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Obedience & Respect in Marriage: For Both Spouses?

19 December, 2018
Q Good morning. I am a 20 year old girl who lately became interested in learning more about Islam. However as a feminist I have one big question that appears very difficult to me to understand/comprehend. A lot of times in the Quran it is mentioned that women and men both need to respect another, and that respect is one of the fundamental rights and needs in marriage. BUT I also read a lot about how women need to obey their husband. In a lot of situations I can understand these different roles that men and women have in marriage. My problem is that I can’t judge in which situations I have the right to be respected and in which one I am supposed to just do as my husband says. For example, if one woman does not wish to have children because she’s focusing on her career yet the husband wishes to have a big family. Should she just end her career to fulfill the husbands wish? Shouldn’t in this case, as it is a very thing, the husband be loving and respect her decision or at least try to find a healthy middle? So the man can ALWAYS decide everything and the woman has to follow? In which situation can the woman ask the husband to be respected? The way I see it, in every situation the man could use the argument “you have to obey me” and the wife could say “I wish to be respected”. So in which situations is respect more powerful? Another example, from the quran “If he asks her (for intimacy) even if she is on her camel saddle, she should not refuse.” How is this respectful? If a woman does not wish to be intimate should she just let the husband basically rape her just to please him? Can she not say “I do not wish to be intimate today, please understand respect my desicion”? This is one big question I have and I hope you can answer me this and teach me more about this religion. Thank you so much in advance.


Short Answer: Yes, and no. Both partners are entitled to respect from one another, but men are entitled to a limited obedience, assuming what he requests is not haraam and will not harm his wife. Prophet Muhammad is the best example of the best sort of husband: leader and servant, all in one. The purpose of marriage in Islam is to cover and protect one’s spouse from hardship and need, and this goes both ways. The key to having a happy marriage lies in choosing a good spouse and discussing everything before hand. Marital rape is totally forbidden in Islam.

Salam (peace) dear sister,

Thank you for sending us your question; and we’re very happy to hear about your interest in Islam.

May the Creator, Allah Almighty, make His path clear, easy, beautiful and enlightening for your heart and mind.

The Example of the Prophet

The best one to represent Islam and the message of the Creator to mankind is the Messenger of Allah Himself.

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It has never been reported that the Prophet has ever harmed or abused any of his wives.

There are numerous stories of love, romance, playfulness, compassion and remarkable patience of the Prophet as a husband.

It is also well known that the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) used to consult his wives and resort to them in his affairs and even the major affairs of the Ummah (the nation of believers).

Obedience in all matters?

The Prophet himself said,

There is no obedience in evil deeds (matters involving God’s disobedience or displeasure). Obedience is only required in what is good (and reasonable/universally acceptable). [Sahih Muslim]

So, obeying the husband in something that is wrong or evil is definitely un-Islamic.

The rule, as the Prophet says, is

There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm. [Muwatta Malik]

Importance of Pre-Marital Communication

If you don’t want to have children and instead focus on your career, then simply communicate this with the potential spouse before marriage.

This is the purpose of the engagement period: to discuss your goals, needs, vision and future plans.

It is the dream of many men and women to be parents. So if either one of them deprives the other of this, it becomes unfair.

So, again, communicate beforehand, and if you have conflicting dreams/goals/lifestyles, then you are free not to marry that person at all.

The Purpose of Marriage in Islam

Regarding intimacy, this issue goes both ways.

Meaning, if the husband refused to fulfill his wife’s physical needs for no reason while he is capable, then he is sinful.

Most scholars agree that if he neglects her sexual rights for four months, this is crossing the line and she is Islamically entitled to divorce him.

Marriage is meant to keep both partners chaste and fulfilled; it is injustice if either of them deprive the other of this need.

Simultaneously, in Islam, men are ordered to lower their gaze, and they’re forbidden from fulfilling their desire through any mean other than their wives.

Allah says about spouses,

They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them. (Quran 2:187)

Clothing is meant to cover you, fulfill your needs and beautify you. This is what this relationship is about.

Men and Women Have Different Needs

Even in her best-selling book, “The Surrendered Wife”, non-Muslim author Laura Doyle highlights that men need physical intimacy and they need to feel respected.

Women need to feel desired, and they need someone to commit to them fully, protect them, take care of them, and make them a priority.

This is basically what Islam instructs.

The man is fully obliged to cover his wife’s needs by working and striving daily in her service and the service of her children and home.

If it comes down to it, dying to protect her and her honor is a means of martyrdom even!

On the other hand, she’s instructed to respect him and not deprive him of his needs.  

Mercy: The Foundation of Marriage

Allah says:

And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought. (Quran 30:21)

Allah’s Names include the Merciful, and the Affectionate; since marriage is one of His signs, then it is a mean to experience and practice mercy and deep affection.

Men too are instructed not to abandon their wives even if the wives are moody or unpleasant, and even if the husband started disliking his wife.

Allah says,

…And live with them in kindness. For if you dislike them – perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good. (Qur’an 4:19)

Foreplay: More Than Fun

Lastly, in no way does Islam allow a man to ‘rape’ his wife. Marital rape is absolutely prohibited.

The hadiths instructing women to fulfill their husbands’ needs are about mercy, not domination.

The narrations say that if a woman refused to fulfill her husband, then even angels will be displeased with her and curse her because of the consequences of deprivation and forcing the other to think of sin.

But it doesn’t instruct the husband to force his wife into intimacy.

Rather, the Prophet has instructed men to always get their wives in the mood before intimacy, and he instructed foreplay always; there is a wealth of Islamic knowledge on the etiquettes of intimacy.

Even if they’re mad at one another, they should not abandon one another or deprive one another of their needs.

When they don’t allow their ego to stand between them and instead become so close and intimate, this reminds them of their oneness and their strong bond with one another.

So, again, this is about mercy and compassion towards the other, not power struggle or selfishness.


And Allah knows best.

I hope this helps.

Salam and please keep in touch.

(From Ask About Islam archives)

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Real Talk: Is a Wife Obligated to Cook, Clean & Raise Kids?

Husband and Wife on the Path to Allah

Communication, the Most Important Skill in a Marriage