by Raiiq Ridwan
There was once a woman called Khawla. She had a husband who was old and particularly ill-tempered. One day in a moment of anger the man said, “You are to me like my mother’s back”— a pagan form of divorce called “Zihar.”
This divorce was particularly cruel. It deprived a woman of her marital rights, but also prevented her from remarrying. After he had spent time outside, he came back to try and get intimate with her again. She refused, saying that she would only allow him only after complaining to the messenger (peace be upon him) about it. Then she went to the prophet (peace be upon him) to complain.
Overturning the Prophet’s Judgment
The prophet, while being the most merciful of human beings, was still a judge. And he could not give a ruling until he had heard both sides. He heard her, and as no new law had been sent by Allah, all the prophet could say is that they were haram to each other.
She cried out. She said that the children would not survive if their marriage ended— they would be hungry if they were with her, and he couldn’t take care of children properly. She complained, debated, and kept debating.
It is worth noting that for anyone else, arguing with the prophet was not allowed. In Surah Hujurat Allah reprimanded the Bedouins for just speaking too loudly and harshly to the prophet (peace be upon him), let alone debating him. The prophet was the ultimate authority who should be obeyed. Yet the prophet understood the delicate nature of the situation. He knew that she was emotional and that she was deeply hurt. It was at this time that Khawla was honoured with an honour that very few have ever been given. Allah from above the seven heavens arbitrated on her behalf.
God has heard the words of the woman who disputed with you [Prophet] about her husband and complained to God: God has heard what you both had to say. He is all hearing, all seeing. [Quran, 58:1]
Allah Arbitrating on a Woman’s Behalf
Allah honoured Khawla by arbitrating on her behalf and in doing so gave us timeless lessons. There was no reprimand for her debating the prophet. There was no rebuking for raising her voice. Allah understood her pain. Allah even says that He knows what both had to say.
He let the prophet understand that the Prophet’s stance is understandable; the prophet is a man of mercy, but he is still a man who needs to listen to both sides of the story before judging.
He ends the first ayah by saying that He is all-Hearing and all-Seeing. He tells Khawla that He hears all and sees all. He heard what her husband said to her, and He heard her first tears. He saw how her husband was harsh to her and hurt her feelings, and He saw how she cried. He saw her as she came to the prophet, making an effort to do the right thing. He heard her cries when she cried in front of the prophet. Allah was there all along that journey.
In our times of great grief, we need to remember that Allah is there with us.
A Warning to Husbands
On the flipside, it is a terrible warning to husbands and men about their treatment of women. Allah sided with Khawla knowing how hurt she was. The man hurt her, but did not even take it seriously. He came back after a while as if nothing had happened. Allah heard it all. He saw it all. He then gave His advice:
Even if any of you say to their wives, ‘You are to me like my mother’s back,’ they are not their mothers; their only mothers are those who gave birth to them. What they say is certainly blameworthy and false, but God is pardoning and forgiving.’ [Quran, 58:2]
Allah first abolishes this form of divorce from the purview of Islam. He says that such hurtful words are blameworthy and false. The husband of Khawla probably did not even take it seriously. He said something in a moment of anger and thought it was not significant. Allah on the other hand shows that it was wrong. He takes it seriously. He considers it blameworthy.
Verbal Abuse Taken Seriously
Many of us “practicing” Muslims do not take verbal abuse as a serious offence. Here Allah makes it clear that to Him, this is serious. In fact, the seriousness is mentioned in the next verse. The punishment for giving a zihar marriage is a sign until the end of times of how seriously Allah takes the verbal abuse of a wife.
Those of you who say such a thing to their wives, then go back on what they have said, must free a slave before the couple may touch one another again––this is what you are commanded to do, and God is fully aware of what you do––but anyone who does not have the means should fast continuously for two months before they touch each other, and anyone unable to do this should feed sixty needy people. This is so that you may [truly] have faith in God and His Messenger. These are the bounds set by God: grievous torment awaits those who ignore them. Those who oppose God and His Messenger will be brought low, like those before them: We have revealed clear messages, and humiliating torment awaits those who ignore them, on the Day when God will raise everyone and make them aware of what they have done. God has taken account of it all, though they may have forgotten: He witnesses everything.” [Quran 58:3-6]
At the end of the last verse, Allah reminds of His forgiveness and mercy. However, Allah wants an expiation. And the expiation is of freeing a slave. As this is a means that is not available to us anymore, we sometimes do not understand the implications. Freeing a slave is an expiation for pretty serious crimes. If someone kills someone accidentally, Islamically they need to free a slave. That is how seriously Allah viewed such abusive words towards a wife. The next option is to fast two months continuously or to feed sixty needy people.
Then Allah moves on to giving a serious warning: grievous torment awaits those who ignore them Those who oppose God and His Messenger will be brought low, like those before them: We have revealed clear messages, and humiliating torment awaits those who ignore them.
While we do not take words that seriously, to Allah they are serious. It is a serious warning to brothers when dealing with their significant other.
Words can heal a broken heart, or tear someone apart. Words were the method that Allah chose to send us His beautiful message with, and words are exactly what the enemies of Islam use in their propaganda against Allah. Words are powerful. It is a tool that can change whether we are heading for paradise or heading for hell. The words that we use in our treatment of our significant other is a testament to the strength of our faith or the lack thereof.
The Quran Respects Women’s Rights
To the many people who are made to think that Islam does not respect the rights and honour of women, should only look at this Surah. It is one of many examples of how Allah honours a woman. The pain of Khawla was such that Allah did not inspire the Prophet to just judge for her case. Rather, Allah sent down Quran that would be recited till the end of times, and as a guidance for all of us in our dealings with our spouses. It is a guidance that is crucial in this time when divorce rates and rates of domestic abuse only seems to be increasing. We ask Allah’s help for his protection from anything that displeases Him