The Social Directives of Islam:
Distinctive Aspects of Ghamidi’s Interpretation
Shehzad Saleem

    The poise and balance of a society heavily depends on the poise and balance of the attitudes and tendencies of its people. Whenever human attitudes cross their natural limits, disorder and discord result. In particular, the stability of a society is threatened with dire consequences if people vested with moral authority misuse this sacred trust of Allah. A tyrannical husband soon encounters a defiant wife and oppressive parents inevitably groom rebellious children. It is thus necessary to curb this tendency of power to corrupt in order to build a healthy and prosperous society.
    What then should be the guiding principles in human and social relationships? This question is as old as the advent of man on the face of this earth. Divine books have answered this question in detail so that man is able to create a healthy society on this earth suited to his natural urges and talents. This answer stands enshrined permanently in the Qur’an which now represents the final guidance of the Almighty to man regarding this social sphere of life and indeed all the other spheres of life in which man’s intellect can falter or is deficient.
    Javed Ahmad Ghamidi has made an attempt to decipher this answer of the Qur’an1. His answer is by no means the final word; however, it represents a worthy effort made by human intellect to interpret the divine message regarding the norms and principles of social relationships.
    According to Ghamidi, the fundamental premise on which Islam has based these norms and principles is that the institution of family is the basic unit of a society since it is the need of every individual if his life is viewed as a whole. A man and a woman enter into a marital bond to form this institution. Most social directives of Islam are given to safeguard this institution.
    Before summarizing Ghamidi’s research on the topic, it seems appropriate here to dwell in some detail on the afore-mentioned basic premise pointed out by him.
    Man is basically a weak and insecure being. He has spiritual as well as material needs. Just as he needs to develop a strong relationship with the Almighty to fulfill his spiritual needs, he also needs to develop a strong relationship with his fellow human beings to fulfill this material needs. It is because of these needs that Islam has prescribed the institution of family as the basic building block of the society. Each individual passes the first half of his life in transforming from a child to a mature adult and the second half in transforming from a mature adult to an old person. In the greater part of the first period, he needs the love and affection of his parents. As an infant ‘ewling and puking in the nurse’s arms’, his meek and helpless existence need the love and affection of a mother and a father. It is only proper parental care which makes him feel secure and confident. Since parents are the first seat of learning, the base they build in molding his character and in instructing him plays a vital role in the later part of his life. Grandparents also have an all important role to play: They imbue their grandchildren with the priceless wealth of wisdom and experience which help them in traversing the rugged terrain of life. Brothers and sisters also make important contributions in developing his personality. The older ones are actually an extension of the parental role while the younger ones create in him an initial awareness of parenthood. Once a person reaches a mature age, certain other needs arise in him which must be fulfilled. It is at this stage that a man and a woman need each other to complement and complete one another. This relationship is the only means of providing emotional fulfillment and satisfaction to the spouses, which is the primary need that brings them together and they now also assume the role of the progenitors of a new family to start the cycle once again.
    In the second phase of life, an individual advances from the exuberant years of youth to the haggard years of old age. It is now that he needs the love and protection of his grown up children. In this state of ‘second childishness and mere oblivion’, which is ‘sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything’, it is only the set up of a family which can properly support him. Without such a support, old age is the worst form of affliction. None except the children have a strong attachment to their parents. It is this attachment which urges them to return in some form the support and affection they had once received from their parents.
    Besides these primary relationships, the secondary relationships like maternal aunts and uncles and paternal aunts, cousin brothers and cousin sisters, nieces and nephews perform in a wider perspective the same function as the primary ones. The components of a family thus constitute a small community which if administered properly by the head of the family makes the basic unit of a healthy society. Islam, therefore, according to Ghamidi, has always insisted that the institution of family is the basic building block of the society and it is in the interest of humanity to adhere to a family-oriented society. Consequently, it has given a number of directives for the protection and preservation of the family. It has also laid out the procedure for husband and wife to separate from one another if after repeated tries marriage cannot be pulled along.

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    After dealing with this basic premise as highlighted by Ghamidi, an attempt will now be made to summarize the distinctive aspects of his interpretation regarding the guiding principles of social and familial relationships as put forth in the Qur’an. Readers should consult his article for details of the arguments on which he has based these conclusions. Arguments regarding some of these conclusions however have been briefly alluded to here.

1. Regarding Family and Marriage

i. Treatment of Wives
    Husbands often tend to forget the rights of their wives. The Qur’an (4:19) stresses that a husband should deal with his wife very affectionately and in a most befitting manner. So much so, if he does not like her in anyway, he must still always be kind and forbearing to her. He must not forget that being the weaker sex, she has been confined in his custody. A gentleman must always adhere to tolerance and magnanimity in dealing with his wife.

ii. Organization of a Family Set Up
    For the two reasons stated in the Qur’an (4:34), husbands are the heads of a family set-up. Specifically stated, these reasons are: (a) husbands are entrusted with providing for the family, and (b) they are temperamentally and physically more suited to discharge this responsibility.
    In this regard, however, it must remain clear:
    a. As human beings, men and women are equal and deserve equal respect. However, they have been entrusted with different responsibilities in a family set-up which make them superior to one another in various respects. According to the Qur’an (4:34), as far as a husband is concerned one sphere of his superiority is his status as the head of the family alluded to in 2:228 with the words ‘husbands are one degree superior to their wives’. There are certain spheres in which women by nature – physical, physiological as well as psychological – are superior to men and much more suitable to do certain tasks.
    b. Islam does not forbid women to earn a living. It has only absolved them of the responsibility of earning, which lies upon their husbands. It also needs to be understood that the verse does not say that the one among the husband or wife who supports the family should become the head; husbands, whether their wives earn or not, are liable for this responsibility. A woman may earn if she likes or if some need arises, but since she has not been entrusted with this duty she has not been given the governing position in the family.

iii. The Issue of Mahr (dower)
    As per the Qur’an (4:25), the amount of Mahr (dower) should be fixed keeping in view the social customs and traditions of a society. Its quantity has not been ascertained by the Islamic Shari‘ah. The basic philosophy of Mahr (dower) needs to be clearly understood: Islam has entrusted the husband with the responsibility of supporting his wife and children. It is he who must earn to fulfill the requirements of the family. The Mahr money is only a token of this responsibility. In other words, when a man pays this sum, he makes a symbolic expression of the fact that he has taken the financial responsibility of the woman he intends taking as his wife. Consequently, it is in the spirit of this commitment that he pays the agreed sum before he takes home the bride.

iv. The Right to beat Wives
    The right of a husband to punish his wife must be understood in its proper perspective:
    a. Firstly, it can only be resorted to when a wife starts to challenge the authority of the husband and threatens to disrupt the family set-up. It is in fact a last resort to protect the institution of family from breaking up. It must not be resorted to in anything less in severity than a rebellious attitude from the wife. The Qur’an has not used the word ‘disobedience’. Any difference of opinion or altercation is not to be resolved by this procedure. Disagreements and disputes must be settled mutually. It is only when the wife stands up against the authority of her husband should this procedure be employed
    b. Before resorting to physical chastisement, the two previous stages mentioned by the Qur’an (4:34) must elapse. The husband should first of all admonish his wife and convince her to give up her defiant behavior. He should exercise all the patience he can muster to urge and beseech her to change her stance. If after repeated pleas and continuous admonition in a considerable span of time, the wife continues to persist in her rebellious attitude, he has the authority to go on to the second stage by avoiding marital contact with her. This detachment, it is clear, is a form of reproof, and a very strong appeal to the wife to correct herself. Again, this attitude should continue for a substantial period of time so that the point is driven home. It is highly unlikely that most wives would persist in their arrogance after these two initial stages. In all probability, patience, forbearance, and restraint would have conquered their hearts. However, even after this stage, if a wife refuses to accept the authority of her husband, the husband has the right to finally resort to gentle physical affliction.
    c. If the husband is left with no alternative but to physically punish his wife, he must be very careful in this regard and must not wound or injure her. He should remember that this physical chastisement is similar to the one a mother gives to a rebellious son or the one a teacher gives to an unruly student. He must be aware that in case he misuses this authority in any way, he would be held responsible before the Almighty on the Day of Judgement. In this world also, his wife has the right to report his behavior to the authorities who can punish him for any misconduct in this regard.

v. Polygamy
    It is incorrect to conclude that Islam has allowed a Muslim to keep up to four wives at one time since keeping four wives is a man’s essential physiological and psychological need. In normal circumstances, a family comes into being through wedlock between one man and one woman. A subtle reference to this is made by the Qur’an (4:1) where it alludes to the fact that when the Almighty created Adam, he made Eve for him as his only wife. Naturally, had a man physically needed more than one wife, the Almighty would have created more wives for Adam instead of just one.

vi. Marriage with the People of the Book
    It is clear from the context of the Qur’an (5:5) that it is desirable though not binding for Muslim men to marry women from among the People of the Book in areas where Islamic values reign supreme. It is evident that in such conditions and circumstances, there is virtually no possibility of the Muslims being influenced by their moral values and cultural traditions. Instead, there is a far greater possibility that such marriages will positively influence the women of the People of the Book by inducing them to accept Islam. Moreover, it should be realized that the permission has only been given as a second option because the danger in which a person puts his family’s faith is extremely evident. Hence, only believing men have been given this permission; believing women, in no case whatsoever have been allowed to do so.

vii. The Issue of Wali (Guardian) in Marriage
    The consent of the parents/guardians is not a legal requirement of marriage. The legal requirements are only two: the man and woman who intend to get married must be chaste and a man must pay dower (Mahr) to his wife. However, the consent of the parents/guardians is a cultural and social requirement of marriage. It is actually a corollary of the social directives of Islam pertaining to the institution of family and is based on great wisdom. Since the preservation and protection of the family set up is of paramount importance to Islam, it is but natural that each marriage take place through the consent of the parents who are the foremost guardians. It is obvious that a marriage solemnized through the consent of the parents shields and shelters the newly formed family.
    However, there can always be an exception to this general principle. If a man and a woman feel that the rejection on the part of the parents has no sound reasoning behind it or that the parents, owing to some reason, are not appreciating the grounds of this union, they have all the right to take this matter to the courts of justice. It is now up to the court to analyze and evaluate the whole affair. If it is satisfied with the stance of the man and woman, it can give a green signal to them. In this case, as is apparent from a Hadith, the state shall be considered the guardian of the couple. On the other hand, if the court is of the view that the stand of the parents is valid, it can stop the concerned parties from engaging in wedlock. Similarly, if a case is brought before the judicial forums in which the marriage has taken place without the consent of the parents, it is up to the court to decide the fate of such a liaison. If it is not satisfied with the grounds of this union, it can order for their separation and if it is satisfied, it can endorse the decision taken by the couple.

viii. Suckling in Mature Age (Rada‘atu’l-Kabir)
    It is erroneous to conclude that a mature child can be suckled and hence treated as a foster child. The misconception has arisen by generalizing a Hadith of the Prophet (sws). As per the Qur’an, a child can only be regarded as a foster child if he is suckled in infancy with a definite intention to the purpose. Suckling a child through chance happenings or through a few drops does not entitle him to fosterage rights.

ix. Prohibition of Combining a Lady and her Niece in Marriage
    It is generally believed that a Hadith, independent of the Qur’an, has prohibited a Muslim man from simultaneously keeping a lady and her niece in marriage. Ghamidi has shown that this Hadith is actually based on a Qur’anic directive. Hence, this instance does not challenge the all important contention that a Hadith cannot prohibit something independent of the Qur’an.

x. Marriages of Muhammad (sws)
    Most marriages of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) were conducted to help him in realizing his mission as a Prophet and a Messenger of God. He had been given special directives in this regard and as such his marriages should be viewed in the light of these directives.

xi. Consummation of Marriage with Minor Girls
    It is erroneous to conclude on the basis of the Qur’an (65:4) that Islam has allowed marriage and its consummation with minor girls. If the linguistic principles of the Arabic language are taken into consideration, this conclusion does not arise. The correct translation of the last part of this verse is:

And those women whose menstrual courses have not begun in spite of the fact that they have reached the age in which women normally have menses, their waiting period is three months as well. (65:4)

    This translation stems from the fact that the Arabic particle used for negation in this verse is Lamm (لَمْ) and not Ma (مَا). The verse is generally translated by disregarding this subtle difference as:

And those women whose menstrual courses have not begun, their waiting period is three months as well. (65:4)

    Consequently, it is generally construed that in this verse the ‘Iddat (waiting period) of those divorced women (girls more so) is stated who have yet to reach the age of puberty. So the proponents of this view infer that Islam allows marriage with minor girls.

2. Regarding the Norms of Gender Interaction

i. General Directives
    i. It is only Surah Nur in which these norms are mentioned. Some of the important facts that are evident from these directives are:
    a. Muslim women are not required by the Shari‘ah to cover their faces.
    b. Muslim women are not required by the Shari‘ah to cover their heads. Covering the head, however, is a desirable Muslim tradition.
    c. Muslim women should wear clothes that do not make their breasts prominent. This can be done by covering them or by any other means that serves the purpose.
    d. The expression Ghadd-i-Basr used by the Qur’an (24:30-1) does not mean that men and women have to stare at the floor. It means that they must guard their gazes from taking undue liberty.
    e. While following the norms underlined in the surah, men and women can visit each other and sit and eat together if they want to.

ii. Specific Directives
    The directives mentioned in Surah Ahzab regarding gender interaction specifically pertain to the household of the Prophet (sws). It is evident from their context that they cannot be extended beyond this sphere. They were primarily given to check the subversive activities of the Hypocrites who had started a malicious campaign to scandalize the private lives of the Prophet (sws) and his wives. It is by not understanding this aspect that the following misconceptions have arisen:
    a. The house is the centre of activities of a wife.
    b. Muslim women must not speak in a polite tone with strangers.
    c. Muslim women should be kept secluded except from their immediate relatives as outlined in 33:54-5
    d. Muslim women must wear large cloaks (jilbabs) when they go out of their houses.

3. Regarding Divorce

 i. The Right to Divorce
    Only the husbands have the right to divorce. Wives cannot divorce their husbands. They can only demand divorce from them.
ii. The Procedure of Divorce
    If husbands desire a separation from their wives, then they should do so according to the prescribed procedure mentioned in the Qur’an by uttering the divorce sentence once only. However, if someone who is ignorant of this procedure, or owing to his own foolishness utters three divorce sentences in succession, then such a case should be decided by a court giving full allowance to his real intention.
iii. The Reason for ‘Iddat
    It is evident from the Qur’an (33:49) that the real reason for the ‘Iddat is to ascertain whether a lady is pregnant or not. Consequently, if it can be determined with certainty that a lady is not pregnant she will not be required to observe this period.

iv. Meaning of the word قَرْءٌ
    The Arabic word قَرْءٌ means both the ‘menstrual period’ and the ‘non-menstrual period of purity’. Hence, there exists a difference of opinion among authorities regarding the meaning of this word in the Qur’an (2:228). The word قَرْءٌ according to Ghamidi is conclusively used in this verse to connote ‘menstruation’ because in the given context the real issue is to ascertain whether a lady is pregnant or not. It is the period of menstruation that determines this and not the period of purity.
v. The Issue of Gifted Wealth
    In no way a husband has been authorized to take back the dower money from his wife in case he divorces her. He is also not authorized to take back any wealth or property gifted to her except in two specific cases mentioned in the Qur’an (2:229; 4:19).
vi. Halalah
    The concept of Halalah has arisen because of not understanding a very subtle sentence of the Prophet (sws) in a Hadith. If its text reported by Bukhari is analyzed it is evident that a certain lady had married a person only to become legally permissible to marry her first husband. She demanded divorce from her second husband on the false grounds that her husband was sexually impotent. When the Prophet (sws) became certain of her scheme, he reprimanded her in very subtle words. He told her that she could only become permissible for the first husband after ‘tasting’ her second husband. This of course was not a condition as has been generally construed: the implied meaning being that if according to her, her second husband does not have the ability to copulate with her then she can only be divorced from him after he copulates with her – which of course he will never since, according to her, he is not capable of it. Thus if anything can be deduced from this Hadith, it is prohibition of Halalah and not vice versa. Hence it is absolutely prohibited and is tantamount to making fun of the law.
vii. Residence and Maintenance after the third Divorce
    In case a husband exercises the option of divorcing his wife for the third time in his life, he will still have to provide residence and maintenance to her till the expiry of the ‘Iddat period.
viii. Custody of Minors
    The custody of minors in case of divorce has been left to the discretion of a judge. No explicit law has been given in this regard.

4. Regarding Slavery

i. To Enslave or not to Enslave
    It is erroneous to believe that Islam permits its followers to keep slaves and have sexual contact with them. The notion of keeping slaves has arisen by not giving due allowance to the fact that Islam had adopted a gradual procedure in the time of the Prophet (sws) to eliminate this social evil because of its deep roots in the society.
ii. The Qur’anic Directive of Prohibition
    After a program of gradual eradication adopted by Islam in the time of the Prophet (sws), the Qur’an (24:33) announced the final step in slave emancipation by giving them the authority to earn their freedom by showing that they would become responsible citizens of the society.   

5. Regarding Widows

i. Reason for the Extended ‘Iddat
    The ‘Iddat of a widow is forty days more than a divorced lady to make absolutely certain her state of pregnancy or other wise. It is not because these forty days are meant to provide her with an extended period of mourning.
ii. Provision for the Widow
    A husband must make a will in favor of his wife that she be provided residence and maintenance for one year after his death. This is in accordance with the Qur’an (2:140). It is incorrect to believe that the inheritance verses of Surah Nisa have abrogated this verse.






1. An English translation of this work which is originally in Urdu has been published in various episodes of Renaissance Islamic Journal, ( / Al-Mawrid, Lahore 2002-2004.