Mutual Rights of Husband and Wife in Islam
Allamah Sayyid Sa’eed Akhtar Rizvi
. . . They ( wives) are your garment and you are their garment . . . (Qur'an, 2:187)
While the “family” is the foundation of civilization and society, the relationship of husband and wife and defining their mutual rights and duties is the foundation of family-life. This is a very difficult problem; human beings have been trying to unravel this knotty problem since the beginning of humanity - and the result is a never-ending conflict of theories and a mass of irreconcilable views and opinions; and this con-fusing state of affairs seems to worsen day by day. In various places and at various times, the mutual duties of husband and wife have been going up and down in cycles like a merry-go-round.
Space does not allow us to give here any detail; but history has clear evidence to show that whenever the sphere of activities of women was enlarged the only result was unmitigated disaster and a decayed society.
Every so-called liberty brought a reaction of horrifying suppression; and every unchecked excess resulted in suffocating restrictions. Maintaining a balance between extremes is the law of nature and nature does not hesitate in severely punishing those who break its laws.
Even now there is a war of ideas, a conflict of ideals, going on in this subject between East and West - or, more correctly, between Islam and the non-Islamic world. The real cause of the conflict is that the anti-Islam forces are either un-willing or unable to decide what are the “Natural” spheres of activities for man and woman, and what are the aims and objects of a married life. If these two points are clearly defined, then there is no danger of anyone going astray.
Natural Spheres of Activities of Man and Woman
It is clear that, so far as the safety and development of the human race is concerned, every human being has two important functions to perform:
(1) Procreation, i.e., maintaining the population of human beings so that human race is not faced with extinction;
(2) To obtain the necessities of life by participating in the struggle of economy.
On the other hand, we see that the Creator has divided the humanity into two distinct groups: Male and Female. And, it is clear that, physically and biologically man is equipped far better to deal with the hustle and bustle of the struggle to earn livelihood, while woman is prevented from it by her many physical differences. On the other hand, the body of a woman is geared to pro-creation and child-rearing.
it requires no great philosophical mind to realize that the nature has endowed each group with the ability to efficiently perform only one of the two functions: the man, by nature, is un-able to bear and rear a child; likewise, the woman is not meant to bear the back-breaking burden of earning her livelihood or to plunge into the conflicts of society.
Benefits of Marriage
The above discussion brings us to the benefits of marriage and the philosophy of the matrimonial bond.
Marriage is one of the fundamental sociological institutions. Mankind, since its very beginning, has kept to it without any disruption. Even the so called `uncivilized' tribes and primitive societies treat marriage as a sacred bond. Such an institution must be based on the foundation of the nature it-self.
Philosophy of Marriage: Islam has based its matrimonial laws on the correlation between masculinity and femininity. Obviously this complementary system in man and woman - and it is the most intricate and inter-related one, permeating their whole beings - was not created in vain or without purpose. The male by his nature is attracted to the female, and vice versa.
And this system has only one goal in sight: Procreation. Islamic marriage is based on this reality, and all its matrimonial rules revolve around this axis. On this foundation are based the Islamic laws concerning chastity and conjugal rights, exclusive attachment of the wife to her husband and the rules of divorce and `iddah (the waiting-period after a woman has been widowed or divorced before she can re-marry), legitimacy and parentage, custody of children and their upbringing, inheritance and other related matters.
In short, marriage is the only legal and honourable way of satisfying sexual desire, and the husband and wife by their union ensure the survival of mankind. Although almost all the burden in this task falls on the woman, the initial steps can-not be taken without the participation of the man.
This is the philosophy of marriage. And it also shows the first and primary benefit of matrimony.
The Holy Prophet said: Marry and procreate and increase your population . . .
Second Benefit of Marriage: The second benefit is that the husband and the wife jointly (but with division or responsibilities) perform the tasks which they are faced with in establishing a family. And each finds his or her fulfilment in the other. As explained earlier, woman is not fit to earn livelihood; man is not fit to manage domestic affairs. Marriage binds them to make up each other's deficiencies, so that the family may prosper.
The man will spend his energies in earning a livelihood for himself and his family. The woman will manage the domestic life with that income. Allah has reminded us of this very point in these words
And marry those among you who are single, and the virtuous ones among your slaves, male and female: if they be in poverty, Allah will make them rich by His Grace; for Allah is abundantly-giving, All-knowing. ( Qur'an, 24:32)
It is for this reason that al-Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.) said: “The sustenance is with women and dependants.” Domestic science is the natural preserve of women, and by their efficient management they can make the money stretch far.
Modern non-Islamic societies have laid the foundation of matrimony on only this cooperation between husband and wife, while in Islam it is a secondary, not the primary, benefit. Marriage, according to present day societies, is a co-operative venture, albeit much narrower in scope than other such institutions, like a municipality or a club.
It is for this reason that modern laws do not pay any attention to the rules of chastity etc. This inadequate foundation - cooperation in life - has given rise to a vast multitude of social problems and has created chaos in domestic life, because it is not in complete harmony with realities of creation and nature. Man is a social animal, no doubt. Everyone cooperates with everyone else, dividing the labour and work according to one's aptitude. But this factor requires cooperation between any two persons; it does not specifically call for cooperation between a man and a woman.
Therefore, it is a weak foundation on which to build the edifice of matrimony. If marriage were only a co-operative institution, there would be no need of any special rule for matrimony; the general rules governing associations and co-operative societies would be enough. It would negate the virtues of chastity and fidelity, nullify the concept of legitimacy and affinity, and abrogate the rules of inheritance - as some “advanced” societies have done. If we accept this ultimate result of the modern philosophy of marriage, we will have to accept that all this complicated and inter-related system in the bodies of man and woman was created without any purpose.
Now to return to our original topic. The basic philosophy and secondary benefit of marriage have already been described. It was because of those benefits that the Holy Prophet said: “The worst of your dead is the unmarried one.”
Now, we may understand the meaning of the ayah: They (wives) are your garment and you are their garment.
The garment serves three purposes: it beautifies, it covers the parts of the body, and it protects from cold and heat. Allah says
O' Children of Adam! We have bestowed upon you garment to cover your shame, and to be an adornment to you. And the garment of righteousness, that is the best . . .(Qur'an, 7:26)
Husband and wife, by uniting together, cover the natural shortcomings of each other, and this union protects them from hardships and difficulties which one faces by living alone; the sun of happiness and prosperity shines on the horizon of life; and both, by their joint efforts, discharge all the duties laid upon them by human nature.
Islamic Boundary Line
Up till now we have been looking at the natural boundary line between the responsibilities of man and woman. Now, let us see how Islam - the Natural Religion - has safe-guarded that boundary.
It was mentioned earlier that Islam wants to educate boys in such a way that they develop into Men of Action; and to educate girls to make them into the Rulers of the Home.
Nature demands that all individuals should have equal rights. But it does not mean that every individual should be entrusted with every responsibility and every duty. A weak person is not expected to perform the tasks done by a strong one. If we treat both equally, it will be harmful to both.
What is then the meaning of this equality? It means that everyone should be given his or her right without let or hindrance, and be put in his or her rightful place. The words of Allah point to it
. . . and they (women) have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them; . . . (Qur'an, 2:228)
This verse ordains equality between the rights of both groups at the same time when it shows the differences between the both.
Men and women equally share the Divine gifts of thinking and will, which in their turn create free choice. She should, therefore, be free in her thinking and will, and should have freedom to choose her own course of action. In other words, she should be free to look after her life's affairs - personal as well as social - except where there is a genuine reason to the contrary. Islam gave her this freedom in full measure. She may act independently in all matters in which a man is free to act.
She gets her share in inheritance, she is the rightful owner of whatever she may earn, she may deal with others in all types of dealings, like trade, partnership and gift, she may acquire knowledge and impart it to others, she may stake a claim, defend her rights, sue and be sued without any need of seeking permission of her husband. These few examples will show how she was given an independent personality, unfettered in her will or action by men or their guardianship. She thus got, by the Grace of Allah, what the world had denied her since the beginning of humanity, and which was unheard of before the advent of Islam.
But while sharing these basic qualities with men, she differs from them in other ways. As a result of those differences, her body is comparatively soft and elegant; and finer sentiments, like love, tender -heartedness and inclination towards beauty and adornment, are more pronounced in her than in man. On the other hand, the power of cool reasoning is more prominent in men than in women. In short, a woman lives a sentimental life; a man in comparison does not allow sentiments to cloud his judgment.
It was for this reason that Islam differentiated between the duties and responsibilities of both groups. The tasks demanding cool reasoning, like rulership and judgeship have been reserved for men; also the fighting side of jihad (holy war against the infidels) is man's preserve, although women may attend the jihad for nursing and treating the wounded soldiers. The woman has been entrusted with bringing up of children and looking after the domestic management. Man has been given responsibility of her maintenance, for which he is compensated by a double share in inheritance.
Thus, Islam was the first to release woman from her bondage by giving her freedom of will and action. All the slogans of emancipation of women, raised in modern times, are but an echo of the clarion call of Islam. Non-Islamic societies in this matters are just following the lead given by Islam. But the trouble is that they are not con-tent with following; they want to improve upon the master-piece of Islam - forgetting that the principle laid down by Islam is a perfectly circular ring; nothing can be added to or subtracted from it without disturbing the whole alignment. Yet, in spite of their keen desire to emancipate woman, these societies have not succeeded in this endeavour. Woman is still far behind in all those fields of activities which Islam has reserved for man. The data show that the fields of rulership, judgeship and military services (in the meaning of fighting) are still a “man's world”.
The following hadith (tradition) may give a general outline of the above-mentioned Islamic principle, al-Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) said: Verily, Fatimah (a.s.) had taken the responsibility of the domestic works, like … grinding the flour, baking the bread and sweeping the house; and `Ali (a.s.) had taken the responsibility of all works outside the door of the house, like bringing the fire-wood, and obtaining food stuff, etc.
According to this hadith the boundary between the responsibility of man and woman is the wall of the house. Woman is Supreme in whatever happens within four walls and man is Supreme in all matters outside those walls.
Islam has liberated the woman from the turmoils and troubles of outside world; so that she may concentrate on the burdensome duties of domestic affairs.
Now, we come to the mutual rights and duties of husband and wife.
The Rights of the Husband
Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they (i.e., men) support them ( women) from their means. . . (Qur'an, 4:34)
This ayah covers in a nut-shell all the principles of domestic life. As mentioned earlier woman is, by nature, the weaker sex. As such she should not be expected to struggle for a livelihood; instead man should provide for both. If `home' is a kingdom, then husband is the King, and wife his Prime Minister. This ayah points to these facts. Let us look minutely at these phrases
` Allah has given the one more than the other.”: This phrase refers to the natural strength of man in comparison to woman.
Man and Woman: Physical Differences
It has been mentioned earlier that there are certain important anatomical and physical differences between man and woman, which equip them for different roles in procreation. To these major differences can be added other secondary ones involving skeletal and muscular variations.
Reference to any physiology book will show that the regulation for the maintenance of these differences is largely a chemical one: the hormones (the name given to the chemicals which animals and human beings produce to regulate procreative and other functions) produce physical and functional differences. It can also be shown scientifically that these hormones produce distinct emotional effects and they are agents which cause emotional changes such as those seen in women before and after child-birth.
It should be mentioned here that it is the hormones which produce the marked general difference between man and woman, described earlier, which make the latter more suited to the task of rearing young children, and the former better able to withstand the rigours of competitive existence.
Farid Wajdi Afandi quotes an authority to the effect that the psychology of a woman is nearer to that of a child. A child will start crying if confronted with an unpleasant situation; and will start jumping and merry-making when happy. Just the same is the case with woman who, in comparison to man, is more affected by such feeling.
Allah has made woman more sensitive than man because it is more in keeping with the role for which she has been created, i.e., Motherhood.
Pointing to this fact Kenneth Walker writes in The Physiology of Sex:  In order that she may succeed in the world to which she rightly belongs, woman has been equipped with a greater sensitiveness to effective stimulus than has a man. She sees life through her feelings, and emotionally reaches to many a truth to which a man, working laboriously through the medium of his reason, remains permanently blind. The fact that in the sphere of intellectual abstraction she is at a disadvantage is no sign of inferiority, for it is no exaggeration to say that a man's judgment is as often warped as it is helped by this intellect.
`A woman judge,' it has been said, `Would always deliver her sentences in accordance with the dictates of her heart.' But, as Maranon has asked, `What better method could there be of judging the action of others than reason tempered with feeling?' It is therefore no deprecation of a woman to state that she is more sensitive in her emotions and less ruled by her intellect. We are merely stating a difference, a difference which equips her for the special part for which she is cast.
Perhaps because of this difference in perception, and the dominance of feeling over intellect, the Qur'an treats evidence of two women as equal to that of one man
. . . And get two witnesses from your own men; and if there are not two men, then a man and two women such as you choose for witness, so that if one of them errs the other can remind her . . . (Qur'an, 2:282)
Anyhow, it was because of this natural weakness of the “Fair Sex” that man has been made responsible to provide for her necessities. Justice and mercy demand that her back should not be broken by putting a heavy load upon her.
“Because they (men) support them (woman) from their means ” makes this point clear.
It is painful to see that the non-Islamic societies have compelled the weaker sex to carry a double load of responsibilities on her shoulders, disguising this “tyranny” as “emancipation of women” and “equality of sexes.”
And what does this “emancipation” mean?
Woman is still required to carry on her natural responsibilities of child-bearing and child-rearing. Man does not, and by nature cannot, share with her the burden of pregnancy, nursing and suckling the infant, looking after the children and all multifarious activities connected with “motherhood.” Woman has to bear this burden alone. But, in addition to these full-time life-consuming responsibilities, man now tells her to help him in the struggle of earning their livelihood!
Thus, the stronger sex has “liberated” the weaker sex to share his burden without himself sharing her burden. Poor woman, she is still overwhelmed by the powerful slogans of “liberation” and “emancipation” without realizing that it is no-thing but a clever device of man to overload her with his own duties. The disaster - social, domestic and economic - wreaked by the entry of woman in earning fields are too numerous to be listed here.
A Woman's Place is at Home
However, man has been made guardian of woman, because of his strong physical and intellectual powers and because he is responsible for maintaining her. It is for this reason that the wife is obliged to obey her husband.
The Holy Prophet has said: The most honoured women before Allah are those who are obedient to their husbands and remain within the boundaries of their homes.
If the women remain within their natural boundary and, by obeying the husband, fulfill the duties imposed upon them by the Creator, they would discharge their responsibilities, and surely would deserve to be called, “The most honoured women.”
I know the exponents of the equality of sexes will oppose this straight-forward principle. But in the domestic affairs as in all societies an authoritative leader is a must. No association or institution can function without a leader; even sports clubs need a President and a Secretary. Is it not strange that it is only the domestic institution, the hub of all success and prosperity, which is considered so unimportant as not to need any authority?
It has been explained above that a man has a natural ability to become that leader, while a woman requires a man to bring out her natural abilities. In the words of the poet Iqbal: The virtue of man shines out without any outside help; but the virtue of woman is dependent on an `other' (i.e., man) to bring it out.
Anthropologists tell us that the first stage of womanhood was when the “family” was not an established institution. Woman, in that period, was free from all bonds, and was absolutely her own master. But, in that very stage, she was absolutely without any honour and had no respect.
When the “family” was established, the situation began to change. Coming within the circle of family the woman lost her freedom and was obliged to submit to many restrictions. But, at the same moment, she acquired a high prestige and honour which was undreamt of before.
An interesting question has been asked by an author on this very subject. He asks that if the advance of civilization and human perfection only means that woman attains complete freedom and is not obliged to obey her husband, then, why is it that primitive tribes are not acknowledged as the guardians of highest civilization in the world, as males in those tribes are content to sit idle and it is the woman who is “free” to do all the jobs.
The “emancipation” has compelled many a woman in western countries to shun marriage. In words of a western social worker, these women abhor the fundamental factor of the civilization, that is `matrimony '. They have completely lost the urge and feelings which are naturally found in the women of their age-group. Now they are neither man nor woman; they have developed into a neutral “sex”! They are not `man' because they differ from man anatomically, and they are not “woman” because their activities and feelings are opposite to that of a woman.
A person cannot embark in two boats at the same time. If a woman is devoting her time in earning her livelihood, she is depriving her children of their natural rights of “maternal love and care”.
In 1971, the Sunday News (Dar-es-Salaam) carried an article under the heading It Is Hard On The Mother. The following paragraphs give a fair picture of this deep-rooted problem: “Take the example of a mother working in an office. Her first worry before she takes up her appointment is about her children.
“She must make sure that she has hired a suitable nursemaid for the children, which is often a dream because these are becoming unbearably expensive. But someone warm-hearted and generous, with a lot of love to give in mothering the children in her absence: that is the kind of maid servant she wants.
“A mother observes that parental love for a child is actually irreplaceable and is vital to its development. A child has to grow with it.
“But, as we have seen, who will pay for the nursemaid or the baby-sitter? The question is difficult enough for a working married mother.”
Again he writes: “But their main concern is their children. As they have to give time to their job, they have to do the same to their children.
“For example, a woman teacher is a mother of two children. Teaching needs many hours of devotion and some extra hours of preparation at home.
“A woman teacher who is also a mother has to be very careful in planning her time. Home preparation interferes with the time allocated to chatting and playing with her children, since she has been away for the whole day.
“Some children are naughty. They have to be taken care of with tender toughness. And yet there are teaching lessons to be prepared. She literally has to divide herself into two persons!
“The majority of mothers enjoy cooking, so they prefer doing it for themselves even if they have cooks. After office hours, therefore, they pass by the market to do proper grocery, and so to make a meal of their choice - to please sweet teeth of their husbands.
“But the reality of their office or factory jobs means that they are doubling, not to mention that some women do not necessarily love cooking.”
Above the article, the following words were printed in bold letters: “Children are becoming a problem for the modern working mother in Africa.”
In the end the writer dutifully suggested this interesting cure: “The question we pose here is: Does a Tanzania husband help in the cooking or any other household chore which in the old days was meant for women?
“If a man and his wife are both career people, the dictates of socialism demand that both of them must work equally in the household. Since this is not the case, what it means is that socialism has not reached home … where it should have begun in the first place.”
But the question is this: If the parental love is irreplaceable then how can a nursemaid provide that love and care?
If the emancipation of women and “social-ism” mean that the woman has to do double duty (motherhood and wage-earning) and also the husband has to do double duty (wage-earning and cooking), then is it not far better and less back-breaking to let both of them do their own natural single duty without interfering with the other's responsibilities? This will have the added benefit of reducing the number of juvenile delinquents . . . because children will grow up under kind and understanding mother's love.
We may sum it up with the following words of Kenneth Walker: “Not only in her physical but also in her psychological make up everything in a woman is sacrificed to the function of motherhood. In the same way a man is psychologically, as well as physically, specially equipped for the task of seeking out the woman and protecting her and his family.
“(A woman's) aptitude for physical and intellectual exertion in the primitive struggle for existence is less than that of man. Occasionally she may possess these more masculine faculties, and by her own exertions succeed in establishing for herself a place in the world, but this is not her natural role. Biologically speaking, the woman who tights her own battles has moved out of the sphere for which nature has equipped her and trespassed into another that does not by right belong to her. The fact that she often succeeds in making good in the new sphere into which she has wandered does not affect this principle. Emotionally and physically she is dedicated to the career of maternity, and it is on the man she was meant to rely not only for her own support, but also for that of her children.”
The Urdu poet, Iqbal, has pointed to this fact in these words If western education means the death of `motherhood' then such an education, in the eyes of thinkers, is death.
This subject has been dealt with at some length in order that readers may fully understand the wisdom and virtue of the restrictions put up on women of Islam. Thanks to these regulations, Muslim women have been enjoying their lives quite peacefully and naturally for the last fourteen centuries. They have remained safe and immune from the degradations to which other women were subjected up to the end of the last century. We are sure that by following the rules of Islam they will remain safe from present day excesses as they saved themselves from the shortcomings of the past.