Zihar in Muslim law
Zihar is a term used in Islamic law to describe a specific form of divorce or marital declaration made by a husband. It is an archaic practice that predates Islam but holds relevance in understanding historical legal aspects.
Originating from pre-Islamic Arabia, zihar involved a husband equating his wife to one of his female relatives, such as his mother or sister. By doing so, he would liken his wife to a prohibited relative, making sexual relations between them forbidden and treating her with disrespect. However, Islam condemned this practice and introduced reforms to protect women’s rights within marriage.
According to Islamic law, zihar is considered an undesirable act. The Quran addresses zihar in Surah Al-Mujadilah (Chapter 58, verses 1-4) and criticizes those who engage in this practice. The verse emphasizes that zihar does not render the wife forbidden to the husband nor does it dissolve the marital bond. It states that such declarations are empty words and unjust to women.
While zihar does not lead to an automatic divorce, it does have legal implications. The husband who utters zihar is required to make expiation for his sin, which typically involves freeing a slave, fasting for two consecutive months, or feeding sixty needy people. Until the expiation is fulfilled, the husband and wife enter a state of suspension within their marriage.
During this period of suspension, the husband and wife remain legally married but with certain limitations. They are not permitted to engage in sexual relations until the expiation is completed, and the wife is not obliged to obey the husband’s commands during this period. If the husband fails to fulfill the expiation, the wife has the right to seek divorce through other available legal means under Islamic law.
It is important to note that zihar is an outdated practice that is rarely encountered in modern times. The principles of equality and justice within Islamic law have prompted reforms that provide more comprehensive mechanisms for divorce, such as talaq (divorce initiated by the husband), khula (divorce initiated by the wife), and judicial divorce.
In contemporary Islamic jurisprudence, zihar is viewed as a historical concept rather than a practical legal procedure. The focus has shifted towards promoting mutual respect, equality, and fairness within marriages, and providing both spouses with accessible and just means of dissolving their marriage if necessary.
In conclusion, zihar is an ancient form of divorce in Islamic law that predates Islam but has been abolished and strongly discouraged. While it does not result in an immediate divorce, it carries moral and legal consequences for the husband. Islamic law today offers more equitable avenues for divorce that prioritize the rights and well-being of both spouses within the institution of marriage.