Answered by Shaykh Abdurragmaan Khan
Question: Assalam alaykum,
My friend is a convert woman, doubting about Islam, because her husband keeps reminding her of this hadith: Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: ‘If a man calls his wife to his bed and she refuses [and does not come], and he spends the night angry with her, the angels will curse her until morning.”
I need some fiqh-related rulings on this topic, because what is the limit, can a husband call his wife 3-5 times a day (this is her case)?
Answer: Wa alaykum salam
Thank you for writing to us.
In short, Islam honours and respect women. Further, no soul is under an obligation to do that which it cannot bear. Allah, High and Mighty, said in the Quran, “Allah does not obligate anyone beyond his capacity” [2:286]
Accordingly, the sister is only under an obligation to fulfill the sexual needs of her husband within her capacity. If she is ill, weak or experiences any pain, she is not obligated according all scholars. Also, the husband should have mercy towards his wife, knowing that the best of husbands, peace be upon him, said that “the best of you, are those who are best to their wives.” He should also know, that a successful marriage is one where spouses, at times, forego rights and not demand them. Finally, as a possible solution, it is permissible for a wife to fulfil the husband’s desires without conjugal relations. By way of example, Islam permits a wife to bring her husband to a climax by the usage of her hands and Allah knows best.
Given that the hadith of Abu Hurayra quoted in your question has been the cause of much discussion and debate. And that in a recent incident at an Islamic seminary in our community, a feminist not only criticised the hadith, but also mocked it to the extent that she made the audience laugh at it, the current author felt the need to discuss the narration in light of the following:
The hadith has been transmitted by both Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim. There is virtually consensus among the scholars that narrations contained in sahih compilations of Bukhari and Muslim are all authentic. Like many other scholars, Imam Nawawi takes the view, in his Tahdhib al-Asma wa al-Lugat, that there is consensus on this point. However, a minority of scholars have challenged it.
Nevertheless, none of the traditional scholars have taken issue with this hadith of Abu Hurayra. In addition, as this answer sets out to demonstrate, scholars of the modern era who have taken issue with it have done so either because they do not understand, or because they are unwilling to understand, the words of the Messenger, peace be upon him.
Finally, it is absurd to discard the system and methodology adopted by the early scholars to determine the authenticity of narrations. Their systematic thoroughness in verifying and vilifying hadith narrators, their almost obsessive diligence in distinguishing the reliable from the unreliable, their efforts to preserve what they received and their scrupulousness in transmitting it unaltered, is unmatched. The Manhaj al-Naqd of the late Dr M. M. Azami (may Allah elevate his status, amin) is amongst the masterpieces that discuss this reality at length.
Islamic Law and the welfare of societies
Allah, High and Mighty, alone knows what is best for His creation. He alone knows where their welfare lies. In order to bring about the welfare of all creatures – human beings and even animals – Allah sent Prophets and revealed Scriptures containing His Law. The final Messenger and Seal of all Prophets is our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Allah revealed the Quran to him. His actions, utterances and approvals, tacit or otherwise, served as an explanation of the Quran. Allah said about him, peace be upon him, “And he (the Prophet, peace be upon him) does not speak from [his own] inclination (3) It is (his utterances) but revelation revealed (4)”.
Accordingly, the companions, the successors and those who followed them went to great lengths to preserve whatever emanated from him, peace be upon him, as he was a source of our Sacred Law, the only legal system that is able to establish world peace and order. All oppression on the face of the earth, whether great or small, originates from humanity steering away from this legal system, the system of Muhammad, peace be upon him.
The meaning of the hadith
Scholars are in agreement that when the husband requires sexual gratification from his wife, she is obliged to fulfil his need. The meaning of the hadith, when taken at face value, may seem to suggest that our law, or the Prophet, peace be upon him, does not consider women and their interests. However, the real problem is the unwillingness of some people to try to understand the Prophet, peace be upon him.
If the ways and the character of the Prophet, peace be upon him, as well as his concern for women, are understood properly, conclusions such as this would never be reached. Throughout history, there has never been a person who has championed the cause of justice and fairness to women like Muhammad did, peace be upon him. When the world treated women with disrespect and considered them inferior, Muhammad, peace be upon him, defended their rights. Women were very badly treated in Christian Europe and in Persia. For instance, they were excluded from decision-making. In addition, all menstruating women were not allowed to bathe with their husbands or sleep in the same room as them. Neither were they allowed to eat at the same table or use the same utensils as them. Muhammad, peace be upon him, on the other hand, established their honour. He, peace be upon him, respected his wives – he raced them in the desert, he bathed with them, he ate and drank from their left-over food and drink, and he sought their counsel on the most serious of matters. He said, “The best of you are those who are best to their wives, and I am best to my wives”.
So how should we understand the hadith in light of the ways of this merciful, loving and kind Prophet?
Firstly, a wife only has a duty to to fulfil her husband’s sexual needs if she has no valid excuse. [Fath al-Bari] If she is ill, in pain or weak, she is excused from this obligation. Consequently, in regard to the original question, the sister is only obliged to offer her husband sexual relations if she is not harmed and does not experience pain or weakness. All scholars are in agreement on this.
Secondly, Allah and His Messenger, peace be upon him, do not want women to be cursed. It is ludicrous to suggest the contrary, as the feminist referred to above has done. One of the objectives of marriage is that each spouse must protect the other’s chastity. The western ideology that a woman should be free to engage in sexual relations with her husband and to refrain when she wishes and desires to do so is a defective one. This is illustrated by the widespread adultery present in western societies. I am not suggesting that this is the only reason for adultery, but it is certainly one of the primary ones. The ruling in the hadith thus has at its core the interests of women and the preservation of their marriages.
Similar to this is the narration where he, peace be upon him, said the angels curse the wife who sleeps at night while her husband is angry with her. Outwardly, to those who do not try to understand the wisdom of our law, it appears to wrong women. However, the reality is that the Messenger, peace be upon him, knew that men by nature forgive and overlook quickly, while women find this difficult. The consequence of a woman sleeping at night without reconciling with her husband, especially if this is repeated night after night and week after week, is that the couple begin to grow apart. In due course, if this continues, they become so distant from one another that they are no longer attached to each other and become incapable of having a decent conversation. This is one of the most common challenges in contemporary marriages. The Prophet, peace be upon him, did not want the wife to be cursed; he wanted to encourage her to preserve her marriage and to learn how to reconcile and communicate with her husband daily, so that her marriage does not become one where she feels alone and unhappy.
Thirdly, hadith commentators mention that cursing refers to “distancing from Divine Mercy.” The wisdom of the warning is to avoid harm in one’s life, relations, and religion–and to preserve the good.
Fourthly, though not clearly referenced in hadith, men are also under an obligation to fulfil the wife’s sexual needs. Thus the matter is one where spouses assist each other in maintaining their chastity. This further emphasises the fairness and justice of Allah’s Law.
And Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Abdurragmaan Khan
Shaykh Abdurragmaan received ijazah ’ammah from various luminaries, including but not restricted to: Habib Umar ibn Hafiz—a personality who affected him greatly and who has changed his relationship with Allah, Maulana Yusuf Karaan—the former Mufti of Cape Town; Habib ‘Ali al-Mashhur—the current Mufti of Tarim; Habib ‘Umar al-Jaylani—the Shafi‘i Mufti of Makkah; Sayyid Ahmad bin Abi Bakr al-Hibshi; Habib Kadhim as-Saqqaf; Shaykh Mahmud Sa’id Mamduh; Maulana Abdul Hafiz al-Makki; Shaykh Ala ad-Din al-Afghani; Maulana Fazlur Rahman al-Azami and Shaykh Yahya al-Gawthani amongst others.