Compulsory duties of a wife.

Q. Is there any surah or hadith that speaks about when a man marries a woman, it is compulsory upon her to cook and clean but out of love she does it?

A. In the Holy Quran, Allah explains the beautiful traits of a believing woman as one who is devoutly obedient to her husband. In Sura An Nisa Verse 35 it states: –

‘Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and to their husbands), and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity and their husband’s property). (Interpretation of the meaning of the Noble Quran pg. 116)

Here, in the above verse ‘a righteous wife’ is described as one who is not only obedient to Allah, but she is also obedient to her husband.

It must be further understood that ‘Obedience is not permissible in sinful, haram and wrong actions’. That is, if the husband requests the wife to so something which is deemed to be unlawful/sinful then she must not obey him. This is based on the hadith of the Prophet (SAS) which states: ‘There is no obedience to created beings when that involves disobedience to the creator’. (Saheeh Al Bukhari, Muslim) Besides this, a wife is required to be obedient to the husband in all other matters that are permissible in Islam.

As such, if a husband requests his wife to cook for him or to wash his clothes, then it is upon her to obey him since these are not from the prohibited matters. There may be other things which the husband may ask the wife to do. As long as these are within the normal chores/things that a wife can do, then she should be obedient to her husband and adhere to his request. The attitude of ‘not complying’ to the husband’s wishes/requests, and then justifying the same by saying ‘it is not compulsory’, (when in many cases, these happen to be normal, petty chores that are done by other wives), is totally un Islamic and can amount to ‘disobedience’ to her husband. The Prophet (SAS) condemned this conduct of disobedience on the part of the wife and emphasized upon her to be obedient to her husband.

Obviously when a wife performs Salaah, observes the fast, pays the Zakaah and goes for Hajj, she is being obedient to Allah. This has nothing to do with obedience to the husband. Even when she has sexual relationship with him, she is fulfilling her own desires also, so this does not have much connection with being obedient to the husband. The question therefore would be, ‘In what ways would the obedience of the wife be apparent’? Or ‘In what ways can the wife show that she is obedient to the husband’. Clearly, it means that there are many things that would come about while they live together as husband and wife that would be required. In this regard, the husband will do a number of things in order to make his wife happy, to please her and to build a beautiful relationship. He may provide food/drink much more than what the shariah has asked him to do. He may provide clothing much more than what he is ordained to do (in the Shariah). He will spend on his wife for her pleasure, comfort and luxury, which the shariah has not even asked him to do. He will take his wife for a vacation/holiday, a thing which the shariah has not even stipulated upon him. The husband will continue these and many other things to live in a beautiful marriage, even though the shariah has not pinpointed each of the specific things that he does. In return, a wife is expected to appreciate all that is being done, and serve the husband with respect, love and obedience. In this regard, the Prophet (SAS) provided a tremendous amount of guidelines, some of which are:-

1) Abu Hurairah (RA) reported that it was asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah, which woman is the best?’ He the Prophet (SAS) said, ‘The one that pleases the husband, when he looks at her, she obeys him when he commands, and she does not go against him with respect to her self (being) and his wealth with some thing that he dislikes’. (Ibn Majah)

2) In another hadith, the Prophet (SAS) said, when a woman performs her five daily Salaah, guards her private parts (chastity), and obeys her husband, then she will be made to enter through any gate of Paradise she wishes to enter from’. (Ibn Hibban)

3) Husain bin Muhammad narrated that his aunt said, ‘I went to the Prophet (SAS) for some need, and he said, ‘Do you have a husband?’ I said, ‘Yes’. He said ‘how are you with him?’ I said, I am not negligent in obeying and serving him except for matters that I am not able to perform’. He (the Prophet (SAS) then said, ‘Then look to see where do you stand in front of him, for indeed, he is your Paradise and your Hell fire’. (Ahmad, Tabarani, Hakim, Baihaqi. Both Hakim and Zahabi have declared it to be authentic).

A Muslim wife should pay attention to these blessed words of the Prophet (SAS) which provide the foundation of being a righteous wife and having a successful marriage. Using statements such as ‘This is not compulsory for me to so’ and ‘That is not my duty’ to the husband, are simply excuses that are given to disobey the husband and have one’s own way. It is amazing to know that women who have this conduct are normally very obedient to their bosses and superiors and would go beyond the call of duty to win the favour of their employers.

Based on observations, it has been seen that women who may normally complain of making a cup of tea for their husband at home, respond quickly to do so when it is done for the boss. Those who find it difficult to clean the house, happily agree to clean the boss’s office at the work place even though it may not be part of their duty.

If one does a survey, he will find that duties that are not even done at home by some working women, are easily and unhesitatingly done at the work place in order to please the boss, achieve a promotion or get a higher salary. It is extremely sad to know that this un Islamic and mean western culture has entered the lives of some Muslim women to the extent that they become negligent and delinquent in performing petty household chores which a wife is normally required to do. They look at these simple duties with disdain, thumping with their erroneous notion “This is not compulsory upon us’.

A true Muslim woman must remember that many of the virtuous women in Islamic history have set an example of patience, goodness and a positive attitude in serving their husbands and taking care of their homes, despite the poverty and hardships they faced. One of the foremost exemplary wives is Fatima (RA) the daughter of the Prophet (SAS) ,who was the wife of Ali (RA). She would clean the house, cook the food, wash the clothing and would do all the other household chores. She was a patient, forbearing and pious woman who did not complain of anything. On account of this, the Prophet (SAS) said that she was ‘the leader of the women in Paradise’. Another great example was that of Asma, the daughter of Abu Bakr(RA) who served her husband Zubair (RA) and took care of the house. Her husband had a horse, which she took care of, feeding it and exercising it. She also repaired the water bucket, made bread and carried dates on her head from a far distance.

The conduct and disposition which the wives of the Prophet (SAS) and other pious women presented, is indeed a great example and model for the believing women. If a Muslim wife follows their pattern of conduct, there will be no reason to ask. ‘If this or that is compulsory’.

With respect to this matter, the great scholar, Hafiz Ibn Taimiyah has written that ‘a wife must serve her husband since he is known as her ‘Ameer’ in the Holy Quran’.

She must serve him according to ‘Al Maroof’, which means that the standard of society based on their status applies to them. The help provided by a wife who lives in the desert is not like the help provided by a wife who is a city dweller, and the help of a strong woman is not like the help of a weak woman (so the matter depends upon Al Maroof –upon the situation of the husband and wife, and upon the norms of the society they live in). (Fatawa Ibn Taimiya vol.2 pg.234-235- Al khilafah Az Zawjiyah pg. 25, 26).

And Allah knows best.

Mufti Waseem Khan