I read your answer titled ‘Can a wife refuse her husband’s call to bed?’ in which, in light of the many Prophetic Hadiths, you stated that a wife has a religious obligation to fulfil the sexual needs of her husband unless she has an excuse. Is this ruling only for the wife, or can it be extended to the husband? Does the husband also have a religious duty to fulfil the sexual needs of his wife?
The right to sexual fulfilment belongs to both the husband and wife, and it is wrong to assume that in Islam only the husband has this privilege. The wife has as much right to expect that her sexual needs are fulfilled as the husband. As such, sexual relations are a right of both spouses.
The renowned Hanafi jurist (faqih) Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) states, ‘Among the effects of marriage is the permissibility of each spouse deriving sexual pleasure from the other.’ (Radd al-Muhtar ala ‘l-Durr al-Mukhtar 3/4)
A husband is religiously obliged to fulfil the sexual needs of his wife and not deprive her of this right. Refusing sex without a genuine reason or excuse and using it as a weapon against her constitutes a sin in the eyes of God (i.e. in the next life). Many jurists (fuqaha) hold that it is obligatory for the husband to engage in sexual intimacy with his wife every so often. (See: Bada’i al-Sana’i 2/331)
Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Amr (Allah be pleased with him) relates, ‘My father married me off to a woman of good lineage, and he used to consult his daughter-in-law (i.e. my wife) and ask her about her husband. She would say to him, ‘An excellent man, [but] a man who has not slept with us in bed nor removed the veil from us since we came to him!’ When that went on for a long time, my father mentioned it to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, ‘Send him to me.’ So I went to meet him soon after, and he said, ‘…Have I not been informed that you fast all day and pray all night?’ I said, ‘Yes, O Messenger of Allah.’ He said, ‘Do not do it. Fast [some days] and do not fast [other days], and pray and sleep, because your body has a right over you, your eye has a right over you, your wife has a right over you, and your visitor has a right over youâ€¦..’ (Combined from two variations of the same Hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari no: 4765 and 1874)
In this Hadith, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) advised Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-Ass (Allah be pleased with him) to be moderate in his worship, and upon learning that he had not slept with his wife, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said to him, ‘Your wife has a right over you,’ clearly defining the husband’s responsibility of fulfilling the sexual and other needs of the wife.
Abu Juhayfa relates, ‘The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) joined Salman and Abu al-Darda’ (Allah be pleased with both) together in brotherhood. Salman visited Abu al-Darda’ and saw [his wife] Umm al- Darda’ poorly dressed and thus said to her, ‘What is the matter with you?’ She said, ‘Your brother Abu al-Darda’ has no need of this world [meaning he did not care whether his wife adorned herself for him or not since he was very busy in worshiping Allah].’ Abu al-Darda’ came and made some food for him [i.e. Salman]. Salman said, ‘Eat.’ He replied, ‘I am fasting.’ Salman said, ‘I will not eat unless you eat.’ So he ate. In the night, Abu al-Darda’ went to stand in prayer and Salman said to him, ‘Sleep!’ and so he slept. Then he got up again and Salman said, ‘Sleep!’ When it was the latter part of the night, Salman said, ‘Now get up, and they both prayed together.’ Salman then said to him, ‘Your Lord has a right over you, your self has a right over you and your wife has a right over you, so give each rightful person their due right.’ Abu al-Darda’ came to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and mentioned this to him and the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, ‘Salman spoke the truth.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari 1867)
As such, a husband is religiously obliged to have sexual relations with his wife every so often – enough to maintain her outward and inward chastity such that she does not incline towards committing a sin. If a man consistently refuses his wife, he will be sinful in the sight of Allah.
However, as with the case of the husband’s right to sexual intimacy, this obligation is conditional on his physical ability to have sex with his wife. If he is too ill or weak to engage in any sexual activity or fears that having sex with his wife will result in unbearable weakness, then he will not be sinful.
All of the above is at the level of law. The spirit of marriage is different. Seeking one’s rights through demands and argumentation contradicts the spirit of marriage, and never solves anything. Rights should always be understood in light of the following Prophetic guidance:
‘The most perfect of believers are those most perfect in character; and the best amongst you are the best of you to your spouses.’ (Sunan al-Tirmidhi 1162)
(For more details on this, you may refer to my book, ‘Islamic Guide to Sexual Relations‘ available from most Islamic book retailers).
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK