(6) Rights of the Husband and Wife

Marriageties have a great impact and significance in any given society all over the world.  It is a tremendous bond that ties the husband and the wife.  As a result of this bond, many rights and requirements are imposed on both, towards each other; their children, their in-laws, their relatives and their social obligations.  A financial relation is also established,  which at times might strain the ties between the spouses. Moreover, there are certain physical rights that are constituted for both spouses as a result of the martial relationship.  All these items and more are properly addressed in the light of Islām, the religion of Allāh, and in accordance with the practices of Allāh’s Apostle (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam).  Such obligations, ties and relationships are at its best in accordance with Islām, as will be discussed here.  This coincides with the pure, innate and human nature (fitrah) of man who is eager to lead a sensible, meaningful, affectionate, emotionally sound, physically comforting and spiritually meaningful life.

Both husband and wife must commit themselves fully to each other in the light of Islām, or for this matter in light of the requirements of pure human nature.  Both must be kind, good, sincere, affectionate, caring, polite, respectful and generous to each other.  Each will constitute a half in martial relation.  Therefore, each must bear the responsibilities of his/her share.  Each must honour this tie, be pleasant to their companion and offer the utmost possible to make the relation lasting, pleasing, meaningful and coherent.

Allāh stated in the glorious Qur’ān concerning the treatment of one’s spouse, the wife in particular:

And live with them in kindness. For if you dislike them – perhaps you dislike a thing and Allāh makes therein much good.  [4:19]

Perfection of course belongs to Allāh, the Almighty.  Many times, one finds defects in the relationship one has with a friend, an associate, a partner, teacher, etc.  It is therefore necessary to bear some inconveniences for the sake of a generally good and everlasting relationship.  That is why Islām, as a way of life, imposes practical principles upon its followers.

On the other hand, Islām offers man an edge in the relationship due to the fact that man in general has better discipline, more logical judgment, less emotion and different position in society all over the world, from primitive societies to most advanced technical and industrial societies.  Also man generally has a better income, which makes him more financially responsible for welfare of his family members, as it is the case all over the world.  Man is, in general, the “bread- winner” of the family and at times subjects his life and body to terrible dangers to perform a skilled job that requires a lot of sacrifice.  For these reasons and many more, Allāh stated in the glorious Qur’ān concerning man’s edge in the martial relation:

And due to them [i.e., the wives] is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable.  But the men [i.e., husbands] have a degree over them [in responsibility and authority].  [2:228]

We know that woman is equal to man in all religious rights, as it is well explained in the glorious Qur’ān and the sunnah of Allāh’s Apostle (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam).  There are only minor differences between male and female rights in accordance with Islām; such as inheritance, authority, testimonies, code of dress and other things to be discussed in a separate book.

A wife must offer her husband what he is entitled, and man must offer his wife what she is entitled based on the mutual fruitful relationship they have established in accordance with Islām.  If both parties live up to these standards, both will be happy and society will become better and more pleasant.  When both parties, or even one, fails to abide to these rules, a miserable life generally will prevail in the household, as the unhappiness of parents will be reflected on the entire family.  Both husband and wife will become unhappy, unproductive, unbearable and miserable if they do not appreciate the rights of each other and live by them.

Islām greatly emphasized that man must be kind to woman, in general, whether she be a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a grandmother, a niece or even someone unrelated to him.  Allāh’s Apostle (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) said: “Be kind to women.  Women have been created from bent rib.  The most dent of the rib is its top.  If you try to straighten that bend you will break it.  If you left it alone it remains as is.  Therefore, be as kind, nice and good to women as you could”.  (Reported by Bukhāree and Muslim).

Muslim reported a similar hadeeth saying: “Woman has been created from (man’s) rib; that rib is bent somewhat.  If you attempt to straighten the bend you will never be able to do so.  Therefore, you may enjoy your relation with the woman with understanding that she has a bend (i.e. minor defects).  If you attempt to correct the bend, you will break the relationship, which means you break the marriage and the martial relations between both.”

Muslim also reported another statements of Allāh’s Apostle (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) saying: “A believing Muslim husband must not hate his believing Muslim wife (and break the marriage relation ties).  If a husband dislikes one thing of his wife, (let him remember) he likes other things and points in her character.”

The prophet (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) in the previous statements, guides, teaches and establishes the way that the woman should be treated and dealt with.  This is meant for all the Muslims Ummah regardless of social status.  No one person on the face of earth, with the exception of the prophets and messengers of Allāh is infallible.  Although the prophets themselves claimed that they may commit minor mistakes in terms of worldly things other than divine revelation descended to them by Allāh from heaven.  Perfection is a relative term.  Man should accept his mate as she is.  Woman also should accept her husband as he is.  Both must exert every effort to improve one another.  But they must remember that both are entitled to certain specific rights that Islām has established for them that they should enjoy.  On the other hand, Islām imposed certain requirements from both that they must also fulfil.  If both accept each other on these premises, the family will enjoy a healthy atmosphere and they will lead a very happy life under the umbrella of Islām.

We can vividly notice how Islām again and again agrees with the natural, innate nature (fitrah) of humankind.  One desires a happy, cosy, neat and nice home with ones most beloved person, after the love of The Creator, the prophet and parents.  Islām urges the husband, in the first place, to be very kind, keen and nice in his relationship with his spouse and provide her with all due rights imposed upon him by Allāh.  And the teachings of Allāh’s Apostle (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam).  Similarly, the woman is expected to do the same and obey her husband as long as he respects her, fulfils her rights, makes her feel loved, cared for and wanted, and dās not impose any unlawful or illegal things upon her.

That is Islām.  There is nothing else that matches its innate quality. 

The Rights of the Wife upon her Husband 

The wife is naturally entitled to food, clothing, housing and other related items with expenses to be borne by the husband.  This natural right has been given by Allāh, the almighty, to the wife based on the verse from the glorious Qur’ān:

Mothers may nurse [i.e., breastfeed] their children two complete years for whāver wishes to complete the nursing [period].  Upon the father is their [i.e., the mothers'] provision and their clothing according to what is acceptable...  [2:233]

Moreover , Allāh’s Apostle (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) said: “Wives are entitled to food and clothing from their husbands in equitable terms”.  Also the prophet (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) was once asked: “ What is the right of the wife unto her husband?”  He (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) said: “ she is entitled for the same food you eat, offer her clothing whatever you buy yourself clothes, do not hit her on the face, do not insult her and do not abandon her unless you do so in the same house (under the same roof)".  (Reported by Abu Dawood).

Similarly, other rights to which the wife entitled is to be treated justly and fairly in case of multiple marriages.  In such case the husband must be fair and just to both wives, treat them fairly in terms of expenditure, housing, time and all other items of which the husband is capable.  Being biased or even inclined and preferring one wife over the other is considered one of the major sins in Islām in the sight of Allāh, the Almighty.  Allāh’s Apostle (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) said: “If a man married two wives and preferred one over the other, he will come on the Day of the Judgment with a distinctly slanted side of his body.”  (Reported by Imam Ahmed and reporters of the book of Sunan).

The husband however will not held responsible or accountable for things that he has no control over, such as love, affection and self comfort.  Allāh, the Almighty stated in the glorious Qur’ān:

And you will never be able to be equal [in feeling] between wives, even if you should strive [to do so]. So do not incline completely [toward one] and leave another hanging (Neither divorced nor enjoying the rights of marriage).  [4:129]

It is also reported that Allāh’s Apostle (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) used to divide things amongst his wives fairly and equally, then saying: “ O Allāh!  This is the fair distribution that I can do best in accordance to my abilities.  O Allāh!  Please blame me not for what you own and I do not own" (i.e. the acts of the heart in terms of love and affection).  (Reported by Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Nasaiee). 

However, if a husband preferred one wife over another in terms of spending the night, based on the approval and acceptance of the other wife, then in such a case there is no harm.  That, in fact, was the case with Aisha and Sawdah, two of his wives (may Allāh be pleased with them); when Sawdah agreed to grant her night to Aisha (radhi Allāhu 'anha) toward the end of the life of the prophet (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam).  Yet, when the prophet (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) became very ill, he continuously asked: “Where shall I be tomorrow (i.e. in whose house)?”  All his wives agreed to let him stay at the house of Aisha where he wanted to be until his death (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam).  (Reported by Bukhāree and Muslim).  

The Rights of the Husband Upon the Wife 

The rights of the husband upon his wife are greater than the rights of the wife upon her husband for the simple reason that Allāh, the Almighty, stated in the glorious Qur’ān: 

And due to them [i.e., the wives] is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable.  But the men [i.e., husbands] have a degree over them [in responsibility and authority].  [2:228] 

Man is the care-taker of his wife and household.  He is responsible for all the affairs.  He is responsible for training, direction and discipline if needed.  Allāh, the Almighty, stated in the glorious Qur’ān: 

Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allāh has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth.  So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allāh would have them guard (i.e., their husband's property and their own chastity).  [4:34]

It is an essential right of man over his wife to be obeyed so long as his commands don not conflict or contradict the commands of Allāh, His Apostle (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) and the general teachings and codes of ethics of Islām.  A Muslim wife must also protect her husband‘s secrets and privacies.  She also must protect his wealth, finance and belongings as much as possible.  Allāh’s Apostle (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) said: "If I were to command a single person to bow in prostration to an other person, I would have commanded a women to bow down (in obedience and respect, not in  worship) to her husband."  Furthermore , Allāh’s Apostle (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) said: “If a husband calls his wife to his bed, but the latter refused to fulfil the call (for any reason other than a lawful one) which drives the man become upset with his wife, then angels will curse such a wife until she gets up in the morning.”  (Both ahadeeth are reported by Bukhāree and Muslim). 

Another right of the husband over his wife is to ask his wife not to do something, including (but not limited to) voluntary acts of worship, other than the obligatory, which cause her to lesson the time that her husband may have to enjoy her.  Allāh’s Apostle (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) stated: "A wife is not allowed to observe fast (other than fasting in the month Ramadān, the prescribed month for fasting) in the presence of her husband, unless she has his permission.  She may not allow any one to come into his house unless he permits."  (Reported by Tirmidhi, who said: “It is a sound and fair Hadeeth”). 

Moreover, Allāh’s Apostle (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) placed the satisfaction and pleasure of a husband to be one of the reasons to enable the wife to enter paradise.  Tirmidhi reported from Umm Salamah, the mother of the believers (radhi Allāhu 'anha), that Allāh’s Apostle (sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam) said: “Any woman whose husband dies while he is pleased, happy and satisfied with her (acts, attitudes and behaviour) will enter Jannah”. 

There are but few items of the many rights that Islām, the religion of truth, imposes upon those who commit themselves to follow and practices it as a way of life. 

We vividly see that such rights, if maintained properly, will lead a society to peace, happiness and tranquillity.  A husband becomes caring, affectionate, loving and responsible; yet directing, capable and disciplined when needed to improve a troublesome situation, regardless of his tender care and love for his wife, so that vice and wickedness will not spread in the society.  A wife becomes more respected, adored, cared for, highly needed and appreciated if she respects the rights of her husband and equally given the rights she is entitled to by Islām. 

In such a coherent way, the religion of truth, goodness, justice, equity, and all fairness coincide with basic requirements of life including harmony between all the members of the society, especially between husband and the wife. 
 
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