When Can Protective Jealousy Become Abuse?

Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah

Question: Assalam alaykum

Many problems that occur between spouses are the result of according to the husband “ghayra” (jealousy) and according to the female “abuse”. Can “ghayra” become abuse? How to differentiate between ghayra and abuse?

Answer: Assalam alaykum. Jazakum Allah for your question. I pray your studies and training are going well insha’Allah.

The word ‘Ghayra’ is often translated as ‘protective jealousy’, because it carries not only the sense of a type of jealousy, but a jealousy that roots from a sense of honor, protective instinct, and earnest concern. It falls under the general concept of chivalry.

Ghayra as a positive and negative quality

Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate between desirable protective jealousy and undesirable protective jealousy, is that desirable protective jealousy relates to those things that the sacred law has put in place and protects, so that when they are transgressed, a person, male or female, has the right to feel jealous over another and their honour compromised.

Undesirable protective jealousy over another is when the sacred law is not being transgressed, but the person becomes overprotective, overbearing, and oppressive.

The Prophet ﷺ said, ‘There is a kind of protective jealousy [ghayra] that Allah loves and a kind that Allah hates. As for that which Allah loves, it is protective jealousy when there are grounds for suspicion. And as for that which He hates, it is protective jealousy when there are no grounds for suspicion.’ [Ibn Majah]

For example, if a person saw their husband or wife flirting with a stranger of the opposite sex on the street (or online!), and they feel a sense protective jealousy come over them, then this is not deemed as blameworthy or inappropriate. Likewise, if a spouse notices people staring at their wife or husband, and they feel jealous and uncomfortable, this is also from protective jealousy that is not appropriate.

In fact, protective jealousy is not only confined to one’s spouse, but can extend to others. For example, a sibling or parent may feel it towards their sibling or child, and to a certain extent can be healthy protective instinct.

It is narrated that Sa’d ibn ‘Ubada (Allah be pleased with him) said, ‘If I were to see a man with my wife, I would have struck him with the sword, and not with the flat part (side) of it. When Allah’s Messenger ﷺ heard of that, he said, ‘Are you surprised at Sa’d’s jealousy of his honour? By Allah, I am more jealous of my honour than he, and Allah is more jealous than I. Because of His jealousy Allah has prohibited abomination, both open and secret. And no person is more jealous of his honour than Allah.’ [Sahih Muslim]

However, when the shariah is not being transgressed, then it is not the right place to have protective jealousy and react on it.

For example, if the person happens to see their spouse doing something which is part of normal life, such as simply being polite to someone who has done them a favour, or a brief exchange of greetings to a neighbour or local grocer, or helping someone in urgent need, without anything suspicious occurring etc., and one becomes jealous and upset, then, although it may be the person’s natural reaction which they cannot help, they must learn to keep it in check.

Ghayra becoming abuse

We can see then how undesirable Ghayra can become oppressive, and may even lead to a form of abuse, when it is not based on any valid reason, and the person reacts and lets it affect their treatment of the other.

In addition to undesirable Ghayra, there is also another situation to consider, and that is when a person, usually the husband, has a jealous side to him (or controlling) and this affects his treatment of the wife, but he stays within the limits of the law and imposes his legal rights in the marriage, to the point it becomes stifling for the wife.
It is in these situations where, although legally valid, if bare-bone legal rights are enforced without wisdom, consideration, and devoid of the spirit of the religion and sunna of the noble Prophet ﷺ, marriages become difficult and psychological and emotional abuse can occur. These are the most difficult situations to deal with and advise on, and one needs to navigate through the issues with careful consideration.

On the other hand, one must also consider if the person is truly being oppressive or even abusive, or if it is simply a matter of differing levels of religious practice. If one spouse is religious and the other is not, then the religious spouse may not be being oppressive but it may seem overbearing to the less religious spouse. For example, if a husband insists that his wife ensures that she covers herself properly when leaving the house, or the wife insists the husband stop mixing freely with his female cousins, and the other spouse feels this is just out of jealousy and an overbearing disposition, then the situation is different.

The role of the counsellor

From the above, it becomes clear that the role of any counsellor or advisor is a very delicate one. For these reasons, other than the training and personal skills needed to be a good counsellor, it is essential that anyone involved in the field of Muslim marriage counselling should have a good working knowledge of the fiqh rulings pertaining to marriage and have access to reliable and capable scholars to seek advice from.

May Allah grant you success in your studies and all your affairs.

Warmest salams,
[Shaykh] Jamir Meah

Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. In 2007, he traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he spent nine years studying the Islamic sciences on a one-to-one basis under the foremost scholars of the Ribaat, Tarim, with a main specialization and focus on Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continues advanced studies in a range of Islamic sciences, as well as teaching. Jamir is a qualified homeopath.