Shaykh Hamza Yusuf encapsulates mutual rights of the husband and wife to treat each other well and with kindness


(transcript of talk by Shaykh Hamza)

In terms of what engenders and facilitates these relationships, one is really important, is Islamic etiquette so it’s very important just to remember that just like your brother you’re supposed to greet them with a smile.

You’re supposed to do these things you do with people outside – sometimes we forget that the people we’re living with have more rights than other people to those same etiquettes and also doing things for each other.

“Preferring the other to the self” – and the thing about it is men have to be very careful because there are many women that, that is in their nature. So in other words a man can get into a very exploitive relationship with his wife because his wife by her nature, especially women that were born and raised in a more Eastern tradition, where  here’s a lot of double standards with the male and the female children.

You can get into an exploitive relationship with the wife where you’re allowing her to do everything and she says “oh well I love to do it”,  well that doesn’t mean that she should be doing everything because she loves to do it, because she’s getting all the reward. First of all and second of all she’s going to appreciate no matter what she says when you help her out and do things for her. She will appreciate it because that’s human nature.

So just maintaining the etiquette.  Also a wife should not allow domestic concerns so that she forgets her own husband and then becomes like a domestic servant too because that can happen. Women become so preoccupied she becomes more like a domestic servant and not realizing that there’s a whole ‘Sakinah’, there should be spiritual relationship, spiritual growth, between the two, things like that.

A man also has to be very careful of not getting into – and this is all about, I’ll really tell you in all honesty – the thing about life is the challenge for everybody is not to fall asleep and it’s really easy to just get into these patterns of perfunctory behavior and to forget what you know what life is about.  And you can really forget that this is it –
you know your life is an aggregate of moments and that when you’re with your wife or your husband it can either be a horrible experience, or it can be a wonderful experience or it can be a missed experience.

John Lennon said,  “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” and there’s a lot of truth in that you know. You can be get so caught up in these day-to-day concerns that life passes you by and you missed it. So family is like that, your children are like that, it’s very easy to to lose sight of them and also just the idea of offering each other reminders. I mean it’s good to remind each other and a husband should not get upset if a wife reminds him about Allah about his duties and things like that and this  vice versa. It should be done in a nice way with nasihah and everything but there shouldn’t be anger come out of that – it’s very bad to do that.

Then also, this is probably very rare nowadays, but it was probably much more common in the Muslim world of doing too much ibadah. Where one forgets the rights of the family and that comes from Abdallah bin Umar ibn al Aas (r) who used to fast all the time and Aisha (r)  informed this to the Prophet (s) about the neglect of the wife.

When the Prophet (s)  met Abdallah bin Umar (r), he asked  him, is that true and he said yes.  The Prophet (s) said if that’s the case don’t do it. Sleep and pray, fast and eat because that’s my Sunnah and then he said  your body has a right, your wife has a right your family has a right, their rights. There’s a hukook. so the right of your wife is that you spend time with her – that is a haq.

Another important is adhering to the principles of forgiveness that really forgiving and just letting it go. One of the things that people in relationships will do is they’ll hold on to these things. It really is just infantile behavior and you have to see it for what it is it’s – you’re a pouting little child that’s all you’re doing and you’re trying to make the other person miserable for doing something to you that it’s infantile behavior and you need to snap out of it.

And we all will fall into that but you have to snap out of it and just remind yourself and if the other person  reminds you of it take the reminder don’t make your life miserable for yourself and for others because that’s all it is and and it doesn’t in the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. So if something happens that upsets you just let it go. It will happen,  it’ll happen, many many times throughout your life, but just let it go don’t hold on to it – the danger is not that it happens, but that’s going to happen it’s a given – the danger is that you never learn to overcome the desire to hold on to it and also people derive perverse pleasure, in that, so that happens you start to get a pleasure in making somebody feel miserable.  They’ve done studies on cheerfulness  and cheerfulness and good nature is very contagious. If somebody is in a cheerful and a good nature they can actually affect other people much more powerfully than irritability. Although irritability is also contagious but it doesn’t spread as easily as good nature. I mean they’ve done really interesting studies about this. to watch this. and depression is difficult very difficult to actually be transferred to somebody – it can happen if you live with a depressed person – you become  depressed but it’s actually difficult for that to happen – it’s quite unusual but well-being does not, you can actually transform somebody state quite easily if you’re up and they’re down. You can see this with children you know. If children pout and do these things you can just create silly faces and things and you can get them to break a smile. When you once  got them there they know they can’t hold on to it. So it’s interesting just breaking that  infantile desire and I think the Prophet (s) was an absolute master – like everything he did he was a master at that of breaking  that state, that people got into. And it doesn’t mean that he didn’t have periods, there were difficult periods but generally that was what he did.

Now it’s important to keep in mind that marital life due to the constant interaction and to psycho-emotional states that people go through  different cycle, emotional states throughout the day or the week or the month and that there’s situations where discontent displeasure occur and you can do these things. These are normal occurrences.

Even the Prophet (s) said to Aisha (r) I know when you’re upset with me and she said how do you know that. He (s) said because when when you’re pleased with me you say, ‘Wa-rabbi be Muhammad’ by the Lord of Muhammad, but when you’re upset with me you say ‘Wa-rabbi Ibrahim’, by the Lord of Ibraheem and Aisha (r) laughed and she said that’s true, by Allah it’s true. I would never abandon anything but your name.

That’s an example and then also this idea that the Prophet (s) said a mo’min should never dislike a believer – if he likes if he dislikes one quality he should focus on the qualities he likes. So every person is going to have things that bother you and things that you like about them. And the thing about your spouse is that you should look at those qualities that are pleasing. Now one thing that you can do is you can talk about things that bother about the other person and then the person tries to work on those things if especially if they relate to things that are shortcomings Islamically like anger, short temper and things like that. Those things should be brought, you need to deal with those because there’s no reason why they should continue – those are things that people can overcome.

Also the Prophet (s) said the most perfect of believers in faith are those with the most excellent character and the best of you are the best of you to your women. And there’s a beautiful poem by Maulana Jalaluddeen Rumi (r) – which I think is in his Masnawi. Where he said the Prophet (s) said that women totally dominate men of intellect and possessors of hearts but ignorant men dominate women for they are shackled by an animal ferocity, they have no kindness gentleness or love since animality dominates their nature.

Love and kindness are human attributes.  Anger and sensuality belong to the animals. That comes from a hadith in which the Prophet(s) was talking to some women and he said I’ve never seen a creature that has more possession over the Lubban – a man of intellect – than you. So what Rumi was talking another level of understanding that the reason that they have so much power over is because these are people that have conquered their animal soul and so they’re not people that are going to dominate women – they’re not people that are going to oppress – they’re actually people that because of the love and kindness that has overcome their souls they actually allow the women their shortcomings without demanding change and that’s what Ibn Abbas (r) who said about the verse in the Quran “that men have one degree over women” – that’s what he said. It was relinquishing the right of a man for the woman- “tanazul alal haq” – whereas he would not relinquish her rights. In other words he would fulfill all of her rights but he would not demand of her all of his rights. That is the degree over women and that’s that’s Ibn Abbas (r) who’s the translator of the Quran.

One of the things also is just going the “path of least resistance”. Water puts out fire, fire increases fire. If you look at the Prophet (s) that was his strategy with people. Umar (r) who said I once roared at my wife and she answered back. I rebuked her for bandying words with me. She then said why should you rebuke me for answering you back by Allah the wives of the Prophet (s) dispute with him and even ignore him for a night and a day. So you know she was saying who do you think you are?, basically. I mean that’s what it is she’s saying who do you think you are ? You know the wives of the Prophet (s) do this to the Prophet (s) and he is the best example. Umar (r)  went and indeed found that from Hafsa (r) – he went and asked Hafsa (r) who was his daughter, do you do that and he was shocked but it changed his attitude.  And then we have when he was Khalifa – the man who came to his house knocked on the door and then he heard all Umar’s (r) wife yelling at him and he left and Umar (r) came out and said to him what happened ?  He said nothing.   Umar (r) said, no you came andknocked at my door, what do you want .  The man said, I didn’t want anything.  Umar (r) then said buy Allah tell me what you want.  The man said, well I was going to come and complain about my wife, but when I heard your wife, I said there was no point in complaining to you. And Umar (r)  said this is my wife, the mother of my children, she maintains my house, cooks my food, shouldn’t I have patience with her if she gets upset with me.

So there’s the man who you know roared – that’s the change that occurred in him. And that’s the point people can change. Now another reminder and this is to the women in particular – although it goes to both is that the idea of ingratitude and boasting about things which haven’t been given. These are two problems that are more predominant in women than in men. So the idea is the Prophet (s)  said one of the worst qualities of women (and again this is important to note  when the Prophet (s) speaks like this it’s a generalization – does not apply to everybody but it’s a reminder to women),  he said one of the worst qualities of women is that you can do a great deal for them for a lifetime and then one time you do something wrong and the woman will say  “you’ve never done anything for me”.

And so the point is that it’s important to keep in mind that even though people have shortcomings you have to look at the overall context and I think part of that is because women tend to, they can often move into the moment, because of that emotional component that in many women  is stronger than men and when they move into that they’re in the moment completely and I think that’s what that is about. So it’s part of the nature of many women and it was just a warning from the Prophet (s) to be careful of becoming ungrateful to a husband.

And then the other thing is to claim to have been given things that she wasn’t given and  this is in some superficial people. But it’s a warning to again to the women. It can be both in men and women. The idea of saying my husband did this for me or my husband did that for me to other women as a way of boasting or something like that and that should not be done. Another mutual right is istim-ta – I mentioned this earlier with the women. The men’s right of it.  It’s a mutual right – the difference, the reason why it’s more emphasized in the man is one because the men are weaker in that area and two because it’s the haq of a man if he calls his wife for that reason that she should respond. For the woman generally that is not the case but she is entitled to that haq in the relationship and it’s grounds for divorce if that haq is not fulfilled and the ulama differed. I mean generally in the maliki mazhab he sleeps with her once in every four nights with his wife and that is to arrive generally from the portion of legally entitled to a woman. So if a man has other than one wife then that’s what happens – you have three and then if there’s four wives then it’s once every four nights so that that is considered a haq.

Now just one thing about this is according to sacred law – The prophet (s) when he said in a hadith why didn’t you marry a virgin so you could play with her and she with you.  That is part of the makasid of the Sharia in marriage which is mu’alaban and Muda’aba of having that type of intimacy and obviously for a man who’s marrying for the first time it’s easier for that if that he marries a virgin. When the man told the Prophet (s)  the reason that he was marrying a non-virgin because he had children and he did not want to bring somebody that was inexperienced like that. The Prophet (s) praised him for that so that would also depend on things.

Just here I want to go over this the Quran says khuliqal insaana zeefa : ” man is created weak” – most of the commentators say it’s relation is sexual desire of women and so if passion overcomes a man – he’s obv ously
becomes incapable of reasoning and often controlling the animal urges. And so the spouse is a Husn and that’s why the arabic word for married “Muhsan” which literally means fortified so it’s through your spouse that you’re protected. It becomes a fortification for your private parts its guarding you from doing something which is Haram. Now one of the things about that it’s not simply the sexual discharge. Because that’s one aspect but it’s not simply that because one of the things about when people come together is that there is an effect in the other realms and angels are pleased about a man and wife and their relationship. So there’s that aspect to it and one of the things about the sakina that comes out of that – the Arabs call it “nowm-atrus” which is “the sleep that occurs after people have intimacy” and it’s a sleep that results from that sakina. In other words it’s a deep type of sleep and it’s a blessing from Allah ta’ala – and that’s why Imam Ghazzali who said that sensual pleasure is really an indication of the delight of akhirah. That’s what he said –  it was  Allah was giving the human being a glimpse of the delights of the akhirah and that’s why in the Quran those delights are often described in those terms.

One of the things that one of the scholars of Andalusia said that some have considered marriage and animal appetite “shahwa haywaniyyah” in Arabic – he said, they declare themselves beyond it and this is like in the Christian religion. It’s seen as a low thing and so the priest says I’m above this or the monk. And yet they call it with the noblest of names hayawan because haya is an attribute of God and it’s the same  in our language you say animus – animal comes from animus which is the soul, inema, is life. Animated person is a lively person so that noble quality of life and he says what is more noble than life – what they believe to be an ugliness in their eyes – is is actually the opposite with people who have knowledge of Allah

And that is why Imam Nawawi who said all of the appetites harden the heart when indulged in except sexual intimacy between legal, in a legal relationship. It has the opposite effect – it softens the heart and you will see often especially with men. That if somebody is not married  they can actually become hard and and you’ll see a transformation when they get married.  they actually become more gentle and more patient, less angry. That’s why the Muslim world is very problematic now because there’s so many young men under 25 that aren’t married and it’s  not a good thing. Traditionally people got married early. So actually marriage does have an effect on your psychological state and that’s important to know that.

Also the Prophet (s) said that the gift that all of life is a pleasure and the highest pleasure in life is a righteous wife and, mafoom al awla, as well for a woman is that it’s a righteous husband. Qazi Abu Bakr ibn Arabi who was s a great Maliki scholar from Andalusia – and it’s important – he said “a woman’s demand for sexual intercourse from her husband in no way negates praiseworthy modesty” so it’s not from haya if she’s desirous of that “nor does it negate virtuous dignity because it is an essential goal of marriage”. In other words, it is one of the reasons why people get married ; “thus if he was being difficult then she is permitted to demand it on religious grounds and this is completely dignified demand on her part”. So going to Qazi a to complain to him about that is not seen as a breach of her modesty because it’s a haq of hers.

And obviously it could lead to problems psychological problems.  I was with Sshaikh Khatri, he did some marriage counseling,  and there was somebody who had a lot of trouble, psychological trouble and  when we finished he said to the man, when woman wasn’t in the room, he said why aren’t you sleeping with your wife. And the man  was like really shocked and he said how did you know that.  Shaikh Khatri  said because her state, the state she was in. And he said it’s very common, I’ve seen it in my own people a lot.  That if a woman’s not being having intimacy with her husband she goes into a state that has those same symptoms. So it can lead to psychological problems. People should be aware of that. And some people, they genuinely lose an interest and also because of other matters people get preoccupied – things like that but forgetting that there is a responsibility there – is really important