Obligations: Of a wife

Q414 :May I ask about the duties of a wife toward her husband?

A414 : When we speak of duties within the family, we have to remember that there are different levels of rights and duties. There is firstly the "legal" duty for the omission of which one is liable to be punished by Allah. Such duties apply to all in equal measure. They represent the minimum for which one is accountable. When a person neglects to fulfill such duties, family life is jeopardized and strife replaces happiness in the home. Secondly there are duties imposed by social traditions. These differ from one society to another, and they can be, for example, markedly different in the country from what we see in town life. Thirdly, there are personal duties which differ from one family to another. These are governed by the relationship between the man and his wife. Of the first type, a woman has three duties to fulfill. She should respond to her husband whenever he wants to take her to bed. It is one of the main obligations of both partners that they should help each other maintain their chastity. That can only be achieved if they are willing to accommodate each other in this very intimate relationship. Secondly, she must not admit into his home any person whom he has expressly told her not to admit. This applies even to her relatives. He may have his reasons for such an attitude. Obviously, a husband must not abuse this right of his in order to isolate his wife from her own family. Her third obligation is that she must keep his secrets. She should not tell others about the secrets which take place in her home, particularly when they relate to the intimate relationship between her and her husband. To make secrets of this type public is a serious contravention of Islamic teachings. Duties imposed by social traditions differ from one place to another. In certain rural areas, for example, a wife is supposed to bake the bread in addition to doing all the normal household duties. In others, she is expected to take care of the dairy produce from the family's farm. A wife living in town does nothing of such duties. In most societies, however, a woman is expected to look after her home and see to it that her family have all their domestic needs met. Hence the term "housewife". While the duties of a housewife are not legally binding, one must say that traditions have an important say in how people organize their lives. If, for example, a wife decides that she will not do more than the legal obligations in a society where servants or domestic helps are extremely difficult to find, then everyone in society, including her own family, will judge her conduct unreasonable. Nevertheless, and technically speaking, she fails in no legal duty of hers by so doing. In order to understand the validity of such traditional obligations, it is useful to mention that the Prophet was the arbiter between his cousin Ali, and his wife, Fatimah, who was the Prophet's own daughter. They quarreled over what duties she had to fulfill. Apparently, this took place at a time when Fatimah found her household duties too much of a burden. Presumably her children were too young at that time. The Prophet's ruling was that Fatimah should look after everything inside the home, while Ali's responsibility included everything outside it. Both were happy with the division of responsibility. This ruling, however, does not constitute a legal obligation. It is simply a matter which relates to the sharing of responsibilities and good manners. When a wife irons her husband's shirts and washes his clothes and gets the food ready for him when he comes back from work, she gives her family a very solid foundation. Her husband is bound to reciprocate by doing more than the minimum of his own legal duties. It is important for every family to elevate their life well above legal requirements and the duties of partners. This applies to a greater measure to personal duties. These are decided individually in every family. They belong to the realm of compassion, mutual care and love. When these are well established in the family, the notion of duty disappears altogether. Each partner will feel happier when he or she does what pleases the other.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )