The second half of Al-Baqara had many things that stood out to me, which made it much harder for me to decide what I wanted to write about this week. However, when scrolling back through the Qur’an on my e-reader I found I had underlined an entire page worth of text. I read it again and I knew that it was an important matter to me. The passages I had underlined were 226-233. Everything in this passage has to do with the way men should treat women if they are divorcing one another. I read this and had to try very hard to not apply my modern moral expectations upon a culture of the past. Much easier said than done.
The first thing that caught my attention is the fact that there is no point in the verses which addresses any protocol if a woman desires to divorce her husband. In fact, the section is begun, “Those who forswear their wives must wait four months; then, if they change their mind, lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (Al-Baqara 226) The context of all the divorce laws mentioned here surround the premise that a man wants to divorce his wife. Or what happens if a man changes his mind about divorce. Or when a man can remarry his ex-wife if he so chooses. The only mentions of women in the verse come about in expectations of how the woman must behave if she is divorced, or the way a man must take care of his ex-wife.
Another thing I found surprising was a list of rules given to women about how they must tend to their bodies.
“Women who are divorced shall wait, keeping themselves apart, three (monthly) courses. And it is not lawful for them that they should conceal that which Allah hath created in their wombs if they are believers in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands would do better to take them back in that case if they desire a reconciliation.” (Al-Baqara 228a)
This is the first of a couple of the rules placed upon a woman’s body regarding marriage and divorce. If you are divorced you must wait three menstrual cycles to be married to another man, and if you find that you are pregnant you are not allowed to keep that information to yourself. While I am generally of the mind that a father has the right to know about the existence of a child, most women who choose to conceal this information have a good reason. The divorce may have been the man’s decision, but such a divorce may have benefitted the woman’s health and well-being. So, if that man was abusive and she is expecting a child, she has to disclose that to him and risk being brought back into his home where she and her child may be abused by him.
This is one of the instances in which I have difficulty not conflating my ideals and the ideals of the historic period. During the time the Qur’an was written, abuse was not an understood concept. A woman would not consider her safety in terms of abuse, nor her child’s because the options of the time were much different than they are today.
If this were strictly a historical document these laws would be much easier for me to accept. It would be significantly easier for me to justify the position. Honestly, I understand it. At the time that the Qur’an was written, it was very unlikely a woman would want to divorce her husband because a woman’s husband was her sole provider; without a husband she would have no shelter, no food, etc. I also understand that at that time, globally, most women had no say and no power. So, as a historical document, I’m saddened that women were once repressed in such a way, but I understand it. I am more disappointed that modern women have the potential to be experiencing this kind of antiquated ideal.
However, many other parts of this passage are about treating women with kindness. The kindness it shows makes me a little sick with the tones that “women can’t care for themselves” and “we have to write this in, because otherwise women will see no kind treatment”. However, that the kindness was a consideration is nice.
“When ye have divorced women, and they have reached their term, then retain them in kindness or release them in kindness. Retain them not to their hurt so that ye transgress (the limits). He who doeth that hath wronged his soul. Make not the revelations of Allah a laughing-stock (by your behaviour), but remember Allah’s grace upon you and that which He hath revealed unto you of the Scripture and of wisdom, whereby He doth exhort you. Observe your duty to Allah and know that Allah is Aware of all things.” (Al-Baqara 231)
This has a strange sense of chivalry in it. If you are reconsidering your divorce from your wife, please either choose to keep her and do kindly, or let her go kindly. Do not keep her if you will harm her in any way by doing so. This has that sickening kindness. The intentions are well-meaning. It still just doesn’t seem right to me that the husband has sole power over whether she stays or goes. And I still have discomfort around the fact that these write-ins for the way believers must treat women are only written in because they fear that their believers would otherwise oppress women to an even greater scale. Which is, again, shown in this passage.
“The duty of feeding and clothing nursing mothers in a seemly manner is upon the father of the child. No-one should be charged beyond his capacity. A mother should not be made to suffer because of her child, nor should he to whom the child is born (be made to suffer) because of his child.” (Al-Baqara 233)
Quite frankly, maybe I’m a little bit too far up the feminism scale to look at this objectively. I’m trying my best to look at this through a more culturally appropriate lense, but I don’t think I own the correct filter for this. “And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness, and men are a degree above them.” (Al-Baqara 228b) I just don’t think that this kind of statement is something that should be believed or practiced in the modern world. Maybe I don’t understand it, and if you have some other interpretation I would love to hear it.