Does marital rape exist in Islam? Is the husband allowed to force his wife to sleep with him? What does Qawamah mean in Islam? What is the legal stance on those who advocate for total equality between husband and wife in obedience and expenditure etc…?
Islamic scholars describe that marital rape occurs when the man asks his wife to have sexual intercourse during her menstrual period or in an abnormal sexual position or during fasting hours in Ramadan. God gave the woman the right to refrain from her husband as God says:
“And they ask you about menstruation. Say, ‘It is harm, so keep away from wives during menstruation. And do not approach them until they are pure. And when they have purified themselves, then come to them from where Allah has ordained for you. Indeed, Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves.’” (2:222)
If the husband used violence to force his wife to sleep with him, he is legally a sinner and she has the right to go to court and file a complaint against him to get punished. The woman also has the right to refuse to engage in sexual relationship with her husband if he has a contagious disease or use violence which hurts her body during the sexual intercourse.
The Islamic Shari’ah advised that the sexual intercourse between man and wife should be conducted with intimacy and love and made such amicable conduct as a sign of piety. God says in the Quran:
“Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and make an introduction for yourselves. And fear Allah and know that you will meet Him. And give good tidings to the believers.” (2:223)
The introduction was explained by the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he said, “Three things fall under unkindness and one of them is when the man engages in sexual act with his wife without sending a messenger: humor and kisses. No one should directly fall on his wife like one buffalo does to another.” This hadith was narrated by Anas ibn Malik and though its chain of narration is weak, it can be used as reference points in virtues and ethics.
If the wife hated her husband, the Islamic Shari’ah advises her not to be hasty in deciding to leave her husband and encourages her instead to have some patience in order not to destroy the family. God says in the Quran:
“For if you dislike them – perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good.” (4:19)
But if the wife couldn’t bear to live with her husband anymore, the Islamic Shari’ah advises her to seek separation from her husband to avoid animosity, fighting and discord which lead to harm. In this case seeking divorce would be committing the lesser of two damages.
As for the definition of Qawamah which God mentioned in the Quran when He says:
“Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth…” (4:34)
This means for the man to take responsibility of his wife and to cater for her needs. For this reason the man is the one who pays dowry, alimony and the wife inherits her allotted share of his wealth after his death. Therefore cancelling the idea of Qawamah is actually a sort of discrimination against women.
As for the idea of total equality between husband and wife in Islam, as a matter of fact Islam advocated for equity but not equality. Equity shows when God says in the Quran:
“And their Lord responded to them, “Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another….” (3:195)
and also says:
“Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do.” (16:97)
Also Prophet Muhammad (s) says, “Women are the sisters of men” (Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi). The Islamic Shari’ah did not approve of absolute equality between men and women because of the differences in the specificities and roles for both sexes. God says, “And the male is not like the female…” (3:36) and also says:
“And do not wish for that by which Allah has made some of you exceed others. For men is a share of what they have earned, and for women is a share of what they have earned. And ask Allah of his bounty. Indeed Allah is ever, of all things, Knowing.” (4:32)
God also says:
“And due to the wives is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable. But the men have a degree over them [in responsibility]. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” (2:228)
This degree which the verse mentions is the degree of Qawamah or the responsibility which God placed on the shoulder of men and this degree has to do with the specificities and special roles that are designated for men. In other words each gender has it own natural specificities and social roles and this means that the relationship between them is not one of competition but of complementarity. God says:
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (49:13)
As for the call of absolute equality in terms of expenditure, leadership, and the cancellation of the wife’s obedience to her husband is a matter which leads to societal chaos and a disruption in the natural roles of both genders.