Is it true that in Islam wives must obey their husbands without question?
It is correct that this is the traditional interpretation put forward but in our view this is not what the Holy Quran says. This is a misinterpretation by our non-Ahmadi brothers of a part of verse 34 of chapter 4 of the Holy Quran.
Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Ali has translated this verse as:
“. . . So, the good women are obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded.”
Imam Ibn-I Kathir, a classical interpreter of the Holy Quran and a jurist, wrote a commentary of the Holy Quran. The translator of the commentary also added a translation of the verses of the Holy Quran to it. He too gives the same translation (Tafsir Ibn-I Kabir, volume 1, page 590) as Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Ali. However, the Imam gives a long footnote at this point in which he says wives must obey their husbands without question.
Maulana Maudoodi another, more recent commentator of the Holy Quran says at this point (vol 1, page 349):
“In hadith it is said that the Holy Prophet (s) said: ‘The best wife is the one who, when you see her, pleases you, when you command her she obeys you, and when you not at home, she guards your property and her chastity.’ ”
However, he goes on to say that the wife is only obliged to obey lawful commands.
I go further than this because the whole of this verse is addressed to men and not to women. In an earlier part Allah tells men that they are responsible for maintaining the household and bearing its expenses as well as supporting their wives with all the qualities Allah has given them.
It then says that good wives are obedient to Allah in that they obey Him and guard their chastity. So, the husband must not expect the wife to obey him unconditionally because obedience of Allah comes first. In fact, in my view this verse is actually telling the exact opposite of the classical interpretation.
The Holy Quran tells Muslims:
“And those who respond to their Lord and keep up prayer, and whose affairs are (decided) by counsel among themselves, and who spend out of what We have given them;” (42:38)
This is a general command to everyone in the Muslim community, whether it is the whole community or husband and wife. It has to be remembered that Islam treats the family as an organization unit, which has to have management and an allocation of duties. In an organization, each individual has a specified role and duties assigned in accordance with that role. And each organization has a person who makes the final decision if an agreement is not forthcoming. Without this the organization cannot and does not function. This does not mean that this person is superior human being to others in the organization. For example, is the headmaster a superior human to the teachers in his school? is a supervisor or foreman a superior human to workers? The answer, of course, is no.
What the Holy Prophet (s) is saying in the hadith quoted above is that if a man and wife cannot agree on a certain matter, then as the husband is the final decision maker she should accept his decision. It does not say that wives should obey their husbands without question.