بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Continued from: The Real Housewives of Ancient Egypt
In the first part of this post, we discussed an incident from Surah Yusuf in the Quran, involving a dinner banquet with an agenda that was convened and attended by the urban, socialite housewives of ancient Egypt.
We noted similarities between the ethos and human psychology at play behind the organization and execution of such dinner parties, spanning thousands of years and geographical boundaries of race, language, and culture.
Now, we can try to ponder upon a hadith which describes the candid, cathartic conversation eleven wives had with each other about their husbands.
I came across this extremely interesting and somewhat lengthy hadith a while ago. As soon as I read it, I just felt an irresistible pull towards it, which enticed me to ponder upon it and to, eventually, blog about it. So here I am. 🙂
Since I have inadvertently been ‘pushed’ into the role of marriage counselor (by fate or by chance, only Allah knows better, as I had no intention of playing this role, nor do I think I truly deserve this “position”), I thought it would be even more appropriate to try to explain this hadith, especially the female psychology at play behind the statements made by the eleven wives in it.
I would also like to stress beforehand, that the English translation of the Arabic text of the hadith does not do complete justice to it, which is why I have included the latter in this post, after breaking it up (despite knowing what this would do to my ‘infamously’ huge word-counts: customary of all my recent blog posts).
The English translation of the Arabic is in italics, and the Arabic itself is broken up according to the individual wives’ statements. I’d like to invite you to read the Arabic text too, so that you can yourself marvel at its poetic beauty, the depth of its vocabulary, and its rather incredible linguistic brevity.
This hadith is narrated by `A’ishah bint Abi Bakr in Sahih Al-Bukhari.
حَدَّثَنَا سُلَيْمَانُ بْنُ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ، وَعَلِيُّ بْنُ حُجْرٍ، قَالاَ أَخْبَرَنَا عِيسَى بْنُ يُونُسَ، حَدَّثَنَا هِشَامُ بْنُ عُرْوَةَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عُرْوَةَ، عَنْ عُرْوَةَ، عَنْ عَائِشَةَ،
قَالَتْ جَلَسَ إِحْدَى عَشْرَةَ امْرَأَةً، فَتَعَاهَدْنَ وَتَعَاقَدْنَ أَنْ لاَ يَكْتُمْنَ مِنْ أَخْبَارِ أَزْوَاجِهِنَّ شَيْئًا.
Narrated `A’ishah: “Eleven women sat (at a place) and promised and contracted that they would not conceal anything of the news of their husbands.
I have no idea why eleven Arab housewives would sit together and “promise (عهد) each other, and contract (عقد) with each other” (تَعَاهَدْنَ وَتَعَاقَدْنَ) to not hide anything about their husbands in the ensuing candid discussion. Perhaps it was a therapy session of sorts, undertaken under strict confidentiality and secrecy, in order to seek solutions about the marital realities being faced by each. Allah knows best.
From what I gathered from the start of the hadith as well as from contents, i.e. the way each wife described her husband, that their intention was not to gossip idly.
Rather, these wives appear to be genuinely close to each other, which is why each one of them was trusting all the ten others with intimate details of her private married life. So committed are they to telling it all in the forthcoming discussion, in fact, that they actually undertake a contract with each other, to not withhold any secret about their husbands.
Notwithstanding this hadith, all wives out there, please take note: I would not recommend that you divulge marital details and secrets about your husband to others. In fact, I would highly dissuade you from talking about your marital life at all (even if it is very good, but especially so, if it is not good) with anyone, either within or without your family.
This excludes cases of genuine necessity, when a married person desperately needs advice and counsel, which should then be sought only from highly ethical and trustworthy people.
Mr Undesirable – Aloof and Elusive
قَالَتِ الأُولَى زَوْجِي لَحْمُ جَمَلٍ، غَثٌّ عَلَى رَأْسِ جَبَلٍ، لاَ سَهْلٍ فَيُرْتَقَى، وَلاَ سَمِينٍ فَيُنْتَقَلُ
“The first one said, “My husband is like the meat of a slim weak camel, which is kept on the top of a mountain; which is neither easy to climb, nor is the meat fat, so that one might put up with the trouble of fetching it.”
It seems that Wife #1 has an emotionally and physically elusive husband, who is distant from her, and whom she doesn’t care much about, either away.
Her lack of feelings for him is obvious in how she deems him not worth the effort on her part to try to remove the distance between them, the latter being a task which she considers too tedious to undertake.
Lesson? Never allow the distance between you and your husband to grow so great that, due to the resultant pain and coldness, you no longer feel inclined to even make the effort towards removing it.
قَالَتِ الثَّانِيَةُ زَوْجِي لاَ أَبُثُّ خَبَرَهُ، إِنِّي أَخَافُ أَنْ لاَ أَذَرَهُ، إِنْ أَذْكُرْهُ أَذْكُرْ عُجَرَهُ وَبُجَرَهُ.
The second one said, “I shall not relate my husband’s news, for I fear that I may not be able to finish his story, for if I describe him, I will mention all his defects and bad traits.”
Wife #2 seems to only have negative things to say about her husband. Thinking that she’ll be the only one in the group to have such issues, she prefers to remain quiet, perhaps out of fear of embarrassing herself, or perhaps out of fear of Allah.
She seems wise, because she prefers to stay quiet rather than divulge only negative things about her husband. A wife who is able to control her tongue out of fear of Allah from unnecessarily backbiting about her husband is truly guided. And Allah is the source of all guidance.
قَالَتِ الثَّالِثَةُ زَوْجِي الْعَشَنَّقُ
إِنْ أَنْطِقْ أُطَلَّقْ
وَإِنْ أَسْكُتْ أُعَلَّقْ
The third one said, “My husband, the ‘too-tall’! If I describe him (and he hears of that) he will divorce me, and if I keep quiet, he will keep me hanging (neither divorcing me nor treating me as a wife).“
I have arranged the above statement like a poetic verse on purpose, to highlight how the Arabic words in this whole hadith rhyme, as I said before. Read them aloud to yourself, and you’ll see what I mean.
Wife #3 lives in constant fear. Her husband is clearly in no need of her, and he is keeping her hanging (أُعَلَّقْ): by neither giving her her due rights as his wife, nor letting her go. If she describes anything about him, she is afraid that he will divorce her.
This was actually a common trend among the Arabs of the period of ignorance (jahiliyyah) that Islam abolished. They’d keep those of their wives whom they were no longer interested in “hanging” like this: ignored, undermined, and trapped inside a dead, loveless marriage; an existence akin to living in an empty cage.
May Allah save every wife from such a fate. Ameen.
Mr “Breezy“ Nice Guy
قَالَتِ الرَّابِعَةُ زَوْجِي كَلَيْلِ تِهَامَةَ، لاَ حَرٌّ، وَلاَ قُرٌّ، وَلاَ مَخَافَةَ، وَلاَ سَآمَةَ
The fourth one said, “My husband is (moderate in temper) like the night of Tihamah: neither hot nor cold; I am neither afraid of him, nor am I discontented with him.“
Wife #4 has it much better.
Her husband is a man whom she likens to the night of Tihamah (a coastal stretch of land in Arabia).
Cities or towns located near the sea have very mild, cool, and breezy nights. I live in such a city, so I know how lovely the cool nights of towns like Tihamah are, all year long,- ideal for strolling outside, especially during summers.
Wife #4 seems contented, because, unlike the previous 3 wives, she lives with her mild-tempered husband without any fear or feelings of discontentment.
قَالَتِ الْخَامِسَةُ زَوْجِي إِنْ دَخَلَ فَهِدَ، وَإِنْ خَرَجَ أَسِدَ، وَلاَ يَسْأَلُ عَمَّا عَهِدَ
“The fifth one said, “My husband, if he enters (the house), is a leopard, and when going out, is a lion. And he does not ask about whatever he has commanded.”
Wife #5 is describing her husband’s characteristics by mentioning animals. What traits come to mind when you think of a leopard?
To me, well, these: stealth, agility, grace, and, rather dichotomously, speed as well as sloth (all cats love their sleep).
So, it seems her husband comes home silently and calmly, without causing a stir, just to get some sleep. When he goes out, however, he turns into a lion.
Traits of a lion? They are easy to guess: awe, commanding authority, and a touch of arrogance.
So we can conclude that the husband of Wife #5 is indifferent to her when he is at home, but changes his demeanor when he goes out, turning into a commanding person in front of people.
She mentions in the end how he doesn’t inquire about whatever he has enjoined upon her to do (e.g. domestic duties) and is unconcerned with what goes on in their home. This implies that she feels ignored and undermined by him.
However, he does not seem to be mistreating her, per se.
Mr Me, Myself and I
قَالَتِ السَّادِسَةُ زَوْجِي إِنْ أَكَلَ لَفَّ، وَإِنْ شَرِبَ اشْتَفَّ، وَإِنِ اضْطَجَعَ الْتَفَّ، وَلاَ يُولِجُ الْكَفَّ لِيَعْلَمَ الْبَث
The sixth one said, “If my husband eats, he eats too much (leaving the dishes empty), and if he drinks he leaves nothing; if he sleeps, he rolls himself (alone in our blankets); and he does not insert his palm to inquire about my feelings.“
Wife #6 seems to be married to a slothful, self-absorbed glutton. This husband, too, is totally indifferent to what his wife is feeling, or what she wants. She also hints that their marriage lacks physical intimacy. No surprises, as the men who eat and sleep too much probably suffer from poor health, which indicates that her overeating husband might have had issues with ‘masculinity’. Allah knows best.
You’d be surprised how common this kind of husband is, regardless of era. Those couples who allow their marriages to degenerate to this level over a long period of time, end up living like two roommates in a hotel room.
May Allah save all marriages from such decline.
Mr Risky Business
قَالَتِ السَّابِعَةُ زَوْجِي غَيَايَاءُ أَوْ عَيَايَاءُ طَبَاقَاءُ، كُلُّ دَاءٍ لَهُ دَاءٌ، شَجَّكِ أَوْ فَلَّكِ أَوْ جَمَعَ كُلاًّ لَكِ
The seventh one said, “My husband is a wrong-doer, or weak and foolish. All the defects are present in him. He may injure your head or your body, or may do both.“
Wife #7 is married to a diseased, sick man riddled with ill health. The hadith narrator has mentioned both words غَيَايَاءُ and عَيَايَاءُ , because of not being sure which one he heard (this is a norm in hadith narration, when a narrator is not sure what he or she heard, s/he mentions both words).
Either way, the illnesses with which her husband suffers seems to render him a bit dangerous to be around physically. Since she mentions that he suffers from every kind of disease (كُلُّ دَاءٍ), mental ill health could also be implied, which makes it easier to understand why he’d injure a woman (including his wife) if she went near him.
Mr Well-Groomed & Cuddly
قَالَتِ الثَّامِنَةُ زَوْجِي الْمَسُّ مَسُّ أَرْنَبٍ، وَالرِّيحُ رِيحُ زَرْنَبٍ
The eighth one said, “My husband is soft to touch like a rabbit and smells like a Zarnab (a kind of good smelling grass).“
Wife #8 chooses to stay brief and describes only two of her husband’s physical characteristics, both of them positive. It seems her husband takes good care of his physical form (grooming), which she is appreciating.
Also, the fact that she mentions touching (الْمَسُّ) indicates that they are intimate. If you have seen or held a rabbit, you’d know what she means. Even the most ardent animal-shy people would probably not be averse to touching a soft, clean rabbit. Its fur is indeed very soft.
Male readers, please take note. If you want your wife to not recoil from your touch, or from the thought of touching you, please make sure you smell good and feel good. Seriously. 😛
قَالَتِ التَّاسِعَةُ زَوْجِي رَفِيعُ الْعِمَادِ، طَوِيلُ النِّجَادِ، عَظِيمُ الرَّمَادِ، قَرِيبُ الْبَيْتِ مِنَ النَّادِ
The ninth one said, “My husband is a tall, generous man wearing a long strap for carrying his sword. His ashes are abundant (i.e. generous to his guests), and his house is near to the people (who would easily consult him).“
Wife #9 is all praise for her husband. His stature is tall [she likens him to a long (طَوِيلُ) highland (النِّجَادِ)]. He appears to occupy a high-ranking post in the army, as the words “رَفِيعُ الْعِمَادِ” translate, in purely linguistic terms, to imply “a major-general”. This phrase could also mean that he was from a noble family possessing lofty character and lineage. His generosity, indicated by the mention of “ashes” or “dust” (الرَّمَادِ) is great (عَظِيمُ). And his house is near or approachable (قَرِيبُ) for whoever calls him (النَّادِ).
An “alpha male” of sorts is clearly implied here. I think this woman’s husband was a community leader, and clearly very generous and big-hearted towards people, in addition to being wealthy, strong and brave.
The kind of husband, in short, which every Pakistani “aunty” desires for her marriageable daughter. 😉
However, I’d like to point out that having an “alpha” husband has its set of cons, too. While the long list of his acquisitions and achievements might sound good to every ear, what these qualities and characteristics imply for his wife might reveal a completely different perspective.
Wives of alpha males usually have to live a very docile and servile existence,- staying quietly in the shadows while he shines at the forefront, so to speak. Most alpha-men (especially those in the region from where I hail) do not like being outdone (‘threatened’, achievements wise) by their wives, in any way whatsoever.
But there are exceptions, too, of course. I speak from but my own life experiences. All I am saying is, that the wife of an alpha will have to settle for being a beta.
Mr Affluent Camel-Breeder
قَالَتِ الْعَاشِرَةُ زَوْجِي مَالِكٌ وَمَا مَالِكٌ، مَالِكٌ خَيْرٌ مِنْ ذَلِكِ، لَهُ إِبِلٌ كَثِيرَاتُ الْمَبَارِكِ قَلِيلاَتُ الْمَسَارِحِ، وَإِذَا سَمِعْنَ صَوْتَ الْمِزْهَرِ أَيْقَنَّ أَنَّهُنَّ هَوَالِكُ.
The tenth one said, “My husband is Maalik (possessor), and what is Maalik? Maalik is greater than whatever I say about him (i.e. he is beyond and above all praises which can come to my mind). He has many blessed camels, more than the pastures he has for them (or, which are great in number despite pasturing very little). When they hear the sound of the lute, they realize that they are going to be slaughtered.“
Wife #10 cannot praise her husband enough. Why?
The reason is not surprising: he is extremely wealthy as well as generous, the latter being indicated by the fact that he ceremoniously slaughters his camels often (for feeding others).
Camels were for the dwellers of ancient Arabia what diamonds, branded sports cars, 7-figure-profit-generating companies and multiple properties, all are for the modern-day bourgeois corporate executive.
Camels represented wealth of the most superior kind for Arabs. Owning a herd of camels that pastured little and bred profusely meant being very affluent and wealthy, as the milk and meat of these camels provided ample food for the owner’s family as well, and the value of these camels (viz. their price in gold/silver currency) did not wane with time.
Which brings us to an important question: does a wife’s happiness depend solely on the generosity and wealth of an affluent husband?
No, but if the husband is otherwise of a good character and disposition, yes, it does, to a great extent. It is not coincidental that, from all the ten wives above, most of the ones who have praised their husbands, have mentioned his wealth, generosity, or both.
Ask any set of parents who have a marriageable daughter. If they receive a proposal from a wealthy man as well as a poor man, both of whom possess exactly the same good character and righteous conduct, which one of them will they choose for her to marry?
We all know the answer, don’t we? 🙂
That being said, what happens sometimes (or rather, many times) is that parents begin to get very desperate to get their daughter married off, especially if she reaches the age of 25, and has younger sisters.
So what they do in their desperation is, that they readily agree to the first proposal that ‘clicks’. The daughter by then is also ready to agree to any match, just to see her parents’ worries alleviated (she is actually dying to flee from a home where her presence is causing increasing worry with each passing year).
And when that family into which they hurriedly send her off, is not that financially well-off, they spend the subsequent years telling her what luxuries and perks are lacking in her life (by comparing her status to others), even if her husband is righteous and she is happy with him due to his good nature and easygoing demeanor.
So my advice to all such status-conscious and materialistic parents is: if the level of luxury at which you want your daughter to live after her marriage is of the higher, elite kind, and you value the size and location of her eventual home, the brands of clothes/accessories she wears, and the size and value of her husband’s car,- more than his character, piety, overall conduct (اخلاق) as well as the good nature/decency of his extended family, please do not get desperate in rushing to marry her off to the first man who is willing to accept her.
Rather, such status-conscious parents of daughters should use their professional and familial network connections to seek out precisely those kind of well-established and affluent single men, who possess that requisite amount of wealth and property in which they want to see their daughters basking in, ten years down the road, after she has settled down in her marriage.
I know that this advice might seem very off-putting to the single male readers of this blog, but the fact is, guys, that we are dwelling in an increasingly consumerist world that places a very high value on labels, salaries, job titles, brand names, and price tags.
Many a happy marriage of young, struggling couples nowadays is tarnished by constant reminders from outsiders, about how they should have a bigger car, a bigger home, and live in a more decent neighborhood.
The birth of each child brings on more of these reminders, because the senior, experienced married couples in their circle, tend to forget their own past struggles back during their thirties and forties, when their own children were little; when they were under debt; and when they lived in a home with sparse furnishings and minimalistic interior decor.
I would advise my single male readers who are looking for wives, to seek girls from families that are living at a level which is socially and economically lower than their own lifestyle/standard of living, if they want to see their future wife happy and contented. And also if they want to avoid receiving consistent complains from her biological family afterwards, about how she is not living luxuriously enough.
When a woman’s economic and social conditions improve considerably after her marriage, and she lives above the standards which she was used to when she was living at her parents’ home, it is much easier for her husband to avoid being looked down upon by his in-laws, and, in the worst cases, being openly taunted and ridiculed by them because of his lower socioeconomic status.
And Allah knows best.
Now for the crème de la crème – the gooey icing on the happy-wife cake in this hadith, which is about to come, below.
Wife #11, the (ex)wife of Abu Zar, was the one who single handedly had the highest praises to sing for her ex-husband, out of the whole lot, even though she was no longer married to him!
Mr Right/Mr Perfect – Abu Zar
قَالَتِ الْحَادِيَةَ عَشْرَةَ زَوْجِي أَبُو زَرْعٍ فَمَا أَبُو زَرْعٍ أَنَاسَ مِنْ حُلِيٍّ أُذُنَىَّ، وَمَلأَ مِنْ شَحْمٍ عَضُدَىَّ، وَبَجَّحَنِي فَبَجِحَتْ إِلَىَّ نَفْسِي
The eleventh one said, “My husband is Abu Zar` and what is Abu Zar` (i.e. what should I say about him)? He has given me many ornaments and my ears are heavily loaded with them, and my arms have become fat (i.e., I have become fat).
And he has pleased me, and I have become so happy that I feel proud of myself.
Wife #11 started talking about her ex-husband (he left her for another woman, can you believe it?) and started by mentioning, foremost (yawn – not again!), the wealth he had given her in the form of ornaments for bejeweling her body, and the food that eventually fattened her up.
It was not just physical provision that he gave to her in ample measures. His company and love for her was clearly great for her self-esteem as well, which she emphasizes by saying “فَبَجِحَتْ إِلَىَّ نَفْسِي”: “I feel proud of myself.”
The word بَجِحَ means: “He was, or became, great in his own estimation” (Lane’s lexicon). Basically, her ego experienced a major boost after she married Abu Zar.
Few (lucky) wives feel so good about themselves after years of marriage: i.e. about their talents, looks, abilities and personality, all combined together. I have observed, on the contrary, that even the most loved wives start to give in to petty insecurities as the years of marriage start adding up.
How well does a woman take care of herself after marriage? How often does she laugh? How productively does she spend her time? How confidently does she meet and talk to new people? How well does she dress herself? Have any new talents, hobbies, projects, or other beneficial activities been discovered or propagated from her person since she got married?
The answers to all of these questions will give you a clear picture of how good her husband has been to her self-esteem, as a wife.
Raising His Wife Up the Social Ladder
وَجَدَنِي فِي أَهْلِ غُنَيْمَةٍ بِشِقٍّ، فَجَعَلَنِي فِي أَهْلِ صَهِيلٍ وَأَطِيطٍ وَدَائِسٍ وَمُنَقٍّ
He found me with my family who were mere owners of sheep and living in poverty, and brought me to a respected family having horses and camels, and threshing and purifying grain.
Horses and camels were superior forms of wealth to own for desert Arabs, as I said before.
And once again, it is obvious how much it helps to ensure a young girl’s future prosperity and happiness, if she climbs a few rungs up along the social-prestige ladder after getting married i.e. if the family she is going into is not only financially better off than the one she was born in, but is also more prestigious as far as nobility and lineage is considered.
However, before the parents of daughters amongst us (myself included) start using this hadith as an excuse to become ruthlessly materialistic while considering marriage proposals, let us recall Prophet Muhammad’s (صلى الله عليه و سلم) daughter Fatimah and the kind of threadbare conditions she lived in after her marriage.
I am not encouraging parents to display greed and avarice in the process of considering proposals for their daughters by highlighting the above points in this post. I am merely pointing out the somewhat logical correlation between the abundance of a husband’s wealth (combined with his character, love and generosity) and his wife’s pleasure with him.
It is very simple, like math: 2+2=4. 🙂
Never Scolding His Wife
فَعِنْدَهُ أَقُولُ فَلاَ أُقَبَّحُ وَأَرْقُدُ فَأَتَصَبَّحُ، وَأَشْرَبُ فَأَتَقَنَّحُ
Whatever I say, he does not rebuke or insult me. When I sleep, I sleep till late in the morning, and when I drink water (or milk), I drink my fill.
Abu Zar was clearly a very easygoing, undemanding, non-controlling, mild-tempered, and patient man. No matter what she said to him, he never rebuked or scolded her. This is also a prominent quality of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) as a husband.
The peace she felt in his home is clear by how she slept till late morning (FYI: this is okay as long as you’ve prayed your Fajr prayer on time), because a wife who is kept on her toes by her husband’s demanding and strict nature finds it difficult to sleep, let alone sleep in late.
The same can be said of her eating and drinking anything – this wife drank to her heart’s content, which indicates, again, that she enjoyed great peace of mind in her husband’s home.
Any subordinate (such as a wife) who is treated harshly, or in a very controlling, scrutinizing and demanding manner by their superior (in this case, her husband), cannot sleep, eat and drink to their fill. Rather, they sleep and eat little, sport a worried expression on their faces most of the time, and display edginess via their overall body language.
Truth be told, having an easygoing, loving, undemanding, and uncritical husband is a great blessing for any married woman. Speaking from personal experience. 😉
The Satisfied, Non-Intrusive Mother-in-Law
Um Zar is not just all praise for her ex-husband, Abu Zar, but also continues to gush about his close family members. From her account below, it seems that he had a grown-up son and daughter from a previous marriage also living with him in the same house, and Allah knows best.
أُمُّ أَبِي زَرْعٍ فَمَا أُمُّ أَبِي زَرْعٍ عُكُومُهَا رَدَاحٌ، وَبَيْتُهَا فَسَاحٌ
The mother of Abu Zar, and what may one say in praise of the mother of Abu Zar? Her saddle bags were always full of provision and her house was spacious.
The mother-in-law was a fortunate woman: she was blessed with abundant provision and spaciousness of abode.
Please note that the Arabic term used is بَيْتُهَا , which translates to “her house”. This indicates that the mother of Abu Zar, Um Zar’s mother-in-law, had her own home where she lived, which was (to point it out again) very spacious.
Otherwise, if mother-in-law and daughter-in-law lived together, Um Zar would not have said بَيْتُهَا, but rather, would have used the word “بَيتنَا” (“our house”), or “بيتهُ” (his – Abu Zar’s – house).
I have highlighted this fact in order to stress that the joint family system did not exist in ancient Arabia i.e. the mother-in-law lived in her own space, and did not customarily impose her presence inside her married son’s home in order to deliberately coerce servitude from his wives.
To quote (in Urdu), a phrase commonly used to invade relatives’ homes in my local culture, “اپنا ھی گھرہے”.
In Islam, on the contrary, the walls of privacy surrounding every individual’s home are too high to scale so unabashedly.
The Undemanding Stepson
ابْنُ أَبِي زَرْعٍ، فَمَا ابْنُ أَبِي زَرْعٍ مَضْجِعُهُ كَمَسَلِّ شَطْبَةٍ، وَيُشْبِعُهُ ذِرَاعُ الْجَفْرَةِ
As for the son of Abu Zar, what may one say of the son of Abu Zar? His bed is as narrow as an unsheathed sword and an arm of a kid (of four months) satisfies his hunger.
Abu Zar’s son did not take up too much space in the home, i.e. didn’t make himself a burden, and did not eat up too much of the food either, the way many adult sons do.
Actually, I am amazed at this observation made by Um Zar. Because she is actually praising a boy for eating little, which is a female attitude highly in contrast to the one displayed by most of the adult women (regarding the male appetite for food) in the geographical region from which I hail.
How incredible is her mentioning that the arm of a small kid (baby goat) would satiate the hunger of Abu Zar’s son! How incredible it sounds when juxtaposed with Pakistani culture, in which a grown-up or growing son is encouraged by his mother (as well as his aunts and grandmothers) to eat as much mutton, chicken and beef as he possibly can. In fact, the boy is forced to eat more and more, until he is full to bursting (so much for keeping one-third of the stomach empty for air).
As a son eats, local mothers usually wait on him eagerly, gazing in admiration at the amount of food going into their supposed flesh-and-blood investment-account for old age [it is so sad, how many mothers associate their sons with Allah, by believing that their provision and care in old age will come through him], thinking, “Masha’Allah, he eats up so-and-so number of chapati’s and so-and-so number of meat boti’s every day, my کھاتا پیتا شہزادہ! Here, son, here, eat some more..can I get you another paratha?”
As for Um Zar, she was actually praising her husband’s son for having a narrow bed and a small appetite!
The Obedient Stepdaughter
بِنْتُ أَبِي زَرْعٍ فَمَا بِنْتُ أَبِي زَرْعٍ طَوْعُ أَبِيهَا، وَطَوْعُ أُمِّهَا، وَمِلْءُ كِسَائِهَا، وَغَيْظُ جَارَتِهَا
“As for the daughter of Abu Zar, what may one say of the daughter of Abu Zar? She is obedient to her father, and obedient to her mother. She has a fat, well-built body that arouses the jealousy of her neighbor (or co-wife).“
Um Zar praises the adult daughter of Abu Zar, mentioning her willful obedience (طَوْعُ) to her parents first as foremost, as her greatest positive quality. Then she goes on to compliment her good health i.e. how her body fills up her clothes (مِلْءُ – fills up, كِسَائِهَا – her garment), which arouses the envy of her female neighbor, or co-wife (جارة).
Parents, especially mothers, please note: a cherubic, well-fed and obedient daughter is a great blessing from Allah. Please do not give in to the current global fashion trends and coerce your daughter to diet in order to become stick-thin for garnering marriage proposals. Feed your daughter well, but not to the extent of making her overweight and spoiled.
And chuck those fashion magazines bursting with images of photo-shopped, skeletal ‘models’ out of your home.
This hadith is also testament to the fact that curvy women used to be considered more attractive in ancient Arabia than skinny ones. And Allah knows best.
The Efficient Maid
جَارِيَةُ أَبِي زَرْعٍ، فَمَا جَارِيَةُ أَبِي زَرْعٍ لاَ تَبُثُّ حَدِيثَنَا تَبْثِيثًا، وَلاَ تُنَقِّثُ مِيرَتَنَا تَنْقِيثًا، وَلاَ تَمْلأُ بَيْتَنَا تَعْشِيشًا
“As for the slave-girl of Abu Zar, what may one say of the slave-girl of Abu Zar? She does not uncover our secrets but keeps them, and does not waste our provisions, and does not leave the rubbish scattered everywhere in our house.”
The last member of the house whom Um Zar praises, is Abu Zar’s slave-girl.
I find it very noteworthy that, when praising her female servant, the first quality Um Zar mentions is the girl’s ability to keep the secrets of their home within its walls. This is actually a huge blessing – to have loyal maidservants employed in one’s home, who do not gossip to others about their employers. Um Zar also mentions how the slave-girl never wasted anything from the provisions in their house, nor did she leave it dirty or cluttered.
She was, in other words, the ideal maid. My Pakistani readers would agree, eh? 🙂
Indeed, the picture Um Zar paints of the extended family of Abu Zar is a very rosy one: in which the family members do not cause any offense, harm or rancor towards each another, and dwell happily in a home that is spacious and blessed, bursting with love, respect, honesty, provision, good will, and prosperity.
May Allah make our homes like this too, ameen. 🙂
قَالَتْ خَرَجَ أَبُو زَرْعٍ وَالأَوْطَابُ تُمْخَضُ، فَلَقِيَ امْرَأَةً مَعَهَا وَلَدَانِ لَهَا كَالْفَهْدَيْنِ يَلْعَبَانِ مِنْ تَحْتِ خَصْرِهَا بِرُمَّانَتَيْنِ، فَطَلَّقَنِي وَنَكَحَهَا
فَنَكَحْتُ بَعْدَهُ رَجُلاً سَرِيًّا، رَكِبَ شَرِيًّا وَأَخَذَ خَطِّيًّا وَأَرَاحَ عَلَىَّ نَعَمًا ثَرِيًّا، وَأَعْطَانِي مِنْ كُلِّ رَائِحَةٍ زَوْجًا وَقَالَ كُلِي أُمَّ زَرْعٍ، وَمِيرِي أَهْلَكِ..
The eleventh lady added, “One day it so happened that Abu Zar went out at the time when the milk was being milked from the animals, and he saw a woman who had two sons like two leopards playing with her posteriors. (On seeing her) he divorced me, and married her.
Thereafter, I married a noble man who used to ride a fast, tireless horse and keep a spear in his hand. He gave me many things, and also a pair of every kind of livestock and said, “Eat (of this), O Um Zar, and give provision to your relatives.”
All good things come to an end, as they say. The same was true for the blissful marriage of Um Zar to Abu Zar.
Despite the fact that Abu Zar left her for another woman, according to her own honest admission, Um Zar clearly reminisces about the good, pleasurable days she spent with him. This indicates that the marriage ended amicably, with both parties at peace with the decision. Else, Um Zar would have been bitter and spiteful after her split from Abu Zar; she would not be singing his praises, would she?
She also moved on, wisely so, after the divorce, and married a chivalrous, generous nobleman – a cavalier.
Her second husband was also generous. He spent on her willingly and encouraged her to feed her relatives too, from the meat of the livestock that he gave her.
He ably rode a horse, spear in hand. For Arabs, owning a horse and riding it dextrously whilst brandishing a weapon was considered a sign of strength and manliness.
قَالَتْ فَلَوْ جَمَعْتُ كُلَّ شَىْءٍ أَعْطَانِيهِ مَا بَلَغَ أَصْغَرَ آنِيَةِ أَبِي زَرْعٍ
She added, “Yet, all those things, which my second husband gave me, could not fill the smallest utensil of Abu Zar’s.“
Clearly, Um Zar was of the opinion that Abu Zar’s wealth and opulence by far exceeded that of her second husband.
Who amongst mankind does not covet, like and enjoy prosperity and abundance of provision? 🙂
This hadith is evidence of the fact that, since housewives usually stay at home, it is very important to them that the vessels of their husbands be big, and that they remain filled with provision. This state of living just begets more peace of mind and pleasure for them.
قَالَتْ عَائِشَةُ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ” كُنْتُ لَكِ كَأَبِي زَرْعٍ لأُمِّ زَرْعٍ”
`Aishah then said: “Allah’s Messenger صلى الله عليه و سلم said to me, “I am to you as Abu Zar was to his wife Um Zar.“
[Sahih Al-Bukhari 5189]
Stating a fact, after `Aishah had narrated this “tale of the eleven wives” to him, Allah’s messenger lovingly told her how he was – to her, practically – in the way he brought her happiness, love and joy, exactly the way Abu Zar was to Um Zar.
A husband should express and admit his love for his wife.
To conclude, I’d like to list down, in lieu of the lessons learned from the above hadith, the qualities and characteristics of a husband that contribute towards his wife’s happiness in her married life with him in the long term.
This is by no means an exclusive list etched in stone, because everyone’s circumstances vary according to their individual personalities.
However, this hadith is just too deep and insightful for us to let it go without learning from it to the full, in such a way that we can improve our own married lives in the light of its wisdom. So here goes:
- A husband should work as hard as he can to try to provide for his family abundantly (wife and children first, and then his parents, if they are needy). However, girls should not look specifically towards bagging very rich single guys when considering marriage proposals. What should happen is, that as the family size grows, and the number of years his wife has spent with him in his home add up, a husband should strive to provide for her and his children better. This is but natural. If Allah has blessed a man with a family that fills up his home with merriment and joy, He has also obligated upon him to provide for them as big-heartedly as possible. What happens is, that many married men continue to spend on their parents and siblings even after they have had several children with their wife, keeping her and they in a small bedroom whilst financing the extravagant spending of their biological family first, all under the pretext of the ‘greatness of the parents’ rights in Islam’. Such married men should seek the knowledge of Islam first, to find out how to balance their spending. Do they even know that the wife has more rights on their money than their own biological mother, especially if the latter is self-sufficient (i.e. she doesn’t need their money)?
- A husband should take care of himself: his grooming, clothing and overall appearance. He should smell good and ‘feel’ good. Morning breath, hanging out at home in a ragged old vest with a shalwar underneath (its cord hanging out in plain view), and sporting long, dirty nails are all an abomination, brothers. Your wife deserves better, even if she doesn’t look like the woman you fantasized about as a teenager.
- A husband should never rebuke or scold his wife, even if she shouts at him. That is just the way it is, Mr Qawwaam, like it or not. Did Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم ever shout at his wives, even when he was very angry at them? No, he decided to ignore them and left their company for 29 days when they really angered him once. You have been given superiority over your wife for a reason, sir. Please live up to that responsibility and work hard at your Deen, your persona, your career, and your patience level, instead of just chauvinistically gloating about having a higher status than her.
- A husband should know how to handle a weapon. It is not a coincidence that swords, spears, horses and camels have been mentioned in the descriptions of those husbands whose wives were pleased with them, in the above hadith. A man should be a man. He should be chivalrous, and should know how to take risks and ward off dangers in order to keep his family protected and provided for, comfortably. So, a chivalrous husband would never tell his wife to take her broken-down car to the mechanic to get it fixed while he stays at home watching other women on television, nor would he sleep in while she goes to her doctor’s appointment alone. He rises to the occasion whenever something needs getting done at home, or when repair work or help of any kind is required.
- A happy wife is married to a man who is generous. A husband should be large-hearted towards all, not just his immediate family. Stinginess and miserliness is a big turn-off for a wife.
- A husband should avoid excessive eating and sleeping, and take good care of his mental and physical health. An active lifestyle spent in staying busy doing positive work is a good way of accomplishing this.
I’d like to conclude this post by asking Allah to grant us all the guidance, whether we are husbands, wives, or wannabe spouses, to think, act and behave in a manner, sincerely for His pleasure, which will help us achieve marital success in this world, and the coveted reward of Jannah Al-Firdaus in the next, insha’Allah.
Ladies, before clicking on the “Share” button to send off this blog post to your husband’s email address, please do try to take away lessons from this hadith for your own selves first, as well. 🙂
An edited version of this blog post appears as a chapter in my 13th book, Into the Qur’an.