Persia/Chapter 14

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CHAPTER III.

OF THE LAW OF MARRIAGE.

There is no celibacy in Islamism: your wives are to you, and you are to your wives, what the garment is to the body.” Such are the terms in which the Koran speaks of marriage. Every male, on attaining the proper age, is therefore expected to take a female companion; whether it be a slave that he purchases, a woman whom he hires, or a legitimate wife whom he marries. His religion allows him the choice of these three modes; but at the same time, forbids him to hold intercourse with loose women, and to covet the wife of another.

A female slave, when purchased by a man becomes his sole and entire property: he can dispose of her life, and even of her honour, as he pleases; and he may raise her from servitude to the condition of a free woman, and even of a legitimate wife, without incurring any censure: such is the custom.

The Persians have a connexion of a singular nature, called moutah, which signifies the use of any thing for a certain time. It is in fact, a temporary marriage, the duration of which is fixed by the taker. A man whose circumstances do not permit him to form a jointure for a legitimate wife, takes one on lease; and when he feels himself susceptible of constancy, or pride forbids him to give up to another what he has once enjoyed, the lease is sometimes for 99 years. The contract is executed before the Cadi or the Sheik-ul-Islam.

Legitimate marriage is called naccah, and is contracted before the same magistrates. The female brings nothing but moveables, such as clothes, jewels, &c. for her portion, and the husband is obliged to settle a jointure on her. The Koran authorizes a man to marry four lawful wives, provided he can maintain them. The same book proscribes marriages between relatives within a certain degree. A man may not marry his mother, his aunt, his daughter, his sister, his niece, his nurse, his foster-sister, his wife's mother or daughter, his son's wife, two sisters, or the wife of another. The husband is master of his wife's property, and has the control over her person; it is his duty to maintain her, to provide for her wants, and to treat her with kindness. When any misunderstanding arises between husband and wife, they each choose an umpire out of their respective families, and refer the matter to his decision: but if their dispositions or tastes cannot be reconciled, a divorce is solicited, and granted by the judge. The wife then receives back her portion, and sometimes keeps half her jointure. A man may marry again after such separation, and be a second time divorced; but the third marriage, though allowed, must not be contracted till the woman has married another man. A wife who has been put away, cannot marry for three months after her repudiation; neither can a widow till four months and ten nights after the decease of her husband.

If a commits adultery, and the fact is attested by four witnesses, the husband has a right to keep her a prisoner-for life. It is lawful for the husband to chastise and even beat his wife, in case of misbehaviour.

The Koran treats also of the duties of parents to their children, and those of children to their parents. The mother may commit her infant to the care of a hired nurse; but she acquires an additional merit in the sight of God, by suckling it for two years with her own milk. The father is obliged to maintain his children, to educate them in the true religion, and to make them good Musulmans: on the other hand, it is the duty of a son to assist those to whom he owes his existence.

In Persia, and in the East, there is no such thing as illegitimacy: all the children are equal and legitimate in the eye of the law. The first-born is heir of right, even though he received life from a slave.

When a wife dies, half of her property belongs to her surviving husband, if she has no children: in the contrary case, he has but one-fourth. When the wife survives, she can claim one-fourth of her husband's property, but one-eighth only in case there are children.

According to Chardin, on the death of the father, the eldest son takes two-thirds of the property left by him, and the other third is divided among his brothers and sisters, in such proportion, that a girl receives only half as much as a boy.