Women: Earnings - Who benefits by a married woman's wages

Q681 :May I put to you the case of a married couple, both of whom are medical doctors. The husband takes up a job in Saudi Arabia and his wife joins him two years later. When she applies for a job, he makes an effort to help her secure the job. However, after she has started working, he begins to claim all her wages. He says that under Islam a woman is entitled only to money she brings with her from her father's home. Whatever she earns after marriage belongs to her husband. It is needless for me to say that this has caused a great deal of problems within that family. The woman finds herself paying for all the family expenses, while the husband uses his salary to buy houses and property back home in his own name. She is not even able to send a portion of her salary to her parents. She feels very bad about this. She realizes that her parents have a claim on her wages, because they worked hard to enable her to follow her studies until she graduated. It is time for them to enjoy some comfort as a result of bringing up their daughter to this stage. The husband blocks all that. I will be grateful for your comments on this situation.

A681 : As you realize, Allah has guarantied that the message of Islam will be preserved intact for all time because He wants it to be implemented in human life in all ages and in all communities. Therefore, He has made it adaptable to all situations, so that people cannot argue that the conditions prevailing in their community make it impossible to implement the divine message. This is one of the essential characteristics of Islam which add to its strength. There is no doubt that social conditions differ from one community to another. We cannot compare a tribal or nomadic community to the social conditions prevailing in an industrialized society. Indeed, the conditions within the same country differ from rural to urban areas. How, then, can one set of teachings be applicable to all communities in all ages? The answer is found in the fact that Islam provides certain guide-lines and allows every community to conduct its life the way it likes, within the framework provided by its general guide-lines and principles. In the overall social set up, Islam defines rights and duties. However, where it is possible for a human being to usurp the rights of others, Islam defines these rights very clearly. Moreover, Islam establishes a perfect balance between rights and responsibilities. It is not acceptable from the Islamic point of view that a certain person enjoys certain rights without having to fulfil certain duties in return. Otherwise, if a person can require another to do certain things by way of duty, without giving that person certain rights, that becomes a case of exploitation which leads to much injustices. It goes without saying that exploitation and injustice undermine the very existence of any community in which they prevail. A relationship which involves injustice is hateful to Allah. He says in a Qudsi Hadith: "My servants, I have forbidden Myself injustice and I have made injustice forbidden to you. Therefore, do not be unjust to one another." With regard to family relations, Islam imposes certain duties on both husband and wife in return for certain rights which it assigns to each of them. The balance between the rights and duties of each is a perfect one. In this way, Islam secures a happy life for the family. When both husband and wife fulfil their duties, they will enjoy their rights. According to Islam, a woman is not required to work in order to earn her living. Her husband is responsible to ensure a decent standard of living for her according to his means. Even when a woman is richer than her husband, her wealth does not deprive her of the right to be supported by him. If he takes advantage of her wealth in order to leave his duty unfilled, without having first secured her consent to this arrangement, then he is accountable for his misdeed. It is open to her to seek divorce on grounds of her not being supported by her husband. An Islamic court will have no hesitation to issue an order nullifying the marriage if the husband will not honour his responsibility. It may be useful to add here that an unmarried woman also does not need to work for her living. She is entitled to be supported by her parents or her immediate relatives, such as her brothers. However, if a woman decides to work, Islam does not stop her from doing so. It is important to know what rights and duties become applicable when a woman takes up employment. It is common knowledge that Islam considers a woman equal to man with regard to the rights of ownership and disposal of property as well as conducting her own business transactions and commercial dealings. Therefore, when a woman earns something from her work, her earnings belong totally to her. If she is unmarried, her father cannot claim her earnings as his own. Similarly, a woman's husband cannot put any claim to her earnings. It may be suggested here that when a married woman goes out to work, she leaves her household duties undone. Therefore, the husband is entitled, or so it is claimed, at least to share of the salary or earnings of his wife. We have to examine this argument a little more carefully. The duties of a wife toward her husband, according to Islamic law, are well defined. They do not include doing any cleaning, ironing, cooking or any other household work. Marriage is a contractual relationship which allows a man and woman to fulfil their desires in a legitimate way. If a woman takes an undertaking which prevents her from meeting that responsibility, then her husband has the right to prevent that undertaking. Someone may ask at this point: Who is then to do the housework? The answer is two fold: If we are speaking strictly from the points of view of rights and duties, it is not the duty of the woman to do the housework in her husband's home. If he wants the work done, he has to see to it that it is done. Life is not all about rights and duties. There is much more in the marital relationship than duties and rights. There is what Islam terms "companionship based on goodwill." It is under this heading that the duties and responsibilities of the family are divided among the husband and wife. When we ask for guide-lines on this particular point, they are readily available. At a certain stage, there was some disagreement between Fatima, the Prophet's daughter and her husband, Ali who was the Prophet's cousin. They put their disagreement to him, requesting him to define their responsibilities for them. The Prophet said to his daughter: "You do the work that must be done inside the home, and he does what need to be done outside." This divison of the family work is both fair and practical. What we may deduce from all this is that if a woman does not do the work that has to be done inside the family home, she fails on meeting the requirement of the companionship and goodwill. It is open to her husband to divorce her if she persistently refuses to do it. She may argue that it is not her duty, but as we have said, there is much more to family life than strict duties. When a woman wants to go out to work, her husband may prevent her from doing so, if he feels that her job will seriously affect the family, especially with regard to the upbringing of the children. However, if she was working when they got married, and he has not indicated to her at the time of his proposal that he wants her to quit her job, this is taken as consent on his part to her working. He may not withdraw that consent after marriage. It is not open to him then to ask her to leave her job. If she refuses, she is within her rights. This is absolutely fair, because the fact that he has not made his intention clear to her about her continued working is regarded as agreement to the situation which obtained before their marriage. As for the salary she receives from her work, or indeed her earnings, these belong to her. She may determine how she uses her income. If she wants to help her own family with part or all of her income, she is only being dutiful and she will be rewarded by Allah for being so.In this particular case, which we are examining, there is no doubt that the husband is taking advantage of his wife. To claim that what she earns belongs to him, is absolutely unjust. He cannot justify it in any way. If she does not agree to give it to him, he is taking it unlawfully. He may not treat it as his own money. He must obtain her permission before taking it. If she does not give him that permission, he must not touch it. Some people suggest that since both husband and wife are working, they should share the family expenses. The answer to this suggestion is that this is possible only by mutual agreement. What we have to understand is that the husband has no right to what his wife may earn or own. If she willingly gives him something of it, he is welcome to have it. If he hustles or pressures or cajoles her in order to obtain something from her, he is taking it unjustly and he will be punished by Allah for doing so.The woman in this case is surrendering her rights against her will. She must find some way of making it clear to her husband that what he is taking from her is unlawful to him. If he continues to claim it by right, then she should look at bringing about a drastic change in their relationship.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )