Recently, the global Muslim blogosphere went on the usual defensive, as news of a “Muslim” media professional beheading his wife in a murderous rage did the rounds of all major news websites. Once more, allegations of Islam being a religion of barbarians and terrorists were allayed and refuted by Muslims, at times successfully, but at other times, perhaps a bit in vain.
We must realize that deducing the doctrine of a religion by looking at random contemporary examples is a mistake in itself. We must go back to its original teachings in order to get the real picture of what it entails for its adherents. The true role-model of Islam can only be presented by Prophet Muḥammad , the paragon of Muslim character, conduct and virtue. Allāh says about him in the Qu'ran:
“You have indeed in the Messenger of Allāh a beautiful example (of conduct) for anyone whose hope is in Allāh and the final Day, and remembers Allāh much.” [33:21]
The simple reason for Prophet Muḥammad's success in every sphere of life was his dexterity at human relationships. Perhaps the most volatile and delicate human relationship is that between a husband and wife – the only relationship between a man and woman based on sexual attraction, companionship and love, that is allowed and recommended in Islam. The reason why so many similar relationships between men and women outside marriage break up so often, is that primarily, it's partakers do not understand it's intricacies and requirements pertaining to human behavior.
Prophet Muḥammad understood women. He knew that women are created physically beautiful and attractive, but also possess volatile, easily-aroused emotions, resulting in natural behavioral shortcomings, which their husbands will just have to learn to take in stride throughout their lives. He knew that patience, a wise selection of words, and restraint from losing his temper, are mandatory qualities for a husband to possess, in order to enable him to effectively deal with his wife's intermittent bouts of irrational thinking and emotional instability.
I once heard someone remark, “When I was a single young man, the prospect of having multiple wives was fair-seeming, for obvious reasons; a few years after marrying my wife, however, I now wonder just how the Prophet Muḥammad could have possibly handled up to nine wives at one time, when I can sometimes not handle even one!”
Perhaps no narration displays the Prophet's expertise at handling his wives' outbursts as well as the hadith below does:
Narrated Anas Bin Malik: “While the Prophet was in the house of one of his wives, one of the mothers of the believers sent a meal in a dish. The wife at whose house the Prophet was, struck the hand of the servant, causing the dish to fall and break. The Prophet gathered the broken pieces of the dish and then started collecting on them the food which had been in the dish and said, “Your mother felt jealous.” Then he detained the servant till a (sound) dish was brought from the wife at whose house he was. He gave the sound dish to the wife whose dish had been broken, and kept the broken one at the house where it had been broken.”
(Notice how the narrator has abstained from mentioning the names of the Mothers of Believers in order to cover their faults/shortcomings!)
[Sahih Bukhāri, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 152]
Picture this scenario happening in an average house: a woman breaking another's crockery piece (and we all know how passionately women feel about their crockery pieces! Even their own child is scolded for accidentally breaking a cherished utensil.), laden with food the latter had freshly cooked, in an envious rage; this is in fact, a scene depicted often in modern soaps to spice up the plot! How would you expect an average husband witnessing such an action to react? – Probably by also losing his temper and screaming angrily, “What have you done? Are you out of your mind?!”
The wise steps that Prophet Muḥammad took, however, to satiate his wife's envy and to prevent the situation from turning into a domestic battle, are detailed below:
- He refrained from rebuking her or shouting at her before others. This would have undoubtedly humiliated her. Instead, he calmly offered a simple explanation for her behavior to onlookers (i.e. his companions, including the narrator): “Your mother felt jealous.” Note how he referred to her with a respectful title before the assembled group. With this simple statement, he gave her leeway for being a human being – and a woman, at that – who got affected by her innate human emotions.
- He physically remedied the situation by cleaning up the mess himself. This indicates his humility and greatness of character. He could have asked her, or one of his younger companions, to clean up – the narrator is Anas Bin Malik, who was much younger than the Prophet and dedicated for his service, yet the latter did not ask him to do the cleaning-up. He did not ask his wife to do it either – knowing her angry state and not wanting to humiliate her by making her clean up before an audience – he humbly did the job himself. What a great model for every man! A husband cleaning up a dish broken by his wife, without even being asked!
- He executed justice, and arranged for compensation, by asking his wife to replace her co-wife's broken utensil as well as its contents. That is, despite his patience and forgiveness for her angry outburst, he made her compensate the wife who had been unduly wronged for an action that was very praiseworthy in itself: preparing and sending them a meal.
The reader might think that perhaps such petty jealousies were the norm among Prophet Muḥammad's wives. Nay, they got along amicably otherwise, with mutual respect and sisterly love. Just like normal women, though, they had their human weaknesses and moody phases. I have personally noticed that women are very competitive as far as cooking is concerned. It is amusing to note even biological sisters and mother-daughter pairs making some less-than-nice comments as far as cooking skills are concerned. The reason I am bringing this up is so that we may realize why our Mother threw that dish in the first place.
Once a person's brother's wife served their whole family an Italian recipe they ate only at restaurants. He started raving about it from the first bite, going on and on in front of everyone until his own wife – not at all an envious type – started shooting daggers at him from her eyes. To that he replied, “I praise yours too when you make it, don't I?”
A mother went visiting at her daughter's in-laws. The latter graciously started praising her daughter's cooking and culinary skills, to which the mother promptly piped up, “She has taken all my recipes.”
A guest graciously praised the cooking of a daughter-in-law before her mother-in-law. The latter commented sarcastically, “Well, that's because she has been trained very well (by her mother).”
Therefore, it is no surprise that one wife felt angry when her co-wife sent a sample of her cooking to the Prophet Muḥammad during her turn with him. However, as I said before, his co-wives got along very well otherwise. The following narration depicts a humorous incident that once took place between two of them:
Mother of the believers, 'A'ishah [with her, may Allāh be pleased] narrated: “Once, Sawdah visited us and the Prophet sat down between me and her, one leg in her lap and the other in mine. I made then Khazira (a dish of bran in meat broth) and told her: “Eat!” She refused. I said: “If you don't eat I will stain your face with Khazira,” but she insisted not to eat; therefore, I put my hand in Khazira and painted her face. Seeing that, the Prophet laughed and gave his share in Khazira to Sawdah and told her to stain my face; so, Sawdah stained my face and the Prophet laughed.”
[Al-Albani, Al-Silsila Al-Sahihah: 7/363]
Notice how one wife cooked a meal for another when the latter visited her house in the Prophet's presence. She was keen to serve her co-wife, which is commendable. The Prophet's wisdom in dealing concurrently with two of his wives in this situation becomes obvious in the following ways:
- The Prophet physically sat in such a way that neither wife would feel ignored or preferred over the other.
- He executed justice, by making the wife who became the mock “victim”, return the action meted out to her.
- He immediately gave her his portion of food to do this.
- He laughed constantly to make light of the situation, ensuring that no one took it too seriously.
As a husband, do you laugh with your wife? Do you play games with her? Do you make light of her routine moods, outbursts and tantrums? Does it appear possible to you that a man who would truly follow the role-model of the Prophet Muḥammad could ever mistreat his wife?
Mother of believers, Safiyyah Bint Huyyiy narrated, “The Messenger of Allāh went to Hajj with his wives. On the way my camel knelt down as it was the weakest among all the other camels, and so I wept. The Prophet came to me and wiped away my tears with his dress and hands. The more he asked me not to weep, the more I went on weeping.”
[Musnad Ahmad, Vol.6, p. 337]
Again, he is the epitome of the caring, loving husband – coming to his wife on seeing her upset, wiping away her tears of sorrow, and insisting that she stop weeping. You have to keep in mind that he had all his wives with him during the afore-mentioned journey, yet he became alert when one of them was hurt. He did not ignore her, nor did he brusquely tell her to stop crying to save face before the crowd. He showed concern and love for her publicly.
Some husbands, it is sad to note, behave very awkwardly with their wives in public. They think it is embarrassing to show affection or to smile and laugh with their wife in front of onlookers, especially other men. It is as if their wife becomes a cause of shame for them in a public setting, which is why they become very business-like and stiff with her. Prophet Muḥammad , however, in his considerate and loving treatment of his wife during Hajj, sets an example of how an ideal Muslim husband should be.
If Muslim men were to follow Prophet Muḥammad's exemplary behavior with their wives today, perhaps we Muslims as a whole, would need to work less hard on defending Islam in face of skeptics' critical onslaughts. Perhaps Prophet Muḥammad's kind and affectionate conduct, humble demeanor and spotless character are the reasons why there are more and more women willfully turning to Islam, with each passing year?