Summary of 7.39 “Marital Relations IV (Husband’s Rights)”
First we continued some discussion on the issues of surrogate motherhood and the claim that perhaps one day one might be able to select the sex of the fetus.’ Mostly we focused on the rights of the husband.’ We indicated that as the wife expects to be treated with love, effection, and respect she should be cheerful and treat her husband in a similar way.’ Secondly, that she should be cooperative with him.’ We talked about the concept of obedience and that the wife should be obedient to her husband.’ We referred to two crucial verses in the Quran one(4:34) and the other in (2:228) which show that while husbands and wives have similar claims over each other, still the role of leadership, provider, maintainer, protector and head of the family has been assigned according to the Quran to the husband.’ We also discussed from a grammatical point of view the word fadal which does not mean superiority as some people misinterpret or mistranslate.’ It simply means the position of leadership in the family.

7.40′ Marital Relations V (Husband’s Rights)

Host:’ Can you share with us sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) which confirm the obligation of the wife to obey her husband?

Jamal Badawi:

There is one that was narrated in Ahmad and Al Tabarani in which Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gives four basic criteria for a woman to enter Paradise.’ ‘If a woman keeps her five daily prayers, fasts during the month of Ramadan, safeguards her chastity and obeys her husband she will be told on the Day of Judgement ‘enter any of the doors of Paradise you wish.” This means she is assured to go to paradise.

A Hadith narrated in Abu Dawood, Al Tirmithi, Ibn Maja, and Ibn Habban in which the Prophet says ‘If I were to command any human being to prostrate before any human being I would the wife to prostrate before her husband, because of his claim on her.” There are three important observations on this Prophetic saying.’ First of all, he says ‘If I were’ which refers to something impossible because as we know in Islam no human being is supposed to bow or prostrate before any other human being.’ The only bow before God, because it is an expression of full submission which is due to God alone.’ In fact in one other version of the same traditions which was narrated in Ahmad he says ‘It is not appropriate for one human being to bow to another human being and if it were appropriate I would have commanded the wife to bow down before her husband.” Again this indicates an expression of respect and cooperation.’ One time we were discussing this issue and there was a female physician sitting there and a male physician tried to tease her with this saying by saying ‘Didn’t the Prophet say that if I were to order anyone to bow down I would have ordered the woman to bow to her husband?” She answered in a very intelligent way ‘If I had a husband who was truly Muslim husband, who loves me, who cherishes me and respects me and treats me with dignity I would feel like bowing to him.’ For the reason that is forbidden I would not do it.’

One woman was reported to advise her daughter at the time of marriage ‘Be to your husband like a slave and he will be to you like your slave.” It should not be taken, from a literal sense as a loss of dignity or position but that if a person really shows this love and affection the other side would automatically reciprocate in the same manner.’ In any case my third observation is that what is meant here is to dramatize the importance of cooperation, discipline and order within the family circle.

Ibn Abass one of the companions of the Prophet (PBUH) reported that one woman came to him once as a representative of other women and she said to the Prophet ‘Men go and struggle in the path of God and sometimes they sacrifice their own lives on the battle field.’ If they go God will reward them, if they are martyred they go to Paradise.’ If we simply support them what kind of benefit do we get?’ Men are taking all the reward.” The Prophet answered her and he said ‘Tell all the women (who sent you) that the obedience to your husbands and the recognition of his right on you is equivalent to that.’ It is equivalent to martyrdom and you deserve the same heavenly reward for that.’ A few of you only do it.’

Several sayings of the Prophet reported in both Bukhari and Muslim indicate that if a woman dies while her husband is pleased with her then she will enter Paradise.’ In Ibn Maja and Ibn Hiban the Prophet said that certain types of people whose prayer doesn’t go beyond their head and one of them is a woman whose husband sleeps while he is really angry with her (for good reason but because of genuine bad character or misbehavior on her part).’ It is very obvious that Prophetic Tradition is consistent with the verses that we analyzed in the previous program.

The issue here is not an issue of inferiority or superiority or whose the boss in the simplistic sense but it is rather the issue of mutual cooperation, integrity and cohesiveness of the family as a social unit.

Host:’ How can people then incorrectly interpret the husband’s responsibility for the family as somehow reflecting of male superiority?’ What are the basis for people who hold this view?

Jamal Badawi:

First of all, some point to the fact that in Islamic law a woman inherits half of the share that is assigned to man.’ The y point out that in some cases when a witness is needed that it requires two women and one man to be witnesses or two men and they say that for every man there needs to be two women which again reflects on the worth of a woman.’ They also say that the Quran emphasizes the leadership of the husband as the head of the family and the obedience of the wife to the husband but not the reverse.’ These are the basis that are used for these arguments.’ Many of the people who use these arguments are none Muslims scholars who fail to understand the depth and the interrelatedness of the various aspects of Islamic Law.’ Some Muslims may also however fall into the same problem.

Host: How would you explain or refute these points of view?

Jamal Badawi:

To start with it is my understanding that these explanations are contrary to Islamic Law both in letter and spirit.’ First of all in the Quran in (49:13) it says ‘Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you.” This is a very clear statement which shows that superiority and inferiority is only by virtue of piety not by gender or any other subsidiary issue.’ In the beginning of chapter four of the Quran it talks about God creating humans from a single soul; that is the soul of a woman is the same as the soul of a man.’ So where is the proof that a woman is half of a man?’ In program 14 we gave sufficient evidence that in Islam there is no such thing as a distinction between men and women in the sight of God in terms of their spiritual and human status.’ As far as the question of inheritance we discussed this in the 15th program in this series and we showed in some detail how the various forms of inheritance are totally separate and unrelated to the whole notion of the worth of a man or a woman.’ We also covered how a man is fully responsible for the finances of a family regardless of the wealth of his wife and as such he deserves to get a little more inheritance in consideration of his additional financial burden.’ This has nothing to do with superiority or inferiority.’ The question of witnesses was discussed in the 18th and 19th programs in this series in greater detail.’ We said that the question of witnesses was mentioned in the Quran in the context of financial contracts.’ The verse seemed to indicate that the main reason behind those rules was that on average women may not be too involved in financial dealings.’ The purpose was not to put her as half the worth of man but rather to ascertain the facts at the time of contract.’ We also indicated that in Islamic Law the witness of a woman alone is acceptable in the case of maternal or feminine issues.’ As far as the question of leadership in the family circle it is a matter that relates to social organization, division of labor or differentiation of roles that does not insist on mathematical equality but rather equity which are not the same thing.”’ If one insists on exact equality on each and every issue one may end up committing injustice.’ What we are really talking about is equity which is the totality of rights, privileges and obligations of man which would be approximately equivalent to the rights, obligations and privileges of women.’ The husband may have some additional privileges being the leader of the family but with additional responsibility of providing for the family as the wife can keep her own property.’ Everything has its side and equity is really what we are discussing here.’ Finally, that the term fadal which is translated as excel and that God made men head of the family because God made men excel women in certain respects which is them being providers for the family.’ This same term fadal appears in the Quran in the context of wealth as found in (16:71) ‘Allah has bestowed His gifts of sustenance more freely on some of you than on others.” Does it mean that a person is better because he is wealthy and the other inferior because he is less wealthy? No, it doesn’t mean that at all.

Host: Why cant the female be the leader of the family?

Jamal Badawi:

This view seems to reflect three common assumptions.’ Again I will try to reflect how these assumptions are not correct according to my understanding.’ The first assumption is that the leadership of the husband to the family constitutes bias for one sex over the other.’ Second it assumes that the headship of the family means superiority and the absence of it means inferiority and since Islam says the husband should be the leader and the head of the family it means the husband is superior.’ A third assumption seems to be that the obedience of the wife and her cooperation with her husband as the leader of the family means cancelation of her personality and identity and complete submission and subjection to her husband.’ All of these assumptions are incorrect from an Islamic point of view.

To start with the teachings of God which are found in the Quran which were revealed to His Prophet Muhammad are definitely free from bias towards male or female because God is neither male nor female.’ He has no reason to discriminate or make that destination between his creatures.’ So when God provides this guidance to establishing an orderly social life on a family level or other levels then it must have some wisdom and reasons whether or not we are able to fully grasp it at one point of time or the other.’ This dismisses the assumption that God is bias.

Another aspect is that the headship of a family does not mean superiority of men over women.’ First, in Islamic teaching whenever there is a social unit there must be some form of leadership.’ Even in the five daily prayers if there are two people praying together one acts as the leader or Imam of the prayer.’ Prophet Muhamad (PBUH) as narrated in Abu Dawood said that if three of you are traveling together let them select one as Ameer or leader.’ This has nothing to do with female or male; even if there were three men one would be selected for leadership.’ The concept of leadership in Islam applies to males alone, females alone or the combination of females and males and it is has nothing to do with superiority or inferiority.’ In a previous session in program 18 we explained in great detail the saying of Prophet Muhammad that ‘Each one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for their trust.” He also included in this that a woman is also a leader or trustee and is responsible for her trust.’ We tried to show how leadership can be looked at from different aspects.’ There is no black and white when we talk about leadership as it can be shared.

The third reason why the second assumption is not correct is that centuries after Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) spoke of this broad concept of leadership we find that many sociologists today have come to realize the importance of defining leadership.’ For example, Zelideth as he wrote in the Handbook of Modern Sociology after studying the patterns of various families throughout history he referred to a distinction that sociologists made between two types of leadership.’ There is instrumental leadership which focuses more on things which are external to the system (family) and the second type is expressive leadership which works largely within the boundary of the system (family).’ He said that studies seem to conclude that in all but very few societies (past or present) the instrumental leadership roles seemed to be played largely but not exclusively by the husband or father, and that expressive leadership which focused more closely on the internal affairs of the family seemed to have been played largely but not exclusively by the wife or mother.

As for the third assumption that obedience and acceptance of the leadership of the husband means total submission and lack of dignity or cancelation of her own individuality and personality is absolutely wrong because it is contrary to the limits and boundaries of obedience in Islam.’ In addition to the erroneous assumption that I just discussed, I should also add that if the husband is the sole provider for the family it would be rather unfair to say that his wife should have the ultimate say and final word as to how to dispose of this property that he urned in order to support his family.’ She of course has the final say in how she disposes of her own property that she earns or that she had before marriage.’ But to say that the husband earns and the wife would have the final say is not fair.’ Of course she has claim on her husband’s income by virtue of Islamic Law as we discussed in detail before.’ She has claim and she should feel like he is giving her charity because there is mutual dependency between husband and wife, but the final say should not be hers.’ They can consult one another but any reasonable and fair wife would claim that she have the final say in these matters.

Host: What are the limits and boundaries of obedience?

Jamal Badawi:

In Islam there is no such thing as absolute unqualified authority or obedience.’ The only unqualified and submissive acceptance is to the Creator God alone as the soul Possessor, Owner and Master of the universe.’ The only absolute Sovereign is God.’ Absolute obedience is due to God alone.’ Second, on this basis obedience to any creature whether this creature is a husband, father, a boss or ruler is an obedience which is not absolute but is derived from the obedience to God and within those limits.’ To clarify we will refer to some of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Altirmithi that there is no obedience is due to any human being if his command is for one to be disobedient to God.’ Blind obedience and uncritical acceptance of authority is totally contrary to the teachings of Islam.’ For example if a husband tells his wife not to wear her Islamic dress because he doesn’t like it (God says she has to observe that dress code) she doesn’t have to obey him!’ If he tells his wive to drink wine, she has the right to refuse.’ This does not only apply to a wife; even if a father tells his son not to pray or fast the son does not have to obey this.’ Any command that is contrary to the teachings of God can be disobeyed even in husband and wife relationships.’ A third aspect is that obedience of the wife is restricted to things which pertain to his rights or claims over her.’ A husband, for example, can not tell his wife to dispose of her personal property in a specific way.’ Her personal property that she acquired before or after marriage is her own and she does not have to obey him because this does not fall within the boundaries of his claims on her.’ A husband can not force his wife to change her religion or faith, he can not deprive her from expressing her feelings or opinions.’ A fourth issue is that obedience is required in things which are fair, customary, acceptable or reasonable.’ The Quran has clear evidence for this even between the believers and the Prophet himself (with all the respect towards him and the fact that he was guided by God).’ In the Quran in (60:12) where it talks about women coming to the Prophet with their oath of allegiance and acceptance of leadership and it says ‘O Prophet! When believing women come to thee to take the oath of fealty to thee, that they will not associate in worship any other thing whatever with Allah, that they will not steal, that they will not commit adultery (or fornication), that they will not kill their children, that they will not utter slander, intentionally forging falsehood, and that they will not disobey thee in any just matter,- then do thou receive their fealty, and pray to Allah for the forgiveness (of their sins): for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” In a saying of the Prophet which is narrated in Bukhari and Muslim the Prophet says that there is not obedience in matters that constituted disobedience to God and then he added obedience is only required which are fair, reasonable and customary.’ This means that obedience that are related to the rights of the husband must be legitimate and fair.’ Furthermore obedience does not mean dictatorship, capricious orders or abuse of authority.’ In Islam any type of obedience must be within the boundaries of shurah or mutual consultation.’ In the Quran (2:233) in the case of divorce when a suckling child is involved it says ‘If they both decide on weaning, by mutual consent, and after due consultation, there is no blame on them.” Here, even in a hard situations like divorce consultation is required so how should it be when there is affection and a successful marriage?’ This is basically obedience from the Islamic perspective which is heavily qualified and bound.