Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: What advice do you have for a woman whose husband does not want to be intimate with her and has been like this for some months? What rights does the wife have?
Answer: assalamu alaykum
The wife has a right to intimacy just like the husband does. To state otherwise is not sound from a religious perspective and contrary to a healthy and strong marriage, which our religion places great emphasis on.
The right of the wife to intimacy is affirmed in the primary texts both directly and indirectly.
(a) The Quran states, “and they (i.e. women) possess rights similar to those due upon them.” (2:228) Just as the husband has a right to intimacy in marriage, so does the wife.
(b) The Quran states, “and live with them in kindness.” (4:19) The word for ‘kindness’ in this verse is al-ma`ruf, which carries the meaning of honor, good companionship, reciprocity, and what is generally deemed appropriate. To deprive one’s wife of physical intimacy is against the kindness that God commands.
(c) `Abd Allah ibn `Amr is reported to have said, “The Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) said, ‘O `Abd Allah, I have been informed that you fast all day and pray all night?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Do not do this. Rather, fast and break your fast, rise in prayer and sleep, for your body has a right upon you, your eyes have a right upon you, and your wife has a right upon you.’” [Bukhari, al-Sahih]
(d) In another narration, the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) saw a female companion by the name of Khuwayla in a very untidy and shabby state. When he (blessings and peace be upon him) inquired about her, Aisha stated that, “she is a woman whose husband fasts all day and prays all night and so it is as if she has no husband at all.” The Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) proceeded to counsel her husband, the prominent Companion, Usman ibn Maz`un, regarding such actions being contrary to the sunna and that his wife possessed rights over him. [Abu Dawud, al-Sunan; Ahmad, al-Musnad]
(e) The Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) said, “The most perfect of believers are those most perfect in character, and the most perfect in character; and the best of you are those who are best to their spouses.” [Tirmidhi, al-Sunan]
These texts, among many others, demonstrate that neglecting the rights of one’s wife – whether physical or otherwise – is contrary to the teachings of Islam. Rather, a wife has rights that must be fulfilled on the basis of love, kindness, and respect, which include the right to physical intimacy.
The Legal Texts: Between Law & Ethics
It is also important to address the legal texts on the issue as they have the potential to be utilized in an erroneous manner in denying the established religious right of the wife to physical intimacy.
A majority of jurists clearly affirm that it is obligatory for a husband to have sex with his wife. However, in discussing the specifics of this obligation, classical jurists disagreed among themselves with some saying that a husband is obliged to have sex with his wife:
(a) every so often,
(b) once every four nights,
(c) once every month,
(d) once every four months,
(e) once in a lifetime,
(f) in accordance with what is deemed al-ma`ruf.
[al-Shirbini, al-Mughni al-Muhtaj (3:332); Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni (8:551); Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar (3:202-203); Ibn Taymiya, al-Fatawa al-Kubra (1:294)]
Of these opinions, (a) and (f) are in my view the soundest and most in accord with the primary texts.
As for the remaining opinions, some of them are based on weak legal reasoning, while others do not reflect the manner in which the religion envisions what a marriage should look like. This is particularly the case with opinions (d) and (e). To rely on these opinions when advising a potential couple is not only problematic but also demonstrates an individual’s conflating the purely legal with the ethical demands of the religion.
This point becomes clearer when understanding what many legal manuals were attempting to do:
(i) legal manuals often sought to define the minimum rights that someone was owed,
(ii) legal manuals often articulated these rights with a view towards what a court could implement,
(iii) legal manuals sometimes reflected what was customarily considered appropriate and acceptable in their own time and context, which may not necessarily apply today, and
(iv) legal manuals were not necessarily laying out rules with a view towards the broader considerations of what a healthy marriage and family life should incorporate.
Not recognizing the function of legal manuals often leads to conflating many of the rules that are found in them with what an optimal marriage should look like, which is both incorrect and harmful.
While a number of rules within classical legal manuals are essential to take into account, the guidelines that govern a healthy and strong marriage extend well beyond mere legal rules. It is in this context that a higher and more holistic conception of marriage must come into play, an ethics of marriage grounded in the sunna.
Advice & Conclusion
In conclusion, it can be said that from the view point of a healthy marriage based on respect, love, and care, the religious and ethical obligation upon the husband is to fulfill the physical needs of his wife every so often in accordance with what is deemed to be appropriate for her needs, his ability, and other related considerations.
Regarding dealing with a husband who is not engaging in physical intimacy, I would advise the following:
(a) Supplicate to God and ask Him to create love and harmony in your marriage. Do not underestimate the power of sincere supplication.
(b) Continue playing your part in trying to improve your sex life by, for example, dressing up for your husband, attempting to initiate sex, being playful, and so forth.
(c) Try your best to make other aspects of the marriage enjoyable and fun, such as going out, talking, having dinner together etc. While this may not be easy to do given what has been described, positivity outside the bedroom may stimulate positivity in the bedroom.
(d) Have an open and serious conversation with your husband. Communication is important and it is essential that your husband understands how this is making you feel. Try to ensure the conversation is positive, not aggressive or negative.
(e) Seek professional counseling if you need to.
(f) If nothing at all seems to work, you will need to think about whether the marriage is worth continuing. This will obviously be a decision that should be not taken lightly and requires a lot of thought and consultation. It should only be a last resort if you feel that you are unable to continue in the situation that you are in despite your best efforts.
I hope this was of some benefit. May God bless you in your marriage.
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani