Q. Is it the responsibility of the wife to cook, wash utensils, etc? And if not, will it come under the right of the husband over wife that she must be obedient to him? In other words, can he order her to do it and she must do it as it is his right that she be obedient to him?
A. Marriage is a very sacred contract in the sight of Allah. It is one which was practiced by the Prophets of Allah, and the final messenger of Allah (SA) has ordered those young persons who can afford to marry to do so.
When marriage comes about, each spouse hopes for happiness and goodness, and the relationship between them become so strong that one sacrifices for the sake of the other, and tries his/her best to make the other party very happy. This conduct between the spouses is commendable and has been encouraged by the Prophet (SA). On account of this beautiful relation (between the spouses), we find that although the husband’s duty to his wife is that of food, clothes and shelter, he goes far above this, to be very kind, generous and caring to his wife. In the matter of clothing, he tries to give her the best, although he could have sufficed with the minimum (or moderate type). In the matter of shelter/housing, he provides that which is far above the minimum requirement, and furnishes his house with comforts and luxuries. In the matter of food, he goes far beyond the minimum required amount, and spends lavishly to take care of his wife. Besides these, a husband would normally give gifts to the wife and would take her to different places for vacation and social affairs. Looking at the manner in which spouses live, we will see that a husband provides such comfort, luxury and amenities to his wife who is far above needs and necessities. All these are not based on a laws, rules or regulations, instead, it is based simply on kindness and generosity.
Taking this into consideration, it is required that the wife recognizes the great amount of kindness and goodness that is extended to her and, return a similar form of kindness to the husband. She should not limit her self to only that which she thinks is her duty, but should go above that to repay him for his kindness and generosity. The Holy Quran states, ‘the return of a kindness is nothing but kindness’. (Sura Ar Rahman). Her repayment to the husband in this case, is not of money, wages or a salary. Instead, it is trying her best to be fully obedient to him and making him a happy man. Taking care of his needs and necessities should be a priority in her marriage life, just as it should be for him. As such, petty chores like that of cooking a bit of food, or washing the utensils should not be seen as a job or as a burden, but, should be done on account of the feelings of love and care that she has for the husband. It should be a natural desire in the wife to want to do such things, in order to fulfill the basic needs of herself and her husband. In doing so, she sows the seeds of a happy relationship in the marriage.
It should be noted that if a woman wishes not to fulfill these basic requirements in her house, then the husband will be encouraged to give up certain basic requirements also. In this way, the friendly and happy marital relation will then become one of simply fulfilling minimum duties and responsibilities, and when it reaches to this stage, the backbone of marriage will be lost. With this state, there will be no feelings of love, attachment and care for each other, and this will ultimately result in an unpleasant relationship.
Looking at this from another perspective, we would see that the rulings of the Sacred Shariah are on two levels. One is the religiousness (that is, owing to religious requirement) and the second is that which is connected to a specific law of the Shariah. With respect to religious requirements, there are certain matters that are Wajib (essential) upon an individual, and fulfilling these is Wajib (essential), while neglecting them is a cause for sin. However, these cannot be forced upon a person. The second type of rulings is that which is connected to a law in the Shariah, which can be enforced upon a person by the Shariah and by the Qadhi.
With this understanding, we would see that there are certain laws that must be fulfilled by an individual based on fulfilling a religious requirement. However, if it is not done, the Shariah or the Qadhi cannot compel him to do it.
We would also see many laws (of the second level) which must be fulfilled by an individual, based on the fact that it is a law of the Shariah (and not only of religiousness).
In these cases, if one neglect such matters, then he would be compelled and forced to do them, else, he will face the brunt of the law.
For example, if a person made a promise to do something, then on account of religiousness, (adhering to the teachings of Islam) it will be essential for him to fulfill it. However, if he does not wish to fulfill it, the law of the shariah or the Qadhi cannot compel him to fulfill it. But if an agreement is bilateral, then in this case it will not only be essential for him to fulfill it, but, the law can force him to do so, because this becomes a law which can be enforced by the state and is more serious than that of simply being a sign of religiousness.
Similar laws also exist between the husband and the wife. In certain cases, if a spouse neglects a certain duty, then the Qadhi/Shariah can force him/her to fulfill it, and in some cases, the Qadhi/Shariah may not be able to compel the spouse to do something, but on account of religiousness and adhering to Islamic teachings, it will be essential upon the person to fulfill it.
With respect to the duties between the husband and wife, it is stated that if one of them is in need of the service of the other, due to the fact that one is unable to do this service, and another person cannot be found to do it, or this service cannot be done by another person, then in this case, it will be essential according to the law of the Shariah for a spouse to do this service for the other. However, if the service can be done by someone other than the wife, then it will not be essential according to the law of the Shariah for the wife to do this service, however, based on the principles of religious teachings it will be essential upon her, (to do this service). If she refuses to do this service (although she is able to do so), she will be sinful.
In the famous compendium of religious verdicts (fatawa) known as Fatawa Alamgiri, it states, ‘Certainly these acts (household duties and services) are essential (Wajib) upon her (the wife) even though the Qadhi cannot force her’. (Al Fatawa Al Hindiya vol.1 pg.548).
Similarly, Allama Shami writes, ‘the fatawa is upon the ruling that these duties (household) are essential upon the wife, but the Qadhi cannot force her to do it if she refuses’. (Raddul Muhtaar vol.5 pg.291).
From the above, it is evident that it will be (Wajib) essential upon the wife to do the normal household duties as cooking, washing the utensils etc., when the husband requests her to do so, as long as she is not sick or incapable of doing it.
If the wife, due to weakness or sickness, is not able to do such duties, then it is not permissible for the husband to force her to do it. If he is able, he should hire some one to do these chores. (Kitabul Fatawa vol.4 pg. 408-410).
Muslim women are required to look at the lives of the pious women of the past and follow their practices. According to the traditions, it is mentioned that when the Prophet (SA) married his daughter Fatima (RA) to Ali (RA), he divided their duties for them in a manner that Ali (RA) would do the work outside the house, and Fatima would do the work inside the house. Thereafter, Fatima (RA) who got the title as the being the leader of the women of paradise, did her chores as a noble and simple housewife by washing the dishes, cooking the food, cleaning the house, grinding the grains and also looking after her husband and kids.
The same has been mentioned about the other Sahabiat (the women companions of the Prophet(SA)). They all understood that it was their religious duty to look after the needs and comfort of their husbands. They did not only take care of the household chores, but they went further to help their husbands in their works. All of these, they did, with great fervor and joy, and did not see it as being below their dignity, prestige and honor to fulfill these duties. In fact, they saw these as an ideal opportunity to win the pleasure of Allah, and gain the favor of their husband.
An example of such conduct is that of Asma (RA), the daughter of Abu Bakr Siddiq (RA). She says, ‘Zubair bin Awam (RA) got married to me, and besides a horse and a camel, he had on other valuables. He had no slave or servant, and hence, I grazed his horse and gave it water to drink. I used to grind the flour and do the other chores of the house. Zubair (RA) received a piece of land from the Prophet (SA) on which there were date palm trees, and I used to carry date seeds on my head to our home which was two miles away from the land(Sahih Al Bukhari).
The scholars have therefore written that it is essential upon the wife to fulfill the requests of the husband, once they are not against the Shariah or she is not naturally incapable to do so, even if the Shariah has not made these matters compulsory upon her. Once the husband tells her to do a certain thing, then it becomes binding upon her to do it, since Islam has made it essential upon a woman to be obedient to the husband. Obviously, this is required when a request is not against the Shariah, and the woman is not incapable of doing so.
There are many examples which can be quoted in the Shariah which shows that obedience and listening to the husband is necessary. For example, it is allowed for a woman to observe optional fast and optional Salaah. However, if her husband stops her from doing so for a valid reason, then the Shariah orders her to obey the husband.
So obedience to the husband is an essential trait for a wife, and the Prophet (SA) has emphasized this on many occasions. One such instance is that which Imam Ghazali has narrated in Ihya Ul Uloom. He quotes the narration in which a person once went on a journey, and while departing he instructed his wife that before he returns, she must not go to the downstairs apartment (as they lived on the upstairs apartment). It so happened that her father who lived in the downstairs apartment became sick, and due to this, the woman sent a message to the Prophet (SA), seeking his advice and permission to visit her father who was at the downstairs apartment. The Prophet (SA) sent a message, informing her that she must obey her husband’s orders and remain upstairs. During this time, the father died, and the woman again sent a message seeking his advice and permission to visit the deceased father who is at the downstairs apartment. Upon this, the Prophet (SA) sent a message informing her that the obedience she has shown to the husband, has caused her father to be forgiven by Allah. (Ihya Ul Uloom- Imam Ghazali).
In marriage, each spouse normally looks to the other to fulfill certain needs, and do certain services. This does not only come about from the husband, but it equally comes from the wife also. The marriage grows from one state of success and happiness, to a higher level when both spouses continue to treat each other with love, attention and care. When each looks after the needs of the other, and does not look at it as a burden and a formal duty, then more love, understanding and closeness are created between them, and this makes the marriage a blessed and beautiful one. Just as a husband looks to fulfill all the needs of his wife, and does everything to make her marital life a happy one, so too, the wife must try her best to fulfill all her husband’s needs, and do everything to make his marital life a happy one .
A wife must never look at the simple house hold chores as being low or burdensome. In fact, in these there are lots of rewards and blessings for her, since this has been the established path of the wives and daughters of the Prophets and that of every pious woman who went before us.
And Allah knows best.
Mufti Waseem Khan