We recently had a personal finance/relationship query from a reader and we thought it might be helpful (with the questioner’s permission) to share our responses more publicly.
There are some important themes touched upon in this query and a number of readers have got in touch in recent months with similar questions.
We have broken the query into three sections to bring out the different themes. This article is a practical example of a lot of the themes we theoretically discuss in a prior article. As we’re not relationship counsellors we focus our response primarily on the personal finance aspects.
1. Husband Balancing Between Parents and Wife
Question: “I need advice about financial duties in Islam. Me and my husband have been having this conversation since we have married,. My husband is working and financially supporting his mother. I am working too and I financially contribute towards half of our households expenses. He contributes towards the other half of our household expenses. He would not be able to contribute more or support me in any way financially due to the commitments he made to his mother before we got married. His contributions extend to wants and not just needs and in my view are unfair. He refuses to make any changes, even though his responsibilities have now changed since he now has a family of his own.”
It is not technically the wife’s responsibility to earn money for the family, but to the extent that she does, she will gain reward for what she does as this is going above and beyond. As the hadith puts it:
“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]
Having said that, if the wife is working and has chosen to have a career, we would generally recommend that it would make sense to handle at least some of the household costs as a gesture of goodwill. We wouldn’t typically expect this to be a 50-50 split, though it really does just depend on the individual circumstances. Many couples will have a 50/50 approach, particularly if the wife is earning similar or better money than the husband which is an entirely common scenario. The bottom line is that it’s not the wife’s responsibility per se, but there is also a layer of common sense that needs to come into play.
Son’s financial obligations to parents
If the husband is the only son of his mother and the father is no longer with them, then it is the son’s responsibility to look after his mother. But otherwise, it is either the responsibility of the father or, in his absence, the joint responsibility of the siblings (the sons in particular).
Scholars often quote the following verse as informing the thinking here: “Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour.” [Qur’an 17:23]
Needs vs. Wants
The husband’s contributions should prioritise meeting his mother’s and the wife’s needs first and foremost. But if he can meet both parties’ needs and then there is some spare, then he can meet wants as well for either party in a fair manner. What he shouldn’t do is favour one of the parties over the other.
Ibn Qudaamah writes in Al-Mughni, “the scholars unanimously agreed that the children are obliged to provide for their poor parents who have no source of income or wealth.” He also underlined, “The child who is obliged to provide for his poor parents is the one who has surplus income or wealth in excess of his essential needs; otherwise, he is not obliged to support them financially.”
2. Some Practical Solutions
Question: “He supports his mother with an allowance, while she also receives state funds. The state funds are themselves enough for her needs. He pays for medical requirements additionally and luxuries separately as well.”
The husband must be careful to be fair between his equal obligations to look after his parent(s) and his wife and children. In this particular case it appears the husband is likely meeting the needs of both but is not necessarily spending additional money on the wife and children and is instead opting to spend on the mother. The Qur’an has some useful guidance on this:
And [they are] those who, when they spend, do so not excessively or sparingly but are ever, between that, [justly] moderate [25:67]
So what to do? Ordinarily, a sensible chat with the husband makes sense.
Alternatively, if the wife has a good relationship with the mother-in-law – it might be an idea to have a chat and see if clear communication between them might resolve matters.
Positive joint narrative
A possible way to get the husband (or wife) to take stock of the situation is to help them to understand your vision of the future. Perhaps the spouses can jointly take our Halal Investing Course or use our free Investment Checklist and come up with joint plans. The positive process of doing that might be a good way to bring about change.
The bond of a mother and son is a particularly unique one, so whilst all the Islamic obligations mentioned above do apply, some leeway is beneficial. In all likelihood, as the question of children, savings, etc come up in the son’s own marriage, he will understand the need to reduce his financial commitments to his mother.
3. Money Conversations before Marriage
Question: “My husband only told me about the basic allowance to his mother and nothing else. Since being married I discovered that his contributions with all the add-ons is double the amount he discussed with me before marriage. I didn’t agree to this and I don’t think it is fair.”
We appreciate this must be frustrating for a spouse that feels they have been misled.
But as a counterpointo this, things are always slightly vague before marriage. It’s often hard to get really into specifics for how life will look in 5-50 years’ time. Because lives change and circumstances evolve.
Things to discuss
It is a helpful exercise when those who are not yet married, are meeting someone for marriage, to think about an average monthly family cash flow and think about who will pay what. You might even consider talking through a few simple scenarios with your spouse-to-be when you meet.
Ultimately though, nothing very definitive should be expected but the exercise should be helpful in giving you a sense of your spouse-to-be in terms of where they see the financial duties and obligations to lie.
It also helps you to get a sense of how the other person think and deals with finances.
There are of course hard promises and red lines that you can pre-agree with your spouse before you get married (e.g. “I will continue my career and you must support me with that” and “I am only marrying you on the firm commitment from you that you won’t marry a second wife”) – those shouldn’t be compromised and you may (depending on dynamics) consider getting these commitments written down and formally agreed by both sides.
Once you are married and find out that a handful of niggly things are a little different, we wouldn’t pick on those points and make a big deal of them.
Should I raise it with my spouse?
How do you know an issue is small and niggly or large and important? If the issue goes to the heart of one spouses obligations to the other (e.g. they cannot have children, or are financially in a materially different position to what they said they were, or they have a previous marriage with children) then that definitely needs a conversation.
As Muslims we believe God created everything as a test for us to become the best version of ourselves possible. Marriage is particularly high value test. Lots of marks are up for grabs to be gained or lost. That’s why shaytan take a particularly keen interest:
“Iblis places his throne upon water; he then sends detachments (for creating dissension) ; the nearer to him in rank are those who are most notorious in creating dissension. One of them comes and says: “I did so and so.” And he says: “You have done nothing.” Then one amongst them comes and says: “I did not spare so and so until I sowed the seed of discord between a husband and a wife.” The Satan goes near him and says: “You have done well.” A’mash said: He then embraces him.” [Sahih Muslim]
So we must try our best to make our home environments such that our marriages are sustainable in the long run. Finances are just one facet of this complex and beautiful relationship but an important one to get right as it has a significant bearing on long-term happiness and prosperity of a family.