our dialogue By Adil Salahi
Q. A family I know is plagued by quarrels between husband and wife where, to my outsider’s judgment, the husband is more at fault. What disturbs me is that the husband tries to use the family’s only child, a two-year old boy, as a pawn in order to force his point. He threatens his wife with divorce and with depriving her of access to the child, claiming that as a father he has all the rights, while she has none. He quotes from the Qur’an to support his point. When she travels on a home visit, he wants her not to let the child accept gifts from her parents or other family members. Sometime he beats her severely, and she endures all that because of her fear of losing her child. Please comment.
A. This man may quote whatever text he wants, but when he justifies his behavior by a quotation from the Qur’an, then there is only one of two alternatives: either he does not know the meaning of what he is quoting or he is a liar, claiming that his own words are part of the Qur’an. Certainly there is nothing in the Qur’an to say that a mother has no right to her child and that all rights belong to the father who does what he wants. Besides, there is a clear injunction forbidding causing harm to a mother on account of her child. This is stated in verse 233 of Surah 2.
Islam gives both parents equal rights with regard to their children, and when a marriage ends in divorce, both parents have the right of access to their children. In the case of divorce, the child stays with his mother, and the father has to support the child, until the child is fully independent with regard to doing its essential things, such as eating, dressing, cleaning and bathing. This is normally reached at the age of 7 or 9. At this stage, the child is given a choice to join either parent. The choice is by no means final. It may change as often as the child wants, which means that the child may go to its mother in the morning and to the father in the evening. His financial support remains the duty of the father, who should provide for his living and education. So there is no question of the father being able to deprive the mother of her right of access to her child. We are here speaking about what Islam says, but what people do may differ a great deal. This husband, for example, ill-treats his wife, abusing her verbally, physically and mentally. By contrast, Islam lays great emphasis on the duty of every man to treat his wife kindly. So, if a break takes place, the husband in this case may resort to some totally un-Islamic ways to hurt his wife, paying little heed to what Islam says. Therefore, it is important that any step this lady takes should be well considered.
My initial advice is for this lady to try to get her relationship with her husband changed so that there is more love and tenderness in her home instead of the quarrels and abuse. She may be able to do so, making use of any gesture of kindness her husband makes to reassure him of her love and eagerness to have a happy family life. She should point out that it is the only way to bring up their child in an atmosphere of happiness. She may make her assertions more acceptable by doing some of the things which she knows her husband to like. When she has had a few days of quiet and undisturbed relationship, she tries to talk to him in a loving way about the future of their child and the need that, should there be some disagreement between them, it should never be in the presence of the child. She should point out that nothing affects the psychology of a child worse than family quarrels between parents. When a few weeks have gone by without a quarrel, she will find some positive response and hopefully the relationship will move forward and improve. If this approach does not work, and her husband continues to abuse her despite her conciliatory method, then she may carefully study the other possibility of a break. She should know first of all what the law in her country gives her, and how to go about ensuring her rights before she takes any step. When she is certain of her rights, she makes the move from a position of strength. She should have her parents on her side, so that she has an appropriate place to live with her child. She may, for example, stay on after her next visit to them and refuse to go back until her husband has changed his way of treating her and her child. If he divorces her then, she is with her child at her parents’ home. He cannot take the child without recourse to the law, and the law would be on her side. May God guide this lady to what is best for her and her family.