Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Walaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,
Allah Most High tells us that,
“They are garments for you and you are garments for them.”
It is the nature of garments that they bring comfort, dignity, and keep one from indecency and harm. This is how each spouse acts, emotionally, physically, and spiritually for the other.
Part of this is that each spouse is religiously expected to fulfill the sexual needs of the other, such that their desires are brought into check, and they are able to stay away from the haram, both major (such as fornication) and lesser (such as looking at the unlawful, and thinking of the unlawful).
Sexual relations are vital in marriage. One of the scholars said, “Couples happy in bed are happy in their marriage.” One of the scholars in Syria said, “The scholars today generally agree that one of the primary reasons for failed marriages is failed sexual lives.” Western studies confirm this.
This is why the Shariah has made it obligatory for both spouses to fulfill the sexual needs of their spouse in marriage. This is understood, the scholars say, from the abovementioned Qur’anic verse.
Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) says,
“Among the rulings of marriage is that each spouse is allowed to derive sexual pleasure from the other.” [ Radd al-Muhtar, 3.4]
However, there is a legal difference between the husband and wife’s right to sex: the husband can demand sex, and the wife is obliged to agree unless there is a genuine physical or Shariah preventative. Even if she disagrees, he has the legal right to insist that she comply. While it is obligatory for the husband to fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, she cannot demand that he have sex with her if he does not want to.
Shaykh Adib Kallas often reminded that, “The rules of the Wise are never bereft of wisdom.” This right of the husband can often prevent greater harm, such the ‘sexual politics’ that spoil many otherwise successful marriages. This often leads as the husband fulfilling his sexual desires unlawfully (such as the growing phenomenon of Muslim husbands who resort to masturbation, because of sexual unfulfillment within marriage), frustrations, dispute, and, ultimately, miserable marriages.
Getting One’s Rights in a Right Way
The husband is expected to exercise even this right within the Qur’anic paradigm of love and mercy.
It is in this context we must understand that the words of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) that, “If a man calls his wife to bed and she refuses, and then he sleeps angry, the angels shall curse her until he awakens.” [an unquestionably authentic hadith, related by both Bukhari and Muslims, as well as numerous others]
This is not a call to sexual abuse; rather, it is a call to happy marriages where each spouse rushes to fulfill the rights and desires of the other.
This is the exception, too: scholars explain that particular rulings must be understood in the context of general rulings, for affirming one matter does not entail negating another.
Given this, such ‘rights’ must be understood within the clear context of the Qur’anic command to “live together in excellence,” and the words of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) that,
“The most perfect of believers are those most perfect of character; and the best of you are the best of you to your spouses.” [Tirmidhi, Ibn Hibban]
“The best of you are the best to their wives, and I am the best of you with my wives.” [Ibn Hibban]
030.021 And of His signs is this: He created for you spouses 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.
And Allah alone gives success.
Walaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,
MMVIII © Faraz Rabbani and Qibla.
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