Author: Syaikh Dr. Muhammad Arifin Baderi
Husband and wife are two distinct individual, yet thanks to a holy tie between them in the form of marriage, they unite. A holy tie that is based on their pure intention to uphold their dignity and practice what comes from shari’a, that unite these two completely different individual into one. The magnitude of their similarity in creed, and their ambition foreclose any personal lines between them.
However, it doesn’t mean that all kind of private boundary between them is gone. Therefore, Islam has drawn clear lines between a husband and his wife, particularly in terms of rights and obligations. A husband is obliged to support the living of his wife, and as a return, his wife must obey him. Allah the Exalted decreed,
الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنْفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women because Allah has made one of them excel over the other, and because they spend out of their possessions (to support them).” (QS. An -Nisa:34).
Imam Ibn Jarir explained that the words “spend out their possessions” in this verse encompasses the dowry that is given at the time of marriage and also the livelihood, such as clothes, foods, housing, etc. (See: Tafseer Ibn Jarir At Thabari 8292).
The experts in jurisprudence also explained that a wife is fully deserved to use the living that she received from her husband as long as it doesn’t harm her health, since if it brings harm to her, in the end it will disadvantage her husband, as explained by Imam Ibn Qudama in his work, “Al Mughni” (11/359).
Asma’ the daughter of Abu Bakr narrated,
One day, she met the Prophet -peace and prayer of Allah be upon him-. She asked him, “O Prophet of Allah, I don’t have any properties but what are given to me by Az Zubair (my husband), am I sinned if I donated some of it?”. The Prophet replied,
ارْضَخِي مَا اسْتَطَعْتِ، وَلَا تُوعِي فَيُوعِيَ اللهُ عَلَيْكِ
“Give it according to your ability, and don’t be niggard, for it will cause Allah to hold your sustenance.” (Muttafaqun ‘alaih).
What if a Husband doesn’t Support the living of his wife?
In several conditions, sometimes a husband deliberately neglects his wife’s living. To solve this problem, Islam has offered several options to his wife:
To take her part of living from her husband’s property although without his permission, or through the verdict of a judge, as practiced by Hindun the daughter of ‘Utbah, wife of Abu Sufyan – may Allah be pleased with them both-.
To be patient and the postponed living is considered as credit of which her husband must pay later, as confirmed by the experts of jurisprudence from the school of Imam Malik, Shafi’i, and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (See: “Al-Bayan” by Al-Umrani As-Syafii 11/224 and “Al-Mughni” by Ibn Qudama 11/366).
Imam Al Umrany Ash Shafi’i stated, “The living of a wife is not considered lost merely by the pass of time. Therefore, if a wife decided to be patient and serve her husband even though he didn’t earn her living, she is still rightful to receive that postponed living later.” (See: “Al-Bayan” by Al-Umrani, 11/226)
The experts of jurisprudence also mentioned that if a husband has a credit over his wife, then if it is possible – because his wife is rich- it could be swapped between her living and his credit.” (See: “Al-Bayan”by Al-Umrani As Syafii, 11/227 and “Al-Mughni” by Ibn Qudama, 11/365)
It is said that a there was a man who revealed his plan to live in Bait al Maqdis for a month to Abdullah Ibn Amr Ibn Al ‘Ash -may Allah be pleased with him-. Then Abdullah Ibn Amr asked him, “Have you left a livelihood that is enough for a month for your family?”
He replied, “No.”
Abdullah Ibn Amr said, “Return to your family at once, and leave for them enough living, because I’ve ever heard the Messenger of Allah -peace and prayer of Allah be upon him- said,
“It is enough as a sin that could destroy a man, if he neglect the livelihood of his family.” (Narrated by Ahmad and others).
If both options above couldn’t be applied, then a wife is rightful to claim her right of canceling the marriage to the religious court, so that her marriage could be nullified. (See: Al-Bayan by Al-Umrani As-Syafii, 11/224 & Al-Mughni by Ibn Qudama, 11/364)
What if a wife has any debt?
Among the evidences showing the consequence of separation between private properties of a husband and his wife is that both parties bear each of their debt separately.
Sheikh Ibn Uthaymeen -may Allah have mercy on him- explained that viewed from the perspective of Islamic law, there is no particular indication either from the Qur’an and the Sunnah that prohibit a husband or a wife to pay his or her zakat to his or her spouse. As long as those spouses fulfill the criteria to receive zakat, then it is alright to distribute zakat to them.
He also stated that this stipulation applies as long as the payer of that zakat doesn’t use that distribution to his or her spouse as a trick to nullify other obligation that he or she bears.
Still from his explanation, if a husband distributed his zakat to settle his wife’s debt, of which she wasn’t able to settle by herself, this distribution of zakat is permitted. That is because according to shari’a, a wife who has some debts also categorized as “al gharimin”, which is one of the criteria to receive the zakat. Once again, this stipulation applies as long as that wife’s debt doesn’t have any relation with the postponement of her living by her husband. (Source: http://www.ibnothaimeen.com/all/noor/article_2335.shtml).
Brother! What we’ve explained above about the rights of a wife above apply if she claims her rights. But if she doesn’t claim it and she willingly let it be unfulfilled, thus she doesn’t question about her postponed living, or even she contributes to help to fulfill her family’s needs, then this deed is a good thing. But the consequence of her letting her rights unfulfilled is that she isn’t rightful to claim any retribution over anything that she has willingly let go, even though her marriage ends with divorce.
Etiquette of Relationship between A Husband and His wife
Discussing about the right and obligations in household is certainly different with discussion about etiquette. Often, the matter of etiquette is far wider that merely the rights and obligations. Thus, in this matter, although basically a wife is free to spend her wealth, but ethically, she is suggested to ask for her husband’s permission.
“A woman is not allowed to give away some of her wealth but by her husband’s permission.” (Narrated by Abu Daud).
According to majority of the scholars, the content of this hadith is not a firm prohibition rather it is just a suggestion in order to establish a harmonious relationship between a husband and his wife. (See: Subulussalam 3/58)
May this brief explanation expand our horizon regarding the rights of a husband and a wife in shari’a. And Allah knows best.
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