Dr. Raja Naji al Makkawi is a prominent scholar who was recently chosen by both Newsweek and Al Jazeera as one of the most influential women in the Arab and Muslim world. In 2003, she became the first woman to deliver a religious lecture in front of the King of Morocco as part of Durous Hasaniyya. She authored many books and journal articles on family law, women issues, human rights and Sharia. Dr. Naji is a founding member of the International Muslim Women Jurist Network and a member of the Board of KARAMA or Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, a Washington based group founded by Dr. Aziza al Hibri, Professor of Law at the University of Richmond.
In her lecture, Dr. Naji provided a critical analysis of the modernist – and predominantly western – social science approach to the family which permeates institutional practices, polices and attitudes towards the family worldwide.
She focused on two fundamental questions:
Some of the manifestations for the decline and fragmentation of the family are the decreasing rates of marriage in favor of non-marital relations, the increasing rates of divorce, late marriages and lower fertility rates, and unprecedented behavioral and health problems in children and youth.
Dr. Naji concluded her critical analysis of the western approach by stating that the situation in many Muslim countries resembles that in western societies. Muslim countries – she maintains – have not given family matters the attention they deserve. Even at the level of thought – she says – family issues are often the targets of the fierce proponents of western values and ideals with a resulting conflict of identity and weakening of fundamental family values.
In the second part of the lecture, Professor Naji presented her thesis of the universality of the family order as derived from Qur’anic verses dealing with the subject. The principal verse she uses is the first verse of Surat al Nisa (Chapter 4, verse 1 ). She maintains that on the basis of this verse the only system that deserves to be called a system is the natural system of the marital family that was sanctioned by God Almighty since the creation of humanity. Islamic law came to perfect this system and strengthen its moral and legal foundations.
Dr. Naji observed that Surat al Nisa – the second largest Sura of the Qur’an but the largest in terms of legislative injunctions or Ahkam that regulate social and family life - was revealed right after the Hijra or the emigration of the Muslim community to Medina. This was meant to provide the solid foundation for building the Muslim family on one hand, and the the new society around it, on the other. The Sura itself came in the form of sets of principles and guidelines that regulate aspects of family life. Through the interpretation of the words of the first verse, Dr. Naji maintains that since the verse address humanity at large – and not only the Muslims - the principles, guidelines and subsequent legislations are equally universal in nature and do not concern the Muslims only. She interprets the call for Taqua in the verse as a call to respect the Hudud of Allah, which means that the Ahkam related to the family are rights for Allah , or part of the public order.
She also observes the equality and dignity the verse accords to women as part of God’s natural law, and that intermarriage should be on the basis of different sexes of marriage partners, and for a primary purpose of procreation and multiplying of the human species. Marriage, in this sense, is a source of comfort and contentment for both men and women and a source of stability for society at large. She also maintains that the call for Taqua, again, in the verse, is a reminder that Taqua is not just in respecting the Hudud of Allah and the fulfillment of one’s obligation to the other in the context of family relations, but is the pursuit of Ihsan or perfection through generosity and compassion in performing these duties. She asserts the accountability of family members and state organs to the family implicit in the words ”Tasaaloun a Bihi”. The end of the verse affirms that God is “Observant”over humanity which confirms that family relations are part of Hudud that should be guarded in the public domain or order.
After setting the foundations of her analysis from the verses of the Qur’an, Dr. Naji moved to identify five basic principles that constitute the bases for the Muslim family:
First: The Comprehensive Approach to family Matters
This is expressed, first, in the specification of the rights of the individuals on the basis of their belonging to the family unit. Second, the identification of a general policy framework that encompasses the moral, the psychological, the educational and the legislative components and that is value driven to achieve the strength and stability of the family.
Second: Integration of Family Law within the Public Order
This entails the enforcement of the legal injunctions that there is only one form for building a family and that is through marriage between man and woman. This also includes the making of laws that regulates family relations and establishes frameworks for the management of the family household. The second is a public definition of marriage as a “solid covenant’ or Mithaq Ghaliz’. This definition has implications on matters such as procreation and reproduction and lineage and kinship, which, accordingly, should be matters subject to law and are not left to individual choice.
Third: Achievement of Social Cohesion and Peace through the Discipline of Social Behavior:
This would be achieved through three approaches: a focus on duties and not just individual rights within the family; second, a call to Ihsan or perfection in performing duties; and third, the contribution to social cohesion and peace through the establishment of a strong, healthy family.
Fourth: Compassionate Justice and not Mechanical Equality as the Basis of Family Relations:
Family roles and relations should be based on skills and experience; love and compassion and not competition and advantage. Complementarity and not mechanical equality should be the basis for the division of family roles. Equality should be viewed in relation to responsibilities and legal obligations and not merely on rights. In this regard, Dr. Naji cited several verses from the Qur’an that establishes the principle of equality of men and women as it relates to Ahkam.
Here, Dr. Naji presents an interpretation of the concept of “Qawwama” as mentioned in verse 34, Surat al Nisa ( Chapter 4, 34), in a way that is consistent with the higher intents or Maqasid of Islamic law and the twisted interpretations that are frequently used to justify men’s domination over women. Through linguistic analysis, and the consideration of the intent of Sharia, she concludes that “Qawwama” can only mean the performance of the financial – and other - responsibilities in the family and the provision for the needs of the wife and every other member of the family in fairness and in observance of Allah’s teachings.
On the other hand, Dr. Naji defines “Taa” or obedience as the observance of Allah’s Hudoud and the respect of the family order in performing family roles. She cites the verses in Qur’an that limits Obedience to matters where there is no disobedience to Allah and his rules ( verse 15, Surat Lqman). She also mentions the principle of consultation and Shura in relation to family matters. In sum, she says that the Hudoud of Allah and not the instructions of a husband should be the basis of conducting family matters.
Fifth: The Application of Hikma (Wisdom) in resolving Family Disputes:
In addressing family disputes, Dr. raja maintains – consultation and the pursuit of mutual agreement should be the preferred method. Even if agreement to restore marriage is not reached, Islam calls for wisdom in maintain common interests and leaving the door open for reconciliation.
In conclusion, Dr. Naji restated her answer to the two fundamental questions she posed at the beginning: That there is only one universal, natural system for the family, and that is a system based on marriage between man and woman. Such system is the only guarantee for the survival of humanity, the psychological balance of its members and the social and cohesion and peace of human society. The universality of this system derives from human nature itself, from its comprehensive approach to family matters and its consistency with the fundamental beliefs and values of all religions and creeds worldwide. To abandon this universal system is to move into chaos and disorder. Recent statistics in matters related to family issues have proven the disastrous outcome of abandoning this universal understanding and approach.
She called for the adoption of laws, regulations and policies that are based on a comprehensive approach to family issues and that deals with persons as members of a family unit and not as individuals. These policies and regulations would protect the family from disintegration and estrangement that it is currently engulfed in and establishes the required balance between individual rights and the higher interests oof the family as the basic unit of society.