بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيْم

اَلْحَمْدُ لِلّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِيْن،وَالصَّلاۃ وَالسَّلامُ عَلَی النَّبِیِّ الْکَرِيم وَعَلیٰ آله وَاَصْحَابه اَجْمَعِيْن۔

Rights and Obligations of Spouses under Shari’ah

What are Rights?

Rights are claims or dues of one person upon another person or persons.

Securing of the Rights

The Islamic Shari’ah enjoins everybody to perform his duties well, discharge his obligations properly and fulfil the due rights of others. The Shari’ah obliges everybody to fulfil the rights of Allah along with the rights of fellow beings. Fulfilment of the rights of human beings has been accorded even more importance.

Human society is based on interdependence. An interdependent society operates through correlation of rights and duties. Enjoyment of rights is dependent on the performance of related duties. Yet today everybody seems to be concerned with his own rights in disregard to the rights of others. Today people form organizations and launch movements and agitations to secure their individual and group rights but there hardly exist any organizations or movements to propagate performance of duties, discharging of responsibilities, and fulfilment of the rights of others. The Shari’ah has uniquely laid down utmost emphasis on discharging one's obligations towards others i.e. fulfilling their rights.

This idea of interdependence is implicit in Shari’ah's scheme of the rights and duties of the spouses. Their duties and obligations towards each other have been defined and each party is enjoined to perform his/her duties and respect and secure the rights of the other. If this rule is observed, family life is bound to become blissful and pleasant.

Husband-Wife Relationship

A couple becomes husband and wife through a regularly concluded nikah in accordance with the ordinances of Shari’ah.  By virtue of this legal contract two strangers are joined together as each other's life partners. The Quran has described the contract of nikah as meethaq ghaleedh (compact bond). By virtue of nikah the couple becomes entitled to legitimate enjoyment of each other physically and emotionally. The Qur’an metaphorically depicts husband and wife as each other's attire. No other simile can better mirror their intimate relationship. Shari’ah has, therefore, bound them with reciprocal rights and duties. Observing the familial rights and duties ensures a blissful married life.

Two Objectives of Nikah

Two important objectives of nikah have been declared in this verse: "And one of His signs is that he created out of your bodies your matches so that you could take comfort from them and he made you affectionate and kind towards each other. Verily in that are signs for the thinking people" (Ar-Rum: 21). The two objectives of the matrimonial bond as mentioned in this verse are:

  1. That husband and wife derive physical and emotional comfort and satisfaction from each other.
  2. That a unique bond of familial love, affection and mutual sympathy develops between them which is not seen between any other human individuals.

Reciprocal Rights and Obligations

Human beings are not atomized individuals but, as Aristotle said, they are social animals bound to live in family and society. Families are the building blocks of the society and husband and wife are the building blocks of a family. As such they are assigned a number of reciprocal rights and obligations without which the family system cannot be maintained. The obligations and responsibilities of the spouses may be placed into three categories:

  1. Obligations of the husband towards the wife and corresponding rights of the wife over the husband.
  2. Obligations of the wife towards the husband and corresponding rights of the husband over the wife.
  3. Concurrent responsibilities of the husband and wife.
  4. Payment of Mahr to wife: Allah declares: "And give unto the women (whom you marry) their mahr in good will" (An-Nisa: 4). Payment of mahr (a divinely prescribed marriage gift or compensation or benevolent consideration from the husband to the wife) is one of the essential articles of the marriage contract as well as a religious obligation. Its quantum is determined by mutual agreement of the parties before the marriage and the quantum is confirmed by the bridegroom at the solemnization of marriage and has to be paid to the bride before contacting her physically.  The payment of mahr may be deferred, in whole or in part, by the agreement of the parties. Mahr becomes an exclusive property of the bride and neither the husband nor their parents nor their brothers and sisters are entitled to take anything of it.

Obligations of the Husband

Allah has declared: "For them is (their rights upon their husbands) like what is upon them (rights of their husbands upon them) according to fair custom" (Al-Baqarah: 228). This verse encapsulates a code of husband-wife relations, which, if followed earnestly, shall ensure peaceful life and rule out intra-family dissension or strife. This evocative verse indicates that a wife is not like a chattel or maidservant without any rights. Rather she is an honoured life partner possessing definite rights under the Shari’ah which she must secure. These include not only the basic rights of bread and accommodation but also her mollification and emotional satisfaction. It is for this reason that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) pronounced: “The best among you is one who is best in the eyes of his household. Obviously that person will be considered as best who addresses the rights and needs of his household”. At the same time, the wife is also told that her husband also has certain rights over her. No wife can become lovable unless she fulfils the rights of her husband and keeps him pleased. Therefore, many Ahadeeth have praised women who are obedient to their husbands, love them and serve them well. Conversely, such women have been denounced who disobey and disgust their husbands.

Some Crucial Obligations of the Husband

It may be clarified here that the Shari’ah has not made the females responsible for their own maintenance. From birth till her marriage the expenses on her upkeep and upbringing are met by her father and after marriage the husband is solely responsible under the law for her maintenance including all expenses on her accommodation, feeding, clothing, etc. Apart from all this, mahr is the exclusive property of the wife who can appropriate it in any way she desires. Either the father or the husband can advise her but cannot appropriate her money. Same is the case with her own personal property or inheritance. Either the husband or her father has no claim over it.

  1. To meet all expenses on maintenance of wife and children: It is declared in the Qur’an: "It is incumbent on the progenitor of children (the husband) to provide for the food and clothing of his wife according to prevalent custom" (Al-Baqarah: 233). The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) pronounced to fear Allah in respect of your women because you have taken them in your custody as trust of Allah. It is by the command of Allah that their secret parts have been legitimized for your use.  Therefore you should bear all expenses on their food and cloth from your own pockets (Muslim).
  2. To provide accommodation to the wife: Allah has proclaimed: "You accommodate them where you accommodate yourselves within your capacity" (At-Talaq: 6) this is the ordinance in respect of the divorced woman. The husband is obliged to keep her in his own residence during 'iddat (waiting period). If Shari’ah has placed the responsibly of accommodating the divorced woman within his own house then provision of a suitable accommodation to the existing wife is the responsibility of the husband in the first instance.
  3. Fair treatment of the wife: The husband is bound to treat his wife fairly and justly. Allah proclaims: “And cohabit with them in a fair manner, for even if you dislike them it may happen that you hate a thing wherein Allah has placed much good" (An-Nisa: 19).
    1. One ought to spend generously over his wife and children. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) pronounced: If a person spends on his wife and children in the hope of reward from Allah then it is a sadaqah, i.e. something worthy of reward from Allah" (Bukhari).
    2. Consulting with one's wife: Although man has been made the head and manager of the family by virtue of his guardianship but good behaviour requires that the wife too be consulted in the management of household affairs. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) pronounced: Consult your women in respect of their daughters, i.e. when negotiating for their matches (Ahmad, Abu Daud).
    3. To ignore the shortcomings of the wife: Ignore the shortcomings and mistakes of your women because Allah has endowed them with many good qualities which you like yourselves. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) exhorted: Don't be angry with your women if you are displeased with something wrong done by them because they have other virtues which you may be pleased with (Muslim).
    4. Husbands should groom themselves to appear chic, smart and attractive to their wives just as they like their wives to look beautiful and smart. The companion of the prophet and the interpreter of the Qur’an, Abdullah bin Abbas (RA) disclosed, I groom myself for the sake of my wife in the same way as my wife adorns herself for my sake (Tafsir Al-Qurtubi).
    5. Taking care of the wife when she is indisposed and sick and to lighten her burden by participating in the household chores. Ayesha (RA) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) took part in all tasks of the household. He swept the house, stitched patches to his own clothes, and mended his shoes himself (Bukhari).
      1. Obedience and loyalty to husband: Allah declares in the Qur’an: "Men are guardians over women by virtue of superiority accorded by Allah to some over others and by virtue of what they spend on them of their wherewithal. So virtuous women guard themselves and the property of their husbands in their absence in accordance with Allah's commands" (An-Nisa: 34).
      2. Husbands have been appointed as guardians of wives.
      3. Husbands have bear the expenses on the maintenance of their wives and progeny.
        1. Acting upon the notion of absolute sexual equality both husband and wife are made co-heads of the family (condominium).
        2. The wife alone is made the head (matriarchy)
        3. The husband alone is made the head (patriarchy).
        4. If a condominium is established there will be a clash of egos and a lot of strife in running the family affairs.
        5. The second option is ruled out on practical grounds because the differential of power and capacity between men and women does not allow the wife to dictate to and lord over the husband. As compared with man, woman has been created weaker in terms of physical power and mental capacity. So lordship of wife over husband is impossible.
        6. The residual option of the headship of the husband in the family appears to be the only practical and rational option. It is not because of any intrinsic inferiority of women but because of the natural difference between the sexes. Women do not match men in respect of physical and intellectual prowess. It is part of the law of nature. It is a divine dispensation. Husbands have been declared as the guardians of wives (An-Nisa: 34) and therefore men have been accorded a degree of superiority over women (Al-Baqarah: 228). But this does not mean intrinsic inferiority or permanent subjection of women. The affairs of the household are managed in coordination between husband and wife. So each is a friend, partner and complement of the other. It is not the relationship between a lord and a slave-girl or a maid-servant.
          1. Protection of the honour and property of the husband: Allah has declared: "The pious wives guard (themselves and the property of their husbands) in the absence of their husbands by the command of Allah" (An-Nisa: 34).
            1. To look after domestic affairs and rear children: Rearing of children is a natural function of a woman. An ideal woman would perform this function well. The Messenger of Allah pronounced: "A woman is a herder in the home of her husband and responsible for her herd" (Bukhari; Muslim).
            2. A wife is not allowed to observe nafil (voluntary) fast without the permission of her husband. Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) pronounced, It is not proper for a woman to fast during the presence of her husband without his permission.
            3. To protect the property of his husband, A wife should be careful about the money and property of her husband and should adopt economy in household expenditures. Similarly she should keep a watch over all matters of the housed and not leave them to maidservants exclusively.

Fair treatment of the wife is of great importance. It may be affected in several ways:

Obligations of Wife towards Husband

In this verse Allah has accorded primacy to husbands over wives on two grounds:

Similarly, in another verse Allah declares: "Men have a degree (of superiority) over women" (Al-Baqarah: 228).

The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) pronounced: "A woman who prays five times, fasts during the month (of Ramadan), guards her genital parts and obeys her husband shall enter the paradise (Ahmad).

Once a woman came to the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) and submitted that she had been deputed by a group of women to make a query to the prophet (PBUH): Allah has commanded men folk to join jihad. They receive their reward if they are injured and become immortal if martyred receiving sustenance from their God (Aale Imran: 169). What reward is there for us women folk who serve them? The prophet (PBUH) replied to her, go tell the women who have deputed you that, the obedience to your husbands and fulfilment of their rights is equal to jihad in the way of God for you. But few of you womenfolk fulfil their obligations properly (Tabrani Bazzaz).

Clarification: The modern age is an age of sexual liberation and sexual equality as preached in the West. Many a misguided Muslims have joined this ill-directed movement. So far as human equality is concerned men and women both are equal before Allah, but so far as the mundane life and management of households is concerned here as well as in all other human organizations the working principle is the superior-subordinate relationship or the principle of hierarchy. This is a practical necessity and does not mean intrinsic inferiority of the subordinates who obey the orders of their superiors. The superiors and inferiors join together to carry out the functions and fulfil the objectives of their organization. So far as the maintenance and management of the family system is concerned, it is not accepted or exempted from the application of the universal principle of hierarchy implying unity of command. The idea of sexual equality cannot be applied here in an absolute sense. Let us look at the problem of household management in this way: What are the options available for an efficient and effective management of the household? Three situations emerge out:

Now let us consider the outcome of each one of these three options:

Once the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) told Ayesha (RA): I know when you are pleased with me and when you are displeased? She asked: O Messenger of Allah (PBUH) how do you know? The prophet replied that when you are pleased with me you swear by Rabbi Muhammad (by the Lord of Muhammad) but when you are displeased you swear by Rabbi Ibrahim (by the Lord of Ibrahim). In displeasure you don't utter my name but utter the name of Ibrahim. Ayesha (RA) replied: O Messenger of Allah (PBUH), I skip only your name but nothing else. (Bukhari)

Just ponder over it. Who is being displeased? Ayesha (RA), the youngest consort of the prophet. Whom she is being displeased with? The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) himself. It follows that it is not against the tenet of guardianship of the husband because the prophet (PBUH) himself gently acknowledged that he knows when she becomes displeased with him.

Likewise, you are reminded of the episode of imputation of commitment of infidelity on the part of Ayesha (RA). Even the prophet (PBUH) was put in confusion. But when the verse of her exoneration was revealed both the prophet (PBUH) and Ayesha's (RA) father Abu Bakr (RA) became jubilant. Abu Bakr (RA) called his daughter to stand up and thank the prophet (PBUH). Ayesha (RA) was lying in bed when she had listened to the verse of exoneration. She said it is the grace of Allah that He has exonerated me. But I cannot thank anybody else than Allah because all of you had presumed that I had committed something wrong (Bukhari). Apparently, Ayesha (RA) desisted from standing before the prophet (PBUH) to thank him. The prophet (PBUH) did not feel bad about it. Her pride was a family affair. It follows that the relationship between a husband and wife is that of between friends and partners and not that of between a ruler and a subject.

In short, by virtue of his guardianship and being the caretaker of the family, the husband has final say in all family matters though the wife is associated with him as an adviser, a well-wisher and a partner. Negation of the leadership of the husband would lead to disastrous consequences for the family.

The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) once said: Should I not tell you what is the most precious treasure of a husband? It is an upright wife. When the husband looks towards her she appears pleasant; when he bids her she obeys; when he goes on journey she safeguards his property and her chastity (Abu Daud; Nasai).

Protection of the property of the husband means that she takes nothing of his property nor gives anything of it to others without the permission of the husband. However, if the husband is stingy in providing for the household she can make up the shortfall by taking the needful without his permission. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) had allowed Hind Bint Utaibah (RA), when she complained to him of the stinginess of her husband Abu Sufiyan (RA), "Take what is sufficient for you and your child according to the custom". (Bukhari, Muslim)

Protection of the honour of the husband means that she does not allow anybody to enter the home without the permission of her husband, or share her bed with anybody, or become intimate with a ghair mahram, or go out of home without the permission of the husband.

Concurrent Responsibilities of Spouses

To be sympathetic towards each other and share in each other's pleasure and sorrow. Not to divulge each other's secrets to third persons. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: On the Day of Judgment the most unfortunate person will be one who discloses the secret affairs of a husband and wife to others (Muslim).

It is but a common place that the husband should look after the external affairs and the wife take care of the internal concerns of the household. There is no specific provision either in the Qur’an or Sunnah obliging the wife to act as a cook for the household. However, when Ali and Fatimah (RA) were married the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) allotted the management of external affairs to Ali (RA) and assigned the domestic chores like cooking and cleaning to Fatimah (RA).

Satisfaction of each other's sexual needs is one of the crucial mutual responsibilities of the spouses. Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) stated: If a husband beckons his wife to his bed and she refuses to comply and keeps the husband disgusted, the angels of Allah keep damning her till the break of day. That means she will be deprived of the mercy of Allah.

There is a divine reward for mutual satisfaction of each other's sexual needs: The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) told his companions (RA):  Allah will reward the couple for their sexual intercourse. The companions (RA) asked: O Messenger of Allah (PBUH), why should one deserve a reward when he indulges in sexual intercourse to satisfy his lust? The prophet (PBUH) put a counter question: If somebody satisfies his lust outside his family whether it is sinful or not? The companions (RA) replied: O course, it is sinful. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) then replied: Because they keep away from satisfying their sexual needs in illegitimate ways and because they satisfy their needs legitimately within the family by the command of Allah there is a reward for it (Ahmad).

Joint endeavour to protect the members of the family from hell fire

Allah has proclaimed: "O you the believers protect yourselves and your households from that Fire whose fuel are humans and stones. It is attended by stern and harsh angels who do not defy God in whatever they are commanded by Allah to do and execute the commands given to them" (At-Tahreem: 6). When this verse was revealed Umar Bin Khattab (PBUH) came to the prophet (PBUH) and asked: We can protect ourselves from hell fire but how could we protect our households? The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) replied: Prevent them from evil and bid them to do right. This action will protect them from the Hell, Insha Allah.

Mohammad Najeeb Qasmi (www.najeebqasmi.com)