Mutual Rights and Obligations including Sex Etiquette
In order to ensure an atmosphere of harmony and to promote a cheerful and successful life in the newly established nest of the newlyweds, Islam has provided guidance in defining the relationship between husband and wife and in distributing the rights and obligations arising from this relationship.
In Islam the husband is the head of the household. This is not male chauvenism. It derives from the natural psychological and physical makeup of the male. Man does not suffer from a regular monthly indisposition with its attendant adverse psychological effects. He does not have to be confined by pregnancy or for delivery; nor can he feed children from his breasts. He is therefore always ready to go out and search for sustenance for himself and his dependents. In fact it was Islam which delivered woman from her plight. It established her equality with man both theoretically and practically. It restored her dignity and recovered her freedom. The Quran stresses her right to benefit from the fruits of her efforts as much as man is entitled to benefit from his (IV, 7). It severely condemned the old customs of ill-treating women (XVI, 58/59, and LXXXI 8/9), and protected their rights in one of the longest chapters, IV, which is given the title “Women.” We have already noticed that in the process of the marriage contract, the bride initiates the offer of marriage, a significant detail which emphasizes her spontaneous free action in making this most important decision.
Let us now set out to consider the obligations imposed by Islam upon the husband toward his wife, and then proceed to discuss those of the wife toward her husband.
THE HUSBAND’S DUTIES
1. A husband is responsible for the protection, happiness and maintenance of his wife. He is responsible for the cost of her food, clothes and accommodation. Although she may have to cook, he has to buy her the raw materials and cooking and kitchen facilities, as may be required and applicable. He may also have to buy her two sets of clothes or more each year, providing the types of clothing suitable for the seasons. However, the number of sets of clothes and their quality depend on the husband means and social requirements. A wife is also entitled to a comfortable, independent accommodation, suitably furnished and provided with basic sanitation facilities. She is not obliged to stay with the husband’s parents or relatives as he is not obliged to live with hers. She is also entitled to enjoy herself with her husband in a relaxed atmosphere, free from the embarrassment caused by the presence of another adult in the household The cost of smoking or of a forbidden fruit or drink is not to be provided by the husband.
2. In addition to providing these material needs, a husband has to be kind, understanding and forgiving, and must treat his wife in a tender and loving manner. He not only should avoid hurting her but should bear with her if she ever does something disagreeable, so long as this clemency does not spoil her and she does not habitually behave out of bounds. The Quran reads:
…and treat them [women] kindly. [IV, 19}
And the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, says:
[Fear] God, [fear] God in the matter of women. They are weak partners, a trust from God with you; and they are made by the divine word permissible for you.
He also says:
Whoever of you whose wife behaves in a disagreeable manner and he responds by kindness and patience, God will give him rewards as much as Job will be given for his patience.
Patient behavior was the practice of the Prophet, even when his wife dared to address him harshly. Once his mother-in-law- saw her daugher strike him with her fist on his noble chest. When the enraged mother -in-law began to reproach her daughter, the Prophet smilingly said, “Leave her alone; they do worse than that.”And once Abu Bakr, his father-in-law, was invited to settle some misunderstanding between him and Aishah. The Prophet said to her, “Will you speak, or shall I speak?” Aisha said, “You speak, but do not say except the truth.” Abu Bakr was so outraged that he immediately struck her severely, forcing her to run and seek protection behind the back of the Prophet. Abu Bakr said, “O you the enemy of herself! Does the Messenger of God say but the truth?” The Prophet said, “O Abu Bakr, we did not invite you for this [harsh dealing with Aishah], nor did we anticipate it.”
3. It is further recommended that a husband be relaxed with his wife, and cheer her up with his humor or by making agreeable jokes. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, in spite of his lofty status, used to play with his wife. He ran in competition with Aishah. Sometimes she won, and other times he won. And once, hearing an Abyssinian entertainment team playing outside the home, the Prophet said to Aisha, “Would you like to see them?” When she agreed, he sent for them and they came and performed in front of his door. The Prophet stretched his hand, putting his palm on the open door and letting Aisha’s chin rest on his arm so that she culd see comfortably. A while later the Prophet asked Aishah, “Enough?” She said, “Silence!” Another while later he asked, “Enough?” and the answer was again, “Silence!” But when he asked her for the third time, “Enough? she agreed, “Yes,” and the team went away on a gesture from the Prophet. He then said, “The most perfect belief is that of those who are best-mannered and most tender with their wives.” The Prophet also used to say, “Surely God does not love a rough person who is boastful, and rude to his wife.” A Bedouin widow once described her husband: “He came always with a smile and left with a greeting. When he was hungry he ate whatever was found, and did not bother when something was missing!”
4. It is of supreme importance that the husband endeavor to handle the matter of sex relations with skill, care and understanding. He should not regard his wife as an object for his own enjoyment alone but as a partner with whom he should always seek mutual bliss, satisfaction and fulfillment. He should always approach her with love and tenderness. In the early stages of marriage, especially in their first experience on the wedding day, he has to be particularly gentle. The husband should always have due regard for his wife’s feelings and should endeavor to let her reach the degree of full satisfaction in this respect. Because of the importance of this element, early Muslim authorities discussed such details as love play, the techniques that arouse excitement, and the question of orgasm. The right Islamic literature treating this subject far exceeds and is more original and stimulating than- but not so obscene as-the crude and vulgar material now in wide circulation in the West. We may discuss here some of the remarks made by these early authorities. They stress the importance of preliminary love play-caresses, fondling, kissing, endearing words- in order to arouse the wife’s sexual passion and prepare for a deeper sensation and a successful conclusion. At the beginning of actual coitus, it is recommended that the following prayer be said:
In the name of Almighty God, the Most High, Please,God, ward off the evil forces away from us and from the blessings You bestow upon us.
The authorities also recommend that in the process of coitus, especially before full penetration, the excitable areas of the male genitals be gently provoked to contribute to complete fulfillment. We have to remind the reader, however, that even at this moment of absorption and ecstasy, propriety and cleanliness have to be maintained. On the one hand, both partners may utter exclamations or ejaculations venting or expressing the intensity of their pleasure, which also may increase the degree of their excitation; but neither may scream to the degree of disrupting the natural privacy of the act. Some Companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, recommend the repetition of the words: Allahu Akbar, “God is Great.”
On the other hand, it is to be remembered that the liquid (lubricating) material discharged by the sex organs on excitement is counted as a pollution and a polluting element in Islam and that a Muslim is forbidden to smear a part of his or her body with a polluting stuff unnecessarily. Therefore the custom of licking the excitable areas with the tongue said to prevail in the West may not only be unhealthy; it is also forbidden on that account. We also feel that it is indeed disgusting; and this disgust might in the long run plant the seeds of hatred in the hearts of the couple and ultimately break their relationship.
The position to be assumed by male and female in relation to each other during coitus occupied a great deal of the attention of Muslim authors who treated the subject. They compiled some fifteen basic different positions; and within each choice they suggest varieties of details.
We do not need to discuss this matter here at length, since husband and wife, in their search for their own fulfillment, can easily discover these varieties and select what they find to be most suitable and comfortable for themselves. Muslim writers also emphasize that the husband should endeavor to achieve mutual orgasm. If he should fail to hold out sufficiently for his partner, they say he should continue his efforts to have her reach a climax. To rush away from her too soon might be injurious.
They also recommend that parting at the end of the act should be slow, pleasant and cordial, not abrupt or indifferent.
After some rest both parties have to have the full ablution (a bath). This duty does not need to be rushed; but when the time of the next prayer comes, it has to be performed to remove the ceremonial pollution arising from coitus. Prior to having this bath, the parties, like a woman during her period of menstrual discharge, are forbidden to perform prayers or to touch or read the Quran. Moreover, it is better to delay hair cutting and fingernail-clipping until after the ablution.
It is also recommended that the husband seek to introduce changes and variations in his approach and in the performance, even in little details, in order to avoid boredom. Variations also create a sense of novelty, and novelty stimulates interest and curiosity; and this intensifies the feeling of pleasure and enjoyment. These Muslim etiquettes are probably best summed up in the following words attributed to the Prophet:
Let not one of you fall upon his woman in the manner a male animal suddenly jumps over its female victim. Let there be a messenger [to go] between them.” He was asked, “What is the messenger, O Messenger of God?” He said, “Kissing and endearing speech.
Another tradition reads:
Three practices are shortcomings in a man; namely, to fail to enquire about the name of a man he has just encountered, but was worthy of friendship; to refuse a favor extended to him in good faith; and to assault his woman without introductory entertainment [to stimulate her] and so he satisfies his own desire before she can achieve her own fulfillment.
When one of you retires with his wife, let them not strip off their clothes completely in an animal-like manner; and let him begin by [stimulating her by the use of] fine exciting speech and by kissing.
In the course of their game of pleasure a husband and his wife may enjoy and fondle any part of the body of each other; and their engagement in this kind of activity is regarded as a type of divine devotion. However, a husband is discouraged from looking at his wife’s genitals, perhaps for its adverse psychological effect. Moreover, coitus is strictly forbidden during the menstrual period; and penetration in the back passage is always forbidden. If the femal genitals are to be avoided during the menstrual period, presumably because of their temporary blood pollution, a filthier pollution is an internal factor in the case of the back passage. Prohibition also applies to all types of unnatural and unproductive activities, whether committed between two persons of the same sex or otherwise.
Early Muslim authorities also discussed the advisable frequency of coitus. Some advised that the experience should be repeated at least once every four days. It seems, however, that the matter of frequency should be left to the mood and the personal inclination of the parties concerned, which indeed depend on many factors, including their age and the condition of their health.
5. A husband should also see to it that his wife has sufficient knowledge of her religious obligations and encourage her in observing her devotional duties. Of special importance are the rules pertaining to the menstrual period. During this period, as well as during the period of postnatal discharge, the obligation of mandatory prayer is lifted; and coitus is forbidden. The prohibition of coitus is lifted when the blood discharge has stopped and the woman has had the ablution of a full bath.
6. A husband should not harbor doubts or suspicion about his wife unduly. Jealousy is indeed a natural element; and a husband is not to be too indulgent or to remain indifferent in reasonably provocative situations, and surely must guard his wife against all corruptive influences. Yet he should not allow fanciful thoughts to engage his mind and should not behave in a spying manner toward his wife. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
There is a type of jealousy which God loves and there is another type which God hates. As for that which God loves, it is the jealousy which is provoked by a legitimate cause of suspicion; and that which God hates is the jealousy which is unduly aroused.
The Prophet once asked Fatimah, his own daugher, “What is best for a woman?” She replied, “That she should not mix with men and men should not mix with her.” The Prophet, who was pleased with her answer, hugged her and said, “An offspring resembling its roots.” Thus a happy life depends on mutual trust between the partners; and all that has to be done is to keep away from situations that are likely to incite evil or arouse suspicion.
8. If the wife becomes pregnant, her husband should display greater consideration for her and should do all he can to alleviate her discomfort. When she is delivered, he should be grateful to God for her safety and for what God has beneficently graced them with. If his wife has been delivered of a male child, he should not go out of his way to show his pleasure; and if it is a female, he should not at all feel disheartened. After all, he does not know which is better for him. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, says:
Whoever is graced with a daughter and treats her well and lavished upon her some of the favors God has bestowed upon him, she will be a protection for him against the punishment of the Hell Fire.
Whoever brings home some good things to his children, it will be counted as a divine charity for him. Let him begin by giving the female ones. Whoever cheers up a female child shall have the merit of him who weeps out of divine fear of God; and whoever so intensely fears God, God will protect him from the Hell Fire.
Whoever has two daughters or two sisters under his care and treats them well, he will be my companion in Paradise.
A child, however, should be given a good name, even if it is delivered in a miscarriage. And shortly after a child’s safe birth, the full text of the call to prayer should be recited in its right ear, and the short one in its left ear. It is recommended that a boy be circumcised on the seventh day of his birth, excluding the day of birth itself. Whether it is a boy or a girl, it is recommended that the family then hold a feast for which a lamb or larger animal should be sacrificed. Some of the meat should be distributed to the poor, as well as the value of gold whose weight is the weight of the baby’s hair. The sacrifice offered on the seventh day of birth is known as ‘aqiqah.
THE WIFE’S DUTIES
1. The first task of the wife is to create a home a soft relaxing atmosphere in which she and her husband can live together smoothly, happily and enjoyably. The way in which this is to be achieved depends on her taste and their means and upon prevaling values and conditions.
2. A wife must be faithful and devoted to her husband. Her loyalty is due to him first, even before her kin. She should avoid associating with undesirable or suspicious elements and should not entertain alone any male friends.
3. The management of the household is the wife’s primary responsibility. She has to take care of meal preparation, house-cleaning and laundry. Whether she undertakes these tasks herself or has them done under her careful supervision, it is her task to manage them in the best interests of the family. She may expect some cooperation from her husband, but this should depend on what he can afford to do. What is important is the mutual goodwill and love which will no doubt stimulate each party to alleviate the burden of the other as much as possible.
4. The wife should not be too demanding; she must be contented, and appreciative of any kind gesture her husband may extend to her. She should not insist on buying expensive clothes or luxurious peices of furniture beyond her husband’s means.
5. The wife should take care of herself in order to appear always cheerful, charming and attractive to her husband. She should always smell good and may reasonably apply cosmetics but should avoid excessive use of it. Such excess is not only financially unwise but also psychologically harmful. It makes her beauty appear to be merely artificial. An ancient Arab women advised her daughter on her wedding day:
O my daughter! you are leaving the home in which you were brought up to a house unknown to you and to a companion unfamiliar to you. Be a floor to him, he will be a roof to you; be a soft seat to him, he will be a pillar for you; and be like a slave girl to him, he will be like a slave boy to you. Avoid inopportune behavior, lest he should be bored with you; and be not aloof lest he should become indifferent to you. If he approaches you, come running to him; and if he turns away, do not impose yourself upon him. Take care of his nose, his eye and his ear. Let him not smell except a good odor from you; let his eye not see you except in an agreeable appearance; and let him hear nothing from you except nice, fine words.
6. In managing the household, the wife should economize and avoid extravagance. She is not to give of her husband’s wealth except within the degree he approves of. Whatever she gives within this degree, she will share in its divine reward; and what she gives away beyond it will be to the advantage of her husband and to her own disadvantage on the Day of Judgment.
An objective analysis of the above outline of the mutual rights and obligations of a husband and wife as set out and stipulated by Islam for the guidance of its adherents reveals the following facts:
1. The husband-wife relationship is to be based not on dry legal rules or decisions of the court but on mutual respect, love and regard.
2. The husband is alone responsible for the entire cost of, and the wife is the mistress of, the household. The objective of each is to serve the other and to provide to the other means of comfort, enjoyment and happiness; and the aim of both is to achieve optimum bliss for themselves and to contribute through their offspring to the perpetuation of the human race.
3. A woman is not a chattel or a blind follower but an equal partner. However, her soft nature, her beautiful natural role as the partner who is to provide more for the sexual attraction and excitement, her monthly menstrual discharge with its attending psychological and physical adverse effects, her childbearing and child-rearing–all these natural considerations, not a male dictatorship as has recently been contended, have made her the dependent but respected, virtuous and beloved partner.
4. Within the framework of the above basic considerations, and within the Islamic flexibility which has regard for custom and prevailing traditions, consistent with the moral values of Islam, the couple may choose any type of arrangement for the distribution of their mutual responsibilities in order to meet their needs as they may see fit in the conditions prevailing where they live.
5. An interesting point which emphasizes that the wife does not lose her own independent character on getting marries is that she always retains her full maiden name. So Miss Nancy Jones on her marriage to Mr. Martin James is called Lady Nancy Jones and not Mrs. James. She may be called Lady Nancy Jones, wife of Mr. James, but not simply Mrs. James. This point is significant, as it expresses both a wife’s greater freedom under Islam and her continued relation with her own family.