Muslim Women as Wives
Muslim women are considered equal partners in a marriage.
Like their husbands, Muslim women are allowed to own property, participate
in business dealings, and choose their own spouse (Al-Sheha). Interestingly,
for example, women own one third of the land in Saudi Arabia (Bowker
While women do possess these rights, there are expectations that
follow. Women in Islam are not allowed to be dressed indecently
in public, act in a sexually provocative way, etc (Al-Sheha 5).
However, these expectations are not unique to Muslims. Most religions
do not condone sexual behavior or dress.
According to (Shahid), "Our Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said, "The
honored women before Allah are those who are obedient to their husbands
and remain within the boundaries of their homes."
If one is to take this statement literally, it would seem to suggest
that women are confined to their homes and must serve their husbands.
However, Islam has actually opened many doors for women. Before
the time of Muhammad, women were considered material objects; they
could not remarry if they were divorced by their husbands, and could
not choose their life partner (Al-Sheha 17).
There are specific roles that Muslim wives are supposed to fulfill
in their marriages and families. Shahid states a woman is:
"A loving wife, mother, responsible homemaker, devoted
daughter, caring sister, and reliable friend neighbor.
She is an educator, nurse, facilitator, and councilor. It is
her responsibility to see that her family's needs are
Towards her husband, a Muslim lady is friend,
lover, advisor confidante, help-mate, and supervisor
of his home. She is this way, because sheher husband will obey
the command from Almighty God to love,
maintain, and protect her at all costs."
Muslim Men as Husbands
There are many misconceptions about Muslim husbands. A common belief
is that men are masters over their wives and possess all the power
in the household. This misconception is not entirely incrrect, but
it is lacking the complete truth. While Muslim men do make most
of the decisions in the household, the husband is supposed to confer
with his wife before making such decisions that will impact the
household and family.
Because men are stronger than women, it is their duty to protect
and support their wives (Shahid). Men and women are supposed
to complement each other in their marriage, which includes overlooking
the faults and weaknesses their spouse may possess.
According to the Qur'an, a husband has daraja or rank over his
wife. However, this rank is generally viewed as a leadership role,
rather than a strict authority figure (Bowker 124). This leadership
role is followed by expectations and responsibilities a man has
in regards to his wife. A husband must take care of the basic needs
of his wife including providing food, clothing, and shelter (Bowker
While men are the caretakers of their wives, their authority in
the family allows them to beat their wives. Husbands are entitled
to beat their wives if they feel she is acting inappropriately,
and have already warned her of her illicit behavior. However, a
man is not allowed to harm the face of his wife, and is not supposed
to leave marks of injury (Bowker 128).
Some people may view this as condescending and abusive, but the
purpose of wife beating is intended to be symbolic rather than physical.
A reflection of this symbolism is reflected in the fact that a husband
is not allowed to verbally abuse his spouse. By verbally abusing
his wife, he is intentionally harming her emotional health and being
disrespectful to the woman he has vowed to respect.
Polygamy in Islam
A right that a husband possesses that a woman does not is the right
to marry up to four wives. The reason behind this seemingly
sexist practice is that the mother's identity is always known, since
she is the child-bearer. If a woman were to take several husbands,
the paternal identity of the child would be difficult to distinguish.
However, if a man takes more than one wife, the identity of
the father would be known. In Islam, paternal lineage is very important,
which requires the paternal identity of a child to be known (Bowker
To prevent problems among the wives, a husband is required to treat
each of his wives with equal love, respect, and care (Al-Sheha 45).
According to the Apostle of Allah, "the most complete believers
in terms of faith are those who possess the best morals, the best
of you are those best to their wives" (Al-Sheha 47).
While the idea of wife-beating and polygamy may seem horrifying
and out-dated in modern American society, this Islamic way of life
has run smoothly in most Muslim families for hundreds of years.
Even though a Muslim man may have several wives and may use force
as a last resort to contain her indecent behavior, this same man
loves, respects, and cares for his wife/wives in the same manner
that generations of Muslim men cared for their wives before him.
Islamic Wedding Ceremony (Nikah)
In Islam, nikah (marriage) is viewed as a contract between two people
and usually their families. This contract is know as an aqd and
is reflects the "respectability and dignity of the woman"
(Islamic). Both parties must take oaths to remain loyal, and to
treat each other with respect (Al-Sheha 71). At the time of the
marriage, the man presents the wife with a dowry, usually in the
form of money. This dowry is for the woman alone to be used at her
discretion, unless she permits her husband or anyone else to use
it. It is returned to the woman in the case of a divorce.
While not all Islamic marriages follow the same set of guidelines,
there are basic aspects that are recommended, as well as aspects
that are haram or forbidden. Traditionally, music is not supposed
to be played during the ceremony, and women are supposed to be dressed
in proper hijab, or clothing (Islamic).
During the ceremony itself, there are certain words the husband
and wife must say to each other. The Shariah states the woman must
say: "An Kah'tu nafsaka a'lal mah'ril ma'loom" meaning
"I have given away myself in Nikah to you, on the agreed Mahr."
The man responds with: "Qabiltun Nikaha" meaning,
"I have accepted the Nikah" (Islamic).
Once the ceremony has been completed, the husband and wife may
sleep with each other for the first time. It is traditional for
the groom to wash his wife's feet and sprinkle the rest of the water
around the room as a blessing (Islamic).
Divorce in Islam
In Islam, the process of divorce is unique from the process of divorce
in mainstream American culture. If a man wishes to divorce his wife,
he must announce the word talaq (I divorce you), on three separate
occasions in the presence of a witness. Each time a talaq is given,
the husband must wait a period of at least one month before repeating
it. This time frame is to ensure that the woman is not pregnant.
The talaq also cannot be given during the women's menstruation because
it represents a time of impurity (Bowker 127).
There are three different initiations of divorce: initiations by
the husband, wife, and the court. Once a husband says his third
talaq, the husband and wife are no longer allowed to reside with
each other. If a women wishes to divorce her husband, she must go
to a qadi, or judge. While a qadi may suggest that the husband and
wife work out their problems, he has the power to issue the woman
a divorce (Bowker 133). Not nearly as many women as men initiate
divorce, often because they do not know they possess this right.
Once a husband and wife divorce, the wife is entitled to her dowry
from the marriage. The husband is not allowed to take back the dowry
unless he has permission from his wife (Al-Sheha 41). This protects
the financial interests of Muslim women. While divorce
is permitted in the Islam, both the husband and wife are encouraged
to salvage their marriage. Divorce is viewed as an absolute last
resort to a marriage that cannot be reconciled.
Muslim Women as Mothers
The mother-child relationship is viewed as extremely important and
essential in Islam. This importance stems from Muhammad saying that
you must honor your mother above all but Allah (Bowker 119). The
mother is in charge of her children's growth and development from
birth until the early teens (Al-Sheha 32). Muslim women
are allowed to work outside the home, but many choose to occupy
themselves with maintaining the home and caring for the children.
Muslim Men as Fathers
There is very little information on the roles that Muslim men play
as fathers in their families. Raising children is primarily the
mothers' responsibility. Until children have reached puberty, it
is the mother that cares for their physical and emotional needs.
It is the father's role to tend to the material needs of his children.
Typically being the wage-earners in the family, Muslim men provide
food, clothing, and shelter for their children.
It is difficult for men to spend as much time with their children
as their wives do because they are not in the home as much due to
their work schedules. However, men are often viewed as being responsible
for the reputation of the family. Muslim fathers must ensure that
their daughters are modest to prevent them from bringing shame and
dishonor upon the family name.
Al-Sheha, Abdul Rahman. Woman in the Shade of Islam. King
Awde, Nicholas. Women in Islam: An Anthology from the Qur'an and Hadiths.
New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.
Bowker, John. What Muslims Believe. Oxford: Oneworld Publications,
Gordon, Matthew S. Islam: Origins, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Persons,
Sacred Places. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
"Islamic Marriage Handbook for Young Muslims." <www.ezsoftech.com/omm/handbook.asp>.
Cited on 2 October 2004.
Rizvi, Sayyid Muhammad. "Marriage and Morals in Islam." <http://www.al-islam.org/
m_morals/index.htm>. Cited on 2 October 2004.
Shahid, Aisha Atiq. "The Muslim Lady: Her Role and Her Honor."
<http://www.geocities.com/~abdulwahid/women.html>. Cited 2 October