Some Responsibilities of the Husband and Rights of the Wife in Islam
Dr. G. F. Haddad
Q: I have frequently read what, according to Islamic teachings, a husband may or may not do in a dispute with his wife if he attributes it to disagreement with or misbehavior of his wife. I almost never read anything about the opposite situation: if the wife has a disagreement with her husband or *he* misbehaves. Things are nearly always told from the man’s point of view! What are the wife’s rights in the case of bad behavior of her husband?
Praise belongs to Allah the Lord of all the worlds. Blessings and Peace on the Messenger of Allah, and on his Family and all his Companions.
Allah ordered the believers to “consort with women in kindness” (4:19) and He said: “And of His signs are this: He created for you helpmeets from yourselves that ye might find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo, herein indeed are portents for folk who reflect” (30:21).
A Wife’s Basic Rights Regarding Her Husband’s Behavior
NOTE: This is distinct from her other rights regarding living expenditures, housing, clothing, and education of children. And from Allah comes all success.
1. The first and worthiest condition of marriage to be fulfilled by the husband is to “keep the promise or promises he made to the wife at the time he married her.” This is an order of the Prophet [salla Allahu `alayhi wa alihi wa sallam, abbr. (s)] according to the hadith: “ahaqqu al-shuruti an tufu bihi ma astahlaltum bihi min al-furuj“
2. He cannot order her to do anything that is against religion. The Prophet (s) said: “No obedience is due to creatures in disobedience of the Creator” (la ta`atan li makhluqin fi ma`siyat al-khaliq).
3. He must exercise patience and be prepared to listen to her advice in every situation. The Prophet (s) listened to the advice of his wives in matters ranging from the smallest to the greatest.
4. If she invites him to wake up and perform the late night prayer, it is praiseworthy for him to do so and vice-versa. The Prophet (s) prayed for such people: “May Allah grant mercy to a man who gets up at night and prays, and wakes up his wife, and if she refuses, he sprinkles water in her face; may Allah grant mercy to a woman who gets up at night and prays, and wakes up her husband, and if he refuses, she sprinkles water in his face.”
5. He must respect her and pay attention to her needs so that she will respect him and pay attention to his.
6. He must control his passions and act in a moderate manner especially in the context of sexual intercourse. Remember that Allah has placed between you and her “friendship and mercy” (mawadda wa rahma), not the gratification of your every lust; and that the Prophet (s) advised young men to marry “because it casts down the gaze and walls up the genitals,” not in order to stimulate sexual passions. The husband should habitually seek refuge in Allah before approaching his wife and say: “O Allah, ward off the satan from us and ward him off from what you have bestowed upon us in the way of children”(allahumma jannibna al-shaytana wa jannibhu ma razaqtana). Allah has called each spouse a garment for the other (2:187), and the purpose of garments is decency. The Prophet (s) further said that he who marries for the sake of decency and modesty (`afaf), Allah has enjoined upon Himself to help him.
7. He must never ever divulge the secrets of the household and those of the married couple.
8. He must strive with sincerity to acquire her trust, and seek her welfare in all the actions that pertain to her.
9. He must treat her generously at all times. The Prophet (s) said that the best gift or charity (sadaqa) is that spent on one’s wife.
10. If she works outside the house, it is praiseworthy for the husband to hire house help to relieve her from too heavy a burden. The wife’s duties do not require her to feed her child, nor even to nurse it, nor to clean nor cook. It is the husband’s duty to provide a nursemaid, food for older children, and servants to clean and cook. However, if the wife does those things out of mercy and love, it is a gift to the husband on her part.
11. He must avoid excessive jealousy and remember that Allah is also jealous that he himself not commit. The Prophet (s) said: “Do not be excessively jealous of your wife lest evil be hurled at her on your account” (la tukthir al-gheerata `ala ahlika fa turama bi al-su’i min ajlik) and he said: “Allah is jealous and the believer is jealous; and Allah’s jealousy is that the believer should not go to that which Allah has forbidden for him” (inna Allaha yagharu wa al- mu’minu yagharu wa gheerat Allahi in ya’tiya al-mu’minu ma harrama `alayhi).
12. He must protect her honor and not place her in situations where it is compromised or belittled. The Prophet (s) said that Allah will not ever let him enter Paradise who cares little who shares his wife’s privacy. This includes the husband’s brother, uncle, and nephew, let alone non-related friends, neighbors, and complete strangers.
13. He must exercise patience and forgiveness in the case of disagreement or dispute, and not rush to divorce. The declaration of divorce is a grave matter indeed, and the Prophet (s) said: “Of permitted matters the most loathesome before Allah is divorce” (abgh`ad al-halal `ind Allah al-talaq). In another hadith he said that divorce is so grave that because of it Allah’s throne is made to shake. He said: “The best intercession [i.e. intervention of a third party] is that which brings back together the husband and the wife.” Womanizing — divorce for the purpose of marrying another woman out of sexual attraction incurs Allah’s curse according to the hadith: “Allah’s curse is on the womanizing, divorcing man” (la`ana Allahu kulla dhawwaaqin mutallaaq). Finally, even in the midst of and after divorce, Allah has prescribed kindness upon the man: “(After pronouncing divorce) she must be retained in honor or released in kindness” (2:228).
For the above-mentioned reason (i.e. to prevent the quickness of divorce), in his time, Ibn Taymiyya gave the ijtihad (juridical opinion) by saying that three talaqs in one sitting constituted only one. He did this to interdict the prevalent custom of suddenly giving three talaqs, which in his time was on everyone’s lips, (i.e. had become so commonplace as to be a habit). However the other four schools of fiqh had the opposite opinion in this matter.
14. He must not dwell on what he dislikes in his wife, but on what he likes.
15. The husband is not to stay away from his wife or keep his wife in a state of suspense, whether at home or abroad, for a protracted period of time except with her consent. Allah said: “Turn not away (from your wife) altogether, so as to leave her hanging. If you come to a friendly understanding and practice self-restraint, then Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Merciful” (4:129). Protracted separation (6 months or more in the Shafi`i school) without prior or subsequent arrangement with the wife, whether the husband is away willingly or unwillingly (for example due to war, imprisonment, or illness) is sufficient grounds for her to obtain divorce from the judge.
16. The Prophet (s) said: “Do not beat your wife.” He also said: “Do not strike your wife in the face.” The expiation for striking one’s slave in the face is to set him or her free on the spot, but what expiation is there for striking one’s wife? The Prophet (s) condemned the man who beats his wife in the day and then approaches her at night. And to beat her to the extent of inflicting serious injury is enough grounds for her to obtain divorce from the judge.
17. Caring for one’s wife’s sexual fulfillment is an obligation of religion. The Prophet (s) warned against rushing to gratify one’s pleasure and forgetting that of one’s wife. He also disliked that the husband should quickly withdraw from his wife afterwards, as it is a strain upon the wife. If she asks for intercourse, he should not refuse.
These are only some of the basic duties of the husband in Islam. The state of marriage is part of one’s adherence to the Sunna and an exalted state of life indeed. In the words of the Prophet (s), it permits one to meet Allah “pure and cleansed” (tahiran mutahharan). One’s behavior towards one’s wife is the measure of the perfection of one’s belief as the Prophet (s) said: “The most complete of the believers in his belief is he who perfects his manners, and the best of you in manners are those who act best towards their wives.” Marriage must be approached with utmost seriousness, entered with the purest intent, and cultivated religiously as it does not come cheaply and it carries immense reward. The Prophet (s) called it “his way” (al-nikahu sunnati) and “half of religion” and he also said: “Two rak`at (prayer-cycles) of the married person are better than seventy rak`at of the unmarried.” He also warned that among the greatest of responsibilities that had been placed upon men is that pertaining to the treatment of their wives.
And may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon Muhammad,
his Family and all his Companions,
and praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds.