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Nanak’s Expendable Wife

INTRODUCTION

Go and ask the deserted bride, how she passes her night.
– Guru Granth Sahib 1379:9

From the completeness and absolute all-encompassing ethos of the Islamic way of life is, among other things, the fulfilment of rights between the husband and the wife as established by the all-Wise Creator. The Muslim spouse is required to understand 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 their husband’s) over them. (Qur’an 2:228) [1]

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) delivered an epoch-making final sermon to over 100,000 of his followers before the great setting of the Prophetic Seal, cessation of revelation, and his subsequent departure from this earth, in which he reminded:

O People, it is true that you have certain rights over 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 right, then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers. [2] (bold, underline ours)

As a man, he was sensitive, kind-hearted, but never sentimental. He was fair and correct. Love of his parents, his sister, his wife, or his children did not prevent him from undertaking long travels, at times lasting several years.

These rights have been given to safeguard the honour and dignity of women, a part of which is the right to physical and financial maintenance and protection.

In this article, we will, God-Willing, provide the perspicuous Islamic edicts to show the type of role-model Prophet Muhammad was (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). In doing so, we will forward what the ideal character and correct behaviour and conduct of a husband should be like.

We will then compare this to an example set by Guru Nanak during his married life; based upon this examination, we will ask some very serious questions related to the inculcation of these questionable religious values and examples.

GURU NANAK’S YEARS OF NEGLECT 

O People, it is true that you have certain rights over your women, but they also have rights over you. … Treat your women well and be kind to them – Prophet Muhammad

For Sikhs, Guru Nanak was Satguru – the true guru, i.e. the one who provided the truth and who was imbued with the alleged divine light of God. Hence, Nanak was, it is claimed, totally one with God – the embodiment of truth – where Satguru and God are apparently inseparable.

Be that as it may, the point is that Guru Nanak is the role-model for a Gursikh – a Sikh devoted to the Guru, whose role it was to dispel the darkness of ignorance (‘gu’) while proclaiming the knowledge of enlightenment (‘ru’).

Sikhs are in agreement that Guru Nanak set out on long proselytising journeys  called udhasis. According to Patwant Singh, these journeys were necessary in order for Nanak to “crystallize his own ideas and give sharper definition to the contours” of his developing religious ideology:

A restlessness was building up in Nanak, an urge to discover the nature of the world he lived in, to meet and understand different people and their beliefs, to find out what they looked for in their faith. He knew he had to travel far to get the answers. Hard as it was to leave those whose love had sustained him, he had to go if his mission in life was to succeed. [3]

The hardship of separation from those who depended upon him and those whom he loved was, it seems, not enough:

And so in the summer of 1496 Nanak’s travels began. The first phase took him eastward to Hardwar, Benares, Kamrup (Assam) and Jagannath (Orissa), and to southern India and Ceylon, and the second to Tibet, Kabul, Mecca and Baghdad, no small feat considering the times and distances involved. But the saintly Nanak had an iron will, and he knew what he wanted from his exchanges with the scholars, thinkers and mystics he met at each of these great centres of religious learning. The encounters helped crystallize his own ideas and give sharper definition to the contours of the faith he was developing. [4]

No small feet indeed, and the question we ask is:

How much time would have been expended to cover these distances?

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

But, before we answer this important question, let us firstly understand the circumstances of his life, i.e. his marital status, before going forth on this ‘grande voyage‘.

Prior to this decision, it should be appreciated that Nanak was not a man with no responsibilities. On the contrary, he was married to Sulakhni and was the father of two sons – Srichand and Lakshmidas. Hence, his decision to take to these long journeys would have been at the expense of his duty as a father and husband. This would not be significant if the separation between a man and his family was necessary and for a short duration. However, it would be absolutely criminal if a man neglected his duties as a husband and/ or father for extended durations of time.

The latter is, in fact, what Nanak is guilty of not just once, but several times. Take for instance his very first stint of travels in which he was absent from his family’s life wondering the wilderness for a inexcusable twelve long years:

Guru Nanak returned home after a little more than twelve years because Mardana had started missing his family. [5] (bold, underline ours)

Incredibly, it was not Nanak who missed his family, but his companion Mardana, which prompted Nanak’s return. G.S. Grewal records that “Guru Nanak returned from his first udasi, and lived at home for four months [6] (bold ours) before getting itchy feet and deciding to set off on his second journey:

On his journey towards the South, Guru Nanak was accompanied by Saido and Gheho. Mardana ultimately stayed behind with his family. [7]

As for the third, then “he trekked towards the North. Penetrating the Himalayas, he went up to Tibet. He was accompanied by Mardana”. [8]

Neither did Nanak spare the Middle East. According to Prof Devinder Singh Chahal, although “there is no record of definit dates of travels of Guru Nanak towards Middle East [sic]”, he concludes:

Guru Nanak was in the area of Middle East for at least 11 years. [9]

All in all:

Nanak’s travels lasted twenty-eight years, until he finally settled down at a peaceful spot on the Ravi above Lahore for the remaining fifteen years. [10] (bold, underline ours)

In other words, his family, and especially his wife, were without his physical and emotional support and assistance for a large portion of those long and lonesome 28-years.

ISLAM’S SOLUTION

Be kind to women!Prophet Muhammad

Allah has given answers to all of the necessary aspects of living a truthful, content and God-conscious life:

And We have sent down to you the Book (the Qur’an) as an exposition of everything – a guidance, a mercy, and glad tidings for those who believe (as Muslims). Truly, Allah enjoins Al-‘Adl (complete justice) and Al-Ihsaan (all righteous deeds), and giving (help) to kith and kin. And He has forbidden Al-Fahshaa’ (all evil deeds), and Al-Munkar (all prohibited matters), and Al-Baghy (all kinds of oppression). He admonishes you, that you may take heed. (Qur’an 16:89-90)

(This is) a Book which We have revealed to you (O Muhammad) in order that you might lead mankind out of darkness into the light by their Lord’s Permission to the path of the All-Mighty, the Owner of all praise. (Qur’an 14:1)

Part of this completion is the plethora of rights afforded to women in Islam. Hence, we ask the sincere reader to ponder over the completeness of this revelation and how it guards against, and closes the doors to, all actions that will lead to evil and corruption.

Our Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) commanded the Muslims:

Be kind [COMMAND VERB] to women. (Al-Bukhari; Muslim)

Only an honourable man treats women with honour and integrity. And only a mean, deceitful and dishonest man humiliates and insults women. (Ibn ‘Asaakir)

O Allah! I declare it a great sin to harm, do injustice, hurt or waste the rights of the two vulnerable persons, the orphan and the woman. (Sunan an-Nisaa’ee)

The most perfect of the believers in faith are those who are the best in attitude, and the best of you are those who are best to their women. (At-Tirmidhee, 1/217; Ahmad, 2/250; al-Silsilah al-Saheehah, 284)

Part of this behaviour encompasses how a Muslim husband is to behave towards his wife, to know what her rights are over him, and to fulfil them.

The husband in Islam has been given the responsibility of maintaining his family’s sustenance and protecting them, as Allah commands in the Qur’an:

And upon the father is the mother’s sustenance and her clothing according to what is reasonable. No person shall have a burden on him greater than he can bear …”  (Qur’an 2:233)

But, another important aspect of Islam is the recognition of satisfying, in the permissible and prescribed way, one of the most important of physical needs – the sexual appetite.

The Messenger of Allah said:

There is no shyness in matters of religion.

Sexual relations are among the important matters of life which Islam came to explain, and to prescribe the proper rulings of conduct. In doing so, it elevated this action from the level of mere bestial pleasures to one of obedience and worship of God. In this respect, the great scholars of Islam, Ibn al-Qayyim (d.751 AH), elucidated:

Concerning sexual relations, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) brought the most perfect guidance, whereby health may be preserved and people may find pleasure and enjoyment, and it may fulfil the purpose for which it was created, because sex was created for three basic purposes:

The preservation and propagation of the human race, until they reach the number of souls that Allah has decreed should be created in this world.

Expulsion of the water (semen), which may cause harm to the body if it is retained.

Fulfilling physical desires and enjoying physical pleasure. This alone is the feature that will be present in Paradise, because there will be no producing of offspring there, and no retention which needs to be relieved by ejaculation. (Zaad al-Ma’aad)

REWARD FOR PERMISSIBLE SEXUAL INTERCOURSE

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said in this regard:

In the sexual intercourse of anyone of you there is reward (meaning, when he has intercourse with his wife). They asked: “O Messenger of Allah! When any one of us fulfils his desire, will he have a reward for that?” He said: Do you not see that if he were to do it in a forbidden manner, he would be punished for that? So if he does it in a permissible manner, he will be rewarded. (Muslim, 720)

WIFE MUST BE SEXUALLY SATISFIED

Likewise, of equal importance in Islam is the wife’s right to her husband’s companionship and the fulfilment of her sexual needs.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

The wife of ‘Uthman ibn Madh’oon complained to the Messenger of Allah that her husband had no need for women. During the days he would fast [11] and at night he would pray. The Prophet asked him: “Am I not the best example for you to follow?” He answered: “Certainly, may my father and mother be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet then told him:  “As for you, you pray during the night and you fast during the day. Certainly, your wife has a right upon you and your body has a right upon you so pray and sleep and fast and break your fast.” (Saheeh Ibn Hibban)

In a long hadeeth reported by Salman al-Farsi, one learns the following:

I went to visit my brother in faith, Abu-Darda. Upon arrival, I was greeted by his spouse who was wearing very casual house clothes. Seeing that, I asked her, “What is the matter with you; why are you wearing such simple and casual clothes and not wearing other suitable clothes to please your husband?” She said: “Your brother, Abu-Darda, has no interest, none whatsoever, with this world and its affairs. He spends his nights praying and spends the day fasting!” Upon the arrival of Abu-Darda, who welcomed Salman, and offered him some food, Salman said: “Why do not you eat with me?” Abu-Darda said: “I am fasting.” Salman said: “I take an oath by Allah that you must break your fast and eat with me.” Abu-Darda broke his fast and ate with Salman. Salman spent that night with Abu-Darda. The latter got up during the night to offer some night prayers. Salman stopped him from doing so saying: Your body has certain rights upon you; your Lord has certain rights upon you; and your family has certain rights upon you. Fast some days, and break the fast on others, approach your spouse and fulfil her instinctive needs. Grant every person his due right.” Just before the break of dawn, Salman permitted Abu-Darda to get up and offer prayers. Both of them got up, performed ablution and offered some prayers then they headed to the Masjid to offer Fajr prayer. Upon finishing the prayer with Allah’s Prophet. Abu-Darda reported to the Prophet what Salman had said and done to him. The Prophet of Allah confirmed: “Salman said the truth.” (Al-Bukhari)

The Prophet told ‘Abdullaah ibn Amr ibnul-‘Aas (who spent all day fasting and all night in prayer) to fast intermittently, and not to neglect his sleep on account of his nocturnal prayers by reminding him to remain balanced in all his affairs including those of worship: “Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you, and your wife has a right over you.” (Al-Bukhari)

TIME LIMIT OF FOUR MONTHS

Nanak’s travels lasted twenty-eight years!

However, from Allah’s absolute Mercy and Wisdom, He also prescribed a maximum time limit of precisely four months for the neglection of one’s wife without a legitimate legislative reason. Once this time limit is up, the man is obliged then obliged to return to his wife to fulfil her rights, or suffer the consequences, which includes the wife’s right of seeking legal action.

The proof of this legislation is the following verse in the Qur’an:

Those who take an oath not to have sexual relation with their wives must wait four months, then if they return (change their idea in this period), truly, Allah is oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And if they decide upon divorce, then Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knowledgeable. (Qur’an 2:226)

Allah here has ensured the protection of the rights of women. Today, we find men holding back from their women for long periods of time, thereby placing her at risk of committing adultery. And since this is a sensitive subject, many women do not bring this out into the open for fear of embarrassment.

According to the scholars of Islam, the above verse indicates that the man is sinning for taking this type of evil oath and depriving his wife of her sexual rights.

In his well known commentary of the Qur’an, the exegete, Ibn Katheer (d.774 AH), said:

If the period exceeds four months, the woman must ask her husband for sex or divorce, otherwise the judge will urge him to do so in order not to harm her.

While Shaykhul-Islam ibn Taymiyyah (d.728 AH) stated:

The harm that comes about to the woman by the man avoiding sexual intercourse with her is such that the marriage may be dissolved under every circumstance, regardless if it was intentional from the husband or unintentional, or if he had the ability to perform sexual intercourse or not. [12]

MAXIMUM TIME AWAY FROM THE WIFE

From the balance of Islam is also the fact that Allah, out of his mercy, has prescribed a limit for the period of time a woman can bear to be away from her husband. This temporary separation, however, can only be undertaken for Islamically acceptable reasons.

This ruling is based on ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab’s seeking of guidance from his daughter Hafsah:

“O my daughter, how long can a woman bear to be away from her husband?” She replied: “Subhan’Allah (glorified be Allah above all imperfections)! Would one such as you ask one such as me about that?” He said: “Were it not that I want to make a decision concerning the Muslims I would not have asked you.” She declared: “Five months or six months.” [13]

Based on her proclamation, ‘Umar, who was the leader of the Muslims at that time, set a time limit for campaigns to last for six months during which they would march for a month, stay for four months, but ensure on leaving a month for the return journey.

From this, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen said:

With regard to a man travelling and being away from his wife: if she is in a place of safety then there is nothing wrong with that; but, if she lets him stay away for more than six months, then likewise there is nothing wrong with that. However, if she asks for her rights and asks him to come back to her, then he should not stay away for more than six months. But if there is a reason such as a sick person who is being treated etc., then cases of necessity come under their own rulings. Whatever the case, it is the wife’s right, and if she allows that and is in a safe place, there is no sin on him, even if the husband is away a great deal. [14]

CONCLUSION

Women are the twin halves of men. (Ibn ‘Asaakir)

It is boasted by many Sikhs that Sikhism does not encourage a monastic way of life, but rather a life of commitment towards siring children and living amicably with one’s spouse.

We dispute this empty claim by asking:

What is worse, the one engaged for years in carrying out a task at only the expense of his own well being, or the one engaged for years in a task at the expense of not only his own well being, but others who have a greater right over his time than the said task?

Nanak’s wife was a woman who would have had the same desires and needs as any other woman.

Who would have tended to her sexual needs during those 12 years, let alone 28-years of combined travel?

If Sikhism is against monasticism, then who was Sulakhni turning to for companionship and intimacy? These are important questions when dealing with a man who, despite having committed to a relationship with a woman, decides to wander off for 12-years, especially since such behaviour amounts to a type of oppression that places the woman at risk of committing illegal sexual actions.

And what of Nanak’s wife?

How was Sulakhni satisfying her personal needs?

Was she engaging in what Islam calls “the secret act”, masturbation, which incidentally Islam has forbidden in no uncertain terms, but which Sikhism is silent over.

Or will the Sikhs argue that Sulakhni too was a Gursikhni who had managed to elevate herself above these sexual needs by conquering her inherent carnal desires?!

Even if this absurd explanation were forwarded, surely the same explanation cannot be given to explain away the isolation and loneliness she must have felt over the extended periods of absence of her other half.

Furthermore, and more significantly, these actions from the so-called paragon of virtue – Nanak – also gives an open licence for his adherents to pursue similar religious activities at the expense of their duties towards their family.

If Nanak left his family to gallivant around the world, it stands to reason that not only would this justify, but might also encourage his followers to do the same. 

Nevertheless, we are told by some:

As a man, he was sensitive, kind-hearted, but never sentimental. He was fair and correct. Love of his parents, his sister, his wife, or his children did not prevent him from undertaking long travels, at times lasting several years. [15]

Your wife is one of those for whom you are responsible Prophet Muhammad

But, how is it fair for the breadwinner to leave his family as a burden for others to look after?

How it it from love to leave your wife behind, to presumably fend for herself and her children, for years on end?

Moreover, the question must be asked of the children:

How would the children have felt seeing their role-model leave them for years on end?

In the Islamic world view, the understanding is that Allah will hold everyone accountable for what they had responsibility over. Anas reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

Allah will ask everyone who has been given responsibility about whatever he was responsible for, until He asks a man about his family. (Ibn Hibaan)

Abu Hurayrah said:

I heard the Messenger of Allah saying, “By Allah; if one of you were to get up in the morning and carry firewood on his back, and sell it and meet his own needs from the money and give some away in charity, this would be better for him than coming to a man and begging from him, and either being given something or not. The upper hand (the one which gives) is better than the lower hand (the one that takes), and start with those for whom you are responsible.” (Muslim 3/96).

According to a report narrated by Ahmad (2/524), it was said: “For whom am I responsible, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Your wife is one of those for whom you are responsible.”

Narrated by Jabir ibn Samurah, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

If Allah gives something good to any one of you, let him start with himself and his family. (Muslim 1454)

Subhan’Allah (Glorified is Allah above all imperfections); how far away is this conduct and teaching of ‘truth living’ from the example of Guru Nanak?

The Prophet warned that the responsibility of looking after the family should be given to no one but the husband.

The Guru Granth Sahib states:

jaa ddithaa pooraa sathiguroo thaan andharahu man saadhhaariaa
When I see the Perfect True Guru, then deep within, my mind is comforted and consoled.
(SGGS 310)

How is it, then, possible for a conscientious man to be comforted and consoled by the reality of choosing to forsake his family for over a decade, knowing there’s no one to tend to the needs of his family in the manner in which only he as a husband and father could satisfy?

It is patently obvious which example is better!

Sa’d ibn Maalik reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said to him:

Whatever you spend on your family, you will be rewarded for it, even the mouthful which you lift up and place in your wife’s mouth. (Al-Bukhari; Muslim)

In order to lift that morsel of food to the wife’s mouth, one must firstly be present in her company!

Allah says:

And truly you (O Muhammad) are upon an exalted character.” (Qur’an 68:4)

[1] The great companion Ibn ‘Abbaas stood in front of a looking glass to straighten his appearance and arrange his ornamentation. When he was asked about it, he said, “I adorn myself for my wife as she does for me.” Then he recited the noble verse: “And they (women) have rights (over their husbands) similar (to those of their husbands) over them.” (Qur’an 2:228)
[2] Prophet Muhammad’s Last Sermon. Date delivered: 632 CE. This sermon was delivered on the Ninth day of Dhul al Hijjah 10 A.H. in the ‘Uranah valley of Mount Arafat.
[3] P. Singh (2001), The Sikhs, (The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group), pp. 22-3.
[4] Ibid.
[5] K.S. Duggal (1987), Sikh Gurus: Their Lives and Teachings, (Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the U.S.A), p. 21.
[6] G.S. Grewal (2011), History, Literature, and Identity: Four Centuries of Sikh Tradition, (Oxford University Press, New Delhi), p. 230.
[7] K.S. Duggal, op. cit.,  p. 23.
[8] Ibid., p. 24.
[9] D.S. Chahal (20087), ‘HOW LONG WAS GURU NANAK’S TRAVEL TOWARDS MIDDLE EAST?‘, (PhD, Institute for Understanding Sikhism), p. 36.
[10] P. Singh, op. cit, pp. 24-5.
[11] In Islam it is impermissible for the fasting person to partake in certain designated actions since these would break the fast.
[12] Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Fataawa al-Kubra, vol. 4, p. 562; Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmooh al-Fataawa, Vol. 32, p. 40.
[13] Al-Mughni, 7/232, 416.
[14] Fataawa al-‘Ulama fi ‘Ushratin-Nisaa, p. 106.
[15] K.S. Duggal, op. cit., p. 34.

2 comments

  1. I guess the verse you quoted is actually a hadith so I think you should clarify this.

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