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Women In Islam versus Judaeo-Christian Tradition The Myth & The Reality- PART 10- Wife’s Property?

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

By

Sherif Abdel Azeem

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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One Comment

  1. Posted March 29, 2008 at 1:39 am | Permalink

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