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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).

According to Yahiya Emerick,

The word qawwamun comes from a root word that literally means ‘to stand up.’  In this verse, it is used to mean safeguarding another’s business, to protect their interests, to preserve and to maintain the safety of women.  (Think of the English phrase used to remind men of their implied duties towards their families: ‘Stand up and be a man.’)  This verse, then, does not say that men are the overlords of women or are dictators over them. Rather, it states that men must protect and look after women.


The term fadl, which is translated here as given more wherewithal, can mean more bounty and even excelling in an amount over something.  Some commentators say that fadl refers to the fact that men get twice the inheritance of a female, (an amount that they then use to spend on the women in their lives).  The wording here doesn’t mean that women are not capable of earning more money than men, for even the Prophet’s first and only wife for over twenty years (Khadijah) was wealthier than he, nor does it mean men are better than women, as some superficial chauvinists have tried to read into this verse.  Rather, it is an all-encompassing idea tied to a practical financial reality, and perhaps, if you want to stretch the meaning, it may also suggest that men have been given certain specific physical qualities that may better suit them to protect and support their families in a dangerous world: qualities ranging from more aggressiveness in defense against enemies to extra muscular strength to enable them to labor under more arduous circumstances. (This is similar to the Latin concept of virtu, or manly responsibility, from which we get the English word virtue.)  Under this logic, because God made men more suited to protect and maintain their families in an uncertain and difficult world, men are thus ‘appointed’ to be officially responsible for caring for the women in their lives. (Contrast this with the words of Paul in the Bible who outright calls women the ‘weaker vessel.’  See I Peter 3:7.)  There is nothing wrong Islamically if a woman supports herself, especially if she has no other options, nor are women forbidden to work or engage in business, even in classical Islamic theology. (Three of the Prophet’s wives, Zaynab bint Jahsh, Umm Salamah and Safiyah, continued to earn their own money while being married to him, and his first and only wife of twenty-five years, Khadijah, had been a successful businesswoman.  The wife of ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud made and sold handcrafts to support herself.  Many, many other examples of Muslim women having independent jobs and livelihoods from the Prophet’s time until the end of the classical period abound.)  The idea is only that if there is a man in her life, then he must shoulder the greater share of the burdens of the family’s expenditures and needs both in finances and security.  Any money a woman earns is hers to save, invest or spend without any obligation to give it to her husband or spend it on the family.


A believing woman guards her husband’s secrets, lawful private business and intimate details, even as she guards her virtue and fidelity.  Men are also expected to do likewise for their wives. This principle of confidentiality and faithfulness is the basis of a successful marriage, and it is also the most important thing that married people owe to each other.  The Prophet once asked a group of male and female followers if they knew of people who talked about their intimate lives in public.  The men were afraid to admit it, but a teenage girl raised her hand and said, “Yes, by God, the men talk about it, and the women do, too.”  Thereupon the Prophet said to the group, “Do you know what those people who do that are like?  They’re like a male and female devil who meet in the street and satisfy their desires in front of an audience.”  (As quoted in The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam by Yusuf al-Qaradawi.)  Also see 30:21 where the Qur’an also exhorts married couples to dwell together in affection and harmony, part of which is the understanding that intimate and private details must remain private.

References:

Emerick, Yahiya. The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an in Today’s English (p. 829). Unknown. Kindle Edition.

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