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The Importance of Mutual Respect in Marriage: An Islamic Perspective

Islam was the first religion that taught the world the true value of women, uplifting them from being the property of men to that of equal status in society with accorded rights and dignity. And this was over 1,400 years ago. 

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Islam was the first religion that taught the world the true value of women, uplifting them from being the property of men to that of equal status in society with accorded rights and dignity. And this was over 1,400 years ago. 

Islam places great emphasis on the institution of marriage. Considered a sacred covenant of two persons, the marital bond as specified in the Quran, is one of equality, mutuality, and cordiality.

Spouses in Islam are meant to be companions to each other, supporting and nurturing each other, sharing a bond that is akin to one’s clothing. In the Quran, Allah has described spouses as garments.  

In Surah Baqarah, Allah says that ‘They are your garments and ye are their garments’ (2:187). Just like clothing, spouses are meant to protect their partners, provide comfort and shelter and also conceal their flaws. It means being there for each other and having each other’s back at all times.

A husband and the wife are therefore required to play an equal role in marriage, fulfilling their rights as well as duties, striving together in unison to accomplish a joyful married life. An ideal marriage, according to the religion, is interlaced with love, trust, kindness, and compassion, which if achieved can help build a life of contentment thereby beneficially influencing the environment at home, and the family.

Only a relationship with mutual respect and commitment with sincere intentions and efforts would survive the tests of time.

Women are ‘second-class’ citizens even today

However, there is much disparity between what religion stipulates and the reality we see around ourselves. Despite the fact that Islam is the first religion that accorded equal status for women in the society as men, women are considered inferior to men even today, a consequence of centuries of prejudices that cuts across all social, religious, and cultural boundaries.

This has not only affected the position of women in Muslim societies but also affected the interpretation of the position of women in the Quran, says Amina Wadud in her book Quran and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective.

According to this belief, there are essential distinctions between men and women reflected in creation, capacity, and function in society, accessibility to guidance especially to Quranic guidance and in the rewards due to them in the Hereafter.

As a result, women are seen as ‘weak, inferior, inherently evil, intellectually incapable, spiritually lacking, unsuitable for performing certain tasks and functioning in some ways in the society’.

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The man, on the other hand, is considered superior and more significant than a woman. He is the decision-maker, an inherent leader and caretaker with more capacity to perform tasks women cannot. Due to this, men enjoy more privileges, including the freedom of movement, employment, social, political, and economic participation, she says.  

Even today, there is little change in these attitudes toward women in society. She is still conditioned and raised in a way that she believes in making sacrifices and compromises in order to fulfill her prime duty towards the Creator, which is to stay submissive to her husband, give birth to his children and nurture them and take care of her family.

In a marriage, a woman is considered secondary to her man, however, educated, enlightened, progressive thinking, and financially independent she is. She is expected to perform a million duties around her household and family regardless of her many circumstances. Most often, her services are taken for granted.

In such a situation, the aspect of mutual respect between a husband and a wife holds much significance. 

What exactly is mutual respect in a marriage?

It is one of the most important ingredients that make up the foundation of a successful marriage. It is not only a sign of love but also reflects trust and compassion towards your companion and most importantly, an acceptance of who they are.

Having mutual respect towards your spouse is being regardful of your partner’s feelings, acknowledging their opinions, ideas, needs and wants, and giving them the space, they need to be themselves. Respecting your partner’s feelings also means avoiding being rude, sarcastic, or disrespectful towards your partner and to refrain from ignoring or avoiding him or her.

While all this sounds simple, it takes conscious and consistent efforts to treat your spouse with respect. It is because being courteous towards your partner doesn’t simply mean the absence of negative behaviour but a presence of positive behavioural traits as well.  

Treat them in a way you want to be treated. In a practical sense, respecting your spouse means considering their opinions, consulting with them before making decisions, taking an interest in their life, work, hobbies, and activities, and also making adjustments whenever necessary. In other words, consistency is the key. Such a relationship reflects the true essence of a respectful marriage. 

However, the daily grind, stress, and struggles of day-to-day life can chip away at the respect one has towards his or her spouse. It is quite normal to get irritable, angry, or be negative and it may lead to venting the frustration out on your partner. These not-so-positive vibes can affect your partner too.

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There may also be situations in which a couple may fail to manage or resolve their conflicts resulting in blame games inviting more negative interactions. Ignoring your spouse, being indifferent towards them, or stonewalling them are also equally damaging ways that can lead to loss of respect in marriage.

We, as humans, tend to err continuously. Nevertheless, what is important is to acknowledge your mistakes, omissions, or misunderstandings when they occur and rectify them. Making deliberate attempts to be respectful towards your spouse will only benefit you in the long run. 

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Accepting the differences

An interesting and significant aspect of a marriage is to identify, accept and appreciate the differences between a husband and a wife.

They are two entirely different persons from dissimilar backgrounds with distinct personalities, having most likely, contrasting opinions, attitudes, and approaches. They may also have different likes, dislikes, and choices. Being married to each other doesn’t come with a promise or assurance of agreeing on each and everything your partner says.

Differences are, therefore bound to crop up between a husband and a wife, more so if both the spouses are opinionated. However, please know that an argument however ugly it may seem doesn’t signal the end of the world or your marriage. 

Making a deliberate effort to resolve issues

There arise situations in life that demand not only our attention but our patience as well. That is when we need to act with Sabr and cautiousness.

It is the time when the need for mutual respect surfaces, something which has the potential to bolster a marriage as well as undermine it. The couple must then work together with the intention of resolving the issues and finding a common ground. It is crucial to understand that your partner is a different individual who has his or her own way of responding to a particular matter.

So, instead of taking an issue personally, allowing uninvited thoughts to mess up your mind, and reaching pointless conclusions, all of which are not going to be of any help, sit back and think of ways to rein in all those negative thoughts, if at all they crop up.

Try to understand your partner’s behaviour in such situations and respect their thoughts, giving them the space, they need. 

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Lessons from the Messenger of Allah

There are several instances in the life of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) that serve as perfect lessons to mankind on how to treat your spouse.

The Prophet treated all his wives with great kindness throughout his life. His first wife Khadijah (R.A) was an independent and accomplished businesswoman when they met, who was also fifteen years older than him. The Prophet only encouraged her entrepreneurial spirits.

After marriage, Khadija was no ornamental showpiece in the Prophet’s household but an equal partner who was a source of immense support and strength particularly, during the time he received the first revelation. The Prophet confided in her and she trusted him deeply which shows that their relationship was based on mutual respect, love, and trust. 

Allah mentions in Surah Ar-Rum, ‘And among his signs is that He created for you spouses from among yourselves so that you may find comfort in them. And He has placed between you affection and mercy. Surely in this are signs for those who reflect” (Surah Ar-Rum, 30:21)

The Prophet played together with Aisha (R.A), his third wife, drank from the same spot of the cup, and constantly exchanged sweet words with one another. He emphasised the great importance of communication, as a key to building a harmonious relationship between spouses.

Aisha had the space and the freedom to express her feelings as well as views. The Prophet always listened to her and was able to observe when she was angry. Unlike the social norm that prevailed during the time of the prophet, Muslim women held important roles in society at the time. Aisha, who was a scholar consulted by other companions on religious matters, continued to impart religious knowledge to others even after the passing away of the Prophet. 

The Prophet used to do household chores and wash his own clothes to avoid troubling his wives. When Aisha was asked, “What did the Prophet use to do in his house?”, she replied, “He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was the time for prayer, he would go for it.” (Bukhari).

Abu Hurairah narrated that the messenger of Allah said ‘And the best of you are those who are best to their women’. The Prophet was never unkind in his words and deeds even when his patience was tried. Islam was the first religion that taught the world the true value of women, uplifting them from being the property of men to that of equal status in society with accorded rights and dignity. And this was over 1,400 years ago. 

Aren’t all these great examples that are relevant, especially during the present times when husbands invoke their superiority to deny their spouse the rights, space, and freedom they deserve, by twisting and misinterpreting religious texts?

Expression of anger or disagreement on part of wives is portrayed as ‘disobedience’ or seen as acts of rebellion. This is contrary to the concepts of mutual love, respect, and kindness taught by the Prophet.

A lack of respect in marriage will send across a message that your partner does not love or trust you. When love takes a backseat, conflicts arise that strains the relationship. Therefore, respecting each other’s thoughts and feelings will go a long way in boosting up the relationship and leading to a happy and fulfilling marriage.  

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