Sunday, May 01, 2016

Doctrine - Muhammad's rules on marriage - Divorce and remarriage (Part 1)

This is a continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first post here. You can also find the previous post here. This is also part of a larger series called "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
The Koran provides for fairly liberal rules concerning divorce and remarriage. For the case where a man has married a wife but has yet to spend her dowry or to consummate the marriage act with her, there is a kind of "no fault" divorce provided for the couple.
"There is no fault in you, if you divorce women while as yet you have not touched them [consummated the marriage] nor appointed any marriage-portion [dowry] for them; yet make provision for them, the affluent man according to his means, and according to his means the needy man, honourably – an obligation on the good-doers." (Koran 2:235)
One thing that we must keep in mind is that marriage in the seventh century, and in Muhammad's case especially, was not like how we normally think of marriage. We marry, one man and one woman, for companionship, to raise a family together, and to share life until death do us part. In the seventh century, wives were more like property and there was often money, a dowry, involved in the arrangement of the a marriage contract. When we think of ancient families, especially that of Muhammad, we must think of a harem of of wives more than a single wife and partner. Wives could be "married" and brought into the harem, and remain there for some time until their marriage was consummated. This was most likely the case for one of Muhammad's wives who was only nine years old when he married her. She likely spent several years living with the other wives until her marriage with Muhammad was consummated by the act of sex. This limbo state of marriage was also useful to the man if at some later time he found someone he desired more and decided to exchange his wife for another.
"And if you desire to exchange a wife in place of another, and you have given to one a hundredweight [a talent], take of it nothing [make no deduction]. What, will you take it by way of calumny and manifest sin?" (Koran 4:24)
Here the only requirement is that the man give back the dowry to the wife as he sends her away. For Muhammad, divorce was quite permissible, as long as it was done in the right way. Another thing to note is that all of Muhammad's rules on divorce are man-centric. You never read about the woman who wants to exchange her husband. All the decisions, timings, and modes of divorce are left with the man. The woman has very little to do with the process other than to submit to it.

One of the more interesting part's of the rules of divorce is the requirement that there be a waiting period before actually sending the woman away.
"O Prophet, when you divorce women, divorce them when they have reached their period [at their special time]. Count the period [reckon those times exactly], and fear God your Lord. Do not expel them from their houses, nor let them go forth [depart], except when they commit a flagrant indecency [proven adultery]... As for your women [wives] who have despaired [no hope] of further [the recurrence of] menstruating [their times], if you are in doubt [regarding them], their period shall be [then reckon] three months; and [let the same be the term of] those who have not menstruated as yet. And those who are with child, their term is when they bring forth their burden." (Koran 65:1, 4)
Again, it is interesting to note that special provisions are given for those wives who have not yet started menstruating. This would mean wives generally below the age of thirteen. In the western world we find this quite objectionable, but it was not uncommon in Muhammad's day and does not automatically mean that wives of such a tender age were expected to participate in the marital act while they were still so young.

One reason for the wait was to give the man time to cool off and to reconsider his decision.
"When you divorce women, and they have reached their term, then retain them honourably [generously] or set them free honourably [put them away generously]; do not retain them by force, to transgress; whoever does that has wronged himself... When you divorce women, and they have reached their term, do not debar them from marrying their husbands, when they have agreed together honourably." (Koran 2:231-232)
While women were generally treated as property and had little involvement in the divorce decision or process, on fairness, the Koran stipulated that they be generously treated in their being sent away. At the end of the waiting period, the husband had a decision to make: either fish or cut bait. Meaning, either take his divorced wife back or send her away and, if he sends her away and she decides to marry another, he is not to stand in her way.

A second reason for the wait was to see if she is pregnant before sending her away. If the woman was found to be with child, the man may reconsider and keep her around, at least for a little while.
"Divorced women shall wait [the result] by themselves for three periods; and it is not lawful for them to hide what God has created in their wombs; if they believe in God and the Last Day. In such time [state] their mates have better right [be more just] to restore them, if they desire to set things right [desire what is right]. Women have such honourable rights as obligations [And it is for the woman to act as they (the husbands) act by them, in all fairness], but their men have a degree above them [the men are a step above them]; God is All-mighty, All-wise." (Koran 2:228)
It's interesting that it is the man's decision to either retain his pregnant wife or to send he away. While women have obligation to reciprocate to their husband should he decide to retain her, nevertheless, the wishes and desires of the husband are to be considered greater than those of the wife. How different from the state of Christian marriage as experienced in the early church. "and understanding that the virtue of man and woman is the same. For if the God of both is one, the master of both is also one; one church, one temperance, one modesty; their food is common, marriage an equal yoke" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter IV) In the early church, men and women were considered equal in marriage. Not so in Muhammad's religion. Men were always superior, and more important, than women.

More to come...
David Robison

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