When the Wife is Unhappy With the Husband
Dr. Ahmad Shafaat
Qur'an 4:34 (Surah
Nisa, ayah 4) gives some guidance as to how to deal with
marriage difficulties when husbands feel that their wives are being
deliberately nasty to them. The Holy Qur'an also gives guidance for
cases when it is the wife who thinks that she is being mistreated
and feels unhappy about it.
In this connection it must, first
of all, be clearly understood by all Muslims that
the Holy Qur'an unequivocally
prohibits keeping women in wedlock against their will.
In Surah al-Baqarah, verse 231, it is said:
"And do not retain them (i.e.
women) in wedlock against their will in order to hurt them. He
who does such a thing indeed sins against himself. And do not
take the signs of God lightly..."
And in Surah an-Nisa verse 19 we read:
"O YOU who have attained to
faith! It is not lawful for you to [try to] become heirs of your
wives [by holding onto them] against their will."
These verses appear in some particular
contexts but they clearly contain the principle (also found in
Hadith) that women can be brought into the marriage relationship and
kept in that relationship only if they want to do so.
In some cultures, including parts of the
Muslim world, women are sometimes beaten by their relatives into
marrying men of the relatives' own choice or beaten to stay in the
marriage bond. Those who do that commit a sin and unless forgiven by
the women concerned will be punished by hell-fire in the hereafter.
It is true, as we have seen in another
article, that husbands can lightly beat their wives when they show
prolonged and deliberately nasty behaviour but such beating can be
done only when the intention to stay in the marriage bond is intact
on the part of both the husband and the wife. The moment the wife
makes up her mind that she does not wish to remain in the marriage
bond and she clearly expresses this decision on her part, the
husband ceases to have any justification in the sight of God to beat
It is not only by physical force that
women are sometimes kept in marriage against their will. More often
it is social or economic pressures that are used, consciously or
unconsciously, to keep them tied in the unwanted relationship. In
Surah an-Nisa' the Book of God combats such social and economic
"If a woman fears ill-treatment (mushuz) or
indifference (i'radh) from her husband, it is not wrong
if (at her initiative) the two set things peacefully to right
between themselves; for, peace is best, and selfishness is ever
present in human souls. But if you do good and are conscious of
Him, behold, God is aware of all that you do... If the two break
up, God provides everyone out of His abundance, for God is
resourceful, wise." (4:128-130)
In many cultures, including the Muslim
culture, it is considered taboo on the part of a woman, especially
if she is of "noble" (sharif) descent, to express unhappiness
with marriage and to try to do something about it (except in cases
of extreme cruelty on the part of the husband). This type of
attitude is part of the social pressure which is used to keep women
suppressed. The Qur'an says that if a woman feels that her husband
is too indifferent to her, i.e. does not give enough love to her or
mistreats her and she is therefore unhappy, there is nothing wrong
if she initiates steps to change the situation.
It should be noted that whenever the
Qur'an says "there is nothing wrong" or "it is not wrong"
(la junaha), it means to fight certain social taboos and
established psychological attitudes. In the above passage it is
fighting the attitude which expects women to continue in the
marriage bond as the husbands keep them regardless of whether the
wife is reasonably happy or not.
The first step that a woman should take
to change her marriage situation, if she is unhappy with it, is, of
course, to "talk it out" with her husband. This may lead to one of
two things: a greater understanding between the two resulting in a
satisfactory change in the husband's attitude or a mutual decision
to dissolve the marriage bond (with the wife possibly returning par
of the dowry (2:229)). Such peaceful settling of matters is
beautifully encouraged in the words
"peace is best, and selfishness
is ever present in human soul. But if you do good and are
conscious of God, behold, God is aware of all that you do."
Selfishness is accepted here as an
inevitable condition of the human soul, so we are not expected to
altogether get rid of it. What we are expected to do is to balance
our selfishness with God consciousness and consideration for others.
This means that we should pursue our self-interests within the
limits set by God for our own good and also do something for others
instead of being all the time concerned with ourselves.
It is in such a spirit that the husband
and wife should discuss their marriage difficulties. Both have the
right to expect happiness from the marriage relationship but each of
them should seek happiness with consciousness of God and some
concern for the happiness of the other partner in marriage. If the
husband is not inclined to discuss things in this spirit and
continues to mistreat the wife, then the wife can go to an Islamic
court which must then impose a settlement on the husband on just
terms. This is because it is the duty of Islamic courts to enforce
the law of God and deal with all forms of zulm (injustice).
The Holy Qur'an wishes to make it
socially acceptable for a wife to seek a change in her marriage
situation if she feels that her husband mistreats her or is
indifferent to her. But social acceptability alone is not enough;
for, as noted earlier, tied with social taboos are economic
considerations that often pressure the woman to accept her unhappy
marriage situation. The Qur'an says that this should not be the
case. It reminds all the concerned persons - the wife, the husband
and relatives that:
"God provides everyone out of His
abundance, for God is resourceful, wise" (4:130)
If all attempts on the part of the
wife to establish a reasonably happy and dignified relationship with
her husband fail and breakup of the marriage is the only option,
then this option should not be rejected only for economic
reasons. Let the wife and her relatives trust in God who is the real
provider of all. Marriage
should be viewed primarily as a love relationship (30:21) and not as
an economic relationship.
The reminder that God is the provider of
all is also meant for the husband. It tells him that he should not
be too stingily and try to get back every penny that he might have
spent on the wife but rather settle on equitable, if not generous,
terms. God, who provided him all that he spent on his wife, may
provide him yet more out of His infinite abundance.
It is instructive to note a couple of
differences between the passage considered above and verse 34 of the
same Surah an-Nisa' dealing with the case when it is the husband who
is unhappy with the wife. In the latter case it is simply said:
"If you (i.e. husbands) part" whereas in the above passage it is
said "If a woman fears nushuz or i'radh on her
husbands part." The addition of i'radh meaning turning
away or becoming indifferent in case of a husband and its omission
in the case of a wife is significant. This is a recognition that in
love and sex relationship man's role is a more active one in the
sense that he is the one who makes most of the
first moves and therefore as a
rule he alone can do i'radh: she can, as a rule, only refuse
to respond (which if done willfully and too often would come under
nushuz and would be dealt with as such).
Another difference between the two cases
is that when the husband fears nushuz on the part of the wife
he can, after due admonition and talking, separate the wife in bed
and then lightly beat her while such measures are not suggested to
the wife if she is the one who fears nushuz or i'drah
from the husband. This is, of course, not because the Qur'an sees
anything wrong in principle with the wife separating herself in bed
from the ill-treating husband or even beating him. The reason rather
is that the Qur'an recognizes the well-observed fact that as a rule
women are physically weaker than men and therefore it would be
difficult for her to implement such measures against the husband.
Unlike the sentimental feminists, the Qur'an is wise enough and
realistic enough to first admit that in general women are indeed
physically weaker than men and then to realize that it would be
totally unhelpful to ask a weaker partner to use forceful methods
against a stronger one, especially if that stronger partner is
already mistreating her.
But this does not mean that Islam leaves
women at the mercy of their husbands. If despite being a Muslim a
husband fails to respect the principles outlined in the Qur'an and
instead of peacefully settling matters with the wife shows neither
the inclination to treat her as a husband should treat a wife nor
lets her go in a maruf (just and public) way, then it is the
collective duty of the Muslim society to step in and, through a
suitable legal system, enforce the law of God by imposing a
settlement on the husband on terms judged equitable by an impartial
court. It is regrettable that Muslim societies have not yet evolved
such a suitable legal system to give women adequate protection
against their stronger marriage partners should these stronger
partners abandon love and tenderness and turn nasty.