The philosophy of relationship between women and men in Islam…

Patrizia Khadija DAL MONTE

The philosophy of relationship between women and men in Islam : From ideal to reality

In my opinion, developing a philosophy of the couple in Islam means asking oneself “what is the couple in Islam about in the first place?” or in more modern philosophical terms “what structures are fundamental in the making of the couple according to the Islamic Revelation?
The couple in the Sources and in our experience of being in the world is an event that is at the same time creatural, that is natural; a spiritual experience, which philosophically speaking is transcendental in itself, besides being imperative as there are laws ruling the couple. None of these aspects should be neglected, in order to simplify the question or to easily assimilate into the dialogue of the current culture.
In the reflections we can make about the couple in Islam, the continuity of the revelation in creation and the revelation in the Books is apparent, which leads to the need to seek both for wisdom and customs.

1. Creatural event: The couple as the basis of our being- in- world

Before highlighting how the couple is a natural event, I would like to make a consideration about what natural means in Islam. Nature emerges clearly in the Islamic Scriptures as a reality strictly connected to the concept of Creation, which is God that creates the world and its creatures, the world is not only His work, but it equally contains His Signs, it is “The Book Revealed” by using an expression by Abû Hâmid al-Ghazâlî (al-kitâb al-manshûr), the Book of the Universe that is both the theological and the physical mirror of the Quran”, “The Written Book” (al-kitâb al-mastûr). …Then nature is a source of knowledge and customs not just in itself but for God’s sake.
“And amongst His signs He has created from you brides that you may live with them in tranquility and He has placed amongst you love and merci. In this there are proofs for those who reflect” (XXX, 21)
The couple is first of all a natural event intrinsically proper to our being in the world, creatures amongst creatures, according to the following verse as well as to the lessons of human experience. The verse we quoted is found at the beginning of Surah Ar-Rum and is part of a long series of verses that talk about Allah’s signs in His Creation; here love between men and women appears to be as natural as the wind that blows clouds, the ground holding straight, the water falling from clouds, the variety of languages and colours… we are located inside the realities of nature, which is confirmed by the term used to describe the partner, azwajan, which comes from zawj, referring both to the husband and the wife in the sense of companions and does not refer explicitly to marriage because of the social and legal act. Moreover, the prophetic tradition gives us several hadiths in which this natural level is taken into consideration, for example Prophet Muhammad (*) said: “People are like metal, like gold and silver, the ones who were the best in the preislamic age are the best in Islâm if they study and understand it well”. And again it is narrated that Mughira ibn Shu’ba wanted to marry a woman (whom he had not met yet), he spoke about it to the Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alayhi waSallam), and he advised him: “go and see her, your marriage will be happy”.
Speaking about the couple from the natural point of view means to seriously consider the natural dynamics that make the couple. The relationship between a man and a woman is to be established within Allah’s limits, while it is equally determined by psyco-phisical natural laws, which cannot be substituted. These laws cannot substitute rain, wind or sleep nor can they change according to the character of a person or its natural dynamics. For a believing man or woman marriage then requires wisdom, ability and maturity to love, and must be a conscious act between persons that decide to share their lives.
Speaking about the couple as a natural event means also being able to sing the beauty of love and being aware of its perils and its limits. Beauty and the power of love, exactly because they are major events of our being in the world, are evoked in countless literary works, and poetic language may be the closest to this reality, which is not absent from Revelation, for example the verse “they are a garment for you and you for them …” (II,187) surely belongs to the literary genre of poetry… with its risks limits, its potential to disguise egoistical and perverse dynamics, which are not absent from the Islamic texts and has been underlined in literature, particularly by the studies of the teachers of the suspicious of our age, especially from psychoanalysis… the couple from a purely natural point of view is marked by ambivalence, it is a struggle between the preservation of individual identity and the desire for the other as well as to possess the other, who is never completely possessed, which never quenches our thirst for unity: “Run away. Go away. Eclipse. My soul wants to be alone. Wants to self crucify, crumble, roll, pour, corrupt, opened by the tide of cries, burning in the hurricane of rage, raised amongst mountains and birds, to self-destroy, exterminate, abandoned and unique like a beacon of terror. (Pablo Neruda)
There is transcendence of the ego and of knowledge….

2. Spiritual event: couple like transcendence

The religious dimension in the Sources appears as something intrinsic to mankind, which is contiguous with its being a creature, human nature is open to God “turn your face to the religion as a sincere believer, original nature (fitra) which Allah has ingrained in men, there is no change in the Creation of Allah. ” (XXX,30)

The couple as a natural reality is part of Creation and precisely because it belongs to Creation it is ayat, the sign, the religious dimension, which does not overlap with it but is inherent to the creational one and transcends it all at the same time. The ayat says something, which in its essence leads us beyond to His ineffable Being. The Ayat is “the relics of an abandoned battlefield”, a translation which clearly states His reality and His disidentification with any created reality, He is the One to Whom no creatures resembles. The Ayat as small light carries within itself a much bigger night, the negation of any similarity. The couple leads to God.

This transcendental dimension of the couple as something that leads beyond is also recognized by human experience, where love is perceived as a dark “mysterious” force that man does not own, which reaches to him out of nowhere and pushes the ego to transcend himself into the other person. “I don’ t love you as if you were a salt rose, topaz or arrow of carnations which augments fire: I love you just like dark things, secretly, between the shadow and the soul. I love like the plant that blooms and bears within itself, hidden, the light of those flowers, thanks to your love, lives in my body obscure the concentrated aroma that ascended from the earth. I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where, I love you directly without problems or pride: I love you so I do not know who else to love so in this way that I am not and you are not, and are so close that your hand on my chest is mine, so close that your eyes close with my sleep. (Pablo Neruda)

There is transcendence of the ego and knowing …

“And set between you love (mawadda) and (Rahma) tenderness …”

“He has placed between you love (Mawadda) and (Rahma) mercy…”

These two words express the force that pushes beyond oneself in the other person. Mawadda is a term which is not used solely for women-men relationships, it indicates preference for certain individuals, desire and profound attachment. Rahma is a term that means mercy and it is the name in two different forms with which God speaks in the Quran, often ar-Rahmani, ar-Rahim, which originate from the literal root r-h-m from which derives the word womb. Mawadda is not an obligation, is not a matter of goodwill, one is not obliged to prefer anybody: “Oh Allah, here is my effort to be just with what belongs to me but do not blame me for what belongs to You, over which I have no control”.
Rahma is universal and necessary for salvation: “You will not enter Paradise until you have faith, and not have faith until you have loved one another. (Boukhârî) Have mercy on those on earth, and He who is in heaven will have mercy on you. “(Boukhari) Mercy is a reality necessary in every human relationship, particularly in the couple, which is the most profound human relationship to be established in the world. Also it arises from what is missing, rather than from what possesses strength. Mawadda and rahma come from Allah and return to Him, Al Wadud, infinite love, infinite lover, Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim, the Merciful, the Compassionate…
The couple is a sign, ayat, according to the Islamic point of view, it is not just a simple transcendence towards a partner but God, and its conduct is a state of being which the Quran describes as “Litaskunu”. For the other signs, the Quran utilises the verbs to examine, reflect, here it is “to be comforted”. It is a sign which cannot be perceived by reflection, thought but experience. The word comes from the same root of tasskunu (to feel calm, at ease, reassured, in peace), from which Sakinah, serenity, peace arising form God, at the presence of God, which reminds us once more of the transcendental dimension of the couple, which does not end in itself but refers to Allah.
In Western culture the relationship between the couple and love are strongly present in mythology. This might derive from the power of the ayats of Allah and the poverty of techno-scientific views about the world, deprived of the dimension of the sacred and the loss of significance of family relations and values. Like in ancient cultures mankind were fascinated by the ayats about creation to the point that they often were unable to distinguish between divinity and the created element and today, we tend to idolise love beyond measure: “Truly, it is in order to strengthen ties amongst yourselves in this life that you have taken idols besides Allah…” (XXIX, 25).

The Qur’anic Revelation warns us of that fact, love and what it comes, is limited: “We embellished, to the [eyes] of men, the things they want: women, children, treasures of accumulated gold and silver, branded horses, cattle and fields, this is only temporary enjoyment of earthly life, and to Allah is the best return. Say: ‘I can teach you something better than this? For those who are pious, with the Lord, flowing streams and gardens where they will remain there forever, and pure wives and pleasure of Allah. “(III 0.14 to 15)

Muslim men and women are those who realize that in this world everything fades away and there is only one eternal Light, like Abraham, peace be upon him, guided by God is freed by the splendour arising from creation… and it arrives to distinguish the One who is everything but always above them. “I turn myself exclusively toward Him who created the heavens and the Earth; and I am not one of the associators” (VI, 79), inch’Allah.

3. The couple as an eventful relationship and its intrinsic and extrinsic customs

The couple is therefore a relationship with social value, which is evident in human experience as well as in the verse quoted at the beginning of our discussion, where we find it expressed with the words “for you, amongst you. .. “(lakum – anfusikum min). Words which say the same about men and women, their dichotomy and their differences as divine will, which is marked by “for” (li-la) … the preposition indicating how this is an advantage for us. (The diversity of races that we may know each other is seen in this light in the Quran …. “Oh mankind, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. By Allah, the noblest amongst you are those who fear him most. “(XLIX, 13).

Unity in diversity is in the ayat of Allah, the One and Only who does not decompose, whereas human beings are compositions in themselves, The masculine for you does not indicate a subordination of the feminine, (a difference subordinated to Litaskunū), which points out to the psycho-physical dynamics of the male, his specific position in taking possession and by reflex that of the female to offer herself, belong to somebody.

One of the main problems of today’s marriages is the position of the male in relationship to the female and the concept of male superiority.

I mention only this issue which has emerged forcefully in the West because the affirmation of gender equality and the low value given to complementarity, of which every difference has been interpreted as discrimination. We must also remember that there is a great historical and universal debt towards universal gender equality, which has at times required a harsh struggle to break the status quo. From an Islamic point of view, both from the verses of the Quran and from knowledge we receive from Creation, men and women appears both equal and different and diversity serves complementarity, which is particularly evident in the sexual sphere, where equality would produce sterility. It seems therefore that the Western concept of pure equality is mathematically inadequate in describing relationships of men and women in couples, although the only concept of complementarity is insufficient and must be framed in equality (Wahid nafs), since there are forms of unions between different creatures which carry a complement without being equal. Both concepts should be the basis of legal reflection.

The couple then generates other relations. Not only mankind was created in couples, it is the basis of God’s Creation, the midpoint between unity and multiplicity, as a necessary step … From everything we have created a zawj, a couple (LI 49) “Everything is binary and this is the sign of the divine miracle. The dichotomy exists by divine will and sexuality joining men and women are only special aspects of this universal divine design … Oh people! Fear God who created you from a single nafs. It created his (her) zawj and drew from these two men and women in large numbers …” The couple is between the uniqueness and variety and reminds us of both.

If it is clear that it is expressed in the couple a tendency to ‘search for unity”, conversely it is clear that the couple declines in multiplicity, first of all with the birth of children. This has the consequence that the couple needs not to close itself, must not become a fortress in the world. Being open to multiplicity saves and affirms the couple (For example the large Muslim family). The couple has a vocation towards unity, but also multiplicity. We must seek unity but also diversity. That place in God’s Creation, the couple is an essential step. From here we can see all the hadiths emphasising the importance of marriage. Abdullah ibn Abbas said: “The worship of a person can reach perfection only by marriage.” Marriage is half of faith “The one who is married has completed half of religion. ” . In light of what stated above, the first half has not only quantitative but also qualitative significance …
From the dimension we mentioned, natural and spiritual, certain customs follow: the psycho-physical nature and even spirituality have their own laws, which is congruent with transcendence to God, from time to eternity … . Sharia law draws the path to the source … If human nature has a tendency to devote one’s desires based on their intensity and defense of self, the spiritual dimension has a tendency to reduce the thickness of present life and, positive law has a tendency to lose its dynamism, the historic thickness for immobility, so that you must keep united in all instances.
The need of the law relates to social interaction to balance the diverse needs of more individuals and has as its basis in the concept of justice. Yet the that the law limits human freedom accordingly (The chance for the spiritual dimension to transcend desires) and the law relates to the notion of obligation, as need to receive from the outside, to exit the tendency of the ego to protect itself and the uncertainty of the desires of nafs: the man invokes evil as well as goodness, according to a verse, and there is a continuity between Goodness and desires of mankind, but these are also marked by ambiguity, which is sometimes opposed to them.

The Islamic marriage, nikah, devotes a model in which the couple will live together and sets out guidelines. Its historical dimension is reflected in a choice between different forms of marriage existing at the time of Revelation. It is interesting to note that the real antithesis of nikah is zina, which is the object a particularly harsh punishment in the Quran, where there are 27 verses dedicated to this. In particular, the surah of Light is associated with a form of paganism: a Zani was not allowed to marry a pagan or a zania and vice versa, because this zina implies some recognition of harmonic complementarity of the sexes, where He is in the wrong for wanting to go beyond the limitations set by God. The limits of Allah (the law) they are an intrinsic part of the essence of the couple in the world according to Islamic tradition, which if violated are deemed to constitute paganism.

The essential dimension of the law contradicts current Western mentality, in which marriage is increasingly rejected as the place of realisation of the couple with the establishment of freely living together, which delays the age of marriage. In contrast to this trend in Western culture is a kind of rigidity of traditional Muslims accompanied by an overestimation of marriage rituals and law enveloped by a magical aura, as if they were sufficient to ensure a successful marriage regardless of subjective and historical circumstances of the groom and bride who applies them, even disregarding compliance with country laws. We celebrate weddings in the mosque, which cannot be recognized by law, and currently divorce is not foreseen in Italy because there is no person responsible to dissolve it. Enlightening about myth of the law is the loss of the natural and spiritual dimension of marriage is language and conversation is carried out almost exclusively in terms of rights and duties, where marriage seem to establish a society in which the husband is the manager and the wife his trusted secretary.


A correct philosophy of the couple in Islam must revive all dimensions shown in Islamic sources, the natural, spiritual and customary ones. These are based on the recognition of Creation as a source of Revelation, the continuity between the two Revelations and of law as guidance. It needs the other dimensions, in order to avoid focussing on itself and becoming legalism, rather to overcome its tendency towards stagnation, as to maintain its correct dynamics faithfully to the evolutionary historical character of humankind and knowledge. Only in the recovery of the nature of the couple, of the importance of love and spirituality, of its transcendence from earth to heaven as well as the wise pathways of laws, which help us distinguish desires, we can achieve a comprehensive overview of the richness of the couple in Islam and we can face existing problems. And because man always establishes a hierarchy of values, even unconsciously, the prophetic tradition gives us a priority to follow the couple which cannot be ignored, just not by neglecting the other priorities: “A woman can be married to for four reasons: for her wealth, her rank, her beauty and her religion. Choose her for her religious quality and you will be successful.” truly choosing a woman or a man for his/her religion can occur when fear of God (Taqwa) is highest priority in our heart and this hierarchy of values is the only one capable of giving the human being balance with all other dimensions.

Wa Allahu a’lam Wa Allahu a’lam
Written by Patrizia Khadija Dal Monte
translated by Malika Monica Martinelli

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