By Sabeen Mansoori
The beauty of this perfect deen (way of life) that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) has blessed us with is in its details. There is an intricate system of protection for the personal space of the believing man and the believing woman. There are additional safeguards built into an Islamic society for the privacy of couples. These commandments were given at a time when most of the homes in the city of Medina did not even have doors. Flimsy curtains covered the entrances to the homes but the hearts were shrouded in the love of Allah (swt) and His Messenger ﷺ (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
In Surah Nur, the etiquettes of a Muslim society are outlined. We must greet the people of the house three times and seek permission to enter and if we receive no response than we should leave without taking offence. The Prophet ﷺ went so far as to say that do not stand directly in front of the door when you knock so that you might glance inside by accident. According to Thauban, a freed slave of the Holy Prophet ﷺ, the Holy Prophet said: “When you have already cast a look into a house, what is then the sense in seeking permission for entry?” (Abu Da`ud). There is an additional layer of privacy that is granted to the people within their homes as well. Children who have not attained puberty should seek permission before they enter the rooms of their parents at specific times of the day.
The last layer of protection for the personal private space, specifically of a married couple, is not a wall or barrier but the spouse. Allah (swt) describes the intimacy of this relationship in the following words:
…هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَكُمْ وَأَنْتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَهُنَّ …
“[…] They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them […]” (Qur’an 2:187)
This comparison is poignantly perfect in so many ways. Husbands and wives protect and beautify each other, complement and complete each other, hide each other’s defects and are identified by each other.
“Who is that?”
“O, that is So-and-so’s husband.”
This last barrier between the outside world and the self is also supposed to be a source of comfort and mercy. The spouses are meant to be each other’s confidants so that the words spoken by a wife to her husband, or a husband to his wife, remain within the confines of that relationship. This privacy/secrecy includes endearments whispered in the warmth of an embrace and hurtful comments flung mercilessly in the heat of an argument. Neither of those two should be communicated even to the most sympathetic of ears. They should not be transmitted across the planet to a loving parent or whispered at a party in the ears of a close friend.
This intimacy and absolute lack of privacy that no one but a husband and wife are entitled to is attained through the words of Allah (swt). The Prophet ﷺ in his sermon reminded the husbands and wives of this ummah (community):
“O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah’s trust and with His permission.”
A part of honoring that trust is maintaining absolute trust within the marriage bond. If there was a scar or blemish on your skin wouldn’t you hide it from the world? As a spouse it is our responsibility to act as that cover or protection from the world and to not pass on knowledge of his/her shortcomings to others. It adds to the honor of a couple when they support each other and detracts from their mutual honor when they publically flaunt each other’s faults.
In most non-abusive relationships, women tend to spill the beans on their spouses in fits of unjustified rage over petty matters. Their forgiveness is just as forthcoming as their grief. One smile from the husband, accompanied by a few flowers and all is forgiven and forgotten. However, the person to whom the wife has communicated her distress will have lost respect for the husband as a human being. The third party that has been made privy to their conversation will not forget it and quite possibly pass it on to someone else. Essentially the wife has proven unworthy of the designation of ‘libas’ (clothing) that Allah (swt) had honored her with. She is more like a woman who rips her clothes in a fit of grief rather than one who is honorable and controlled in her demeanor.
For men it is generally a subtle form of revenge. If the home environment is not granting him the respect and authority that he feels he deserves, he avenges that lack of control by deriding his wife among his friends. Exaggerating her faults, cracking jokes about her behavior and attitudes and sharing details that he has access to because of the trust that Allah (swt) has placed with him is truly unworthy of the protector and guardian of the household.
There are no fairytale marriages, so do not get deluded by that myth. The Prophet ﷺ and the Sahabah (Companions) radi allahu `anhu (may Allah be pleased with them) had disagreements with their wives but they sought a higher purpose in their existence. Seek that higher purpose of Paradise and you will be granted, insha’Allah (God willing), a marriage which is of the ayaat (signs) of Allah (swt):
“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.” (Qur’an 30:21)
Next time the urge to divulge some personal information overtakes you or you feel the need to share your grief with a curious ear, recall how insulted your spouse would feel if he/she found out. Would he love you more? Would she respect you more? Take it as an opportunity from Allah (swt) to nurture your capacity for patience. Welcome it as an opportunity to attain the status of the people mentioned in the hadith (report of the words of the Prophet ﷺ):
“I guarantee a house in Jannah (Paradise) for one who gives up arguing, even if he is in the right; and I guarantee a house in the middle of Jannah for one who abandons lying even for the sake of fun; and I guarantee a house in the highest part of Jannah for one who has good manners.” [Prophet Muhammad ﷺ - reported by Imam Abu Dawud]
In order to attain that house in Paradise it is essential that we guard our earthly homes and relationships from prying eyes and gossiping tongues. The last layer of protection should not become the first layer of deception.