Does Islam Teach the Wife to Obey the Husband?

KS Answering Questions after a presentation on the Methodology of study of Surah Nisa

Does Islam say that the Wife Should Obey the Husband? Why are Marriages under Stress?

Several readers and listeners (to my presentations on women and islam) have pointed to certain lists and posts which are propagating the claim that according to Islam, the wife should Obey the husband. These scholars are saying that if a wife leaves the house for any reason, she must ask her husband’s permission.

Answer by Br. Kaukab Siddique: We must realize that according to the Qur’an, authority belongs to ALLAH ALONE. [1] Any attempt to give authority to any human being is SHIRK, which is the only sin Allah does not forgive.

The Qur’an is a progressive revelation which went through stages of development of the Muslim woman and the Muslim male. In the final analysis, male-female relations in Islam are based on TAQWA [Fear of Allah, God-conscious behavior], not on gender. [2]

In the FINAL revelation about men and women, the Qur’an proclaimed without ambiguity that the believing men and women are EACH OTHER’S protecting friends and guardians, not the woman under the domain of the male. [3]

The Qur’an proclaimed the EQUALITY of men and women even in such an advanced, complex and cooperative venture as jihad.[4]

Allah Almighty categorically places women TOGETHER in ALL aspects of Islamic endeavor, without the slightest shade of inferiority for women. [5]

The Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, took an oath of allegiance from women which covered their entire existence but does not include obedience to the husband. [6]

In the earliest stage of the Muslim community in Madinah, Muslim men were given the authority to discipline their wives in cases of sexual misconduct [without causing any significant hurt], but this was taken away at the next stage when in cases of alleged sexual misconduct, all that a man could do was to swear that he was telling the truth. If the wife took a similar oath, the marriage would be dissolved. [7] Most apologist Muslims focus on this early development in Islam and ignore the rest of the Qur’an.

So, if obedience to the husband is not a part of Islam, how should the family be organized? Wouldn’t there be chaos if there is no “captain” of the team? This argument ignores the Islamic principle of organization which is called SHOORA or mutual consultation leading to decision making based on discussion, consent and consensus. There is a chapter of the Qur’an titled Shoora. Allah ordains in this chapter that ALL matters of Muslim activity must be carried out by mutual consultation and consent. [9] Even the Prophet, pbuh, divinely inspired as he was, received the command to consult with the believers. [10]

Maulana Maudoodi’s tafsir [commentary] on the verse of Shoora is the best among all tafsirs. Here is the key excerpt:

“…Mutual consultation [shoora] is an essential requirement of the moral character Islam wants to teach the human being. Evasion of shoora is a major immorality which islam can never permit. The Islamic way of life requires that the principle of shoora should be used in all social relationships, big or small. In domestic life, the husband and the wife should do mutual shoora and when children grow up, they too should be included in the family shoora. When matters of the entire extended family are involved, all the sane and adult family members should be involved. If an entire tribe or clan is to be affected and all of them cannot be in the shoora process, by an agreed upon method their representatives should be included in a tribal majlis. If an entire nation is involved, the leader of the nation should be chosen by the will of the people and should manage national affairs with the help of the shoora members whom the nation considers trustworthy….” [Tafhimul Qur’an, vol.4, p.509]

In Islam, the husband and the wife are each others’ friends and comrades. It’s not a relationship of dominance and submission. Communication and discussion are the keys to successful Islamic marriage. Attempts at dominance and control are bound to create stress and the slow deterioration of the relationship, however well it might have started.

Men often do not listen to the nuances of what the wife says. Muhammad, pbuh, did. Women communicate differently from men. The Prophet, pbuh, knew that. Let’s follow his example. If one searches in ALL of Hadith literature, with a fine tooth comb, one won’t find him (pbuh) , trying to suppress and subordinate ‘Ayesha, r.a., or any other woman.

Textual notes: [Emphasis added.]

1. “Say: For me, I have an obvious sign from my Lord, but you reject it. What you would see hastened is not in my power. Authority belongs to Allah alone. He declares the Truth, and He is the best of Judges.” [The Qur’an 6:57.]

“Men are then returned to Allah, their Protector, the Reality. Authority belongs to Him Alone. and He is the swiftest in taking account.” [6:62]

[Yusuf, pbuh, said] “If not Him, ye worship nothing but names which ye have named – ye and your fathers – for which Allah has sent you no ruling: Authority is for None but Allah; He has commanded that ye worship none but Him; that is the right religion but most people understand not.” [12:40]

[Jacob, pbuh, said] “O my sons! enter not all by one gate: enter ye by different gates. Not that I can benefit you against Allah! None has authority other than Allah. On Him do I put my trust, and let all that trust put their trust on Him.” [12:67.]

“And He is Allah: there is no god but He! To Him be praise at the first and at the last! To Him belongs Authority and to Him shall ye all be brought back.” [28:70]

[Notice that even Prophets like Jacob and Yusuf have no authority. There is no question of an ordinary person like the husband having authority.]

[Some translators use the word “command’ for hukm or Authority but that is an incorrect translation. Command is ‘Amr. However hukm has other uses too depending on the Qur’anic context.]

2. “O mankind! We created you from male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Surely the noblest of you with Allah are the ones among you who are best in conduct [taqwa]. Surely Allah is All Knowing, Aware.” [49:13]

3. “The believers, men and women are protectors and guardians [awliyya] of each other. They enjoin what is just and fobid what is evil: they establish prayer , give zakat regularly, and they obey Allah and His messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy, for Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. Allah has promised the believers, men and women, gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein, and beautiful mansions, in Gardens of everlasting bliss. But the greatest Bliss is the Pleasure of [acceptance by] Allah. That is the supreme felicity.” [9:71-72]

[Commentators agree that these were the final verses revealed on this subject.]

4. “And their Lord has accepted of them and answered them: ‘Never will I allow to be lost the efforts of any of you, be ye male or female: Ye are from each other. Those [men and women] who left their homes, or have been driven out from there or suffered injuries in My cause, or fought or been slain, – surely I will blot out from their sins and admit them into Gardens with rivers flowing beneath, – a reward from the presence of Allah, and from His Presence is the best of rewards.’ ” [3:195]

5. The Qur’an 33:35

6. 60:12

7. 4:34. Modernists have expended much energy on this verse, in trying to change its meaning. They forgot that the Qur’an was revealed progressively over two decades. If this progression is not taken into account, one can be involved in tahrif [distortion] of the Qur’an, a deadly sin. For instance, see the next development of the husband-wife relationship in 24:6-9, where the husband is no longer called on to discipline his wife. [Islam followed a similar progression in dealing with intoxicants, interest and jihad.]

8. Used in a separate article

9. The Qur’an, chapter 42, verse 38.

10: 3: 159

End Q & A session

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About Kaukab Siddique PhD

Professor of English, World Literature and Journalism at Lincoln University. Research specialization in Women and Islam

11 responses to “Does Islam Teach the Wife to Obey the Husband?”

  1. reena says :

    It says in quran that man is leader and a woman is the follower. There could be many meanings and reasons for that. As a woman wants the men to lead in everything and it sounds good as well. They lead them or make first move in everything politely and women like that. That does not mean obeying as a slave and master. It is a intiating and respond process that keeps going on. I think there are so many other verses of quran that wrong tafseer and meaning has been taken. I think some men or women do not have a deep and good understanding. These people who had made tafseer have their own understanding. Master and slave is a fantasy of some men or some women as well. There are loads of fantasies if they want to that they can. The verse in quran means intiate and respond in their personal and homely matters. As you can observe that even into modern relationships as well. Even the western and modern women do that. And it is romantic. Strict sad muslims think we need to be so sad and serious and ignore basic aspects of man and womans life. Muslims cheer up specially mullas you are to sad. Life is a big advenure

  2. Lida says :

    Jazak allah, this is what i am thinking also but what in my opinion contradicts this thought is for example one of the hadiths where the Prophet (pbuh) said that the best woman is one who when you look at her you are pleased, when you command her, she obeys? What about that hadith? Thank you very much again

  3. Fatima says :

    This is a wonderful article, one that I think every Muslim must read. Too many Muslims grow up indoctrinated with a twisted version of Islam that treats the family like some sort of capitalistic business organization, with the wife being treated as a semi-child her whole life, unable to live her life as an adult. I see so many good Muslim sisters who are suppressed by their husbands and who are treated as servants rather than life partners. Mashallah…atleast there are some Muslim men who are able to recognize that subordination of any creation of Allah by his other creations is the very opposite of Islam…

  4. Sofi says :

    This is what a lot of muslim women would love to think, however this is not what they are mostly told by religious scholars and muslim men. Whenever I heard Imaams talk about husband -wife relationship especially the part about obedience I thought to my self this sounds like slavery! Anyways I’m happy to know that not all muslim men think like that.

  5. IslamicChamper says :

    Salam alaikum…Mashallah..im so grateful to get this chance to read an article so importent ..this issue most not be forgotten but spread..thank you for this amazing article.

  6. IslamicChamper says :

    Reblogged this on The Islamic Champer and commented:
    ”Its such an importent issue that it must be forwarded and read by as many as possible”

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