Revelation is the Source of Rights and Responsibilities

The guest in November at the series of conferences entitled "Family: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow", held by the Meridian Group, was Professor Hayrettin Karaman. We are publishing a part of this conference entitled "Family in Islam: Rights and Responsibilities" for you, the readers of The community characterized and formed by Islamic civilization and culture cannot exist without the family. Our basic contention is that within the family as defined by Islamic culture there are both worldly and spiritual elements that last until the grave.

Establishment of the family in compliance with Islam


As Muslims we should first inquire from the source of the revelation as to what the family is, how it is formed and what are the rights and responsibilities of family members. If we are Muslims, we have to acquire information on issues related to Allah, the Prophet, angels, revelation, afterlife, existence after death, as well as on issues related to our worldly life. According to this distinction, when we wish to attain information about our world we should first consult the source of revelation. This does not mean that the Quran and the Sunnah contain all the worldly information. However, we should ask: "what does the Quran say about these"? By revelation, I mean the Quran and the authentic hadiths of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), which we have as texts. There are those who think that everything related to our worldly life, mechanics, technology and our work exist within the source of the revelation, yet this is not true. For instance, information on issues such as the activities that form the relationship between our lives and the commodities and issues such as the utilization of the world relevant to technology are not to be found in the Quran or the source of revelation, and people are better able to comprehend this information with their skills, logic and experience; this is mentioned both in the Holy Quran and in the expressions of the Holy Prophet. The following is a famous example of this:

Prophet Muhammad was from Mecca. Commercial life was more common and advanced in Mecca while agriculture was widespread in Medina. Thus, Prophet Muhammad did not have much agricultural knowledge related to dates. Now, there is no problem in mentioning this, because being a Prophet does not require knowledge about agricultural dates. It does not require knowledge on construction or medicine. The function of the Prophethood and the aim of Allah Almighty in sending a Prophet are not to reveal information that people can acquire by means of their own learning skills. The real aim is to provide people with knowledge in fields which they are not capable of acquiring through their reason or experience, or which they can learn incorrectly or about which they can become confused. As this is the case, the Prophet arrived in Medina where he saw that the date cultivators had pruned the branches of the date trees that had male characteristics, hanging them on the branches of the female date trees which produce the fruit; they had done this to encourage fertilization. The Prophet asked them: "Why are you doing this? Is fruit not produced if you don't carry out this process?" and they misunderstand the Prophet, thinking he had said, "Do not do this, this is not right". Thus, after that year they did not carry out the insemination process when the season arrived. The following year, date productivity decreased. When they went to Prophet Muhammad and told him about the situation, he said: "I did not tell you not to do that, I did not say what you did was wrong. I told that you were putting yourselves to a lot of trouble and getting tired while performing this action; this is an occupation, and I asked you whether it was a necessary process. You must have misunderstood what I said." And then he added the following: "Antum a'lamu bi amri dunya" (You know such worldly works better than me.)

For example, you live in Istanbul in the 21st century and you have a family. You have acquired a house for your family. The Quran and the revelation do not have to provide you with the layout of this house. Since you live in this house in accordance with the rules of Islam, there might be an arrangement that will facilitate Islamic life. The influence of religion might only be to this extent. Beyond that, your needs and experience will influence how you establish your house. Therefore, when we ask the revelation about the issues of rights and responsibilities within the family, we appeal to it in terms of religious provisions within the context of relations where we are deemed as fulfilling the orders of Allah if we carry them out and deemed to be acting against his order if we do not. 

This is the first issue which brings up the question: "What kind of information will we search for in the revelation?"

The second matter is the fact that the Companions who lived with the Prophet recorded both his words and behavior that were related to the purpose of his task, as well as his words and behavior that were unrelated to this matter.

When we consider the hadiths (sayings) of Prophet Muhammad in terms of their binding effects, it is possible to categorize them into 13 groups. When we appeal to the Quran, we can see verses, for instance, related to the family, family law and certain rights and responsibilities. However, some of these verses are, without a doubt, related to the community life of that period and to the culture and civilization of those people who were living in that community. Thus, some of them are historical and some of them are not. The Quran was revealed for the society of that period; for instance it did not choose a certain society from 21st century Turkey and have mentioned family life and families in the light of their problems. That is not to say that the Quran does not address all people at all times; rather in some specifics it is a historical reference.

It is only logical that the society of that period was to be addressed. The urgent problems of that society had to be solved immediately by directly mentioning them. Yet, when these solutions were provided, expressions had to be used in such a way that they could facilitate us to follow their guidance within the context of our own conditions and walk in their light in subsequent centuries. That is how the Quran implemented this necessity. When we appeal to the revelation, we find that within the verses there are some aspects that are historical and others that are universal. We should transform the historical aspect to our present time.

Do Muslims rely solely on the revelation when learning their religion and when answering the questions of "what is in the religion?" Or is there a religion which people traditionally learn, express and live? When scholars search for the answer to the question of "what is what in religion" they appeal directly to the source of revelation. They appeal directly to the Quran and the hadith by means of using the method which I mentioned, which is distinguishing the historical from the unhistorical.

Next, we should consider the tradition of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and fiqh as the culture of religion, and accordingly take it as a tradition; fiqh reflects the deductions of the people who have appealed to the revelation. In our present time we should learn the elements that form the family and the issue of mutual rights and responsibilities of these elements from the Quran, sunnah andfiqh.

While doing this, we have to make a distinction between what is historical and what is not, and what is regarded as acceptable in our religious culture and what is not. If we do not distinguish between these aspects, then we introduce the "Islamic family" incorrectly to others.

The right to divorce:

Women have certain rights, most of which are unknown to them or forgotten due to the excitement of getting married. One of these is the right to divorce. There is an incorrect idea that suggests that unless the man wishes, the woman cannot end her marriage, no matter how disturbed she is. While saying this, I am not making a modern explanation, reform or interpretation. I am basing what I say on old legal cases. What should men and women do when they want to end their marriage? In the modern world they must go to the court. This is also the case in Islam. In addition to this right that is given in Islam, the men also have the official right to divorce. The right of men and women to divorce by means of appealing to the court and stating their reasons dates back to before the 14th century.

In the period of our Prophet, a woman came to him and said: "I want to divorce this man." The Prophet asks her why and she replied "I do not love him, I am not happy, I want to get divorced". Our Prophet responds "What does this mean? Can you divorce a husband just because you do not love him? Endure, Allah Almighty does not say that He will put you in Heaven." The Prophet called the husband and said to the woman: "Do you still retain the item that your husband gave you as mahir (dowry)? Give it back and we will end your marriage."

There is also another option. If the woman wishes to be equal with the right to divorce (without appealing to the court), she can receive the right to divorce while making a divorce agreement.


The mahir is generally not mentioned. I don't know whether people are ashamed of it or forget it. The mahir is a very important guarantee. In case of a death, divorce etc., the women continues to benefit from this until she becomes dependent on some one else or until she starts a new life. In this respect, I suggest that you do not consider this issue of mahir to be symbolic.


Nafaqah (alimony) is not sadaqaah (charitable alms). Nafaqah is a legal issue of debt. It is valid both through the period of marriage and - May Allah prevent- in case of a divorce. Whether by means of divorce or death, nafaqah is a continuous debt and it is of extreme importance. Islam does not prohibit women from working. Yet Islam does not state that the women must earn income to cover her or her children's material needs. This is provided by the nafaqah system. In this way, Allah ensures women a legal income. This is called nafaqah. The incumbent of the nafaqah can be the father or the husband or the brother, depending on the woman's situation. Yet, this is not a voluntary courtesy. Had it been a courtesy, there would be no economic freedom. However, a woman can earn extra money through work. She does not have to limit or sacrifice her freedom if she wishes to work.

Permission and Obedience:

This is a subject commonly discussed in terms of rights and responsibilities. This is a matter that includes actions that women cannot perform without obeying the husband or attaining his permission. The expressions used within the fiqh books related to obedience and permission are to a large extent historical. Trying to bring this to the present time does not help us to solve this problem. If you attribute this matter to Allah and the Prophet, we might be able to deduce consequences from the general provisions of the fiqh scholars of the earlier period. Obedience is not absolute, yet it is limited. Everybody, ranging from women to men, children to elderly people first of all abide by Allah and His Messenger. "And the believers, men and women, are protecting friends of one another, they establish worship, they fast and they obey Allah and His messenger" (Al-Tauba 9/71)." This protection is a legal relationship. They are the protectors of each other and they equally worship Allah Almighty. "As for these, Allah will have mercy on them." Whether they be the acts of men or women, requests are only valid as long as they are in compliance with the orders of Allah and His Prophet.



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