Q. I heard that according to Shari'a Law, a husband's mother has rights over his wife. Iím aware of a situation in which a wife is living with an extremely difficult and vindictive mother-in-law. How much does the law allow the mother-in-law to get away with? 

A. In Shari'a, the mother-in-law does not have rights over the wife. This statement goes with a presupposition that is based on a cultural imposition (typically found in much of the Muslim world) that is being forced upon the Qur'an. The filial bond is different to the spousal bond, and for anyone to confuse them is rather problematic. This occurs particularly in cultures where the husband's mother lives with them. In Islam, the wife is called "rabbat al bayt" -- there can be no higher designation than that. There are numerous hadith about filial duty, and the Qur'an's exhortations about oneís duty to parents talks about not saying "uf" to them, i.e., words of rebuke. This means that they are to be treated kindly. But the Qur'an also talks about wives being the garments of their husbands, and husbands being the garments of their wives. That is an imagery that denotes the closeness of the spouses. The Qur'an tells us the story of Adam and his spouse (Eve), not of Abel and Eve, or Cain and Eve. In 4:1 and 30:21, the Qur'an tells us about spousal relationships. If there is a situation where the mother-in-law is trying to lord it over the daughter-in-law, then this ought to indicate that the daughter-in-law is being treated as a servant, not as a wife. This is absolutely against Islam. A wife ought to treat her husband's mother with respect, but when all is said and done, a marriage and family starts with a husband and wife, not a husband and his mother.

Posted October 5, 2012