Editor’s Notes: As yesterday was International Women’s Day, we continue to highlight women’s community efforts, challenges, and perspectives. We hope that in highlighting these articles relating to women that it serves as a reminder that women in Islam should not only be recognized on this day but should be recognized every day and appreciated for their work, efforts, and contributions to our families and our societies. Click here and here to read the other content we have published for International Women’s Day.
Marriage is undoubtedly an important part of one’s life, whether a man or a woman. This is where tranquility should emanate, and love and affection should be borne and grow. Allah (SWT) states this clearly, even saying that this is among His proofs:
Among his proofs is that he created for you spouses from among yourselves, in order to have tranquility and contentment with each other, and He placed in your hearts love and care towards your spouses. In this, there are sufficient proofs for people who think (English Translation of the Qur’an, 30:21).
However, this is not the case for our marriages. I have seen peoples’ lives get destroyed after marriage, others permanently. This is especially true for the women in our society, for even though the media portrays this century as the one for the rights of women, the reality is far from the truth. The following is a summary of some of the marital challenges that they face, as I have observed within Swahili culture.
Denial of Dowry
I used to be amazed by the Hindu religious tradition of the bride’s family being expected to give the dowry. However, I came to realize that a form of this culture exists in Muslim families as well. This is because it is the bride’s family that arranges for the amount of dowry which is shared among the father, the mother, and the bride-to-be. In fact, this can also be the cause of conflict in the bride’s family as the father always demands a higher share than the mother. This is contrary to Islamic teaching as the dowry is an exclusive right for the bride, whatever the amount may be: “You shall give the women their due dowries, equitably. If they willingly forfeit anything, then you may accept it; it is rightfully yours (English Translation of the Qur’an, 4:4).
Other illicit beneficiaries are the husbands themselves. They promise to give their wives their dowries later in life and never fulfill this promise. I personally know of a woman married for ten years without being given her due dowry. Whenever she raises this issue, the husband shouts at her saying, “Haven’t I fed you and clothed you all these years? How ungrateful you are!”
Challenges in Sexual Intercourse
This is the area where women are shy when it comes to expressing the injustices, and when they actually do it comes at a time when they have already experienced severe harm. Furthermore, them speaking up can result in negative repercussions. In fact, most women find it taboo to talk about sex. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that some of my readers are questioning my religious inclination give my expression of the above sentiments. Yet, sex should be talked about and even be studied for it forms a fundamental part of marriage itself. Allah himself did not shy away from this topic in His book of truth:
Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth (righteousness) for yourselves. And fear Allah, and know that you will meet Him. And give good tidings to the believers (English Translation of the Qur’an, 2:223).
However, even in this righteous act, women are harmed knowingly or unknowingly. The first instance is during her first night, especially if she is a virgin. The man will try to penetrate her, and because the path is narrow, some injuries may result. I have heard that forceful penetration can make sex impossible for a couple of weeks. What is interesting in all this is that both spouses may find nothing wrong in it. Some husbands, motivated by the archaic Swahili-Arab cultural practices of producing a blood-stained white cloth on the wedding night will penetrate their wives forcefully, and the women do not object since it is a proof that they have maintained their chastity. In fact, most of these cases are unreported to the relevant authorities (such as doctors and Imams) since they are considered to be a regular part of the marriage ceremony.
The act of showing the blood-stained cloth to people is not an Islamic act. In fact, scholars prohibit this. Sheikh Muhammad Al-Kawthary says: “It is categorically forbidden for the husband and wife to reveal their sexual secrets to others. It is a shameful and sinful act that has been forbidden by the Messenger of Allah, may peace be upon him.”
It was narrated by Muslim that the Prophet (SAW) said: “The most evil of people in the sight of Allah on the Day of Judgment is the man who has sex with his wife and she has sex with him, and then he reveals her secret” (1437).
Another grievous sexual injustice against women is sodomy. I remember there was a time when I was listening to Radio Rahma during Sister Asia’s program when a woman called. She asked whether she could ask her husband to stop having anal sex since her doctor had advised against this. What shocked me (and Sister Asia as well) was the fact that the woman did not know that anal sex is prohibited (in many Islamic schools of thought). She thought it was okay, and it only got her attention since it was affecting her health. With or without the consent of the husband, this act is forbidden as narrated by Abu Dawud: “Cursed is he who enters a woman in her anus” (2155).
The other emerging issue is having sex with the woman when she is not able to, whether she’s undergoing her menstrual cycle, or she is totally exhausted. The hadith that most men quote when their wives refuse to have sex with them is the one that says that a woman who refuses to have sex with her husband is cursed all night by the angels. However, it should be clear that this is the case when the woman so refuses without any excuse. As Sheikh Al Kawthary explains in his commentary of the hadith:
...however, if the wife is menstruating, or has postnatal bleeding, or she is ill and physically unable to have sex, exhausted, emotionally drained or the activity is detrimental to her well-being, then she no longer is obligated to comply with her husband’s demand for sex. Rather, the husband is expected to show her sympathy by understanding that she is be unable to have sex.
Most Muslim men misuse the idea of polygamy which either intentionally or unintentionally ends up with them mistreating their wives. I remember last year when I went back to Mombasa, I found out that three husbands aged above 50 had married second wives in our neighborhood alone. The reason? They had received some money from the financial help groups they were part of. One month later, they all divorced their second wives and returned to their homes. This was disheartening since I knew their wives; they were hardworking, and I am sure that even the money they used to marry the second wives was partly, if not wholly, contributed by them. Instead of stabilizing the family financially, they just wasted it forgetting the command in the last part of the verse that legalizes polygamy:
And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of (other) women two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then (marry only) one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline (to injustice) (English Translation of the Qur’an, 4:3).
Being Overburdened with Responsibilities
It is a trend in Muslim families to have mothers solely take care of the family. They work hard selling chapattis, or viazis, or end up working as house helps to provide for the family. This happens whether they are divorced or not. The husbands are busy looking for other women, or indulging in irresponsible behavior such as drinking alcohol or chewing miraa (khat). You will see them at maskani (congregating areas within the neighborhood) telling stories in the afternoon hours as their women work for their families. And that is not the end. These husbands will shamelessly demand to be fed without asking where the food came from. Where is our honor as men? Look closely at this verse: “Men are in charge of women by (right off) what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend (for maintenance ) from their wealth… ” (English Translation of the Qur’an, 4:34).
One of the tafseers (interpretations) of the above verse is that men are in charge of women as long as they cater for them, and the moment they fail to do so, they are no longer in charge of them. This is according to the Madhhab of Imam Malik and Imam Shafi (Tafseer Al Qurtuby).
These are only but a few of the challenges facing married Muslim women in Kenya. They threaten the marriage institution itself and thus our religion at large. Therefore, it is the important for women to learn their rights and responsibilities and ensure they are not violated, for their own sake. Men, on the other hand, have the responsibility to treat their wives properly so as not to go against Islamic principles. As the Prophet (SAW) said in his farewell speech:
…O people, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah’s trust and with His permission. If they abide by your rights, then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers…
Kawthary, M. I. (2008). Islamic Guide To Sexual Relations. London: Turath Publishing.
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