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Article 419

Women in Bad Marriages Given Unfair Religious Rulings 

Question: When reading fatwas (religious rulings) from various scholars in terms of marital discord, it seems more often than not, that women are advised to remain patient and do everything possible to calm down their husbands, even in the worst of circumstances such as physical abuse, infidelity etc. It is less common to see such advice given to men when they complain about their wives. There seems to be a bit of a double standard, which according to my knowledge, does not exist in Islam.

I would like to know why, for example, if a woman has a husband who is a womanizer, drinker, gambler, abuser, why then should she try and stay in this marriage? I know divorce should be a last option in every scenario, but when a situation has been bad for a long time and the woman and her children are suffering, why is it that everyone tells her to be patient and forgive him? We are all tested by Allah, but the very reason divorce is allowable in Islam, unlike in other religions, is that sometimes the situation is just too far gone to be salvaged. Any thoughts?   Signed Umm Huda.


Answer by Amany Aboul Fadl Farag.

Dr.  Farag is a lecturer of English literature, in Cairo University. She has a  Ph.D. in American Literature 1997, M.A. in Translation 1989, B.A. in English Literature 1983 and  Postgraduate diploma in Shari'a and Arabic Linguistics, Cairo University 1999.  She has translated many Islamic books into English. She writes as a free-lance writer in many Islamic newspapers.  Dr. Amany Farag is a consultant to the International Islamic Committee, for woman and child, affiliated with  the International Islamic Council for Da'wah and Relief.  She is a  wife and a mother of 4 children!]



Dear Umm Huda, Salam,

Thank you for your keenness to correct many of the cultural and traditional concepts that are confused with the rules of Islamic law. Strange enough, most of such concepts are related to the status of women, especially with regard to their marital relationships.

Among the common ideas now amongst many Muslim communities are that duties, such as housework and childcare, are for women only. This is contrary to the way of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) who used to help in the housework. For example, he used to mend his own stockings. It is also wrongly claimed that the woman has all the responsibility for the success of a marriage!

Consequently, all the blame is put on her for not being patient enough if there is any split in the family or the marriage fails! This is, of course, exactly what you described as a double standard and known not to come from Islamic teachings. Contemplate the following verses of Qur'an and you will realize that Allah, the Most Wise, has dealt with this matter differently, as He makes the success of any married life the responsibility of both men and women. He actually orders them both to have patience and to try all possible means, before they decide to break it up. In the following verse He addresses men only:

*{…Live with them (women) on a footing of kindness, if ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good.}*

(An-Nisaa' 4:19)

This verse urges men to not only to keep their wives, but also to live with them continually being kind to them, even if they hated them, and to realize that what they (the men) may dislike in them (their wives) may be a good thing which they themselves don’t realize! The following verse is addressed this time to women:

*{If a woman fears cruelty or desertion on her husband's part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves.}*

(An-Nisaa' 4:128)

Again, the following verse is addressed to the family or the society:

*{If ye fear a breach between them twain (the husband and wife), appoint two arbiters, one from his family and the other from hers; if they seek to set things alright, Allah will cause their reconciliation.}*

(An-Nisaa' 4:35)

Thus if patience and reconsideration are needed to keep the family united, they are needed from both parties. There is also a responsibility of the community to give a hand in rescuing this bond which Allah did not make easy to break.

The following is a funny story that shows that the responsibility of keeping the marriage is the husbands' as well: a man came to the second Caliph `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him)--whom himself had a wife of his own--to complain about his nasty wife. He waited at the Caliph's door to be allowed in. As he was waiting, he heard the wife of `Umar shouting, while `Umar was silent in patience. Hearing this, the man decided to leave with no complaint! In another incident, `Umar advised another man who expressed a desire to divorce his wife as he failed to love her saying, "Woe unto you! Is love the only base for a home? Where is care and kindness?"

Not all fatwa givers have such a double standard - though some of them do have. I personally know many women who are not God-fearing enough and behave arrogantly and impolitely with their husbands and in-laws. Then when their husbands go to seek advice, they get these repeated answers: that we women always get on the other side; "be patient", "give her another chance" or "try to tolerate for the sake of the children"… and so on.

As for the second half of your question, which is about Muslim women living in a marriage with husbands who do major sins, such as fornication or any other sins of such magnitude, I think this needs a fatwa from a scholar to say to what extent this situation is even legally allowed in Islam! This conduct, on the part of the husband, may even destroy the faith of his children and lead them to commit the same serious breaches of Islamic law. This will spread moral chaos in the family, in which case, keeping such a marriage going will not be in the children's best interest. On the contrary, it may cause their complete destruction.

In this way, the genius of Islam as a realistic policy of life appears. Although it does not encourage breaking up marriages and asks married couples to behave responsibly, for the good of the new generations and the whole society, it does however, frankly admit that at some points divorce becomes a must for the very same reason.

Islam doesn't deal with human psychology in terms of hard to attain ideals that may make people’s lives a living hell. Islam recognizes the fact that happiness and virtue are the ultimate ends which all humans are striving to reach but accounts for their weaknesses.

I hope this answers your question, Umm Huda.



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