It is necessary to understand that the husband plays the role of a protector and should not misuse this position to abuse his wife. It is also important to revisit certain notions such as wives being solely responsible for household matters which is deeply entrenched among some members of the local Malay Muslim community especially among the older generation. These notions have sometimes perpetuated unrealistic expectations on spouses, typically requiring the wife to serve all her husband’s needs and wants without taking her well-being into consideration. Rather, her inability to meet these expectations is considered a shortcoming and becomes a justification to treat her poorly.
It is interesting to note that some scholars are of the opinion that wives are not obliged to perform household chores including tasks such as cleaning, cooking, and sewing. Should the wives choose to do so, these tasks are carried out of their own free will. Where possible, the husband should also provide a helper or a domestic worker to help with these chores instead.
These opinions often stem from the fact that the Prophet s.a.w. himself helped with the chores. Aisha r.a., the wife of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. was asked, “What did the Prophet s.a.w. used to do in his house?” She replied, “He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was the time for prayer, he would go for it.” In another narration Aisha r.a. was reported to have said, “He did what one of you would do in his house. He mended sandals and patched garments and sewed.”
Husbands should, therefore, find ways to contribute to the marriage not just financially but also being more actively involved in household matters such as helping with chores, and caring for their children especially in our current society where wives are often expected to contribute to the marriage financially as well. Treating spouses with respect includes the sharing of burdens without being calculative and working to ease each others’ stress out of love and care for their well-being.
Unfortunately, the cases where the husband expects to be served fully are not rare and still prevalent in our society. With women being more financially independent and playing a more active role in contributing to the family’s finances, it is more likely that they will be less tolerant of such conduct. Not surprisingly, 72.2% of the divorces amongst Muslims in Singapore in 2020 were initiated by women. Hence, these expectations should be revisited as it may not bode well with married couples nowadays.
The Prophet s.a.w. never differentiated between a task being for the husband or wife. Rather, he did what he could to ease the marriage burden. He was given the exception to marry more than four wives at once and could have instructed one of his wives to do the tasks for him, yet he chose not to. The Prophet s.a.w. exemplified perfectly that the responsibility of a husband is not limited to being a financial provider. Rather, the husband plays the role of a leader as well as a protector who must practise compassion, empathy, patience, and respect for his wife. He should not abuse this position of authority to disrespect his wife and mistreat her for his own personal gains. This is as mentioned in the Qur’an:
Meaning: “And due to them [i.e., the wives] is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable. But the men [i.e., husbands] have a degree over them [in responsibility and authority]. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” (Al-Baqarah 2:228)
Apart from giving the task of managing the house and children to the wife, the traditional view gives the task of major decision making to the husband.
Whereas in Islam, we are encouraged to practice syura which is discussion or negotiation. The Prophet s.a.w., as the leader of the Muslims and a husband, practiced this not only with his companions but also his wives. The opinion of Ummu Salamah taken by Rasulullah s.a.w. after the treaty of Hudaibiyah can be used as an inspiration and guidance. Rasulullah s.a.w. at that time told his wife Ummu Salamah about his followers who refused to slaughter as well as cut their hair and fingernails. Upon hearing this, Ummu Salamah suggested to the Prophet to initiate and perform the deeds. The Prophet accepted the suggestion and proceeded to slaughter in an open space as well as cut his hair. This shows the Prophet s.a.w. trusting and appreciating his wife to the extent of seeking her opinion in the administration of the Muslim community. This act of consulting and discussing together clearly shows that the wife has important position and value in the marriage.