Male Guardianship Over a Woman: Between Islam and Culture
Specifically regarding the male guardianship over a woman, the way that you find it being practiced in some Muslim countries is based on culture, not Islam. I will give you a number of examples. How many of you have heard of sisters wanting to go to the Hajj? And in order for the embassy to grant her a Visa, she needs to go with a mahram. Right, with someone who is either her guardian, like a husband, father or brother- someone.
Is this an Islamic law? Where in the Qur'an or in the Hadith of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa aalih, is it a condition that for you to go to Hajj you have to go with a mahram? Yes, we do have narrations that tell us it should be safe for a woman to go to the Hajj, it should be safe. So in the past, when traveling was quite dangerous, you needed a husband, a father, a brother, someone to be there with you, otherwise being two weeks on the journey, walking on your feet, going on a caravan, it was dangerous, obviously.
So safety is very important. But let us say today there is safety. I mean, the way today that you travel, you travel with 300 people on the plane, you go there. It is a group, you know, hamla groups. You are with hundreds of people. There is no concern of you somehow on the way suddenly being, I do not know, abducted or violated or raped. This is no longer the case in today's way of traveling. So we do not have anything specific in the Qur'an or in the Hadith that says a woman has to travel with a mahram.
Now, when it comes to guardianship of a female in the religion of Islam, a woman who is not married yet, who is living with her father let us say, she is her own guardian, except in the issue of marriage. Anything else, money, buying, selling, shopping, anything that concerns her, she does not need anybody's permission. She does not need any guardian over her. Let us say, a female, twenty five years old. She is working. She wants to buy a house. Does she need to seek her parents permission? No, not according to Islamic law. She does not need her parent's permission. She owns the money. She is an adult. She can buy. Fine. Yes, under the age of nine, her parents are her legal guardians and she cannot do anything without their approval. But once she reaches the age of puberty, that is it, she makes her own decisions.
There is just one exception when it comes to marriage. A woman who is a virgin, she needs the consent of her guardian the father or, if he is not alive, the grandfather, if he is alive in order to get married. Now, scholars have also mentioned that the guardian has to be reasonable with his authority. If he is rejecting a suitor, a potential suitor, just because he does not like his race, he does not like his financial status, that is wrong. If his deen and akhlaq are acceptable Islam says you have no right to reject.
Now, why did Islam give fathers the guardianship over their daughters when it came to marriage? There are a number of reasons, but I'll share with you one very important reason.
Historically, women would get married at a young age, especially in the past. If you go back a thousand years ago, not just in Muslim societies, all around the world, go to Europe, go to Africa, go to Asia. They used to get married at a young age. What was the most important reason which we talked about one night? What was the most important reason why they married at a young age? There was a reason why they got married at a young age. What was the reason? Exactly, life expectancy was very low.
The average life expectancy was 40, 50. In some societies, 30. We gave the example of England in the late 13th century, the average life expectancy was thirty three years old. That means on average, you live thirty three years. OK, now if a woman wanted to get married and have kids, if she is going to wait until she is 30, you think she is going to have any kids? She is going to die in three years, right? On average, she is going to die in three years. She is not going to have kids. And a remember back then, it was very difficult to have kids because infant mortality rate was very high.
A woman had to give birth five times before the child would survive either during pregnancy, you know, she would miscarry or she would die as she is giving birth or within the few days after being born, the baby would die or within a year. This was very common. Half of babies would die, if not more.
So if you tell a woman, no, you cannot get married until you are twenty, twenty-five, that means that is it, you are telling her, you know what, you are not having a family. You do not have kids and the offspring of people would have died off. That is a very important, you know, historical reason. So girls would naturally get married in their teenage years to have a family, to have children. If she would get married in her teenage years, then she could be lucky and have two, three or four children.
Otherwise, forget it, she would not have many children. They would die and she would die at thirty three or forty or fifty, depending on the society that she used to live in. This is a very important point.
OK, now when a girl is young, she is in her teenage years, she is still young. She could easily be taken advantage of. There could be men out there who could take advantage of her, fool her, trick her. It happens, right? Even today you see there are, you know, evil people in society who do that. So the religion of Islam said to protect the interest of the girl and make sure that this marriage is good for her, not someone fooling her, you just need the permission of the father.
Now, the father. Most fathers, they love their children, right? They love their daughters. They want all the goodness for their daughters. So you want a good marriage for your daughter. You want a good son in law. So if the father realises, you know what, this person is trying to take advantage of my daughter, he would say no, to protect her right. That is the guardianship that we have.
Other than this case, she is free. There is no guardianship over her other than the case of marriage. And that is if she is a virgin. If she is not, if she is divorced, for example, she does not need the consent of her father. In our school of thought, she does not need his consent. Because she has already been married, she has gone through one marriage. So, you know, she has experience now with the marriage.
She can figure it out. She does not need her father's permission anymore. So this is the issue regarding guardianship. Now, if she gets married, then her husband becomes her guardian. But to what extent? Is it like in some Muslim countries where she is his property and he gives her orders day and night and she has to fulfil those orders?
No, there are just a very few limited areas in which he is her guardian - the husband. I will mention some examples. So a woman who is married, she can work. Her husband does not have the right to object to her working unless he has a valid reason, a valid concern. She owns her money and property. If she wants to buy, if she wants to sell. It is her right. Her husband has no say in that. She does not need to ask for his permission if she wants to buy or sell something, the permission is not required. Yes, there is one issue scholars have mentioned, which is her leaving the house. Can she leave the house without his approval? The Maraje' are split on this issue. A number of Maraje' and scholars, it is their opinion that if her leaving the house does not violate any marital obligations, right, then she has that right to leave and she does not need his permission. Many Maraje' that is their fatwa.
Yes, she needs to for fulfil her marital obligations. If her leaving the house means that she will not observe those marital obligations, then she needs his permission. But many, many scholars have said if she if he is out working, she wants to go visit a friend, visit parents, do whatever she wants, she has that right. He cannot prevent her from that. A small minority of scholars today, some Maraje' they say yes, as a precaution, she does need his permission to leave the house.
But this is an exception. Just some Maraje' and scholars, but the vast majority of scholars, they do not see this as a condition, every time she needs to leave the house, she needs his permission. So these are just the areas of guardianship. Anything else? She is free. She makes decisions. Even, you know, some people are under the impression that any order, command, that the husband gives to his wife, she has to fulfil it.
Who said? Who told you that? There is no such thing in Islam. This is cultural that you will find if he commands her to cook, does she have to cook? No. If he commands her to clean the house, does she have to? Out of her own willingness? She should. It is good. Allah will reward her, but she does not have to. Go do this for me. Bring this, boss her around. She does not have to. Who said she does?
Yes. It is recommended to to keep the marriage healthy. It is recommended for her to serve him. It is recommended, of course, Allah will reward her for that. But she does not have to. She is not obligated to.