Does A Muslim Woman Have to Obey Her Husband?

Question: My problem is in Islam, A woman must obey her husband, she can’t go out of the house without his permission, and she even has to obey her husband even if he tells her to do something that she hates; and she obeys him even against herself or her parents’ will – why is it like this? A woman is a human being with the right to think and decide for herself. Sometimes a woman can think in some situations more clearly than her husband, but if the husband says something, then his words are the ones to be followed – why is it like this? Why do I have to obey my husband even before obeying my father who raised me up all these years? I know that in Islam, men and women are equal, but this doesn’t seem like equality. I am not questioning Islam or God of course, but I just need an explanation. Why do we have to obey the men in submission like this? Did Prophet Muhammad really say “If I would have ordered someone to do sujud (prostration), for someone else except Allah, I would have ordered the wife to do it to her husband” ? Did he really say that, and why? And If I don’t follow this ahadith (tradition of Prophet Muhammad), will I be sinning? Thanks for your time.

Answer by Abdul-Lateef Abdullah

In the name of Allah the Most Gracious
the Most Merciful
May He bestow His peace and blessings on His messenger, Muhammad, his family, Companions, and all of those who follow them sincerely.

As salamu `alaykum,

Thank you for your very poignant question. It is an important one and one that you need to settle before you marry for there should be no lingering doubts about Islam or your future husband. It is, therefore, very important that you receive an answer to this and any other questions you have.

One thing that is very important for all of us to be able to differentiate is the difference between Islamic teachings, cultural practices, and beliefs. Sometimes these two are in complete opposite to one another even though the practices referred to are coming from Muslims. Yes, it is true that the husband is the head of the household in Islam, but that does not mean that he runs the household like a tyrant. It also does not mean that women have not the power to make decisions.

As a convert to Islam myself, I realize that there is a very big difference between the outward, literal aspects of these teachings and their application in real life. The Muslim home – in the true spirit of Islam — is one where Allah is God and He alone is worshipped, not the husband/father. Men are given a certain degree of RESPONSIBILITY over their wives, rather than a degree of privilege or power. According to Sheikh `Abdullah Adhami, the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and the early scholars of Islam understood and practiced the Qur’an in these terms – that the degree that men are afforded is one of responsibility, not power: (see in the Qur`an Al Baqarah 2:228)

“Women who are divorced shall wait, keeping themselves apart, three (monthly) courses. And it is not lawful for them that they should conceal that which Allah hath created in their wombs if they are believers in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands would do better to take them back in that case if they desire a reconciliation. And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness, and men are a degree above them. Allah is Mighty, Wise.”

The degree above them, according to Sheikh `Abdullah is a degree of responsibility, not a degree of privilege or power. In many cultures, however, this degree is taken to mean that the husband has power to do and act however he wants without question. This, however, is against the teachings of Islam. Yes, men are the head of the household in Islam, but mutual respect and consideration are the way in which the affairs of the house should be governed.

Specific questions about a woman leaving the house, for example, are also important to consider in the spirit of Islam, along with the mere dictates of the law. Yes, a woman should get permission to leave the house. This should, however, be understood according to the spirit of mutual respect. A husband is responsible for safeguarding the safety of his family. If he does not know when and where his wife is coming and going, how is he supposed to do that? By the same token, a husband should also discuss with his wife his leaving the house out of respect for her. For example, perhaps she wants to pray and there is no one to watch the young children or a baby. The husband should first consult the wife about going out and the two should come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. Maybe the wife will ask the husband to wait 20 minutes so that she can pray first, for example. In any case, the husband must be considerate of the wife’s needs and situation, not only his own. The point is that the affairs of the house are not a dictatorship; they should be conducted according to mutual respect and teamwork, with both respecting the rights and responsibilities of the other. The rights and legal dictates exist so that we know our basic responsibilities and do not cross any lines that we shouldn’t, however, in practice we should always strive for the best of ways in our affairs, which is, of course, according to the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), who was nothing but kind, gentle and fair with his wives and family. There was no one on Earth who treated his wives better than the Prophet (SAW), so we should take his example in all of our affairs.

Some examples of Islamic teachings in regard to wives/women:
{Among His signs is the fact that he has created spouses from among yourselves, so that you may find tranquillity with them; and he has put love and mercy between you. In that are signs for people who reflect} (Qur’an Ar Rum 30:21)
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was reported to have said:
• “From among the believers are those who have the kindest disposition and are the kindest to their families- such are those who show the most perfect faith. The best among them are those who are kindest to their wives.” (1)

• “The most perfect Muslim in the matter of faith is one who has excellent behaviour; and the best among you are those who behave best towards their wives.” (2)

• “Do not beat the female servants of God.” (3)

• “Whoever has a female child and does not bury her alive, nor hide her in contempt, nor prefers his male child over her, God will make him enter Paradise.” (4)

• “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.” (5)
(1) Bukhari and Muslim
(2) Tirmidhi
(3) Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah
(4) Abu Dawud
(5) Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi
Remember, Prophet Muhammad (SAW), the best of creation was a servant of his family, not a tyrant or a king:

Ahadith – Sahih al-Bukhari 8.65, Narrated Al Aswad
I asked ‘Aisha what did the Prophet use to do at home. She replied, “He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was time for the prayer, he would get up for prayer.”

Serving his family, according to other hadith on the subject, included: sweeping floors, sewing clothes, cooking, serving guests, teaching and educating the children, and others. How many Muslim husbands, despite being so quick to claim their status of ‘head of household’ live according to this example? How many of us see ourselves and act as servants of our families rather than kings? This ahadith is just one powerful example of the difference between knowing the RIGHTS of husbands and knowing our RESPONSIBILITIES as husbands who are followers of the best of creation, Rasulullah (SAW). Using the Prophet’s example, we can understand that it was because of the standard of his behavior, and loving kindness to his family that he was so well respected and obedient to them. He never had to ‘demand’ his authority from them like many of us. He simply behaved in a way that made people want to serve him and follow him. That is the greatness of the Prophet (SAW) – he made people WANT to obey him because of his high standard of character and example as a human being, husband, father, etc.

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2 Responses to “Does A Muslim Woman Have to Obey Her Husband?”

  1. ASAK, Good explanation, hope everybody receives it in good faith.

  2. Mohamed Salman Says:

    Great Reply,
    Jazzakum Allah Khair, May Allah guide the Ummah, Ameen.

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