I don’t blame Kate Middleton for choosing to omit the word ‘obey’ from her upcoming marriage vows. The bride-to-be will only promise to love and cherish her husband for the rest of their lives together. After all, why should a modern woman in the 21st century be forced to accept an injunction conjured by a male mortal nearly 500 years ago?
The answer lies in the question – a law invented and imposed by a human being. During the 16th century, Thomas Cranmer, an archbishop of Canterbury, wrote and compiled the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer, a complete liturgy for the English Church. It contained, among other words of worship, the orders for conducting marriage services. The use of that book was made compulsory as soon as it was written. Many revisions and editions of that book were made and since 1662 the Book of Common Prayers commanded all brides to vow to ‘love, cherish & obey’ their husbands for the rest of their lives.
Since its commandment is by an ordinary man (i.e. 16th century archbishop), even the present-day archbishop (Rowan Williams) takes a dig at the nuptial vows by calling them ‘outdated & sexist’. Not only that, but his religious council stated that ‘a promise to obey was in the past part of different standards and expectations of women and men within marriage, for example the fact that women had no standing in law until 1926.’
This is why I don’t fault Ms. Princess-to-be for her rejection of ‘obedience’ as part of a matrimonial clause. If I was in her place, I’d question it too.
However, alhumdullilah, I’m not in her place and I will not question obedience as an injunction. Simply because I’m not taking orders from an ordinary man – a mortal human being. The Islamic injunction of obedience to husband is commanded by Allah, the Lord of all creation.
“…the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and to their husbands), and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband’s property, etc.)…” *1
And Allah commands HIS prophet to further stress on this characteristic when describing the qualities of the best woman in the following words:
“The one who makes (her husband) happy when he looks at her, obeys him when he tells her to do something, and does not disobey him with regard to herself or her wealth in a way that he dislikes.” *2
This is why the concept of obedience to husband in Christianity or other religions is very different from that of Islam. Muslim women obey their husbands in obedience and submission to their Lord’s command. Plain and simple. This is why this command is not up for questioning, debate, modification, revision, or abrogation.
A wise advice to women is given at the time of their marriage: “Obey your husband to please God, not because he IS your god”.
Obedience comes with clause
However, this obedience is not absolute. A woman is not required or expected to blindly comply with her husband’s wishes if they go against the orders of Allah & His Messenger. “There is no obedience to a created being if it involves disobedience of the Creator.” *3
The natural inclination and disposition of human beings do not change with time, hence basic expectations remain the same. A man’s innate need to be respected and a woman’s to be cherished in a relationship does not fade with the passage of centuries. The order and balance that are required to nurture a family and run a household as one harmonious social unit are universal. Just as marriage and family have existed in the past, the dynamics of successful matrimonial relationships haven’t changed with social evolution.
Do we wonder or ask why a mother is chosen over a father by Allah for the highest status and honor? And not just chosen, but preferred three times over the father in terms of rights, obedience, and good treatment. We don’t question HIS Wisdom there because we can see some of that wisdom and reason. However, we can’t see HIS wisdom in the case of preferring a husband over a wife for superior rights and position within a family. Men and women being so different and having diverse roles and experiences simply cannot completely comprehend the trials faced by the other in carrying out his/her roles. This is why Allah, who is the most Appreciative, has honored the roles that include the most trials & greater responsibilities with a preferred status in this world – woman from father & mother and man from husband & wife.
To the secular-inspired ears, perhaps, the words like ‘obedience’, ‘marriage’, ‘husband’ & ‘wife’ in a single sentence might sound archaic if not blasphemous. However, if one wishes to truly submit, it’s easy to accept this command by just tweaking one’s viewing lens – every person should see his or her standing and status in relation to Allah, instead of others. “And wish not for the things in which Allâh has made some of you to excel others. For men there is reward for what they have earned, (and likewise) for women there is reward for what they have earned, and ask Allah of His Bounty. Surely, Allâh is Ever All Knower of everything.” *4 Submission will become easier inshaAllah.
Obedience leads to dull marriage?
There is a notion among some segments of society that an obedient wife is equal to a dull, boring, and mousey woman, which in turn means a dreary and lackluster married life. This impression is far from the truth (unless a spouse actually happens to be a dull & boring character!). In a household upholding the limits of Allah, there is still room for those occasional disagreements, passionate debates, emotional outbursts, giddy challenges, silly humor, stimulating competitions, pretentious moods, silent treatments, and those ardent expressions of upsets and affection – hardly a picture of matrimonial monotony. Ask the man of such a house about his wife, and he will happily describe her as ‘obedient’.