With the emergence of Renaissance and Enlightenment in Europe, Islamic thought and traditions gradually became more vulnerable to the cultural challenges of western civilization. Renaissance in Europe marked the birth of modernity. It is the influence, we suppose, of western theories and concepts that are evidently inciting contemporary women in the Muslim world to consider their primary roles as mothers or wives in the home as secondary for which the husband ‘must’ pay.
Suckling (Rada) is a primary responsibility of the mother of a child to be carried out under the mutual understanding of both the father and the mother of the baby. It is mutual because both are allowed to agree on the duration of suckling to a maximum of two years. It is the duty of the father to provide maintenance (feeding, clothing, Medicare, and domestic needs) on equitable terms for the mother as well as the child. A suckling child feeds from its mother who is by all accounts is sustained by her husband. Allah (SWT) states in Qur’an 2:233 “…But he shall bear the cost of their food and clothing…”. We therefore do not understand the basis upon which a husband is obliged to pay his wife for breastfeeding the baby as some of our “enlightened women” today are preaching hard to justify. We urge such women (and men who think like them) not to be carried away by crass materialism as to smuggle the modern concept of “monetization” in to the marriage institution. However, if the marriage between a couple ends in a divorce that is irrevocable, the husband is not under any obligation to maintain his former wife but remains responsible for the maintenance expenses of the breastfeeding child. But if their separation is by a revocable divorce; the woman, like the child, is entitled to (full) maintenance from the husband.
Nevertheless, there are circumstances that would make it imperative to engage a foster-mother to suckle the child. It is customary, such as in the Arab culture, to employ a foster-mother to suckle the child for linguistics and other cultural reasons. A foster-mother (Halima) was employed, for instance, to suckle the prophet Muhammad (SAW). Sicknesses on the part of the mother or her death after childbirth are reasons that could also warrant the employment of a foster-mother for the child. A foster-mother could as well be hired where the father of the child feels that the biological mother’s neglect of the child (especially if their relationship is unhealthy) would be injurious to it. What is reprehensible in Islam, in this regard, is for a foster-mother to be employed in order to preserve the physical structure of the child’s mother. This modern thought is very foreign to Islamic culture.
We find it necessary to extend our present discourse to the Islamic concept of maintenance that is also being misconceived and misrepresented by some “civilized Muslims”. In the crude understanding of such Muslims, it is not right for the husband to provide raw food and ask the wife to cook it. Instead, the husband (in their opinion) is required to provide cooked or prepared meals on the table for the wife. Those who present this argument claim that asking the wife to cook does not only make her to share in the responsibility of maintenance (which is exclusively the husband’s) but also tends to make the woman in a home look more like a servant. They also advocate that the husband if he cannot do the cooking should employ someone or alternatively pay the wife to do it. Another “monetization” bid indeed!
Maintenance (al-Nafaqah) which is sanctioned by Qur’an 4:34 is the right of one’s wife and children. Maintenance in Islam entails the provision of food, clothing, shelter, Medicare and other domestic but essential needs; even if the wife is rich. The difference in natural and economic dispositions between the genders makes the man’s rights and liabilities greater than the woman’s. Granted that the sexes are on terms of equality before the law, it is important to remind human rights crusaders that there cannot be equality in many aspects including some matrimonial matters.
The essentials of maintenance as listed earlier are to be provided by the husband on: (1) a scale commensurate with his social position; and (2) in accordance with the customs of the society in which the couple lives. Custom (Urf) is one of the principles upon which legislations are made in Islam. Therefore, customs, as long as they do not contradict the fundamental principles of Islam, are regarded as part of Islamic culture. If it is customary in the culture of a couple for a wife to cook for the family, it becomes part of her primary duties to do son in Islam. Where the husband can afford to employ cooks, stewards, laundrymen, etc; it’s well and good but should not be seen as obligatory on the husband. We exhort Muslims to abstain from whimsical interpretations of Islamic concepts. May Allah (SWT) guide us from becoming victims to the negative impact of western civilization, amin.