Question: You translate the phrase in chapter Nisa, 19th verse as “Live with your wives in acceptable terms”. What are these acceptable terms? Can you give some details about this concept?
The Arabic word we translate as “acceptable terms” is Ma’ruf. It is the object form of Urf. Urf literally means the known, acknowledged and accepted. In the terminology of the Quran, it stands for a natural lifestyle which is known and acknowledged in all places and all times. It signifies a lifestyle that is %100 in accordance with the creation and the desire of Allah even though the person does not have any knowledge about a holy book. It is the universal information that everyone shares. That’s why Allah commands our prophet (and us) to enjoin the Urf.
“Show forgiveness, enjoin the Urf and avoid the ignorant.” (7:199)
Ma’ruf, as it is said, the object form of Urf. It has the same meaning, but it points out the formal differences in Urf. Every community has its ma’ruf, but still, every ma’ruf has to be in accordance with the laws of Allah. The communal laws, customs and habits which are not in contrast with the divine laws are considered as ma’ruf in the Quran. Let’s say that Urf stands for the statute law and Ma’ruf stands for the customary law of Allah.
“(…) Live with your wives in acceptable terms. (…)” is a phrase addressed to men. It points out that men should consider the customs of the community on setting their expectations from their wives. They should not expect something which is uncommon in the community or against the accepted lifestyle of their wives before them. This is an advice that makes the family life much more easy and joyful.