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What Are the Legal Obligations of a Wife towards Her Husband?

The sustainability, continuity and stability of a marital life depend on love, understanding and respect for mutual rights.  In order for the family, which is small social unit, to be solidified and strengthened, the religion of Islam has made an arrangement in a way such that it has determined specific rights for the wife and husband.

God, the Exalted, created man and woman to complement each other physically and psychologically. They have been designed in a way such that none of them can survive or exist without the other. Man and woman are two units of a pair. When both are taken independent of each other, there are certain obvious vacuums[1] in the mental, physical and emotional personalities of each. God has created the two in such a way that they complement each other in different ways, so that these vacuums are generally removed to a great extent. For this very purpose, God gave different mental, physical and emotional qualities to the male and the female. These different mental, physical and emotional qualities, on the one hand complement man and woman, and on the other establishes for them different spheres of activity in their interpersonal relationships. Therefore, God, the Exalted, has determined special rights and family obligations[2] for both of them based on their physical and psychological traits in order to help meet their material and spiritual needs.

These rights and obligations have been studied and taken into account by scholars from jurisprudential,[3] moral[4] and legal[5] perspectives. Since the question deals with the legal obligations of a woman towards her husband and the fact that moral duties constitute the spirit of the legal duties and guarantee them[6] and the jurisprudential duties do not make any major difference with the legal duties, we shall now take up the discussion on the moral and legal obligations of a woman towards her husband.

First part: Moral Duties

The moral duties of a woman as can be deduced from the traditions [ahadith] are propounded in two parts: 1. The value and importance of taking good care of husband; 2. Moral duties.

  1. The value and importance of taking good care of husband:
  2. A) The Holy Prophet of Islam (s) said: “If prostration was allowed for anyone other than God, verily I would have commanded woman to prostrate to her husband.”
  3. B) The husband’s right on wife is greater than any other rights.
  4. C) Woman’s Jihad is her toleration of the sufferings inflicted upon her by her husband.
  5. D) Woman should not enrage her husband even if he might have hurt and tormented her.
  6. E) A woman with whom her husband is displeased, her deeds are not accepted.
  7. F) A woman who does not care for her husband will not get any reward for her deeds.[7]
  8. The moral obligations of woman toward her husband:
  9. A) A woman should not have any inclination or attitude other than that of her husband, or else she is considered to be an adulteress in God’s view.
  10. B) A woman should help fulfill the physical and sexual needs of her husband be it behind the saddle of a camel. She should surrender herself to him every dusk and dawn, if her husband wants her to, otherwise she will be cursed by angels.
  11. C) A woman should not keep recommended fast without her husband’s permission. Obviously, this is an instance to indicate that every recommended act will be as such.
  12. D) The elongation of woman’s prayers should not hinder her from being available for her husband.
  13. E) A woman should not give anything, be it Sadaqa, to others without her husband’s permission.
  14. F) A woman should not go out of her home without her husband’s permission, otherwise she will be cursed by the angels of the heavens and the earth and the angels of mercy and wrath.[8]
  15. G) A woman should beautify and adorn herself only for her husband; she should not wear perfume for anyone other than her husband, otherwise her prayers shall not be accepted.[9]

Second part: Legal Rights

The legal rights of a woman are stated here under the following two categories: 1. Shared obligations; 2. Duties of the wife only:

  1. A) Shared duties:
  2. Good manners: The wife and husband are duty-bound to maintain good manners towards each other. They should behave with each other well and should talk to each other in a pleasant way. Thus, they should avoid abusing and violating each other’s rights, being sour and talking ill of each other except for when they have a valid excuse according to Shari’ah, law and custom.
  3. Cooperation: A woman and her husband should cooperate with each other in carrying out the affairs of the family and solidifying its basis. The custom and prevailing culture of the time and place and position of the two are the standards and criterion for this cooperation. For instance, if the custom considers the wife responsible for taking care of the house, child protection and breastfeeding and considers the husband responsible for outdoor activities, they should cooperate in the duties assigned to them.
  4. Education: It is the duty of both the wife and husband to endeavor, as far as possible and to the extent required by custom, time and place and their position, to rear and educate their child.
  5. Devotion: The wife and husband must not have illicit relationship with another person.
  6. B) Duties of the wife only:
  7. Accepting the husband as head of the family: If a problem occurs in the family, its solution rests with the final view of the husband. Of course, this duty of the husband should be fulfilled in an appropriate frame and within the limits set by the Islamic Shari’ah. He cannot misuse this duty to his own interest and to the disinterest of his wife.
  8. Wife’s obedience:[10] The wife should be available for her husband; she should surrender herself to her husband for sexual intercourse or other conventional pleasures to the extent she is expected in common view. In case she is in her menses or is sick or has other valid excuses, she has the right to refrain from surrendering herself to her husband.
  9. Place of residence: A woman should live in the place of residence chosen by her husband except for when the husband should have relegated the right to his wife or when the residential place is so bad that it is below the social status of the wife or when it is insufferable and physically harmful to her.
  10. She may not go out of her house without her husband’s consent nor should she let any one in unless her husband permits. This obligation should be observed and carried out within the customary limit except for some exceptions such as when a woman wants to go out to perform obligatory Hajj or to visit a doctor for medication or when staying indoor may be harmful to her physical healthy or to her reputation.
  11. A woman should obey her husband in terms of starting a job or the type of a job she may wish to take up especially when it is against the prevailing social norms or opposed to the woman’s position or status in society.

We have so far explained in brief the duties of wife toward her husband. We shall now mention briefly the obligations and commitments of the husband towards his wife.

Third part: Man’s Duty towards His Wife

The duties of man towards his wife are enumerated in two parts: 1. Moral duties; 2. Legal duties

  1. A) The moral Duties:

The moral duties of the husband according to narrations are also mentioned in two parts: 1. The value of maintaining good behavior towards women; 2. The behavioral obligations towards women:

One: The value of maintaining good behavior towards women:

  1. The prophets behaved kindly with women.[11]
  2. Women never forget the love expressed to them.
  3. To forgive women, if they commit a wrong behavior.
  4. Geniality and good behavior with women.
  5. The best men in the sight God, the Exalted, are those who have best behavior towards women.
  6. The most beloved of men is he who does the greatest good to his wife.
  7. He should be fearful lest he should fail to give his wife’s rights.

Two: Moral Obligations:

  1. He should look at the wife as it she is a flower not a maid to maintain its freshness and vitality. Therefore, he should not want his wife to do what is beyond the customary limit.
  2. To provide more and better decorative things, clothing, food etc. especially on Eid occasions.
  3. To consult wife in all important matters of the family.
  4. To observe moral and conjugal rights of the wife especially when it comes to sharing the bed with her.
  5. B) Legal duties:

The legal duties are stated here under the following two categories: 1. Shared obligations; 2. Duties of the husband only: The first category was explained above in the ‘shared obligation of the wife and husband’.

Fourth part: Legal Duties of the Husband Only:

  1. A) Financial obligation and payment of maintenance:
  2. He should provide his wife with food to the customary level in accordance with the requirements of the time, place and the woman’s social status.
  3. He should provide his wife with clothing to the customary level in accordance with the requirements of the time, place and the woman’s social status.
  4. He should provide his wife with ornaments and make-ups to the customary level in accordance with the requirements of the time, place and the woman’s social status.
  5. He should provide his wife with residence (place of living) to the customary level in accordance with the requirements of the time, place and the woman’s social status.
  6. He should provide his wife with household tools and equipments to the customary level in accordance with the requirements of the time, place and the woman’s social status.
  7. If the social status of herself or her family requires her to have a maidservant, the husband should hire a servant for her. Similarly, if she is sick and needs a servant, he should take action accordingly.
  8. He should pay for the wife’s medication, if she is sick.[12]
  9. B) The Conjugal Obligations of the Husband to His wife:

The statutory law has made no mention of this obligation; it has just sufficed to telling that the husband should maintain good behavior with his wife. However, the jurists have discussed this obligation in two parts:

  1. The right of a wife on her husband is that if she is virgin, the man should stay with her for seven nights. If she is not virgin, he should be with her for three nights. Thereafter, if he has only one wife, it is necessary that out of every four nights he should spend one night with her. If he has more than a wife, he should spend one night out of the four nights with each of them.[13]

2. It is obligatory on the husband to have sexual intercourse once every four months. This is considered to be one of the wife’s rights.

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References

[1] Pamphlet on the Rights of Woman in Islam, session 209, pg. 2096, Ayatollah Misbah Yazdi

[2] Baqarah, 233; Nisa, 4; Nahl, 72 and 21; Rum and other verses of the Quran pertaining to husband-wife obligations.

[3] The jurisprudents and grand religious authorities have discussed the legal obligations of a woman in the book of Nikah under the chapter ‘the contract of permanent marriage ‘.

[4] What has been mentioned in this answer as a part of moral duties involve the narrations which have been passed on to us from the Infallibles (a.s). These narrations have been extracted from Hilyatul Muttaqin, chap.4, sixth chapter, under the title ‘The Rights of Wife and Husband on Each Other’ and the Rules regarding them.

[5] Here it is necessary to mention in brief the differences between moral and legal laws:  1. Moral law originates in man’s intellect and in religion where as a statutory law is the law which is legislated by a legislative or executive body or judicial power or any other authority. 2. Moral law deals with the relationship of an individual with God, with himself and others whereas statutory law deals with a person’s relationship with others in society. 3. The ultimate purpose of morality or ethics is to help man attain human perfection and proximity to God but the object of the statutory law is to safeguard the worldly interests, establish law and order and provide calm and tranquility. 4. Moral laws focus most on the intention and motive but statutory law pays attention to the appearance of an action. 5. Moral rules are value-laden but legal rules can be done with the intention of riya (hypocrisy) also. 6. Moral laws are obligatory and recommended but statutory laws are mandatory. 7. Moral laws have an inner and divine sanction but statutory law is enforced by the state. See Ethics books and pamphlet of Islamic Sciences Lessons, session 177.

[6] All articles used in this answer have been extracted from articles 1112 to 1117 of Civil Code and Judicial Law relating to these articles and which have been excerpted from Civil Law vol.4, pg. 5 by Dr. Hussein Imami and Family Law vol.1, Dr. Hussein Safayee and Asaduallah Imami.

[7] Majlisi, Hilyatul Muttaqin, chap.6, pg. 76 – 77.

[8] One of the differences is that according to some jurisprudents, a woman can take wages for doing household chores but legalists say that doing household jobs is a duty on her which she should do without taking wages because she is supposed to cooperate with her husband. See: Family Rights by Safayee and Imami, vol1, pg. 162.

[9] Baqir Majlisi, Hilyatul Muttaqin, chap.6, pg. 76 – 79

[10] Obedience has common and particular meanings. See: Civil Rights, pg. 173.

[11] Urwatul Wuthqa, late Tabatabai, Yazdi, vol.2, Kitab Nikah, pg.626.

[12] Most of the jurists [fuqaha] do not consider this to be a duty of the husband. See Civil Rights, pg. 343.

[13] This is the famous opinion held by Muslim scholars. There are some other scholars who are of the view that the criterion is not to live away from the wife. Ibid. pg. 446.

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