Answer to the Question of a Convert Sister
Duties of the spouses: Rights of the wife
As a convert to Islam, I greatly appreciate the Islamic literature such as your publication which helps me to advance in knowledge. I have three (3) questions that I would like you to address for me. If you have addressed these questions in any of your past issues of Al-Balagh please let me know how I can obtain a copy In sha-Allah. If not would you please answer these questions for me or let me know if you intend to address these questions in any of your upcoming issues In sha-Allah. (Orlando, U.S.A)
- Firstly, all the time I hear of the duties of the wives in Islam, but no one seems to address the responsibilities of the husband. What is a husband’s duty to his wife? Is he responsible for her financially and that’s all? Who is to paint the house, mow the lawn, breed the children, and raise them? Cook, clean, wash, and iron? It seems to me that all or most of the Muslim males in America go to the mosque or perform Tabligh work while their wives are burdened with all the other responsibilities. It is little wonder that most of the Western women looking at the plight of women in Islam refuse to convert because they fear the slave mentality of Muslim males.
Before replying to your specific questions I would like to clarify one basic point which should always be kept in mind in such matters.
One should clearly distinguish between the Islamic teachings and the general practice of the Muslims. Unfortunately, we are living in an age where the majority of Muslims are not aware of the noble teachings of Islam nor do they practice these teachings in their day-to-day affairs of life.
Instead, they are mostly influenced by different cultures in which they have been living. Therefore, everything the Muslims practice on the ground cannot be attributed to Islam, and while evaluating the merits of Islam, one should not refer to the practice of the Muslims today, rather he should turn to the Islamic principles laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.
Obviously, if the Muslims have abandoned the guidance of Shari’ah, it cannot be taken in any way as a defect in the Shari’ah itself, rather, it is the fault of those who have deprived themselves of this guidance. Keeping this basic point in view, here are the answers to your questions:
(a) It is evident from a plain study of the relevant material found in the Holy Quran and Sunnah that Islam treats the relationship of marriage as a bilateral contract between husband and wife, each one of them having some rights and obligations. The Holy Quran is very much clear on this point when it says:
ولھن مثل الذی علیھن بالمعروف
“And the women have rights similar to their obligations”. (2:228)
It is clear from this verse of the Holy Quran that the obligations of a wife towards her husband are not less than the rights she enjoys. The Holy Quran has summarized the obligations of a husband towards his wife in a short phrase where the Holy Quran has made it mandatory for a husband: “To keep her with fairness” (2:229) At another place, the Holy Quran instructs the husbands in the following words:
“And live with them (wives) in fairness”. (4:19)
Therefore, it is not correct that Islam has laid more emphasis on the obligations of a wife than on the obligations of a husband. Conversely, the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) has emphasized the rights of women in a larger number of his sayings which are probably more than the sayings emphasizing the rights of a husband. Some examples are being quoted here:
The Holy Prophet (S.A.W) has said:
خیارکم خیارکم لنسائھم
“The best people from among you are those who are best to their wives”. (Tirmidhi)
لا یفرک مؤمن مؤمنۃ إن کرہ منھا خلقا رضی منھا آخر
“No Muslim should hate his Muslim wife. If he dislikes some of her qualities, he may find some other qualities agreeable.”
واستوصوا بالنساء خیرا
“Keep to my advice about women that you should treat them fairly.” (Tirmidhi)
These examples are sufficient to disclose the great concern the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) has shown for the rights of a woman, so much so that he dedicated a substantial portion of his Last Sermon at the time of Haj-jatul Wida’ to explain, elaborate, and emphasize on the obligations of a man towards his wife.
You have referred to the fact that women today are burdened with housework like cooking meals, cleaning the house, and raising children while their husbands seldom assist them in these matters. Here I would like to mention the correct Islamic standpoint with regard to the obligations of a woman about the household work.
First of all, it is not a legal obligation of a wife, according to Islamic teachings, to cook the meals or serve the house, and if a woman elects to refuse to undertake these works, a husband cannot compel her to do so.
However, apart from the legal injunctions, Islam has laid down some moral instructions for both husband and wife according to which they are treated as life-companions who should not restrict themselves to the legal requirements alone but should join hands to make mutual life as comfortable and peaceful as possible.
They are invited to cooperate with each other in solving their day-to-day problems. For this purpose, it is advisable that, as cooperating friends, they should divide the necessary works between them according to their mutual convenience. The woman should look after the management of the house while the man should be responsible for outdoor economic activities. This division of work was the practice of the Muslims in the very days of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W).
Even Sayyidah Fatimah, the beloved daughter of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) used to perform all the household functions with her own hands, while Sayyidna Ali, her noble husband, carried out the economic activities.
The Holy Prophet (S.A.W) never objected to it, rather, he encouraged her daughter to perform all these functions.
It is true that from a purely legal point of view, a wife may refuse to cook meals or to do other household works, but on the other hand, the husband may refuse to give her permission to meet her relatives. And if both of them are restricted to such a crude legal relationship, an atmosphere of mutual understanding and bilateral cooperation cannot develop between them.
Therefore, a wife should not take the household work as a disgrace to her. In fact, her active contribution to her own housework is the basic source of strength for the family system of society. It is a great service, not only to her own family but also to the nation as a whole, because the betterment of the whole nation depends on a smooth family system.
It is strange that when an air hostess serves meals to hundreds of strangers in an airplane, it has been taken today as a symbol of liberalism, progress, and emancipation, but when a housewife renders much lighter services to her own family, it is deemed to be a disgrace or sign of backwardness.
The Western countries are facing today a terrible situation of family break-down. Their leaders are mourning this drawback, which is caused by the lack of mutual cooperation between husband and wife and their failure to determine the functions of the spouses according to their natural, biological and religious requirements.
In short, a wife is not legally bound to render the household services, however, it is advisable that she performs these functions as a measure of cooperation with her family and honorary service to the society as a whole, for which she deserves a great reward in the Hereafter.
But at the same time, the husband should always remember that the Household work undertaken by his wife is not a legal duty obligated on her, rather, it is a voluntary service she is rendering for the benefit of the family.
Therefore, a husband must always appreciate the goodwill of his wife and should not treat it as a legal claim against her. Moreover, he should not leave all the household works on her exclusively. The husband should provide her with servants wherever possible, and should himself assist her in performing these functions. It is reported in a number of authentic ahadith that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) despite his great outdoor responsibilities, used to render many domestic services with his own hands, like milking his she-goats, washing his clothes, etc. We do not find anywhere in his Sunnah that he ever ordered any of his wives to do such works. However, his sacred wives used to render these services voluntarily without any specific command from the Holy Prophet (S.A.W).
It is not correct that the books written on this subject stress the obligations of a wife only. In fact, all the books of Islamic jurisprudence discuss the rights and obligations of both spouses simultaneously. The husband is required not only to provide maintenance, but he is also required to treat his wife “fairly” as the Holy Quran has put it in express terms, so much so that the Muslim jurists have observed that a husband cannot travel for more than four months at one time without the permission of his wife. But unfortunately, many Muslims are not aware of the teachings of their religion and, due to this ignorance, they commit errors in their behavior towards their wives.
Saving for burial expenses
2. “Secondly, I see Muslims who save money to buy houses, cars, vacation packages, send their children to the best colleges, and afford the most elaborate Valimahs yet when Allah sends his angel of death to retrieve their souls there is no money in their savings account to pay for their funeral expenses. In fact most of the Muslims I have spoken to seem to believe it is the duty of the Ummah to bury its brother or sister or child in Islam. Is this true? Are we not asked to save for our funeral expenses?”
This is not correct. The Muslims have been advised by the Shari’ah not to be involved in any kind of extravagance. Moreover, the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) has advised the Muslims that instead of spending all their money in their lifetime, they should leave a substantial part of it for their inheritors, so much so that they cannot make any will for charitable purposes in excess of 1/3 rd of their property. The Holy Prophet (S.A.W) while explaining this rule of Shari’ah, has observed in the following words:
ان تدع ورثتک أغنیاء خیر من أن تدعھم عالۃ یتکففون الناس
“To leave your inheritors well-off is better than leaving them in poverty looking to the hands of others.” (Bukhari)
Therefore, one should never presume that it is the duty of Muslim brothers to bear the expenses of his burial, etc., and he should spend whatever he has in his lifetime. The Muslim people are required to pay the burial expenses only when a person has died in a state of poverty leaving nothing behind. But it does not mean that one should exploit this obligation of the Muslims for his extravagance or his lavish expenditure during his lifetime.
Is earning a livelihood an obligation?
3. And lastly, more and more Muslim brothers are marrying and cannot afford to support a wife. Their families either become a ward of the government or they experience a life of meager subsistence. In fact, we know of one sister whose husband was injured on his job. He was awarded a small sum of money on a monthly basis by the government. The money is not enough to maintain his family. Yet! although he is not disabled to the point where he cannot work – he refuses to look for a job to bring in additional income to support his family. He claims he is doing Allah’s work since he is out to invite every person he meets to embrace Islam and will not withdraw from Allah’s work for the Dunya. Whose duty is it, then, to support his family? Or can the sister request a divorce based on her husband’s inability to support his family?
Every Muslim is duty-bound to earn a livelihood for himself and for the dependant members of his family. This is not a mundane duty only, but it is a religious obligation also. The Holy Prophet (S.A.W) has said:
طلب کسب الحلال فریضۃ بعد الفریضۃ
“To earn the lawful livelihood is a religious duty after the religious obligations (like prayers, fasting etc.)
Since the dependant members of his family are entitled to get maintenance from a Muslim head of the family, he cannot avoid his economic responsibilities on the pretext that he is engaged in religious work. He should provide his family with their necessary economic requirements and then he can devote the rest of his time to the work of Tabligh. If he fails to discharge his duty in this respect and the wife has no other source of livelihood, she can approach a Muslim court (1) for the dissolution of her marriage from her husband who does not give her the proper maintenance.
Footnote: (1) In those non-muslim countries, which do not have shariah family courts, a committee of Ulema may be approached for the purpose of seeking a dissolution of a marriage on any ground recognized by shariah. A decree of dissolution granted by such a committee will be valid in shariah.
Source: Contemporary Fataawa, By Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani