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Rights and Duties
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Husband & Wife: Rights and duties

The Prophet (pbuh) has laid down the basis on which the marital
relationship is established. He (pbuh) has enjoined his followers to
treat their wives well. He says: "I enjoin you to be good to your
women." We cannot fulfill the prophet's instructions unless we
establish a relationship with our wives on the basis of mutual care
and kindness. The Prophet (pbuh) has highlighted the importance of
taking good care of our women when he (pbuh) made that one of the
three areas to which he has drawn our attention just before he (pbuh)
passed away. He (pbuh) repeated these recommendations: "Attend
regularly to your prayer. Do not charge your slaves with what they
cannot bear. Fear Allah in your treatment of woman."

With all this emphasis on taking good care of women, Islam has
outlined certain rights and duties for both man and woman which must
be honored. Both can claim equal rights against each other, except
for those minor differences which are necessitated by the nature of
their roles and the way they are created. Allah says in the
Qur'an: "In accordance with justice the rights of the wives (with
regard to their husbands) are equal to the (husband's) rights with
regard to them." (2:228). It is true that many people do not pay any
heed to such an instruction. However, a true Muslim always tries to
do his duties, hoping to earn Allah's pleasure. His efforts to do
what is required of him is not motivated by his fear of the law; its
primary motivation is acting on Allah's instructions. This has not
been said in generalities. The Prophet (pbuh) has specified the
rights of a woman against her husband when he was asked by one of his
men companions: "Messenger of Allah, what rights a man's wife holds
against him?" He answered: "That you feed her when you find food to
eat, and dress her when you dress yourself, and that you do not
strike her on her face and do not abuse her verbally, and that you do
not boycott her except within the home." (Related by Abu Dawood and
Ibn Hibban).

We see, then, how it is not permissible for a Muslim to ignore or
overlook supporting his wife. It is not up to him to decide whether
to provide her with clothes. That is a right. The Prophet (pbuh)
says: "It is sufficient of a sin for anyone to allow those entrusted
to his care to perish." It is forbidden, as we have seen, for a man
to hit his wife on her face. This is the worst humiliation. Besides,
we have some very important organs in our heads. A strike on the face
could cause blindness, deafness, a broken tooth or jaw or a bleeding
nose. This is not permissible. While Islam has given a husband the
right to discipline a disobedient wife, it has left only a very small
room for hitting her as a last resort when all efforts to make her
see reason have failed. Besides, such a strike must not be painful.

In order to understand what sort of beating is allowed, we can refer
to a Hadith which quotes the Prophet (pbuh) as threatening a servant
of his when he (pbuh) was angry with her: "If it was not for my fear
that Allah will inflict His punishment on me on the day of judgment,
I would have beaten you with this "miswak" (tooth brush) until it
hurts." You need only imagine what sort of pain could the beating
with a "miswak" cause. It is also not permissible for a Muslim to
hurl verbal abuse on his wife. It is needless to say that verbal
abuse creates ill-feeling. Islam is keen not to allow such ill-
feeling to develop.

Moreover, the Prophet (pbuh) reminds us that our relationship with
our wives is so intimate that it must not be allowed to be strained.
Otherwise, we land ourselves in contradictions which are bound to
have a bad effect on our marriage. The Prophet (pbuh) portrays
beating a woman in a very bad light, as he (pbuh) says: "How is it
that any one of you could beat his wife as he beats a slave, when he
may have intercourse with her at the end of the day?" Referring to
those who beat their wives, the Prophet (pbuh) says: "You will not
find these among the best of you." According to Lady Aisha, "Allah's
messenger has never beaten any of his wives or servants. Indeed, he
never beat anyone except for the cause of Allah or when what Allah
has consecrated was violated: He would then punish those who violated
them." The Prophet (pbuh) has outlined the rights of a man against
his wife. He (pbuh) says: "It is not permissible for a woman who
believes in Allah to admit into her husband's home anyone whom he
does not like to be admitted, or to go out when he disapproves, or to
obey anyone against her husband, or to banish herself from his bed,
or to hit him (if she is stronger than him). If he has started with
unkindness, she should try to please him. If he accepts, then she has
done well and Allah will accept her effort and make her argument
stronger. If he does not respond to her reconciliation attempt, then
she has done what is required of her." (Related by Al-Hakim). Both
man and wife should be considerate, realizing that their life
together is a partnership in which they have equal rights. Neither of
them should be domineering so as to negate the personality of the
other.

A woman is required to obey her husband but he also must consider her
wishes and preferences. When we speak of obedience, we are not
talking about a highly disciplined life, where a woman is held to
account for every slight deviation from a set rule. We are simply
speaking about an ultimate possibility to which recourse can be made
when differences cannot be amicably resolved. Within their home and
in what relates to their life together, a woman has to give priority
to her husband. His requests take precedence over those of her
parents, but in neither case is she allowed to obey anyone in what
constitutes disobedience to Allah.

If a quarrel takes place between a man and his wife and he wants to
send her to her parents' home, she may go. This should not be
prolonged because the normal situation is for a man and wife to live
together. You ask how long is she allowed to stay with her parents.
There is no maximum limit as long as this is felt to be conducive to
reconciliation.

However, the situation becomes improper if the break between man and
wife becomes total, but he is unwilling to divorce her in order to
prevent her from marrying someone else. It is not permissible for a
man to hold his wife in such a manner, neither giving her the life of
a married woman nor setting her free so that she can marry another
man. If he is making demands, particularly unreasonable ones, in
order to grant her divorce, he goes beyond the limits of what Allah
has allowed. A man does not need his wife's permission to marry
another woman. Allah has granted him this privilege and he may
exercise it if he thinks that he can cope well with its requirements.

The main requirement is to treat his two or more wives fairly.
Justice must be maintained between them. Otherwise, he is not allowed
to marry more than one. If a man wants to divorce his wife, he should
make sure first that their marriage cannot work. He should exhaust
all possibilities of reconciliation. Islam provides for a method of
arbitration when each of them appoints an arbiter and the two meet
together to find some way out of the difficulties the married couple
have been experiencing.

If that fails and divorce seems the only way out, then the man must
make sure of divorcing at the right time. It is forbidden, for
example, to divorce a woman when she is in her menstruation period.
He then declares that he divorces her, but he pronounces the word of
divorce once only. It is forbidden to say it three times in
succession, as many people do. She then starts her waiting period,
staying in the family home, i.e. her husband's home, but using a
separate bedroom. He has to support her during her waiting period and
she need not cook for him or do any household duties. During her
waiting period, they have a chance to reinstate their marriage
without the need to have a fresh marriage contract. Two witnesses
need to be called to witness the divorce and the remarriage if that
happens. When the waiting period is over, the divorce is complete. He
should pay her all her dues such as deferred dower, if any.

She rejoins her family and she may marry another man. If they want to
remarry, after the waiting period is over, they need to have a new
marriage contract. He must pay her a new dower, provided that the
divorce is a first or second time one. If the divorce has taken place
for a third time, they cannot remarry until she has married another
man which should be a full and complete marriage, intended to last
until either of them dies. If it so happens that she is divorced by
this second man or if he dies, she may marry her first husband, if
they both agree.