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Books Section > The Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad by Maulana Muhammad Ali > Chapter 11: Home Life


Chapter 11:
Home Life:

More important even than the economic problem was, in the Prophet's estimation, the problem of the home. The home is the unit of human society, and the sum total of human happiness is ordinarily determined by the happiness which prevails in the home. The stability of the home is also an index to the stability of the society and its civilisation. As the male and the female together make the home, it was necessary to bring about a right understanding of their positions and relations.

Woman, before the time of the Prophet, was generally regarded as a slave. Barring exceptional cases she was not considered a person in the sense in which man was a person. A person is, in the first place, one who can own property but the woman could not own any property or carry on any transaction in her own name. On the other hand, she was herself the property of her husband. It was a perfect revolution in the existing social order which the Prophet brought about by making woman the owner of property, a person in the real sense of the word.

In the earliest revelations of the Prophet, man and woman are spoken of as standing on the same level in the sight of God:

Consider the night when it draws a veil, And the day when it shines in brightness, And the creating of the male and the female. (92:1-3)

And that He it is Who causes death and gives life, And that He created pairs, the male and the female, From the small life-germ when it is adapted. (53:44-46)

Both the male and female were made perfect:

Was he not a small life-germ in the seminal elements? Then he was a clot of blood, so He created him and made him perfect. Then He made of him two kinds, the male and the female. (75:37-39)

Offspring is spoken of as God's gift, and as such the female had precedence:

He grants to whom He pleases daughters and grants to whom He pleases sons; Or he makes them of both sorts, male and female. (42:49, 50)

Later revelation develops the same basic idea:

O people! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same kind, and spread from these two many men and women. (4:1)

It was also in the earlier revelation that it was made clear that spiritually the woman stood on the same level with the man:

And whoever does good deeds, whether male or female, and he is a believer, these shall enter the garden. (40:40)

Whoever does good, whether male or female, and he is a believer, We will make him live a happy life, and We will give them their reward for the best of what they did (16:97)

Women were also spoken of as receiving Divine revelation, the greatest spiritual gift:

And We revealed to Moses' mother, saying, Give him suck; then when thou fearest for him, cast him into the river, and do not fear or grieve. (28:7)

They were chosen by God and purified as men were chosen and purified:

And when the angels said, O Mary! Allah has chosen thee and purified thee. (3:42) 

The Prophet's wives are spoken of as having been thoroughly purified:

Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanness from you, O people of the household! and to purify you a thorough purifying. (33:33)

And generally women are spoken of as equal to men in all spiritual aspects:

The men who submit to Allah and the women who submit, and the men who believe and the women who believe, and the men who obey and the women who obey, and the men who are truthful and the women who are truthful, and the men who persevere and the women who persevere, and the men who are humble and the women who are humble, and the men who are charitable and the women who are charitable, and the men who fast and the women who fast, and the men who are chaste and the women who are chaste, and the men who remember Allah much and the women who remember -- Allah has prepared for them protection and a mighty reward. (33:35)

The Prophet, however, went further and introduced a reform by which the woman became a free person in the fullest sense of the word. She was no more the property of another person; she could earn property, she could own property, she could inherit property, she could transfer property, she could give property as a gift and she could receive property as a gift. The social system founded by the Prophet thus brought about a revolution in the position of the woman, removing the bondage of half the human race. In the first place, she could earn money; she could do any work she liked, and she was entitled to the fruit of her labour just as man was:

Men shall have the benefit of what they earn and women shall have the benefit of what they earn. (4:32)

This direction opened for her all vocations, and though her maintenance by the husband was a condition of marriage, she could support herself and even become the bread-winner of the family, if she stood in need of it. She could also inherit property. The Arabs had a very strong tradition against inheritance by women because they could not fight in defence of their tribe. The Prophet had a new message for her:

Men shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, and women shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave. (4:7)

According to the details of the law of inheritance laid down by the Prophet, the wife inherited the husband, the mother inherited along with the father, the daughter along with the son, the sister along with the brother, the aunt along with the uncle, and so on. Again, woman could deal with her property as she liked in her personal right; she could sell it or she could give it as a gift:

But if the women of themselves be pleased to give to you a portion of it, then eat it with enjoyment and with wholesome result. (4:4)

O Muslim women! Let not a neighbour despise for her neighbour a gift, even though it be the trotters of a goat. (Bukhari, 51:1)

Every woman was in fact made the owner of some property at her marriage. No marriage was legal unless the woman had some property settled on her. This was a practical step to raise the woman to the status of the man:

Lawful for you are all women besides this, provided that you seek them with your property, taking them in marriage, not committing fornication. Then as to those whom you profit by (by marrying), give them their dowries as appointed. (4:24)

Marriage even with non-Muslim women was not allowed unless the dowry was paid, and the woman was made the owner of property:

And the chaste from among the believing women and the chaste from among those who have been given the Book before you are lawful for you when you have given them their dowries, taking them in marriage, not fornicating nor taking them for paramours in secret.(5:5)

There was no limitation to the amount of dowry, a whole estate or a heap of gold could be settled on her:

If ... you have given one of them a heap of gold, take not from it anything. (4:20)

The woman was recognised as a free person by making her the owner of property at marriage, but even before marriage she was recognised as such, as she could be taken in marriage only with her permission or consent. The Prophet is reported to have said:

The widow shall not be married until she is consulted, and the virgin shall not be married until her consent is obtained. (Bukhari, 67:42)

Where a woman was given in marriage against her wishes, the marriage was annulled by the Prophet. (Ibid., 67:43) 

In the Holy Quran, it is laid down in clear words:

It is not lawful for you that you should take women as a heritage against their will. (4:19)

In fact, marriage was recognised as a sacred contract, and there could be no contract without the consent of the two parties:

And they (your wives) have made with you a firm covenant..(4:21)

For the stabilisation of society, every man and every woman was required to live in a married condition. There is a clear injunction to this effect:

And marry those among you who are single. (24:32)

The Prophet is reported to have said to certain people who talked of fasting in the day-time and keeping awake during the night praying to God, and keeping away from marriage:

I keep a fast and I break it, and I pray and I sleep, and I am married; so whoever inclines to any other way than my way (Sunna), he is not of me. (Bukhari, 67:1)

On another occasion, he said:

O assembly of young people! Whoever of you has the means to support a wife, he should get married; this is the best means of keeping the looks cast down and guarding chastity; and he who has not the means, let him keep fast, for this will act as castration (Ibid., 67:2)

The Prophet is also reported to have said that "the man who marries perfects half his religion."

Marriage was thus recognised as a means to the moral uplift of man, and such it is in fact. 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 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. Through marriage the home is made a training ground for the development of the feeling of love and service. Here a man finds a real pleasure in suffering for the sake of others, and the sense of service is thus gradually developed and broadened.

Marriage was no more a hindrance in the spiritual progress of man and in his perfection; it was rather a help and led to the development of the spiritual faculties and to perfection:

And one of His signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves that you might find quiet of mind in them, and He put between you love and compassion.(30:21)

The women are an apparel for you and you are an apparel for them. (2:187)

Marriage, as already noted, was, according to the Prophet, a contract; it is expressly called a mithaq (contract) in the Holy Quran (4:21). But owing to the importance of the rights and obligations to which it gave rise, the mutual responsibilities of the husband and the wife and their joint responsibility for bringing up the children, special importance was attached to this contract. In the first place, it was necessary that the assent of both parties to it should be made in a public place and should be made publicly known:

Make public this marriage and perform it in the mosques and beat drums for it. (Mishkat, 13:4)

Clandestine transactions were classed as fornication. In addition to publicity, a sacred character was given to the contract by the delivery of a sermon before the announcement of the marriage. The sermon was meant not only to give a religious character to the contract, but also to remind the pair that their happiness in life depended on their respect for their mutual rights and obligations under the contract.

The wife was recognised as having rights against her husband, similar to those which the husband had against the wife:

And the wives have rights similar to their obligations in a just manner. (2:228)

The position of the wife in the family was, according to the Prophet, that of a ruler:

Everyone of you is a ruler and everyone shall be questioned about his subjects; 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. (Bukhari, 67:91)

To one of his Companions he is reported to have said:

Thy body has a right over thee and thy soul has a right over thee and thy wife has a right over thee. (Bukhari, 67:90)

The husband was required to provide for the maintenance of the wife and for her lodging according to his means:

Men are the maintainers of women. (4:34)

Let him who has abundance spend out of his abundance, and whoever has his means of subsistence straitened to him, let him spend out of that which Allah has given him. (65:7)

Lodge them where you lodge, according to your means. (65:6)

The wife was bound to keep company with her husband, to preserve the husband's property from loss or waste and to refrain from doing anything which should disturb the peace of the family. She was required not to admit anyone into the house whom the husband did not like and not to incur expenditure of which the husband disapproved. (Bukhari, 67:87)

Stress was laid on kindly and good treatment of the wife. "Keep them in good fellowship" (2:229). "Treat them kindly" (4:19), is the oft-recurring advice, so much so that kindness was recommended even if a man disliked his wife:

And do not straiten them in order that you may take part of what you have given them unless they are guilty of manifest indecency, and treat them kindly; and if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing while Allah has placed abundant good in it. (4:19)

Good treatment towards the wife was a criterion of good morals:

The most excellent of you is he who is best in his treatment of his wife. (Mishkat, 13:11-ii) 

Accept my advice in the matter of doing good to women. (Bukhari, 67:91)

The Prophet's parting advice to his followers, when addressing them at the Farewell pilgrimage, was:

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. (Muslim, 15:19)

Notwithstanding the sacredness of the character of the marriage tie, the necessity was recognised of keeping the way open for its dissolution. But this right was to be exercised only under exceptional circumstances. The Prophet allowed divorce but he did not like it:

Never did Allah allow anything more hateful to Him than divorce. (Abu Dawood 13:3)

With Allah, the most detestable of all things allowed is divorce. (Ibid.)

The Holy Quran too, while allowing divorce, discourages it:

If you hate them (i.e., your wives), it may be that you dislike a thing while Allah has placed abundant good in it. (4:19)

The mentality which the Prophet aimed at creating among his followers was that of facing the difficulties of married life along with the enjoyment of its comforts, and of avoiding the disruption of the family relations as long as possible, turning to divorce only as a last resort.

The principle of divorce and its procedure was laid down in the following words:

And if you fear a breach (Arabic: shiqaq) between the two, then appoint a judge from his people and a judge from her people; If they both desire agreement, Allah will effect harmony between them; surely Allah is Knowing, Aware. (4:35)

The other alternative is referred to further on, thus:

And if they separate, Allah will render them both free from want out of His ampleness, and Allah is Ample-giving, Wise. (4:130)

Thus not only was the principle of divorce laid down but also the process to be adopted when a rupture of marital relations was feared. The principle of divorce spoken of here is shiqaq or a disagreement to live together as husband and wife. In this respect, the two sexes are placed on a level of perfect equality. A "breach between the two" implies that either the husband or the wife wants to break off the marriage agreement, and hence either may claim divorce. All causes of divorce are made subject to the condition that one of the parties cannot pull together with the other and wants a divorce. No defect in the husband or the wife is in itself a reason for divorce unless one of the parties is desirous of terminating the union. The process to be adopted lays down clearly that the husband has not the right to break off the tie when and how he likes. Judges must be appointed to settle the dispute, and the husband and the wife are again placed on the same level by each of them being represented by a person of his or her choice. The judges are told to try to bring about a reconciliation in the first place, and resort to divorce is only to be had when all means of reconciliation have been exhausted.

The wife's right of divorce was clearly established in the case of Jamila, who came to the Prophet demanding a divorce from her husband Thabit ibn Qais, saying: "O Messenger of Allah! I do not find fault in Thabit ibn Qais regarding his morals or faith but I cannot pull together with him." Being asked if she would return to him the orchard which he had settled upon her as a dowry, she replied in the affirmative, and the Prophet ordered her husband to take back his orchard and divorce her. (Bukhari, 68:12)

The Prophet recognised, as a rule, only the union of one man and one woman as a valid form of marriage, but in exceptional circumstances he allowed the man to have more wives than one, up to the limit of four; but under no circumstances could the woman have more husbands than one. This was in keeping with his claim that his religion was the religion of nature. While marriage was recognised by the Prophet as the union of two natures which are one in their essence, the object of marriage was the multiplication of the human race:

The Originator of the heavens and the earth; He made mates for you from yourselves ... multiplying you thereby. (42:11)

And Allah has made wives for you from yourselves, and has given you sons and daughters from your wives. (16:72)

Nature's arrangement in this respect is that while one man can raise children from more wives than one, one woman can have children at one time only from one husband. Therefore, while polygamy could under certain circumstances be a help for the welfare of society, polyandry had no conceivable use for man. The Quranic verse permitting polygamy in certain circumstances occurs in the fourth chapter of the Holy Quran, and runs thus:

If you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two, three and four. (4:3)

It is evident that there is some connection between the two parts of this verse, not acting equitably towards orphans and taking in marriage more wives than one. This connection is made clear further on in this chapter with special reference to this verse:

That which is recited to you in the Book, is concerning the orphans of women to whom you do not give what is appointed for them -- and you are not inclined to marry them -- nor to the weak among the children. (4:127)

The two verses read together show that when a widow was left with orphans to bring up, she and her children did not get any share of inheritance; nor were people inclined to marry widows who had children on account of the burden which it involved of bringing up the children. For the relief of distress of widows and orphans, therefore, two reforms were introduced by the Prophet. As already pointed out, the widow and the orphan were given their share of inheritance, and now a limited polygamy was allowed to provide a home for the widow. The home was to the Prophet the source from which sprang up the great qualities of love and service, and through love and service other great and noble qualities, and he did not shrink from providing half a home if a full home was not possible. Half a home was after all a home, and far better than no home.

The fourth chapter, in which this permission finds a place, was revealed at a time when the Muslims were compelled to carry on incessant war against an enemy bent upon their extirpation. The bread-winners had all to take the field against the enemy, and many of them were lost in the unequal battles that were being fought by the small Muslim band against overwhelming forces. Women had lost their husbands and young children their fathers, and the number of widows and orphans was daily increasing. To provide for the excess number of women, and for the proper bringing up of the orphans under parental care and affection, the Prophet, guided by Divine revelation, permitted a limited polygamy. This measure further afforded protection for the chastity of the widows who would otherwise have fallen a prey to moral depravity. Such a measure was also needed to keep up the numerical strength of a community whose numbers were fast dwindling, owing to the slaughter of large numbers in warfare. Polygamy was thus allowed in exceptional circumstances when the strict rule of monogamy was calculated to bring hardship on society, both physically and morally. The only alternative in such a case would have been to allow prostitution, but this was abhorrent to the Prophet, and he regarded it as the greatest degradation for woman.

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Books Section > The Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad by Maulana Muhammad Ali > Chapter 11: Home Life

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