In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful



[Islam making it a boon for “womenfolk”]


[Shamim A Siddiqi, New York]


Introduction: Arabs were practicing the Deen of Ibrahim (AS). However, they corrupted it with a lot of pagan customs and idol worshipping that had no bearings with the sole spirit of monotheism that Abraham professed and practiced in the whole of his life. He built the House of Allah purely for His worship but later on people infested it with hundreds of idols that were accommodated in Baitullah [House of Allah]. Their worship was nothing but “whistling and hands-clapping” and Qur’an confirms it [Ref: Al-Anfal: 35] Islam just discarded the wrong parts of each, made its objectivity clear and retained all the “Manasik” of Hajj  for total devotion and making the believers committed to Allah alone. So is the case with Arab’s social and cultural customs and traditions of Jahiliyah. Islam purified each of them and adopted what was good for the humans. The institution of marriage was one of them that Islam inherited from Arab Jahiliyah, galvanized it on its principles of Tawheed and accountability in Akhirah and made it a boon for human society. It caters a very basic need or natural instinct of sex in an appropriate and rightful manner.


Family structure during Jahiliyah was more or less the same as it is today: a father, a mother, children of the spouses, parents of bridegroom and his siblings. Siblings and the grown-up children of spouses used to have their own establishment after marriage to lead an independent matrimonial life of their own, a custom that was full of blessings. It was helping the society in building and developing independent individual characters both of men and women. The institution of marriage was a blessing in building the sweet home as model building blocks for an ideal Islamic society where parents look after the character of each boy and girl under their direct supervision. It is, therefore, essential that I must illustrate and elaborate broadly the institution of marriage as it was functioning during Jahiliyah and its enlightening process through which it was adopted and implemented in the Islamic system as a sacred trust of Abrahamic faith.  Family system survived in Arab Jahiliyah as it was interwoven with Abrahamic faith. But it is still giving its benedictions though in much degraded form due to unhealthy influence of Indian and Euro-American cultures.


Basic Ingredients of a marriage during Jahiliyah were:   


* Marriage proposal from the side of the bridegroom to the parents or the Vali [guardian] of the bride;

* Acceptance of the proposal by the bride or her parents or guardian on her behalf [or rejection as the case would have been];

* Fixation of “Maher” [an obligatory gift for the bride] from the bridegroom [keeping the status of the bride and to her acceptance];

* Arrangement of marriage performance by the bridegroom [a tradition that Muslims have left subsequently under the cruel influence of Indian tradition where, unfortunately, all the arrangement of marriage fall on the shoulders of brides’ parents together with fulfilling a big demand list of Jaheez (dowry) that very often cause the breakdown of marriage if it is not “sufficient” upto the expectation of bridegroom];  

* Nikah [Marriage contract] – the formal acceptance of the “proposal” by the bride and the bridegroom in the presence of her Vali and at least two witnesses;

* Walima [A Marriage feast] to be arranged by the bridegroom


[Reference: “Balooghul Arab” Vol. II page 300 to 327 Pub. Urdu Board, Lahore]             


Transformation from Jahiliyah to Islam – Important Features:


1. Till today, Islam retains all the above formalities of marriage. It elevated the position of women and the right to accept or reject the proposal of marriage was given to women. The “Maher” was her own asset and she was and is totally empowered to expend it the way she likes. If by her free choice, she gives something back to husband, he then can use it for his benefit. Khadija bint Khwailad (RA) was one of the richest ladies in Makkah in Jahiliyah. After her marriage with Rasulullah (S) one day she gave her entire cash to Rasulullah for spending in the way of Allah and called the tribal chiefs to be the witness. Rasulullah (S) accepted her gesture Allah (SWT) rewarded her with house of pearls in Jannah. Arch Angel Jibreel came and delivered this message to Rasulullah (S) with Allah’s Salaam to her.


2. Arabs preferred to have male children. The more a woman could give birth to male children, the higher position she was holding in the family. This is the eternal desire of male dominated societies and will continue for all times to come.


3. In Jahiliyah, after the death of husband the woman was treated as the “property” and was thus inherited by her own son who used to marry her own mother and give birth to his children. Islam totally abolished this heinous custom for good. [Ref: Verse 22 of Surah Al-Nisa] 


4. The girls who were left as orphans after the death of their father were treated very harshly in Jahiliyah. They were practically forced to marry within the family so that property inherited by her remains within its bounds. They were extremely ill treated. Islam introduced new rules to correct the situation and authorized people to marry outside upto four women at the most and should not torture the orphans. Islam declared sever punishment for those who usurped the wealth of orphans as if they are eating fire. Surah Al-Nisa from verse # 2 to 10 regulates the condition of orphans and suggests ways and means to treat them fairly and honestly.  Islam declares that who usurps the “mal” [wealth] of orphans actually fills his belly with fire.


5. Polygamy: Polygamy was the fashion of the day during Jahiliyah but Islam restricted it to four at the most but that too with justice to all, otherwise, be contented with only one. [Ref: Verse # 3 of Surah Al-Nisa] Islam accepted polygamy as a need and necessity of humans and retains it howsoever it may be averse to the liberals and the protagonists of feminism. It is better to have the provision of more than one marriage instead of keeping many girl-friends with no family responsibility and making the society corrupt.


6. Divorce: This was a common practice in Jahiliyah. Arabs used to give three separate “Tilaq” [divorce] in three separate sittings. This tradition was first introduced by Prophet Ishmael (AS). Arab adopted it. [Ref: Balooghul Arab; Vol. II page 364] This method is continuing in Islam too. Islam refined it. Its categorical rules have been prescribed in Surah Al-Baqarah in detail. There were three format of Tilaq in Jahiliyah: Tilaq, “Zehar” [when the husband compares his wife with a thing that is prohibited, e.g., comparing his wife with his mother’s back] and “E’lla” [temporarily withdrawing from wife. [Ditto] The duration of “E’lla” in Jahiliyah was one or two years but Islam restricted it only to four months] Islam recognized all the three format of Divorce and regulated each through Qur’anic injunctions.  


7. “Khulaa” [separation]: The other method of separation between husband and wife was “Khulaa.” It means that what was given to wife by husband must be returned back to him and then she will get separation. “Balooghul Arab” narrates a story at page 365 that the first “Khulaa” was made effective by Amir Bin Al-Zarab who married his daughter to his nephew but the girl did not like it. The nephew complained to the father who said that two things cannot go together that you lose your wife as well as your “mal”. He returned the mal and separated them. Islam accepts the same process as condition of Khulaa,


8. “Iddah”: [Waiting period] Women used to complete the period of Iddah after divorce and after the death of their husbands. In Jahiliyah, the women used to wear the worst possible dress and retire to a very secluded small place in the house for completing one year of Iddah in a very horrible situation and then throw a “meingni” [the fossil of goat] and rub her body with the skin of a goat or a bird before coming out of Iddah. Islam abolished the aforesaid custom and reduced the period of: Iddah” to four months and ten days. [Al-Baqarah: 234]


9. Marriage of widow:  Marrying widows was permissible as a general custom in Jahiliyah; rather, it was the prevalent tradition. Islam continued this as it is, rather, encourages it.  


10. Children’s Custody: Arab Jahiliyah was a male dominant society. Children belonged to father not to mother to possess them in case of divorce or separation. Islam retained this provision of Jahiliyah. It comes in contrast to the western societies that give right to mother to have the custody of children after separation or divorce and claim subsistence from the ex-husband with no control over his children till they get maturity.


11. Right of Inheritance:  In Jahiliyah women could not inherit any things from their parents or husband at all after their death. It was a kind of Zulm [oppression] on the women folk. Islam introduced the law of inheritance and fixed her share in the property of the deceased, half of the share of men and prescribed rules in detail in the Qur’an so that no body could deny it under any circumstances. She is fully entitled to have her own business, operate her bank account and be recognized as an economic identity on its own merit against denial in Jahiliyah.


12. Other customs of Jahiliyah within the family structure:  Arab during Jahiliyah made certain kind of relations as Haram Islam maintained it. Arabs did not like during Jahiliyah to marry their own mothers, daughters, Khala, Phoophi [aunts from both side] except the case of Hajib bin Zararah of Banu Tamim who married his daughter and had children from her. [Ditto page 369] Quraish used to avoid marriages in close family circle lest they may destroy the sanctity of “Haram” relations. Islam maintains the sanctity of these relations. In Jahiliyah, Arabs, at a time, used to have two sisters in marriage. Islam totally prohibited it [Ref: Verse 23 of Surah al-Nisa].   


Conclusion: Thus the family structure in Jahiliyah was more or less retained in Islam after eradicating its evil traditions, removing the oppressive designs and making it more supportive to womenfolk. I have tried to cover the most prominent customs that were the integral part of the family structure during Arab Jahiliyah, pinpointing how they were adopted and retained.  Islam by getting each of them purified, making them human and conducive to the spirit of justice and “Adl” as per the Islamic code of conduct brought the women folk at par with men. Islam elevated the position of women from the status of serfdom in Jahiliyah to the state of equality and dignity for all times to come. However, it is a different story that the enlightened world is dragging her again to the position of serfdom to lust of men and slave to his/her own mean urges.


Shamim A Siddiqi

Website:                                              March 24, 2005