Q.1. In my husband’s extended family, all married women are required to adopt their husband’s surname, which means that so many of us are called by the same name. I insisted on using my father’s name to indicate who I truly am, but this was met with resentment. Please clarify the Islamic attitude on this point.
Q.2. As for marital relations, we often hear about the wife’s duty, but rarely does anyone speak of her rights. Does she fail in her duty if she becomes uninterested when her husband does not care about her feelings, or for some other reason?
(Name and address withheld)
A.1. In Islam, a woman keeps her own surname after marriage. Adopting the husband’s surname is alien to Islam. You will find that practically no woman in Arab countries adopts her husband’s surname when she is married. In her passport a married woman is given her own name and surname, with an entry showing the name and surname of her husband.
This is to clarify and document their relationship so that it is known when they travel together. This is the proper way from the Islamic point of view.
If some Muslim communities follow the other practice of adopting a husband’s surname, this is either because the law of the land requires that, particularly where Muslims are only a minority, or because the practice is borrowed from other cultures. It is surprising that some people in Muslim countries want to follow the other practice, claiming that it is better, when the Muslim practice is the one which shows greater respect for women. I may point out here that in the West, a divorced woman keeps her former husband’s surname until she marries again when she adopts her new husband’s surname. This is absurd.
A.2. The sexual desire is part of human nature, in both men and women. Islam, which forbids all sexual contact outside the marriage bond, recognizes the importance of satisfying this desire in a legitimate way, within marriage. It makes it a duty of both husband and wife to help each other maintain their chastity, through giving each other sexual satisfaction.
If either of them fails to do so, that person is falling short of meeting an Islamic responsibility. Unfortunately some men think only of their own desire when they approach their wives.
This is wrong because they must think of the other person in this relationship. God says in the Qur’an: “Women shall, in all fairness, enjoy rights similar to those exercised against them.” (2: 228) This statement occurs in the context of regulating the rights and responsibilities of men and women within marriage and its termination by divorce. It stresses the equality of both husband and wife in all respects, within the marital relation.
As Islam forbids all sexual activity outside wedlock, it encourages both spouses to satisfy each other, and to approach such satisfaction in the right manner, including foreplay and flirtation to arouse each other’s desire.
The Prophet makes clear that sexual activity within marriage earns a reward from God. He says: “In satisfying one’s sexual desire there is a reward.” His companions asked: “Messenger of God, how come we get rewarded for satisfying a desire?” He replied: “Do you not see that if you seek such satisfaction in an unlawful way, you incur a punishment? Likewise, when you seek its fulfillment in a lawful way, you earn a reward.” (Related by Muslim)
This shows that, unlike other religious codes, Islam does not attach any stigma to the sexual desire. On the contrary, it makes its legitimate satisfaction a means to earn reward from God. Furthermore, Islam encourages a refined manner in approaching it.
The Prophet says: “Do not fall upon your wife like a camel. Have a go-between that paves the way between you and your spouse.” His companions asked: “What is this go-between?” He replied: “Kisses and whispers.” (Related by Al-Daylami) What is more is that Islam encourages men to make sure that their wives are fully satisfied. The Prophet says: “When you make love to your wife, be honest with her: If you have your orgasm, be patient with her so that she can have hers too.” (Related by Abu Yaala and Al-Sanaani)
All this goes to show that the sexual desire and its satisfaction is a mutual affair between man and wife. Neither should fail in their duty to the other. If they do, this could result in unwelcome repercussions on the marriage itself.
If a husband neglects his wife’s feelings, he risks that she will be uninterested, which could sour relations between them. On the other hand, when he shows that her satisfaction is as important as his own, their marriage will be a lot happier. Having said that, I should add that the failure of either spouse to give such satisfaction is no reason for the other to fail in his or her duty.
Arab News Islam 23 June 2003