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Muhammad’s Wives’ Marital Rights

INTRODUCTION

This is a response to Bijla Singh’s attempt at rebutting our article Nanak’s Expendable Wife which asserts that Guru Nanak neglected the rights of his wife and his family. In his article Neglect for Wives, Bijla conflates the issue of the rights of a wife being neglected vis-á-vis her physical and emotional satisfaction by committing the cardinal mistake of mixing categories.

WIFE’S MARITAL RIGHTS

In his eagerness to show that it was “not Guru Sahib who had neglected his wife but Mohammad himself who showed little to no care for his wives and their needs”, Bijla says that “according to Islamic scholars a wife 1) must be sexually satisfied 2) must not become burden on the society 3) needs companionship of husband”.

Immediately from the outset, however, Bijla fails to name the Islamic scholars who have mentioned the three categories he is referring to. This is important so one can gauge the background of these scholars vis-á-vis the legal school of thought they adhere to since this information will invariably impact the definition of terms used in the above argument. If, for example, he is referring to the Shi’a scholars of the Ithna ‘Ashari sect, then this will immediately raise a problem in regards to the definition of the term “sexual satisfaction” and “burden on society” since this heretical group advocates forbidden short term contractual relationships, which can last from a few-hours to a few days, called mut’ah. Moreover, Bijla himself has committed the freshman fallacy by failing to define said terms.

He then bizarrely states of the three categories that “(Sikhs) reject this falsified claim because Sikhi, unlike Islam, teaches to control one’s desires and have self-control”. Is Bijla here seriously suggesting that controlling one’s desires and having self-control (presumably of the sexual drive) is a demonstrable method for Sikhism to reject the generally held understanding that wives have a right to be sexually satisfied, should not be left to become a burden on society and do not need their husband’s companionship? If this teaching method really is representative of Bijla’s religion and realistically feasible, one wonders why Sikhs bother to wed in the first place?! It defeats the whole purpose of marriage and the notion of companionship.

Moreover, his allusion that Islam does not instill in Muslims a level of self-control that tempers their carnal desires is false. Just as Sikhism teaches, for example, self-control in regards to the five moral evils: kaam (concupiscence/ lust), lobh (greed), moh (attachment/ delusion), krodh (ire/ wrath) and ahankar (pride), Islam too inculcates self-control and self-regulation in respect to these propensities or dispositional activities. In fact, Bijla contradicts this blanket claim later when accepting at least one dispositional activity of self-control, viz. lust, when making mention of “the secret act” (masturbation) and acknowledging that Muslims consider it “forbidden in Islam”. He does not mention Sikhism’s stance on masturbation; but if, for example, we presuppose that it is forbidden for unmarried Sikhs to masturbate to pornographic material, will Bijla seriously contend that Islam, or any other major religion for that matter, does not? If this is not the case, then why assert such erroneous generalisations. A cursory examination of Islamic ethics would have brought to his attention Prophetic traditions that prohibit fornication and adultery; disproportionate and unjustified feelings of love, anger or hatred; a mustard seed’s weight of arrogance (kibr); jealousy; while encouraging things like tazkiyyat un-nafs (purification of the self); tazkiyyat al-qalb (purification of the heart); practicing to sustain self-control of one’s tongue, carnal desires, etc. while working towards increasing one’s spirituality and worship through the process of fasting; and the list goes on and on.

Bijla’s assertion is simply preposterous and he would do well to read Daljeet Singh’s book: Sikhism – A Comparative Study of its Theology and Mysticism, wherein he makes the a priori point:

Yet, no religion is without a theology of its own. Every system has some broad basic assumptions. It must, in order to guide its followers, prescribe a working philosophy and the principles of its discipline. It is on these fundamentals that the theology of a religion is raised. [1] (bold ours)

As to the origin of these fundamentals in Islam, Daljeet naturally recognises:

The Quran is a complete code tending to awaken in man the proper consciousness of his relation with God, man and the universe. The fear of God and prayers to Him are two important instruments to raise the spiritual level of man. Five prayers a day are prescribed. In order to avoid the anti-social effect of the solitary or contemplative life, congregational prayers are recommended. [2] (bold ours)

Raising the spiritual level and not being anti-social will obviously necessitate some type of self-control and regulation, would it not Bijla?!

THE ISLAMIC INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE

There is no monasticism in Islam – Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)

Before continuing, it is important on a practical level that in the context of self-control and self-discipline, a breakdown be given of the Islamic institution of marriage. Islam is strictly against the institution of monasticism since the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) said:

There is no monasticism in Islam. [3]

Although it is not a condition for entry to Paradise, marriage is recommended since this was the practice of the true Prophets and Messengers of God, and because Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) said:

Whoever has the ability should marry for it is better in lowering the gaze and guarding one’s chastity. Whoever is not able to, let him fast for it is for him a restraint. [4]

It is certainly possible for a Muslim to be pious and remain so without needing to get married, and examples of this are found scattered throughout Islamic history, such as, the great scholar Taqi ad-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah (d.728AH, 1263-1328CE). However, such examples are rare and an exception to the rule. The basic contention is that if one fears committing Islamically forbidden acts in order to satisfy the sexual appetite, then marriage certainly becomes necessary.

Though Bijla is correct in maintaining that such needs do not “just disappear after the husband departs from this world”, our original argument against Guru Nanak was not premised simply on his wife’s needs being fulfilled (she could have achieved that in a number of other ways), but the right she had over her husband in having those needs satiated by him and whether her husband fulfilled said rights.

Unfortunately, Bijla commits the error of mixing categories by conflating the needs of a person being fulfilled and the rights a person has of having those needs fulfilled – they are not necessarily one and the same. For example, when a woman enters into a marriage, she acquires a right over her husband to have her intimate and sexual needs satisfied. However, following her husbands death, she still has the option of having those needs satisfied by getting married again. Hence, the crucial question ought to be: is her first husband accountable towards fulfilling her desire for said needs following his death? The answer is, of course, obvious; but, what is not so obvious to Bijla, is that this has nothing to do with the satisfaction of needs, but the fulfilment of rights.

Hence, the fulfilment of rights has always been dependent upon one’s ability. If one is incapable of meeting the prerequisite standards and conditions for the fulfilment of certain rights, then such responsibilities should not be accepted lest it lead to injustice.

Another plausible scenario is that it is entirely possible, for some unanticipated or unforeseen reason, for a person to later temporarily or permanently lose said ability. Of course, there is nothing unanticipated or unforeseen when it comes to death; the fulfilment of rights is rendered void after a person’s death precisely because the ability to meet those standards and conditions has permanently ended. Hence, in this respect, there is an obvious distinction between the choices made during the period of marriage and those made after marriage, either as a divorcee or a widow, vis-á-vis the fulfilment of rights.

Coming back to Bijla’s vacuous point, the onus is upon him to prove that Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) did not fulfil said rights incumbent upon him to fulfil. As demonstrated in our article Nanak’s Expendable Wife, Guru Nanak DURING HIS LIFE neglected, and thus, failed to fulfil the rights of his wife and children for years on end.

After delineating an evaluatory breakdown of the Prophet’s wives, Bijla contends “that Mohammad had left his wives sexually deprived after his death”. But, this argument is merely further proof of how Bijla has attempted to muddy the waters through his mixing of categories, which we have now thoroughly exposed.

With the complete absence of evidence, it is safe to say that, unlike Guru Nanak, Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) was a constant presence in and support for his wives’ and children’s lives and was, thus, in a position to fulfil his rights as a husband during his life time. In contrast, when examining Sulakhani’s marriage (1473-1545CE), the same is not true of Guru Nanak. According to Max Arthur MacAuliffe, the Janamsakhi that bears the name of Bhai Mani Singh states that “Nanak was married [to Sulakhani] at the age of fourteen”. [5] Sulakhani is usually taken to be around four years his junior. Hence, when Nanak’s so-called enlightenment occurred in 1499 C.E. at the age of “thirty years old”, [6] Sulakhani was around 26 years of age. With Nanak having practically abandoned his wife and children by spending an inordinate amount of time travelling the wilderness during his udhasis (proselytising mission) – accounting for a staggering 28 years of his remaining 38 years of life (1469-1538/9CE), poor Sulakhani was, from the age of 26, without the company of her good husband. Despite this sordid fact, we are patronisingly told that “though she undoubtedly was lonely, she waited patiently”! [7]

Let us now examine Bijla’s remaining assertion that “Mohammad had left his wives sexually deprived AFTER his death” (bold ours). The key part in this argument is the word “deprived”, which gives the impression that the Prophet forcibly expunged or withheld from his wives their right to sexual satisfaction following his death. Since we know that he fulfilled his right in this regard during his life, and since Bijla has failed to produce any evidence to the contrary, the question that remains is whether the Prophet’s wives were ever forced into accepting this state of affairs after his death? If they were forced or coerced into surrendering or sacrificing this right, then the term “deprived” would be justified. If, however, they freely chose to sacrifice this right, then Bijla’s contention is false.

We have already established that the choice of remaining single is not prohibited in Islam as long as the condition for remaining chaste is met. To summarise: the need for marriage can be bypassed as long as one can either sufficiently resist or live without sexual temptation. This is, as we have mentioned, a definite exception to the rule. Islam stipulates that mankind satisfy their normal physiological desires and urges, but only through the channels and within the boundaries of moderation divinely legislated by their all-Wise Creator. There is, however, another condition that was exclusively applicable to none except the wives of the Prophet: marriage was prohibited to them AFTER the death of their husband Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah).

But, before we move on, a critical point to keep in mind at this stage is what was mentioned before that these exceptions and conditions are NOT applicable during the duration of marriage itself. Hence, any excuse forwarded by Sikhs that, similar to the Prophet’s wives, Mata Sulakhni too freely chose to remain chaste and patient during her husband’s prolonged absences is, again, the false argument of mixing categories. The decision Sulakhani made during the course of her marriage is irrelevant vis-á-vis Nanak’s marital rights; that is to say, her choice could not absolve Nanak from fulfilling his rights. Since these marital rights are only applicable DURING marriage, Sulakhni’s sacrifice, if anything, was forced upon her due to Nanak’s failure as a husband. For a woman to suspend her marital rights for 28 long years defeats the very purpose of marriage itself, which for the vast majority of God-conscious people involves, among other things, companionship through the sharing and fulfilment of emotional and physical desires. Hence, it was Mata Sulakhni, and not the Prophet’s wives, that was “deprived”.

THE “VERSE OF CHOICE”

Allah commands His Messenger (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) to give his wives the choice of separating from him so that they may go to someone else with whom they can find what they want of the life of this world. – Ibn Kathir

As for the wives of the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah), then when we look to the annals of history we find incontrovertible evidence of them not only being fully cognisant of the condition of unmarriageability, but, more crucially, presented with an unambiguous choice in the matter.

Although Bijla later cites the Qur’anic verse 33:53, he fails to cite all other verses related to the revelatory condition of unmarriageability including 33:28-9, which the muffasiroon (Qur’anic exegetes) dubbed the “Verse of Choice”:

O Prophet! Say to your wives: “If you desire the life of this world, and its glitter, then come! I will make a provision for you and set you free in a handsome manner. But if you desire Allah and His Messenger, and the Home of the Hereafter, then verily, Allah has prepared for the doers of good among you an enormous reward.” (Qur’an 33:28-9)

At this juncture, it is important to understand the circumstances surrounding the reason behind this revelation so as to obviate any doubts of the free choice offered to the Prophet’s wives. Ibn Kathir states in his magnum opus commentary:

Here Allah commands His Messenger (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) to give his wives the choice of separating from him so that they may go to someone else with whom they can find what they want of the life of this world and its attractions, or of patiently bearing the straitened circumstances with the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) for which they will have a great reward with Allah. They chose Allah and His Messenger (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) and the Home of the Hereafter, may Allah be pleased with them. Then Allah gave them the best both of this world and of the Hereafter. Al-Bukhari narrated from ‘A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, the wife of the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) that the Messenger of Allah came to her when Allah commanded him to give his wives the choice. She said, “The Messenger of Allah (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) started with me, and said, ‘I am going to tell you about something and you do not have to hasten to respond until you consult your parents.’ He knew that my parents would never tell me to leave him. Then he said: ‘O Prophet! Say to your wives…’ and he recited the two Ayat [verses]. I said to him, ‘Concerning what do I need to consult my parents? I choose Allah and His Messenger and the Home of the Hereafter.'” [8] He also narrated it without a chain of narrators, and added, “She said, then all the wives of the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) did the same as I.” [9]

Imam Ahmad recorded that ‘A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, said: “The Messenger of Allah (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) gave us the choice, and we chose him, so giving us that choice was not regarded as divorce.” [10] It was recorded by (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) from the Hadlth of Al-A’mash. [11] [12] (bold ours)

In the Musnad of Imam Ahmad, Jabir recounts the event and says of verse 33:28-9: “Then Allah revealed the Ayah telling him [the Prophet] to give them [his wives] the choice, and he started with ‘A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her.” (bold ours) [13]

In the Tafsir of al-Jalalayn, the exegete states:

O Prophet! Say to your wives: – who were nine, and they had asked him for some of the adornments of this world, which he did not possess – ‘If you desire the life of this world and its adornment, come [now], I will provide for you, in other words, the compensation [to be provided] for divorce, and release you in a gracious manner, I will divorce you and will not coerce [you to stay]. [14] (bold, underline ours)

Immediately following this verse, Allah made clear the lofty status of the wives and the unique conditions and restrictions that came with being married to the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah):

O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other of the women. If you will be on your guard, then be not soft in your speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease yearn; and speak a good word. And stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former Times of Ignorance; and establish regular prayer, and give regular charity; and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, O Ahlul Bayt (People of the House), and to purify you with a thorough purification. (Qur’an 33:32-33)

Ibn Kathir comments:

This Ayah [verse] is addressed to the wives of the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) who chose Allah and His Messenger and the Home of the Hereafter, and remained married to the Messenger of Allah (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah). Thus it was befitting that there should be rulings which applied only to them, and not to other women, in the event that any of them should commit open Fahishah. Ibn ‘Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “This means Nushuz (rebellion) and a bad attitude.” [15] [16]

Following the unhesitant decision of all the wives to remain with their husband, thus freely choosing to accept and comply by all the sui generis injunctions, verses 33:6 and 33:52-3 were revealed soon after. Of verse 33:52, Ibn Kathir states:

More than one of the scholars, such as Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, Ad-Dahhak, Qatadah, Ibn Zayd, Ibn Jarir and others [17] stated that this Ayah was revealed as a reward to the wives of the Prophet expressing Allah’s pleasure with them for their excellent decision in choosing Allah and His Messenger and the Home of the Hereafter, when the Messenger of Allah, gave them the choice, as we have stated above. [18]

The Messenger of Allah (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) gave us the choice, and we chose him. – ‘A’isha

Some classical Qur’anic exegetes opine that the “Verse of Choice” preceded verses 33:6: “The Prophet is more worthy of the believers than themselves, and his wives are (in the position of) their mothers,” and the last sentence of 33:53: “… nor that you should ever marry his wives after him (his death). Verily, with Allaah that shall be an enormity.” Ibn Kathir says of verse 33:53:

Hence the scholars were unanimous in stating that it was forbidden for anyone to marry any of the women who were married to the Messenger of Allah (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) at the time when he died, because they are his wives in this world and in the Hereafter, and they are the Mothers of the believers, as stated previously. [19]

Hence, with the revelation of 33:6, the wives acquired the honorific title “Mothers of the Believers”, which, in conjunction with 33:53, clarified their soon-to-be applied condition of unmarriageability.

Bijla further adds:

Some like Ayesha were very young and could get remarried but Mohammad had put a stop to the remarriage by revealing the following verse.
Nor is it right for you that ye should annoy God’s Messenger, or that ye should marry his widows after him at any time. (33:53).

On one hand, Islam says that wife must be sexually satisfied and on the other hand no one had the right to marry Mohammad’s widows. Then we must ask the same question: How were these wives sexually satisfied especially Ayesha the “mother of the believers” after Mohammad’s death? Did they turn to caliphs (Umar, Ali, Uthman, Hussain, Abu Bakr etc) or did they engage in “the secret act” as Muslims put it which is forbidden in Islam? Who attended to their needs?

Again, this further supports the fact that Bijla has misunderstood our initial argument. Our article was not about a woman’s right to being sexually satisfied, but, as clearly stated in the first paragraph to the introduction of the article Nanak’s Expendable Wife:

From the completeness and absolute all-encompassing ethos of the Islamic way of life is, amongst other things, the fulfilment of rights between the husband and the wife as established by the all-Wise Creator. The Muslim spouse understands that in order to live a wholesome, satisfying, tranquil, fully balanced and workable relationship these respective rights must be implemented.

And they (women) have rights (over their husbands) similar (to those of their husbands) over them…. (Qur’an 2:228)

Technically speaking, a wife and widow are mutually exclusive terms where a woman is not a wife after her husband passes away, but a widow. Bijla is apparently confused over the use of these terms vis-á-vis the fulfilment of rights.

As to the question of sexual satiation after their husbands passing away, then, as stated above, marriage can be bypassed if the condition for remaining chaste can be met; and though an exception to the rule, there were Muslims of a high enough moral, religious and spiritual calibre to bypass marriage and still remain devout and pious worshippers. In this respect, we know that Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) married women of just such a calibre. Likewise, his wives would also have known of the immense responsibility that came with being a wife to the best of the Prophets and the best of creation, made abundantly clear to them by their Lord in the following verse: “O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other of the women…” (33:32). Hence, in light of all the above, the peculiarities specific to the Prophet’s family required from them a certain level of excellence that was to be upheld and maintained through strict adherence to certain concessions and restrictions, some of which have already been mentioned. As for the Prophet himself, he too was subject to restrictions not imposed on other Muslim husbands, one of which was that he could not divorce his wives (33.52) once they had freely chosen to shun the opulence and luxuries of “the life of this world” (33.28) and remain married to him. In doing so, Allah assured them of “an enormous reward” (33:29) where they would receive double the reward for doing good works and fulfilling their obligation of devout obedience to Allah and His Messenger (33.31). He also reminded them that any and all subsequent hardships encountered were, in reality, Allah’s way of purging from the Prophet’s household “all abomination […] and to purify… [them] with a thorough purification” (33:33). This purification process, coupled with a naturally inclined pietistic nature, meant that they fulfilled the conditions of unmarriageability following their husband’s death. In addition, given that his wives were also warned of a “double” (33:30) punishment if they failed to adhere to the conditions imposed upon them, it would have been highly unlikely for them to have accepted the injunction of unmarriageability if they had even a shred of doubt in their ability of meeting such a condition.

Bijla then poses the question over whether it was “injustice” on the part of the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) to leave his widows without anyone “to look after their financial needs and most importantly satisfy their sexual urges”. Having emphatically addressed the point of sexual urges, Bijla’s question over their “financial needs” would certainly be warranted if it was not for the fact that the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) had indeed taken care of this by allowing his wives the privilege of receiving from the state’s welfare system via the bait al-maal. This allowed them to continue their efforts in teaching religious knowledge while looking after their family. Again, the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) not only fulfilled their rights during his life, but took all necessary steps to ensure they were well looked after following his departure.

He finally states:

Revelation of the above said suras (33:37, 33:50, 33:53) have no impact in today’s life because there is no Mohammad, his adopted son and his wife and Mohammad’s widows. There are no more wives of Mohammad. Mohammad is not there to marry as many women as he can. These are the suras which do not have anything to guide the people of present time. Therefore, what message is being given to the people? Absolutely nothing.

Whether said verses have any impact on the people of today or not is completely beside the point and irrelevant. The fact is that it impacted the people of that time, and it would come to serve as important historical information relaying the status of the Mothers of the believers, their high moral, religious and spiritual character, and the many sacrifices they made in life to acquire the best in the afterlife.

CONCLUSION

We have presented evidence to show that Bijla Singh has not been able to furnish any evidence to prove his assertion that Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) neglected his wives’ rights during his life. We have further shown that there existed certain conditions that were applicable only to his wives, one of which was the stipulation of unmarriageability following their husband’s death. They were, however, given a choice to freely accept or reject said condition. They all unhesitatingly chose to accept it.

In light of the fact that Guru Nanak spent 28 years in absentia busily preaching and converting, we wish to ask whether any evidence can be furnished to suggest that this mission, albeit unjust and neglectful, was restricted only to Nanak and no one else? In other words, if such an unambiguous restriction does not exist, then what is stopping Sikhs, who take Nanak to be their absolute role model, from relegating their marital rights and abandoning their wives and children for years on end?

ADDENDUM

After contacting Bijla Singh on 23 June 2011 enquiring about his perpetual silence over our latest rebuttals, we received the following flippant response from him on 27 June 2011:

Gurmat is the best and the only truth. Try writing rational valid rebuttals and counter all the points. I have other things to do as well. I am not “vehla” [free for time] like you.

So much for rationally defending the “truth”.

[1] D. Singh (2004), Sikhism – A Comparative Study of its Theology and Mysticism, (Amritsar, Singh Brothers), p. 195.
[2] Ibid., pp. 139-40.
[3] M.N. ad-D. al-Albaani, Silsilat al-Ahaadeeth al-Saheehah, 4/387.
[4] Sahih Al-Bukhari.
[5] M.A. MacAuliffe (2008), The Sikh Religion Volume 1, (Forgotten Books), p. 81.
[6] S.S. Brar (2009), The First Master Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539).
[7] SikhiWiki (22-2-10), Mata Sulakhni.
[8] Fn.1: Fath al-Bari 8:379.
[9] Fn.2: Fath al-Bari 8:380.
[10] Fn.3: Ahmad 6:45.
[11] Fn.4: Fath al-Bari 9:280, Muslim 2:1104.
[12] S.-R. al-Mubarakpuri (2000), Tafsir ibn Kathir (Abridged) Volume 7, (Darassalam), pp. 672-3.
[13] Ibid., p. 674.
[14] The Tafsirs, Tafsir al-Jalalayn in English, (Altafsir.com).
[15] Fn.1: Al-Baghawi 3:527.
[16] S.-R. al-Mubarakpuri, op. cit., p. 676.
[17] Fn.1: At-Tabari 20:297, 299.
[18] S.-R. al-Mubarakpuri, op. cit. Volume 8, p. 21.
[19] Ibid., p.28.

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