One of the most controversial issues about Islam is
the topic of Marriage and Divorce. Even though
Christianity demands the same thing, most Westerners
recoil at the idea of a wife being obligated to "obey"
her husband. In real life, what does this look like?
Maybe a man might say to his wife, "Honey, could you
bake some of your awesome lasagna for my parents when
they visit?" and the woman might say, "Sure, sweetie,
no problem. Just give me the money to buy the
ingredients and I'll be on it today."
In most cases, especially when she is sure that she is
loved, a woman will not hesitate to do whatever her
husband asked her to do. Hopefully, if she asked her
husband to pick up some postage stamps on the way home
from work he would do it too.
Legally the issue regarding "obedience" is most likely
to arise when it comes to physical relations. Legal
systems vary widely when it comes to whether a woman
has the right to insist on engaging in or refusing
intercourse of her own free will and the extent to
which her husband has the right to demand this of her.
In Islam, a man has the right to expect to be loved,
however, it is usually unclear how far he can go to
force love to happen. Women of course also have the
right to expect to be loved, however, it is nearly
impossible to force her husband to please her if he
cannot, for biological reasons.
The other biological issue is of course, children.
When a woman has young children or is pregnant, it is
very difficult to achieve financial independence
without the assistance of the children's father. Under
normal circumstances, children cling to their mother.
She cannot come and go as she pleases, unless someone
else would help her with the children. She cannot
study in college or work a job unless someone,
normally her spouse, would help her. She cannot even
run to the grocery store alone unless her husband
decides that he is willing to allow her to get some
air. Most women who succeed in their careers either
have no children, or else have extremely helpful
Sadly, in today's world, there are few men who possess
the emotional maturity to be worthy to tell another
human soul to obey him. Islam of course commands
kindness to women, but in reality this means a man
must care about someone else as much as he cares about
himself. Girls are usually trained from birth to try
to be pleasing and avoid displeasing others. They try
to predict the needs of others in order to be helpful.
This puts them at a disadvantage in a relationship
where this level of attentiveness is not reciprocated.
When girls and women are deprived of affection, their
normal response is to try harder to be pleasing. Men
however tend to withhold affection when they feel that
they are being deprived of affection. This often
creates a vicious cycle that could result in divorce.
When it comes to divorce, the Quran states:
"…And women shall have rights similar to the rights
against them, according to what is equitable, but men
have a degree (of advantage) over them. And Allah is
exalted in Power, Wise." (2:28)
Aminah Wadud-Muhsin writes that this "degree of
advantage" is in the man's power to pronounce divorce
by themselves, whereas women who seek divorce
generally need some outside assistance. Yusuf Ali
suggests that economic differences are what largely
disadvantages adult females. Islam allows women to
divorce a man without contest in the cases of mental
illness, impotence, or not supporting the family, but
as always, it's his word against hers and in most
cases, she is the primary caretaker of the children.
In many countries, including the US, women are often
threatened with loss of custody of their children if
they try to divorce their husbands. Islamic law also
grants custody of the children to their father as a
general rule. Originally, this law was perhaps
intended to help divorced women remarry more quickly
but nowadays, most men are not equipped to assume full
time ownership of any youngsters by themselves. We
don't live in a time where people are surrounded by
extended family, with someone guaranteed to be home at
all times. Divorce is so complicated that it is often
wise to consider reconciliation.
"…live with them on a footing of kindness and equity.
If you take a dislike to them it may be that you
dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a
great deal of good." (4:19)
In my middle age, I have discovered that the qualities
that others find most controversial are my best
qualities. If I obey those who dislike me, I am doomed
to defeat. It is only when you embrace your true self
that you can succeed in life, married or not.
This brings us back to the Golden Rule. Jesus (sa)
said, "Love your neighbor as yourself," while Prophet
(s) said, "Do not do to someone else what you would
not like done to you." Empathy is key. When a man and
woman marry, they have no idea what they are getting
into. The person you are today is not the same person
you will be in ten or twenty years. Sometimes people
put out a lot of mixed messages about what they want
from the other. To make things work, you have to care
about the other person as much as you care about
yourself. If he cannot sleep, she cannot sleep. If she
has a splinter in her thumb, he will remove it for
her. If your spouse displeases you, ask him or her,
"Why did you do that?" That is love.