Thursday, December 3, 2009

Obeying your husband

I thought of writing a post about this quite a long while ago, but I realized my ideas were so unclear and I was writing out what I felt and trying to make it about Islam. I was trying to make my personal position my Islamic position, and it wasn't working. I think I have worked things out a little since then so I will write a post.

The verse is, from the Shakir translation:

4:34: Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.

(I won't get into a discussion about beating your wife right now even though it's part of this verse!)

The way I understand this verse is that because men have the responsibility of taking care of women financially, they have the right to take care of them personally... Meaning that he has the right to ask her not to go out with friends on a certain day if he wants her home, for example, and she should "obey" and stay home with him if that's what he wants. I think that this is a right that the man EARNS by first being responsible and taking care of his wife and family financially as well as he can. I think obedience of a woman is conditional on the man being financially responsible for the family.

I think it gets more complicated when the woman and the man both contribute equally to the finances. The way I see it, the wife ALWAYS has the right to not work and be supported by her husband as a stay at home wife. In a lot of cases, the woman CHOOSES to work to help her family have an easier and more comfortable life and in this case, the husband has the responsibility to pay for all the basic needs of the family, and the wife is the one who is choosing to have her income added to live a better life. If there is any money that can be saved, it is the woman's money and it is her own. BUT, she remains the one responsible for the household and so, may have to work more than the man (because of all the chores) or can use her money to hire help. In this shared-responsibility situation, the woman holds a lot of power since she is the one helping her family have more, and she will (from my understanding) get good reward for that (if Allah wills this) and she retains rights to use all of her money as she wants, BUT she keeps all of her household responsibilities (which is a lot of work for her) and still has to obey her husband.

It gets very complicated in a situation where the man is not getting any income and the woman is financially responsible for everything. She will (again, to my understanding... if Allah wills it) receive much reward for taking over the man's responsibilities. The man is hopefully doing all he can to find any type of work, in which case he is not to blame, and he should definitely try to help as much as he can... But does it become HIS responsibility to take care of the household in such a situation? And does the woman still have to obey her husband if she is the one who is in the man's role? I feel that no, the roles do not become reversed and she is still responsible for the household. And I feel that no, she does not need to obey her husband. Because as I was explaining, I think that the obedience is conditional to being taken care of. Of course, for a better household, she should respect him and try to please him. And for a better household, he should do the housework for her since she is doing some for him. That is only fair. If he doesn't, then she is simply getting more reward for all she does. And if she doesn't take into consideration her husband's wishes, she is not to blame, but he may get rewards for his patience.

If the man is not even trying to look for a job though, he is at fault, unless it is agreed upon by both partners that the woman will work and the man will take care of the household and children. In this strange situation, I would consider the roles reversed and I would go as far as to say that the man will need to obey his wife.

I kind of hate the word OBEY... I don't mean like a dog should obey his master. But yes, it would mean to do what he wants instead of what you want (as long as it's not against Islam). It's part of the "giving" in a relationship... Can't always be taking... I think Islam shows that well... This is really a system of respect between the partners that grows within these limits...

12 Comentários:

LK said...

I think if the woman HAS to work so her family has enough money so they can live (such as husband doesnt make enough alone, husband is in school etc) then the husband should help around the house. But that is not really about Islamic law, thats about partnership. You need to work together. Its unreasonable to expect a woman to work all day to support her husband, her family and then be expected to come home and do everything. Even if he just washes the dishes it would make things better :)

And yes, I think a wife's "obedience" has to be earned by her husband.

Aynur said...

I'm not sure what I think about this topic exactly. I really dislike the word "obey" in this context as well. But, if you look at this verse in the sense of the woman obeying Allah as opposed to her husband it makes more sense (to me, anyway). Normally men have been the providers and women have stayed at home with the kids. As far as not going out on certain days with her friends ... the husband should also not be going out if the wife doesn't want him too ... it has to be something both spouses are okay with.

Umm Aaminah said...

A'salaamu alaikum sister. This is one of the things that DREW me to Islam in the first place, how everything is spelled out for us, no guessing. I think the caveat is we have to be sure we chose a righteous husband bi'ithni'allah. If my husband fufills all of my rights, should I do less for him? If he does not fulfill my rights, then I may ask for a divorce if this is unsatisfactory to me or I may choose to stay. So even in obedience we have choices alhamdulillah. :-)

I have no problem with the word "obey". We obey many things in this life; we obey traffic laws and police officers, we obey the social norms for the society we have grown up in. When is the last time you faced backwards in a crowded elevator!!! LOL

For me, obedience to my husband's wishes is my gift to him, to show him my dedication and love. So if he requires I request permission before I leave our home, I do so respectfully because I know it is from care and concern, not because he is trying to exert control over me.

As for the beating, we should all be careful what English translation of the MEANING of the Qur'an we read. Most do not use that language bec it isn't the most correct. According to all scholarly opinions I have read, it is not a beating physically but more of a symbolic act. Think of the Iraqi reporter who threw a shoe at then-President Bush. Not exactly a stealth missile but the meaning was clear. :-)Personally the first two steps would be enough for me and may Allah keep me from the displeasure of my husband. Amin.

If we look at the sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad saws we see how he admonished his wives and men are encouraged to treat women gently and be understanding with them. Insha'allah more of the brothers in our ummah will follow the beautiful example set by Rasoolallah.

And Allah knows best...

Umm Aaminah

Candice said...

Thanks for your comment, Umm Aaminah. I think that most converts are drawn to Islam because of its clarity and simplicity. It was the same for me. I discovered that it's not AS clear as I thought, but the fact that the Qur'an remains unchanged is enough clarity and simplicity for me. I couldn't deal with a corrupted/changed/modified (whatever) text where I can't even begin to know what the truth might be.

Putting the word "obey" in this way makes it much easier to accept, thanks for those examples! There really was no better word for my post so I kept it as obey.

As for beating, I didn't want to get into it since it was off-topic, but I definitely don't believe men have the right to physically beat their wife into submission to them.

So Umm Aaminah, to make sure I understood your point of view, you believe a woman has to obey even a husband who is not fulfilling his obligations as a husband? Because she has the option of divorcing and CHOSE to not use that option? Or do you think, like I described, that she must (not should, but must) obey only when the man is fulfilling these responsibilities?

Candice said...

Aynur. I see your point about it being about obeying Allah instead. The translation doesn't make it clear to who the obedience is owed... I don't know if the Arabic is more clear. But if it's obeying the husband, then it's definitely an act of obedience to Allah to do what He asked. So it comes back to obeying Allah either way.

I used to think it meant obeying your husband only in things related to Islam, but I've changed my view with time, actually...

caraboska said...

Umm Aaminah, How to say this? If a man is requiring that we ask permission (as opposed to just letting him know where we will be when we go out), that is by definition an attempt to control and has nothing to do with caring. I would not tolerate such behavior from my husband.

The rest of this comment is addressed to everyone reading. I am not a Muslim, but rather a Christian. I understand Christianity to teach that both parties must regard their spouse as their highest authority aside from God. In other words, both parties are in principle required to obey each other. I understand that the reason this kind of accountability is required that the parties have been made one by God. On the other hand, neither party is allowed to use force, because this kind of behavior is viewed as an act of idolatry - usurping a place in one's partner's life that is rightfully occupied only by God.

Candice said...

Caraboska: I can see where you feel uncomfortable with a husband requiring the woman to ask for permission. It seems a bit much to me too when said like that. Really though, it's more like telling him when we're going out, and if he says he'd rather we not, then we just don't. Comes down to the same thing of going out only when the husband agrees, but it doesn't sound as controlling as putting it the other way.

This idea that a woman obeys her husband is not unique to Islam... It's also in Christianity that the man is at the head of the woman and I feel it's taken to an extreme I can't accept by some interpretations.

About idolatry, I think that if you cannot find any reason to believe that God has made the woman to be obedient to her husband, then you *might* be able to go so far as to say it's idolatry... But this idea is found and I think it's hard to deny it.

Zuhura said...

As a feminist, I could not have converted to Islam if I thought the Qur'an supported the interpretation that women must be obedient to their husbands.

Men and women are equal before God (3:195; 4:1; 7:189; 33:35; 57:12; 37:153-154). I understand the verse you quote to mean that the person who provides more money to the household maintains the household. At the time the Qur'an was received, that was mostly men (although not in the Prophet's own household with Hadijah, interestingly enough). That is no longer always the case, at least in the West. In other words, I don't see gender difference as the primary point of (the first line of) this verse, but rather financial differences.

And I agree with Aynur that "obedience" here refers to obedience to God, not to one's partner. I don't believe that either partner must be obedient to the other.

The Princeton translation by Ahmad Ali makes both points clear; he writes in a footnote, "Qawwam (root QWM) in line 1 does not mean lord or master, but provider of food and necessities of life, and through its form quaim, to take care of; and qanitat only means devoted or obedient to God, as in 2:116, 16:120, 33:35, etc."

He also has a very interesting translation of the line that most other scholars have translated with "beat" or "beat (lightly)." I recommend it.

Whenever I buy a new Qur'an I check to see how this line is translated and I will not buy one that translates it in a way that condones abuse of women.

Nikki said...

Just to share, my English translation of the Qur'an states the verse this way:

"The men are to support the women by what God has bestowed on them over one another and for what they spend of their money. The upright women are dutiful; keeping private the personal matters for what God keeps watch over. As for those women from whom you fear desertion, then you shall advise them, and abandon them in the bedchamber, and seperate from them. If they respond to you, then do not seek a way over them; God is High, Great."

In the preface it even explains the translation of "separate" (as opposed to beat) this way:

As a result of the choice of words, we have generation upon generations of men who believe it is their God given right to 'beat' their wives into obedience!
The correct approach would have been to understand the context of the verse (in this case it deals with the subject of a woman who wishes to desert her husband "nushooz") and thus the word "idribuhun" is one of the three suggested steps to deal with the situation (the first step is talking it out, while the second is giving her space by avoiding sexual contact with her).
As such, what meaning of "idribuhun" would make the most sense: letting the wife temporarily separate from her husband to think things through, or, beating her into submission and forcing her to remain with the husband. The answer is always to follow the best meaning derived.

They then quote Qur'an 39:18.

I'm glad I bought the translation I did, because I could never believe in beating one's spouse.

Zuhura said...

Nikki, which translation is that? I might have to add it to my collection!

Candice said...

Nikki, that sounds a lot like the translation (and your explanation about beating sounds *exactly* like theirs. I didn't make this post about beating, but I will say that I agree with them about that and I couldn't accept Islam if I really thought the religion accepted men beating their wives.

caraboska said...

I have seen that interpretation of the Qur'anic verse before (that what is being referred to is not beating, but separation).

As far as the question of obedience, yes, I believe that a strong case can be made from the Bible that *God* expects exactly the same things (in particular, exactly the same sort of submission) from both parties. Any inequality spoken of would have to, by process of elimination, refer to purely temporal conditions (such as a situation where civil law in a given society accords husbands and fathers life-and-death authority over their wives and children - which situation did in fact exist in both the Greek and the Roman legal systems in effect at the time the New Testament was written).

Indeed, Jesus himself strictly prohibits any kind of control-based relationship ('lording it over' anyone) in the Gospels. He commands anyone who would be great to place themselves under, not over others.

So yes, I absolutely do view any kind of one-way authority relationship between husband and wife as idolatry.

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