Marriage is both a legal and a spiritual contract for many Muslims, especially for those living in countries ruled by Sharia law. Based on the Quran and the sayings of the prophet, Sharia law attempts to govern society by spiritual laws. But Sharia is open to interpretation, and in fact a whole slew of scholars and judges have historically been responsible for interpreting what exactly is mandated by scripture in circumstances like marriage. With the increase of women in academic and leadership positions across the Muslim world, interpretations of subjects like the duties of Muslim wives are now commonly re-examined, refined and modernized.
Honor and Obey
The Quran states that wives should be "obedient and submissive to their husbands," and a saying of the Prophet Muhammad says that "If a husband says to his wife to transform a yellow mountain into a black one or turn a black mountain into a white one, she should obey his orders."This marital obedience does not exist in a vacuum however, what is implied is the husband's complete devotion to his wife as well, which includes the responsibility of providing for her materially, treating her well and keeping to his own spiritual duties as a Muslim. Nonetheless, the concept of "nushuz", which is usually translated as disobedience, carries with it the threat of physical punishment in many Muslim societies.
Sexual Duties of Muslim Wives
Many traditional interpretations of a Muslim wife's duties include the mandate that she is sexually available to her husband whenever he wants her to be. Specifically, the refusal of sexual intercourse can be seen as a kind of "nushuz", and may be answered with corporal punishment. According to the feminist Muslim group Sisters in Islam however, these traditions are based on patriarchal interpretations of the Quran and are not necessarily the only way to read the scriptures. According to a more progressive translation of the Quran, the word that is usually interpreted as "to beat" (iddribuhunna) actually means "to separate," meaning that the only justified action that a husband can take when faced with spousal disobedience is to leave.
Guardian of the Home
Another traditional duty of Muslim wives is the stewardship of the family home, which covers several different responsibilities. Muslims wives are not just traditionally in charge of cooking and cleaning but also of guarding the husbands possessions as well as his private information. Muslim women are not supposed to allow anyone whom the husband does not approve of entry into the house. However, according to growing interpretations by feminist Muslims, these traditions are based on patriarchal family values that saw the husband as the sole bread-winner and were designed for domestic harmony in that specific situation. As Muslim women enter the workforce and become business owners, something that is encouraged in the Quran, these traditional duties lose their importance.
A Wife's Attire
There is perhaps nothing as controversial about Islam as the tradition of covering a woman's body when she is in public or in the presence of men. The justification for this tradition is found in the Quran itself: "They should .....not display their beauty except to their husband, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves.". This has been interpreted differently in various Muslim countries and is the basis for the extreme practice of forced veiling of women in fundamentalist sects like the Taliban. There is no explicit mandate for wearing a veil in the Quran however, and in many Muslim countries woman dress exactly how they please, which often includes wearing a veil voluntarily.
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