Women In Islam versus Judaeo-Christian Tradition The Myth & The Reality


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  • Women In Islam versus Judaeo-Christian Tradition The Myth & The Reality



  • 10. Wife's Property?

    The three religions share an unshakeable belief in the importance of
    marriage and family life. They also agree on the leadership of the
    husband over the family. Nevertheless, blatant differences do exist
    among the three religions with respect to the limits of this
    leadership. The Judaeo-Christian tradition, unlike Islam, virtually
    extends the leadership of the husband into ownership of his wife.

    The Jewish tradition regarding the husband's role towards his wife
    stems from the conception that he owns her as he owns his slave. 19
    This conception has been the reason behind the double standard in the
    laws of adultery and behind the husband's ability to annul his wife's
    vows. This conception has also been responsible for denying the wife
    any control over her property or her earnings. As soon as a Jewish
    woman got married, she completely lost any control over her property
    and earnings to her husband. Jewish Rabbis asserted the husband's right
    to his wife's property as a corollary of his possession of her: "Since
    one has come into the possession of the woman does it not follow that
    he should come into the possession of her property too?", and "Since he
    has acquired the woman should he not acquire also her property?" 20
    Thus, marriage caused the richest woman to become practically
    penniless. The Talmud describes the financial situation of a wife as
    follows: "How can a woman have anything; whatever is hers belongs to
    her husband? What is his is his and what is hers is also his...... Her
    earnings and what she may find in the streets are also his. The
    household articles, even the crumbs of bread on the table, are his.
    Should she invite a guest to her house and feed him, she would be
    stealing from her husband..." (San. 71a, Git. 62a)

    The fact of the matter is that the property of a Jewish female was
    meant to attract suitors. A Jewish family would assign their daughter a
    share of her father's estate to be used as a dowry in case of marriage.
    It was this dowry that made Jewish daughters an unwelcome burden to
    their fathers. The father had to raise his daughter for years and then
    prepare for her marriage by providing a large dowry. Thus, a girl in a
    Jewish family was a liability and no asset. 21 This liability explains
    why the birth of a daughter was not celebrated with joy in the old
    Jewish society (see the "Shameful Daughters?" section). The dowry was
    the wedding gift presented to the groom under terms of tenancy. The
    husband would act as the practical owner of the dowry but he could not
    sell it. The bride would lose any control over the dowry at the moment
    of marriage. Moreover, she was expected to work after marriage and all
    her earnings had to go to her husband in return for her maintenance
    which was his obligation. She could regain her property only in two
    cases: divorce or her husband's death. Should she die first, he would
    inherit her property. In the case of the husband's death, the wife
    could regain her pre-marital property but she was not entitled to
    inherit any share in her deceased husband's own property. It has to be
    added that the groom also had to present a marriage gift to his bride,
    yet again he was the practical owner of this gift as long as they were
    married.  

    Christianity, until recently, has followed the same Jewish tradition.
    Both religious and civil authorities in the Christian Roman Empire
    (after Constantine) required a property agreement as a condition for
    recognising the marriage. Families offered their daughters increasing
    dowries and ,as a result, men tended to marry earlier while families
    postponed their daughters' marriages until later than had been
    customary. Under Canon law, a wife was entitled to restitution of her
    dowry if the marriage was annulled unless she was guilty of adultery.
    In this case, she forfeited her right to the dowry which remained in
    her husband's hands. 24 Under Canon and civil law a married woman in
    Christian Europe and America had lost her property rights until late
    nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For example, women's rights
    under English law were compiled and published in 1632. These 'rights'
    included: "That which the husband hath is his own. That which the wife
    hath is the husband's." The wife not only lost her property upon
    marriage, she lost her personality as well. No act of her was of legal
    value. Her husband could repudiate any sale or gift made by her as
    being of no binding legal value. The person with whom she had any
    contract was held as a criminal for participating in a fraud. Moreover,
    she could not sue or be sued in her own name, nor could she sue her own
    husband. A married woman was practically treated as an infant in the
    eyes of the law. The wife simply belonged to her husband and therefore
    she lost her property, her legal personality, and her family name.

    Islam, since the seventh century C.E., has granted married women the
    independent personality which the Judaeo-Christian West had deprived
    them until very recently. In Islam, the bride and her family are under
    no obligation whatsoever to present a gift to the groom. The girl in a
    Muslim family is no liability. A woman is so dignified by Islam that
    she does not need to present gifts in order to attract potential
    husbands. It is the groom who must present the bride with a marriage
    gift. This gift is considered her property and neither the groom nor
    the bride's family have any share in or control over it. In some Muslim
    societies today, a marriage gift of a hundred thousand dollars in
    diamonds is not unusual. 28 The bride retains her marriage gifts even
    if she is later divorced. The husband is not allowed any share in his
    wife's property except what she offers him with her free consent. The
    Quran has stated its position on this issue quite clearly:  "And
    give the women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they,
    Of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it and
    enjoy it with right good cheer" (4:4) The wife's property and earnings
    are under her full control and for her use alone since her, and the
    children's, maintenance is her husband's responsibility.  No
    matter how rich the wife might be, she is not obliged to act as a
    co-provider for the family unless she herself voluntarily chooses to do
    so. Spouses do inherit from one another. Moreover, a married woman in
    Islam retains her independent legal personality and her family name. An
    American judge once commented on the rights of Muslim women saying: "A
    Muslim girl may marry ten times, but her individuality is not absorbed
    by that of her various husbands. She is a solar planet with a name and
    legal personality of her own."

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