Women during the time of Jahiliyyah had no value. They were like chattels, inheritable as one inherits the property of a deceased person. In Jahiliyyah, when a man died, his son who bore arms in expeditions inherited him, inherited whatever the father left behind including his wives. If the son wanted he could marry the wives of his father or release them. So, women were a heritage, inheritable property. Women did not enjoy any rights until after the Qur’an was revealed.
Women, also, during that dark period, were exposed to a lot of abuse. A man could swear not to have intercourse with his wife from one year to as long as ten years, or even for an entire lifetime; the husband would neither touch nor come close to her for that period, while she had to endure that injustice to whatever time the husband desired.
Then the Qur’an came and placed everything in its proper place, expounding the demarcation between halal and haraam.
Marriage is based on love, understanding and mutual respect. The wife must obey her husband in what does not constitute disobedience to the Creator.
The Prophet, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam said:
“Any woman who dies while her husband is pleased with her, enters paradise.”
The husband is enjoined to show kindness and patience in dealing with his wife. The Prophet, Sallallahu alaihi Wa Sallam said:
“The most complete of believers in his Imaan is he who has the best manners and who is gentlest with his family.”
He sallaahu alaihi wa sallam aso said:
“The best among you is the best among you to his women, and I am better to my women (i.e. wives) than you are (to your women).”
Part of what was revealed in the Qur’an was how to discipline a disobedient wife. The discipline is done in stages.
There are the righteous women who are devoutly obedient and guard in (their husband’s) absence what Allah would have them, guard, as expounded in the Qur’an.
The devoutly obedient; if you look at her, she gladdens your heart because of her broad smile and vivaciousness; if you are away from her, she guards, even in your absence, your honour, wealth and family; when you command she obeys with alacrity.
Among women, there are those who are not devoutly obedient. “As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct,” the Qur’an says, “admonish them (first),”; some will listen and obey the warning and will refrain from repeating the mistake. If they are not among those who will not correct their wrong ways through admonition, then use the other step, “(Next), refuse to share their beds,”; refuse to share their beds within the house; it does not mean that the husband will desert his home and sleep somewhere; no. He has to remain in the same house, either turning his back in the same bed or spending the night in another room within the same house. And where admonition and refusal to share a bed do not solve the problem, then, “(And last) beat them (lightly);”
Hardly will any marriage be devoid of tense moments in which maturity, patience and understanding are needed to avoid resorting to divorce. After following the three steps, one after another, and there is no solution at hand, then arbiters from his side and from her side could be appointed to bring about a resolution of the crisis. If they desire peace, Allah shall reconcile their hearts.
What does ‘beat them (lightly)’ mean?
The verses that mention this step by step ways of resolving the marital crisis and returning to harmony are from an-Nisaa, verses 34 to 35. The verses were revealed when Habeebah bint Zaid became recalcitrant to her husband Sa’d bin Rabi’ who had to slap her. She reported the matter to her father who went with her to the Prophet, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam, and said: “O Messenger of Allah, I have allowed him to share a bed with my precious one, and he then strikes her!”
The Prophet, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam, responded by saying: “Then let her exact retribution on her husband.”
Then, the father left the presence of the Prophet, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam, for the daughter to go and exact retribution on her husband, but before they could go far, the man and his daughter were told to return because Allah had just revealed some verses regarding their case.
When Zaid and his daughter Habeebah returned to the presence of Allah’s Messenger, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam, a second time, he said:
“We made a decision (concerning your case), but Allah pronounced a different verdict, and that which Allah desired is the best.”
The Prophet then related the revelation he received in these verses:
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them, guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).
If ye fear a breach between them twain, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his family, and the other from hers; if they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation: For Allah hath full knowledge, and is acquainted with all things.”
By this revelation, therefore, the verdict for wives to exact retribution on their husbands when they strike them was annulled.
Just as we started this lesson, Allah, in these verses, classified women into two categories:
The righteous ones who are obedient to their Lord and to their husbands.
Those who are disobedient and rebellious, who allow Satan to play deceptive tricks with their minds…
We still have not answered the question – What does ‘beat them (lightly)’ mean?
The enemies of Islam are using the verse as proof that women are degraded and maltreated by the authority of the Qur’an. Unfortunately, the behaviour of some Muslims included those who should preach against beating women, lends credence to the misinterpretation of the verse.
The Prophet, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam, received Allah’s messages to His creature, and it was his duty to explain them to us. What was his example regarding beating women? There was none. Because he was never reported to have hit any woman. Even when he was questioned concerning the import of the verse he, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam, said:
“The best among you will never beat their wives.”
As if to say, only the worst of us beat their wives.
The beating, we are taught, even where necessary, it should not leave any mark on the body. It is more of a symbolic gesture to register disapproval, in as much as a siwaak (toothbrush) is shown to be the instrument for such beating.
Slapping any human being, man or woman is haraam, let alone your wife. Are you not ashamed of yourself in the despicable act of beating your wife in the day time, only to sleep with her in the night? Shame on you!
We have mentioned earlier that women, during the dark period of ignorance, were exposed to a lot of abuse; that a man could swear not to have intercourse with his wife from one year to as long as ten years, or even for an entire lifetime. The husband would neither touch nor come close to her for that period, while she had to endure that injustice to whatever time the husband desired.
The aim of Islam is gradual change in people’s bad attitudes, just as we saw in the stages leading up to total prohibition of alcohol. Therefore concerning the issue of foreswearing women, the Qur’an says:
For those who take an oath for abstention from their wives, a waiting for four months is ordained; if then they return, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. But if their intention is firm for divorce, Allah heareth and knoweth all things. Al-Baqarah 2: 226-227
Those who take an oath not to have sexual relation with their wives must wait for four months. This four-month limit is the peak, the longest period that any abstention can reach, instead of the never-ending abstention of the days of ignorance – ten, twenty years, forever. Only two options the husband is left with – either he should be content with the conjugal abstention of four months, or he breaks the oath and resumes normal marital relations with his wife; Allah is Forgiving and Merciful to both of them – the husband and the wife. The husband has sworn, yes, but he can also expiate for that oath after breaking it and taking his wife back. The wife has even sinned by annoying the husband through disobedience to the extent that made him swear not to relate with her in any way.
If, on the other hand, the situation deteriorates to a malignant one, where the wife persists in her disobedience and the period of four months elapses without any solution to the problem. “And if they decide upon divorce, then Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower.” Whatever is the cause of the disobedience which leads to this divorce; whatever is the reason of the husband to foreswear and decide upon separation; Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower.
A divorcee deserves tenderness and mercy because whatever was her situation, now she is without a husband. A difficult situation indeed. If every woman knows what a divorcee loses and experiences during the period of divorcement, many women will dread being in similar position and thus avoid, like a plague, anything that may lead to the termination of their marriage. Unfortunately, some parents have abdicated their roles of instilling good morals to the social media. Before the wedding, the friends of the bride, most of whom may not be married, would inspire the bride with their own standards of what a marriage should be. Don’t tolerate any nonsense, my dear. You are an educated lady, as educated as he is. You are well-travelled, beautiful. Your parents are more affluent than his parents. Know your rights and preserve them; don’t accept any infringement of your dignity otherwise you become a slave. Look my sister, forget about this I-love-you thing; that is over now. Take him as your husband and deal with him or another woman outside the marriage will do so.
On the other hand, the friends of the groom are not left out in the game of planting dynamites on the road of an otherwise successful marriage. You must be your real self now, they will say; that petting must end. You should know that if after two weeks of marriage you fail to tame her, forget it; you will be her slave until the end of your life. Frustrate any ambition she may have of furthering her education. Resist any pressure from any quarters of allowing her to work. Make sure she remains a complete housewife. And many, many other nonsense sentiments of foolish friends who know next to nothing about how a marriage consortium should be.
These evil companions will not allow the newlyweds to have peace even after the ceremonies. The social media will complete the damage where each spouse will be a private detective against the other, spying on their phones, text messages, emails and WhatsApp chats to discover any trace of deception and unfaithfulness. One chat could lead to reactions with dire consequences affecting the marriage and the persons of the spouse.
Unlike the sahabah who would use the days before the marriage in admonishing the would-be spouse on the foundations upon which a successful marriage was built, today’s parents would be busy planning the marriage ceremonies that guzzle a lot of money on things that displease Allah. We now copy unislamic traditions from other cultures during our marriage ceremonies. In the name of modernity in-laws, mothers and fathers of the bride and the groom, that, in times gone by could hardly look upon each other due to the shyness deeply ingrained in our culture, are today dancing partners in their sons’ or daughters’ marriage celebrations. The celebrants, the bride and the groom, unabashedly dance, feed and kiss each other, not only in the presence of their parents but for the entire world to see. What is more surprising is the fact that we keep asking why such marriages do not last. The reason is apparent.
The Qur’an contains everything; the Sunnah of the Prophet, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam, has explained everything. Thus, if the wife recognises the rights of her husband over her, and preserves them; and in like manner the husband knows and respects the rights of the wife, our situation would have been different from that in which we find ourselves today.
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