It is indeed a travesty of Islam that people who claim to follow it themselves do not seem to abide by the true spirit of the faith practised and preached by Prophet Muhammad. Is a typical Muslim life really governed by the teachings of the Prophet, encapsulated in the Holy Quran and in traditions, Hadis, associated with him? Answers in most cases would be a resounding No, and therefore there is a pressing need for some soul-searching by all concerned. This is especially true in the way women have been treated.
General Muslim attitude towards women can be awfully atrocious, especially with regard to insensitivities on issues regarding completely unjustifiable support to a bizarre thing called triple-talaq and utterly irrational licence for polygamy. Religious leaders with no reconstruction of the mind in the modern sense have come up with arguments in defence of weird customary practices, purportedly supported by early sources of Islamic traditions.
A closer look at the Quran and authoritative traditions of the Prophet might reveal that a greater part of the inequalities practised in the name of Islam will have to be discarded. Not to judge from the standpoint of modern feminist call for justice, and, instead, looking at a tradition originating in 6th-7th century Arabia, some of the precepts in the Quran and the Prophet’s teaching more generally indicate a higher degree of sensitivity and respect for women than what appears from later or even modern attitudes of custodians of Islam.
Contrary to the arbitrary manner in which triple-talaq can be accepted as a valid way to terminate a marital contract, Quran actually discourages hasty divorces because of any difficulties, differences, doubts, etc., calling instead for reconciliation and to patiently respect God’s will, for matches are supposedly made by Him only. Even on the permissibility of up to four marriages, the emphasis is on maintaining the family in an equitable and just manner and thus the advice is for monogamy.
The Quran actually discourages hasty divorces because of any difficulties, differences, doubts, etc.
Patriarchal and sexist enthusiasts have read only the first part on nikah, or marital contract, which is a recommended practice, with up to four women, ignoring the suggestion to refrain from it in view of the impossibility of equanimity in dealing with them. Putting crudely, how are you going to satisfy four wives at a time and keep them equally happy with care, attention and arrangement for proper maintenance in equal measure?
The warning is clearly spelt out about what actually happens in practice: a second or new marriage invariably leads to neglect of the previous wife and her children. The older wife is either discarded in a huff as in triple-talaq, or left to rot in pitiable conditions, with little support from society or even her natal home. To complicate a woman’s life further and in conformity with the usual patriarchal reading of the scriptures, a woman’s initiative seeking divorce is discouraged, even sought to be prevented on the grounds that God was against talaq and recommended patience and reconciliation instead. This is a hypocritical position, for the same command of God is disregarded when triple-talaq is allowed for men in a hurry. Thus, it is clear that on several important points the guidelines offered in the Quran are not being followed in entirety, or completely distorted and invoked in an arbitrary manner.
Historically, notwithstanding the usual claims of Shari’at being based on Quran, Hadis, etc., on which there can be no compromise, the fact of the matter is that Islam and communities of Muslims have adopted customary practices of local social structures wherever they have settled down. In societies governed by regressive patriarchal principles or whims of the conscience-keepers of “panchayats”, Shari’at can be arbitrarily used to justify whimsical defence of certain traditional practices which are often at odds with calls for equality, not only from the point of view of modern secular laws, but also from within Islamic juridical positions.
The urge to abandon or reform unjust customary practices must emerge from the churning within communities of people. As times change, newer and progressive laws are needed to govern societies undergoing transformations. This matter cannot be left in the hands of patriarchal men of religion or custodians of customary practices, for their concern is essentially to maintain status quo in society, even if it means arbitrary misreading of the sources of tradition, of Quranic guidance in the case of divorce and polygamy.
Meanwhile, some men can perhaps aspire to have four wives, but a woman cannot imagine having four husbands at a time. Those who call themselves believers, especially Muslim men, need to go back to the Quran and read an instructive long chapter dedicated to and named, “The Woman”. It will be an eye opener, and an object lesson on how to behave with women.