In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. This is a series on the roles and duties of the Muslim woman with examples of stories from the time of the Messenger of Allâh (ﷺ), his companions, and the later generations who followed them in goodness in faith. This is a series titled “THE MUSLIM WOMAN AND HER HUSBAND”.
This is the second in the series. Please read and benefit from it in’shaa’Allaah Ta’ala.
HONORING AND RESPECTING HIM.
Honoring and respecting one’s husband is one of the characteristic attitudes of this ummah. It is one of the good manners known at the time of jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic period) that were endorsed by Islam and perpetuated by the Arabs after they embraced Islam. Our Islamic history is filled with texts that eloquently describe the advice given by mothers to their daughters, to care for, honor and respect their husbands; these texts may be regarded as invaluable social documents.
One of the most famous and most beautiful of these texts was recorded by ‘Abd al-Malik ibn ‘Umayr al-Qurashi (رحمه الله), who was one of the outstanding scholars of the second century AH (After Hijrah). He quotes the words of advice given by Umamah bint al-Harith, one of the most eloquent and learned women, who was possessed of wisdom and great maturity, to her daughter on the eve of her marriage. These beautiful words deserve to be inscribed in golden ink.
‘Abd al-Malik said: “When ‘Awf ibn Muhallim al-Shaybani, one of the most highly respected leaders of the Arab nobility during the jahiliyyah, married his daughter Umm Iyas to al-Harith ibn ‘Amr al-Kindi, she was made ready to be taken to the groom, then her mother Umamah came in to her, to advise her, and said:
‘O my daughter, if it were deemed unnecessary to give you this advice because of good manners and noble descent, then it would have been unnecessary for you, because you possess these qualities, but it will serve as a reminder to those who are forgetful, and will help those who are wise.
‘O my daughter, if a woman were able to do without a husband by virtue of her father’s wealth and her need for her father, then you of all people would be most able to do without a husband, but women were created for men just as men were created for them.
‘O my daughter, you are about to leave the home in which you grew up, where you first learned to walk, to go to a place you do not know, to a companion with whom you are unfamiliar. By marrying you he has become a master over you, so be like a servant to him, and he will become like a servant to you.
‘Take from me ten qualities, which will be a provision and a reminder for you.
‘The first and second of them are: be content in his company, and listen to and obey him, for contentment brings peace of mind, and listening to and obeying one’s husband pleases Allâh.
‘The third and fourth of them are: make sure that you smell good and look good; he should not see anything ugly in you, and he should not smell anything but a pleasant smell from you. Kohl is the best kind of beautification to be found, and water is better than the rarest perfume.
‘The fifth and the sixth of them are: prepare his food on time, and keep quiet when he is asleep, for raging hunger is like a burning flame, and disturbing his sleep will make him angry.
‘The seventh and eighth of them are: take care of his servants (or employees) and children, and take care of his wealth, for taking care of his wealth shows that you appreciate him, and taking care of his children and servants shows good management.
‘The ninth and tenth of them are: never disclose any of his secrets, and never disobey any of his orders, for if you disclose any of his secrets you will never feel safe from his possible betrayal, and if you disobey him, his heart will be filled with hatred towards you.
‘Be careful, O my daughter, of showing joy in front of him when he is upset, and do not show sorrow in front of him when he is happy, because the former shows a lack of judgment, whilst the latter will make him unhappy.
‘Show him as much honor and respect as you can, and agree with him as much as you can, so that he will enjoy your companionship and conversation.
‘Know, O my daughter, that you will not achieve what you would like to until you put his pleasure before your own, and his wishes before yours, in whatever you like and dislike. And may Allâh (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالٰى) choose what is best for you and protect you.’” (Jamharah khutab al-‘arab, 1/145).
She was taken to her husband, and the marriage was a great success; she gave birth to kings who ruled after him.
This advice clearly included everything that one could think of as regards the good manners that a young girl needs to know about in order to treat her husband properly and be a suitable companion for him. The words of this wise mother deserve to be taken as the standard for every young girl who is about to get married.
If she is rich, the true Muslim woman does not let her wealth and financial independence make her blind to the importance of respecting her husband’s rights over her. She still takes care of him and honors him, no matter how rich she is or may become. She knows that she is obliged to show gratitude to Allah for the blessings He has bestowed upon her, so she increases her charitable giving for the sake of Allâh. The first person to whom she should give generously is her own husband, if he is poor; in this case she will receive two rewards, one for taking care of a family member, and another for giving charity, as the Prophet (ﷺ) stated in the hadeeth narrated by Zaynab al-Thaqafiyyah, the wife of ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud (رضي الله عنه):
“The Prophet (ﷺ) told us: ‘O women, give in charity even if it is some of your jeweler.’ She said, ‘I went back to ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud and told him. ‘You are a man of little wealth, and the Prophet (ﷺ) has commanded us to give charity, so go and ask him whether it is permissible for me to give you charity. If it is, I will do so; if it is not, I will give charity to someone else.’ ‘Abdullah said, ‘No, you go and ask.’ So I went, and I found a woman of the Ansaar at the Prophet’s door, who also had the question. We felt too shy to go in, out of respect, so Bilal came out and we asked him, ‘Go and tell the Messenger of Allâh that there are two women at the door asking you: Is it permissible for them to give sadaqah to their husbands and the orphans in their care? But do not tell him who we are.’ So Bilal went in and conveyed this message to the Prophet (ﷺ), who asked, ‘Who are they?’ Bilal said, ‘One of the women of the Ansaar, and Zaynab’ The Prophet (ﷺ) asked, ‘Which Zaynab is it?’ Bilal said, ‘The wife of ‘Abdullah.’ The Prophet (ﷺ) said: ‘They will have two rewards, the reward for upholding the relationship, and the reward for giving charity.’” (Fath al-Bari, 3/328; Sahīh Muslim, 7/86).
According to a report given by Al-Bukhaari, he (ﷺ) said, “Your husband and your child are more deserving of your charity.” (Fath al-Bari, 3/325).
The true Muslim woman is always careful to give thanks for Allâh’s blessings if her life is easy, and she never loses her patience if she encounters difficulty. She never forgets the warning that the Prophet issued to women in general, when he saw that most of the inhabitants of Hell will be women, and so she seeks refuge with Allah from becoming one of them.
Al-Bukhaari and Muslim narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas (رضي الله عنه) that the Prophet (ﷺ)said: “O women, give charity, for I have surely seen that you form the majority of the inhabitants of Hell.” They asked, ‘Why is this so, O Messenger of Allâh?” He said, “Because you curse too much, and are ungrateful for good treatment (on the part of your husbands).” (Fath al-Bari, 3/325; Sahīh Muslim, 2/65).
According to another report given by Al-Bukhaari, he (ﷺ) said, “because they are ungrateful for good and kind treatment. Even if you treated one of them (these ungrateful women) well for an entire lifetime, then she saw one fault in you, she would say, ‘I have never seen anything good from you!’” (Fath al-Bari, 1/83).
According to a report given by Ahmad, a man said, “O Messenger of Allâh, are they not our mothers and sisters and wives?” He said, “Of course, but when they are treated generously they are ungrateful, and when they are tested, they do not have patience.” (Reported by Ahmad, 3/428; its narrators are rijal al-sahīh).
When the true Muslim woman thinks about these sahīh ahadîth which describe the fate of most women in the Hereafter, she is always on the alert lest she fall into the sins of ingratitude towards her husband, or frequent cursing, or denying her husband’s good treatment of her, or forgetting to give thanks for times of ease, or failing to be patient at times of difficulty. In any case, she hastens to give charity as the Prophet (ﷺ) urged all women to do, in the hope that it may save them from that awful fate which will befall most of those women who deviate from truth and let trivial matters distract them from remembering Allâh (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالٰى) and the Last Day, and whose bad qualities will ultimately lead them into the Fire of Hell. The Muslim woman, on the other hand, sets the highest example of respect towards one’s husband and taking note of his good qualities. This is the attitude of loyalty that befits the true Muslim woman who respects her husband’s rights and does not ignore his virtues.
Muslim women’s history is full of stories that reflect this loyalty and recognition of the good qualities of the husband. One of these stories is that of Asma’ bint ‘Umays (رضي الله عنه), who was one of the greatest women in Islam, and one of the first women to migrate to Madinah. She was married to Ja‘far ibn Abi Talib (رضي الله عنه), then to Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (رضي الله عنه), then to ‘Ali (رضي الله عنه). On one occasion, her two sons Muhammad ibn Ja‘far and Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr were competing with one another, each of them saying. “I am better than you, and my father is better than your father.” ‘Ali said to her, “Judge between them, O Asma’.” She said, “I have never seen a young man among the Arabs who was better than Ja‘far, and I have never seen a mature man who was better than Abu Bakr.” ‘Ali said, “You have not left anything for me. If you had said anything other than what you have said, I would have hated you!” Asma’ said: “These are the best three, and you are one of them even if you are the least of them.” (Al-tabaqat al-kubra, 7/208-209). What a clever and eloquent answer this wise woman gave! She gave each of her three husbands the respect he deserved, and pleased ‘Ali, even though he was the least of them, because she included all of them in that group of the best.
SHE TREATS HIS MOTHER AND FAMILY WITH KINDNESS AND RESPECT.
One of the ways in which a wife expresses her respect towards her husband is by honoring and respecting his mother.
The Muslim woman who truly understands the teachings of her religion knows that the person who has the greatest right over a man is his mother, as we have seen in the hadîth of ‘A’ishah (رضي الله عنه) previously quoted. So she helps him to honor and respect his mother, by also honoring and respecting her. In this way she will do herself and her husband a favor, as she will helping him to do good deeds and fear Allâh (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالٰى), as commanded by the Qur’an. At the same time, she will endear herself to her husband, who will appreciate her honor and respect towards his family in general, and towards his mother in particular. Nothing could please a decent, righteous and respectful man more than seeing strong ties of love and respect between his wife and his family, and nothing could be more hateful to a decent man than to see those ties destroyed by the forces of evil, hatred and conspiracy. The Muslim family which is guided by faith in Allâh (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالٰى) and follows the pure teachings of Islam is unlikely to fall into the trap of such jahili (ignorant) behavior, which usually flourishes in an environment that is far removed from the true teachings of this religion.
A Muslim wife may find herself being tested by her mother-in-law and other in-laws, if they are not of good character. If such is the case, she is obliged to treat them in the best way possible, which requires a great deal of cleverness, courtesy, diplomacy and repelling evil with that which is better. Thus she will maintain a balance between her relationship with her in-laws and her relationship with her husband, and she will protect herself and her marriage from any adverse effects that may result from the lack of such a balance.
The Muslim woman should never think that she is the only one who is required to be a good and caring companion to her spouse, and that nothing similar is required of her husband or that there is nothing wrong with him mistreating her or failing to fulfill some of the responsibilities of marriage. Islam has regulated the marital relationship by giving each partner both rights and duties. The wife’s duties of honoring and taking care of her husband are balanced by the rights that she has over him, which are that he should protect her honor and dignity from all kinds of mockery, humiliation, trials or oppression. These rights of the wife comprise the husband’s duties towards her: he is obliged to honor them and fulfill them as completely as possible.
One of the Muslim husband’s duties is to fulfill his role of qawwaam (maintainer and protector) properly. This is a role that can only be properly fulfilled by a man who is a successful leader in his home and family, one who possesses likeable masculine qualities. Such a man has a noble and worthy attitude, is tolerant, overlooks minor errors, is in control of his married life, and is generous without being extravagant. He respects his wife’s feelings and makes her feel that she shares the responsibility of running the household affairs, bringing up the children, and working with him to build a sound Muslim family, as Islam wants it to be.
SHE ENDEARS HERSELF TO HER HUSBAND AND IS KEEN TO PLEASE HIM.
The true Muslim woman is always keen to win her husband’s love and to please him. Nothing should spoil his happiness or enjoyment of life. So she speaks kind words to him, and refrains from saying anything hurtful or upsetting. She brings him good news, but she keeps bad news from him as much as she can, or postpones telling it until a more suitable time when it will not upset him so much. If she finds that she has no alternative but to tell him upsetting news, she looks for the most suitable way to convey it, so that the blow will not be so hard on him. This is the wise approach and good conduct of the clever woman, but it is very difficult to attain and only a very few virtuous women ever do so.
One of those who did reach this high level was the great Muslim woman Umm Sulaym bint Milhan (رضي الله عنه), the wife of Abu Talhah al-Ansari (رضي الله عنه). Her son passed away whilst Abu Talhah was traveling, and her attitude was so unique that if Imam Muslim had not reported this story we would have taken it to be a mere myth. Let us hear her son Anas ibn Malik tell the story of his remarkable mother and her attitude:
“A son of Abu Talhah by Umm Sulaym died. Umm Sulaym told her family, ‘Do not tell Abu Talhah about his son until I tell him about it.’ Abu Talhah came home, so she prepared dinner for him, and he ate and drank. Then she beautified herself in a way that she had never done before, and he had sexual intercourse with her. When she saw that he was satisfied, she said, ‘O Abu Talhah, do you think that if a people lent something to a household, then asked for it back, do they have the right not to return it?’ He said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘Then resign yourself to the death of your son.’ Abu Talhah became angry and said, ‘You let me indulge myself and then you tell me about my son!’ He went to the Messenger of Allâh and told him what had happened. The Messenger of Allâh (ﷺ) said, ‘May Allâh bless both of you for this night!’ Umm Sulaym became pregnant. The Messenger of Allâh (ﷺ) went on a journey, and she accompanied him. Whenever the Messenger of Allâh (ﷺ) came back from a journey, he never entered Madinah at night. When they (the traveling-party) approached Madinah, her labor-pains started. Abu Talhah stayed with her, and the Messenger of Allâh went on ahead to Madinah. Abu Talhah said, ‘O Lord, You know how I love to go out with Your Messenger when he goes out, and to come back with him when he comes back, and I have been detained, as You see.’ Umm Sulaym said, ‘O Abu Talhah, I do not feel as much pain as I did before, so let us go on.’ When they reached (Madinah), her pains-pains started again, and she gave birth to a boy. My mother said to me, ‘O Anas, nobody should feed him until you take him to the Messenger of Allah in the morning.’ So when morning came, I took the baby to the Messenger of Allah , and when I met him he was carrying an iron tool. When he saw me, he said, ‘I hope that Umm Sulaym has given birth.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ So he put down the tool and I brought the child to him and placed him in his lap. The Messenger of Allâh called for some of the dates of Madinah. He chewed it until it became soft, then he put it in the baby’s mouth and the baby began to smack his lips. The Messenger of Allâh (ﷺ) said: ‘See how much the Ansaar love dates!’ Then he wiped the baby’s face and named him ‘Abdullah.” (Sahīh Muslim, 16/11).
How great was Umm Sulaym’s faith, and how magnificent her patience and virtue! How bravely she hid her pain from her husband and endeared herself to him. She managed to conceal her grief at the loss of her beloved son and spent that time with her husband patiently hoping that by being a good wife to her husband she might earn the pleasure of Allâh (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالٰى). This is true, deep and sincere faith.
Allâh (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالٰى) answered the Prophet’s prayer for Umm Sulaym and her husband, and she became pregnant from that night. When she was heavily pregnant, she saw her husband Abu Talhah preparing to set out on another military campaign with the Messenger of Allâh (ﷺ). She insisted on partaking of the honor of jihad with him alongside the Messenger of Allâh (ﷺ), even though she was in the later stages of pregnancy. Her husband took pity on her because of the difficulties of the journey and the heat of the desert, but he still asked the Prophet (ﷺ) for permission to let her come with him, and he gave his permission because he knew her strength of character and love of jihad.
Umm Sulaym was present when the Muslims were triumphant at Makkah, and when they were sorely tested at Hunayn. She stood firm, as solid as a rock, alongside her husband and the small group of believers around the Prophet (ﷺ), even though she was pregnant, at that most difficult time when many others had fled, and she remained there until Allâh (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالٰى) brought victory to the believers.
The mujahid army returned to Madinah, and her labor began. When the pains became intense, she and her husband stayed behind for a while, but her husband prayed to his Lord in the still of night because he loved to go out and return with the Prophet (ﷺ). Suddenly the pains ceased; she told her husband and they set out to follow the army that had gone on ahead. They caught up with them, and after they had entered Madinah, Umm Sulaym’s labor pains began anew. She gave birth to a boy, and his brother on his mother’s side, Anas, brought him to the Prophet (ﷺ), who fed him a small amount of dates (tahnik) and named him ‘Abdullah. The prayer of the Prophet (ﷺ) for this baby was fulfilled, as among his descendants were ten great scholars.
No doubt Allâh (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالٰى) knew the sincerity of Umm Sulaym’s faith, and conveyed the good news of Paradise to her via His Prophet (ﷺ):
“I entered Paradise, and heard footsteps. I said, ‘Who is this?’ and they told me, ‘It is al-Ghumaysa’, the daughter of Milhan, the mother of Anas ibn Malik.’” (Sahīh Muslim, 16/11).
Another example of the ways in which a wife may endear herself to her husband is the way in which ‘A’ishah (رضي الله عنه) spoke to the Prophet (ﷺ) when he came back to his wives after he had kept away from them for a month. He had said, “I will not go in to them for a month,” because he was so angry with them. When twenty-nine days had passed, he came to ‘A’ishah first. ‘A’ishah said to him, ‘You swore to stay away from us for a month, and only twenty-nine days have passed; I have been counting them.” The Prophet said, “This month has twenty-nine days.” That particular month had only twenty-nine days. (From a lengthy hadith narrated by Al-Bukhaari and Muslim. See Fath al-Bari, 5/116; Sahīh Muslim, 7/195).
‘A’ishah’s telling the Prophet (ﷺ) that she had counted twenty-nine days was a clear indication of her love towards her husband and of how she had waited, day by day, hour by hour, for him to come back to her. It shows how she loved and missed her husband. This approach made her even dearer to him, so when he came back to his wives, he started with her.
The sincere Muslim woman recognizes her husband’s likes and habits, and tries to accommodate them as much as she can, in the interests of mutual understanding and marital harmony, and to protect the marriage from the boredom of routine. This is what every wise and intelligent wife does. It was narrated that the qadi and faqih Shurayh married a woman from Banu Hanzalah. On their wedding night, each of them prayed two rak‘ahs and asked Allâh (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالٰى) to bless them. Then the bride turned to Shurayh and said, “I am a stranger, and I do not know much about you. Tell me what you like, and I will do it, and tell me what you do not like so I may avoid it.” Shurayh said, “She stayed with me for twenty years, and I never had to tell her off for anything, except on one occasion, and I was in the wrong then.”
This is the respectful and loving wife as Islam wants her to be, responsible for her home and loyal to her husband, and always careful to maintain a good relationship between them. If anything happens to upset their marriage, she hastens to calm the situation with her sincere love and wise understanding. She does not listen to the whispering of the Shaytan which calls her to do wrong, and she never hastens to ask her husband for a divorce. The marriage bond should be too strong to be undone by temporary arguments or occasional misunderstandings. The Prophet (ﷺ) warned those foolish women who ask their husbands for a divorce with no legitimate reason that they would be denied even the scent of Paradise:
“Any woman who asks her husband for a divorce with no good reason will be deprived of even smelling the scent of Paradise.” (A hasan sahīh hadith, reported by Tirmidhi, 2/329, abwab al-talaq, 11; Ibn Hibban, 9/490).
In’shaa’Allaah the series will be continued in the next post. Jazakumu’Allaah khairan for reading.
Subhanaka Allaahumma wabihamdika, asha’adu an ‘lailla ila anta, astaghifiruka wa atooybu ilayka.