There is a hadith that always brings a smile to my lips. Why this is so, I will attempt to explain below in a moment, inshaÁllah.
But first, I want to point out when and how I heard it in the first place.
I first heard it during a Quran tafsir class in which the concept of shafaáh (intercession) in Islam was being explained. The hadith was definitely not quoted for the reasons for which I am choosing to delve into it today.
The purpose of referring to this hadith was to clarify the difference between advice, a direct command, and intercession, on behalf of someone who is in authority over another, and how the implications for each are different for the intended recipient. That is, it was solely discussed with reference to the concept of shafaáh. This was back in 2000-2001 (18 years ago).
A wife who chose to leave her loving husband
Now, let me actually place the hadith in question before you:
It was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas that: The husband of Barirah was a slave called Mughith. It is as if I can see him walking behind her weeping, with the tears running down onto his beard. The Prophet ﷺ said to Al-‘Abbas: “O ‘Abbas, are you not amazed by the love of Mughith for Barirah and the hatred of Barirah for Mughith?”
The Messenger of Allah said to her: “Why don’t you take him back, for he is the father of your child?”
She said: “O Messenger of Allah, are you commanding me (to do so)?”
He said: “I am just interceding.”
She said: “I have no need of him.”
The grade of authenticity of this hadith is sahih. It has also been quoted (with some variation) in 2 other hadith books, Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah.
First up, a little background. The person being mentioned in the hadith, named Barirah, was a slave girl who was bought and emancipated by the Prophet’s wife, Aishah. Her husband’s name was Mughith, who has been mentioned as a slave in one report, and a free man in others. I am mentioning this background in order to shed some light about the role of the Prophet in interceding to Barirah on behalf of her husband, Mughith. According to one report, Barirah was one of the people the Prophet leaned on during the last hours of his life.
So this indicates that Barirah was someone close to his family, and part of his household.
Now, as for her husband. As is obvious from the above hadith, Barirah wanted to leave her husband i.e. divorce him. She clearly stated that she had “no need” of him, despite 3 open facts:
- He loved her so much, that tears of sorrow fell from his eyes, on to his cheeks, in public, as he followed her on the streets of Madinah once she had decided to leave him. Crying. Following a wife. On the streets. (Men were real men in those days. They had no care in the world about what others would say about their “manhood”, did they?)
- She had a small child with him.
- Prophet Muhammad, as an official judge, leader, her guardian and the husband of her emancipator, interceded in the matter and requested her to go back to Mughith.
Now, I ask you, do you wonder why I smile whenever I come across this hadith?
And do you now understand why I chose the title above for this post?
Do you really think that, today, any imam or khateeb of a masjid would quote this hadith when talking in detail about divorce in Islam?
Not from a legal, technical and jurisprudential point of view, but strictly from a Muslim woman’s rights point of view?
Yeah, yeah. Now go on. Accuse me of being a feminist. A liberal. Accuse me of wanting to break up homes and families. Of sucking up to the so-called “Western”/secular ideals of female empowerment. I will not be surprised if you do.
As for the self-proclaimed feminists smirking as they read this, you can sit back too. I am in no way advocating that wives walk out on their husbands with their baby in tow as soon as a marriage goes sour and bad days come.
Basically, what makes me smile is the emotional, mental and psychological strength displayed by a girl who used to be a slave; who was purchased and emancipated by another Muslim girl, A’ishah bint Abi Bakr (who was herself just a teenager at the time of this incident).
I mean, think about it!
These are young teenaged girls we are talking about!
The words chosen by our Prophet to describe the couple’s emotions
Furthermore, I want to elaborate upon two Arabic words in the hadith, which the Prophet used to describe the feelings of Barirah and her husband, respectively.
The first is حُبِّ, which means love. And the second one is بُغْضِ, which means resentment.
The latter is a word used very often in the Urdu language as well, to denote hatred or grudge against someone that resides in the heart.
Older Muslims (well-intentioned givers of advice) use it a lot, usually whilst holding up their index fingers, when admonishing someone who is being oppressed and rightfully feeling angry at their oppressor, to not harbor any grudges against the latter, and to forgive and overlook even the greatest of injustices unconditionally.
Yes, this word بُغْضِ is dropped around a lot by Muslims, when they discuss the malice in someone’s heart against another whom they dislike due to their vile actions. They talk about it as if a victim of injustice and oppression should feel nothing but love in their heart towards those who wronged them. As if the laws of our perfect religion do not even include designated capital punishments for legally convicted criminals and evil-doers!
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ used this word — بُغْضِ — to describe what Barirah felt in her heart for her husband Mughith, at the point when she had decided to leave him for good.
Yet, and here is the clincher: the Prophet ﷺ was not mentioning this hatred that she felt, in a negative light. He did not admonish Barirah harshly to free her heart from this malice, to repent to Allah for being a rebellious wife, and to go back to her husband without question.
And to make him a nice cup of tea. The way our elders do. 🙂
No. He did not do any of that.
Instead, even though he was the official judge in their matter, in addition to her legal guardian whom she had dwelled with, in his home, along with his wife, he mentioned two things to her that were of importance and consequence.
The first was, as was obvious, his amazement at Mughith’s love for her. He mentioned it specifically to his cousin, Al-Abbas (the narrator of this hadith).
The second was that she had a child with Mughith. Of course, this was probably because having a child has major future implications for any couple when their divorce happens.
“Don’t leave him!”
Before we go on to analyze Barirah’s intelligent reply, please focus on one important thing first:
The above two aspects regarding a husband are almost always quoted by bystanders and well-wishers as the main binding reasons why a Muslim wife, who wishes to get a divorce, should remain married to her husband (even if she hates him): i.e. (i) he loves her a lot, and, (ii) they have a child (or children) together.
“Think of your children! What will become of them?”
“Look at how much he loves you! He is crying his eyes out and wallowing in misery. Please go back to him.”
What these people do not realize is that a Muslim wife who truly fears Allah can find it almost impossible to respect a husband whom she hates, or to give him his due rights.
She will just not be able to fulfill the Islamic rights that are due upon her regarding him. Such as obedience in all matters (qunoot), being respectful in tone and demeanor at all times, and providing sexual intercourse to him happily whenever he desires.
Being human, she will loathe the sight of him and react in anger most of the time, raising her voice, perhaps even being physically or verbally abusive, and not obeying him willingly. And this will make her tremble with fear when she thinks about being taken to account by Allah in the Hereafter, for whether or not she fulfilled her dues as a wife.
For such a wife, this hadith provides not just hope, but also welcome relief: knowing that Islam allows her to leave her husband, even if he loves her and they have a child together.
Barirah then asked the Prophet, probably to be absolutely clear about his verdict, whether he was commanding her to go back to Mughith (as her Prophet, judge, and leader), or was he merely interceding and advising her to do so?
When it became clear to her that our sweet, empathetic and sincere Prophet was merely interceding, she announced her final decision immediately.
And that was it.
It was over.
Consider the consequences before jumping the gun, sisters!
Now, before the unhappily married girls (and women!) who are reading this, jump the gun and decide to take off from their abusive/dull/dead marriages (I have been there before, with some of my readers taking some of my rants a little too seriously, and doing something brash without thinking of the consequences, or considering all the aspects of the situation, first), I do wish to give all Muslim wives who are contemplating (i.e. dreaming wishfully of) divorce, some advice:
- Are you ready to live with the consequences of divorce? The good ones, the bad ones, or both? You will be finally free from your toxic husband and happily single again (inshaÁllah), but you will also have added responsibilities, especially if you will have to raise your children alone as a single mother. They will grow up and definitely ask you questions about what happened, for one thing, and you will have to tell them the truth (that is, if the divorce happened when they were too young to comprehend what was going on). And one or more of them might hate/resent you for leaving their father. Keep that in mind.
- Are you willing to accept that your child/children or even your siblings and parents might choose to stay in touch with your ex-husband, even after your divorce? Will you be able to handle that with patience, open-mindedness, big-heartedness, and maturity? Will you allow your children moderated visits with their father/your ex in-laws? After all, joining relations with your ex-husband and his parents/siblings will be obligatory upon your children once they become adults. In addition, it is possible that while your ex-husband might not have been great as a husband, he could be a nice guy otherwise (as a son, brother, father, or friend). Maybe your parents, siblings, cousins, children and even other relatives (or only some of them) might want to continue to meet/communicate with him. Will you be OK with that?
- Re-marriage: do you intend to get married again? If so, please remember that in certain countries, being a divorcee carries certain unavoidable social and cultural implications in the marriage proposal process. Even if you avoid the nosy-and-judgmental aunty brigade (the ones who always blame a woman for divorce), it could still be challenging to adjust to marriage with another man, when you already have (growing) children. He might be much older than you, with an ex-wife (or a dead one!) and children of his own. Remember that this might complicate your second marriage and make it more challenging.
- Supporting yourself financially: it goes without saying that, if a divorced woman is not able to find another husband soon enough, she will have to work in order to support herself financially. So bye-bye to any financially “cushioned”, carefree married life that she once lived (that is, IF her ex-husband was financially sound in the first place). Sadly, most toxic marriages do not have any “cushion” (comfort) factor at all! They are absolute hell-holes of misery that most wives flee from in relief. Just remember, you might have to find work quickly, and keep a job. And this could mean a lot of time spent away from your child(ren). And more physical/mental stress, which could take an eventual toll on your health and upon your positive outlook (especially if you don’t enjoy your new job).
- In the case of those married couples who shared the same group of friends and social contacts, some (or all) of them might choose to side with your ex-husband. This could mean that you would lose out on your past social life as well, after your divorce.
- Resident bitterness: in addition to transitioning from the role of a housewife living a cosy homemaking domestic life to that of a working career woman, and perhaps losing the love of some family members and friends, you will also need to work very hard on getting over your own bitterness and resulting depression. Remember to move on and not look back. Focus on positive thoughts and keeping yourself constructively occupied, intending with deliberate effort to live happily and positively after your divorce. Do not allow Satan to make you wallow in self-pity and regret. Move on and try new things, especially those activities that you could not partake in when you were trapped in that toxic, suffocating marriage. If you will be seen happy and smiling after your divorce, it will make your parents and children happy too!
Conclusion: a new world
I have a lot of thoughts about the way the occupations, mindsets and roles of women in society are rapidly changing. I think that the generation born before 1970 really has very little idea about what exactly is going on. They are so wrapped up in past social habits, mindsets, and thought-bubbles (perhaps because they hang out with people of the same age?), even if they are tech-savvy and active on social media, that they really cannot truly see just what is coming for the generations ahead.
I had never thought that I would live to see some of the minor signs of the Qiyamah. But I have (bedouins competing in the construction of tall buildings, for one).
The girls today need us older women to guide them about how to navigate the turbulent social trends and changes coming their way. And just one of these, is increasing financial/economic/political empowerment and independence for women, which is partly fueled by (or perhaps caused by) increasing emasculation among males.
I hope my male readers will not hate on me for saying this, but it is true. Most if not all men born after 1980 are finding it increasingly difficult to financially support a wife and children solely, on their own, without taking any help at all from their parents and wives for this purpose.
Furthermore, the twin evils of porn and masturbation addiction have caused many Muslim men to become emasculated, quite literally: vis-a-vis they suffer erectile dysfunction long before they have even gotten married! And experienced/married ladies know only too well how difficult it is for a wife to respect a man who cannot rise to the occasion (note the pun), either when it comes to the bedroom, or when it comes to the timely payment of all utility bills.
That is enough on this topic for now. I think I meandered away from it for a bit there.
Anyhow, so what do you think?
Do you think us Muslims will ever hear an elaborate analysis of the above hadith from the pulpits in our mosques, especially during Friday sermons, when the majority of the audience comprises of men?