The Arabs in the time of Jaahiliyyah knew divorce but were ignorant about the laws of Allah regarding it. A man would divorce his wife, take her back few days to the end of her ‘iddah, and after awhile divorce her again, take her back and divorce, all in order to harm the woman. So, the Qur’an said:
‘…but do not take them back to injure them, (or) to take undue advantage;…’
Why will you practice today what the people of the time of ignorance used to do? You divorce your wife, take her back a few days to the end of the ‘iddah, divorce her, take her back only to divorce her again. You do not have any affection for the woman, but you desire only to injure her, to force her to make an offer of what to give you to free her. You want to take back the Sadaaq you gave her and make it extremely difficult for her to get another husband after you. Then what is the difference between you and the people of Jaahiliyyah?
‘…if anyone does that; He wrongs his own soul…’
Whoever behaves the way you do; he wrongs his own soul. You have not wronged your wife by this jaaahilistic behaviour; you wronged your own soul.
How does one wrong himself by making life miserable for his wife? Why will Allah say you have not wronged your wife; that you only wronged your soul?
There is a dire warning in the verse to those who ill-treat their wives in that fashion. You exposed her to hardship and incalculable distress, but still, Allah said you have only wronged your soul because you have by that exposed yourself to Allah’s wrath since those who wrong themselves shall be consigned to hell. When Allah spoke concerning the people of Hell He said :
‘…it is not Allah that hath wronged them, but they wrong themselves…’ (aali-Imraan, 117)
So, you are consigned to hell, that is why Allah described you in this verse as He described your comrades in crime. To your wife, you did no harm actually, but you wronged your own soul just as your companions in Hell have wronged their own souls.
‘…Do not treat Allah’s Signs as a jest,…’
This could also refer to those who will divorce the wife and then say ‘Sorry, I was only jesting.’
That is why he said, Sallaahu Alayhi wa Sallam:
‘There are three things which, whether undertaken seriously or in a jest, are treated as serious: marriage, divorce and taking back a wife (after a divorce which is not final).’
In another version, manumitting a slave was added as part of what you cannot jest about.
Therefore, whoever divorces his wife in order to amuse some people, or just to frighten her in a joke, the wife is divorced.
The scholars also said if you divorce your wife three times in one sitting, you are part of those who treat Allah’s signs as a jest. The divorce stands even though he has sinned and flouted Allah’s instructions on divorce, since Allah has said that divorce is to be pronounced one after another, at different periods. He also said if you divorce her after the second divorce, she will not be lawful unto you until she marries another husband and he divorces her. But you chose to do it your own way and throw Allah’s signs behind your back; therefore, you are part of those to treat Allah’s portents for jest.
Imam al-Bukhari reported that Ma’qal ibn Yasaar, one of the Sahaabah, had a sister whom he gave out in marriage to one of his relatives. The marriage lasted for as long as Allah destined. Then the husband divorced her a revocable divorce. She waited throughout the period of ‘iddah; the husband did not take her back as his wife. Then he regretted his action and wanted to remarry her with a desire more intense than when he first saw her in his life; besotted with her. And being a woman, the wife also saw reason in his infatuation. Her heart softened and she accepted to remarry him.
The man approached Ma’qal ibn Yasaar seeking for the hand of his sister in marriage for the second time; since the ‘iddah has elapsed. Ma’qal said:
‘You again? I married her to you. I honoured you. Then you disgraced her; divorced her. If you loved her this much you would have taken her back during the ‘iddah, but you disdainfully allowed the period to elapse. And now you come to me seeking her hand in marriage a second time. Wallaahi, I will not allow you another opportunity to belittle us. I will not give my assent to this request. You will never marry her again!’
Then Allah revealed the verse in al-Baqarah:
“When ye divorce women, and they fulfil the term of their (‘Iddah), do not prevent them from marrying their (former) husbands, if they mutually agree on equitable terms. This instruction is for all amongst you, who believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is (the course Making for) most virtue and purity amongst you and Allah knows, and ye know not.” (al-Baqarah, 2:232)
Look at the Rahmah in these words. Remember we said Allah has given the man two chances of divorce and taking back the wife. He can divorce her, and take her back as his wife within the ‘iddah. He can also divorce her at some other time in the future and still take her back before the end of the ‘iddah. All these as Rahmah to him so he will not be barred against something he loves much. Allah is Merciful to His creatures.
The example we set before the verse which is contained in al-Bukhari, of Abud Dahdah, or, some said his name was Abud Dabbaah. Whatever was his name, the man loved his wife dearly, but something went wrong, and he divorced her. Before he realised it, the time within which he could take her back as his wife elapsed. Her love was renewed in his heart with great intensity. Even before he came to her brother she has already updated him and shown her interest in returning to her former husband as his wife. The brother was adamant that he was not going to bless the union a second time. But she wanted to return to her former husband. The brother was so angry with her that he even said to her: ‘If you ever return to that ungrateful wretch, I will never look at your face again!’
The Messenger, Sallallahu alaihi wa Sallam summoned him after the revelation of the verse. When Ma’qal ibn Yasaar came, the Prophet, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam recited:
‘When ye divorce women, and they fulfil the term of their (‘Iddah), do not prevent them from marrying their (former) husbands, if they mutually agree on equitable terms. This instruction is for all amongst you, who believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is (the course Making for) most virtue and purity amongst you and Allah knows, and ye know not.’
After this recital, Ma’qal said:
‘I hear the words of my Lord and I obey!’
He called the husband. When he came he said to him: ‘The Final Arbiter has spoken. I concede. I honour you, and marry her to you.’
‘When ye divorce women, and they fulfil the term of their (‘Iddah),’ when we read similar words in verse 231 ‘When ye divorce women, and they fulfil the term of their (‘Iddah), either take them back on equitable terms or set them free on equitable terms;’ we said the fulfilment of term there was before the end thereto, since you cannot take back the wife after the period has elapsed. But here in verse 232 ‘When ye divorce women, and they fulfil the term of their (‘Iddah),’ actually means what it says. It means the end of the ‘iddah and not before it since a new marriage will not be contracted until after the ‘iddah.
‘When ye divorce women, and they fulfil the term of their (‘Iddah), do not prevent them from marrying their (former) husbands, if they mutually agree on equitable terms.’
Whatever led to the divorce, if the former husband and wife mutually agree on equitable terms to reunite, it is not for you to prevent the second marriage. Allow them to be. The husband has regretted what he has done. He now loves his former wife, and she loves him. Don’t be a spanner in the wheel of that reunion.
‘This instruction is for all amongst you, who believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is (the course Making for) most virtue and purity amongst you and Allah knows, and ye know not.’
What is the meaning of virtue and purity in a verse that speaks about husbands marrying their former wives if they all agree to remarry? Because if he really loves her and she also loves him, it is unwise for parents or guardians to be obdurate in preventing them from marrying each other again. If parents insisting on closing the legal way, the lovers may be forced to open the illegal way of satisfying their desire for each other. Parents, be careful! They love each other. Both have regretted what happened in the past, and now they want to remarry, please give your blessing and close the chapter. ‘That is (the course Making for) most virtue and purity amongst you and Allah knows, and ye know not.’
Who are the addressees of this verse?
The scholars said the address is clearly directed at the husbands of divorced women. When you (husbands) divorce women and they fulfil the term of their ‘iddah. It refers to a husband who married a divorced woman and after some time felt no emotional attachment to her but refused to divorce her because he thought she will return to her first husband, therefore, he retained her in order to harm her, prevent her from remarrying her former husband. So, the address is to such husbands.
Another position is that the address is directed at all people because as members of the Ummah, we are enjoined to right any wrong that we see as far as we are able to do so.
Other scholars said the address is for judges or guardians of the women. The reason for the revelation was Ma’qal ibn Yasaar who stood on the way of his sister from returning to her former husband.
Another issue that was clear from this narrative was the fact that it is not permissible for a woman to give herself out in marriage at all.
It will be recalled when we started the discussion on marriage, we expounded the position of the scholars on whether a woman could marry without a Waliy. Those who said a woman cannot be married without a Waliy brought this verse as part of their proof that a woman, whatever height she may attain in life, in age or status, cannot give out herself by herself in marriage. They said this verse supports that position:
So, they said the verse is addressing guardians. They said the sister of Ma’qal was not a young girl who did not know anything. She was married before to a husband that divorced her and later wanted her back as his wife. If her being an experienced woman would give her any right to do as she pleased, Ma’qal’s rejection of her desire to return to her former husband would have been of no consequence. She could have returned to her husband whether Ma’qal wanted it or not. His refusal and her acquiescence to that proved that the decision was not hers to make, but that of her guardian. Therefore, a woman cannot marry off herself at all whether she has been previously married or whether she is a young girl. What is required of guardians and parents is to consult with a woman that has been married before in matters of a new marriage, so she can speak up to reject or accept a suitor. But in the case of a young girl, she should be asked, and her silence signifies her acceptance.
Of course, another opinion said a woman can give out herself in marriage because Allah said if her husband divorces her three times she is unlawful for him until she married another husband. Until SHE married; not until she is married, or until a new marriage is contracted for her; no, Allah speaks of her as having the power to marry – until she married another husband.
Two opinions – one saying she can; another saying she cannot.
The difference of opinion among the scholars is Rahmah. If a position is not trainable here, it may be elsewhere, in another region or another country. What is good for one century, may not be good for another.
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