After marriage, is the wife limited to just food and clothing?
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- The Qur’an also states, “And women have the same right as the duty they have to fulfill according to what is equitable with kindness and respect, and men have a degree above them.” This verse clearly tells us that the basic rule in a marital relationship is that all obligations are shared and mutual between spouses. The added degree given to men in this verse is explained by scholars as the family leadership degree (qawamah). Based on the above understanding, most of the spousal obligations are mutual or shared, which means that, with the exception of a few special duties, whatever the wife has to do, the husband has to reciprocate with something similar. And whatever the husband has to do, the wife also has to reciprocate with something similar. Mutual respect from the husband towards his wife and from the wife towards her husband comes at the top of these obligations.
- It is illustrated clearly in the life of the Prophet (saaw) that he used to help with the house chores, such as mending his garments and fixing his shoes. It was reported by Al-Aswad Ibn Yazeed (raa) that he asked A’ishah (raa), “What did the Prophet (saaw) used to do when he entered his house?” She said, “The Prophet used to be in the service of his family.” The only time that would prevent him from being in the service of his family would be the time of prayer, as was indicated by A’ishah (raa) in the continuation of the same hadeeth when she said, “He used to be in the service of his family, but when prayer time came, he would go for prayer.”
It is very clear from the verses and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (saaw) that husbands have to be kind to their wives, help with house chores, and treat them in a respectable and pleasant way. The Prophet (saaw) was never abusive to his wives in any way. He is our role model, and we should all try our best to follow and emulate him.
From the above analysis, it is impossible that the Prophet (saaw) would limit the rights of women after marriage to just being fed and clothed. So, if this is the case, what could possibly be the proper understanding of this saying of the Prophet (saaw)? Here it would be informative to explore the context the hadeeth was said in and to know more about the man who asked the question. Scholars explain that, most probably, the man who asked the question was a very good husband already and was observing all his obligations towards his wife such as being kind and treating her in a respectable way. However, this specific man was still following the unhealthy tradition followed by most Arab men before the advent of Islam. Arab men, before Islam, use to customarily eat alone, and then the women (their wives and their children) would eat whatever food was left over after the men had finished. This is a bad habit that doesn’t help build a healthy and positive family atmosphere. Islam wants to stop such habits. Family members should try their best to eat together and from the same food. Husbands should not favour themselves over the rest of the family and eat more fancy meals and leave the leftovers to the rest. As such, the Prophet’s advice was suitable to this man to help him get rid of one of his shortcomings and be a better husband, but it was never meant to limit the wife’s rights after marriage to just being fed and clothed.
Some men are still practicing such unhealthy habits even in today’s society. Many men go to fancy restaurants to have meals with their colleagues and friends and never think to bring a dish from the same food back for their family. In many cultures, the food is served to men first, while the women and children wait for them to finish, then they have their meal from the leftovers. This is not Islamic and should be avoided at all costs.
We hope that this explanation will put the sister’s worry to rest and we pray that your husband will understand his responsibilities properly and fulfill his duties to the best of his abilities. Our dear sister, Islam came to liberate women from the jahiliya (ignorant) habits, traditions, and practices. Islam came to provide women with the best treatment and elevate their status as partners to men, contributing with them in every good area of life. The Qur’an says: “Believing men and women are awliya’ (allies and protectors) of one another. They enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, they establish regular prayer and pay zakat, and they obey Allah and His Messenger. Those will be showered by Allah’s mercy.”
 Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah
 Qur’an (4:19)
 Qur’an (2:228)
 Qur’an (33:21)
 Qur’an (9:71)
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