Rights And Obligations Of The Husband And Wife
By Shaykh al-Hadith Mufti Muhammad Taqi ‘Uthmani
Edited by [Maulana] Badrul Islam
A convert to Islam asked the Revered Shaykh (hafidhahullah):
I hear all the time of the duties of the wife in Islam, but nothing regarding the duties of the husband. What are his obligations as a husband? Does he merely have a financial obligation to his wife and nothing more? Who is to decorate the house, mow the lawn, raise the children, cook, clean, wash and iron?
The Revered Shaykh (hafidhahullah) replied:
Before replying to your question, I would like to clarify a basic point which should always be borne 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 vast majority of the Muslims are not aware of the noble teachings of Islam nor do they practice them in their day-to-day lives. Instead, they are mostly influenced by the different cultures in which they are/have been living. Therefore, everything the Muslims practice cannot be attributed to Islam. When one evaluates the virtues of Islam, he should not refer to the practice of the Muslims of today; rather he should turn to the principles laid down in the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah. Obviously, if the Muslims have abandoned the guidance of the Shari’ah, it cannot be seen as a defect in the Shari’ah itself. It is a defect in those who have deprived themselves of this Divine Guidance.
Bearing this in mind, here is the answer to your query:
It is evident from a plain study of the relevant material found in the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah that Islam treats the bond of marriage as a bilateral contract between husband and wife, each one of them having some rights and obligations. The Holy Qur’an is very much clear on this point when it says (translation):
And they (the women) have rights similar to their obligations (2:228 )
It is clear from this verse of the Holy Qur’an that the obligations of a wife towards her husband are no less than the rights she enjoys. The Holy Qur’an has summarized the obligations of a husband towards his wife in a few words where it has made it obligatory for him to
‘keep her with fairness’ (2:229).
In another verse, the Holy Qur’an instructs him in the following words:
‘and live with [your wives] in goodness [and fairness]‘ (4:19).
Therefore, it is not correct to say that Islam has laid more emphasis on the obligations of a wife than on that of the husband. The Holy Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) has stressed the rights of women in a relatively larger number of his sayings. To quote but a few:
The best of you are those who are best to their wives. (al-Tirmidhi)
No Muslim should detest his Muslim wife. If he dislikes some of her qualities, he may find some other qualities more pleasing.
[Hold fast to my advice with regard to women:] Treat them with goodness/kindness.
These few examples are sufficient to illustrate the great concern the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) has shown for the rights of a woman. In fact he had dedicated a substantial portion of his last sermon at the Hajjat al-Wada’ (Farewell pilgrimage) to explain and stress the importance of a husband’s obligations towards his wife.
.. It is not a legal (Shar’i) obligation upon a wife to cook the meals or clean the house. If a woman chooses not to do this, her husband cannot compel her to do so. However, apart from the legal injunctions Islam has given some moral instructions to both the husband and wife. They should realise that they are life companions who should not restrict themselves to the legal requirements alone, but should join hands to make mutual life as comfortable and harmonious as possible. They are asked to co-operate with each other in solving their day-to-day problems. For this purpose, it is strongly advised that, as co-operating friends, they divide all the chores and duties between themselves according to their mutual convenience. The wife should take care of the home while the husband undertakes outdoor economic activities etc. this division of chores and duties was the practice of the Muslims during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). Even Fatimah (Radhiyallahu ‘anha), the beloved and noble daughter of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), used to carry out all the household chores herself while her noble husband ‘Ali (Radhiyallahu ‘anhu) carried out all the economic duties. The Holy Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) encouraged her in this.
It is true that from a pure legal point of view a wife may refuse to cook meals or carry out other household chores. Similarly, a husband has the legal right given him by the Shari’ah to refuse her permission to meet her relatives. If both of them restrict themselves to such a difficult ‘legal relationship’, an atmosphere of love, harmony, mutual understanding, and bilateral co-operation cannot develop between them.
A wife should not view household chores as demeaning or disgraceful in any way. In fact, her active contribution to her own home is the basic source of strength for the family and wider society. It is great service not just to her family but to the whole nation since the welfare of the nation is dependant on a healthy institution of the family. It is very strange that when an air hostess serves meals to hundreds of strangers on an aeroplane it is seen as a manifestation of liberalism, progress, and emancipation. However, when a wife renders much lighter services to her own family it is deemed servitude, a disgrace, and backwardness.
Today the western societies are suffering a devastating breakdown of the institution of the family. Their leaders and intellectuals are mourning this devastation, which is caused by nothing other than the lack of mutual co-operation between husband and wife and their failure to determine the rights and obligations of both according to natural, biological and religious requirements.
[I would like to stress on the husband that] he should always remember that the household work undertaken by his wife is not a legal and Shar’i duty upon her. It is a voluntary service on her part for the welfare and benefit of the family. Therefore, he should always appreciate this goodwill from her. At the same time, he should never overburden her with all the household chores. Wherever possible he should try to provide her with servants or assist her himself. It has been reported in many authentic Ahadith that, despite his extremely demanding outdoor duties of Prophethood, the Holy Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) used to carry out many domestic chores himself. For example, he used to milk the goats, wash and sew his clothes. We do not find anywhere in the Sunnah that he ordered any of his blessed wives to do this for him. However, they would carry out these chores of their own accord without him having to ask them.
[To conclude,] it is not correct to say that the Islamic books written on this subject discuss only the obligations of the wife. In fact, all the books of Islamic Law discuss the rights of both the husband and wife simultaneously. They go as far as to mention that a husband cannot travel for more than four months at any one time without the consent of his wife. Sadly, many Muslims are not aware of the teachings of their religion and, consequently, transgress in their relationship with their wives.