Reflections of an American Muslim

MARITAL RELATIONS AND MUTUAL RIGHTS IN ISLAM PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Shahid Athar   

"Believers, men and women, are protectors of one another They enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil. They observe regular prayer and practice regular charity, obey God and His messenger, and on them God will pour His mercy, for God is exalted in power and right. God has promised to believers, men and women, gardens under which we were supposed to dwell therein, beautiful mansions and garden of everlasting bliss, for the greatest bliss is the pleasure of God, that is the supreme" (9:7 1).

We are told in the Quran that, "Men and women believers are protectors of each other." We are also told in the Quran that our spouses have been created for us for our own benefit so that we enjoy tranquility. It is said in the Quran, "All you believe, observe your duty to your Lord who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same kind and expectfrom this too many men and women and keep your duty to God by whom you demand of one another's right and the ties of relationship surely God is every watching over you" (4: 1).

And we are also told, "And one of His signs that He created for you, your mate from among yourselves that you may dwell in tranquility with them and He has put love and mercy between your hearts verily in that are the signs for those who reflect" (30:2 1).

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has told us how we should treat our spouse, It was an important part of his last sermon and he states, "Oh, you people, your wives have a certain right over you and you have certain rights over them. Treat them well and be kind to them for they are your committed partners and helpers." Whatever he said was an inspiration from God. Whatever he said, we can confirm the authenticity of that by going back to the Quran and see what the Quran says on this subject.

It says, "Provide for them, the rich according to his income and the poor according to his means, the provision according to the custom, this is an obligation for those who act kindly" (2:236). So providing for them according to your means is an obligation.

And God also says, "Treat them politely for even if you dislike them, perhaps you dislike something which God has placed much good" (4:19). So there may be some reasons why you may not like your spouse for any physical or other reasons, but we are told still to like them because God has chosen them for us.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has expressed some of the rights of wives on their husbands or the instructions to husbands for their wives. In Mishkat, it is reported the best and the most perfect of the believers is the one who is superior in his moral behavior and kind and courteous to his wife. In another place, he has said, "Feed her when you feed yourself, clad her when you provide yourself with cloth, neither hit her on the face nor use impolite language" (see Tirmidhi).

In Abu Daud, he is reported to have said, "When a man wakes up his wife and both of them perform two cycles of prescribed prayer together, the name of the husband is recorded among those who remember God and the name of the wife is recorded among those who remember." But he was fair and he has also outlined the duties and responsibilities of the wife towards her husband. I will just mention three of them here from his collection of Traditions. In this part of Tirmidhi, it is reported that he said, "A woman who prays five times a day, fasts during the month of Ramadan, protects her modesty and is obedient to her husband may enter heaven through any door she likes." Not only can she enter heaven, but she can choose from the different doors. In another Tradition, it is mentioned, "The best woman is the one who greets her husband with joy when he looks at her and when he asks something lawful, she obeys and never adopts any attitude in connection with her own self and good which is disliked by him." In another Tradition, it is reported,"On the Day of Judgment, God will not look upon the woman who has been ungrateful to her husband."

There have been many, many women in Islam who were great leaders, prophet's wives, Khadija and Ayisha and many others such as the Prophet's daughter, Fatima, the leader of the women in heaven. There have been many known scholars who have been women. Imam Malik's teacher, Ayisha, daughter of Sa'd ibn Waqqas, Imam Shafi'i"s teacher was Saiyida Nafisa, granddaughter of Imam Hasan, Rabia Basri, another scholar of Islam, was such a great scholar that men scholars used to come and study with her. Even nowadays, there have been scholars like Zaynab Ghazali. Women can achieve their rights if they are given the opportunity to do so. They need to know that they do not have to stay in the house and cook and take care of the children,

In my opinion, God has also been kinder to women. First of all, they are equal to men in all acts of piety. The Quran assures this (see 33:35). For example, when men miss their prescribed prayers, they are religiously obligated to make up for them. However, when women miss their prescribed prayers because of certain days of the month, they are not required to make them up. Men must provide for their wives, whether their wives work outside the home or not. If women earn income, it belongs to them alone and they can spend it on themselves if they want. They do not have to provide to their husband from that income.

Now let's look briefly at women's rights according to modern society. The women's lib movement, in my opinion, is distorted. In this movement, women have rights, as I described, to do the right thing, but they also have the right to compete in wrongdoings. Not wearing the modest dress is not a question of women's rights, having an abortion is not a question of a women's rights. Cancer of the lungs was the 10th leading cause of death in women fifty years ago when they were not competing with men in smoking; Now it is the second leading cause of death in them, thanks to their "liberation."

God says in the Quran "Oh, humanity, it is you who is needy of God, and it is God who is above all needs" (35:15). So the question of rights should be taken in the sense of who is the giver of rights, to whom are we responsible for having given us these rights. It is God Who had given us these rights. We must accept our responsibilities when we talk about our rights.

The relationship between husband and wife has been summarized in one beautiful sentence in Quran which should be the guiding light, "They are your garments and you are their garments" (2:187). Only He knows why He used the word "garment." We can only guess. A garment is close to our body. So husband and wife should remain close to each other. A garment protects our body from outside influences; thus husband and wife should protect each other from outside temptation. A garment is to beautify our appearance so they should complement each other and not belittle each other. A garment is always available to our body, so should they be to each other.

The following verse is frequently quoted by men, but is misunderstood very much. "Men are protector of women because God has made them excel over the other, and because they spend their property on women, so good women are obedient (to their husband) and guard their modesty. As for whom you fear rebellion, admonish them, and then banish them from your bed (i.e., do not sleep with them), or beat them (lightly). If they obey you, then seek not a way against them, God is ever High and Exalted" (4:34)

Wife abuse is a major social crime in American society. Close to 4 million women are physically abused every year by their husbands, ex- husbands, or boyfriends to the extent of seeking medical attention in emergency rooms according to a 1991 Senate report. Many such abuses are not reported by women for the fear of divorce or further abuse. About three women die every year from such abuse. Abuse is not only physical but also sometime sexual (rape), emotional, or financial.

Unless Muslims guard themselves to prevent such social crimes, they will become (and are becoming) a part of our own society, just as divorce has become. Muslim women are much less likely to report abuse and to whom will they report? to the male Imam? Do we have a social support agency or should they call non-Muslim law enforcement agencies and have their bread earners imprisoned? The mention of "beat them lightly" in the Quran is not for all women, but only those women who are rebellious (disloyal) and in stages 1) first you warn them; 2) you separate your bed from them; 3) beat them lightly (with a traditional "toothbrush" or folded handkerchief) before the final stage; 4) divorce, one of the most hated permissions. The Prophet himself did not beat any of his wives and told Muslims, "Do not beat God's hand maidens," and "How could they beat their women in daytime as slaves and then sleep with them in the night?"

Talking about women's status in Islam is easy. To give them their due rights in practice is difficult. The process can begin by giving them
1) equal say in the decision-making process in the home whether it is weaning of infant or education of growing children or financial matters;
2) full opportunity to learn Islam as well as "secular" education so that they can help their children learn since the first school is at home;
3) acquire skills to help the Muslim community whether in education, nursing, or professions in the less male contact areas; and
4) involve them in the operation and decision-making process in Muslim organizations and even in Mosques.
It is unfortunate and contrary to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that Muslim women are not encouraged to pray in mosques in Muslim countries.

My advice to married couples for a happy marriage is no different than the advise given to them by many counselors.

1. I suggest that both of them be conscious of their personal appearance and try to remain attractive to each other. It is not uncommon that women dress and put on make-up when they go out, but don't do the same when they are inside to please their husbands. Similarly, when men want their wives to be very attractive-looking, they should also look at their own appearance and especially their physical appearance so that they will be pleasing to their wives. Both of them live in a society in which there are too many temptations outside the home and, therefore, they should not give any chance to others to succumb to such temptations.

2. 1 suggest both of them be companions to each other rather than the role of the boss and the one who is being bossed or upper-hand or lower- hand. If the two wheels of a vehicle are of the same diameter, same air pressure, then the car will go in a straight line, otherwise it will not. So, I suggest they be each other's friend more than being their bed partner.

3. When they do commit mistakes or injustice to each other, they should admit it and be forgiven. They should be gentle in criticism and generous in appreciation. They should never bring up their past because it is like undoing the dressing and starting the wound fresh.

4. They should mind their language. Sometimes we say things which we don't mean but it hurts other people. As the poet says, "The wounds of blade many heal one day, but the wounds of tongue never heal." So before we says something, we should think how these words will affect the other person or if we are the recipient of those words, how we would feel.

5. They should have a sense of humor. One woman describes her husband in this way, that many men had proposed to me and they liked me, but I chose him as my mate for the rest of my life because he makes me laugh all the time. Life is too short to be too serious. If we have a smile for each other when we greet each other and. a word of kindness and of compassion, it has a lasting effect. Again the poet says, "The sweet words of kindness and sweet words of love make this world happy like heaven above."

6. Both of them should share household duties together. It is not fair that women are used as a cook and as a maid and as a babysitter while men enjoy all outdoor and outside of the home social activities. The Prophet (PBUH), always helped his wife in household work and he was an example for us.

7. They should find occasions to give each other a gift or flowers or candy, whatever a small thing that may be. This is not a western concept. In fact, the Prophet has stressed that we should give gifts to each other because "giving gifts" increases mutual love.

8. Wives should recognize the economic means of their husbands and should not put any demand on him that he cannot bear. If they do, he will either refuse or find wrong means to earn extra income to meet her demands and both of which will have wrong results.

9. They should be equally involved in community work and efforts. It is not appropriate that mothers have to bring children for Sunday school while fathers stay home to watch football games. If learning Islam is good for children, it is good for mothers and it is also good for fathers.

10. In matters of sex, both them should be available to each other without putting an extra burden on either one. Thus, the Prophet (PBUH), was a very modern man. He encouraged foreplay. In a Tradition, he has said, "It is not appropriate that you fall upon your wives like a beast but you must send a message of love beforehand." Men and women both have physiological desires. Each should respect the likes and dislikes of each other. We should respect each others privacy because each of us needs some time, moments of privacy, to be alone with our body or with our mind.

11. Finally, they should have meals together and the occasions for meals should be happy occasions for the whole family and not a time for arguments. If they are going to argue, they should do so later on and not in front of their children but separately. Each argument should end with some expression of love. It is recommended that they should never go to bed mad at each other. If we respect each other the same way we like to be respected, it will increase our trust and love and hopefully, we will realize that God, who has promised to put love in our heart, has done it.

 
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