The Responsibility of a Wife.
We start with part of surah an-Nisa 4:34 (I'm giving you the whole verse, of course): " Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all)."
She quotes only the part about righteous women being devoutly obedient and guarding what Allah would have them guard. But let's look at the whole thing, barring the last sentence because that gets its own section in the book so we can talk about it then.
As to the beginning. "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means." I can feel some peoples' hackles going up. Mine used to go up too, honestly. 'Men are not stronger than women! If God made us equal, how can this be? Does God like men more?' *waves* It is true that there are women who are physically stronger than men. I can personally lift more weight and probably kick the butts of a good portion of the men I know. But that's now, in modern times. Back in the day women didn't lift weights or do cardio. I'm not saying they were weak, because life was harsh and most women didn't lay around on pillows and eat dates. They were busy running the house, feeding their family, getting water, walking long distances. They weren't weak, but there wasn't anything like 'strength training'. They weren't even usually allowed to fight. So the men got all of the battle training. It was just the division of labor back then. Men tend to be, in the general sense, physically stronger than women. And our bodies are made in slightly different ways on top of that. The same methods of work, of training the body, don't produce the same results across the board. Women have to work harder to get and stay fit, in general.
So men are the protectors of women because they are the stronger sex. Okay. I've got no real argument with that. It is, unless you start nitpicking it, a true statement. What about the 'maintainers' part? The Qur'an puts the responsibility on men to pay for the household. They're responsible for all the bills - food, clothing, heat, a/c, electric, cable, internet. Well, okay. Not those specific things at the time of the revelation, but just to give you the picture. The men had to pay for, or otherwise provide, *everything*. Women didn't contribute financially to the household at all. They could make their own money, if they had a trade, and it was theirs to keep. They didn't have to hand it over or throw it in the common pot. Other cultures at the same time either didn't allow women to work at all, or what they made became the property of their husband/father/male guardian. Nowadays, just because of the way of the world, the economy in most places, women have to work to help support the house. Things change. But then again, there are plenty of households who function on one income. So it's all a matter of what you believe and what is most important to you. I for one would love to be a stay at home wife/mother at some point. However, I also like my luxuries. I would not be happy without the internet or tv! :)
I view this as stating some basic facts that are extremely relevant to the time and place at which they were revealed. But what about the section that the author quotes? Who is the wife to be devoutly obedient to? Her husband? That seems to be the tack that the author takes. It's not what I was taught. I was taught that the wife is to be devoutly obedient to Allah. That's one of the things, a main point of Islam. Each individual person is responsible for themselves, to Allah alone. So the phrase isn't saying that the wife must obey her husband as though her were God. That would be...not shirk, I don't think, but close probably. Raising someone up on that high a pedestal. So the wife must be obedient and observant of the commandments of Allah. That's all that is saying. Then 'guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard.' What does that mean? I was taught that it was just a reminder to the women of their responsibilities toward Allah in relation to their husbands. Just because their husband is absent doesn't mean that the wife can suddenly start having over people (men) that might give rise to the rumours of impropriety. It might seem extreme to us, but it was the culture of the time and it wasn't limited to Arabia or Muslims. It was everywhere. Even now I can tell you that a man and a woman going off together makes the rumours start.
At my own work there is a married man who is friendly with an unmarried woman. They eat together all the time, go out all the time, without his wife or her fiance. You think people don't speculate that their having an affair? It's a nearly automatic assumption. There is also the connotation of the wife guarding the husbands property while he is gone. Taking care of the house and everything in it while the husband is off earning their living. Would you expect anything different in modern times? The wife letting strangers come and giving them all the furniture, maybe? Or selling things off? I think the idea is that the wife is to maintain the household in her husbands absence just as she would if he were standing beside her. Otherwise, she is doing what she does not for the right reason - because it is her part of the marriage, making it a way of being obedient to Allah, (not to say that taking care of the house is the only thing women are meant to do. Just that marriage is a partnership and each individual has their jobs to do, and each marriage is different in that respect. Division of labor.) but because of more earthly reasons. It shows a lack of care and love for the relationship.
The cap on this section is this quote from the author: "If a woman in Islam wishes to be considered righteous and to be found worthy of paradise, she must fulfill the duties that have been given to her as a wife...for though she is a believer, according to Islam, if she is ungrateful to her husband, she will not go to paradise but to hell."
This refers to an hadith: Sahih Bukhari 1.2.28 -
Narrated Ibn 'Abbas:
The Prophet said: "I was shown the Hell-fire and that the majority of its dwellers were women who were ungrateful." It was asked, "Do they disbelieve in Allah?" (or are they ungrateful to Allah?) He replied, "They are ungrateful to their husbands and are ungrateful for the favors and the good (charitable deeds) done to them. If you have always been good (benevolent) to one of them and then she sees something in you (not of her liking), she will say, 'I have never received any good from you."
I tend to avoid the hadith because I don't really get them. I distrust them, because I don't understand how to tell the good ones from the bad. Meaning the ones that are viewed as authentic vs. the ones that are viewed as questionable. But I'll say briefly how this reads to me. I don't see it saying that women are going to hell just because they are women. It doesn't even read that women cannot complain or question their husbands without going to hell. It's about women who have been treated well - whose husbands have fulfilled all their duties to their wives and the wives are still nasty and ungrateful. Harpies, we call them. Shrews. It's less about the specifics of them maligning and mistreating their husbands than it is about that behaviour highlighting a character flaw in those women. If they're that nasty to someone who treats them well then they're probably the worst back biting, gossipy, mean and nasty women out there. This is more a call for these women to change their ways. An early warning, as it were.
In addition, it is my understanding that hell, in Islam, is not a permanent state of being for the majority of people. It's kind of treated like purgatory. People go to hell to pay for the sins that they did not finish 'paying' for in life. But eventually the scales are balanced, or whatever metaphor you like, and they are released from hell and allowed into heaven.
What annoys me about the quote from the author is it reflects a misrepresentation of Islamic theology. No one's salvation depends on another person in Islam. Every individual is responsible for themselves. Do we each have responsibilities that involve others? Yes. But they also have them on us, and ultimately all these responsibilities belong to Allah. But it is up to each individual to fulfill their obligations. They rise or fall based on their deen alone. Unlike, say, Mormonism where the wifes position in the afterlife is dependent on a) being married to a man and b) his position in the afterlife.