THERE is an old saying "Love is blind but marriage is an eye opener". This could never be truer than with regard to the young western woman marrying into Islam. So take warning!
The young Muslim appears so attractive, generous and considerate. Perhaps so western and liberated, he is too good a prize to miss. He paints for her a wonderful picture of his home, family, friends and their own status in the community saying how honoured among them she will be as his wife so "they will live happily ever after."
However, on bringing her home he seems to undergo a transformation of character. He isn't the "lord of the land", but utterly subject to his father, family and community. They also dominate his treatment of her. Fundamental liberties she had taken for granted are quickly forfeited. She now belongs to him and the "System". Her mother-in-law dominates the home, greatly influencing if not controlling the foreign bride's life. If rebellious, her situation worsens. In vain she appeals to her husband discovering he just goes along with the "System". Their relationship sours until life becomes unbearable.
The barriers of her foreign culture, language and thought patterns doubtless will cause problems. Because she gives no evidence of any desire to become a good Muslim, family pressure is brought to bear upon her husband to take a second wife of the family's choice. In due time failure to produce a son could also result in divorce, or even more devastating, a second wife.
The Winds of Change
If not divorced, to extricate herself could be a formidable task, the degree of difficulty depending on a number of factors such as the civil laws of the country in which she is living, the co-operation or otherwise of her husband, whether she has her own or a joint passport with her husband, what authorities recognised the validity of the marriage. If only a Muslim style marriage, were there safeguards against polygamy written into the contract? However, this century has seen the Muslim world in the throes of crises and change, the struggle being between the "traditionalist" and the "progressives". The "progressives" believe that Muslim countries can only take their place in the modern world by re-interpreting the Quran to suit modern conditions and rejecting the traditions.
Significant changes based on European codes have been made in the civil laws of many Muslim countries. The position of women has been affected for the better in a number of these countries such as education for girls, opportunities for participation of women in medicine, industry, etc. It is undeniable that the West has greatly influenced many Muslim lands.
So it is that young Muslims in universities, technical colleges, etc. may be atheist, communist, socialist or any other kind of so-called progressive thinkers. Then, too, their views on marriage may differ from that of their fathers. So the Islamic background from which they came must he taken into account with the powerful "purist-traditionalists" who wish to purge Islam of all western influences contrary to Islam and the Traditions. Where these succeed it is "woman back to purdah (seclusion and the veil) back to the heel of your husband".
So far we have assumed the young married woman would go to live with her husband's people, but perhaps they intend setting up home in the young wife's domicile.
Has she considered that at any time he may wish to return to his native land? Should there be children he may decide to have them brought up as Muslims by his family in his country. Should he so desire, he may divorce her by Talaq, (ie, three times saying, "I divorce you" and not going through the court). Then after ninety days he is under no obligation to support her. Maybe he already has a wife in his own country and if he so desires, he may take several more wives.
It must be remembered that even in the West, matrimonial problems in Muslim-style marriages have been decided in favour of Islamic law. The House of Lords upheld a Pakistani Muslim's Talaq divorce uttered while he was absent from England and his wife. So the marriage was finished and she was unable to start proceedings for maintenance or for a share in their matrimonial property. The Court of Appeal upheld this decision But the "complex laborious and expensive lawsuit" involved the laws of India, Pakistan and Thailand, and required the court to consider the family law of Islam as recognized and applied in the legal system of those countries. This case was decided in favour of Muslim law in Britain's highest courts.(1)
Australian law on this matter is very complex. Any woman contemplating marriage into Islamic society should clearly understand these complexities. Then, too, she will most likely find herself cut off from the culture in which she was reared and now brought into Muslim culture which is restrictive and secluded.
The Status of Women in Islam
The urgency of this matter has been forced upon us by what may be termed an Islamic renaissance. Politically and religiously Islam is on the march. The West is a particular target for her missionary endeavours. Numerous publications spread Muslim propaganda, publications which either show gross ignorance of Christian doctrines or deliberately attempts to distort the Christian message They also make claims for Islam which, one can only conclude, ignore the facts and rely on the ignorance of the nonMuslim world regarding Islamic teaching. The latter is seen in the often repeated statement that men and women have equal rights in Islam:
That Statement from a modem Muslim writer stands in complete contrast to a respected Muslim philosopher, Muhammed Iqbal, who said:
Why then this brazen claim by Muslims that Islam has been the champion of woman, that Islam elevated her in Society? It is surely an attempt to remove a blot from Islam, to cover up its shameful past and turn attention away from the plight of great masses of Muslim women in countries still under-developed, or only slowly emerging from such a condition. Are there not many millions of Islam's daughters who are veiled from head to foot and confined to women's apartments? And an even greater number not veiled but who know the power of segregation and the inferiority of their position (though many become inured to it). It is totally unacceptable for Islam to claim benefits of western society as a result of Islamic enlightenment.
It is acknowledged that the status of women in Islamic society will differ according to country and circumstances. There will be differences even within countries and families, but since Islam is bound by the "eternal" Quran and the Traditions, let us look at those sources: (Rodwell's translation used throughout)
Sura 2:228 (a sura is a chapter in the Quran) "...but the men are a step above them (women)."
Sura 2:233 "... your wives are your tillage (field); go into your field as you will."
Sura 4:38 "Men are superior to women on account of the qualities with which God hath gifted the one above the other ... but chide (reprove) those for whose refractoriness (disobedience) you have cause to fear remove them into beds apart and scourge (beat) them."
Sura 4:12 "God commandeth you to give the male the portion of two females."
Sura 4:28 "And it is allowed you beside this to seek by means of your wealth, with modest conduct and without fornication. And give those with whom you have co-habited their dowry..." (the Shia' Muslims base their muta' marriage on this verse, e.g. a Muslim on a journey may make an agreement with a woman for a night and the "marriage" could be dissolved in the morning however, the Sunnl division of Islam does not accept this).
Sura 4:3 "...marry two or three, or four ..." by this verse Muhammed sanctioned polygamy for all time and so condemned women to an inferior position by an unalterable decree.
"The gulf between the status of woman in Christianity and Islam is unbridgeable. If the Muslim takes his stand on the Law of Islam."(4)
Ahmad Al-Ghazzali, the great doctor of Islam said, 'Marriage is a kind of slavery, for the wife becomes the slave of her husband, and it is her duty absolutely to obey him in everything he requires of her, except in what is contrary to the laws of Islam".(5)
A husband may divorce his wife without any misbehaviour on her part and without assigning any cause, and the divorce is effective, if he be of sound understanding, of mature age and free to choose."(6)
"But the greatest degradation was the plight of the concubines."(7) However, the highest example for the Muslim is the life of Muhammed, just as the life of Christ is the ideal for the Christian. What example did Muhammed leave? Tradition attributes to him the words - "We have not been left any calamity more detrimental to mankind than woman".(8) He had at least nine wives at one time (though he had a special dispensation from Allah to exceed the Quranic limit of four) so making it praiseworthy in his followers to fill up their quota. His ideas about women were like those of the rest of his contemporaries. He looked upon them as charming snares to the "believer", ornamental articles of furniture difficult to keep in order, pretty playthings; but that a woman should be the counselor and companion of a man does not seem to have occurred to him.(9)
Islam is a man's religion both for now and for the hereafter. The Quran says a man may have four wives at one time plus as many concubines as he can afford; a woman may have but one husband at a time, and in strict Muslim law the right of divorce is with the man only. A woman cannot divorce her husband without his permission. In paradise the man will have numbers of houris (beautiful dark-eyed damsels) but there will be no such plurality of "delights" for the woman.(10)
It may be acknowledged that Muhammed's legislation improved the conditions of many women in pre-Islamic Arabia, in particular those unable to find defence against abusive husbands. On the other hand, history provided many examples showing that the position of women on the whole was high, and their influence great. They were free to choose their husbands, and could return to their own people if ill-treated or displeased. In some cases they even offered themselves in marriage and had the right of divorce. They were regarded not as slaves and chattels but as equals and companions. They inspired the poet to sing and the warrior to fight ...(11) There were Arabian queens. The widow, Khadija, Muhammad's first wife, was a wealthy and respected noble woman when she offered herself to him in marriage.
But what of Christianity which had been in existence for about six hundred years before Islam? Consider the Lord Jesus' treatment of women. He spoke of older believing women as being as His mother and the younger as His sisters. His gracious wholesome relationship with women is stamped on the Gospels. He declared that a man and a woman in marriage were truly one, united in one flesh. This has been God's purpose for mankind from the beginning.(12)
After His resurrection He appeared first to the women. On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given, the women were present with the men and received the Holy Spirit.(13)
It is recorded in scripture that Aquila and his wife Priscilla were involved together in the work of the Lord. There were deaconesses who laboured along with Paul in the ministry of the Church.(14) While leadership of the Church was in the hands of men, this was a matter of God's order, not of woman's inequality. "...there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."(15)
A woman is commanded to submit to her husband, but that is balanced by the command to the husband to love his wife as himself, "... even as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it".(16)
The life, teaching and example of Jews as communicated by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures, dealt the death blow to any suspicion of superiority of man over woman in spiritual, moral and ethical values.
Some Muslim writers, obviously embarrassed by the Quran's teaching advocating polygamy have sought to explain away the offending texts, claiming they, in the final analysis, demand monogamy. On the other hand, others realising the folly of such explanations defend polygamy and commend it to western society as the solution to its marital ills.(17)
It would be untrue to say that there are no Muslim families where natural affection is shown and equally untrue to say that there is no western woman whose Muslim husband cared for her. Nevertheless, what has been said above remains true and should cause any young woman contemplating such a union to consider these facts.
But there is a very much greater reason why she should not become a Muslim. She would be rejecting the offer of God's love, forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ and choosing to live under law in Islam, to merit her own salvation by her own efforts and without ever having assurance that she was accepted by God. To consign herself to this is to attempt the utterly impossible for the Bible says:
"All our righteousness is as filthy rags". And again, "By the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified".(18) She needs a Saviour and there is no Saviour in Islam. The only Saviour is Jesus Christ. He is the Redeemer of the Old Testament prophecies and New Testament fulfilment. He died for your sins, offers you free and complete forgiveness and will right now enter your life to abide with you forever, if you will invite Him to do so.
(What has been said above applies to Muslim-style marriages and is no reflection on Arab or Asian Christians marrying Christians of other cultures.)
(1) Daily Telegraph, England. 23/11/1979.
(2) Islam and Christianity (p 79) by Mrs Ulfat Aziz Us-Samad.
(3) Islam (p 163) by Alfred Guillaume.
(4) Islam (p 72) by Alfred Guillaume.
(5) The Religion of Islam p 190 by R.A.Klein.
(6) The Religion of Islam p 192 by R.A.Klein.
(7) The Dictionary of Islam (p 680) by Hughes.
(8) The Dictionary of Islam (p 678 ch.111) by Hughes.
(9) The Dictionary of Islam (p 679) by Hughes.
(10) The Religion of Islam (c . PARADISE) by R.A.Klein.
(11) A Literary History of the Arabs (pp 88-90) by R.A. Nicholson.
(12) Matthew 12:49,50 and Matthew 19:46.
(13) Acts 1:14 and Acts 2:1-4.
(14) Acts 18:26 and Romans 16:1-5.
(15) Galatians 3:28.
(16) Ephesians 5:25,28.
(17) Young Muslim Monthly (April - May, 1976, p 15) Birmingham, England.
(18) Isaiah 64:6 and Galatians 2:16.
Compiled by Harry Young -- WEC Missionary to Arabs and Arabic speaking peoples. Formerly of Jordan and Trucial States.