Husbands must inform wives that wives are not obligated to cook and clean

(n.b. The answer addresses a specific question with a narrow scope: whether there is agreement on what women must do. The question asks whether an agreement exists. Two Shafii legal texts are referenced to present a contrary opinion. This contrary opinion is sufficient to negate the initial claim that there is agreement. The question does not ask what women must or ought to do and the answer doesn’t attempt to address this – though it does suggest where readers turn for additional information. Readers should not expect an article that addresses a very specific and narrow question related to marriage to serve as a comprehensive guide to marriage.

NOTICE. On 21 Mar 2019, I changed the title from “Husbands must inform wives they are not obligated to cook and clean” to “Husbands must inform wives that wives are not obligated to cook and clean” to assist readers resolving the anaphora.)

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Q. Is it true that there is agreement amongst the scholars that a woman must cook and clean?

A. Not only is this false, but a husband is required to inform his wife that this is not the case. Furthermore, she is entitled to wages for doing so – if she decides not to do so as an act of charity. Her refusal to do so is not an act of disobedience and he cannot withhold her support if she refuses.

Imam Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi mentioned Al-Muhaddhab:

“A woman is not required obliged to serve her husband by baking, grinding flour, cooking, washing, or any other kind of service, because the marriage contract entails, for her part, only that she let him enjoy her sexually, and she is not obligated to do other than that.”

Note: This is included in Reliance of the Traveller, w45.1.

فصلولا يجب عليها خدمته في الخبز والطحن والطبخ والغسل وغيرها من الخدم لأن المعقود عليها من جهتها هو الاستمتاع فلا يلزمها ما سواه.

The Shafii scholar Ali al-Shabramulsi mentions that in a lesson it was asked whether a husband must inform his wife that she is not obligated to serve him by cooking and doing housework as is customarily done.

The gist of the reply is that he must inform her since if she did not know this, she might think that she is required to do so and that she would not still deserve her support if she failed to do so – so she would thus do so under unlawful compulsion.

The aforementioned is included in many of the late hawashi that are used for fatwa, including al-Dumyati’s I’yanat al-Talibin which, today, is standard reading for virtually every Shafii at some point in their studies.

Arabic original:

وقع السؤال في الدرس هل يجب على الرجل إعلام زوجته بأنها لا تجب عليها خدمته بما جرت به العادة من الطبخ والكنس ونحوهما مما جرت به عادتهم أم لا؟ وأجبنا عنه بأن الظاهر الاول لانها إذا لم تعلم بعدم وجوب ذلك ظنت أنه واجب وأنها لا تستحق نفقة ولا كسوة إن لم تفعله فصارت كأنها مكرهة على الفعل

And Allah knows best.

Sources: Al-Muhadhdhab, Tuhfat al-muhtaj, Nihayat al-muhtaj, and I’yanat al-talibin. cf Imam al-Nawawi’s commentary on Sahih Muslim.


Learn more about the fiqh of marriage and other issues in The Accessible Conspectus, available on Amazon and elsewhere.

5 thoughts on “Husbands must inform wives that wives are not obligated to cook and clean”

  1. Just wondering Shaykh. While she is not obligated to serve her husband by baking, grinding flour, cooking, washing, or any other kind of service, is it fair to assume that neither is her husband obligated to do so for the wife either? If this is true, then who should do it? Should either spouse compensate each other for serving each other?

    • It’s covered in the English texts mentioned in this article (The Reliance of the Traveller, The Accessible Conspectus, and The Evident Memorandum). The gist is that neither one has to prepare it for the other, though there is great merit in doing so, and it is unwise to jettison customs that work merely because one doesn’t have to. And Allah knows best.

  2. Salams Sidi, thankyou for this clarification. However it would be great if you could expound on the part about “enjoying her sexually” as this could lead men to believe that it is impossible for a man to rape his wife, or that she should be obliged to be available to him sexually even when she is not feeling the desire. This in itself could wreck a marriage and make a woman feel that Islam places her rights below those of her husband. I understand that this refers to the marriage contract and the fact that a woman couldn’t, for example, marry a man she finds repugnant for some material benefit, and refuse ever to have sexual relations with him. But this kind of legal ruling can easily be misinterpreted to abuse women, even within marriage (most rapes occur within relationships).

    • wa alaykum al-salam

      Your comment demonstrates why it is so important to study the fiqh of marriage as a whole and not just the sensitive and controversial parts. I have found that some topics are not worth discussing except with students of fiqh once they have sufficient knowledge to approach it as students of the Sacred Law and through the Sacred Law.

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