Does a Woman Have an Inferior Position Compared to Her Husband?

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch


My question is why should a woman marry when all the fatwas we see say “a wife is like a slave or a prisoner” and a husband is a “master”?

All I see is the superiority of the husband and his high status and the punishments of the wife. Where does the wife stand, as someone lower than him?


In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate

A wife is not at all considered a slave or prisoner to the husband. These terms come from a misunderstanding and mistranslation of Prophetic words. The wife and the husband are considered co-partners, shaqa’iq in Arabic.

The Status of Women in a Marriage

Each plays their role to establish a household centralized around the obedience of Allah Most High.

The wife has roles and responsibilities toward the husband just as the husband has toward her. The financial responsibilities lay solely on the husband, as well as the obligation of his providing a safe environment and the expenditure for the family. Due to these responsibilities, Islam places the role as well as the responsibility of leading the family. This makes the husband the leader.

She is charged with obeying her husband. If obedience to the family leader was not required, the family unit would not run properly.

Note that obedience to the husband is not absolute. This is commonly misconstrued. The obedience to the husband that is an obligation for the wife is only in those things which are the husband’s rights, nothing else.

Insisting, Not Forcing

Amongst the purposes of marriage, is for the husband and wife to fulfill their natural human sexual desires in a manner pleasing to Allah Most High which provides the best possible outcome for the bringing of a child into the world.

For this reason, it is each spouse’s right to be sexually fulfilled by their spouse. The only difference is that the Sacred Law gives the husband the right to insist. Now this right to insist, only applies if the wife is healthy and not in menstruation. Furthermore, his right to insist doesn’t mean he can force the wife.

If she, after agreeing to enter the marriage, and without just reason to refuse, refuses the husband – he has no right to force himself on her – however, she will be sinful. The opposite is also true, except that the wife does not have the right to insist.

If he fails to fulfill her sexual needs without right or just cause, the punishment and curse fall on him. The reason why the Hadith are expressed more so toward the wife, is due to the context of the time and the nature of the Arabic language.

Compared to Whom?

It is a modern fallacy that men and women are ranked in comparison to each other. This assumes that one must be better than the other. This comparison is not from Islam and is the result of a lot of cultural and sociopolitical baggage.

There is no doubt, that women have been treated incorrectly and oppressed throughout history, in every facet of life. However, we must separate the teachings of Islam from the missteps of people throughout history.

As mentioned above, true rank or status, which is one’s rank or status before the Creator, is judged by righteousness. Righteousness manifests in the slave’s fulfilling of the roles and responsibilities in which Allah Most High placed them.

In extension of that, even though men and women are required at a basic level to fulfill the same obligations, we must understand that Allah Most High has placed men and women in unique roles that they don’t share in.

Allah Most High says, “and the male is not like the female….” [Quran, 3:36]

This verse points to the fact that women and men are each unique. This verse should not be misunderstood to mean that one is superior to the other.

Fulfilling Your God-Given Role

If Allah Most High gave women specific roles that He did not give men, and the women fulfill those roles to the best of their abilities with sincerity, seeking Allah’s pleasure, they will find themselves in the Divine Contentment and bliss.

This also applies to men as well – even though the specific roles may sometimes differ.

Falling Into a Trap

It is easy, especially when listening to the modern discourse, to fall into the trap of comparing men and women. Instead of comparing genders, races, ethnicities, etc., Islam compares individuals only on the basis of righteousness.

The comparison of group identities only leads to partisanship and an ‘us vs. them’ complex.

Regardless of your gender or other components that make you who you are, if one fulfills the obligations of Allah and abstains from His prohibitions in their specific circumstance – they are of the great servants of Allah and the only one superior to them, is the one who is more righteous than them, be it whoever.

By this understanding, we can see that Islam does not compare people on any outward involuntary factor, not race, not socio-financial class, not language, not gender, or anything of the sort.

Allah Most High charges each soul what it can bear and deals with each individual as an individual, regardless of gender or identity.

The Advocate for Women’s Rights

In pre-Islamic Arabia, women’s rights were essentially non-existent. Women experienced oppression in almost everything. That is until the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) advocated for the rights and proper treatment of women.

He (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said in His address at the Farewell Hajj, “Take care to do well by the women amongst you.”

He also encouraged the rights of the mother above and beyond that of the father. This emphasis on the mother was a direct offensive to the societal ills and bad practices towards women.

Hope this helps
Allah know 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 Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.