Rights vs Duties – Husband and Wife


What are my rights?”, is a common question posed today, especially between married couples.

Does a human being have any rights over another? If the answer is yes then what are these rights? While rights are important, we should not be negligent of our duties which are equally important.

We often think in terms of “my rights” and seldom in terms of “my duties”.

The spirit and essence of Islam is that of peace, love and tolerance. Love for Allah, love for the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and love for the rest of creation. Allah, All-Merciful says: “God will soon raise a people whom He loves and who love Him“(5:54).

Love for Allah and His Messenger is obligatory and is indeed the essence of faith as He, All-Merciful says: “those who believe have intense love for Allah.” (2:165).

If we shift our point of departure from ‘rights’, which alludes more to ‘taking’, to ‘duties’ which allude more to ‘giving’ then the following are a list of duties we ought to have toward our partners:

1.  The preservation of Life (Hifdh al-Hayàt). Allah, All-Merciful says: “And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference.” (17:70).

All Life is sacred regardless of race, color, lineage and creed. This universal idea sets out to protect the family from danger, threats, difficulties and harm. We are duty-bound to ensure that our spouse enjoys safety and security. This duty does not end in the home but rather starts there and extends to all human beings. 

2. The preservation of religion (Hifdh al-Din): Allah, All-Merciful says: “Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded.” (16:90).

We are duty-bound to ensure that each has the right to practice their religion. We are to encourage with goodness, prohibit evil and assist each other in obedience toward God, All Merciful for He

3. Preservation of the intellect (Hifdh al-‘Aql): Preservation of the intellect means that we are duty-bound to assist each other in gaining knowledge, developing the intellect through quality education and at the same time prohibit each other from damaging the intellect through intoxicants like alcohol and drugs.

4. Preservation of wealth and property (Hifdh al-Mal): This means that we do our utmost in protecting each others wealth and property by making wise decisions after mutual consultation. We are duty-bound to assist each other in protecting the material wealth accumulated and respecting the property and privacy of each other. This does not stop in the home but rather starts there and extends toward all human beings.

5. Preservation of progeny (Hifdh al-Nasl): Islam prescribes marriage for many a beneficial reason, primarily to preserve lineage and offspring. 

6. Preservation of dignity (Hifdh al-‘Ird): Protection of dignity is another universal idea which Muslims should be at the forefront of. The Quran indicates the seriousness of destroying peoples charater by equating gossip and slanderous behavior to “eating the flesh of a corpse.”

 Allah, All Merciful, says: “And you are their garments and they are your garments”. (2:187)

A garment is used in this verse so as to clearly indicate how we should strive to cover each others shame and most private affairs. Each is duty-bound to be that garment covering the shame, private affairs, faults, sins etc.

The prophet (a.s) said: “If you cover the fault of your brother in this life, Allah will cover your faults on the day when all will be exposed”.

These  are six universal ideas upon which Islam is built.

Besides these 6 universals, other duties include:

a) that the husband ensures that there is  shelter, food and clothing for the family.

b) that both parties strive for the highest level of personal hygiene. Imam Ahmad Hanbal adds that cleanliness is so important that the wife can call off the marriage if the husband does not see to his basic hygiene.

c) that the wife not to travel long distances without permission of the husband. This does not include going to the local store for groceries or going out for the day. Some extremists abuse certain prophetic narrations so as to fulfill their egos. Imam al-Ghazali says: “You are barely able control yourself yet you deem yourself fit to control the others”.

d) that the husband or wife not beat each other.

e) That they use sweet words and not insult each other or hurt each other. This would fall under the 6th point, which Imam Ghazali sees as so important i.e. that the character and honor of the partner be upheld and respected, whether in public or in private.

And Allah knows best,

Allie Khalfe.

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