Lately I’ve been thinking about being a wife—what exactly that entails and how we almost never really hear about what it means to be a “good wife.” Feminist cultural overtones kind of kill the conversation, since the idea of being a “good wife” is something heavily stigmatized today and it is portrayed as an almost dirty term.
But in Islam, marriage is extremely important and the role of husband has an immense status.
عن أبي هريرة قال : قال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم: ” إذا صلت المرأة خمسها و صامت شهرها و حصنت فرجها و أطاعت زوجها قيل لها : ادخلي الجنة من أي أبواب الجنة شئت ” أخرجه ابن حبان (4163)، والطبراني في ((المعجم الأوسط)) (4715) واللفظ له
Abu Hurayrah [may Allah be pleased with him] narrated that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “If a woman prays her five prayers, and fasts her month, and guards her chastity, and obeys her husband, it will be said to her: “Enter Jannah from whichever door of Jannah you like.”” (Sahih Ibn Hibban: 4163 and al-Mu’jam al-Awsat: 4715 with this specific wording being from al-Mu’jam al-Awsat)
So an intelligent Muslim woman would care a great deal about being a good wife.
This article is a compilation of a series of thoughts on this topic.
Choosing a Husband
Step 1: Pick a Good Husband
Step 2: Be Really Good to Him
Ladies, be good to your husband.
Most men are simple creatures. At least, far simpler and less complicated emotionally than we women are.
Pleasing your husband is, in most cases, surprisingly easy. And when you do treat him well and he’s happy, you own his heart and he will do anything and everything in his power to please you and keep you happy.
There is an old Arabic proverb which goes:
إذا أنت أكرمت الكريم ملكته
وإن أنت أكرمت اللئيم تمردا
“If you honor an honorable person, you own him.
And if you honor a dishonorable person, he will only become more insolent/arrogant.”
So the key is to make sure you are discerning at the very first step: when it comes to choosing a husband.
If he is an upright, noble, and generous man, your being good to him and being generous in your dealings with him will lead to—as the Arabic proverb says—you “owning” him. He will basically wish to return the favor of noble behavior, generosity of spirit, and good treatment.
In fact, he will most likely outdo you in kindness, because a man is programmed to make his woman happy. He perceives it as his job to provide his wife and family with everything they need, to keep them safe and happy, to meet their needs and even exceed their expectations if he is able to. He feels good about himself when you feel good.
But if he is not a good man, then there will of course be issues. Your generosity of spirit may fall on deaf ears and not be returned. He may take advantage of your kindness or take you for granted. But this is—as the Arabic proverb says—a lowly and small man. Such a person only feels more entitled when treated kindly.
There are both good men and bad men in this world, just as there are both good women and bad women. Neither of the two genders has a monopoly on goodness. This is despite feminists trying with all their might to make us believe that all women are good and almost all men are bad. Ignore these nonsensical lies.
So ladies, be careful when choosing a husband. Rely on the help and discerning judgment of your wali (if this is possible). Make du’a to Allah for a good, upright, righteous Muslim husband. From the beginning of the marriage selection process to the end, have tawakkul (reliance) on Allah and He will suffice you. As Allah tells us in His book:
وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ فَهُوَ حَسْبُهُ
“And whoever relies (has tawakkul) on Allah, He will suffice him…” (Surat At-Talaq, 3)
So do your best to look for a good husband. And rely on Allah to grant you one.
And ladies, when Allah blesses you with such a husband, treat him with the best treatment possible. Pamper him. Show him your respect, love, adoration and appreciation. And you will love the results in sha Allah!
How To Be a Good Wife, Egyptian-Style
What follows is a post that was floating around on Arabic social media a year or so ago. I didn’t write it myself, but I’ve translated it into English from the original Arabic. This is written by an Egyptian woman addressing her fellow women—giving them tips and suggestions on how to be a better wife.
It’s fascinating to see the takes of different cultures on gender roles and what being a good wife might look like within those respective cultures. In western countries such as America and England we’ve witnessed the emergence of the “tradwife” movement, indicating the dissatisfaction of non-Muslims with their own egalitarian marriage framework and their desire for a better way. The 50-50 marriage isn’t really working out like they’d hoped it would.
Note: The below is meant to be a bit funny and tongue-in-cheek at times, but despite the playful tone, the tips are suggested seriously and not sarcastically.
Note: If reading the below makes you feel inadequate or like a subpar wife; don’t worry! This is meant to be an encouragement for stepping up your wife game, and ideas on how to pamper your husband. It’s not necessarily what everyone needs to do every single day. Even if you take just one to two things from the list and do them for your husband, in sha Allah that would be good. There’s no pressure to do everything listed below! Also, some of these things are actually culture-specific.
“Wake up around half an hour earlier than your husband. Wash your face, brush your teeth, and apply some light makeup.
Don’t leave yourself looking like a gorilla lol.
Play some Qur’an.
Prepare some tea and a light breakfast: maybe some cake, or cookies, or cheese, or eggs, or juice—whatever is on hand. Just so he doesn’t leave the house without eating breakfast.
Prepare the bathroom. For example, put `itr (perfume) on his clothes and towel, and fill the tub with water if you have one and if there is time.
Then go wake him up, but be careful not to use loud noises or to yank the covers off him! Kiss him on the forehead and say to him, “Habiby, battuti, my heart, honey” (random Egyptian slang endearments) and gently pull the covers down.
While he’s in the bathroom, prepare his clothes. And when he’s ready, help him get dressed. It’s not `ayb (socially unacceptable/ bad) for you to help him put his socks on. It won’t diminish anything from your status if you watch him comb his hair, or if you choose his cologne for him, or if you show him that you’re attracted to him, or if you say a nice word to him. By Allah I swear, you won’t lose anything lol.
Roll out for him the prayer rug. By Allah, you will get ajr (reward).
While he’s praying, put breakfast on the table. Make sure his shoes are clean and shiny.
Then eat breakfast with him and walk him to the door.
Kiss him and pat his chest and make du`a for him. Tell him, “I’ll miss you! Don’t stay away from me for too long!”
By Allah, he will be emotionally happy and satisfied, and he’ll be able to work comfortably, and he will also be excited to get home to you because he needs your nurturing softness.
After he leaves, you can go back to sleep or just rest. Just be sure to get up with sufficient time before he’s due to come home. Tidy up the house a bit and prepare his food. Wear something cute and brush your hair and wear some perfume and makeup. Spray some air freshener or light some bukhur (incense sticks).
Welcome him home with a smile—even if you’re tired or if there are problems. Put them on hold for a bit until he’s had a moment to rest.
Set the table and make sure the presentation is good; appetite-inducing. Put some fresh juice next to the food, having juiced some oranges, tangerines, apples, lemons, strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwi—any fruit that you’ve got.
If he seems stressed, don’t keep asking him, “What’s with you?” Just look at him and let him see the question in your eyes without you having to say it aloud. Let him feel that you are worried about his well-being. When he talks and tells you about it, don’t get him even more heated or riled up. Just listen and be rational.
Know the appropriate time to make requests and the limits of those requests, according to his means.
Always remember, your beauty is not just in how well your eyeliner is drawn on your eyes. Your beauty is in everything—your serenity, your kind-heartedness, your cleanliness, your scent and so on.
Make the best use of the home (in arranging furniture, decor, etc.,) and decorate it as best you can without extravagant costs.
Always let there be a signature touch, a fingerprint, a word from you which he will remember and that will stick in his mind. For example, flirt with him in a sweet way.
Okay, now focus on what’s next because this is the true magic!
When he makes you upset, don’t reply to him word-for-word. Instead, count to a hundred in your head. And then look at him reproachfully.
If he upsets you and then comes to apologize to you, don’t allow him to grovel. Tell him, “Don’t apologize. As soon as you came to pat my shoulder, my heart became clear and I can’t stay mad at you.”
When you go to bed, take his head upon your chest and recite Qur’an and make du`a for him in a soft but audible whisper.
Wear a bracelet at home, draw a fake tattoo on your body, wear cute accessories, put colorful barrettes in your hair or flowers.
Let your femininity shine for your husband.
And finally, always guard your prayers and always put on recitations of the Qur’an at home.
May Allah grant you all salah (uprightness) in your marriage and guide your husbands for you always. Amin.”
Be an Appreciative Wife
Everyone likes to be appreciated for what they do. Men, women, children, and adults. All human beings have a basic need to feel appreciated and recognized when they do something well. There is a word or gesture for “thank you” in all cultures.
This also applies greatly to spouses within a marriage. Both the husband and the wife must feel appreciated in order for the marriage to thrive. But since I’m talking to my ladies right now, let’s zero in on the importance of a wife appreciating her husband in Islam.
Reflect on this strongly-worded hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari:
عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، قَالَ قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم:
” أُرِيتُ النَّارَ فَإِذَا أَكْثَرُ أَهْلِهَا النِّسَاءُ يَكْفُرْنَ ”. قِيلَ أَيَكْفُرْنَ بِاللَّهِ قَالَ ” يَكْفُرْنَ الْعَشِيرَ، وَيَكْفُرْنَ الإِحْسَانَ، لَوْ أَحْسَنْتَ إِلَى إِحْدَاهُنَّ الدَّهْرَ ثُمَّ رَأَتْ مِنْكَ شَيْئًا قَالَتْ مَا رَأَيْتُ مِنْكَ خَيْرًا قَطُّ.”
Ibn `Abbas [may Allah be pleased with him] narrated that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“I was shown the Hell-fire and that the majority of its dwellers were women who were ungrateful.”
It was asked, “Do they disbelieve in Allah?” (or are they ungrateful to Allah?)
He replied, “They are ungrateful to their husbands and are ungrateful for the favors and the good (charitable deeds) done to them. If you have always been good (benevolent) to one of them and then she sees something in you (not of her liking), she will say, ‘I have never received any good from you.”
If you are a wife, this hadith should cause you to stop and think. Don’t reflexively tell yourself:
“Yeah, this doesn’t really apply to me though.”
It does. Measure yourself according to its standard.
Note the wording used by our Beloved الحبيب صلى الله عليه وسلم. The word كفر (kufr) is not a word used lightly. The severity and weight of this word alone should indicate to us wives the great seriousness with which we ought to treat this matter.
There are of course degrees of kufr. The worst is kufr (disbelief) in Allah.
But the word kufr also has other meanings alongside “disbelief.” For example it can also means to “deny” or to “bury.” When you deny Allah’s favors upon you or you bury the truth that your fitrah directs you towards, then this too is a form of kufr.
Now there are also other kinds of kufr which are related to your conduct and interactions with other people. Kufr of kindness is the denial of kindness. Kufr of favors is the negation of favors. This translates to ingratitude and entitlement. Basically, this describes a person whose attitude is take, take, take—without gratitude, appreciation or acknowledgement.
One context in which we see this clearly is the gratitude and appreciation that Allah commands us all to have for our parents. Disrespect or ingratitude towards parents (عقوق الوالدين) is a major sin that bars one from Jannah! Allah explicitly orders us in the Quran:
وَوَصَّيْنَا الْإِنسَانَ بِوَالِدَيْهِ حَمَلَتْهُ أُمُّهُ وَهْنًا عَلَىٰ وَهْنٍ وَفِصَالُهُ فِي عَامَيْنِ أَنِ اشْكُرْ لِي وَلِوَالِدَيْكَ إِلَيَّ الْمَصِيرُ
“And We have commanded the human being to ˹honor˺ his parents. His mother bore him through hardship upon hardship, and his weaning takes two years. So be grateful to Me and your parents. To Me is the final return.” (Surah Luqman, 14)
We also see this hadith linking thanking people with thanking Allah Himself:
من لا يشكر الناس لا يشكر الله
“The one who is not grateful to the people is not grateful to Allah.” (Jami’ al-Tirmidhi 1954)
Lack of appreciation and outright denial (kufr) of favors are traits of the people of the hellfire. And the hadith we quoted earlier specifically warns us that many women unfortunately have this tendency.
Instead of whining like feminists about this seeming awfully “sexist” or “misogynistic,” we Muslimahs acknowledge that this is simply a reality. We strive to always check ourselves and protect ourselves against lapses of ingratitude towards our husbands.
Let’s put aside the context of marriage for a minute and consider a different context: the workplace.
In an article called Why Appreciation Matters So Much, published in the Harvard Business Review under the tag “Managing People,” we see the following excerpt:
“Whatever else each of us derives from our work, there may be nothing more precious than the feeling that we truly matter — that we contribute unique value to the whole, and that we’re recognized for it.
The single highest driver of engagement, according to a worldwide study conducted by Towers Watson, is whether or not workers feel their managers are genuinely interested in their wellbeing. Less than 40 percent of workers felt so engaged.
Feeling genuinely appreciated lifts people up. At the most basic level, it makes us feel safe, which is what frees us to do our best work…”
A worker who feels that his boss truly sees him, notices his hard work, and appreciates his efforts, is more engaged and invested. He works even harder; steps up his efforts even more.
A husband who feels that his wife truly sees him, notices his hard work, and appreciates his efforts, is more engaged and invested in their marriage and relationship. He works even harder to make her happy; steps up his efforts even more to please her.
So a wife appreciating her husband is a win-win: he wins the positive feelings from her praise and thanks, and she wins his redoubled efforts for her.
Let’s make this concrete. What are some small but tangible ways a wife can show her appreciation to her husband?
1. Verbally: get in the habit of saying “Thank you, habiby” when he does something nice for you. It’s a small phrase easy for you to say but it warms his heart and goes a long way with him.
2. Physically: smile at him and be cheerful. Look at him with admiration and let your appreciation and gratitude shine in your eyes.
3. Try not to nag or pester: when you want him to do something or give you something, ask nicely and don’t be pushy. If you make too many demands or nag him about the same thing over and over, he feels unappreciated—like the mule who has to give and give ceaselessly and jump at your command. Appreciate what he does do by not constantly asking for more (especially small stuff).
4. Mentally: keep a running list of all the good that he’s done. When he messes up (as he inevitably will since he’s human just like you are), fight the urge to cancel all his good deeds because of the dumb thing he just said or the stupid mistake he just made.
We tend to keep a list of all the BAD deeds our man has done over the years. Funnily enough, Egyptian women can be champs at this and affectionately call this bad-deed list اللسته السوده: the “Black List.” Whenever a husband annoys his wife, she’ll pull out her “Black List” of his past crimes and beat him over the head with it, even if he had already apologized for this stuff long ago and she had alread “forgiven” him.
Don’t be like that. This wiping clean of all the good at the first sign of the bad is extremely demoralizing and discouraging. Your husband will feel like he can never win; he can never do anything right for you; he can never make you happy. He does a lot to try and make you happy, but upon his first mistake you wipe the slate clean and flush his previous hard work down the toilet. And now he’s back at zero. He is forced to claw his way back into your good graces, with the entirety of his kindness towards you having been erased. As the hadith says:
“I’ve never seen a good deed from you.”
I read this hadith early on in my marriage and I was very scared I’d fall into it. So I created a document on my laptop called “Things I Love About My Husband.” I listed all the nice things he’d done for me; all the ways in which he goes out of his way to make me happy; all the times he’d helped or surprised me or spoiled me.
Then when something came up (an argument, a fight, an issue—pretty much all marriages are full of these by the way and that’s fine), I’d pull up this “White List” in order to calm myself down and bring everything into perspective. (He still better apologize though!)
So make a “White List,” and tear up that long “Black List,” ladies. You’ll be happier and so will your husband in sha Allah.
The Power of Femininity
Here’s a hadith which I absolutely love and which feminists absolutely hate:
عَنْ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ الْخُدْرِيِّ، قَالَ خَرَجَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فِي أَضْحًى ـ أَوْ فِطْرٍ ـ إِلَى الْمُصَلَّى، فَمَرَّ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ فَقَالَ ” يَا مَعْشَرَ النِّسَاءِ تَصَدَّقْنَ، فَإِنِّي أُرِيتُكُنَّ أَكْثَرَ أَهْلِ النَّارِ ”. فَقُلْنَ وَبِمَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ قَالَ ” تُكْثِرْنَ اللَّعْنَ، وَتَكْفُرْنَ الْعَشِيرَ، مَا رَأَيْتُ مِنْ نَاقِصَاتِ عَقْلٍ وَدِينٍ أَذْهَبَ لِلُبِّ الرَّجُلِ الْحَازِمِ مِنْ إِحْدَاكُنَّ…”
Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri [may Allah be pleased with him] narrated that one day, Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) of `Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).”
They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)?”
He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intellect and religion yet who is more capable of removing the sense from a cautious, sensible man of resolve than some of you.”
Muslim feminists bristle with outrage at the mere mention of this beautiful prophetic narration. Many completely misunderstand this hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari and think that it is “controversial.” They assume, erroneously, that this hadith “degrades women” and “accuses” every woman of being stupider and less religious than every man.
None of this is true.
In this hadith, we see an indication of the power of femininity in the face of masculinity. Here we find an acknowledgement of the inordinate power women wield over men—women who generally tend to be less active in the public and spiritual spheres than men; women who are physically smaller and weaker than men.
A man, despite his strength, resolve, and intelligence, can at times be rendered unto his knees by a woman. Sexual attraction is a powerful force, and the desire (and even need) that a man can feel for a woman can be extremely strong. So strong in fact, that it may even overcome him and disconnect him from his usual level of reason, sensibility, or prudence. An otherwise calm, unruffled man may do some foolish things or act totally out of character over a woman.
This is an exceptional, astounding ability that women can have!
We see this dynamic play out in the story of Mughith and Barirah.
عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، أَنَّ زَوْجَ، بَرِيرَةَ كَانَ عَبْدًا يُقَالُ لَهُ مُغِيثٌ كَأَنِّي أَنْظُرُ إِلَيْهِ يَطُوفُ خَلْفَهَا يَبْكِي، وَدُمُوعُهُ تَسِيلُ عَلَى لِحْيَتِهِ، فَقَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم لِعَبَّاسٍ ” يَا عَبَّاسُ أَلاَ تَعْجَبُ مِنْ حُبِّ مُغِيثٍ بَرِيرَةَ، وَمِنْ بُغْضِ بَرِيرَةَ مُغِيثًا ”. فَقَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم ” لَوْ رَاجَعْتِهِ ”. قَالَتْ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ تَأْمُرُنِي قَالَ ” إِنَّمَا أَنَا أَشْفَعُ ”. قَالَتْ لاَ حَاجَةَ لِي فِيهِ.
Ibn `Abbas [may Allah be pleased with him] narrates, “Barirah’s husband was a slave named Mughith. It’s as if I am seeing him now, trailing behind Barirah and weeping with his tears flowing down his beard.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said to `Abbas, “O `Abbas ! Aren’t you astonished at the love Mughith has for Barirah and the hatred that Barirah has for Mughith?”
The Prophet (ﷺ) then said to Barirah, “Why don’t you return to him?”
She said, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! Do you order me to do so?”
He said, “No, I only intercede for him.”
She said, “I am not in need of him.” “
Barirah and Mughith started off as slaves who were married in slavery. Since a free woman cannot marry a slave man, after she became free, Barirah had the choice of either remaining in the marriage or asking for its dissolution. She wanted out.
But Mughith loved her so much, that after she left him, he couldn’t take it. He went around crying in public, chasing her, begging her, “Ya Barirah, just look at me or talk to me.” He went to sahabah and said, “Please talk to her for me!” He went to Abu Bakr and Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) and in the end, even to the Prophet ﷺ in order to ask him ﷺ to intercede.
Another example of this female power over men is seen in the ancient Arab story of مجنون ليلى, the Crazy Man of Layla. Qays loved Layla so much that he became obsessed with her, and when he was not allowed to marry her, he went mad and became known as “Majnun” or “crazy.”
The third case I’ll mention is the astounding story of how one young man’s desire for a certain girl drove him to collaborate with enemy forces against his own city!
Khalid ibn Al-Walid (may Allah be pleased with him) was commander of the Muslim army, and they had laid a long siege against the Roman-held major city of Damascus in Syria. The Romans had locked the city up tight and the Muslims couldn’t infiltrate the Roman defenses for months. One night, a young Roman man slipped out of the gates of Damascus and requested a secret meeting with Khalid. He offered to Khalid that he would help him get inside the city for a Muslim conquest, but on one condition: that after the Muslims take over, Khalid would marry a certain woman to him! (Her father had refused him as a suitor.)
Khalid ibn Al-Walid (may Allah be pleased with him) agreed while setting a condition of his own: that this young Roman leaves Christianity and becomes Muslim. The young man swiftly agreed.
The plan went well. The newly-converted Roman man helped Khalid break the siege and the Muslims won that battle. But his girl left the city the next day among the people who fled after the Roman defeat.
Desperate for her, the young man went again to Khalid, who was busy working to regulate the countless affairs that have to be settled and organized after a huge takeover, and begged him to go after the Romans who had fled.
Khalid looked at him in surprise.
“يا رجل! لا استطيع الهجوم عليهم! اعطيتهم الامان. “
“O man! I can’t attack them. I’ve given them assurances of their safety.”
The agreement was that the Romans who wished to leave Damascus could do so safely for three days without being attacked. Khalid had given his word.
But the lovesick young man pleaded with Khalid to pursue them after the three days were up. He offered to show Khalid a shortcut which he could take in order to overtake the fleeing caravan. Finally, Khalid agreed, and the Muslims did overtake and capture the caravan, including the wanted girl. But when she found out that the young man had become Muslim, she refused to marry him and instead committed suicide.
A woman, with her natural soft femininity, can influence a man much stronger; more hardened; and more influential than herself. This is the power of femininity that Allah has given to women.
What should we, as women, do with such power?
All power comes with accountability and responsibility.
Two concrete tips:
1. Women must have taqwa (consciousness) of Allah regarding the power that Allah has given them over men.
This is why we follow the system of hijab, a comprehensive system of gender etiquette where women and men occupy largely different spheres unless necessity dictates otherwise. And when they do interact, it’s with respect and haya, with women dressed modestly and everyone lowering their gaze.
So ladies, be vigilant in guarding your beauty and don’t display your charms or femininity for anyone besides your husband.
2. Use the power of your femininity with your husband at home—unleashed in full force!
What Is Femininity? Does It Exist in Islam?
The Arabic word for “femininity” is الأنوثة, derived from the word أنثى (female), which appears many times in the Qur’an.
The two genders (male and female) are very different from one another in Islam, as is established thoroughly within the Qur’an:
وَلَيْسَ الذَّكَرُ كَالأُنْثَى…
“And the male is not like the female…” (Surat Ali Imran, 35)
Males are masculine and females are feminine.
Allah created these disparate genders, each with a unique nature and for a unique role, as Allah says:
وَاللَّيْلِ إِذَا يَغْشَىٰ (1) وَالنَّهَارِ إِذَا تَجَلَّىٰ (2) وَمَا خَلَقَ الذَّكَرَ وَالْأُنثَىٰ (3) إِنَّ سَعْيَكُمْ لَشَتَّىٰ (4)
“By the night as it covers in darkness, and by the day as it brightens and lights up, and by the One who created the male and the female, certainly your striving is disparate.” (Surat Al-Layl, 1-4)
Whenever we discuss femininity, it is always in contrast with its opposite: masculinity. There are many overlapping qualities between the two genders, but in certain other ways, masculine and feminine characteristics are as different as night and day.
Some Muslims deny this and insist that since every woman is different and is a unique individual, there can never be a “generalized concept of femininity.” They contest the existence of gender-specific traits in Islam, claiming that because both men and women must be truthful, pious, brave, and committed to Truth, there must not be any gendered traits particular to one gender, such as femininity. This must be some western feminist thing.
But this rendering is vastly mistaken. The fact that some traits are shared between men and women does not negate the existence of certain other traits which are not shared.
Imagine a Venn diagram. In the center, where the two circles overlap, are the shared traits of taqwa, honesty, loyalty, etc., while on either side of this lies the parts of each circle that contain the gender-specific traits—one masculine and the other feminine.
Femininity doesn’t mean weakness or stupidity, which is the real reason I suspect some Muslim wish to deny the idea of femininity in Islam. Femininity is not a code word for “makeup.”
Rather, femininity encompasses feminine strength; feminine intelligence; and feminine energy. There are many different kinds of strength and varied shades of intelligence, with some types coming more naturally to men and others to women.
Men exceed women in physical size and strength, while women eclipse men in emotional strength and resilience. Men tend to have left-brain analytic reasoning and intelligence, while women are more adept at right-brain emotional intelligence, intuitive thinking, articulate expression of feelings, and accurate comprehension of complex social cues.
Neither side is bad. They are simply different. There is a certain degree of polarity between the masculine and the feminine.
These disparate traits predispose each gender towards their optimal performance.
What are these two gender roles and what does Allah tells us about them in His book?
الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ ۚ فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللَّهُ…
Men are the authorities over and maintainers of women, because of what Allah has given the one more than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard…” (Surat An-Nisa’, 34)
This is the beginning of the Islamic definition of the roles and attributes of each gender. These tell us about the parts of the circle on our Venn diagram that do not overlap. These are specific to each gender: masculine on the one hand and feminine on the other.
Masculine roles include: authority, leadership, protection, maintenance, and financial provision for the wife.
Feminine roles include: obedience, loyalty, submission, and support to the husband.
A man is responsible for leading his wife and family in a way pleasing to Allah, and a wife is responsible for following her husband and obeying him in all that is halal.
Many other Qur’anic ayat further describe the role of the wife as a mother capable of bearing children and nursing them, while the role of the husband is financial provision (as mentioned in Surat Al-Baqarah 228 and 233). The stories of the righteous believing women in the Qur’an show us modest, dignified, resilient, God-fearing Muslimahs (Umm Musa; the wife of Fir`awn; the daughter of Shu`ayb and wife of Musa; Maryam the mother of Isa; her mother; and so on).
Feminine traits are neither superficial, silly, nor merely external. Rather, femininity encompasses both internal and external aspects.
As we can see, internal aspects of femininity include being modest (embodying haya’), being nurturing, supportive, loyal and devoted (mainly enacted through the roles of wife and mother).
Does Allah mention any external characteristics of femininity in the Qur’an?
لقد تحدث القرآن عن المرأة وكان التركيز كله في الآيات الكريمة على إخفاء أنوثة المرأة أمام الرجال الغرباء؛ لأن طبيعة المرأة التي جبلها الله عليها تفيض أنوثة ورقة ونعومة، ويؤكد رأينا هذا قوله – تعالى:
أَوَمَنْ يُنَشَّأُ فِي الْحِلْيَةِ…(الزخرف ١٨)
[ طريق الاسلام ]
“The Quran speaks of women and the focus of these ayat is around the concealing of the woman’s femininity around strange (non-mahram) men, because the nature of women upon which Allah has created them overflows with femininity and delicacy and softness. This ayah confirms this understanding:
“…A creature who is brought up in adornments (wearing silk and gold ornaments, i.e. women)…” (Surat Az-Zukhruf, 18)”
In the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir, At-Tabari and others, we read that this is narrated to refer to women, as elucidated by Sahabah such as, among others, Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him).
Women, unlike men, wear silk and gold jewelry. Unlike men, women “are brought up in adornments,” which are ornaments and jewelry and beautification methods aimed at enhancing their natural features. In Arabic, this is called الْحِلْيَةِ, “adornments.”
Another Arabic term that appears in the Qur’an (Surah Fussilat 72, Surat Al-A`raf 31 for example) is الزينة, meaning decoration or beautification.
قال القرطبي: الزينة المكتسبة ما تحاول المرأة أن تحسن نفسها به كالثياب والحلي والكحل والخضاب.
At-Tabari says: “zinah (beautification) that is acquired is what the woman tries to enhance herself with, such as clothing and jewelry and kohl (eyeliner) and coloring ointments (makeup).”
Women have a natural feminine inclination towards زينة, physical beatification and adornment. This is not a negative attribute. It’s simply a question of who may and who may not see this beautification.
Allah answers this question thusly in Surat An-Nur:
وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ
“And they are not to reveal their zinah (beautification) except to their husbands…” followed by a list of others who may also see a woman’s adornments (family and non-mahrams, etc).
In the 30th ayah of Surat An-Nur, Allah commands believing men to do two things: lower the gaze and guard the private parts. In the next ayah, Allah commands the believing women to do the same two things but with an added third command: not to reveal their zinah except what ordinarily appears thereof in public, and to reveal this only to their husbands and kin. This is the system of hijab.
Another feminine trait is the desire to attract masculine attention. This is evidenced by the end of the same ayah in Surat An-Nur:
وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِن زِينَتِهِنَّ
“And they are not to strike (the ground) with their feet so as to announce what they conceal of their adornments…” (Surat An-Nur 31)
In the tafsir of this ayah, we see that women used to wear الخلخال, or an ankle bracelet, that would make clinking sounds as they walked. And when they passed by men on the street, some women would deliberately strike their feet on the ground in such a way that the sounds of the ankle bracelets would be heard and men may notice.
This inclination didn’t only exist in the past. How many western women’s fashion magazines today have covers with headings like, “Make Him Notice You!” or “Turn Heads This Summer!”? Women like to beautify themselves, and to be noticed and admired by the masculine gaze.
What Islam does is simply channel this innate female desire to be beautiful and to be admired into the only wholesome and healthy context: marriage. A woman can freely adorn and beautify herself for her husband, but is forbidden from doing so for any other man (non-mahram). Revealing this adornment out in public in front of strange men is called تبرج, tabarruj. The only male gaze which may enjoy and admire her adornments is that of her husband.
These are just some of the external and internal manifestations of femininity in general.
Some Final Thoughts on Wifehood
We’ve addressed femininity as a general concept and established that it encompasses both internal and external aspects; tangible and intangible factors.
In this final section, let’s leave the theory and focus on making things concrete. What does femininity offer to masculinity? What does a husband need most and appreciate in a wife?
Here are the 5 most important things I believe a Muslim wife can provide her husband:
1. Be devoted to him:
The deep loyalty and commitment of a wife towards her husband is one of the most valuable and priceless things that she can offer. A marriage in which both the husband and wife feel secure and safe with their spouse is one built upon a solid foundation of trust. Relationship experts like Dr. John Gottman and others demonstrate how trust is the number-one thing which marriages can’t survive without.
Both husband and wife must feel like they trust the other person to be loyal and devoted, meaning they are safe from things like deception, betrayal, cheating, extra-marital flirting or inappropriate behavior with anyone else.
The kids refer to this as being a “ride or die chick.”
So make sure he knows that you’re sticking with him; that he is safe from harm with you. Don’t divulge his secrets. Don’t badmouth him to your friends or humiliate him in front of others. Don’t think about another man. Don’t parade yourself before other men when he’s not around.
In the gender-role-defining ayah in Surat An-Nisa, Allah tells us that a righteous wife is precisely this: a woman devoted to her husband in his presence and in his absence:
فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللَّهُ…
“…so righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard…” (Surat An-Nisa’, 34)
2. Look good for him:
We’ve all heard the cliche: “Men are visual creatures.” And they are.
So wives, try to put in a little effort into your appearance at home. I’m not saying that with three little kids clinging to you and screaming in your ear and sneezing in your eyeball all day, you need to also be dressing up in high heels and a fancy dress every day—but even if it’s infrequent, do it as often as you can.
It’s important Islamically to look good for your husband. It’s not shameful or immodest or against the Qur’an and sunnah (a sister had actually once told me she believed this to be the case!).
حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو نُعَيْمٍ، حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الْوَاحِدِ بْنُ أَيْمَنَ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي أَبِي قَالَ، دَخَلْتُ عَلَى عَائِشَةَ ـ رضى الله عنها ـ وَعَلَيْهَا دِرْعُ قِطْرٍ ثَمَنُ خَمْسَةِ دَرَاهِمَ، فَقَالَتِ ارْفَعْ بَصَرَكَ إِلَى جَارِيَتِي، انْظُرْ إِلَيْهَا فَإِنَّهَا تُزْهَى أَنْ تَلْبَسَهُ فِي الْبَيْتِ، وَقَدْ كَانَ لِي مِنْهُنَّ دِرْعٌ عَلَى عَهْدِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم، فَمَا كَانَتِ امْرَأَةٌ تُقَيَّنُ بِالْمَدِينَةِ إِلاَّ أَرْسَلَتْ إِلَىَّ تَسْتَعِيرُهُ.
Ayman narrated: I went to `Aisha and she was wearing a coarse dress costing five Dirhams. `Aisha said, “Look up and see my slave-girl who refuses to wear it in the house, though during the lifetime of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) I had a similar dress which no woman desiring to appear elegant (before her husband) failed to borrow from me.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 2628)
Also, in another statement from our mother `Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her):
It was said to `Aisha: Which type of woman is best?
She said: “The one who does not know about saying bad things, and she is not crafty like men; her focus is on adorning herself for her husband and taking care of her family.” (Muhadarat al-Udaba’ 1/410, ‘Uyun al-Akhbar 1/375)
Most women naturally love dressing up every now and then, looking cute, and having their beauty admired. Why not sometimes dress up for your husband? Ultimately it’s something that both of you will enjoy.
Also, part of your beauty is your smile and your cheerfulness. Your sunny disposition and good humor add to your beauty in your husband’s eyes. Egyptian wives are famous for what we call نكد (“nakad”), which I can only translate as nagging, whining and being miserable. Egyptian soap operas are replete with this theme of a wife بتنكد على جوزها, suffocating and depressing her husband with her perpetual dissatisfaction and misery.
Don’t be like that. Look good by dressing up nicely, putting on a little makeup, and smiling and being happy with him. He’ll absolutely love it!
3. Obey him and respect his authority:
This one grates on most modern ears, because most modern people cringe at the word “obedience.” It smacks of patriarchy, serfdom, and other things from feudal times. We mostly like to think of ourselves as “free thinkers,” “free agents,” and “independent.”
But in reality, we all obey something or someone, whether we know it or not. The worst thing to obey is Shaytan and one’s own lower self—the nafs. Our obedience should of course primarily be to Allah. And for a Muslim wife, obedience to the husband in halal matters comes next. As long as she is married to a man who is righteous and has taqwa, a Muslim wife is obedient to her husband.
أخبرنا قتيبة قال حدثنا الليث عن ابن عجلان عن سعيد المقبري عن أبي هريرة قال قيل لرسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أي النساء خير قال التي تسره إذا نظر وتطيعه إذا أمر ولا تخالفه في نفسها ومالها بما يكره
Abu Hurayrah [may Allah be pleased with him] narrates that it was said to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ: ‘Which woman is best?’
He said: ‘The one who makes him happy when he looks at her, obeys him when he commands her, and she does not go against his wishes with regard to herself nor her wealth.'”
(Sunan al-Nasa’i 3231)
I’d also include the following along with these points: show him that you love and respect him by doing small things which you know will make him happy.
What’s his love language?
There’s a book called The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. According to Chapman, the five ways to express and experience love are called “love languages” and they are:
♥️ words of affirmation;
♥️ quality time;
♥️ receiving gifts;
♥️ acts of service; and
♥️ physical touch.
Learn your husband’s preferred love language/s and try to show him that you care through this. Surprise him with a little gift one day, or praise him and give him lots of words of affirmation when he does something awesome, or set aside blocks of time for just the two of you to spend together, etc.
One of the purposes of marriage in Islam is to safeguard the chastity and purity of all believers—both male and female. Especially now, within our porn-addicted nudity-filled modern society, we need to strive to protect ourselves more now than ever before.
Besides protecting us from falling into grave sins like zina, marital intimacy also nurtures and strengthens the emotional bond between husband and wife. Oceans of ink have been expended on the topic: how martial intimacy leads to a boost in oxytocin—the so-called “love hormone”—and other chemicals that increase bonding, happiness, and closeness.
فَإِنِّي لَوْ كُنْتُ آمِرًا أَحَدًا أَنْ يَسْجُدَ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ لأَمَرْتُ الْمَرْأَةَ أَنْ تَسْجُدَ لِزَوْجِهَا وَالَّذِي نَفْسُ مُحَمَّدٍ بِيَدِهِ لاَ تُؤَدِّي الْمَرْأَةُ حَقَّ رَبِّهَا حَتَّى تُؤَدِّيَ حَقَّ زَوْجِهَا وَلَوْ سَأَلَهَا نَفْسَهَا وَهِيَ عَلَى قَتَبٍ لَمْ تَمْنَعْهُ.”
“…If I were to command anyone to prostrate to anyone other than Allah, I would have commanded women to prostrate to their husbands. By the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad! No woman can fulfill her duty towards Allah until she fulfills her duty towards her husband. If he asks her (for intimacy) even if she is on her camel saddle, she should not refuse.”
(Sunan Ibn Majah Vol. 3, Book 9, Hadith 1853)
This hadith touches upon two points: availability for intimacy with the husband; and respect and obedience towards the husband.
5. Hold down the fort at home:
In our modern feminist times, the idea of a woman staying home to “take care of the home” is an anathema. Some modern women who see themselves as “independent and empowered” are like:
“Me?? Stay HOME?? Never!”
I understand this well because, back in the day, I used to think like that too. But alhamdulillah I’ve outgrown that mentality and now assume the role of a wife and mother who holds down the fort at home and it’s something I take very seriously. This IS a full-time job. This is not a non-job like society has brainwashed us into believing.
Work like doing laundry, washing dishes, cooking meals, sweeping floors, vacuuming, scrubbing toilets, and getting groceries are generally seen as meaningless menial labor or “domestic drudgery” not fit for a college-educated woman who knows her worth.
What is she, the maid?
No. She’s the wife.
Being a wife means (among other things) managing the major and minor details of day-to-day life which ensure smooth sailing at home for a family on a practical level. If your husband is working to provide financially for the family (which is his Islamic responsibility and your right as a wife), then you are working to provide a calm, well-run home for the family. I’m not saying you personally MUST physically do all these chores yourself; get a helper or a maid if you want to and can afford it. But it IS your job to manage it and to ensure it is getting done.
It’s not fair if he’s outside 9-5, working to pay the bills, cover taxes, AND THEN ALSO come home to continue working inside by cooking his own dinner. Division of labor is a smart way of doing things. Home logistics is part of your job.
And the job description grows quite a bit when Allah blesses you with children. Taking care of the children to the best of your ability, nurturing them, teaching them the din, and meeting their physical, spiritual, emotional needs is another aspect to taking care of things at home.
Now, I know that this is quite a lot!
But you are not alone.
This is a joint effort for the sake of Allah—a combined struggle of both the husband and the wife to start and maintain a righteous Muslim family. The husband and the wife are a team: they have each been assigned clearly-defined roles, but they also don’t hesitate to lovingly step in to help one another if and when it is needed.
I used to play tennis in high school and I always preferred playing singles over playing doubles. Playing doubles tennis means you have a partner and you’re a team facing off against another team of two. I hated it because it’s very easy to lose. Very often, the ball comes sailing right between the two of you as both of you glance at one another startled; and neither person hits the ball. The first person assumed that the second was going to get it and the second person assumed that the first person was going to get it. Then neither gets it. The ball simply bounces off the court and you lose the point.
Marriage is a little like playing doubles tennis. The only way to win is to have well-defined tasks and to communicate CLEARLY with your partner. The two of you must coordinate so that nothing falls through the cracks. Each person knows exactly what he or she is going to cover. You know you’re on the same team and that you’ve got each other’s back, but you still need to talk about who’s going to do what and what your expectations are and then ask for help when you need it.
I know that that this is a lengthy piece wherein I’ve been addressing only the roles and responsibilities of the wife, and that’s because as a woman myself, I’m talking to my dear fellow sisters. But of course husbands have their own role to play and many responsibilities to shoulder too. To have a good marriage, the husband and wife need to work together like a well-oiled machine.
May Allah make us good wives to our husbands and good husbands to our wives, and help us raise strong Muslim children grounded firmly in the din. Amin!