Muslim Marriage Guide – 6

Chapter 6
The Good Man
Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood

`A believing man must never hate a believing woman; if he dislikes one trait in her, he will find another trait in her with which to be pleased.’ (Hadith in Muslim)Respect can never be gained by simply telling someone to respect you. Respect has to be earned, by how you speak and how you act – in other words, through the total message of what you are.
It is absolutely vital in a good Islamic marriage that the wife respect her husband, otherwise the marriage is going to be a miserable business. Since one of the basic ground rules of Islamic marriage is that the husband is the `imam’ and the head of the household, he has to prove himself worthy of that position.

It is not true that a Muslim wife is expected to obey her husband in every single thing he says – there is a very important proviso. If the husband attempts to order her to do anything that clashes with Islam, it is her duty NOT to obey him, but to point this out (tactfully and gently), and to change his orders!

Therefore, if the wife is to respect her man, he must do his utmost to be worthy of and to merit that respect.

Many women, particularly in these days of `women’s lib’, wonder why it is that a man should even be considered as head of the household. Most women know that most men have very little to do with the housework and routine side of things; some of them leave all the financial control of day to day expenditure to their wives, and sometimes even more important financial planning. It is the mother who usually has most to do with things as important and varied as training the children in good manners and sound belief and seeing that there is food to eat in the house, and things as trivial as seeing that there is a clean shirt, a pair of socks, that things are picked up and put away, that toilets get cleaned, and so forth.

Once women have learned how to cope with all this, many of them do not see why they should regard their husbands as the head of the household.

In Islam, this concession to the man is of vital importance. It is part of God’s plan, part of His ordinance.

It was ordained long before the revelation to the Prophet Muhammad (s). It was stressed in Christianity as well: for instance in one Christian text we read: `Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as if to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife as Christ is head of the congregation.’ (Ephesians, 5:22-24.)

In His final religion, Allah has requested that wives obey their husbands and pay them respect in every matter that does not conflict with His will. Indeed, the Holy Prophet once said that if it had been possible for him to order a human being to bow down to any other human being, he would have asked wives to bow down to their husbands! He could not ask this, of course, for only God has that privilege and right; but it pointed to his deep desire for a happy family relationship in which the husband was definitely the boss!

However, before wives close this book in irritation and accuse it of blindly supporting rampant male chauvinism (the view that men are always superior to women, because that is the way things are!), let us make it quite clear that chauvinism, and arrogance, and refusal to listen to the other’s point of view, have nothing to do with Islam.

A good Muslim husband is not chauvinistic or arrogant, or puffed-up with his own opinion of himself. He is also under authority, don’t forget – the highest Authority of all. That Authority has commanded him to be humble, modest, gentle, kind and compassionate. It has not required him to go bumbling around issuing orders right, left and centre, the whole object of which might seem to be to get out of doing work himself, or to see all the activities of the members of his household centred around his own comforts and pleasures.

Muslim husbands have the Blessed Prophet himself as their example, and they are expected to try to be like him; and to the extent that they succeed in being like him, do we find the respect issuing naturally from their Muslim wives. The more civil and kind a Muslim is to his wife, the more perfect in faith he is, and the more worthy of being her leader.

Most men, when they first marry, have to learn how to take hold of that position of authority. They have usually not been in such a position before, but were merely young men in someone else’s household. They may never have held the position of boss at work, or in the office, or in the factory. They may have little or no idea about `public relations’ exercises and tactics, and so may well go blundering into terrible staff revolts, strikes and other difficulties and dissatisfactions. The new husband has to realise that when he has just been promoted to a position of `boss’ of a household, he has to learn the skills, or he will encounter the same staff problems.

Let us consider a few of them. First and foremost, I suppose, the `workers’ like to see their boss being fair, honest and of sound judgment. These things are absolutely vital. The moment a boss is known to be unfair, incapable or dishonest he is in for big trouble. People will see nothing wrong in their own dishonesty, getting away with whatever they can. Honesty is the key. Without it, the rest of one’s religion is worthless.

How can a wife truly respect her husband (or vice versa), when she knows he lies, fakes illness, fiddles the tax returns, or even pinches things?

`People make long prayers to Allah although their food is haram, their drink is haram, and their clothes are haram. How can their prayers be accepted?’ (Hadith in Muslim and Tirmidhi)

Imam al-Ghazali records:

`When a certain man went out of his house, his wife and his daughter would say to him: “Beware of illegal earning, for we can endure hunger and hardship, but we cannot endure the Fire.”‘

As for the incapable boss, once workers take the point of view that he is an idiot who is going to make a mess of things, they start looking out for themselves to make sure that they, at least, come out of it all right.

Next, the boss must never exploit his workforce, or expect unreasonable things of them. Loyal workers will labour way over and above the call of duty for a manager who is decent, just, and gives them fair reward. Once they begin to feel exploited, trouble starts. The first thought is usually to consider if it is worthwhile financially continuing in such a job, if one is slaving away all hours for a pittance, and others are getting preferential treatment over you, and so on. `He who cheats us is not one of us.’ (Muslim.)

There are so many forms of exploitation in the workplace. And there are so many in marriage. The husband who is `out at work’ from, say, nine to five, and then comes home and puts his feet up for the rest of the evening while his wife continues to work has forgotten something – she was also working nine to five, and very likely started long before that. This applies not only when the wife has a job outside the house, buf also when she is working in the house.

Many men find this hard to grasp, for some reason. The simple way to prove it would be for the wife to leave him for a few weeks and let the household run down, as it would swiftly do; and then suggest that perhaps the husband should sort it out by hiring someone to come and take over the wife’s jobs.

As we have seen (page 22 above), it was not the Prophet’s sunna to sit back and watch his wives getting exhausted in his service.

The boss that really draws out loyalty from his staff is the one who shows his own self sacrifice. He is prepared to get his hands dirty. He will not ask anyone to do what he would not be prepared to do himself.

`An employer should not ask a worker to do anything beyond his capacity. If that which the employer demands is necessary, then he himself should lend a helping hand to the worker,’ (Bukhari)

He will not sit behind the closed door with his feet on the desk, but will be a worker alongside the other workers (bearing in mind his rank and job differentials, of course). He will not exploit or abuse his staff, and – very important – he will pay them their due, justly and in good time.

The Blessed Prophet was very clear on all this: `Give the worker his wage before his sweat dries.’ (Ibn Maja.)

Husbands usually understand all this as regards their place of employment, but many need to realise that the main worker within the family is the wife. She must never be taken for granted – for her payment is so often not money at all, but being noticed, appreciated, and loved.

Due to his imperfection and selfishness, there are many times when the husband, while wanting very much to be respected as the head of the family, fails to show the needed consideration and love to his wife, and thus `shoots himself in the foot’.

No matter how much a man may actually love his wife, if he doesn’t show it, she will not feel loved. No matter how much he does appreciate her, if he doesn’t show it, she will not ,feel appreciated. She may deduce from his attitude that the only things that matter to him are his own pleasure and satisfaction.

`Among my followers the best of men are those who are best to their wives, and the best of women are those who are best to their husbands. To each of such women is set down a reward equivalent to the reward of a thousand martyrs. Among my followers, again, the best of women are those who assist their husbands in their work, and love them dearly for everything, save what is transgression of Allah’s laws.’ (Cited in Doi, Women in Sharia, 9)

What else makes bosses unpopular with the workers? When they are domineering. To gain respect, a man has to show himself steady and strong and able to take decisions, but that does not mean that no one else is ever to be consulted, or that no one else’s opinion counts, or that the wife’s opinion should never be seriously considered because it doesn’t happen to agree with the husband’s,

Of course, this does not mean that a husband has to put himself out all the time making himself a slave to his wife’s wishes. A domineering wife is worse than a domineering husband! Moreover, wives do not usually appreciate a man who abuses his position of headship by leaving everything to her, and passing over to her all the decision making. When that happens, the wife soon begins to wonder what use the husband is, and whether she might not actually manage better without him. If the answer to the question, `What is your husband for?’ is along the lines of `making a mess, creating chores and problems, filling up space, making you do things you don’t want to do, and creating a lot of work you wouldn’t have to do if he was not there’, then sooner or later a woman is going to wonder why she is doing this – and the marriage is on the rocks.

`Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more strength, and because they spend of their property. Therefore righteous women are the obedient, guarding in (the husband’s) absence what God has guarded.’ (Quran,4:34)

The man has to show the protection, the maintenance, and the strength before he receives the obedience and the cooperation.

Just because a man is head of the household does not mean that he is issuing commands at every hour of the day. Usually it simply means that when the two of them at times disagree, and a row threatens, he has a casting vote. The husband does not always have to give in to his wife’s wishes; but he is a fool if he does not listen to her reasons why she wants a certain thing doing, or wants it doing a certain way. Good Muslim husbands and wives both realise that everyone is capable of making mistakes, of not being perfect, and both should consider each other’s rights and requests with an open mind and humility. The Prophet (s) emphasised this time and time again. A modem Nigerian scholar remarks:

`It is a fact, however, that sound administration within the domestic sphere is impossible without a unified policy. For this reason the Shariah requires a man, as head of the family, to consult with his family and then have the final say in decisions concerning it. In doing so, he must not abuse his prerogative to cause any injury to his wife. Any transgression of this principle involves for him the risk of losing the favour of Allah, because his wife is not his subordinate but she is, to use the words of the Prophet, the “queen of the house”, and this is the position a true believer is expected to give his wife.’ (Doi, Women in Sharia, 10)

Even if the man has more responsibility than the woman and therefore has a `degree over her’, this does not necessarily make him better than his wife.

How can you tell if you are being a good husband? What does a good husband have to do?

Well, he has to be a good provider, to the best of his ability. Islam is very keen on men earning, striving and supporting, and not depending on others.

`What a man spends on his family is a Sadaqa, and a man will be rewarded even for the morsel that he raises to his wife’s lips.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)

`He is not one of us who possesses money but keeps his family away from his wealth.’ (Mustadrak)

A celibate man once told a scholar: `God has given me a share in every good work’, and he mentioned the Hajj, the Jihad, and so on. `How far you still remain,’ replied the scholar, `from the work of the saints (abdal)’, `And what is that? ‘Legitimate earning and supporting a family.’ (Ghazali)

`Supporting a wife is not only a training and a discipline, but also a providing and a caring and a form of worship in its own right.’ (Ghazali.)

A man’s wife and family have material needs, and things cost money. It is a poor husband who keeps his pay packet to himself, if the wife has no independent financial means of support. It is very galling for most women to be forced to ask their husbands for a bottle of scent, or new underwear, or new clothes for the children, let alone adequate finances to buy the food and pay the bills.

Husbands should be alert to the cost of living, and make sure that the allowances they give their wives are reasonable. If the husband just hands over the barest minimum, and keeps everything else for his own pleasure, this is not fair. He can only do this by having a wife who is a slave worker, and not a wife! Once again, it would be a good exercise for him to work out how much it would cost him to replace his wife with hired help.

Being a good provider also means that the husband should not waste his money, or fritter it away. Obviously a man cannot be blamed for being a poor man if it is not his fault; but he can be blamed for being idle, and greedy, and mean, and selfish. In the Western world, many wives are disappointed by husbands who waste their earnings on alcohol, gambling and `nights out with the boys’. Muslim husbands should obviously not do this, but if the husband innocently goes out three or four times a week to a hired sports centre, he should consider what he is allowing his wife for her relaxation, and whether his use of time and expenditure is fair. A wife who notices her husband spending all his time and money on things like indoor sports is not going to be very thrilled with him for long, as she sits at home alone darning the socks!

Muslims should learn to live within their means, and this is often difficult for a new husband and wife. It is so easy to get into debt, especially in modern societies that encourage you to `live now, pay later’. Muslim couples should be awake to the fact that if they live foolishly and irresponsibly, they will indeed `pay later’, and not just in cash! The true believers are `those who, when they spend, are neither prodigal nor miserly; and there is always a firm standing place between the two.’ (Quran, 25:67.)

At the same time, they must take care not to become materialistic. There are things which are more important than keeping up with the neighbours, and having all the latest expensive gadgetry and cars. Riches are a temptation and a snare. So many sayings of the Prophet (s) point this out:

`Riches are sweet, and a source of blessing to those who acquire them by the way; but those who seek them out of greed are like people who eat but are never full.’ (Bukhari)

`It is not poverty which I fear for you; it is that you might begin to desire the world as others before you desired it, so that it destroys you as it destroyed them.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)

`The love of money is the source of all wickedness.’ (Bayhaqi)

`Richness does not consist in the abundance of worldly goods; richness is the richness of the soul.’ (Muslim)

No matter what wonderful possessions a materialistic way of life may bring, they can never compensate for the pain of seeing family relationships weaken and break down. What is the point of spending so much time at work in order to gain the physical things of life that you have no time or energy left for the spiritual things? And no time or energy to build up love and compassion and friendship in your household?

It is up to the husband, as head of the house, to be alert to this and make sure he is doing his spiritual and loving duty. Yes, he should work hard to provide the physical needs of his household; but he should put his ultimate effort not into riches and material things which will pass away, but into the service of God through loving his wife and family, teaching them, and building up their spiritual lives together.

`Nobody shall meet God with a sin greater than that of having left his family in ignorance.’ (Imam Daylami)

It is vital to realise that this means praying together often, which is actually one of the things so appreciated by Muslim wives who, with the decline of the extended family, so frequently have to pray alone. It is such a lovely thing to kneel behind the head of your house, your husband- imam, and worship with him from time to time. However, your husband- imam must also bear in mind the principles taught by the Blessed Prophet himself, who made his prayers fit the needs and necessities and hardships of the congregation behind him.

`I standup to pray and I intend to pray at length; but when I hear the cry of a child I shorten it for fear that the mother might be distressed.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)

Prayer is not meant to be done out of duty or boredom, but out of love. The fiqh of Islam (carrying out the ritual details) is one aspect only; a no less important aspect is the inner dimension of faith, the tasawwuf, which brings spiritual insights and true devotion of the heart.

If a husband is obsessed only with the fiqh (outward) aspect, whereas his wife is drawn more towards the tasawwuf (inner) dimension, then here is an opportunity for the devil to creep in between them; for there is a natural tendency for each side to think that their own preoccupation is the best. The tasawwuf worshipper will have a loving awareness of God’s presence throughout the day, and as well as performing the basic obligations will pray in short (or long) bursts of great personal devotion. The worshipper limited only to the fiqh will regard it as beneficial to perform as correctly as possible, and earn merit, by increasing noncompulsory prayers and rak’as. But what Islam requires is that we combine the two. Both fiqh and tasawwuf are dangerous without each other: the inner form of the soul during the prayer and the outward arrangement of the body must be in harmony. The heart must prostate as well as the body.

One fruit of this balanced spiritual activity will be that each spouse is able always to consider the hopes and faith of the other, and to be open hearted.

One partner should not be so preoccupied with his or her own spiritual progress that they fail to show sincere concern for the other. If the husband does not give sufficient attention to his wife’s spiritual needs, then in time she may no longer cherish the same goals that he does. If parents do not take enough personal interest in the spiritual growth of their children, they may find their hearts and minds being drawn away by the materialistic world which surrounds them. This will be almost inevitable unless they take the trouble to explain not only the `whats’ but also the `whys’ of Islam.

Finally, it is very important for a boss to show respect and honour to his workforce. They are not slaves- they are living beings with their own hopes and feelings, fears and frustrations.

This applies particularly to husbands honouring their wives in the sexual relationship, about which more will be said shortly. So much frigidity and lack of interest on the part of wives is caused by husbands who are ignorant of a woman’s physical and emotional makeup. Some husbands are harsh and demanding, satisfy their own needs without considering those of their wives, demand sex when their wives are tired or feeling ill, or when they have earlier upset them and put them right out of the mood.

They have not grasped the words of the Blessed Prophet who counseled men not to leap upon their women like animals, but to `send a messenger’ first. He also used to say that a man who beat his wife like a slave during the day could hardly expect her to fall happily into his arms later that night. By a simple process of analogy, one must extend this hadith to those men who treat their women like slaves. The same applies: they will only gain disappointment and resentment, not love.

Muslim men should obviously not look outside their own home for sexual enjoyment of any kind. If they did, that would certainly not be honouring their wives. The Prophet (s) wisely said on one occasion:

`Whenever any one of you comes across an attractive woman, and his heart is inclined towards her, he should go straight to his wife and have sexual intercourse with her, so that he might keep himself away from evil thoughts.’ (Muslim)

The husband who honours his wife does not treat her as an inferior being. The Prophet (s) told men to feed their wives with the same sort of food as they received themselves (not obliging them to give them the best all the time, while the wife gets the leftovers!), and clothing them with the same sort of clothes – in other words, if the husband likes expensive and stylish things, he should not spend so much on himself that his wife is reduced to hunting around for cheap bargains and making do. The principle is fairness – yes, the husband may have earned the money, but the woman has made it possible for him, and she has rights over it.

`You shall give her to eat when you take your food, and you shall clothe her when you clothe yourself.’ (Hadith from Abu Daud)

If the wife falls short of expectations, it is stupid to treat her harshly and make her life unpleasant. Try to improve matters by tact and gentleness and encouragement – as you would like others to do for you when you fall short. Don’t start trying to run the kitchen or the household yourself, pushing her out of the way and making her feel embarrassed and small. Bosses who do that to their workers soon find their staff depressed and in revolt, and they usually walk out sooner or later. Far better to communicate, train gently, explain things, and make appreciative noises when things are going right.

`Whichever man is patient with the bad character of his wife shall be given a reward like unto that which Job shall receive; and whichever woman is patient with the bad character of her husband shall be given the same reward as Asiya, the (saintly) wife of Pharoah.’ (al-Ghazali)

Love may be based on many things, but to be of true value it must go beyond mere human affection or mutual desire and be governed by what is for the highest good of the loved one. That kind of love can sometimes call for reproving or disciplining, just as a parent reproves or disciplines a much loved child. But in Islam it is important to be long suffering and kind. Even when a situation provokes you, and perhaps unfair accusations are being made, you must show restraint and generosity. Remember the saying: `The true Muslim is like the earth: everything foul is thrown upon it, but only what is beautiful grows from it.’

True love is not impatient, or `picky’. It is not jealous or suspicious or possessive. Those things are signs of insecurity, fed by the imagination, and should be watched out for. It is so easy to see other people’s faults and failings, and so hard to acknowledge them in ourselves; but if we are good Muslims we must make the attempt. As a hadith says, `Blessed is he who is so concerned by his own faults that he cannot see the faults of others.’ (Daylami.)

True love does not behave indecently or with vulgarity. A good husband or wife does not discuss the shortcomings or intimate skills of their spouse with others, which would be so hurtful if found out. Nobody likes being laughed at, especially for things which are personal and private. The Blessed Prophet said:

`On the Day of Judgment, the lowest person in the sight of God will be the man who is intimate with his wife and then broadcasts her secrets.’ (Hadith narrated by Muslim)

And Imam al-Nawawi says: `Know that a husband should never discuss sexual matters with any of his wife’s relatives.’

This principle applies even after a divorce. Imam al-Ghazali tells a story about a pious man who wanted to divorce his wife, and was asked: `What have you against her?’ He answered: `A man of understanding does not reveal his wife’s secret.’ After the divorce, he was asked why he had divorced her, but he merely said: `What business of mine is another man’s wife?’

The good husband comes home from work tired, but he does not forget his duties and his love for his family. He may not be in the least eager to chatter, and needs to take rest- but his wife may have been treasuring some detail to tell him all day; and whereas he may have been surrounded by adults to whom he could talk and enjoy conversation, she may have had no one to talk to but the baby, the cat and the curtains! Honour the rights of your wife, and be kind.

And what about the children? If the father makes no time for them, and fails to teach them to respect their mother by his own attitude towards her and treatment of her, then sooner or later he will pay the price for it. Children need to see their parents’ love and respect for each other, their united cooperation, and their willingness to help each other. Phrases like `wait until your father gets home.’ and `Go ask your mother!’ inevitably cast the person who has to do the disciplining, or has to say `no’, in the role of villain. If there is to be family happiness, each parent should receive the child’s love and respect. On no account should mother and father allow a child to pit one against the other – a skill they pick up very easily, sad to say! If children are expected to respect their parents, then the parents must live in such a way that they are deserving of respect, and provide a good example for the child to follow. Selfishness, bad temper, unreasonableness, laziness, dishonesty, abusiveness: these are all qualities swiftly picked up and copied by children. Earn respect by providing a peaceful and loving Muslim home, a good set of standards, a good and consistent example in your own conduct, sound training in manners and morals, and loving and gentle discipline when needed.Children learn about love by seeing it, and they learn to give love by receiving it. Love cannot be bought. Neglectful parents may shower gifts upon their spouses and children, but to try to buy love only cheapens it. It is not gifts but your time, your energy and your love that are needed – giving, helping, serving, sharing.
Watch out for that big person-replacer, the TV screen. TV watching and computer games can become an addiction which replaces doing and living with merely seeing – and most of that seeing is pretty rubbishy, especially mass-produced children’s programmes! It also replaces talking together and playing together. In some cases, it even replaces communication while eating together! One day, you might switch the screen off, and find out that your whole family has changed, grown old, and maybe fallen apart.

Never underestimate the bonding value of the family meal. Sufyan al-Thawri said: `I have heard that God and His angels bless a family that eats together.’

All human beings need some recognition, to be accepted and approved, to feel that they belong. To get those things, of course, the individual must bear in mind the whole group to which he or she belongs, and to feel valuable, they must contribute to it. Children must learn to take responsibility, to belong to and support the family, and eventually do things for themselves so that they will be able in due course to support their parents and set up families for themselves.

Finally, the little `extra’ touches can really lift up a humdrum relationship. The Blessed Prophet said: `Even to put a morsel of food into your wife’s mouth is a sadaqa’ (Bukhari and Muslim). This indicates the kind of tenderness which should exist in a Muslim marriage. The squeeze, the arm around the shoulder, the touch of the hand, the pinch on the cheek, the little gifts that show you have thought about your wife during the day – these are the messengers that really get the message across.

`There is no woman who removes something to replace it in its proper place with a view to tidying her husband’s house, but that Allah records it as a virtue for her. Nor is there a man who walks with his wife hand in hand, but that Allah sets it down as a virtue for him; and if he put his arm round her shoulder in love, his virtue is increased tenfold.’ (Doi, Women in Sharia, 10)

No husband or wife is ever perfect; but when a husband shows love and thought for his wife, and acts in accordance with the principles of Islam, he will surely earn not only her love and respect, but that of Allah Himself.

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