The seventh-century Arabic text sounds quite modern on many topics of crucial import for social and personal relations.


One good side effect of the current debate on the bizarre thing called triple talaq is that many people have started to read the Quran. Indeed, the seventh-century Arabic text sounds quite modern on many topics of crucial import for social and personal relations. Several dedicated chapters and many scattered verses in other parts of Quran deal with the women’s question directly. The votaries of triple talaq would not have cut such a sorry figure if they had carefully read the chapter on talaq, besides instructions offered throughout. All along, the Quran advises men to be just, caring and amiable in their dealing with women. Even if talaq was the only option left, the marital contract cannot be annulled in a rash and abrupt manner; it has to be resolved giving at least three chances over a period of time, for either continuing in marriage or agreeing for a peaceful divorce.

The tragedy of Islam is that wherever it has gone it is embedded in local social hierarchies, setting aside its egalitarian principles. The Prophet of Islam had imaginatively reinterpreted Middle-Eastern traditions and histories associated with Judaism and Christianity, besides appropriating tribal customary practices of Arabia. One of the most fascinating stories narrated in the Quran is the molestation case levelled against the extraordinarily handsome Yusuf, known in Biblical tradition as Joseph, the son of Yaqub (Jacob) and elder brother of Binyamin (Benjamin). Jacob’s father Isaac and grandfather Abraham are central to the three sister religions of the Middle East, with accounts of their careers as Prophetic figures varying in details.

Forced by hostility from as many as 11 sons from three wives of Jacob, and the fourth wife (mother of Joseph and Benjamin) perhaps dying early, Joseph landed up in late teens as a good-looking slave in the household of an Egyptian lord identified in the Quran as Aziz. The latter told his wife (referred to as Zulaikha in several traditions) that the promising young man could be groomed in the house and adopted as a son, with important responsibilities given to him. But the lady was so captivated by Joseph’s charming personality that she eventually tried to force him into a sexual relation against his consent. As Joseph ran out of her room, both he and the lady chasing him were caught by Aziz just near the door. Seeing her husband, the woman began to shout that Joseph had tried to molest her. Mercifully, advised by an eyewitness member of the household staff, the man went by evidence relating to the incident, instead of going by his wife’s accusation.

It was resolved that since Joseph’s shirt was torn from behind it indicated that he was running away, for if he were the aggressor the woman would have resisted and his shirt rent from the front. Joseph was saved, but the woman did not give up on him. The news of the elegance of the youthful Joseph and Zulaikha’s mad desire for him spread among the liberated ladies of Egypt. The women gossiped: Aziz’s wife is trying to entice her slave, for he has truly inspired her for violent love, making her go astray. When Zulaikha heard of their malicious talk, she invited them for a banquet, and Joseph was asked to make something of a catwalk. When they saw him they were so overwhelmed that, in sort of a fan moment, they slashed their hands, wrists or fingers, using knives to cut fruits, extolling he is no ordinary mortal, but a veritable angel! Zulaikha told them: Here is the man I have tried to seduce, and if he continued to resist he will be cast in prison in the company of the vilest.

The wise and righteous Joseph preferred prison to cheap sex. This was also the way out for him, ordained by those in power and authority. After languishing in jail for several years, when he was eventually released by the order of the king on the basis of his reputation to interpret dreams and provide valuable insights on what they meant, Joseph first sought a clean chit from the women involved in the scandal that had led to his incarceration. When confronted, the women confessed that they did not see any evil in Joseph. Zulaikha also admitted that the truth was manifest to all. She had tried to lure him, but he remained a virtuous soul. Joseph himself wanted this clearance from Zulaikha, else he would be castigated as someone who had cuckolded his own benefactor. Through these and other details, the narrative exalts the extraordinary character of a man celebrated in Islamic and related traditions. Jesus and Muhammad are other exemplary figures, whose lives provide insights on how to conduct ones business even in most trying circumstances.