Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick
I read that wives are not obliged to serve their husbands in terms of cooking, washing, or cleaning, and she is only obliged to obey him “in bed.” Isn’t this rule in contradiction to many ahadith?
Why am I obliged to work for her, feed her, and clothe her-while she is not even obliged to cook or wash for me?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate.
May Allah alleviate our difficulties and guide us to that which pleases Him, Amin.
What you have read and described is correct and entirely per the teaching of the Qur’an and Sunna. Sacred Law and not human opinion determine each partner’s obligations. Ideally, a husband and wife should mutually agree on distributing household chores according to what works for their unique circumstances, and Allah knows best.
Relations between a Husband and Wife
Both husband and wife must treat each other well (with mutual kindness and respect – ma’ruf). Allah Most High says, “Women deserve the like of what they are obliged to give, in kindness.” [Qur’an 2:228]
Each partner must give the other what Allah and His Messenger (may Allah bless him and give him peace) ordained to be their respective duties. Sacred Law requires that the husband fulfills the responsibility of his wife’s essential expenditures. The wife, in turn, gives herself to him and obeys him concerning his rights of conjugal relations without intentional delays or displaying resentment, and Allah knows best. [Misri, ‘Umda Al-Salik]
Mutual Negotiation and Agreement
Each married couple must communicate and mutually agree on how household chores will be handled to best benefit their situation. It may well be that the wife does most of the chores, which is fine, and a charity from her. In other households, the couple may conclude that the husband is better suited for some chores, and it would be a charity from him. Some couples may decide to employ a domestic worker, and this is also acceptable.
The Shafi’i School is not stating that a wife should not take care of the household, only that it is not an obligation upon her.
Obligations for the Husband and Wife According to the Shafi’i School
Most standard references of the Shafi’i School agrees on the marital obligations of husbands and wives:
According to Abu Ishaq Al-Shirazi, “A woman is not obliged to serve her husband by baking, grinding flour, cooking, washing, or any other kind of service. The marriage contract entails, for her part, only that she let him enjoy her sexually, and she is not obligated to do other than that. (A: Rather, it is considered sunna in our school for the wife to do the housework, and the husband (who is obliged to support her) to earn a living since this is how the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) divided the work between Fatima and ‘Ali.” (Allah be pleased with them) [Al-Muhadhdhab fi Fiqh Al-Imam Al-Shafi’i]
A wife must obey her husband as is customary in allowing him to fulfill lawful sexual enjoyment of her person. The husband must enable her to remain chaste and free of want for sex if he is able. The wife doesn’t need to serve her husband; if she does so, it is voluntary charity. [Misri, ‘Umda Al-Salik]
I pray this is of benefit.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan.
Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.
He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.
Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.