Women: Duties toward parents after marriage

Q680 :I would be grateful if you explain the duties of a married woman toward her parents. Can a Muslim husband stop his wife from visiting her parents, and threaten her with divorce if she visits them? How often should she visit them in normal circumstances? What if they are ill and old and need her to look after them? May I say here that in our society, the general view is that only the sons, particularly the eldest, are responsible for their parents. What if a couple have only daughters and no sons?

A680 : Before I started to write the reply to this letter, I tried to look up the specific question of a husband preventing his wife from seeing her parents in books of Fiqh and books that speak extensively about the status of women in Islam. I referred to numerous books, but my efforts produced only the result I had expected. There was next to nothing on this specific question. This is not surprising because the whole question of preventing a married woman from visiting her parents is, to an Islamic scholar, unthinkable. What right does a man think he has over his wife's feelings and duties to stop her from seeing her parents? Does he, by chance, think that by marrying her he has come to own her? Does he put her in the same category or the same relationship to him as a goat he buys? If so, then he is certainly mistaken. From the Islamic point of view, the relationship between a man and his wife is one between two human beings of equal status. Each of them has certain rights and certain duties, but neither of them can negate the independent personality of the other. It is simply unacceptable from the Islamic point of view that a husband should consider that the marriage divides his wife's life into two separate stages and that each stage is completely isolated from the other. If he tries to impose this situation, then he will have a wife who is disillusioned, broken-hearted and totally lacking in the ability to impart to her children the proper values of kindness to family relations and dutifulness to parents. How could she, when she herself is denied the right to maintain her relationship with her parents? The fact is that dutifulness to parents is a duty imposed by Allah on all children, boys and girls, men and women, single or married. This dutifulness does not stop at any particular stage in any-one's existence. It extends throughout the parents' and the children's lives. Being dutiful to one's parents is not considered to have been completed when they die. Their children are required to continue to show dutifulness to them by showing respect and kind treatment to their friends and relatives, supplicating on their behalf, praying Allah to have mercy on them, reading the Qur'an and giving sadaqah or charitable donations on their behalf, etc. When such a claim parents have against their children, how is it possible that a husband thinks of preventing his wife from visiting her parents? If he does, then he certainly is unjust to her, unless he has a very good reason for his action which can only be imagined in isolated cases. An example may be seen in the case of parents who try to persuade their daughter to be rebellious against her husband or encourage her to seek divorce. But we are not talking about those isolated cases here. We are referring to ordinary situations. In these, a man should consider, what his feelings would be like if his sister was prevented from seeing their parents by her unreasonable husband? He should extend to his wife the same treatment he would like to see extended to his dearest sister. My reader is asking about the case of a woman's parents being ill or old and requiring frequent visits. My answer is that she should try as much as she can to look after them, and her husband should help her to do so. She should certainly not neglect her own household duties, but she can try to make the necessary arrangements to enable her to look after her parents and her husband at the same time. Her husband can help her in many ways such as driving her, if he has a car, to her parents' home, or fetching her from there when she wants to come back, putting their young children to bed when she is looking after her parents, relieving her of her cooking duties if the situation requires that, etc. These are matters of common sense. He should feel very happy when her parents express their gratitude to him and pray Allah to reward him and his wife. He should realize that such supplication is certainly answered. It can bring him and his family only good. It may be customary in a certain community to consider that the eldest son bears the greatest responsibility in looking after his parents, but this is not the Islamic view. In Islam, all sons and daughters are responsible, each according to his or her means. If sons are the ones to provide financial help and looking after their parents' material needs, paying the expenses of their living and medical treatment, then daughters can also help by providing the necessary care and nursing, etc. If one of the children fails to do his duty, then the others should not wait for him, but provide what is needed without hesitation. Suppose, that the eldest son is the richest in the family, but he happens to be stingy, unwilling to pay for his parents' needs. Suppose also that all the other children are of limited means. They still have to look after their parents. They cannot say that their rich brother does not help, so they cannot do much on their own. They should look at the case as if their rich brother was not there. What would they do in that case? Leave their parents to suffer? Certainly not. Therefore, they should collaborate in looking after them. If an elderly couple have only daughters and they are all married, and the couple need to be looked after, then their daughters should try their best to look after them. Islam does not accept that such elderly parents should be abandoned simply because their daughters are married. How can it be so when kindness to all relatives is an Islamic duty. When we speak of relatives here we are not simply speaking of brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts, but of distant relatives also who are separated by two or three grades of relationship. We are still required to be kind to them and to show them that we care for them. A religion that makes this a duty incumbent on all its followers cannot condone the action of a husband who arbitrarily refuses his wife permission to visit her parents. Good Muslims have a different sense of duty. With Muslims nowadays traveling all over the world, either to pursue their education or to find better employment, there are countless women who live away from their home cities and villages only to accompany their husbands and raise their own families. The overwhelming majority of Muslim men in this situation take their wives home as frequently as possible to give them a chance to see their parents and families. If the husbands cannot go themselves, then they send their wives home for such visits. To think of the other extreme is simply not acceptable. If a husband threatens his wife with divorce for visiting her parents, he is unjust to her and to them. Injustice is forbidden in Islam. Allah says in a Qudsi Hadith: "My servants, I have forbidden injustice and have made injustice forbidden to you. Do not be unjust to one another." If it is forbidden to be unjust to a person whom we do not know, it is far more strongly forbidden to be unjust to the closest relative, one's wife to whom the Prophet has urged us to be very kind. Nor is it permissible for a Muslim to obey anyone encouraging him to be unjust to his wife, not even his parents. If your parents insist that you treat your wife harshly or unjustly, you should realize that injustice represents disobedience to Allah. The Prophet says: "No creature may be obeyed in what constitutes disobedience to the Creator." It is a man's duty to provide his wife with a suitable home according to his means and of the standard considered reasonable in her social status. If he wants her to live with his parents, then he should explain this right at the beginning. She should be aware of what awaits her when she gets married to him. If she moves into his parents' home and she is unhappy there, then it is her right to ask her husband to provide her with an independent home. On her part, she should ask only what is reasonable in her husband's circumstances. If he looks after his parents and he cannot afford to have two homes, then she should accept what is reasonable and he has the duty of protecting her against any injustice or ill-treatment or harassment that may be perpetuated by his parents. On the other hand, if he has the means to give her a separate home, he may not impose on her that she should live with them. In all these questions, what is required of both husband and wife is to care for each other's feeling and be reasonable. Common sense is an important factor in all this. Common sense tells every husband that if he has a good wife, then it is her parents who have brought her up as a good Muslim woman. Her relationship with them is not severed the moment he is married to her. Common sense also tells every Muslim wife the same thing about her husband and his parents. If they need to be looked after, then she should help him looking after them. When both look at this question in a relaxed manner and with common sense, keeping the Islamic teachings in mind, it is not difficult to steer the course which satisfies everybody and ensures kindness and dutifulness to parents of both husband and wife.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )