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Laws of Religion

Laws of Islam Concerning Women and Men

 

5.  Harmony and Discord in Marriage

 

from the Qur’an, major hadith collections and Islamic jurisprudence

 

 

Harmony and Discord in Marriage

     From the Qur’an

 

The Qur’an says that a man should treat his wife with kindness. A man who dislikes his wife should consider that he may hate something in which Allah has placed much good.[1]

 

The Qur’an explains that men are responsible for managing the affairs of women because Allah favors men over women and because men use their wealth to support women. Therefore, righteous women are obedient and guard what is hidden from view, as Allah wishes it to be guarded.[2]

 

According to the Qur’an, a man cannot, in fact, treat all his wives equitably, as much as he would wish to do so. Even so, he should not totally neglect any one of his wives. If they can reconcile and keep Allah in mind, then Allah is forgiving and merciful.[3] However, if they separate, Allah will provide for them out of his abundance. Allah cares for all and is wise.[4]

 

The Qur’an says that a man who fears rebelliousness in his wife is to admonish her, then make her sleep alone, and then beat her. If she then obeys, nothing further should be done against her.[5] (Editor’s note: There is some controversy concerning the meaning of the Arabic word translated in this passage as “beat.” However, the great majority of translators and commentators agree that beat is the correct meaning of the word in this passage. Muhammad’s views on this point are discussed on this page below.)

 

If a breach between a husband and wife seems likely, the Qur’an says that one person from his family and one from hers should be appointed to arbitrate. If the husband and wife want to reconcile, then Allah will ensure a resolution.[6] If a woman fears that her husband will mistreat her or leave her, it is not a sin for them to come to an amicable settlement. Settlement is best. People are greedy. Allah knows if you do good.[7]

 

The Qur’an warns men to beware because among their wives and children there could be an enemy. However, Allah is forgiving and merciful if they pardon, overlook or forgive such family disloyalty.[8]

 

To those who do not believe, Allah gives in the Qur’an the examples of the wives of two righteous men, Nuh (Noah) and Lut (Lot). These women betrayed their husbands and thus were told to enter the Fire of Hell, and their husbands could not help them.[9] For believers, Allah gives the example of the wife of Pharaoh (during the time of Musa (Moses)), who called out to be saved from her husband and all evil-doers.[10] Also, he gives the example of Maryam (Mary) the daughter of Imran (and mother of ‘Isa (Jesus)), who guarded her chastity and Allah breathed of his spirit into her and she believed the words of her Lord and was one of the obedient.[11]

 

The Qur’an says that a man who divorces his wife by saying she is like his mother (using the formulaic saying that she is like his mother’s back, thus making her unlawful to him as a wife, just as his mother is unlawful to him as a wife) is saying something both hateful and false.[12] But if he then retracts the words and reunites with his wife, he is to free a slave before touching her again.[13] If he is unable to free a slave, then he is to fast for two months before touching his wife.  If he cannot do this, then he must feed sixty needy people.[14]

 

The Qur’an says that Allah hears the pleas of women to Muhammad about their husbands[15] (implying that Muhammad should try to help the wives deal with their problem husbands).

 

 

Harmony and Discord in Marriage

From the hadith compilations of al-Bukhari and Muslim

 

Contents

 

Harmony and discord in marriage (hadith)

 

Muhammad left his wives for 29 days (hadith)

 

Supporting wives and family (hadith)

 

Sex in Marriage (hadith)

 

 

Harmony and discord in marriage (hadith). According to the hadiths, Muhammad said that a man is the guardian of his family and is responsible for it; a woman is the guardian of her husband’s house and that is her responsibility.[16]

 

A hadith reports that Muhammad’s wife Aisha said that Muhammad never beat a woman or a servant or anyone else except when he was fighting in a battle.[17] According to another hadith, Muhammad did not object when he learned about a man who beat his wife. The man claimed that the wife was disobedient and wanted to return to her previous husband, who had divorced her.  Muhammad’s wife, Aisha, supported the wife and said that believing Muslim women suffer more than other women she has seen.[18]

 

Muhammad said that it is not wise for a man to lash his wife like a slave because he may sleep with her that same evening.[19] He said that if a man does lash his wife like a slave, he should refrain from having sexual intercourse later that same day.[20] Muhammad publicly pointed out that some of the Muslim men did flog their wives and then have sexual intercourse with them at the end of the same day.[21] 

 

Muhammad said that a woman is like a rib – if you try to straighten her she will break.  So it is best to treat women nicely and take care of them so you may benefit from them even while they remain crooked.[22] In one recording, the hadith says that breaking her means divorcing her.[23]

 

Muhammad said that a husband has rights over his wife and a wife has the right of appropriate food and clothing from her husband.[24] A man’s rights over his wife include that she should not let anyone he doesn’t like sit on his bed; but if she does so he may chastise her, but not severely.[25] Muhammad said that if a woman refuses to have sex with her husband, then angels will curse her.[26]

 

Muhammad said that Eve is the cause of the unfaithfulness of wives.[27]

 

Muhammad said that most of the inhabitants of Hell are women[28] and that women are a minority in Paradise.[29] He said that the reason women are in Hell is that they curse frequently[30]and are ungrateful to their husbands.[31]

 

Muhammad told a man who had enlisted in the Muslim army to leave and accompany his wife on her hajj (pilgrimage). This was to ensure that she was not alone with unrelated (non-mahram) men during the hajj.[32]

 

If a man goes to his wife and she comes to him and then he divulges her secret, then he has violated the most important trust and will be seen as the most wicked of people in the eyes of Allah on the Day of Judgement.[33]

 

 

Muhammad left his wives for 29 days (hadith). Hadiths tell of a time when Muhammad was treated badly by his wives. Muhammad said he would leave them for a month. He returned to them after 29 days. Muhammad’s anger at his wives caused him neither to divorce them nor to strike them nor to take any action other than to keep away from them for several weeks.

 

Rather than exercising the right to divorce his wives, Muhammad asked Aisha if she wanted to divorce him. She said that rather than divorce him, she would choose to stay with him, the Messenger of Allah, and achieve her reward in Paradise as the Qur’an promises for wives who stay with Muhammad. Muhammad never beat any woman or servant with his hand.

 

 

Details of this story: Muhammad left his wives for 29 days

 

 

Supporting wives and family (hadith). According to the hadiths, Muhammad said that a man is the guardian of his family and is responsible for it; a woman is the guardian of her husband’s house and that is her responsibility.[34] When Muhammad, himself, was home, he would work to provide for his family.[35] He would sell dates and store enough food for his family for a year.[36]

 

Muhammad said that whatever a man spends on his family is credited to him as sadaqa (charity).[37]

 

Muhammad said that before giving alms to others, one’s family should be provided for.[38] Muhammad would not let a man bequeath all, or even half, of his property to the Muslim community to advance the cause of Allah. He said that one-third was acceptable, but even that was too much. He told the man that it was more important for his money to go to his family heirs so they could have wealth and not become poor.[39]

 

When a woman complained to Muhammad that her husband was a miser and did not provide adequately for her and their children, Muhammad said she is permitted to take her husband’s property without his knowledge to provide reasonable support for the family.[40]

 

 

Sex in Marriage (hadith). Also relevant to the topic of Harmony and Discord in Marriage is the discussion of Sex in Marriage, on the next page.

 

 

 

Harmony and Discord in Marriage

From Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh/sharia§):  The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer of Ibn Rushd, the Risala of al-Shafi‛i and Reliance of the Traveller

 

Contents

 

Maintenance of wife (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia)

 

Comparing wife to mother’s back (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia)

 

Sex in Marriage (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia)

 

 

Maintenance of wife (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia). The scholars* agree that a husband is required to pay for his wife’s maintenance and clothing.[41]

 

Malik and al-Shafi’i say that a marriage dissolves if the husband is not able to provide maintenance for his wife.[42] The Maliki school holds, specifically, that if the husband of a virgin female married by order of her father is too poor to maintain her, then they are to be divorced.[43] According to Reliance of the Traveller (Shafiʽi school), a woman may annul her marriage if her husband is not able to provide her with the basic housing, food and clothing appropriate for a person who is not wealthy.[44] Abu Hanifa, however, says that the inability to provide maintenance for one’s wife is not grounds for dissolving a marriage.[45]        

 

The scholars disagree about whether the husband is obliged to provide maintenance for a wife who denies him sexual intercourse.[46]

 

Malik and Abu Hanifa agree that the amount of maintenance a wife is entitled to is not set by law; it depends on the status of the wife and of the husband. Al-Shafiʽi says that the amount of maintenance required depends upon how wealthy of the husband is, the daily amounts being 1, 1½ or 2 mudds.[47]

 

 

More detail concerning maintenance of wife (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia)

 

 

Comparing wife to mother’s back (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia). If a man tells his wife that she is like his mother’s back, this is zihar and he cannot have sexual intercourse with her until proper expiation is made.[48] (As described above, the Qur’an also mentions zihar, the process by which a man pronounces divorce by using a formulaic saying that his wife is like his mother’s back, thus making her unlawful to him as a wife, just as his mother is unlawful to him as a wife).

 

Al-Shafiʽi says that if the husband mentions his mother but not the back, then whether or not this is zihar depends on his intention; he may have been intending to honor his wife by comparing her to his mother rather than criticizing her. Abu Hanifa agrees that in the absence of mention of a body part, the result depends on the husband’s intention, though for Abu Hanifa the body part does not have to be the back, but may be any part that is not generally permitted to be seen. For Malik, zihar does not require that the back be mentioned, and the woman does not have to be his mother but can be any woman prohibited to him for marriage or even a strange woman not so prohibited.[49] 

 

Following zihar, al-Shafiʽi says that the only act prohibited is sexual intercourse with penetration. Abu Hanifa says that looking at the genitals is also prohibited, in addition to sexual intercourse. Malik’s view is that all sexual activity is prohibited, including kissing, lustful gazing at body parts other than the woman’s face, hands and forearms, fondling or touching the sexual organs.

 

Expiation required in case of zihar before sexual activity can occur again is to free a slave or, if that is not possible, to fast for two months or, if that is not possible, to feed sixty needy people.[50]

 

 

Sex in Marriage (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia). Also relevant to the topic of Harmony and Discord in Marriage is the discussion of Sex in Marriage, on the next page, including:

 

A man’s right to have sex (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia).

 

Frequency of sex (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia).

 

Sexual practices permitted and forbidden (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia).

 

________________

*Islamic scholars disagree on certain points of law based on different methodologies used in deriving the law from the Qur’an and the traditions (sunna) concerning the life of Muhammad and his closest companions, particularly as expressed in the compiled hadiths. There are four major schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam: the Maliki, the Hanafi, the Shafi‛i and the Hanbali. These names are derived from the individual scholars considered to have been the founders of each school: Malik, Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi‛i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, respectively. The source texts we have used to prepare our summaries of Islamic jurisprudence contain the legal views of these different founders and schools, as described at Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.

 

 

§The specific derived laws of fiqh summarized here are often referred to by the more general term sharia law.

 

Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.

 

Updated October 12, 2016

 

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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

QR:   Qur’an, with surahs (chapters) and ayahs (verses) numbered as in most modern translations, including those found here, here and here.

BK:    Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC website) and here (ebook download). In a few instances, the hadiths on the USC website differ from those in the ebook download, either by having slightly different numbering of the hadiths or because the hadith appears only on the USC site and not in the ebook download. Such cases are noted in the footnotes by putting either “(USC)” or “(ebook)” after the relevant hadith number when it applies to only one of these two sources.

ML:    Hadith collection of Muslim as found here and here.

DJP:  The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, by Ibn Rushd, translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, published by Garnet Publishing Ltd, Reading, UK. Volume 1, 1994. Volume 2, 1996. Limited preview is available here (Volume 1) and here (Volume 2). Full text online and download for Volume 1 is here and here and for Volume 2 is here and here.

RT:    Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, revised edition 1994, published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA. It can be downloaded as a pdf file from various websites such as this one.

SR:    al-Shafi‛i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by Majid Khadduri, Second Edition, published by The Islamic Texts Society. It can be downloaded here.

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.



[1] QR 4:19

[2] QR 4:34

[3] QR 4:129

[4] QR 4:130

[5] QR 4:34

[6] QR 4:35

[7] QR 4:128

[8] QR 64:14

[9] QR 66:10

[10] QR 66:11

[11] QR 66:12

[12] QR 58:2

[13] QR 58:3

[14] QR 58:4

[15] QR 58:1

[16] BK 2:13:18, BK 3:41:592, BK 3:46:730, BK 3:46:733, BK 4:51:14, BK 7:62:116, BK 7:62:128, BK 9:89:252, ML 20:4496-4497-4498-4499

[17] ML 30:5756-5757

[18] BK 7:72:715

[19] BK 6:60:466

[20] BK 7:62:132

[21] ML 40:6837

[22] BK 4:55:548, BK 7:62:113, BK 7:62:114, ML 8:3466, ML 8:3467, ML 8:3468

[23] ML 8:3467

[24] ML 7:2803-2804

[25] ML 7:2803-2804

[26] BK 7:62:121, BK 7:62:122

[27] BK 4:55:547, BK 4:55:611, ML 8:3471, ML 8:3472

[28] BK 1:2:28, BK 1:6:301, BK 2:18:161, BK 2:24:541, BK 4:54:464, BK 7:62:124, BK 7:62:125, BK 7:62:126, BK 8:76:456, BK 8:76:554, BK 8:76:555, ML 1:142-143, ML 4:1926, ML 4:1982-1983, ML 36:6596, ML 36:6597-6598-6599

[29] ML 36:6600-6601

[30] BK 1:6:301, BK 2:24:541, ML 1:142-143

[31] BK 1:2:28, BK 1:6:301, BK 2:18:161, BK 2:24:541, BK 7:62:125, ML 1:142-143, ML 4:1926, ML 4:1982-1983

[32] BK 4:52:250, BK 7:62:160

[33] ML 8:3369, ML 8:3370

[34] BK 2:13:18, BK 3:41:592, BK 3:46:730, BK 3:46:733, BK 4:51:14, BK 7:62:116, BK 7:62:128, BK 9:89:252, ML 20:4496-4497-4498-4499

[35] BK 7:64:276

[36] BK 7:64:270

[37] BK 7:64:263, BK 7:64:266

[38] BK 7:64:268, BK 7:64:269

[39] BK 7:64:266

[40] BK 7:64:272, BK 7:64:277, BK 7:64:283

[41] DJP 18.4 (Vol 2, pages 63-67)

[42] DJP 18.3.2 (Vol 2, pages 60-61)

[43] DJP 18.2.2.1.4 (Vol 2, pages 17-19)

[44] RT m11.13 (pages 546-547), RT m11.14 (page 547)

[45] DJP 18.3.2 (Vol 2, pages 60-61)

[46] DJP 18.4 (Vol 2, pages 63-67)

[47] DJP 18.4 (Vol 2, pages 63-67)

[48] DJP 21.1 - 21.2 (Vol 2, pages 128-131)

[49] DJP 21.1 (Vol 2, page 128)

[50] DJP 21.7 (Vol 2, pages 135-139)