“[…] the family and its friends will play a big role in finding suitable partners for both their sons and daughters. This process of finding out in detail about the character and circumstances of the proposed partners before allowing the feelings of the boy and girl to be aroused has several advantages. Its effect is to cut out a lot of the embarrassment and temptation and heartache which are common in the western system of courtship and intimate relations before marriage.
” A woman may be sought for her wealth, her birth, her beauty or her religious character. But do look for the religious woman. And if you do it for any other consideration, your hands be rubbed in dirt. ” (Bukhari and Muslim)
In other words, the key to success in marriage is seen as the moral quality of the partner. The ideal Muslim bridegroom therefore goes into marriage with the responsible attitude of a person establishing a family on the best possible foundation of love and mutual compassion, and not of infatuation over beauty, ambition for wealth or social position. The Qur’an has described the marriage relationship in these terms:
” Among His signs is the fact that He has created spouses from among yourselves, so that you may find tranquility with them; and He has put love and mercy between you. In that are signs for people who reflect. “ (Qur’an 30:21)
” They (wives) are garments for you, while you are garments for them. “ (Qur’an 2:187)
Having sought his bride in a honorable way, and married her in the manner prescribed by the Prophet – that is with public celebration but the minimum fuss and ostentation – what are the Muslim husband’s duties?
His first duty is maintenance and protection, and overall responsibility for the welfare of his wife, which is prescribed in Qur’an:
” Men shall take full care of women with the bounties which Allah has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter, and with what they may spend out of their possessions… ” (Qur’an 4:34)
This includes feeding, clothing and shelter for the wife and for any children of the marriage. This is a legally enforceable duty which remains even after divorce until the expiry of the iddah or even longer in the view of some scholars. Financial responsibility for the family therefore rests squarely on the husband, and the wife has no duty to contribute to family expenses unless she has the means and the wish to do so.
He is also expected to give her company and marital relations, and to avoid doing anything that would harm her.
If a man fails to maintain his wife or fails to visit her for more than a certain period of time, the wife has grounds to be granted a divorce by a Shari’ah court. Similarly, if she can prove to the court that the husband is doing her harm (idrar), be it by drinking alcohol, or beating her without lawful cause, or abusing her or her parents and so on, she is entitled to be granted a divorce. In none of these cases can the husband claim back any part of the dowry or presents he has given to the wife.
The husband is however urged in the Qur’an to avoid divorce and try to preserve marriage even if it is not ideal. This is to be done in the first instance by exercising patience with his wife’s faults. The Qur’an says:
” Live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them, it may be that you dislike a thing while Allah brings about it a great deal of good. ” (Qur’an 4:19)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) also emphasized the undesirability of divorce in a Hadith found in Abu Dau’d’s collection:
” The most hateful of all lawful things, in the sight of Allah, is divorce. “
If a man does divorce his wife, he should follow the steps approved in the Qur’an and Sunnah of giving a revocable divorce, of the type that allows for cooling off and reconciliation before it becomes final on the third pronouncement. The divorce is not to be pronounced while the wife is in menstruation, but when she has finished menstruation and not yet resumed marital relations with the husband (Qur’an 65:1). In other words divorce is not to be pronounced in anger or at random, but at a specific time when the husband is in control of his reason, and the wife herself is not in the state of emotional upset that sometimes accompanies menstruation.
” The parties should either hold together on equitable terms or separate with kindness. It is not lawful for you (men) to take back any of your gifts from your wives. ” (Qur’an 2:229)
On the contrary, the husband is to give her a gift or some form of maintenance to sustain her after divorce (Qur’an 2:241).
The husband should also know that according to the Shari’ah he is not the one to have custody of his children after divorce, contrary to the common practice. It is the wife who is given priority in custody of children, in accordance with a Hadith related by Amru b. Shu’aib in Ibn Majah, which tells how a woman came to the Prophet and said:
” Truly my belly served as a container for my son here, and my breast served as a skin bag for him (to drink out of), and my bosom served as a refuge for him; and now his father has divorced me, and he (also) desires to take him away from me.” The Prophet said: “You have a better right to have him as long as you do not marry again.”
This custody lasts until puberty for a son and until marriage for a daughter, while the financial responsibility for their maintenance remains with their father.
The permission to marry more than one wife at a time is however conditional:
“…If you fear that you cannot do justice between them, then marry only one.” (Qur’an 4:3)
[…]this verse should not be taken lightly. A weak husband will not be respected and will not act fairly between his wives, whereby his marrying more than one is likely to lead to injustice, constant disharmony and the break-up of his family […]
“And you will not be able to treat your wives with equal justice however much you may desire it. But do not incline towards one to the exclusion of the other, leaving her as it were in suspense.” (Qur’an 4:129)
“Whoever has two wives and does not treat them equally, shall come on the Day of Resurrection with half his body hanging down.” (Transmitted by Abu Da’ud, Nasa’i and Ibn Majah.)
How did the Prophet, (peace be upon him) then, behave as a husband?
Firstly he was not a difficult or remote or tyrannical husband of the type who regard all household chores as “women’s work”.
” He used to work for his family, that is, serve the family, and when prayer time came, he went out for prayer.”
Other Hadith tell us that he used to mend his own clothes.
Secondly he didn’t make a fuss about food.
” Allah’s Messenger never found fault with food. If he liked something, he ate it, and if he disliked it, he just abstained from it” – implying that he never complained about the food or its cooking.
He never held himself aloof from his wives as if they were by their nature as women inferior. On the contrary, he included “playing games with one’s wife” as one of the legitimate entertainments.
“… There is no amusement which is praiseworthy except three, namely training a horse, sporting with one’s wife and shooting arrows with a bow.”
Most men nowadays consider it far beneath their dignity to play any sort of game with their wives, and their marriages are the duller and poorer for it.
The Prophet’s attitude towards female children and female education is a beautiful elaboration of what is found in the Qur’an.
” Whoever has a female child and does not bury her alive, nor hide her in contempt, nor prefers his male child over her, Allah will make him enter Paradise.” (Abu Da’ud)
He decreed that every Muslim – male and female – must as a duty seek knowledge, and prescribed education for all children in the following words:
” No present or gift of a parent, out of all the gifts and presents to a child, is superior to a good broad (general) education.” (Tirmidhi and Baihaqi.)
” Whoever brings up two sisters or two daughters, and gives them a broad education, and treats them well, and gives them in marriage, for him is Paradise.” (Abu Da’ud, Tirmidhi).
From all this we can see that some people’s resistance to allowing their daughters to have access to knowledge is not only misguided but quite contrary to all the Prophet preached and practised. An ideal Muslim husband is therefore expected to be deeply committed to and involved in the education of all his children – the daughters as much as the sons.
The Prophet’s respect for a wife’s intelligence and understanding was also reflected in his readiness to consult his wives and to respond to their good advice.
His wives were thus not kept locked up so that they couldn’t experience what was going on in the outside world. They wore their modest dress (hijab) and went out and saw everything that was going on, and themselves participated when necessary, for example in nursing the wounded on the battlefields.