What are the rights and duties of a...

Egypt's Dar Al-Ifta

What are the rights and duties of a married couple?


What are the rights and duties of a married couple?


The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) prescribed the basis on which the marital relationship is established. He enjoined his followers to treat their wives well. He said: "I enjoin you to be good to your women." We cannot fulfill the Prophet's instructions unless we establish a relationship with our wives on the basis of mutual care and kindness. Just before he passed away, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) repeated these recommendations: "Attend regularly to your prayer. Do not charge your slaves with what they cannot bear. Fear God concerning your treatment of women."

With all this emphasis on taking good care of women, Islam has outlined certain rights and duties for both spouses which must be honored. Both can claim equal rights upon each other, except for those minor differences necessitated by the nature of their roles and different constitutions. God the Almighty says in the Quran: "In accordance with justice the rights of the wives [with regard to their husbands] are equal to the [husband's] rights with regard to them" [2:228].

It is true that many people do not pay any heed to this command. However, a true Muslim always tries to do his duties in hope of earning God’s pleasure. His efforts to do what is required of him are not motivated by his fear of the law; its primary motivation is acting on God’s instructions.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) specified the rights of a woman upon her husband when he was asked by one of his Companions: "O Messenger of God! What rights does a wife have upon her husband?" He answered, "That you feed her when you eat and clothe her when you clothe yourself, that you do not hit her on her face or revile her, and that you do not avoid her except at home" [recorded by Abu Dawud and Ibn Hibban]. We see, then, how it is impermissible for a Muslim not to support his wife. It is not up to him to decide whether to provide her with clothes. This is a right. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: "It suffices as a sin for anyone to allow those entrusted to his care to perish." It is forbidden, as we have seen, for a man to strike his wife’s face. This is the worst humiliation. Besides, we have some very important organs in our heads. A strike on the face could cause blindness, deafness, a broken tooth or jaw or a bleeding nose. This is not permissible.

While Islam gives a husband the right to discipline a disobedient wife, it leaves little room for him to beat her except as a last resort when all efforts to reform her fail. Besides, the beating must not be painful. In order to understand what sort of beating is allowed, we can refer to a hadith which quotes the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as threatening his servant when he was angry with her. He told her: "If it were not for my fear that God will inflict His punishment on me on the Day of Judgment, I would have beaten you with this siwak [tooth brush] until it hurts." You need only imagine what sort of pain a siwak could cause. It is likewise not permissible for a Muslim to revile his wife. It is needless to say that verbal abuse creates animosity which Islam is keen not to allow to develop. Moreover, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) reminded us that marital relationships are so intimate that they must not be strained.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) put the conduct of a man who beats his wife in very bad light when he said: "How is it that any one of you could beat his wife as he beats a slave and then have intercourse with her at the end of the day?" Referring to those who beat their wives, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: "You will not find these among the best of you." According to Lady Aisha, "The Messenger of God never hit any of his wives or servants. Indeed, he never beat anyone except in the cause of God or when God’s sanctities were violated—he would then punish those who violated them."

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) outlined the rights of a man upon his wife. He said: "It is not permissible for a woman who believes in God to admit into her husband's home anyone whom he would not like to be admitted, to go out when he disapproves, to obey anyone except her husband, to refuse to his bed, or to beat him [if she is stronger than him]. If he is unkind to her first, she should try to please him. If he accepts, then she has done well and God will accept her effort and make her argument stronger. If he does not respond to her attempts to reconciliation, then she has done what is required of her" [recorded by Al-Hakim].

Both man and wife should be considerate and realize that their life together is a partnership in which they have equal rights. Neither of them should be domineering so as to repress the other’s personality. A woman is required to obey her husband but he also must consider her wishes and preferences. When we speak of obedience, we are not talking about a strictly disciplined life where a woman is held accountable for every slight deviation from a set rule.

Within their home and in what relates to their life together, a woman must give priority to her husband. His requests take precedence over those of her parents, but in neither case is she allowed to obey anyone in what constitutes disobedience to God. If a quarrel takes place between a man and his wife and he wants to send her to her parents' home, she may go. Her absence from her home should not be protracted because the normal situation is for a man and wife to live together. You ask how long she is allowed to stay with her parents. There is no maximum limit as long as this is felt to be conducive to reconciliation. However, the situation becomes improper if the separation is complete but he is unwilling to divorce her in order to prevent her from marrying someone else.

It is not permissible for a man to hold his wife in such a manner, neither giving her the life of a married woman nor setting her free so she can marry another man. If he makes demands, particularly unreasonable ones, in order to grant her a divorce, he goes beyond the limits of what God has allowed. A man does not need his wife's permission to marry another. God has granted him this privilege and he may exercise it if he thinks he can cope well with its requirements. The main requirement is to treat his two or more wives fairly. Justice must be maintained, otherwise he is not allowed to take more than one wife.

If a man wants to divorce his wife, he should first make sure that their marriage cannot work. He should exhaust all possibilities at reconciliation. Islam provides a method of arbitration wherein each one of them appoints an arbiter and the two meet together to find a way to solve the couple’s problems. If this fails and divorce is the only way out, the husband must make sure to divorce his wife at the right time. It is forbidden, for example, to divorce a woman when she is in her period. He may make the pronouncement of divorce, though he should utter it only once. It is forbidden to say it three times in succession as many people do. Following the pronouncement of divorce, the wife’s waiting period starts which she must spend in the family home, i.e. her husband's home though she must sleep in a separate bedroom. The husband must continue to support her during this time and she need not cook for him or do any household duties.

During the waiting period, a couple has the chance to resume their marriage without the need to conduct a new marriage contract. Two witnesses need to be called to witness the divorce and the remarriage if it takes place. Divorce is complete when the waiting period ends. A husband should then pay her all her dues such as the deferred dowry, if any. A divorced wife rejoins her family and is free to marry someone else. Should the couple wish to remarry after the waiting period ends, they must conduct a new marriage contract. The husband must pay a new dowry provided the divorce has taken place once or twice. But if the divorce has taken place for the third time, they cannot remarry until she marries another man. This marriage should be a full and complete marriage, one that was intended to last until either of them dies. If it so happens that this second man divorces her or dies, she may marry her first husband if they both agree to it.

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