Speaking personally, during the earlier part of my career my wife has loaned me money at times where otherwise it would been impossible to make ends meet. That’s how marriages work in reality. Bit of give and take, and lots of muddling along!
Finance and Love: What Islam says about finances in a marriage
Islam is a communal religion and aims to create communities that look out for each other. The key building block to creating that outcome is the family, and one of the most important lubricating factors that creates and grows a happy, prosperous family is money and finances.
We regularly see questions such as “how much money should I give my wife?”, “should my wife have a monthly allowance”, “should I be spending money on my wife?” (this one is easy – yes!) or people complaining of financial problems in marriage more generally. Given the focus of these questions, in this article we focus in on the husband-wife relationship.
First I will outline what the financial responsibilities are between husband and wife and then get into the modern practicalities e.g. Should I have a shared bank account? Who pays for the wife’s commuting costs to her job? What standard of living do my children/wife deserve? Who pays for childcare when the wife goes to work?
Husband’s financial responsibilities
The sharia and Islamic scholars are clear that the man has the major (almost exclusive) financial responsibility for his nuclear family. The Prophet said:
“Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and she is responsible for them.” [Muslim/Bukhari]
He has the responsibility to meet
- his children’s needs – even where he gets divorced and the wife takes the children;
- his wife’s needs (including lodging, clothing, food, cosmetics, health etc); and
- where his parents get old, his parent’s needs.
Notice I said “needs” not “wants”. That’s an important consideration. The Qur’an says:
“But the father of the child shall bear the cost of the mother’s food and clothing on a reasonable basis” [al-Baqarah 2:233]
But the Qur’an also says:
“Let the rich man spend according to his means; and the man whose resources are restricted, let him spend according to what Allaah has given him” [al-Talaaq 65:7]
So “reasonableness” is the name of the game here when working out if something is a “need” or a “want”. If the husband is rich and/or is marrying someone from an affluent background, he is naturally going to have to spend some money on the better stuff – the organic local ketchup rather than the Tesco-branded ketchup, for example! But if he runs into financial hardship, then Tesco-branded ketchup will have to do and the wife has to live with it.
The underlying contract laid bare is this: the husband has contracted with his wife (by giving her the dowry) for sexual exclusivity to him. The nikah is very much a contract in Islam and one can add lots of further conditions therein (e.g. husband will pay for education, wife will be allowed to work, the husband is only allowed to marry one wife, the wife has the right to divorce if xyz happens etc). But that is just the form of this deep and loving relationship and I would not advise getting very “legal” about the nikah contract. Quite aside from it making it very difficult for you to get married (imagine turning up with lawyers to meet your future spouse’s parents), it is also not really in the spirit of the religion. For that we look to the Qur’an when it says:
“Men are responsible for women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means” [al-Nisaa’ 4:34]
What this verse is saying (among other things) is that men must look after/protect their wives physically (particularly relevant for more dangerous parts of the world) and financially and are responsible for them. The wife has committed herself to the husband and entrusted herself to him – so that’s the least she deserves.
In fact this is a pretty big deal. So important in fact that the Prophet emphasized the point in his farewell sermon when he said:
“Fear Allah concerning women! Indeed you have taken them on the security of Allah, and intercourse with them has been made lawful unto you by words of Allah. You too have rights over them, and that they should not allow anyone to sit on your bed [i.e., not let them into the house] whom you do not like. But if they do that, you can pull them up on that but not harshly. Their rights upon you are that you should provide them with food and clothing in a fitting manner” (Narrated by Muslim, 1218)
Wife’s financial responsibilities
Well technically the wife has no financial responsibilities to the husband, her children, or maintaining the household. Yes, that’s right – nothing. Not even if she is rich or is working. If the husband is a humble shopkeeper while the wife is a doctor, the husband still has the technical responsibility to support the household on his own.
But the reality is, a successful marriage is not one seen through the prism of contracts and legal rights. In fact, in my experience, spouses who do do that, don’t last together for long. In reality the practice (as opposed to theory) of marriage is this:
“They (your wives) are your garment and you are a garment for them” (Quran 2:187)
That means you each look out for each other, cover up each others’ flaws, and fill in the gaps left by the other.
So it is from the perfection of a wife that she chips in where it feels appropriate, but it is from the perfection of the husband that he doesn’t make her feel like she has to.
The Prophet’s advice to a companion was:
‘Aa’ishah said: “Hind bint ‘Utbah, the wife of Abu Sufyaan, entered upon the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and said, ‘O Messenger of Allaah, Abu Sufyaan is a stingy man who does not spend enough on me and my children, except for what I take from his wealth without his knowledge. Is there any sin on me for doing that?’ The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, ‘Take from his wealth on a reasonable basis, only what is sufficient for you and your children.’” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5049; Muslim, 1714)
So even when a husband is being a bit difficult, the Prophet advised the wife to be reasonable and to keep “sufficiency” in mind.
Its all well and good outlining the responsibility of the husband and the wife but in our 21st century world family patterns have evolved. So here are a few common points of contention/query.
Should I have a shared bank account?
There is no “Islamic” answer to this. It is really upon your convenience. If the wife is a stay-at-home wife, then I would suggest that a shared bank account (into which you pay your salary) would practically make the most sense as that is the common pot from which you will both spend.
Where you both work, then its up to you. With my wife I have both a joint account and separate accounts. She also has a spouse credit card linked to my account. The net effect is, her salary/savings stay in her account and she can spend from that as she pleases, and where she makes any household purchases/food etc. she will pay for it using the credit card (i.e. I will pay for it).
Who pays for the wife’s commuting costs to her job?
This is an interesting question to which there is a rather academic answer and a more practical answer.
The academic answer is that as this is part of the wife’s business (i.e. a pursuit through which she gets remunerated) she should pay for it.
However the practical answer is, given you’ll be paying for the petrol or commute costs for everything else, it probably makes sense not to draw that distinction in such a linear way and the husband should just pay for it – unless the wife is happy to pay.
What standard of living do my children/wife deserve?
Your wife and children deserve a reasonable standard of living, given your financial position. The wife in particular deserves a standard of living at least equal to that which she was used to prior to marriage (unless the husband has flagged to the wife before marriage that times could get hard!).
I recommend a fixed monthly transfer to one’s wife (“pocket money” if you want to call it that) as that enables her to have some freedom in being able to spend without having to always ask the husband. This is particularly the case where you have separate bank accounts.
Who pays for childcare when the wife goes to work?
Again, an interesting question. There are two ways this analysis can run. Either we construe this cost as cost associated with the wife working, or we construe this as part of the husband’s general responsibility to maintain his children. Arguments for the former are that were the wife not to work she would look after the child (and as the hadith on shepherds suggests above, looking after children is primarily the responsibility of the wife). Arguments for the latter are, that the nikah contract is in relation to sexual exclusivity – not childcare. The shepherd hadith specifies guarding the husband’s property and children – and so long as that is achieved the wife has fulfilled her bare responsibility. The wife has not contracted to be the child-minder of the husband’s child.
Again, the pragmatic practicalities of life are slightly removed from the technicalities. In my case I pay for my son’s childcare but my wife gets a voucher from her work and contributes that.
The husband has the financial responsibility for his family in Islam, however a wife, especially one that works, should contribute to the expenses as much as she thinks is appropriate (though she mustn’t feel like she should from her husband’s side). This is particularly so where the husband is relatively less affluent. Speaking personally, during the earlier part of my career my wife has loaned me money at times where otherwise it would been impossible to make ends meet. That’s how marriages work in reality. Bit of give and take, and lots of muddling along!