After marriage, is the wife limited to just food and clothing?

Answered by Mohamed Rida Beshir and Ekram Beshir

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After marriage, is the wife limited to just food and clothing?

I’m a new Muslim and I’m very puzzled with my husband’s attitude towards our relationship. He has enough means and spends on the family to meet our physical needs. He buys us enough food and also buys us the needed clothing. However, he is rough in his dealings with me and our children. He verbally abuses us and sometimes he hits the children. He has even hit me a few times. In addition, he never helps around the house no matter how busy I am with the children and house chores. When I ask him why he acts this way and why he doesn’t help like other husbands, or why he isn’t kind to us, he answers, “I’m feeding and clothing all of you as the hadeeth says. These are all your rights as indicated by the Prophet (saaw).”

I find this very strange. Is there a hadeeth that says so? I don’t believe that the Prophet (saaw) would limit the rights of the wife to just food and clothing. If there is a hadeeth, can you please help me to understand it? Is my husband correct in his interpretation of the words of the Prophet (saaw)? Please help me because I’m really very close to reverting back to being a non-Muslim again. I don’t believe God is so unfair towards women to limit their rights after marriage to just food and clothing!

Answer

La hawla wa la quwata illa billah (an Arabic expression of indignation). It is indeed a disaster when we have some Muslim husbands with this corrupted understanding of the Prophetic tradition.

Most probably, your husband is referring to this hadeeth: a man came to the Prophet (saaw) and asked him about the rights of his wife on him. The Prophet (saaw) responded by saying: “To feed her from the same food you eat and to clothe her with clothing comparable in value to what you clothe yourself in.[1]” Yes, this is a real hadeeth, but the source of the problem is not the hadeeth but your husband’s understanding of it. Many ahadeeth of the Prophet (saaw) have been misinterpreted because they were taken out of context without considering the circumstances in which the hadeeth was said, to whom it was said, and if there are other ahadeeth or verses on the same subject to help us have a more complete and comprehensive understanding of the hadeeth under investigation.

Because of the above, Muslim scholars provided us with a list of guidelines that we should refer to for the proper understanding of the Prophet’s ahadeeth. Here are a few of the guidelines that will help us in our quest for the proper understanding of the hadeeth at hand:

  • Check if there are other ahadeeth and verses of Qur’an on the same topic.
  • Check if this hadeeth contradicts any of the authentic ahadeeth or Qur’anic verses on the same topic.
  • Never obtain a position on any topic from just one saying of the Prophet (saaw). Always collect all the sayings and verses dealing with the same topic, and then try to find out the proper ruling based on the proper understanding of all of them considered together. This is one of the reasons why we need learned scholars and faqeehs to help us with deriving rules from the Qur’anic and Prophetic texts.
  • Explore the context of the hadeeth (when it was said and to whom it was said).

These are some factors that should be taken into consideration to help us arrive at the proper understanding of the hadeeth. Let us now try to understand this saying of the Prophet (saaw) in light of the above guidelines.

There are many other sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (saaw) as well as many verses of the Qur’an on the same topic. Here are a few:

  • “Live with them (your wives) on a footing of kindness and equity. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike something in which Allah has placed a great deal of Good.[2]” This verse clearly indicates that husbands have to treat their wives with kindness and respect and in a fair and equitable way in every area of their marital relationship. My question to this Muslim husband is, “Is being abusive and mistreating your wife showing kindness and respect?”
  • The Prophet Muhammad (saaw) gave similar instructions, indicating that respect is due for both men and women because they are shaqaae’q (twins). He said, “Women are the twin complements of men.[3]

    Again, my question to this husband is, “Are you showing your wife respect in the way you treat her?” If not, then you are going completely against a clear instruction of the Prophet (saaw). Treat her as a shaqeeqah to you and you will be following the Prophet’s instructions. As your twin complement, if you expect her to treat you with respect, then you must also treat her with respect.

  • The Prophet (saaw) also emphasized that the best Muslims are those who are the best to their wives. He said, “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are the best to their wives.[4]” My question again to this husband is, “Do you want to be from among the best Muslims?” If you really do, it is long overdue that you to treat your wife in the best possible way and show her the respect she deserves as a Muslim wife.
  • We should also remember that the Prophet (saaw) said, “The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I’m the best among you to my family.[5]
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