With vast referencing to Allah in the various stories compiling The Arabian Nights, comparison of story to the teachings of the Quran are a warranted article for evaluation. In the introductory story, Story of King Shahryar and His Brother, the King discovers his wife to be an adulteress and decides to bestow upon her punishment by execution.
With his brother having suffered the same through the actions of his own wife, the king concludes that all women are not to be trusted and that the world would benefit through having a fewer number of them. As a result of this resolve, he commits to marrying one virgin a night, taking her to his bed, and then having her killed in the morning. This practice continues for years. Sura 24, Al-Nūr, of the Quran offers an excellent foundation to discover if the actions in the story coincide with the codes of conduct taught in Islam with respect to women’s role in marriage and in society.
Systematically reviewing the Sura, one may conclude that no definitive variation is stated between women’s societal role and that of men. However, her role of being a woman and what that means in respect to protecting herself and her chastity is addressed. Instruction is given to men to “restrain their looks and guard their senses” (24:31-32). This instruction is given also to women, with the addition of hiding their beauty and adornments from those outside of specified individuals, stating that the beauty and adornments of a woman are reserved for her husband.
They are not to be concerned with showing themselves to those who either are too young to understand the relationship between man and woman, or individuals outside of the family who have no desire for women (24:31-32). In the Story of King Shahryar and His Brother, the king’s wives are spoken of as being beautiful. It does not make reference to how they are dressed, but the impression is made that they are not covered as instructed by the Quran. This is not to suggest that the failure to cover is cause for their demise, but a simple observation.
The actions of the younger brother, King of Samarkand, are an obvious and blatant rebellion against Islamic rule in accordance to Sura 24. While the witnessing of a wife committing adultery by the husband alone is evidence for punishment, he must “bear witness four times in the name of Allah that he is telling the truth, and a fifth time that Allah’s curse be upon him if he lies” (24:7-11). This younger brother took it upon himself to kill his wife, and mentioned nothing of the situation to anyone until he spoke of it to his brother some time later. Though the eldest King, King Shahryar, was not the sole witness to his wife’s sin, his punishment of murder is not the instructed penalty.
However, it is not this murder, but the many that took place daily thereafter, in conjunction with the terms of arrangement, which pose such a contradiction to Sura 24. A man and a woman are to be arranged in marriage (24:33-35). Again, this reflects equality between the sexes, as both are under the same instruction. In the story, this arranged marriage is seen routinely between the King and his nightly bride. The difference being that in the story, these women were given to him out of fear by their families. This marriage arrangement was by the king more so than by the woman’s controlling figures.
There are similarities between Story of King Shahryar and His Brother and the Quran, however, the differences are more severe. It would be an act of ignorance to take any of the stories from The Arabian Nights and use them as an indicator of Islam and the teachings of the Quran. This story did not accurately reflect what a marriage is in Islam, nor did it make reference to a woman’s role either in marriage, in society, or in self. The story depicts a woman as somebody who can be assigned and given away much in the way you would assign or give away material property. Such a story does not echo the lessons of Islam found Sura 24, or of Islam as a whole.
Burton, R. (1850). The Arabian Nights
Khan, MZ. (1997) The Qur’an: Arabic text with a new translation by Muhammad Zafrulla KhanI. Brooklyn: Olive Branch Press