Quran, it is stated:

اَلرِّجَالُ قَوّٰمُوۡنَ عَلَی النِّسَآءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللّٰہُ بَعۡضَہُمۡ عَلٰی بَعۡضٍ وَّبِمَاۤ اَنۡفَقُوۡا مِنۡ اَمۡوَالِہِمۡ

"Men have been appointed protectors of women because of that by which Al'lah has made some of them to excel others and in spite of the fact that they spend of their goods..." (C. 4: Al-Nisa:35).

From the Arabic word QAWWAMUN (protectors, responsible for keeping those they guard on the straight path), some medieval-minded Ulema (doctors of religion) deduce and assert the superiority of men over women, when the verse only refers to the advantage the breadwinner has over his dependents. As such, the protector is more qualified to exert moral pressure on his wards to stay on the straight path. As far as fundamental human rights are concerned, there is no mention of women being different from men or of men having superiority over women. The last part of the verse refers to the advantage mentioned above and makes it manifestly clear that, despite this advantage, the fundamental rights of women are exactly the same as those of men. The Arabic letters WA are to be translated as "despite the fact that" or "whereas" and, in this context, this seems to be the only correct translation.

Polygamy

It is common in the West to confront a speaker on Islam with the question: does Islam allow one to marry four times and keep four wives simultaneously? It is a recurring question.
Often it is a lady who stands up and, after due apologies, innocently asks whether it is true that Islam allows four wives or not. Obviously, everyone knows the answer. However, this is perhaps the only aspect of Islam that is so widely known in the West. The other widely known aspect is that of terrorism, when terrorism has nothing to do with Islam.  

What kind of equality between men and women does Islam propose, when a man is allowed to have four wives and a woman can only have one husband? It is the same question rephrased with the purpose, in my view, of erasing any good impression about Islam that the speaker might have created. In less formal gatherings, where politeness and courtesy are not respected, the same question takes on the tone of a mockery rather than a simple question.

This Islamic provision of marrying more than once is not a general precept, but there are specific situations in which it is necessary to preserve, on the one hand, the health of society and, on the other hand, the rights of women, in which this provision becomes applicable.

The Holy Quran is a logical book. As such, it cannot have instructed Muslims to achieve the impossible. God has created men and women in virtually equal numbers, with minor differences here and there. How could a rational religion like Islam, which insistently repeats that there is no inconsistency between the Word and Work of God, preach something so patently unnatural and unreal, which, if put into practice, would create grave situations of imbalance and insurmountable difficulties and frustrations? Imagine a small country with a million men of marriageable age and about the same number of women. If this provision were carried out to the letter by all, then at best 250,000 men would marry the million women leaving 750,000 men without wives.
However, of all the world's religions, Islam stands out in its insistence on the marriage of every man and woman. The Holy Quran describes that the relationship between husband and wife is by nature based on love and provides a source of peace for both of them.

وَالۡمُحۡصَنٰتُ مِنَ الۡمُؤۡمِنٰتِ وَالۡمُحۡصَنٰتُ مِنَ الَّذِیۡنَ اُوۡتُوا الۡکِتٰبَ مِنۡ قَبۡلِکُمۡ اِذَاۤ اٰتَیۡتُمُوۡہُنَّ اُجُوۡرَہُنَّ مُحۡصِنِیۡنَ غَیۡرَ مُسٰفِحِیۡنَ وَلَا مُتَّخِذِیۡۤ اَخۡدَانٍ

"And the chaste believing women and the chaste women of those who received the Book before you are permitted to you, if you give them their dowries, by entering into a valid marriage, not committing fornication and not having secret lovers...". (Q. 5: Al-Maida: 6)

At the same time, The Holy Quran rejects celibacy stating that it is a man-made institution (Q. 57:28). There is nothing to be gained by living apart from the rest of the world or by punishing oneself by depriving oneself of natural desires. The institution of marriage is well defined in Islam, although we cannot go into discussing the various requirements of choice of spouses, the remedies available and the regulation of divorce etc.

Coming back to polygamy, it is evident from the study of the Holy Quran which discusses the issue of polygamy, that it deals with it in the context of a special situation: in the post-war period. This is a period when society is left with a large number of orphans and young widows and the balance between the male and female population is severely disturbed. Such a situation occurred in Germany after World War II. As Islam was not the majority religion in Germany, Germany was left with no solution to the problem. The strictly monogamous teachings of Christianity could not offer any relief. Consequently, the people of Germany had to suffer the consequence of these imbalances. There remained a large number of virgins, discouraged unmarried women and young widows for whom marriage was impossible.

Germany was not the only country on the vast European continent to experience such social problems of gigantic and extremely dangerous proportions. It was too great a challenge for Western society after the war to stem the tide and control the growing moral degradation and promiscuity that so naturally and exuberantly grew out of these prevailing imbalances.
As can be clearly seen by any unprejudiced person, the only answer to such problematic disturbances is to allow men to marry more than once. This is not proposed as a solution to satiate their sensual desires but as a response to the genuine demands of a large number of women. If this logical and realistic solution is rejected, the only alternative left to society is to degenerate rapidly into an increasingly corrupt and permissive position.

This is certainly the option that the West seems to have chosen.

If we take a more realistic and unemotional look at the two attitudes, we cannot fail to realise that it is not a question of equality between men and women but simply a choice between responsibility and irresponsibility.

Islam only permits marriage more than once on the condition that the man accepts the challenge of such a difficulty and all the specific situations with full responsibility and sharing it with full justice and equality with the second, third or fourth wife.

وَاِنۡ خِفۡتُمۡ اَلَّا تُقۡسِطُوۡا فِی الۡیَتٰمٰی فَانۡکِحُوۡا مَا طَابَ لَکُمۡ مِّنَ النِّسَآءِ مَثۡنٰی وَثُلٰثَ وَرُبٰعَ ۚ فَاِنۡ خِفۡتُمۡ اَلَّا تَعۡدِلُوۡا فَوَاحِدَۃً اَوۡ مَا مَلَکَتۡ اَیۡمَانُکُمۡ ؕ ذٰلِکَ اَدۡنٰۤی اَلَّا تَعُوۡلُوۡا

"If you fear that you cannot maintain equity with the orphans, then marry other women who agree, two, three or four; but if you fear that you cannot maintain equity and equality among them, then marry only one, or those over whom you have authority. This is the surest way for you to avoid injustice". (C.4: Al-Nisa: 4)

The alternative is more dangerous. Too many women left without husbands cannot be blamed for trying to seduce and attract married men in societies that are not deeply religious. Women are obviously human beings and possess unfulfilled emotions and desires. While the psychological traumas of war increase the need to find someone to turn to, a life without the security of marriage and home, without a life partner or hope of children, is an empty one. The future is as black and bleak as the present.

If such women are not lawfully indulged and assimilated on the principle of making mutual concessions, havoc may be wreaked on the peace of society. In any case, they would unlawfully share the husbands of married women. The result would be absurd. Loyalties would splinter. Women would begin to lose confidence in their husbands. Suspicions would grow. The growing lack of mutual trust between husband and wife would destroy the foundations of many homes. For unfaithful men, living with the feeling of crime and guilt would give rise to psychological complexes and the propensity for new crimes. The noble concept of love and loyalty would be the first victims. The romantic would lose its sublimity and descend into the commonplace, transient infatuation.

(lpbD) - God's peace and blessings be upon him.

(To be continued in the next instalment, number 22.)