By The Salafi Feminist (Zainab Bint Younus)
"The best of you are those who are the best to their wives, and I am the best of you to my wives.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 3895; Ibn Maajah, 1977; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi
This hadith is often quoted in marriage talks, conferences, and articles, light-heartedly reminding husbands to pick up their socks or buy some flowers for their wives on their way home from work.
While this may earn some laughs and a guilty resolution to be more thoughtful towards their wives, this hadith tends to be brushed off as being very general and more of a vague reminder than anything else. Even when the hadith is discussed in a little more detail, we find that most teachers tend to apply it in a rather limited way – by mentioning that the Prophet (pbuh) used to do chores around the house, or be affectionate with them.
However, this hadith has far more depth to it than we realize – when we look at the Prophet’s (pbuh) relationship with his wives, we see that when he meant he was the ‘the best… to wives’ – he really meant ‘the best.’
The Prophet’s (pbuh) marriages with his wives were unique because not only did he have nine wives, but he had a wonderful relationship with them all. If one wants to know what a marriage expert looks like, we need look no further than the seerah (biography of the Prophet) itself. So what is the secret behind being the best husband?
We know that the Prophet (pbuh) married women of different ethnicities, from the Qurayshi noblewomen Khadijah bint Khuwaylid and Zaynab bint Jahsh, to the Jewish princess Safiyyah bint Hu’ayy; women of different personalities and temperaments, such as the high-spirited A’ishah bint Abi Bakr and Hafsah bint ‘Umar, and the calm, unruffled dispositions of Maymunah bint al-Harith and Umm Salamah. He was married to women as young as A’ishah and as elderly as Sawdah bint Zam’a; widows and divorcees, businesswomen, scholars, and mothers.
His relationship with every woman was unique, and each relationship was beautiful – and when we read about how he interacted with each and every one of them, we see that one of the defining characteristics he had, which ensured the success of his marriages, was emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is defined as the “capacity of individuals to recognize their own, and other people's emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”
To have emotional intelligence is not so much a rare skill or complex ability, but simply the capacity to have compassion and empathy with those whom with one interacts, and to respond to them accordingly.
In a marriage, emotional intelligence can be summed up in the following ayah:
And of His signs is this: He created for you helpmeets from yourselves that ye might find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo! herein indeed are portents for folk who reflect. [Qur’an 30:21]
The Prophet (pbuh) expressed his emotional intelligence, his capacity for love and mercy towards his wives, in numerous ways. When he was married to Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her), he already knew of her impressive career as a businesswoman managing her own caravan of traders. Rather than feeling slighted or insecure by the fact that he worked for her, and that it was her wealth supporting him financially, he never once expressed resentment – rather, he never stopped praising her and expressing his appreciation of her support for him.
A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated that when she once made a snide comment about Khadijah, the Prophet (pbuh) responded vehemently in her defence:
“No, by Allah! Allah did not replace her with any better woman. She believed in me when people disbelieved, she supported me with her wealth when people denied me their material aid, and Allah blessed me with children from her while I was denied children by other women.”
In a time when more and more Muslim women have impressive careers of their own, and are sometimes earning higher incomes than their husbands, the Prophet’s (pbuh) appreciation and love towards Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her) is an example to Muslim husbands who may find themselves struggling with insecurities regarding their financial situations in comparison to their wives. Instead of making it a problem in the marriage, husbands can learn to use emotional intelligence to acknowledge that the size of one’s pay cheque is not a reflection of their masculinity (or lack thereof) and that it is not a reason to have a less than stellar attitude towards their wives.
The Prophet (pbuh) was also a man who was always ready to comfort his wives. On one occasion, he was traveling with his Companions and his wife Safiyyah (may Allah be pleased with her), when her camel became weak and began to fall behind. Frustrated at the distance between herself and her husband, Safiyyah began to weep. When the Prophet (pbuh) noticed that she was no longer next to him, he turned back to find her, and when he found her crying, he wiped her tears away himself and immediately looked for another camel. Rather than being annoyed or frustrated with her, the Prophet (pbuh) demonstrated his emotional intelligence by providing her with comfort, affection, and reassurance – thereby solidifying their relationship and increasing the love between them even more.
As for helping around the house, the Prophet (pbuh) did far more than just wash a couple of dishes or pick up dirty socks.
I asked 'Aisha what did the Prophet use to do at home. She replied. "He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was time for the prayer, he would get up for prayer." (Bukhari)
“I was asked, “What did the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, do in his house?” I said, “The Prophet was a man among men. He would remove fleas from his clothes, milk his sheep, and serve himself.” (Musnad Ahmad 25662, authenticated by alAlbani)
These ahadith are self-evident: rather than waiting to be served by his wives, the Prophet (pbuh) would take the initiative to serve them and to take care of whatever domestic tasks he was able to do. An emotionally intelligent husband doesn’t take the casual approach of ‘well, I folded my own clothes last week, so I’m good’; he looks at his home, acknowledges what tasks need to be completed, and tries to lighten his wife’s workload without being even more of a burden. The point of this is not to ‘prove’ what a good husband one is and then bring it up repeatedly later on in defense of other bad habits – it is to sincerely develop a positive relationship with one’s wife. Most women, if not all, deeply appreciate it when husbands contribute by doing chores – it is a sign of respect and self-responsibility, a sign that the husband doesn’t view his wife as a maid, but as an individual whose passion does not lie solely in doing laundry or mopping floors.
Finally, the Prophet (pbuh) was a man who recognized the potential in his wives and encouraged them to fulfill that potential. Hafsah bint ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with her) was a woman of intelligence, and the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to foster that intelligence rather than stunt it. Once, a woman named ashShifa bint Abdullah, one of the few literate individuals of Medinah at the time, was visiting Hafsah and discussing medicine with her. The Prophet (pbuh) entered the home during their conversation, and noting Hafsah’s interest, he immediately told ashShifa to teach Hafsah both literacy and the healing arts.
Each and every one of these stories highlights just what it meant when the Prophet (pbuh) commanded the men of his Ummah to be the best they possibly could be towards their wives. The standard for best husband has already been set – to be humble and appreciative, to be loving and comforting, to being helpful and supportive – and when one considers the beautiful ways in which the Prophet (pbuh) exemplified these qualities on a daily basis, it really isn’t so difficult.
May our husbands fulfill the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and prove themselves to be amongst the best of men, ameen.
The Salafi Feminist is a Canadian Muslim writer whose work was first published in 2005 in Al-Ameen News (Vancouver, B.C.); co-founded, wrote, and edited for MuslimMatters.org in 2006; and started writing regularly for SISTERS Magazine in 2010.
Her work has been published on numerous other websites such as IslamicAwakening.com; TheIdealMuslimah.com; SaudiLife.net; LoveInshallah.com; and elsewhere. She is also an editor for IIPH (International Islamic Publishing House), and has previously worked with Darussalam Publishers (KSA).