What Are the Limits of Protective Jealousy and the Roles of Mahrams in Western Society?

Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch

Question

As my wife’s Mahram, I understand this because I owe it to her to protect her as best I can. We are both practicing Muslims who work and support our two children. I was jealous when I saw my wife embrace her cousin after his mother died. I also feel envious if there is a mixed-gender social event that I am unable to attend with her due to work obligations.

What are the boundaries of protective jealousy, and what are the roles of Mahrams in Western society?

Answer

In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate

What Is Protective Jealousy (Ghayra)?

Protective jealousy, despite its sound, is a praiseworthy trait when controlled to a moderate level.

The linguistic definition of Ghayra comes from the word “to change” (taghayyur). Its meaning is then – the changing of the state of the heart and a stirring up of anger caused by something of private attachment becoming shared with others. [al-Mawsu’a al-Fiqhiyya al-Kuwaitiyya]

Its legal definition is the same. [Ibid.]

Rulings Pertaining to Ghayra

Ghayra is a natural quality that Allah Most High places in the human. It manifests whenever one senses others sharing in a right of theirs without their consent. [Ibid.]

It could also present when a Believer sees the Sacred limits of Allah Most High being violated. This is Ghayra for the Sacred law. [Ibid.]

The Object of Protective Jealousy

Rulings regarding protective jealousy change according to the object of the jealousy.

  • Sacred Law

    Being protective of the Sacred limits that Allah Most High has set via His Prophets (may Allah bless them and give them peace) is praiseworthy and encouraged. The most protective of the Sacred limits of Allah are the Prophets themselves, and at the forefront of them the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and give him peace). [Ibid.]

    Our Mother ‘Aisha narrated that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) would not seek redress of any wrongs done to him, but “if the Sacred limits of Allah Most High were violated, he would seek redress of that wrong.” [Bukhari]

  • Human Rights

    Also encouraged and praiseworthy is to be protective of the rights of each Human established in the Sacred law. From this type is a man’s protectiveness for his wife and other female relatives. [al-Mawsu’a al-Fiqhiyya al-Kuwaitiyya]

    Abandoning this type of protectiveness is blameworthy. Such a person is referred to as a Dayyuth (or someone who does not care whether or not or to what extent other people interact with their spouse for family members without their consent).

    The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Three people who Allah Most High will not look at (with mercy) on the Day of Judgment: (…) The Dayyuth.” [Nasaai’]

Extremes Regarding Ghayra

We’ve mentioned regarding extreme remisness in Ghayra and that it is a blameworthy trait and considered a major sin due to the staunch warnings against it in the Prophetic narrations. [al-Mawsu’a al-Fiqhiyya al-Kuwaitiyya]

Additionally, the other extreme is also blameworthy and sinful. This is to be so protective that one infringes on their spouses rights. [Ibid.]

For instance, not permitting one’s wife to leave the home, even though it is safe for her to do so and she will not be mixing with other men. Also, if preventing her would cause her to miss out on any worldly or religious right. [Ibid.]

If, however, the husband does not permit her to leave, because of a legitimate fear that she may be accosted, flirted with (or flirt herself), have inappropriate interactions with strange men, neglect her family responsibilities, or the like – this is within the husband right and this is the realm where praiseworthy ghayra resides. [Ibid.]

Being Fair and Moderate

In a marriage, there is only a certain extent that you can protect your spouse. Protection of your spouse is mainly confined to protecting her from the aggressions and inappropriate actions of other people. To a more limited extent, and only when there is reasonable fear (coupled with proof), can one control her from doing inappropriate actions herself (like flirting with men).

However, marriage requires a level of trust and good opinions. Thus, it is not permissible to be absolutely controlling. By this I mean to be unreasonably overprotective. This may manifest in many ways, such as:

  1.  Not allowing her to leave the house, even when there is no fear of the above recognized matters;
  2. Not allowing her to leave the house due to baseless suspicions;
  3. Spying on her or holding an ill-opinion of her intentions;
  4. Preventing her from her worldly and religious rights.

Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Quran and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Quranic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.