Status of Women in Islam (3)
1. Purpose of Marriage
The purpose of marriage was defined by the Prophet in clear unambiguous words. It was never meant to be a means of satisfying sensual appetite; but on the other hand, it was instituted, primarily, as a safeguard against lewdness and self-control, and secondly, as a means of procreation. It is on these and similar grounds, that he always encouraged a married life in preference to a life of celibacy, and laid so much stress on piety and fruitfulness of women. “Whoever marries a woman solely for her power and position,” said the Prophet “God but increases his humiliation; whoever marries a woman solely for her wealth, God but increases his poverty; whoever marries a woman solely for her beauty. God but increases his ugliness; but whoever marries a woman, in order that he may restrain his eyes, observe continence, and treat his relations kindly, God puts a blessedness in her for him, and in him for her.” [Al-Tabarani]
Thus piety and chastity are uppermost in the conception of Islam, as the prime motive of marriage. This is clear enough in another saying of the Prophet. “There are three persons,” said he, “whom the Almighty Himself as undertaken to help–first, he who seeks to buy his freedom’ second, he who marries with a view to secure his chastity; and third, he who fights in the cause of God”. [At-Tirmidhi]
Another saying of the Prophet is equally clear on this point: “He, who marries, completes half his religion: it now rests with him to complete the other half by leading a virtuous life in constant fear of God”. [Al-Tirmidhi 3096] That Islam viewed marriage as means of procreation, and not for gratification of sensual desires, is clear from a short saying of the Prophet: “Marry women who love their husbands and be very prolific, for I wish you to be more numerous than any other people”. [Mishkatu ‘l-Masabih, book 13]. The Prophet advised great care in bride selection, and even permitted that intended bride be seen, before her marriage by him who seeks her hand, lest a blunder in choice or an error of judgment should defeat the very end of marriage.
2. Marriage and Divorce
The laws of marriage and divorce were so framed by the Prophet that they may ensure the permanence of marriage relations, without impairing individual freedom. These laws display a wonderful insight into human nature, inasmuch as they never lose sight of exceptional circumstances, requiring special treatment. In the formulation of the laws of marriage and divorce, extremes have been avoided in favour of a golden mean. If, under certain circumstances, more than one wife is permitted, or dissolution of marriage is favoured, it is because of the operation of the same principle of flexibility that governs the entire body of the Islamic laws.
It is certain that the Islamic laws of marriage and divorce have been abused; and sometimes ridiculed in certain Muslim lands; but the laws themselves are not responsible for the delinquencies of individuals. The Islamic laws have recognised women as free and responsible members of society and have assigned to them a convenient position. A Muslim woman is entitled to a share in the inheritance, along with her brothers, and although the proportion is different, the distinction is founded on a just appreciation of the relative position of brother and sister. No male member of the family, not even her husband, can manipulate her property which during the marriage remains absolutely her own and quite at her disposal. The eligible portion of stipulated dower is payable to her on demand, as soon as the status of marriage is established, and the postponed portion on termination of the marital relation, unless the woman is guilty of a manifest wrong.
Under the Muslim law, the dower settled upon the wife, is an obligation imposed by the law on the husband, as a mark of respect for the wife, the non- specification of which, at the time of marriage, does not affect the validity of marriage. In the event of dissolution of marriage, the husband can retain no part of the wife’s property, including her ante-nuptial settlement; and if the administration of the wife’s estate was entrusted to him, he must render the wife an account of such administration. Her property is in fact jealously guarded on all sides, and no restrictions are placed on the individual right she has in her belongings. She possesses the right of dividing and alienating her property, and this right of alienation is in regard, not only to her husband but also to every body else. She can sue her husband, as she can sue her other debtors, in open court. She does not require her husband or father, to represent her at law. She can act as an executive and can enter into any contract independently. A Muslim wife retains her distinct individuality even after marriage, and she never assumes her husband’s name. Marriage under Islam is but a civil contract, and not a sacrament, in the sense that those who are once joined in wed–lock can never be separated. It may be controlled, and under certain circumstances, dissolved by the will of the parties concerned. Public declaration is no doubt necessary, but it is not a condition of the validity of the marriage. Nor is any religious ceremony deemed absolutely essential. Two witnesses are required to attest the contract has been concluded.
 The whole History of the Christian Laws of Marriage and divorce, furnishes a very interesting and instructive reading to a Moslem jurist: for, he perceives, perhaps not without a feeling of just pride, that his Christian brethren are coming nearer to Islam, at least in their conception of marriage and the relations to which it gives rise. In all European countries, the laws relating to marriage and divorce have been revised and recast, and the changes introduced, when examined will be found to exhibit in some of their board features, a very close analogy to the Islamic Laws, framed several centuries before. Thus, in Germany, for instance, the code 1900 recognises civil marriages alone. ‘It is affected, by the declaration of the parties before a Registrar, in the presence of each other, of their intention to be married. Two witnesses of full age must be present. The Registrar asks each of the parties whether he or she will marry the other, and on their answer in the affirmative, declares them duly married, and enters them in the register. The marriage must be preceded by a public notice. Dissolution of marriage has long been recognized in Germany and the United States of America. In England, divorces were very rare till 1857, when the powers exercised in matrimonial matters by the house of Lords, the Ecclesiastical Courts of Common Law were transferred to a lay court termed ‘The Court for Divorce and matrimonial Causes,’ and constituted for the administration of all matters connected with divorce. In France, a similar change came about in the year 1884.
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