What are the responsibilities of a woman within the family and her duties toward her husband?

Details of the Question

- What are the basic duties a woman has to do in the family in Islam? - According to Islam, is doing housework included among the responsibilities of the woman in the family? - It is written in a book that a woman does not have to breastfeed her child if she does not wish, that her husband has to pay a wet nurse to do it and that it would be regarded as good deeds if the woman did them. Will you give information about the issue?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The duties of a woman toward her husband:

1- Contentment: Being content is one of the reasons for the ease of the heart; a woman should avoid alienating her husband from herself and from the home by acting shamelessly and greedily. Contentment means to feel content with what is sufficient and not to be greedy.

2- Obedience to the husband: Our Prophet (pbuh) said,

“A woman with whom her husband is pleased will go to Paradise when she dies.” (Ibn Majah, Nikah, 4)

3- Cleanliness: To pay attention to the places that her husband sees and to clean those places. One should know that the best thing for cleanliness is water. She should always wear nice scents.  

4- Meeting his needs: To pay attention to the time when her husband eats a meal, not to pass the time for sleep, to prepare the meal and the bed in accordance with the habits of her husband.

5- Protecting his goods: To protect her husband’s property and belongings because protecting the property and belongings shows that she is a skillful woman.

6- Showing respect to relatives: To show respect to the relatives of her husband because if a woman shows respect to the relatives of her husband, it means she is a good housewife and manager.

7- Keeping secrets: The woman must not tell anyone about the secrets of her husband. If she reveals his secrets, she will lose the trust of her husband, and she cannot be sure about him anymore.  

8- Respect: To fulfill the orders of her husband, not to oppose him and to obey him.  If she opposes him, she may cause him to have a grudge against her and become hostile toward her. 

In addition, it is not permissible for a man to force his wife to do something that he wants, and religiously, the woman does not have to do things like that. For instance, a woman does not have to cook a meal or take care of her child. However, it is better for her to do legitimate and positive things (even if she does not like it) for the peace and safety of the family in order to establish mutual respect among the members of the family.

Division of labor between the wife and husband in the family:

In Islam, the family is one of the main holy things that need to be protected. Therefore, the family is not left unattended; someone that will protect the members of the family is deemed responsible as the head of the family. That person should be strong and powerful enough to make the other members obey him so that he will control those who go beyond the limits and keep them within the legitimate bounds. It is the father and the husband that can act authoritatively in the family and make everybody obey him.

In Islam, the head of the family is not completely independent. On the contrary, the head of the family is someone who undertakes the heavy burden of the responsibility of the family and to be the breadwinner. That is, the responsibility of working outside and bringing home the bread lies on the father and the husband. The woman does not have to work outside and bring home the bread.

When our Prophet (pbuh) married Fatima, his daughter, off to Hazrat Ali, his son-in-law, he assigned the tasks in the home to Fatima and the tasks outside the home to Ali and said,

“To bring water from the fountain, to knead dough and bake bread, to clean the home and to arrange the things in the house belong to Fatima. The tasks outside the house belong to Ali.”  

However, it is permissible for the man to help his wife to do housework and for the woman to help her husband outside the house. As a matter of fact, the Prophet (pbuh) helped his family with the housework, and it is stated in the religious books that it is sunnah for men to help with the housework.

Does a woman have to cook for her husband?

The food, clothes, the residence of a woman have to be provided by her husband within the legitimate conditions. It is necessary to avoid extravagance. Our Prophet (pbuh) said to a woman, “Take kindly from the goods of your husband what will be enough for you and your child.”

It is an ethical duty and an honorable service for a woman to cook meals, to bake bread, to do the washing, sweep the rooms, to arrange the housework and to try to relieve the burden of her husband. (Hukuku İslamiyye Ö. N. Bilmen 2/483)

Our Prophet (pbuh) said to Fatima, his daughter, "You should do the housework and Ali should do the tasks outside the house.”

Our Prophet is the best model and example for us in everything, including the family life. The most important reason of the problems we have today is the fact that we have moved away from the Quran and the Sunnah.

Can a woman be forced to breastfeed her child?

The father (husband) shall bear the cost of their (the mother and the child’s) food and clothing on equitable terms." (al-Baqara 233)

A woman cannot be forced to breastfeed the baby she gave birth to. However, if the baby does not suckle any other woman than its mother, then she is forced. Allah stated the following in the Quran:

The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years.”(al-Baqara, 2/ 233) That verse is evidence that women breastfeed their children.

When the mother does not breastfeed her baby, the father has to hire a wet nurse to breastfeed the baby near her mother because the right to protect and educate the baby belongs to the mother.

To breastfeed the baby is necessary for the mother religiously because the sentence in the Quran: “The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years." is a strong imperative sentence. (Mawqufat 1/597)

The woman should treat the family of her husband well:

Another aspect of treating her husband well for a Muslim woman is to treat the parents of her husband well and to show them respect and appreciation. The woman does a favor to her husband by helping her mother-in-law. Therefore, the husband treats his wife and her mother well in return. The woman actually does herself a favor by doing so because Allah says the following in the Quran, " Is there any Reward for Good other than Good?” (ar-Rahman, 55/ 60)

Our Prophet (pbuh) stated the following,

"The best among you are those who are good to people."

The mercy that our Prophet (pbuh) teaches his ummah includes not only the relatives but also the whole mankind. The following is stated in a hadith:

He who shows no mercy to the people will receive no mercy from Allah.” (Bukhari, Tawhid 2, Adab 27; Muslim, Fadail 66, Tirmidhi, Bırr 16)

"Allah shows mercy to those who shows mercy to others. Show mercy to those on the earth so that those in the sky will show mercy to you. " (see. Abu Dawud, Adab 58; Tirmidhi, Bırr 16)

Mercy is not only a feeling of pity as some people think. It is a comprehensive feeling that develops with love and grows with help and altruism. If there is no mercy in a heart, that heart is ill.

Today, some people cause the family life to be unbearable by saying, “the woman does not have to wash the clothes of the man; she does not have to breastfeed her baby”. Although she does not have to do them, there exists a religious and humane aspect of the issue and a dimension of mercy.

A woman civil servant serves many people that she knows or does not know for at least eight hours a day in return for the money that she receives; why should she not obey her husband, children, her husband’s mother and father? Those strange ideas and similar mistakes cause the break-up of many families and discontent. Families need love more than anything else.  

For the happiness of the families in the world and the hereafter, the members of the family must obey Allah and His Messenger first, and then each other for their legitimate desires of each other. They must not obey anyone if it involves committing sins.

On the other hand, if everyone fulfils their responsibilities toward each other, the happiness of the family will be realized. Otherwise, the family life becomes unbearable. Another aspect is that life is not limited with only this world; there is also life in the hereafter, which is the real life. We should establish such a family life that it would be a life in the atmosphere of the Quran and Sunnah, a Paradise life with people of common sense. Allah likes those who act with good will and common sense.

A working woman can be near men in the same place as much as her work necessitates. However, this being together must not exceed the necessity of the work and must not be regarded as ikhtilat (men and women mixing freely). The administrators in the workplace must be careful about the issue and must not force Muslim women to work and sit together with men unnecessarily, must not pressurize them; the workmates of the women should understand them.

It is a praiseworthy act that in Turkey in intercity buses, a non-mahram man is not allowed to sit near a woman and that seat is left empty if there is not another woman to sit next to her. It is the right of the Muslim women (who want to live in accordance with their belief) to expect the same niceness in government offices and workplaces.” (Hayreddin Karaman, Kadın ve Aile, p, 98)

Yes, the criterion regarding the understanding of family in Islam is more or less like that: The husband needs to take care of the works outside the house and meet the needs of the family; the wife needs to do the housework and other domestic tasks. It is always possible for them to help each other in their duties. However, if the woman feels that she must work outside, she needs to talk to her husband about its conditions and decide together with him. If the workplace and working conditions are not suitable, she does not have to insist and she needs to give priority to the happiness of the family.

“Whoever works righteousness, man or woman and has Faith, verily, to him will We give a life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions.” (an-Nahl, 16/97)

“...Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: ye are members one of another...” (Aal-i Imran, 3/195)

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