Much ink has been spilled, and much breath, in defining the role of Muslim women; the rights of Muslim women; the duties of Muslim women, what constitutes an ideal Muslim wife. Maybe because there has so much misunderstanding of the role of women, we seem to give it special emphasis in lectures and books. However since men and women are interdependent, it is not wise to concentrate on one and remain silent about the other.
Many men seem to feel that women, and their wives in particular, should be ideal Muslims, while they themselves and their fellow men behave as they like without reference to the Qur’an and Sunnah, and unchallenged by the Shari’ah.
This paper is therefore intended to redress the balance; to turn the spotlight on to the men, so that they might be aware of the Islamic standard for an ideal husband, as they try to reach that standard as much as they wish their wives to reach the standard of an ideal Muslim wife.
The obvious place to look for these standards of behaviour is in the Qur’an and Hadith.
Let us therefore start at the beginning. How does the ideal husband behave before marriage? After all, a man does not totally change his character with effect from his wedding day. The bride is joining her life with that of another person whose personality and habits have been in some degree already formed. What then should be the behavior towards women by a young man before marriage?
Islam does not accept the view common in the western secular society that before marriage a young man is expected to "sow his wild oats" - whether by frequenting prostitutes or by sleeping around, or having any form of "trial marriage". For all such activities the Qur’an has prescribed a legal punishment of 100 lashes. [Qur’an 24:2]
The Qur’an moreover says;
"And as for those who are unable to marry,
let them live in continence until Allah grants them sufficiently out of his bounty...."
To assist young men in this situation the Prophet (saws) in a Hadith recorded in Bukhari further advised;
"Young men, those of you who can support a wife should marry, for it keeps you from looking at women and preserves your chastity; but those who cannot should fast, for it is a means of cooling passion."
For those who have the means to get married, how should they go about it? We have mentioned that the modern western practice of having girlfriends and trial marriages is emphatically unlawful for Muslims. Instead it is expected that the family and friends will play a big role in finding out in detail about the character and circumstances of the proposed partner before allowing the feelings of the boy and girl to be aroused has several advantages. Its effect is to cut out a lot of the embarrassment, temptation and heartache which are common in the western system of courtship and intimate relations before marriage.
The boy is expected to share with his parents certain priorities in the type of girl he hopes to marry, and this is mentioned in a Hadith related by Abu Hurairah in which the Prophet (saws) advised:
"A women may be sought for her wealth, her birth, her beauty or he religious character. But do look for the religious women. And if you do it for any other consideration, your hands be rubbed in dirt!" [Bukhari and Muslim]
In other words the key to success in marriage is seen as the moral quality of the partner. The ideal Muslim bridegroom therefore goes into marriage with the responsible attitude of a person establishing a family on the best possible foundation of love and mutual compassion, and not of infatuation over beauty, ambition for wealth or social position. The Qur’an has described the marriage relationship in these terms;
"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."
"They (wives) are garments for you, while you are garments for them."
Having sought his bride in an honourable way, and married her in the manner prescribed by the Prophet- that is with public celebration but the minimum of fuss and ostentation- what are the Muslim husband’s duties?
His first duty is maintenance and protection, and overall responsibility for the welfare of his wife, which is prescribed in the Qur’an:
"Men shall take full care of women with the bounties which Allah has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter, and with what they may spend out of their possessions....".
This includes feeding, clothing and shelter for the wife and for any children of the marriage. This is a legally enforceable duty, which remains even after divorce until the expiry of the Iddah or even longer in the view of some of the scholars. Financial responsibility for the family therefore rests squarely on the husband, and the wife has no duty to contribute to family expenses unless she has the means and the wish to do so.