To be fair, the standard set for Muslim men is pretty high – our role model is our beloved Prophet (saw), who was beautiful, strong, wise, gentle, kind, loving, fair, considerate, mindful of his spouses’ needs and helped them with the house work. You can’t realistically expect any man to come close, but what you can expect is from them to try and do things according to the sunnah (habit) of our beloved role model (saw).
Some of the examples I have been coming across, including in my family, are ridiculous. Men who expect to be waited on hand and foot, men who are rude or speak down to their wives, men who think its okay to go round looking or smelling like a hobo.
One of my best friends told me about her parents daily routine. He mother would clean the house in the morning and then spend the afternoon at her job in an elders day care centre. She’d finish in time to pick up her three children from school and then head home to cook dinner and finish off chores. She would sit down to watch her favourite programme (Neighbours, which my mum also loved) just as her husband came home from work. His reaction? “Alright for some, you get to spend all day watching TV”. (“Of course, because you have gifted me with a self-cleaning house and the dinner magically cooks itself too…”)
My mum is a wonderful cook, I absolutely love her food, it’s my soul food as I have often mentioned before. She has spent the last thirty years perfecting it to my dad’s taste, does she get a thank you? Nope, the only time anyone notices is if she forgets the salt. Except the times she has travelled abroad alone to visit family and my dad has had to make do with my sisters offerings, she beams when she tells me dad has missed her cooking (takes so little to make her happy mash’Allah). Come to think of it my brother is another version of my dad – my sister-in-law just happens to be an angel with the patience of a saint when it comes to her husband (or at least she doesn't try to do what I did when I was 9 and hit him on the head with a high heel and land him in hospital).
On the other hand there are some sisters that make me wonder if they should grow up a little. A friend of ours has just decided she doesn't like her husband any more. She just seems to have outgrown him. Not that she can do anything about it, they are from a conservative background and have a child together.
A whole heap of other friends complain because their husbands don’t seem to be able balance the relationships between their wives and mothers. Not an easy one this and it seems to affect a lot of people.
Then there are the sisters who write to me to complain about mistreatment they have suffered at the spouses’ hands. From emotionally neglecting them, to verbal abuse or physical abuse and leaving them destitute or in debt.
Alhamdulillah, Allah (SWT) has given us such a beautiful example in our Prophet (saw) and in the behaviour of his wives, that I can’t help but think that the answer to most of our problems is right there. If we moan at our husband’s they can think we are just going on and on as usual and ignore us. If we work together to implement the sunnah in our marriage, then we are not moaning, but taking positive action which our spouses cannot justify belittling or ignoring). Some examples come to mind for my brothers in Islam:
1. If your wife is cooking or doubled over the bath or scrubbing the floor and the baby is clinging to her and howling, don’t just look at her or ask her why the kid won’t be quiet, go over and pick up the kid. You might be tired, you may have returned from work, but her day is as long as yours and her job is not 9-5, but 24 hours. The Prophet (saw) was known for showing affection to children and playing with them. You help your wife, you get the reward for fulfilling the sunnah, you get to be the fun parent and your wife isn’t directing hateful thoughts towards you in her head.
2. If your wife is a great cook – lucky you, my husband often says that the quickest way to win a man in through his stomach. If she is not, give her a chance, it takes time. The worse thing is when men compare their wives cooking to that of their mothers. No harm in thinking it, most likely it’s true – but why do some men need to be tactless enough to say it out loud every chance they get? Your mother has had 20 or 30 years to perfect the food you like, your wife is starting out. Plus you are used to the taste of food cooked by your mother. My husband always liked his mum’s cooking and she would tell me to cook things a certain way. In turn my kids like my cooking, but not that of their grandmothers and ask me to make things instead of her. Over fourteen years, I have gotten better and there are some dishes she cooks better and others that I am better at. The sunnah regarding food is to eat and be grateful, or if you don’t like it, leave the food without commenting on it. My husband told me about a man he met at the masjid. He had been entrusted with the cooking for their group and cooked the food and served it. Everyone ate, thanked him and told him how good it was. When he tasted it he realised he hadn’t put any salt in and it tasted terrible anyway. His wife had been cooking his food for twenty years and he complained every day and never thanked her. At that moment he felt deep remorse for the way he had treated her.
3. If your wife had gained a bit of weight after having your six kids, how about you let her know? Or how about you don’t? Women are often hyper-sensitive about their weight, they will know even if you haven’t told them, in fact they will see themselves as far bigger than you view them or they actually are. Plus you have to give them credit if they haven’t mentioned the fact that you too are getting a paunch, balding or greying. I believe that if you model the eating habits of your family on the sunnah, you will all be healthy and avoid getting fat. At the same time, no matter how carefully you eat, having babies will change the way you look. Muslim men should know better than to buy into the modern, Western cult of youth that dictates you must always stay skinny and look 21 or you will become worthless. By the time you have children, you would hope that a husband and wife have developed a connection between their heart and souls that allows them to see the beautiful qualities of their spouse alongside the flaws, so that when the body is less than perfect, those other beautiful elements make up for it. I also think that men that cannot tolerate a woman’s body that changes and ages as it is meant to don’t deserve a fertile wife or children – as we women know, every good, precious thing in this world has a price to exact, whether in blood, sweat, tears and pain or a body that take the toll of those things.
4. If your wife pretends to be tired, asleep, have a headache or rolls her eyes every time you cosy up to her, check your breath. Being married does not mean that you have permission to be stinky, have poor hygiene, wear ugly clothes or be proud of looking like a Neanderthal. Our Prophet (saw) was beautiful, but despite the abject poverty he and his family endured, he always dressed in his best, took care of his teeth, was mindful of his breath, always made an effort to wear the best scent he could obtain, took care of his hair and was very clean. This does go both ways, women should make an effort to be as attractive as they can for their husband’s, but many men in general seem to think they are perfect as they are, whatever state they are in and some men just don’t get the concept of deodorant at all.
5. Also if your wife is having the above reaction to you when you are feeling amorous (and it’s not your breath), then think about what you are doing. I knew someone who put a quota on how often her husband could approach her very soon after they were married – every other night only, with the intention of decreasing it to far less first chance she got. This is something that is so hard for Muslim’s to talk about due to our modesty about such things. But I felt sorry for her and her husband, she was putting a ban on him, because the poor man clearly had no idea about how to win her over (wham, bam, thank you ma’am). The sunnah is to be loving and affectionate with your spouse and to fulfil all of your needs through them, this goes for both husband and wife. There is a book called “Islamic Guide to Sexual Relations by Muhammad Ibn Adam Al-Kawthari” that I would recommend. I was seriously blushing as I read this book and couldn’t read it in one sitting – it made me realise that speaking frankly in the right context about such matters is part of the sunnah. Certainly I can imagine no other religion placing so much focus on pleasing your wife, learning about what she likes and placing importance on her satisfaction. And who knew that French kissing was sunnah?
6. Some women are very organised, have the house spotless and take on dirt like some kind of personal jihad. Some of us have a life (joking!). Some women are just better at seeing the mess and knowing what to do with it, others either don’t see it or see it and despair, just not knowing how to keep up with the cleaning and tidying. If they work or have demanding small children, then it gets even harder. I’m quite organised and have despaired at the number of times that I have broken my back on my day off and cleaned the whole house only for the kids to follow me around and undo everything I have done by the time their dad gets home. I love the sunnah of our Prophet (saw), who helped his wives in their house work, something many men think is beneath them. Doing so meant they could spend more time in worship, good deeds and their social activities which involved taking care of the poor and sick. Everyone gets a share of the reward and everyone wins. Thankfully my husband is oblivious to the mess and is kind enough to help me when he can.
Sisters, also some strategies that might interest you:
1. If hubby doesn’t like to help with the kids, set them on him like little rottweilers. Usually when the kids are causing chaos and my husband doesn’t help, it’s because he just hasn’t noticed. He is crazy about our youngest daughter and she adores him. I have so much fun causing mischief when he forgets he has kids. When he's about to go out, I tell Darling and she runs after him, he ducks and hides on the stairs but she homes in on him with her jacket in her hand. Or if he's catching up with the news on the computer I remind her of teletubbies and she runs over grabs holds of his leg and screams tubbbeeee!!!, so he has to put her in his lap and put it on for her. He's clocked I'm doing it on purpose now and trying to find ways to get me back.
2. If your husband moans about your cooking or keeps bringing up his mum’s cooking, you have a number of options. Ask someone independent whose opinion you trust to try your food and tell you if it is actually bad. My husband was patient for years and ate my dodgy cooking without complaint. When his family came to stay they would complain and I would get angry. In the end I told a friend who is a very good cook and she asked me to explain my cooking process and gave me a few pointers which improved my cooking. Another option I used when I first got fed up of the moaning is to dump tons of chilli into everything. Everyone is so busy huffing and puffing and having their taste buds burnt off, they forget to complain about the actual taste of the food.
3. If your husband keeps telling you that you are fat, you could be as tactless and tell him he doesn’t exactly have a six-pack and toned pectorals either. But sometimes the best approach is the gentlest. Tell him you need his support and encouragement as you try to regain your health and fitness after having his child and it will take time. I think men sometimes feel cheated when they find themselves with a women who doesn't look like the sylph they chose to marry and they can’t just go and swap you for another one. I think they can be a bit naïve about real life like that. Alternatively put a ban on all of the fried chicken, lamb kebabs, biryani’s, rich curries, shawarma’s and take-away’s, telling the family that you are on a health kick. You could mention it’s dad’s fault because he is moaning about your weight and you are concerned about that paunch of his that is starting to resemble his fathers. A word to the wise – women are sometimes their own worst enemy in this regard, men are often oblivious to things like a small amount of weight gain, cellulite or minor stretch marks (I’m pretty sure my hubby wouldn't know what cellulite is). So when sisters keep complaining about their weight gain, expect your husband to take note and follow suit. Be proud of the body you have, of all it has endured and of the way it has served you. When you walk around your house like the best thing since Miss Universe, you start to believe it and so do other people.
4. If you have a husband whose habits mean you don’t find him attractive any more, you might have to be a bit more pro-active. I always used to buy clothes for my husband, based on how I liked him to look – fitted jeans and tops because he was well built. When he started to wear the sunnah thobe, grow a beard and started to wear the amamah (sunnah turban), it was such a change that I had to get used to it. So I bought him lovely white thobes with a nice fit as gifts. A friend of mine always gifts her husband the best scent she can afford. She says people always knows where he has been because of the lovely scent he leaves behind. If your husband has dodgy teeth ( a lot of women have a thing about that and teeth are a big signifier for health and an element of attractiveness), book him in to the dentist and make him suffer so he learns his lesson and then establish the sunnah of siwak (the tooth stick) for the whole family.
5. If your husband is just absolutely crap in bed (sorry I know that’s a bit harsh), you still can’t tell me him to leave you alone and then expect him to stay faithful and happy. This is one of the hardest things to deal with because we just don’t talk about these things. But in not doing so and accepting things as they are, you are doing both yourself and your spouse a disservice. Sometimes we forget that when we marry a pious husband he is as inexperienced as we are and that both of you are on a life-long learning journey together. I would suggest read the book I mention above and see if you can get him to read it, have a good laugh together and create an environment where conversations about these thing can emerge. I know – this is easier said than done, even after years of marriage, but there is really no alternative to communication on this one.
6. If hubby complains the house is always a mess, or just doesn’t help out, or even worse both, it’s time to decide how much of your life you are willing to give up to cleaning and tidying. After I heard my friends mum story (the one who liked to watch neighbours), I decided for a long time that I wouldn't be doing any housework unless I have an audience. So rather than work all day and then sit around when hubby gets home, I would sit around all day and make sure I am hard at work when he gets home. Now that I have four children, with number five on the way, I care less what people think and my attitude has shifted again. I will do what I think is enough to take care of my home and family and prioritise other things, such as writing, worship and trying to achieve my goals alongside housework. Is worship a bigger priority or making sure every cushion is straight? Is it more important to make sure the kitchen is clean or spend hours killing time online? Is it more important to get the blog post written or the kids bathed and in bed at a reasonable time? – priorities and time management are both key.
The post is tongue in cheek, but I ended up writing it because I was hearing about so much bad or careless behaviour from my sisters and friends about both men and women they knew. I truly believe that if we follow the sunnah and look to Rasulallah (saw) and how he treated his wives and how they behaved towards him, we would find models of success for our marriage. We would find examples of selflessness, humility, affection, kindness and patience.
In Islam the model for a successful marriage is geared towards success because it is based on shared Islamic values between spouses. No matter how different your temperament or your outlook in life, Islam guides you to the best way to do something. If you both have Islamic values you can find yourself travelling in the same direction through life rather than pulling each other in opposite directions. This has helped my family with making big decisions, because no matter how much family members have differed, when we looked to what Islam said about a matter, a clear path emerged that was acceptable to all.
I also believe that when we place too much trust in another person that no matter how good or kind or pious they are they will break that trust and hurt us. Not because they are bad, or because men are selfish or women are ungrateful. Allah (SWT) says in the Quran:
"...mankind was created weak" ~ Quran 4:28
It’s human nature. We are not perfect. It’s not our spouse that is bad, but our trust that is misplaced. The only one that we can trust a hundred per cent is Allah (SWT). We love each other so much that when we hurt each other it is unbearable. Yet when we love each other for the sake of Allah (SWT), He blesses that love. I used to think it strange that you can love someone for Allah (SWT) rather than for themselves, until I started to tell myself I love my loved ones for the sake of Allah (SWT). I found their mistakes, petty hurts and unintended betrayals did not get to as much any more.
I truly believe that the foundation of a successful Islamic society is the family and that the backbone of this is a loving and successful marriage. This is the unit in which we raise pious children, fulfil our needs in a halal way and propagate our faith. I make dua that Allah (SWT) places peace in between the hearts of spouses and makes them an excellent example for their children of how to conduct a kind, affectionate, peaceful and happy relationship.