Husband & wife: Rights and duties

Q263 :Could you please explain the rights and duties of a married couple. How does Islam view a situation where a woman is unwilling to do what her husband says, but she follows what her parents say? Can a woman stay in her parents' home in the case of a quarrel between her and her husband? What is the maximum period of such a stay? Can a man have a second wife without obtaining his first wife's permission? May I also ask about the terms and conditions of divorce?

A263 : The Prophet has laid down the basis on which the marital relationship is established. He has enjoined his followers to treat their wives well. He says: "I enjoin you to be good to your women." We cannot fulfill the prophet's instructions unless we establish a relationship with our wives on the basis of mutual care and kindness. The Prophet has highlighted the importance of taking good care of our women when he made that one of the three areas to which he has drawn our attention just before he passed away. He repeated these recommendations: "Attend regularly to your prayer. Do not charge your slaves with what they cannot bear. Fear Allah in your treatment of woman." With all this emphasis on taking good care of women, Islam has outlined certain rights and duties for both man and woman which must be honored. Both can claim equal rights against each other, except for those minor differences which are necessitated by the nature of their roles and the way they are created. Allah says in the Qur'an: "In accordance with justice the rights of the wives (with regard to their husbands) are equal to the (husband's) rights with regard to them." (2:228). It is true that many people do not pay any heed to such an instruction. However, a true Muslim always tries to do his duties, hoping to earn Allah's pleasure. His efforts to do what is required of him is not motivated by his fear of the law; its primary motivation is acting on Allah's instructions. This has not been said in generalities. The Prophet has specified the rights of a woman against her husband when he was asked by one of his men companions: "Messenger of Allah, what rights a man's wife holds against him?" He answered: "That you feed her when you find food to eat, and dress her when you dress yourself, and that you do not strike her on her face and do not abuse her verbally, and that you do not boycott her except within the home." (Related by Abu Dawood and Ibn Hibban). We see, then, how it is not permissible for a Muslim to ignore or overlook supporting his wife. It is not up to him to decide whether to provide her with clothes. That is a right. The Prophet says: "It is sufficient of a sin for anyone to allow those entrusted to his care to perish." It is forbidden, as we have seen, for a man to hit his wife on her face. This is the worst humiliation. Besides, we have some very important organs in our heads. A strike on the face could cause blindness, deafness, a broken tooth or jaw or a bleeding nose. This is not permissible. While Islam has given a husband the right to discipline a disobedient wife, it has left only a very small room for hitting her as a last resort when all efforts to make her see reason have failed. Besides, such a strike must not be painful. In order to understand what sort of beating is allowed, we can refer to a Hadith which quotes the Prophet as threatening a servant of his when he was angry with her: "If it was not for my fear that Allah will inflict His punishment on me on the day of judgment, I would have beaten you with this "miswak" (tooth brush) until it hurts." You need only imagine what sort of pain could the beating with a "miswak" cause. It is also not permissible for a Muslim to hurl verbal abuse on his wife. It is needless to say that verbal abuse creates ill-feeling. Islam is keen not to allow such ill-feeling to develop. Moreover, the Prophet reminds us that our relationship with our wives is so intimate that it must not be allowed to be strained. Otherwise, we land ourselves in contradictions which are bound to have a bad effect on our marriage. The Prophet portrays beating a woman in a very bad light, as he says: "How is it that any one of you could beat his wife as he beats a slave, when he may have intercourse with her at the end of the day?" Referring to those who beat their wives, the Prophet says: "You will not find these among the best of you." According to Lady Aisha, "Allah's messenger has never beaten any of his wives or servants. Indeed, he never beat anyone except for the cause of Allah or when what Allah has consecrated was violated: He would then punish those who violated them." The Prophet has outlined the rights of a man against his wife. He says: "It is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah to admit into her husband's home anyone whom he does not like to be admitted, or to go out when he disapproves, or to obey anyone against her husband, or to banish herself from his bed, or to hit him (if she is stronger than him). If he has started with unkindness, she should try to please him. If he accepts, then she has done well and Allah will accept her effort and make her argument stronger. If he does not respond to her reconciliation attempt, then she has done what is required of her." (Related by Al-Hakim). Both man and wife should be considerate, realizing that their life together is a partnership in which they have equal rights. Neither of them should be domineering so as to negate the personality of the other. A woman is required to obey her husband but he also must consider her wishes and preferences. When we speak of obedience, we are not talking about a highly disciplined life, where a woman is held to account for every slight deviation from a set rule. We are simply speaking about an ultimate possibility to which recourse can be made when differences cannot be amicably resolved. Within their home and in what relates to their life together, a woman has to give priority to her husband. His requests take precedence over those of her parents, but in neither case is she allowed to obey anyone in what constitutes disobedience to Allah. If a quarrel takes place between a man and his wife and he wants to send her to her parents' home, she may go. This should not be prolonged because the normal situation is for a man and wife to live together. You ask how long is she allowed to stay with her parents. There is no maximum limit as long as this is felt to be conducive to reconciliation. However, the situation becomes improper if the break between man and wife becomes total, but he is unwilling to divorce her in order to prevent her from marrying someone else. It is not permissible for a man to hold his wife in such a manner, neither giving her the life of a married woman nor setting her free so that she can marry another man. If he is making demands, particularly unreasonable ones, in order to grant her divorce, he goes beyond the limits of what Allah has allowed. A man does not need his wife's permission to marry another woman. Allah has granted him this privilege and he may exercise it if he thinks that he can cope well with its requirements. The main requirement is to treat his two or more wives fairly. Justice must be maintained between them. Otherwise, he is not allowed to marry more than one. If a man wants to divorce his wife, he should make sure first that their marriage cannot work. He should exhaust all possibilities of reconciliation. Islam provides for a method of arbitration when each of them appoints an arbiter and the two meet together to find some way out of the difficulties the married couple have been experiencing. If that fails and divorce seems the only way out, then the man must make sure of divorcing at the right time. It is forbidden, for example, to divorce a woman when she is in her menstruation period. He then declares that he divorces her, but he pronounces the word of divorce once only. It is forbidden to say it three times in succession, as many people do. She then starts her waiting period, staying in the family home, i.e. her husband's home, but using a separate bedroom. He has to support her during her waiting period and she need not cook for him or do any household duties. During her waiting period, they have a chance to reinstate their marriage without the need to have a fresh marriage contract. Two witnesses need to be called to witness the divorce and the remarriage if that happens. When the waiting period is over, the divorce is complete. He should pay her all her dues such as deferred dower, if any. She rejoins her family and she may marry another man. If they want to remarry, after the waiting period is over, they need to have a new marriage contract. He must pay her a new dower, provided that the divorce is a first or second time one. If the divorce has taken place for a third time, they cannot remarry until she has married another man which should be a full and complete marriage, intended to last until either of them dies. If it so happens that she is divorced by this second man or if he dies, she may marry her first husband, if they both agree.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )