So, my usra and I are memorizing Suraht al-Mujaadilah and the story of Khuwaylah bint Tha’labah raises many interesting points. Khuwaylah (ra) was married to a very old man, and during this time, it was common within Arab culture to curse one’s wife by saying, “You are to me as the back of my mother,” which is known in the Qur’an as dhihaar. When a husband would say this to a wife, this meant that he would be depriving her of intimate relations and it was akin to a divorce, but a) the husband can say this an unlimited amount of times and b) when he feels like making amends, he just returns to his wife. This essentially would leave the wife powerless. As one can gather, this is what happened to Khuwaylah, as I’m sure it was happening to other women in the Peninsula. The only difference, however, is that Khuwaylah demanded justice. She would keep going to the Prophet Muhammad (sas) waiting for revelation from Allah to grant her her rights. Initially, (pre-revelation from Allah) Sayidna Muhammad (sas) said, “Oh Khuwaylah, your husband is an old man, be conscious of Allah in him.” Khuwaylah, however, had a deep faith that Allah would reveal to Sayidna Muhammad (sas) and the rest of the humanity that she was being unfairly treated and the idea of dhihaar was not aligned with the teachings of Islam. She persisted, staying with Saydina Muhammad (sas) until Allah sent down the beginning of Suraht al-Mujadilah, and with it, came a very difficult punishment for those that abuse their wives through dhihaar.
First, Allah reminds those who do curse their wives in such a fashion that clearly, your wives are not your mothers, your mothers gave birth to you. SubhanAllah, sometimes we really need a wake-up call by stating the obvious. Also, we can just adopt sayings that really are not their literal meanings and be so unaware of the obvious. For example, the idea of saying “That’s so ill” (meaning it’s cool). Or, the story of the two fish and a turtle asks them how they enjoy the water and they respond by asking, “What’s water?”
Then, the punishment. Allah commands those who commit dhihaar and then want to return back to their wives that they must first free a slave. If they cannot find a slave to free, they must fast two months straight. Straight! That means, there is no “I am tired today, I’ll just skip this day of fasting and make it up.” If they are not able to do this, they must feed sixty needy people before they even touch their wife. It should be noted, that these are not three options, of which a husband can pick from. He must first try to find a slave, then try to fast the two months, then if those two fail, feed sixty people.
The story of Khuwaylah is impressive in so many ways. We see the persistence of a woman who knows that this Arab custom must be eliminated and has a deep faith that Allah will reveal something regarding her particular situation (remember, she was married to an old man, and Allah gives three ways of purifying him from his error). We also see the justice and mercy that Allah has towards His creation. This is a clear directive that husbands cannot deprive wives of their rights and vice versa, and yet, if we do err, “Inna Allaha la’afuwwun ghafur” (al Mujadilah, aya 2)- Indeed Allah is Pardoning, Forgiving. Then, we think of the punishment. We obviously think of it as a punishment, but in reality, Allah says why He issues it, “thaalika litu’minu billahi wa rasulihi”- this is so you can believe in Allah and his Messenger (sas) (aya 3). When we are fasting, it gives us time to reflect and make amends, and in a two month period of fasting, it would be hard to come out of it with a lower state of imaan.
Some questions that I do have: “Since the Qur’an is relevant at all times and places, and we know that this was an Arab custom that has been eliminated (I hope), how does it pertain to us today? Are there any phrases similar to it that the scholars would say the punishment would be the same?”
My second question is, “What if a wife said something akin to that phrase to her husband? What would the ruling be then?”
If anyone happens to know, please inform us 🙂
Any thoughts about the story of Khuwaylah (ra)?