A very fine balance needs to be struck between two possible case scenarios when it comes to marriage relationships. On the one hand there are radically flexible “friendship relationships” in the name of marriage, gaining popularity in the modern world owing to rising individualism leading to failure of commitment. As love in essence is expansion of Being, bringing the other within the horizon of your own self and thus breaking free of the selfish ego cocoon, no wonder therefore that in times of rising egocentric sensibility, marriage relations based on love are facing drastic erosion.
In complete contrast, on the other hand, are overly formalistic, robotic, institutional, bossy relationships choking the space for any kind of true love and understanding. In Islam, marriage clearly is not a mere “friendship relation” with no foundational contract and societal authorisation. It is an institution in itself devised to ensure proper upbringing of the next generation with authorised, protected and recognised rights. This is because one of the maqaasid/ objectives of Shariah is the protection of family and children rights. This is how normally any other legal universe operates. There is a foundational legal philosophy which guides all subsequent legislation. Laws are framed in view of attaining certain predefined ends. To ensure protection of family system, marital institutions are carefully designed and protected in addition to banning extra marital affairs. This clarification is important to appreciate Islamic marital institution as a part of a larger meaningful whole.
Although being institutional in nature, Islam does not warrant radical formalistic robotic marriage relationships. A family cannot function in such an environment. Let’s briefly address some of the misconceptions that are prevalent in some of the popular Muslim discourse on family and marriage relationships. To start with, it is very important to take note of the language we use. The word qawwaam used for husband in the Quran has been loosely translated as ruler. If one attempts to be truly faithful to the text, one is forced to concede that the word qawwaam used in the context of marriage relation is closer to the word caretaker rather than ruler.
No doubt in the Islamic system of marriage man is given the charge of the family for reasons well justified. He signs a socially recognised contract authorised by Shariah to accept responsibility of a newly created institution. It is more of a responsibility rather than a privilege. But, having said that, the problem arises when we confuse the role of qawwaam with that of a ruler. Obsessive use of the idiom “ruler” and “ruled” creates problems. Reducing wives down to mehkoom/ the ruled is a joke. Quran in its usage of words is never obsessed with such a paradigm. A family cannot work under this obsession. It will become artificial and it will fail. A family can only sustain under love, appreciation and understanding. No surprise that it invites mutiny from “the ruled” against the “ruler”. This is bound to happen. The language that we have been using is quite serious. It has affected both men and women and their respective attitudes. Caretaker symbolism has been overshadowed by politicising the family structure. Almost all the time the Muslim discussion on marriage misses the informal constitution which is intrinsically built up in such a relationship. It is extremely crucial to be responsible and careful enough in applying a formal structure on an institution which is fundamentally informal (the family). Hence the talk of arriving at the right balance that we briefly touched upon in the beginning, attains central importance.
Therefore, marriage/ family in Islam is a loving “friendship” relation but rooted in a foundational philosophy and anchored in a societal contract. It is an attempt to synthesise pure love which is free in its makeup with the practical daily reality which is defined by societal norms. It does not fall to extremes. It is neither a free arbitrary “friendship” relation nor any robotic, official, constricting, structural institution put in place merely to ensure procreation.
Quranic position is that the man takes care of his family. He is one with them. He takes charge of the situation in the moments of crises in particular (because he has signed a foundational contract which binds him to do that). He never sees his family as his mehkoom. A family is not an office. Not even animals live like that. What happens is that we formalise our discussions on marriage too much. We remove ourselves from practical realities. Ironically, family is the most informal institution that human beings have ever come up with. It is not the case that a husband like a king asks his family to decorate his throne so that he could rule over them and then acts like one. Such people are the ugliest of husbands and fathers. Is this going to be our example? We need to remind ourselves how the Prophet of God was as a husband and as a father/ guardian. Our popular notions fall flat when it comes to Rasoolullah. Our obsession with the paradigm of haakim-mehkoom fails to apply on Prophetic Sunnah.
Many Muslims drawing inference from the Quranic assertion of men being awarded one darajah/ degree over and above women claim that men are better than women. However, within Quranic context it only refers to the responsibility a husband fulfills in his own family relationship. No man/ husband is superior to any other woman that he has no relation with at all. It is not a general rule of superiority that men enjoy over women. It is purely in context of marriage relation for institutional purposes. One can ask who enjoys superiority in the relationship of a mother and her son? If the above assertion is to be construed as a general rule then clearly the son as a man should have higher darajah than his mother who is a woman. But we know that is not the case at all. Thus it is clear that the above assertion does not qualify to be a general rule of superiority. It is a “husband” who enjoys higher darajah over “his” own wife and not men in general over all other women. And this darajah has nothing to do with human or spiritual status of superiority. Quran is amply clear on that. It is purely an “organisational setup” ideally established with the consent of two people. Anomalies if any are misapplications by human beings which is a pervasive phenomenon in all other human institutions. Rather than calling for obliteration of the whole familial institution we should focus on educating and transforming human beings who are the real source of goodness and corruption.
—The writer is a student of Religion, Philosophy and Metaphysics. [email protected]