Questions Regarding a Wife’s Obligations in Sharī‘ah


Are wives responsible for housework?


The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: “Each of you is responsible and will be asked about his responsibility…The man is responsible for [maintaining] his household and the woman is responsible for [the upkeep of] the house and children of her husband.” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 5200) Imām al-Khaṭṭābī explains: “As for a man’s responsibility over his family, it [means] supervising them, managing their affair and fulfilling their right of maintenance and [good] companionship. As for the woman’s responsibility over the house of her husband, it [means] good management in the upkeep of his house and minding those under her care like [his] dependents, guests and servants.” (A‘lām al-Ḥadīth, 1:580)[1]

It is reported that the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) determined that Fāṭimah (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhā), his daughter, is responsible for the work inside the house, while Alī (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu), her husband, is responsible for the work outside the house. (Muṣannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah, 29677)[2] ‘Ᾱbid al-Sindī explains that work “outside the house” refers to things like “collecting firewood and water, and acquiring maintenance”, while work “inside the house” refers to activities like “grinding, baking and kneading”. (Ṭawāli‘ al-Anwār, 6:410)[3] The work was so difficult for Fāṭimah (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhā) that she complained to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) of marks on her hands, and asked for a maidservant. The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), however, told her that better than a maidservant is to recite tasbīḥ before going to sleep. (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 5361) The author of al-Hidāyah, Imām al-Marghīnānī, thus explains: “When a woman is from those who serve themselves, she must cook and bake [and do housework], because the Prophet (upon him peace) allocated the chores inside the house to Fātimah (Allāh be pleased with her).” (Mukhtārāt al-Nawāzil, 2:194)[4]

That is, wives who are able and do not come from a rich family which normally employs maidservants or workers must do housework. Imām al-Sarakhsī explains: “That which is obligatory on her by virtue of marriage is handing herself over to the husband to derive [sexual] benefit. She is commanded to do chores apart from that as a religious [obligation] though she will not be juridically compelled – like sweeping the house, washing the clothes, cooking and baking; and likewise, nursing the child.” (al-Mabsūt, 5:209)[5] In other words, just like breastfeeding the child is obligatory on the mother, it is obligatory on her to do the chores of the house.

In one version of the incident of Fāṭimah (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhā), before exhorting her to make tasbīḥ before sleeping, the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said to her: “Be conscious of Allāh, Fāṭimah, fulfil the obligation of your Lord and do the work of your family.” (Sunan Abū Dāwūd, 2988)[6] ‘Ᾱbid al-Sindī comments that this ḥadīth proves that “every woman capable of chores must do them” (Ṭawāli‘ al-Anwār, 6:411) [7], explaining that “once the ruling about Fāṭimah is known, it would be more so [the case] with other women.” (ibid.)[8]

The following are some relevant narrations.

Asmā’ and Zubayr (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhumā)

Asmā’, the daughter of Abū Bakr (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhumā), says: “Zubayr married me when he had no wealth on the earth nor a slave, nor anything, besides a camel and horse. So, I used to feed his horse, draw water and patch up his leather bucket and knead [flour]. I wasn’t good at baking. Neighbours of mine from the Anṣār, who were women of integrity, would bake. I also used to transport date stones on my head from a land of Zubayr which the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) endowed to him. It was two miles from me. I came one day while the date stones were on my head and met the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) while a group of Anṣār were with him. He invited me saying, ‘Kneel, kneel’ [to the camel] to carry me behind him; I was embarrassed to travel with men and remembered Zubayr’s jealousy – he was the most jealous of people! The Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) recognised that I was embarrassed so continued. I came to Zubayr and told him, ‘The Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) met me while date stones were on my head and a group of his companions were with him, so he made the camel kneel for me to ride, but I was embarrassed and remembered your jealousy.’ He said: ‘By Allāh, the fact you carry date stones [on your head] is harder upon me than you riding with him.’ Eventually, Abū Bakr sent a servant to me thereafter, which took care of managing the horse, and it was like he emancipated me!” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 5224)[9]

Note, this was before the obligation of ḥijāb (purdah/separation between genders) (Fatḥ al-Bārī, 11:675)[10], which is why the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) invited her to ride with him. In one version, Asmā’ says: “I used to do the housework for Zubayr…” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 5687)[11] Imām al-Ghazālī quotes this incident in his Iḥyā’ while exhorting wives to do housework. (Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn, 3:232-3) Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ explains that the work Asmā’ (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhā) did outside the house, i.e. taking care of the horse and carrying the date stones, was not something necessary on her, but extra. (Ikmāl al-Mu‘lim, 7:75)

‘Ᾱ’isha and Rasūlullāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam)

One of the Ahl al-Ṣuffah reports that the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) invited him and a group of the Ahl al-Ṣuffah to his house, and said: “Feed us ‘Ᾱ’ishah”, upon which she brought something to eat, and then he said “Bring us more ‘Ᾱ’ishah,” so she brought a little more, and then he said: “Give us drink ‘Ᾱ’ishah”, and she brought a container of milk… (Muṣannaf ‘Abd al-Razzāq, 20712, Musnad Ibn Abī Shaybah, 607, Sunan Abū Dāwūd, 5040) The Prophet would clean his teeth using a siwāk and then give it to ‘Ᾱ’ishah (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhā) to wash. (Sunan Abū Dāwūd, 52) On one occasion, he told her, “Bring the knife and sharpen it with a stone.” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 5086) However, it was also part of the excellent and noble character of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) that he would assist in the housework. (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 676)

Umm Sulaym and Abū Ṭalḥah (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhumā)

Anas (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu) reports: “A son of [my stepfather] Abū Ṭalḥah from [my mother] Umm Sulaym died [in his absence]. She said to her family: ‘Do not tell Abū Ṭalḥah about his son until I am the one to tell him.’ He came, and she presented supper before him, so he ate and drank. She then did herself up for him in the most attractive manner she used to. He then engaged in intercourse with her. When she saw that he was satisfied and had had intercourse with her, she said: ‘Abū Ṭalḥah, what is your opinion if some people were to lend something to a family and then demand their loan back, can they withhold it from them?’ He said: ‘No.’ She said: ‘Then seek reward [by observing patience] at [the death of] your son!’ He became angry saying, ‘You left me to become soiled and then you inform me of [the death of] my son?!’ He then proceeded until he came to the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) and informed him of what happened. The Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: ‘Allāh has blessed the two of you last night.’ She then conceived…” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 6317)[12]

What these reports demonstrate is that the concern of the ṣaḥābah was how best to fulfil their obligations and reduce the burdens of their spouses. Their primary concern was not how best to gain from their marriage, but how best to give and contribute. Hence, we see in the example of Asmā’ and Zubayr (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhumā) that Asmā’’s concern was for Zubayr and Zubayr’s concern was for Asmā’. And from the example of Umm Sulaym (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhā) we can see that such attitude shows great strength of character and is a cause of blessings.


To what extent do wives have to listen to their husbands?


Allāh says in the Qur’ān that men are guardians of their wives (Qur’ān, 4:34). Al-Jaṣṣāṣ explains that this verse demonstrates that the wife “must obey [her husband] and accept his command as long as it is not a sin.” (Aḥkām al-Qur’ān, 3:149)[13] However, this obligation does not extend to every single permissible act. Rather, she has to obey him in every non-sinful act that is connected to the rights (ḥuqūq) that he has over her as a husband, namely in matters connected with sexual intimacy (jimā‘/istimtā‘) and household chores/serving him (khidmah).[14] Outside of these, it is not necessary on her to obey him. For example, if he told her to engage in tahajjud ṣalāh during the night, perform optional fasts or memorise the Qur’ān, it does not become an obligation on her to do these things. Similarly, if he was to tell her to sell her house, it would not become obligatory for her to do so. Ibn Nujaym explains: “It is not obligatory on the wife to obey her husband in all that he commands her. That [i.e. the obligation to obey] is only in relation to things that go back to the marriage and its connections. She especially [does not have to obey him] when his command entails harming her.” (al-Baḥr al-Rā’iq, 5:78)[15] Muḥammad Qadrī Bāshā writes: “Amongst the wife’s obligations towards the husband is to be obedient to him in everything he commands her from marital rights when it is permissible in Sharī‘ah.” (al-Aḥkām al-Shar‘iyyah fi l-Aḥwāl al-Shakhṣiyyah, p. 80)[16]

Women should keep in mind that there is great reward in doing housework and being dutiful and obedient to their husbands. Jābir (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu) reported that once they were sitting with the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) when a woman came and said: “Assalāmu ‘alayka, Messenger of Allāh. I am a delegate of [some] women to you. Allāh is the Lord of men and the Lord of women, and Ᾱdam is the father of men and the father of women. Allāh has sent you to men and to women. Men, when they go out in Allāh’s cause and are killed, are living with their Lord being sustained, happy with what Allāh has given them. When they go out, they have such reward that they know. Yet, we are [occupied in] serving them, and remain [at home]. What reward do we have?” The Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: “Convey salām from me to the women and say to them: Being obedient to the husband equals all that, but only a few of you do so.” (al-‘Iyāl, 528)[17]


Is it necessary for the wife to serve her mother-in-law?


It is rewarding and part of good character for a woman to serve her mother-in-law. However, it is not necessary, nor can her husband compel her, to do so.[18]

Note: The type of accommodation a wife is entitled to in Sharī‘ah depends on her background and her husband’s financial situation. If the wife comes from an affluent family and the husband is financially well-off, she is entitled to a fully separate lodging that is separate from her in-laws. If she is from an average background and he is financially capable, she is entitled only to a separate room with its own lock, together with a kitchen and bathroom that is not shared by any of his family members. If both spouses come from poor backgrounds, his obligation is only to provide a separate room, and it is not necessary to provide separate facilities like a bathroom and kitchen.[19]


[1] أما رعاية الرجل أهله فالقيام عليهم والسياسة لأمرهم وتوفيتهم الحق في النفقة والعشرة، وأما رعاية المرأة في بيت زوجها فحسن التدبير في أمر بيته والتعهد لمن تحت يدها من عياله وأضيافه وخدمه

[2] قضى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم على ابنته فاطمة خدمة البيت وقضى على عليه بما كان خارج البيت

[3] فجعل أعمال الخارج أي مما يتعلق بخارج البيت كإتيان الحطب والماء وتجصيل النفقة على علي رضي الله تعالى عنه وجعل أعمال الداخل كالطحن والخبز والعجن على فاطمة رضي الله تعالى عنها

[4] إذا كانت المرأة ممن تخدم نفسها فعليها الطبخ والخبز لأن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم جعل خدمة داخل البيت على فاطمة رضي الله عنها

[5] المستحق عليها بالنكاح تسليم النفس إلى الزوج للاستمتاع وما سوى ذلك من الأعمال تؤمر به تدينا ولا تجبر عليه في الحكم نحو كنس البيت وغسل الثياب والطبخ والخبز فكذلك إرضاع الولد

[6] اتقى الله يا فاطمة وأدى فريضة ربك واعملي عمل أهلك

[7] في قوله صلى الله عليه وسلم: اتقى الله يا فاطمة واعملي عمل أهلك دليل على أن كل امرأة تطيق الخدمة يلزمها خدمة بيتها

[8] إذا علم الحكم في فاطمة فهو في غيرها بالأولى

[9] تزوجني الزبير، وما له في الأرض من مال ولا مملوك، ولا شيء غير ناضح وغير فرسه، فكنت أعلف فرسه وأستقي الماء، وأخرز غربه وأعجن، ولم أكن أحسن أخبز، وكان يخبز جارات لي من الأنصار، وكن نسوة صدق، وكنت أنقل النوى من أرض الزبير التي أقطعه رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم على رأسي، وهي مني على ثلثي فرسخ، فجئت يوما والنوى على رأسي، فلقيت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ومعه نفر من الأنصار، فدعاني ثم قال: «إخ إخ» ليحملني خلفه، فاستحييت أن أسير مع الرجال، وذكرت الزبير وغيرته وكان أغير الناس، فعرف رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أني قد استحييت فمضى، فجئت الزبير فقلت: لقيني رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، وعلى رأسي النوى، ومعه نفر من أصحابه، فأناخ لأركب، فاستحييت منه وعرفت غيرتك، فقال: والله لحملك النوى كان أشد علي من ركوبك معه، قالت: حتى أرسل إلي أبو بكر بعد ذلك بخادم تكفيني سياسة الفرس، فكأنما أعتقني

[10] والذي يظهر أن القصة كانت قبل نزول الحجاب ومشروعيته

[11] كنت أخدم الزبير خدمة البيت

[12] عن أنس قال: مات ابن لأبي طلحة من أم سليم، فقالت لأهلها: لا تحدثوا أبا طلحة بابنه حتى أكون أنا أحدثه، قال: فجاء فقربت إليه عشاء فأكل وشرب، فقال: ثم تصنعت له أحسن ما كان تتصنع قبل ذلك فوقع بها، فلما رأت أنه قد شبع وأصاب منها، قالت: يا أبا طلحة، أرأيت لو أن قوما أعاروا عاريتهم أهل بيت فطلبوا عاريتهم ألهم أن يمنعوهم؟ قال: لا، قالت: فاحتسب ابنك، قال فغضب وقال: تركتني حتى تلطخت ثم أخبرتني بابني؟ فانطلق حتى أتى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فأخبره بما كان، فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: بارك الله لكما في غابر ليلتكما، قال: فحملت إلخ

[13] وهذا يدل على أن له إمساكها في بيته ومنعها من الخروج وأن عليها طاعته وقبول أمره ما لم تكن معصية ودلت على وجوب نفقتها عليه

[14] إذا تزوجت [المرأة] اشتغلت بخدمة الزوج (النفقة للخصاف، ص١١)

المستحق عليها بالنكاح تسليم النفس إلى الزوج للاستمتاع وما سوى ذلك من الأعمال تؤمر به تدينا ولا تجبر عليه في الحكم نحو كنس البيت وغسل الثياب والطبخ والخبز فكذلك إرضاع الولد (المبسوط، ج٥ ص٢٠٩)

[15] المرأة لا يجب عليها طاعة الزوج في كل ما يأمر به إنما ذلك فيما يرجع إلى النكاح وتوابعه خصوصا إذا كان في أمره إضرار

[16] من الحقوق على المرأة لزوجها أن تكون مطيعة له فيما يأمرها به من حقوق الزوجية ويكون مباحا شرعا

[17] عن جابر بن عبد الله قال: بينا نحن قعود عند رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إذ أتته امرأة فقالت: السلام عليك يا رسول الله، أنا وافدة النساء إليك، الله رب الرجال ورب النساء، وآدم أبو الرجال وأبو النساء، بعثك الله إلى الرجال وإلى النساء، والرجال إذا خرجوا في سبيل الله فقتلوا فأحياء عند ربهم يرزقون فرحين بما آتاهم الله، وإذا خرجوا لهم من الأجر ما قد علموا، ونحن نخدمهم فما لنا من الأجر؟ قال لها رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: أقرئى النساء عني السلام، وقولي لهن: إن طاعة الزوج تعدل ما هناك، وقليل منكن تفعله

[18] آپ کے مسائل اور ان كا حل، ج٦ ص٣٤٢-٤

[19] أحسن الفتاوى (ج٥ ص٤٧٦) نقلا عن الشامي

Zameelur Rahman

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