The Muslim Women and Her Husband
In Islam, marriage is a blessed contract between a man and a woman, in which each becomes "permitted" to the other, and they begin the long journey of life in a spirit of love, co-operation, harmony and tolerance, where each feels at ease with the other, and finds tranquillity, contentment and comfort in the company of the other. The Qur'an has described this relationship between men and women, which brings love, harmony, trust and compassion, in the most moving and eloquent terms:
The righteous woman is the pillar, cornerstone and foundation of the Muslim family. She is seen as the greatest joy in a man's life, as the Prophet (PBUH) said:
How can a woman be the best comfort in this world? How can she be a successful woman, true to her own femininity, and honoured and loved? This is what will be explained in the following pages:
She chooses a good husband
One of the ways in which Islam has honoured woman is by giving her the right to choose her husband. Her parents have no right to force her to marry someone she dislikes. The Muslim woman knows this right, but she does not reject the advice and guidance of her parents when a potential suitor comes along, because they have her best interests at heart, and they have more experience of life and people. At the same time, she does not forego this right because of her father's wishes that may make him force his daughter into a marriage with someone she dislikes.
There are many texts that support the woman in this sensitive issue, for example the report quoted by Imam Bukhari from al-Khansa' bint Khidam:
Islam does not want to impose an unbearable burden on women by forcing them to marry a man they dislike, because it wants marriages to be successful, based on compatibility between the partners; there should be common ground between them in terms of physical looks, attitudes, habits, inclinations and aspirations. If something goes wrong, and the woman feels that she cannot love her husband sincerely, and fears that she may commit the sin of disobeying and opposing this husband whom she does not love, then she may ask for a divorce. This is confirmed by the report in which the wife of Thabit ibn Qays ibn Shammas, Jamilah the sister of `Abdullah ibn Ubayy, came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said: "O Messenger of Allah, I have nothing against Thabit ibn Qays as regards his religion or his behaviour, but I hate to commit any act of kufr when I am a Muslim. The Prophet (PBUH) said: "Will you give his garden back to him?" - her mahr had been a garden. She said, "Yes." So the Messenger of Allah sent word to him: "Take back your garden, and give her one pronouncement of divorce."3
There is no clearer indication of this than the story of Barirah, an Ethiopian slave-girl who belonged to `Utbah ibn Abu Lahab, who forced her to marry another slave whose name was Mughith. She would never have accepted him as a husband if she had been in control of her own affairs. `A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) took pity on her, so she bought her and set her free. Then this young woman felt that she was free and in control of her own affairs, and that she could take a decision about her marriage. She asked her husband for a divorce. Her husband used to follow her, weeping, whilst she rejected him. Bukhari quotes Ibn `Abbas describing this freed woman who insisted on the annulment of her marriage to someone she did not love; the big-hearted Prophet (PBUH) commented on this moving sight, and sought to intervene.
Ibn `Abbas said:
Let those stubborn, hard-hearted fathers who oppress their own daughters listen to the teaching of the Prophet (PBUH)!
The Muslim woman who understands the teachings of her religion has wise and correct standards when it comes to choosing a husband. She does not concern herself just with good looks, high status, a luxurious lifestyle or any of the other things that usually attract women. She looks into his level of religious commitment and his attitude and behaviour, because these are the pillars of a successful marriage, and the best features of a husband. Islamic teaching indicates the importance of these qualities in a potential husband, as Islam obliges a woman to accept the proposal of anyone who has these qualities, lest fitnah and corruption become widespread in society:
The Muslim woman knows that the man has the right of qiwamah over her, as the Qur'an says:
Among the great Muslim women who are known for their strength of character, lofty aspirations and far-sightedness in their choice of a husband is Umm Sulaym bint Milhan, who was one of the first Ansar women to embrace Islam. She was married to Malik ibn Nadar, and bore him a son, Anas. When she embraced Islam, her husband Malik was angry with her, and left her, but she persisted in her Islam. Shortly afterwards, she heard the news of his death, and she was still in the flower of her youth. She bore it all with the hope of reward, for the sake of Allah (SWT), and devoted herself to taking care of her ten-year-old son Anas. She took him to the Prophet (PBUH), so that he could serve him (and learn from him).
One of the best young men of Madinah, one of the best-looking, richest and strongest, came to seek her hand in marriage. This was Abu Talhah - before he became Muslim. Many of the young women of Yathrib liked him because of his wealth, strength and youthful good looks, and he thought that Umm Sulaym would joyfully rush to accept his offer. But to his astonishment, she told him, "O Abu Talhah, do you not know that your god whom you worship is just a tree that grew in the ground and was carved into shape by the slave of Banu so-and-so." He said, "Of course." She said, "Do you not feel ashamed to prostrate yourself to a piece of wood that grew in the ground and was carved by the slave of Banu so-and-so?" Abu Talhah was stubborn, and hinted to her of an expensive dowry and luxurious lifestyle, but she persisted in her point of view, and told him frankly: "O Abu Talhah, a man like you could not be turned away, but you are a disbelieving man, and I am a Muslim woman. It is not permitted for me to marry you, but if you were to embrace Islam, that would be my dowry (mahr), and I would ask you for nothing more."6
He returned the following day to try to tempt her with a larger dowry and more generous gift, but she stood firm, and her persistance and maturity only enhanced her beauty in his eyes. She said to him, "O Abu Talhah, do you not know that your god whom you worship was carved by the carpenter slave of so-and-so? If you were to set it alight, it would burn." Her words came as a shock to Abu Talhah, and he asked himself, Does the Lord burn? Then he uttered the words: "Ashhadu an la ilaha ill-Allah wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasul-Allah."
Then Umm Sulaym said to her son Anas, with joy flooding her entire being, "O Anas, marry me to Abu Talhah." So Anas brought witnesses and the marriage was solemnized.
Abu Talhah was so happy that he was determined to put all his wealth at Umm Sulaym's disposal, but hers was the attitude of the selfless, proud, sincere believing woman. She told him, "O Abu Talhah, I married you for the sake of Allah (SWT), and I will not take any other dowry." She knew that when Abu Talhah embraced Islam, she did not only win herself a worthy husband, but she also earned a reward from Allah (SWT) that was better than owning red camels (the most highly-prized kind) in this world, as she had heard the Prophet (PBUH) say:
She is obedient to her husband
and shows him respect
The true Muslim woman is always obedient to her husband, provided that no sin is involved. She is respectful towards him and is always eager to please him and make him happy. If he is poor, she does not complain about his being unable to spend much. She does not complain about her housework, because she remembers that many of the virtuous women in Islamic history set an example of patience, goodness and a positive attitude in serving their husbands and taking care of their homes despite the poverty and hardships they faced. One of the foremost of these exemplary wives is Fatimah al-Zahra', the daughter of Muhammad (PBUH) and the wife of `Ali ibn Abi Talib (RAA). She used to complain of the pain in her hands caused by grinding grain with the hand-mill. Her husband `Ali ibn Abi Talib said to her one day, "Your father has brought some female slaves, so go and ask him for one of them to come and serve you." She went to her father, but she felt too shy to ask him for what she wanted. `Ali went and asked him to provide a servant for his beloved daughter, but the Prophet (PBUH) could not respond to those who most dear to him whilst ignoring the needs of the poor among the Muslims, so he came to his daughter and her husband and said: "Shall I not teach you something that is better than that for which you asked me? When you go to bed at night, say `Subhan Allah' thirty-three times, `Al-hamdu lillah' thirty-three times, and `Allahu akbar' thirty-four times. This is better for you than a servant."
Then he bid them farewell and left, after inin them this divine help which would make them forget their tiredness and help them to overcome their exhaustion.
`A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) asked the Messenger of Allah (PBUH): "Who has the greatest rights over a woman?" He said, "Her husband." She asked, `And who has the greatest rights over a man?" He said, "His mother."12
A woman came to ask the Prophet (PBUH) about some matter, and when he had dealt with it, he asked her, "Do you have a husband?" She said, "Yes." He asked her, "How are you with him?" She said, "I never fall short in my duties, except for that which is beyond me." He said, "Pay attention to how you treat him, for he is your Paradise and your Hell."13
The Sahabah, may Allah (SWT) be pleased with them, and those who followed them understood this Islamic teaching and transmitted it from the Prophet (PBUH). When a bride was prepared for marriage, she would be told to serve her husband and take care of his rights. Thus the Muslim woman knew her duties towards her husband, and down through the ages caring for her husband and being a good wife were established womanly attributes. One example of this is what was said by the faqih al-Hanbali ibn al-Jawzi in his book Ahkam al-Nisa' (p. 331): In the second century AH there was a righteous man called Shu`ayb ibn Harb, who used to fast and spend his nights in prayer. He wanted to marry a woman, and told her humbly, "I am a bad-tempered man." She replied, tactfully and cleverly, "The one who makes you lose your temper is worse than you." He realized that there stood before him a woman who was intelligent, wise and mature. He immediately said to her, "You will be my wife."
This woman had a clear understanding of how to be a good wife, which confirmed to the man who had come to seek her hand that she was a woman who would understand the psychology and nature of her husband and would know what would please him and what would make him angry; she would be able to win his heart and earn his admiration and respect, and would close the door to every possible source of conflict that could disrupt their married life. The woman who does not understand these realities does not deserve to be a successful wife; through her ignorance and shortcomings she may provoke her husband to lose his temper, in which case, she would be worse than him, for being the direct cause of his anger.
The tactful Muslim woman is never like this. She helps her husband to be of good character, by displaying different types of intelligence, cleverness and alertness in the way she deals with him. This opens his heart to her and makes him fond of her, because being a good wife is a not only a quality that she may boast about among her friends, but it is also a religious obligation for which Allah (SWT) will call her to account: if she has done well, she will be rewarded, but if she has fallen short she will have to pay the penalty.
One of the most important ways in which the Muslim woman obeys her husband is by respecting his wishes with regard to the permissible pleasures of daily life, such as social visits, food, dress, speech, etc. The more she responds to his wishes in such matters, the happier and more enjoyable the couple's life becomes, and the closer it is to the spirit and teachings of Islam.
The Muslim woman does not forget that her obedience to her husband is one of the things that may lead her to Paradise, as the Prophet (PBUH) said:
Bukhari and Muslim report from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet (PBUH) said:
In one of these hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) said:
Mutual understanding and harmony between husband and wife cannot be achieved unless there is understanding between them on such matters, so that neither of them will fall into such errors and troubles as may damage the marriage which Islam has built on a basis of love and mercy, and sought to maintain its purity, care and harmony.
If the husband is a miser, and spends too little on her and her children, then she is allowed to spend as much as she needs from his wealth on herself and her children, in moderation, without his knowledge. The Prophet (PBUH) stated this to Hind bint `Utbah, the wife of Abu Sufyan, when she came to him and said, "O Messenger of Allah, Abu Sufyan is a stingy man. What he gives me is not enough for me and my child, unless I take from him without his knowledge." He told her, "Take what is enough for you and your child, in moderation."27 Thus Islam has made women responsible for good conduct in their running of the household affairs.
The Muslim woman understands the responsibility that Islam has given her, to take care of her husband's house and children by making her a "shepherd" over her husband's house and children. She has been specifically reminded of this responsibility in recognition of her role, in the hadith in which the Prophet (PBUH) made every individual in the Islamic society responsible for those under his or her authority in such a way that no-one, man or woman, may evade responsibility:
It is a great honour for a woman to take care of her husband every morning and evening, and wherever he goes, treating him with gentleness and good manners which will fill his life with joy, tranquillity and stability. Muslim women have the best example in `A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her), who used to accompany the Prophet (PBUH) on Hajj, surrounding him with her care, putting perfume on him with her own hands before he entered ihram, and after he finished his ihram, before he performed tawaf al-ifadah.30 She chose for him the best perfume that she could find. This is stated in a number of sahih hadith reported by Bukhari and Muslim, for example:
"I applied perfume to the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) with these two hands of mine when he entered ihram and when he concluded it, before he performed tawaf," - and she spread her hands.32
When the Prophet (PBUH) was in seclusion (i`tikaf), he would lean his head towards `A'ishah, and she would comb and wash his hair. Bukhari and Muslim both report this in sahih hadith narrated from `A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her), such as:
"When the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) was in i`tikaf, he inclined his head towards me and I combed his hair, and he did not enter the house except to answer the call of nature."35
"I used to wash the Prophet's head when I was menstruating."36
This is a vivid expression of the importance of the husband's rights over his wife. `A'ishah wanted to bring this to women's attention, so as to remove from the hearts of arrogant and stubborn women all those harsh, obstinate feelings that all too often destroy a marriage and turn it into a living hell.
Honouring and respecting one's husband is one of the characteristic attitudes of this ummah. It is one of the good manners known at the time of jahiliyyah that were endorsed by Islam and perpetuated by the Arabs after they embraced Islam. Our Arab heritage is filled with texts that eloquently describe the advice given by mothers to their daughters, to care for, honour and respect their husbands; these texts may be regarded as invaluable social documents.
One of the most famous and most beautiful of these texts was recorded by `Abd al-Malik ibn `Umayr al-Qurashi, who was one of the outstanding scholars of the second century AH. He quotes the words of advice given by Umamah bint al-Harith, one of the most eloquent and learned women, who was possessed of wisdom and great maturity, to her daughter on the eve of her marriage. These beautiful words deserve to be inscribed in golden ink.
`Abd al-Malik said: "When `Awf ibn Muhallim al-Shaybani, one of the most highly respected leaders of the Arab nobility during the jahiliyyah, married his daughter Umm Iyas to al-Harith ibn `Amr al-Kindi, she was made ready to be taken to the groom, then her mother Umamah came in to her, to advise her, and said:
`O my daughter, if it were deemed unnecessary to give you this advice because of good manners and noble descent, then it would have been unnecessary for you, because you possess these qualities, but it will serve as a reminder to those who are forgetful, and will help those who are wise.
`O my daughter, if a woman were able to do without a husband by virtue of her father's wealth and her need for her father, then you of all people would be most able to do without a husband, but women were created for men just as men were created for them.
`O my daughter, you are about to leave the home in which you grew up, where you first learned to walk, to go to a place you do not know, to a companion with whom you are unfamiliar. By marrying you he has become a master over you, so be like a servant to him, and he will become like a servant to you.
`Take from me ten qualities, which will be a provision and a reminder for you.
`The first and second of them are: be content in his company, and listen to and obey him, for contentment brings peace of mind, and listening to and obeying one's husband pleases Allah.
`The third and fourth of them are: make sure that you smell good and look good; he should not see anything ugly in you, and he should not smell anything but a pleasant smell from you. Kohl is the best kind of beautification to be found, and water is better than the rarest perfume.
`The fifth and the sixth of them are: prepare his food on time, and keep quiet when he is asleep, for raging hunger is like a burning flame, and disturbing his sleep will make him angry.
`The seventh and eighth of them are: take care of his servants (or employees) and children, and take care of his wealth, for taking care of his wealth shows that you appreciate him, and taking care of his children and servants shows good management.
`The ninth and tenth of them are: never disclose any of his secrets, and never disobey any of his orders, for if you disclose any of his secrets you will never feel safe from his possible betrayal, and if you disobey him, his heart will be filled with hatred towards you.
`Be careful, O my daughter, of showing joy in front of him when he is upset, and do not show sorrow in front of him when he is happy, because the former shows a lack of judgement, whilst the latter will make him unhappy.
`Show him as much honour and respect as you can, and agree with him as much as you can, so that he will enjoy your companionship and conversation.
`Know, O my daughter, that you will not achieve what you would like to until you put his pleasure before your own, and his wishes before yours, in whatever you like and dislike. And may Allah (SWT) choose what is best for you and protect you.'"38
She was taken to her husband, and the marriage was a great success; she gave birth to kings who ruled after him.
This advice clearly included everything that one could think of as regards the good manners that a young girl needs to know about in order to treat her husband properly and be a suitable companion for him. The words of this wise mother deserve to be taken as the standard for every young girl who is about to get married.
If she is rich, the true Muslim woman does not let her wealth and financial independence make her blind to the importance of respecting her husband's rights over her. She still takes care of him and honours him, no matter how rich she is or may become. She knows that she is obliged to show gratitude to Allah for the blessings He has bestowed upon her, so she increases her charitable giving for the sake of Allah. The first person to whom she should give generously is her own husband, if he is poor; in this case she will receive two rewards, one for taking care of a family member, and another for giving charity, as the Prophet (PBUH) stated in the hadith narrated by Zaynab al-Thaqafiyyah, the wife of `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud (RAA):
According to another report given by Bukhari, he said, "because they are ungrateful for good and kind treatment. Even if you treated one of them (these ungrateful women) well for an entire lifetime, then she saw one fault in you, she would say, `I have never seen anything good from you!'"42
According to a report given by Ahmad, a man said, "O Messenger of Allah, are they not our mothers and sisters and wives?" He said, "Of course, but when they are treated generously they are ungrateful, and when they are tested, they do not have patience."43
Muslim women's history is full of stories which reflect this loyalty and recognition of the good qualities of the husband. One of these stories is that of Asma' bint `Umays, who was one of the greatest women in Islam, and one of the first women to migrate to Madinah. She was married to Ja`far ibn Abi Talib, then to Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, then to `Ali, may Allah be pleased with them all. On one occasion, her two sons Muhammad ibn Ja`far and Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr were competing with one another, each of them saying. "I am better than you, and my father is better than your father." `Ali said to her, "Judge between them, O Asma'." She said, "I have never seen a young man among the Arabs who was better than Ja`far, and I have never seen a mature man who was better than Abu Bakr." `Ali said, "You have not left anything for me. If you had said anything other than what you have said, I would have hated you!" Asma' said: "These are the best three, and you are one of them even if you are the least of them."44
What a clever and eloquent answer this wise woman gave! She gave each of her three husbands the respect he deserved, and pleased `Ali, even though he was the least of them, because she included all of them in that group of the best.
She treats his mother and family
with kindness and respect
One of the ways in which a wife expresses her respect towards her husband is by honouring and respecting his mother.
The Muslim woman who truly understands the teachings of her religion knows that the person who has the greatest right over a man is his mother, as we have seen in the hadith of `A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) quoted above. So she helps him to honour and respect his mother, by also honouring and respecting her. In this way she will do herself and her husband a favour, as she will helping him to do good deeds and fear Allah (SWT), as commanded by the Qur'an. At the same time, she will endear herself to her husband, who will appreciate her honour and respect towards his family in general, and towards his mother in particular. Nothing could please a decent, righteous and respectful man more than seeing strong ties of love and respect between his wife and his family, and nothing could be more hateful to a decent man than to see those ties destroyed by the forces of evil, hatred and conspiracy. The Muslim family which is guided by faith in Allah (SWT) and follows the pure teachings of Islam is unlikely to fall into the trap of such jahili behaviour, which usually flourishes in an environment that is far removed from the true teachings of this religion.
A Muslim wife may find herself being tested by her mother-in-law and other in-laws, if they are not of good character. If such is the case, she is obliged to treat them in the best way possible, which requires a great deal of cleverness, courtesy, diplomacy and repelling evil with that which is better. Thus she will maintain a balance between her relationship with her in-laws and her relationship with her husband, and she will protect herself and her marriage from any adverse effects that may result from the lack of such a balance.
The Muslim woman should never think that she is the only one who is required to be a good and caring companion to her spouse, and that nothing similar is required of her husband or that there is nothing wrong with him mistreating her or failing to fulfil some of the responsibilities of marriage. Islam has regulated the marital relationship by giving each partner both rights and duties. The wife's duties of honouring and taking care of her husband are balanced by the rights that she has over him, which are that he should protect her honour and dignity from all kinds of mockery, humiliation, trials or oppression. These rights of the wife comprise the husband's duties towards her: he is obliged to honour them and fulfil them as completely as possible.
One of the Muslim husband's duties is to fulfil his role of qawwam (maintainer and protector) properly. This is a role that can only be properly fulfilled by a man who is a successful leader in his home and family, one who possesses likeable masculine qualities. Such a man has a noble and worthy attitude, is tolerant, overlooks minor errors, is in control of his married life, and is generous without being extravagant. He respects his wife's feelings and makes her feel that she shares the responsibility of running the household affairs, bringing up the children, and working with him to build a sound Muslim family, as Islam wants it to be.
to be continued