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Wife: Her Status and Rights in Islam

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  • Wife: Her Status and Rights in Islam

    Like the rights and status of woman, the position of wife in Islam is also a subject of misconception in past history as in the modern world. Now-a-days Woman Day is observed all over the world and the main slogan is about woman's status and rights. But considering the result of such observance, a question arises "Does it elevate a woman's status or give her the desirable right?" The West has made woman an object of enjoyment and fun, deceiving her in the disguise of Savior of Woman and thus her status is being degraded.

    In Islam, the rights and status of a wife is described precisely in the Qur'an and the Sunnah. In fact, only Islam gives her the worthy and glorious position. A woman becomes wife through marriage. She has the right to select her partner. As marriage is a sacred contract the selection process before marriage must be considered carefully by the man and woman. Our Prophet (SAWS) said, "Do not marry only for the beauty, may be the beauty becomes the cause of moral decline. Do not marry even for the sake of wealth, may be the wealth becomes the reason of disobedience; marry rather on the ground of religious devotion and piety."

    Prophet (SAWS) urged to consider four points before selecting a spouse. They are beauty, wealth, family status and piety. Piety should come before all other considerations. Here, both the partners are hoped to be pious and sincere followers of the Qur'an and Sunnah. Both will be respectful for the rights and status of each other. This perception plays an important role for a happy and successful marriage.

    In the Holy Qur'an, Allah (SWT) points to marital bond as one of His signs and says, "Among His signs is that He has created for you mates 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 Signs for those who reflect." (30:21). A virtuous wife is always a source of tranquility, love and mercy, as we find these in the great Muslim lady like Khadijah (R.A), the first wife of the Prophet (SAWS). Allah says, "It is He Who created you from a single person, and made his mate of like nature in order that he might dwell with her in love…." (7:189).

    The two verses mentioned above state the great purpose of marriage i.e. tranquility and highlights the equal position of man and woman as both of them are created from "a single person". In Surah Baqarah (2:187) it is mentioned that "they (wives) are your garments and you are their garments". The inward meaning of garment is peace and security. Abdullah Yousuf Ali comments on this verse "Men and women are each other's garments i.e. they are for mutual support, mutual comfort and mutual protection, filling into each other as a garment fits the body. A garment is also both for show and concealment."

    The Prophet (SAWS) said in reply to a questioner who asked about the best form of wealth, "The best wealth is a tongue which is wet with the remembrance of Allah and a health which is thankful to Allah and a believing, pious wife who helps her husband to keep to the practice of his faith." The references above from the Qur'an and Sunnah upgrades the statues of a wife.

    A wife is entitled some financial and non-financial rights from her husband. A short description is given below:

    The husband should give his wife the marriage gift or Mohr and this will be her own property.
    The wife will get full maintenance from her husband e.g. food, clothing, housing, education, recreation, medication etc.
    Even if the wife is rich, she need not spend single penny for her husband or family. All these are the responsibilities of her husband.
    The mutually agreed conditions signed during the marriage contract become binding on both the spouses.
    She has also the right to divorce her husband if necessary.
    She can go to the court if her husband fails to meet her basic requirements.
    The husband and wife have mutual inheritance rights from the time of marriage.
    There are some misconceptions regarding the rights of wife in Islam. It is due to the misinterpretation of some Qur'anic verses and some prophetic traditions. It is a matter of disgrace to mention that, we Muslims are now Muslims by birth, and we like to recite the Qur'an without imbibing the main essence from it. We need to make a great deal of study on the Qur'an and Sunnah. Lack of knowledge always results misunderstanding, misconceptions, chaos, and deprivation of human rights and deviation from the truth. Evidently it can even ruin one's faith.

    In the matter of inheritance it may appear that a woman's share is unfair as she gets half of her male counterpart. However, in deeper study, it emerges that woman has been dealt with very fairly. As a wife she gets full maintenance and Mohr and inherits from her husband's property in case his demise is before her. These are her own property and definitely these are her unearned property. Whereas she is free of any financial responsibilities rather she is entitled to enjoy all her property without spending a single penny for the maintenance of the family, relatives or other dependents. On the contrary, the husband is ordained to bear the financial responsibilities of the family. And hence he needs more money and wealth to fulfil his commitment to his family and children and if he fails to carry out the duties he is going to be accountable to Allah and the Islamic society.

    A misunderstanding is there encircling two verses of the Holy Qur'an. These two verses are as follows. "…. But men have a degree over them (wives). And Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise" (2:228). The other verse is that "Men are the Quwwamuna of women" (4:34). There are some people who translate the word Qawwamuna as superior which is an utter distortion of the meaning. In fact, the real meaning of the word is protectors and maintainers as Allama Abdullah Yousuf Ali and M. Pickthal and other famous Mufassirs translate.

    The comment of Abdullah Yousuf Ali on the verse 2:228 is worth mentioning. He says, "The difference in economic position between the sexes makes the man's rights and liabilities a little greater than the woman's. Verse 4:34 refers to the duty of man to maintain the woman, and to a certain difference in nature between the sexes. Subject to this, the sexes are on terms of equality in law, and in certain matters the weaker sex is entitled to special protection." His comment on verse 4:34 is as follows: "Qawwam means one who stands firm in another's business, protects his interests and looks after his affairs; or it may be, standing firm in his own business, managing affairs, with a steady purpose." To make the matter clearer we can see verse 4:135 where the same word is used, " O you who believe! Stand out firmly (Qawwameena) for justice as witness to Allah…."

    Dr. Hammudah Abdul Ati says in his book "Islam in Focus", "The degree (Darajatun) is usually interpreted by Muslim scholars in conjunction with another passage which states, inter alia, that men are trustees, guardians and protectors of women because God has made some of them excel others and because men spend of their means (4:340). This degree may be likened to what sociologists call "Instrumental leadership" or external authority in the household due to the division of labor and role of differentiation or superiority of one sex to the other."

    The eminent scholar Mohammad Asad has translated this in "The Message of the Qur'an" as -Man shall take full care of woman with bounties which had been bestowed more abundantly…." He explains, "The expression "Qawwam" is an intensive form of "Qaim" (one who is responsible for or takes care of a thing or a person). This "Qama alal mar'a" signifies "He undertook the maintenance of the woman" or "He maintains her" (See Lane, vol.8 pg. 2995). The grammatical form of Qawwam is more comprehensive than Qaim and combines the concepts of physical maintenance and protection as well as moral responsibility.

    It is clear that to be a true Qawwam is not an easy task as the husband is the maintainer, protector and has to stay with his wife in peace and spend time, wealth, energy and strength for the family. It is not an opportunity or privileges for a man but a heavy duty no doubt. Verse 24:33 emphasizes more on this point where financially handicapped male adults are asked to defer in the case of marriage until Allah gives them means out of His Grace and they are able to maintain the expenses of marital life.

    In addition, the Qur'an says to take decisions through Shura or mutual consultation which is applicable in every sphere of our life starting from family life to state affairs. The verse reads "…who conduct their affairs by mutual consultation." (42:38).

    So in the related Qur'anic verses there is no question of domination of man over woman per se. Hence a Qawwam cannot be a dictator, unjust, irresponsible or adamantine. On the other hand the wife is considered to be the queen of the family (according to a Hadeeth). So the wife, who rules the roost, has the authority over household matters. So the question of superiority of husband over wife cannot be raised and such question is really inconceivable. Moreover, Allah reminds us of our basic equality in the Holy Qur'an: "O Mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord Who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women" (4:1).

    Our beloved Prophet (SAWS) said, "A woman is like a curved rib, so be kind and considerate to her." This is also a misunderstood Hadeeth. It is misinterpreted to describe woman to be of crooked nature, which is not correct. Dr. Jamal Badawi says, "…. The Prophet (SAWS) exhorts Muslims to make allowances for the natural temperament of their wives, to be tolerant to them and not forcibly change their natures. If one does not do this the rib would break, that is there would be divorce."

    Family is the basis of Islamic society. A wife deprived of her proper rights can not play her proper role to form an ideal family. The society will lose its balance if the foundation of the family is weak and not rightly constructed. An Islamic family, more precisely an Islamic wife, provides prosperity, balance and care for the coming generation. So if we can ensure the proper right and status of wife and free her from all forms of persecution, we can hope for a better future of a sound and well disciplined generation.
    You are not aware of the consequences that would result (if you were granted what you desire) because what you seek might be to your detriment. (O soul) be conscious that your Master is more aware about your well-being than you are.

    ~Ibn Al-Jawzee

  • #2

    O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah's trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right, then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with anyone of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste.

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