A Wife’s Right to Housing Separate From Her In-Laws

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari

Question: I would like to know what the husband’s obligations are towards his wife regarding providing shelter for her. The husband makes his wife live with his family (in-laws) and makes her share the household facilities with other members of the family (kitchen, bathroom), and this is causing a lot of problems for the wife and she does not have her privacy either. The husband is capable of providing separate residence and facilities but does not, and the wife is having a difficult time?

Please could you explain according the Hanafi School how to deal with this problem?

Answer: In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,

The Shariah has given certain rights to the husband, just as it has give rights to the wife. Many times, failure to give the spouses their rights results in conflict and eventually breakdown of Marriage.

These rights, at times, may not go down too well with certain people and cultures. However, it is necessary for us to educate those Muslims who have been affected by cultural customs and traditions, and inform them of the injunctions of Shariah.

The benefit of learning and educating the masses about the rules and injunctions of Shariah with regards to social affairs is that, each party will appreciate what the other has to offer, and subsequently, this will lead to respect, love and harmony.

For example, it is not necessary upon the wife to cook for or serve her parents in-law. Now, many people believe that, it is the duty of the wife to look after not only the household affairs but all the family members including the nephew, niece, etc…If she is negligent in any way, she is rebuked.

However, if her in-laws did not regard this as an incumbent duty of the wife, and she on her own accord took care of the household work, then this work will surely be appreciated. She will also in turn do her best to give something back in return for this appreciation.

Therefore, it is our duty that we teach the masses and inform them of the injunctions of Shariah with regards to social affairs. This may be a Jihad, and one will no doubt face much opposition from culturally oriented individuals, but the rewards by Allah will be immense Insha Allah.

Coming to your question, In the Hanafi school, the wife has a right to live (and demand to live) separately. It is the duty and responsibility of the husband to provide her with shelter (suknah). This shelter must, if she demands so, be free from the interference of any of the husband’s family. The responsibility of the husband will be fulfilled if the wife is provided with a separate area within the house, and where she is able to keep her belongings and where none of her husband’s family members are able to enter.

Imam al-Haskafi states in Durr al-Mukhtar:

“It is necessary for the husband to provide the wife with a shelter (home) that is free from his and her family members…. taking into consideration both their economic standings. A separate quarter within the house that has a lock, separate bathroom and kitchen will be (minimally) sufficient.”

The great Hanafi Jurist, Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) comments on this by saying:

“The reason behind al-Haskafi’s statement “Free from his family members” is that, at times it may be harmful for her to share the house with other people, as her belongings may not be safe. Also, she will not be able to enjoy her husband’s company in the presence of other people.”

Regarding al-Haskafi’s statement “Separate bathroom and kitchen”, this may defer from one family to another. Poor people who normally share these things with other families may find it difficult to provide a house with a separate bathroom and cooking area. Therefore, for them it will be sufficient to provide a separate quarter that has a lock.” (Radd al-Muhtar 3/559-600)

Imam al-Kasani states in his Bada’i al-Sana’i:

“It is necessary to provide the wife with shelter as Allah Most High Says: “Let the women live in the same stile as you live, according to your means. And annoy them not, so as to restrict them.” (al-Talaq, 6)

If the husband desired her to live with his other wife or his family members, such as: his mum, sister, daughter from another wife or relatives, and she refused, then it will be incumbent upon him to provide her with a separate living quarter. The reason for this is that she may be harmed in co-sharing, and her refusal is a sign of harm. Also, the spouses need to fulfil their mutual sexual needs whenever the need arises, which may be difficult with others around.

If the husband provided her with a separate quarter in a large home, which has a separate lock, then she will not have a right to demand for a total separate house.” (Kasani, Bada’i al-Sana’i, Vol.4, P.23)

In conclusion, it is the responsibility of the husband to provide the wife with shelter. If she demands it to be separate from the husbands family, then the husband will be obliged to provide a living quarter which is free from the interference of others and that it has a separate lock. As far as the bathroom and cooking area is concerned, this should also be separate if they are not from a poor family background who normally share these things (as Imam Ibn Abidin mentions in length in his super commentary), otherwise the responsibility will be discharged by providing the above.

And Allah Knows Best

Muhammad ibn Adam
Darul Iftaa
Leicester , UK