With piety as the basis of mate selection, and with the earnest satisfaction of the conditions of marriage, the parties should be well on the way to happy and fulfilling married life. However, Islam goes much further than this in setting the course of behavior for husbands and wives. Many are the statements of the Qur’an and the Sunnah that prescribe kindness and equity, compassion and love, sympathy and consideration, patience and good will. The Prophet goes as for as to declare that the best Muslim is the one who is best to his family, and the greatest, most blessed joy in life is a good, righteous wife.
The consummation of marriage creates new roles for the parties concerned. Each role is a set of equitable, proportionate rights and obligations. The role of the husband evolves around the moral principle that it is his solemn duty of God to treat his wife with kindness, honor, and patience; to keep her honorably or free her from the marital bond honorably; and to cause her no harm or grief (Qur’an, 2:229-232; 4:19). The role of the wife is summarized in the verse that women have rights even as they have duties, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree over them (2:228). This degree is usually interpreted by Muslim scholars in conjunction with another passage which states, among other things, that men are trustees, guardians, and protectors of women because God has made some of them excel others and because men expend of their means (Qur’an, 4:34). This degree may be likened to what sociologists call “instrumental leadership” or external authority in the household due to the division of labor and role differentiation. It does not, however, mean any categorical discrimination or superiority of one sex to the other. (This degree question has been misunderstood by Muslims and non – Muslims alike. We dealt with the whole matter in great detail in The Family Structure in Islam. Our conclusion is that the verse does not say men are better or worse than women. Nor does it say what excellence really refers to, let alone identify it with manhood or womanhood.)
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