What Makes A ‘Good’ Wife

I was unfortunately up early this morning, ironing like on any other work day, because I had the unfortunate opportunity of being psychologically arm-wrestled into going for some seminar at a mosque (and one wonders why I can’t wait to get married and move out so I could finally pursue my spiritual connection with God at my own pace and out of my own will, rather than feeling obliged to give in to the mother’s persuasion). I’m supposed to get a break from the job I am beginning to hate, and I was planning on catching up on sleep and work (what’s new?), hence the resentment.

To top this unfortunate day off, while ironing at the enclave in my living room, I had the unfortunate opportunity of listening in on the Malaysian religious show that my father was watching. (Yes, they are that ‘fanatic’. If I was a retiree I’d spend mornings taking a walk and enjoying some fresh air rather than cooped up at home watching some religious show. I’d rather enjoy God’s creation and reflect independently on life than listen to others dictate how I should live mine.)

Now why was this an unfortunate opportunity? Because the topic was one that never fails to rile me up: how Muslim wives should behave. By a lady speaker, nonetheless, which riles me up even more because she can’t seem to see what is wrong with perpetrating such views that frame a woman’s worth in terms of her use(fulness) to her husband instead of her own independent being.

For a start, let me list down what she said in her own words, as much as I can remember:

1. Isteri mesti berhias untuk suami… jangan berhias untuk keluar sahaja, tapi di rumah rambut tak bersikat, mulut busuk, pakai baju kelawar..

(Wives must doll themselves up for their husbands… don’t do it only when you’re going out, but at home your hair is uncombed, your mouth smelly, you wear that long flimsy dress with bat sleeves.)

2. Rumah mesti dihias, jangan kotor macam rumah Yahudi

(Your house must be looked after and decorated, not left dirty like the house of this group of people which I shall not translate because demonising any group is just offensive)

3. Jangan keluar tanpa izin suami… (kalau kena keluar tiap-tiap hari) boleh minta izin untuk setahun sekaligus…

(Don’t go out without your husband’s permission… (if you have to go out every day) you can ask for permission for a year at one go…)

4. Jangan benarkan orang yang suami tak suka masuk ke rumah… waimah ibu bapa sendiri kerana isteri bila kahwin, suami nombor satu, ibu bapa nombor dua…. bagi suami ibu bapa nombor satu…

(Don’t allow anyone that your husband does not like to enter your home, even if it is your own parents, because when you get married, your husband comes first, your parents second… for husbands their parents come first…)

Now why would these messages be objectionable? I shall leave you to exercise your own critical thinking before I explain my objections in the next post.


19 thoughts on “What Makes A ‘Good’ Wife

    • Yeah so technically wives would have to take note when that permission was given so that they know when it would expire and they have to remember to renew it? Otherwise they’d be under house arrest? 😦

      My analysis would just be an attempt at exposing how such ideas are problematic, according to logic… I’m not yet capable of providing Quranic substantiation, so I won’t be surprised that there’d be those out there who would opine that my argument is unacceptable because it’s ‘dangerous’ to use your own (God-given) intellect and reasoning…

  1. Mine too my dad without fail will be in front of the tv at 530am…worst he only watches malaysian news…which he strictly will sit there after maghrib waiting for 8pm news…

  2. Woah definitely disagree with some of the pointers!

    like, the bride’s parents cannot go in the bride’s house after married, & need to seek the husband’s permission? i dont know. for me, this is kinda kolot. and no matter what, i just think that parents is still no. 1 & as a husband he should understand that. We are now living in a modern world, need some open mind.

    opinion though! 🙂

    • Such ideas are not just outdated; they are unjust and biased in favour of men. It’s sad that people who are supposed to be knowledgeable and who have the power to influence others do not put a stop to such ideas.

  3. Totally disagree with most (if not all) the points! And if I remembered correctly, these are all brought up during Suchi Success course and I could literally feel my eyes rolling to the back of my head.

    Like too much ah, own parents’ pun must mintak izin? That’s so not right.

    • If your eyes were rolling to the back of your head, mine were rolling out! Hahahah. Yes that’s the same reason why I did not like the course that much. I actually expressed some of my disapproval, indirectly, on the feedback form!

  4. Pingback: What Makes A ‘Good’ Wife – Objection #1 | pengantin pelik

  5. Even they can’t get their stifling pointers to work consistently. Parents are supposed to be above all others; mothers even more than fathers. Suddenly a person you are related to by marriage (i.e. husband) trumps your own parents. In other words, the hierarchy of obedience is:

    1) Men: God, mother, father.
    2a) Women: God, husband, mother, father (“isteri mesti minta izin kalau nak visit ibubapa”)
    2b) Women: Husband, God, mother, father (“if a husband is content with his wife, she can enter any door of paradise”)

    How can people have no qualms about saying one human being should rule over anyone else, or even God? Nauzubillah!

    • I like the way you’ve listed it out! There should be a ‘like’ button for comments here! Yes, why indeed are women subject to different standards?

      And yes, that saying which relates a woman’s eligibility for paradise with her husband’s pleasure has always disturbed me for some reason. A voice in me always responds, well what if the husband is just plain unreasonable, perverted, sick or abusive? Nothing a woman does would be pleasing enough to such a husband. And then, what? She’s automatically condemned to hell? You mean, even if she is a good person who has done many good deeds for everyone else around her other than her husband (to her parents, family, children, friends, community, society), all that is of no value since her husband is not pleased with her?

      But then again, aren’t we taught that it is not our good deeds that bring us to heaven, but God’s Mercy? Because no matter how much good we do, only God knows what’s really in our hearts and our true intentions for doing so? And here we have people so easily putting a husband as having the power to determine his wife’s entry into paradise, which is essentially putting him on the same level as God. Nauzubillah, indeed.

  6. I agree with some of what you’ve said. I’ve been seeing alot of this on fb lately : isteri MESTI buat ni, buat tu blablabla. Very annoying, seriously! Especially if the statements they’re making have no solid prove/dalil from the qur’an/sunnah backing it up! I’ve also noticed that ppl are mostly focusing on the husband’s rights and what the wife is required to do to please her husband, there is less emphasis on the wife’s rights which is biased and totally unfair. Padahal the wife’s rights are alot too, the wife doesn’t have to do any of the household chores if she doesn’t want to, she doesn’t have to work and her husband CANNOT force her to work, she doesn’t have to pay the bills etc. but we don’t really hear much about this, because its not as important i suppose? pfft! Tapi some of the things they say mmg have dalil, so that part Allah knows best, there has to be a hikmah for it. Example the one where you have to ask your husband’s permission that’s true, and also the part where you cant allow anybody (i dont know if parents are included as well) inside the house without his permission, and obeying your husband but if he asks you to do sthng that is against the islamic syariah then you’re NOT required to obey him.
    Ps: bkn isteri je eh yg blh jd nusyuz, suami pon. but as usual we don’t really hear much abt that, do we? -.-

    • I’m not sure how to explain this, but even the conventional conception of a wife’s rights does not sit well with me, because it puts all the burden for the running and maintenance of the household on men. It’s almost like saying a wife is a child, she cannot be expected to do anything; she does not have to do the household chores, she does not have to contribute to paying the bills. That takes away a woman’s agency as a capable adult, and indeed has been distorted to mean ‘they CANNOT work’ even if they want to, rather than they ‘don’t have to if they don’t want to’.

      If we were to apply such rights in today’s context, then who would do the household chores should the wife decide to exercise her right, since the husband would be out working? Many would just say, oh, hire a domestic helper then. But domestic helpers would be women too, and if they are wives themselves, what about THEIR right to not go out to work? (And don’t tell me oh, hire a non Muslim domestic helper then as they don’t have such rights.) To me, such a conception of rights just privileges one social class over another; if it cannot be applied equally to everyone, then there’s something wrong with it.

      Therein lies the problem of defining rights according to male-female dichotomy. Why can’t we all just agree that each person is a human being who has the same right to a dignified existence? So when it comes to the context of marriage, both husband and wife have the right to have their basic needs of food, water, clothes and shelter met, and to live in a properly maintained home – and not one can deny the other of such a right. With rights come responsibilities, so since both have the same rights, so both are equally responsible to fulfil those rights. How the responsibilities are divided, would be up to each individual couple to decide based on their circumstances, and via mutual agreement. Should a wife be able to earn more than her husband, the couple may just decide that her husband stays home to care for the kids and the household while she goes out to work. Should the husband be great at cooking, the couple may just decide that he prepares the meals for the family while his wife does other chores like laundry and cleaning. Other couples who may be more comfortable with the traditional wife-stays-home-husband-goes-to-work arrangement, may also stick with that. There is no right or wrong way.

      To me, the line ‘there has to be a hikmah behind it’ when it comes to certain rulings regarding a husband’s rights over his wife which limits her rights as a human being, has been used far too often to shut down any objection women would have to them. The line also serves as apologetic reasoning: It sounds unfair (and it actually is) but there has got to be some hidden good behind it, that’s why Islamic (male) scholars came up with such rulings.

      As for what you said regarding consent of a husband, my thoughts would be in Objection #2.

  7. Dear Sheerah, I was pretty excited about your comment, which stated your frustration with how marital advice often focuses on very gendered obligations. However, I was a little disappointed when you ended with:

    “… you have to ask your husband’s permission that’s true, and also the part where you cant allow anybody (i dont know if parents are included as well) inside the house without his permission, and obeying your husband but if he asks you to do sthng that is against the islamic syariah then you’re NOT required to obey him.”

    This is exactly what we try to argue against, that obedience to husbands is one kind of male control that has no basis in the Quran, the ultimate source of law for self-confessed Muslims. Husbands are men, and still humans. There is nothing that makes men automatically smarter or more alim than women, there are many women who have more religious knowledge than their husbands.

    I’d like to offer some verses that show that such teachings have misinterpreted verse 4:34. In the Quran, Allah tells us that Maryam (3:43, 66:12), Abraham (16:120), Muhammad’s wives (33:30-31) and all other beings (2:116, 2:238, 30:26, are devoutly obedient to God. All obedient men and women will receive a reward from Allah (33:35, 3:17), and they are not the same as those who are not obedient to God (39:9). So good women are those obedient to God only (4:34, 66:5), and not to men.

    Zak, waiting breathlessly for Objection #2! 🙂

    • Sya, my mistake; that should be Objection #3 regarding consent of husbands. Objection #2 would be about domestic responsibilities.

      And I shall wait not-so-breathlessly for someone to come along with the H argument. :-/

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