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Marriage in Islam
In Islam, marriage is a blessed contract between a man and a woman, in which each becomes "permitted" to the other, and they begin the long journey of life in a spirit of love, co-operation, harmony and tolerance, where each feels at ease with the other, and finds tranquillity, contentment and comfort in the company of the other. The Qur'an has described this relationship between men and women, which brings love, harmony, trust and compassion, in the most moving and eloquent terms:
The righteous woman is the pillar, cornerstone and foundation of the Muslim family. She is seen as the greatest joy in a man's life, as the Prophet (PBUH) said:
How can a woman be the best comfort in this world? How can she be a successful woman, true to her own femininity, and honoured and loved? This is what will be explained in the following pages:
She chooses a good husband
One of the ways in which Islam has honoured woman is by giving her the right to choose her husband. Her parents have no right to force her to marry someone she dislikes. The Muslim woman knows this right, but she does not reject the advice and guidance of her parents when a potential suitor comes along, because they have her best interests at heart, and they have more experience of life and people. At the same time, she does not forego this right because of her father's wishes that may make him force his daughter into a marriage with someone she dislikes.
There are many texts that support the woman in this sensitive issue, for example the report quoted by Imam Bukhari from al-Khansa' bint Khidam:
Islam does not want to impose an unbearable burden on women by forcing them to marry a man they dislike, because it wants marriages to be successful, based on compatibility between the partners; there should be common ground between them in terms of physical looks, attitudes, habits, inclinations and aspirations. If something goes wrong, and the woman feels that she cannot love her husband sincerely, and fears that she may commit the sin of disobeying and opposing this husband whom she does not love, then she may ask for a divorce. This is confirmed by the report in which the wife of Thabit ibn Qays ibn Shammas, Jamilah the sister of `Abdullah ibn Ubayy, came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said: "O Messenger of Allah, I have nothing against Thabit ibn Qays as regards his religion or his behaviour, but I hate to commit any act of kufr when I am a Muslim. The Prophet (PBUH) said: "Will you give his garden back to him?" - her mahr had been a garden. She said, "Yes." So the Messenger of Allah sent word to him: "Take back your garden, and give her one pronouncement of divorce."3
There is no clearer indication of this than the story of Barirah, an Ethiopian slave-girl who belonged to `Utbah ibn Abu Lahab, who forced her to marry another slave whose name was Mughith. She would never have accepted him as a husband if she had been in control of her own affairs. `A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) took pity on her, so she bought her and set her free. Then this young woman felt that she was free and in control of her own affairs, and that she could take a decision about her marriage. She asked her husband for a divorce. Her husband used to follow her, weeping, whilst she rejected him. Bukhari quotes Ibn `Abbas describing this freed woman who insisted on the annulment of her marriage to someone she did not love; the big-hearted Prophet (PBUH) commented on this moving sight, and sought to intervene.
Ibn `Abbas said:
Let those stubborn, hard-hearted fathers who oppress their own daughters listen to the teaching of the Prophet (PBUH)!
The Muslim woman who understands the teachings of her religion has wise and correct standards when it comes to choosing a husband. She does not concern herself just with good looks, high status, a luxurious lifestyle or any of the other things that usually attract women. She looks into his level of religious commitment and his attitude and behaviour, because these are the pillars of a successful marriage, and the best features of a husband. Islamic teaching indicates the importance of these qualities in a potential husband, as Islam obliges a woman to accept the proposal of anyone who has these qualities, lest fitnah and corruption become widespread in society:
The Muslim woman knows that the man has the right of qiwamah over her, as the Qur'an says:
Among the great Muslim women who are known for their strength of character, lofty aspirations and far-sightedness in their choice of a husband is Umm Sulaym bint Milhan, who was one of the first Ansar women to embrace Islam. She was married to Malik ibn Nadar, and bore him a son, Anas. When she embraced Islam, her husband Malik was angry with her, and left her, but she persisted in her Islam. Shortly afterwards, she heard the news of his death, and she was still in the flower of her youth. She bore it all with the hope of reward, for the sake of Allah (SWT), and devoted herself to taking care of her ten-year-old son Anas. She took him to the Prophet (PBUH), so that he could serve him (and learn from him).
One of the best young men of Madinah, one of the best-looking, richest and strongest, came to seek her hand in marriage. This was Abu Talhah - before he became Muslim. Many of the young women of Yathrib liked him because of his wealth, strength and youthful good looks, and he thought that Umm Sulaym would joyfully rush to accept his offer. But to his astonishment, she told him, "O Abu Talhah, do you not know that your god whom you worship is just a tree that grew in the ground and was carved into shape by the slave of Banu so-and-so." He said, "Of course." She said, "Do you not feel ashamed to prostrate yourself to a piece of wood that grew in the ground and was carved by the slave of Banu so-and-so?" Abu Talhah was stubborn, and hinted to her of an expensive dowry and luxurious lifestyle, but she persisted in her point of view, and told him frankly: "O Abu Talhah, a man like you could not be turned away, but you are a disbelieving man, and I am a Muslim woman. It is not permitted for me to marry you, but if you were to embrace Islam, that would be my dowry (mahr), and I would ask you for nothing more."6
He returned the following day to try to tempt her with a larger dowry and more generous gift, but she stood firm, and her persistance and maturity only enhanced her beauty in his eyes. She said to him, "O Abu Talhah, do you not know that your god whom you worship was carved by the carpenter slave of so-and-so? If you were to set it alight, it would burn." Her words came as a shock to Abu Talhah, and he asked himself, Does the Lord burn? Then he uttered the words: "Ashhadu an la ilaha ill-Allah wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasul-Allah."
Then Umm Sulaym said to her son Anas, with joy flooding her entire being, "O Anas, marry me to Abu Talhah." So Anas brought witnesses and the marriage was solemnized.
Abu Talhah was so happy that he was determined to put all his wealth at Umm Sulaym's disposal, but hers was the attitude of the selfless, proud, sincere believing woman. She told him, "O Abu Talhah, I married you for the sake of Allah (SWT), and I will not take any other dowry." She knew that when Abu Talhah embraced Islam, she did not only win herself a worthy husband, but she also earned a reward from Allah (SWT) that was better than owning red camels (the most highly-prized kind) in this world, as she had heard the Prophet (PBUH) say:
She is obedient to her husband
and shows him respect
The true Muslim woman is always obedient to her husband, provided that no sin is involved. She is respectful towards him and is always eager to please him and make him happy. If he is poor, she does not complain about his being unable to spend much. She does not complain about her housework, because she remembers that many of the virtuous women in Islamic history set an example of patience, goodness and a positive attitude in serving their husbands and taking care of their homes despite the poverty and hardships they faced. One of the foremost of these exemplary wives is Fatimah al-Zahra', the daughter of Muhammad (PBUH) and the wife of `Ali ibn Abi Talib (RAA). She used to complain of the pain in her hands caused by grinding grain with the hand-mill. Her husband `Ali ibn Abi Talib said to her one day, "Your father has brought some female slaves, so go and ask him for one of them to come and serve you." She went to her father, but she felt too shy to ask him for what she wanted. `Ali went and asked him to provide a servant for his beloved daughter, but the Prophet (PBUH) could not respond to those who most dear to him whilst ignoring the needs of the poor among the Muslims, so he came to his daughter and her husband and said: "Shall I not teach you something that is better than that for which you asked me? When you go to bed at night, say `Subhan Allah' thirty-three times, `Al-hamdu lillah' thirty-three times, and `Allahu akbar' thirty-four times. This is better for you than a servant."
Then he bid them farewell and left, after inin them this divine help which would make them forget their tiredness and help them to overcome their exhaustion.
`A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) asked the Messenger of Allah (PBUH): "Who has the greatest rights over a woman?" He said, "Her husband." She asked, `And who has the greatest rights over a man?" He said, "His mother."12
A woman came to ask the Prophet (PBUH) about some matter, and when he
had dealt with it, he asked her, "Do you have a husband?" She said, "Yes."
He asked her, "How are you with him?" She said, "I never fall short in
my duties, except for that which is beyond me." He said, "Pay attention
to how you treat him, for he is your Paradise and your Hell."13
The Sahabah, may Allah (SWT) be pleased with them, and those who followed them understood this Islamic teaching and transmitted it from the Prophet (PBUH). When a bride was prepared for marriage, she would be told to serve her husband and take care of his rights. Thus the Muslim woman knew her duties towards her husband, and down through the ages caring for her husband and being a good wife were established womanly attributes. One example of this is what was said by the faqih al-Hanbali ibn al-Jawzi in his book Ahkam al-Nisa' (p. 331): In the second century AH there was a righteous man called Shu`ayb ibn Harb, who used to fast and spend his nights in prayer. He wanted to marry a woman, and told her humbly, "I am a bad-tempered man." She replied, tactfully and cleverly, "The one who makes you lose your temper is worse than you." He realized that there stood before him a woman who was intelligent, wise and mature. He immediately said to her, "You will be my wife."
This woman had a clear understanding of how to be a good wife, which confirmed to the man who had come to seek her hand that she was a woman who would understand the psychology and nature of her husband and would know what would please him and what would make him angry; she would be able to win his heart and earn his admiration and respect, and would close the door to every possible source of conflict that could disrupt their married life. The woman who does not understand these realities does not deserve to be a successful wife; through her ignorance and shortcomings she may provoke her husband to lose his temper, in which case, she would be worse than him, for being the direct cause of his anger.
The tactful Muslim woman is never like this. She helps her husband to be of good character, by displaying different types of intelligence, cleverness and alertness in the way she deals with him. This opens his heart to her and makes him fond of her, because being a good wife is a not only a quality that she may boast about among her friends, but it is also a religious obligation for which Allah (SWT) will call her to account: if she has done well, she will be rewarded, but if she has fallen short she will have to pay the penalty.
One of the most important ways in which the Muslim woman obeys her husband is by respecting his wishes with regard to the permissible pleasures of daily life, such as social visits, food, dress, speech, etc. The more she responds to his wishes in such matters, the happier and more enjoyable the couple's life becomes, and the closer it is to the spirit and teachings of Islam.
The Muslim woman does not forget that her obedience to her husband is one of the things that may lead her to Paradise, as the Prophet (PBUH) said:
Bukhari and Muslim report from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet (PBUH) said:
In one of these hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) said:
Mutual understanding and harmony between husband and wife cannot be achieved unless there is understanding between them on such matters, so that neither of them will fall into such errors and troubles as may damage the marriage which Islam has built on a basis of love and mercy, and sought to maintain its purity, care and harmony.
If the husband is a miser, and spends too little on her and her children, then she is allowed to spend as much as she needs from his wealth on herself and her children, in moderation, without his knowledge. The Prophet (PBUH) stated this to Hind bint `Utbah, the wife of Abu Sufyan, when she came to him and said, "O Messenger of Allah, Abu Sufyan is a stingy man. What he gives me is not enough for me and my child, unless I take from him without his knowledge." He told her, "Take what is enough for you and your child, in moderation."27 Thus Islam has made women responsible for good conduct in their running of the household affairs.
The Muslim woman understands the responsibility that Islam has given her, to take care of her husband's house and children by making her a "shepherd" over her husband's house and children. She has been specifically reminded of this responsibility in recognition of her role, in the hadith in which the Prophet (PBUH) made every individual in the Islamic society responsible for those under his or her authority in such a way that no-one, man or woman, may evade responsibility:
It is a great honour for a woman to take care of her husband every morning and evening, and wherever he goes, treating him with gentleness and good manners which will fill his life with joy, tranquillity and stability. Muslim women have the best example in `A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her), who used to accompany the Prophet (PBUH) on Hajj, surrounding him with her care, putting perfume on him with her own hands before he entered ihram, and after he finished his ihram, before he performed tawaf al-ifadah.30 She chose for him the best perfume that she could find. This is stated in a number of sahih hadith reported by Bukhari and Muslim, for example:
"I applied perfume to the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) with these two hands of mine when he entered ihram and when he concluded it, before he performed tawaf," - and she spread her hands.32
When the Prophet (PBUH) was in seclusion (i`tikaf), he would lean his head towards `A'ishah, and she would comb and wash his hair. Bukhari and Muslim both report this in sahih hadith narrated from `A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her), such as:
"When the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) was in i`tikaf, he inclined his head towards me and I combed his hair, and he did not enter the house except to answer the call of nature."35
"I used to wash the Prophet's head when I was menstruating."36
This is a vivid expression of the importance of the husband's rights over his wife. `A'ishah wanted to bring this to women's attention, so as to remove from the hearts of arrogant and stubborn women all those harsh, obstinate feelings that all too often destroy a marriage and turn it into a living hell.
Honouring and respecting one's husband is one of the characteristic attitudes of this ummah. It is one of the good manners known at the time of jahiliyyah that were endorsed by Islam and perpetuated by the Arabs after they embraced Islam. Our Arab heritage is filled with texts that eloquently describe the advice given by mothers to their daughters, to care for, honour and respect their husbands; these texts may be regarded as invaluable social documents.
One of the most famous and most beautiful of these texts was recorded by `Abd al-Malik ibn `Umayr al-Qurashi, who was one of the outstanding scholars of the second century AH. He quotes the words of advice given by Umamah bint al-Harith, one of the most eloquent and learned women, who was possessed of wisdom and great maturity, to her daughter on the eve of her marriage. These beautiful words deserve to be inscribed in golden ink.
`Abd al-Malik said: "When `Awf ibn Muhallim al-Shaybani, one of the most highly respected leaders of the Arab nobility during the jahiliyyah, married his daughter Umm Iyas to al-Harith ibn `Amr al-Kindi, she was made ready to be taken to the groom, then her mother Umamah came in to her, to advise her, and said:
`O my daughter, if it were deemed unnecessary to give you this advice because of good manners and noble descent, then it would have been unnecessary for you, because you possess these qualities, but it will serve as a reminder to those who are forgetful, and will help those who are wise.
`O my daughter, if a woman were able to do without a husband by virtue of her father's wealth and her need for her father, then you of all people would be most able to do without a husband, but women were created for men just as men were created for them.
`O my daughter, you are about to leave the home in which you grew up, where you first learned to walk, to go to a place you do not know, to a companion with whom you are unfamiliar. By marrying you he has become a master over you, so be like a servant to him, and he will become like a servant to you.
`Take from me ten qualities, which will be a provision and a reminder for you.
`The first and second of them are: be content in his company, and listen to and obey him, for contentment brings peace of mind, and listening to and obeying one's husband pleases Allah.
`The third and fourth of them are: make sure that you smell good and look good; he should not see anything ugly in you, and he should not smell anything but a pleasant smell from you. Kohl is the best kind of beautification to be found, and water is better than the rarest perfume.
`The fifth and the sixth of them are: prepare his food on time, and keep quiet when he is asleep, for raging hunger is like a burning flame, and disturbing his sleep will make him angry.
`The seventh and eighth of them are: take care of his servants (or employees) and children, and take care of his wealth, for taking care of his wealth shows that you appreciate him, and taking care of his children and servants shows good management.
`The ninth and tenth of them are: never disclose any of his secrets, and never disobey any of his orders, for if you disclose any of his secrets you will never feel safe from his possible betrayal, and if you disobey him, his heart will be filled with hatred towards you.
`Be careful, O my daughter, of showing joy in front of him when he is upset, and do not show sorrow in front of him when he is happy, because the former shows a lack of judgement, whilst the latter will make him unhappy.
`Show him as much honour and respect as you can, and agree with him as much as you can, so that he will enjoy your companionship and conversation.
`Know, O my daughter, that you will not achieve what you would like to until you put his pleasure before your own, and his wishes before yours, in whatever you like and dislike. And may Allah (SWT) choose what is best for you and protect you.'"38
She was taken to her husband, and the marriage was a great success; she gave birth to kings who ruled after him.
This advice clearly included everything that one could think of as regards the good manners that a young girl needs to know about in order to treat her husband properly and be a suitable companion for him. The words of this wise mother deserve to be taken as the standard for every young girl who is about to get married.
If she is rich, the true Muslim woman does not let her wealth and financial independence make her blind to the importance of respecting her husband's rights over her. She still takes care of him and honours him, no matter how rich she is or may become. She knows that she is obliged to show gratitude to Allah for the blessings He has bestowed upon her, so she increases her charitable giving for the sake of Allah. The first person to whom she should give generously is her own husband, if he is poor; in this case she will receive two rewards, one for taking care of a family member, and another for giving charity, as the Prophet (PBUH) stated in the hadith narrated by Zaynab al-Thaqafiyyah, the wife of `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud (RAA):
According to another report given by Bukhari, he said, "because they are ungrateful for good and kind treatment. Even if you treated one of them (these ungrateful women) well for an entire lifetime, then she saw one fault in you, she would say, `I have never seen anything good from you!'"42
According to a report given by Ahmad, a man said, "O Messenger of Allah,
are they not our mothers and sisters and wives?" He said, "Of course, but
when they are treated generously they are ungrateful, and when they are
tested, they do not have patience."43
Muslim women's history is full of stories which reflect this loyalty and recognition of the good qualities of the husband. One of these stories is that of Asma' bint `Umays, who was one of the greatest women in Islam, and one of the first women to migrate to Madinah. She was married to Ja`far ibn Abi Talib, then to Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, then to `Ali, may Allah be pleased with them all. On one occasion, her two sons Muhammad ibn Ja`far and Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr were competing with one another, each of them saying. "I am better than you, and my father is better than your father." `Ali said to her, "Judge between them, O Asma'." She said, "I have never seen a young man among the Arabs who was better than Ja`far, and I have never seen a mature man who was better than Abu Bakr." `Ali said, "You have not left anything for me. If you had said anything other than what you have said, I would have hated you!" Asma' said: "These are the best three, and you are one of them even if you are the least of them."44
What a clever and eloquent answer this wise woman gave! She gave each of her three husbands the respect he deserved, and pleased `Ali, even though he was the least of them, because she included all of them in that group of the best.
She treats his mother and family
with kindness and respect
One of the ways in which a wife expresses her respect towards her husband is by honouring and respecting his mother.
The Muslim woman who truly understands the teachings of her religion knows that the person who has the greatest right over a man is his mother, as we have seen in the hadith of `A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) quoted above. So she helps him to honour and respect his mother, by also honouring and respecting her. In this way she will do herself and her husband a favour, as she will helping him to do good deeds and fear Allah (SWT), as commanded by the Qur'an. At the same time, she will endear herself to her husband, who will appreciate her honour and respect towards his family in general, and towards his mother in particular. Nothing could please a decent, righteous and respectful man more than seeing strong ties of love and respect between his wife and his family, and nothing could be more hateful to a decent man than to see those ties destroyed by the forces of evil, hatred and conspiracy. The Muslim family which is guided by faith in Allah (SWT) and follows the pure teachings of Islam is unlikely to fall into the trap of such jahili behaviour, which usually flourishes in an environment that is far removed from the true teachings of this religion.
A Muslim wife may find herself being tested by her mother-in-law and other in-laws, if they are not of good character. If such is the case, she is obliged to treat them in the best way possible, which requires a great deal of cleverness, courtesy, diplomacy and repelling evil with that which is better. Thus she will maintain a balance between her relationship with her in-laws and her relationship with her husband, and she will protect herself and her marriage from any adverse effects that may result from the lack of such a balance.
The Muslim woman should never think that she is the only one who is required to be a good and caring companion to her spouse, and that nothing similar is required of her husband or that there is nothing wrong with him mistreating her or failing to fulfil some of the responsibilities of marriage. Islam has regulated the marital relationship by giving each partner both rights and duties. The wife's duties of honouring and taking care of her husband are balanced by the rights that she has over him, which are that he should protect her honour and dignity from all kinds of mockery, humiliation, trials or oppression. These rights of the wife comprise the husband's duties towards her: he is obliged to honour them and fulfil them as completely as possible.
One of the Muslim husband's duties is to fulfil his role of qawwam (maintainer and protector) properly. This is a role that can only be properly fulfilled by a man who is a successful leader in his home and family, one who possesses likeable masculine qualities. Such a man has a noble and worthy attitude, is tolerant, overlooks minor errors, is in control of his married life, and is generous without being extravagant. He respects his wife's feelings and makes her feel that she shares the responsibility of running the household affairs, bringing up the children, and working with him to build a sound Muslim family, as Islam wants it to be.
She endears herself to her husband
and is keen to please him
The true Muslim woman is always keen to win her husband's love and to please him. Nothing should spoil his happiness or enjoyment of life. So she speaks kind words to him, and refrains from saying anything hurtful or upsetting. She brings him good news, but she keeps bad news from him as much as she can, or postpones telling it until a more suitable time when it will not upset him so much. If she finds that she has no alternative but to tell him upsetting news, she looks for the most suitable way to convey it, so that the blow will not be so hard on him. This is the wise approach and good conduct of the clever woman, but it is very difficult to attain and only a very few virtuous women ever do so.
One of those who did reach this high level was the great Muslim woman Umm Sulaym bint Milhan, the wife of Abu Talhah al-Ansari. Her son passed away whilst Abu Talhah was travelling, and her attitude was so unique that if Imam Muslim had not reported this story we would have taken it to be a mere myth. Let us hear her son Anas ibn Malik tell the story of his remarkable mother and her unattitude:
Allah (SWT) answered the Prophet's prayer for Umm Sulaym and her husband, and she became pregnant from that night. When she was heavily pregnant, she saw her husband Abu Talhah preparing to set out on another military campaign with the Messenger of Allah (PBUH). She insisted on partaking of the honour of jihad with him alongside the Messenger of Allah (PBUH), even though she was in the later stages of pregnancy. Her husband took pity on her because of the difficulties of the journey and the heat of the desert, but he still asked the Prophet (PBUH) for permission to let her come with him, and he gave his permission because he knew her strength of character and love of jihad.
Umm Sulaym was present when the Muslims were triumphant at Makkah, and when they were sorely tested at Hunayn. She stood firm, as solid as a rock, alongside her husband and the small group of believers around the Prophet (PBUH), even though she was pregnant, at that most difficult time when many others had fled, and she remained there until Allah (SWT) brought victory to the believers.
The mujahid army returned to Madinah, and her labour began. When the pains became intense, she and her husband stayed behind for a while, but her husband prayed to his Lord in the still of night becasue he loved to go out and return with the Prophet (PBUH). Suddenly the pains ceased; she told her husband and they set out to follow the army that had gone on ahead. They caught up with them, and after they had entered Madinah, Umm Sulaym's labour pains began anew. She gave birth to a boy, and his brother on his mother's side, Anas, brought him to the Prophet (PBUH), who fed him a small amount of dates (tahnik) and named him `Abdullah. The prayer of the Prophet (PBUH) for this baby was fulfilled, as among his descendents were ten great scholars.
No doubt Allah (SWT) knew the sincerity of Umm Sulaym's faith, and conveyed the good news of Paradise to her via His Prophet (PBUH):
Another example of the ways in which a wife may endear herself to her
husband is the way in which `A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) spoke
to the Prophet (PBUH) when he came back to his wives after he had kept
away from them for a month. He had said, "I will not go in to them for
a month," because he was so angry with them. When twenty-nine days had
passed, he came to `A'ishah first. `A'ishah said to him, `You swore to
stay away from us for a month, and only twenty-nine days have passed; I
have been counting them." The Prophet (PBUH) said, "This month has twenty-nine
days." That particular month had only twenty-nine days.47
The sincere Muslim woman recognizes her husband's likes and habits, and tries to accommodate them as much as she can, in the interests of mutual understanding and marital harmony, and to protect the marriage from the boredom of routine. This is what every wise and intelligent wife does. It was narrated that the qadi and faqih Shurayh married a woman from Banu Hanzalah. On their wedding night, each of them prayed two rak`ahs and asked Allah (SWT) to bless them. Then the bride turned to Shurayh and said, "I am a stranger, and I do not not know much about you. Tell me what you like, and I will do it, and tell me what you do not like so I may avoid it." Shurayh said, "She stayed with me for twenty years, and I never had to tell her off for anything, except on one occasion, and I was in the wrong then."
This is the respectful and loving wife as Islam wants her to be, responsible for her home and loyal to her husband, and always careful to maintain a good relationship between them. If anything happens to upset their marriage, she hastens to calm the situation with her sincere love and wise understanding. She does not listen to the whispering of the Shaytan which calls her to do wrong, and she never hastens to ask her husband for a divorce. The marriage bond should be too strong to be undone by temporary arguments or occasional misunderstandings. The Prophet (PBUH) warned those foolish women who ask their husbands for a divorce with no legitimate reason that they would be denied even the scent of Paradise:
The chaste Muslim woman does not disclose her husband's secrets, and does not talk to anyone about whatever secrets and other matters there may be between him and her. The serious Muslim woman is above that; she would never sink to the level of such cheap and shameless talk as goes on amongst the lowest type of people. Her time is too precious to be wasted in such vulgar behaviour. She would never accept for herself to be counted as one of those people whom the Prophet (PBUH) described as one of the worst types:
The Sahabah, may Allah (SWT) be pleased with them, understood that the Prophet's life was entirely devoted to Allah (SWT) and His message, so why should they keep secret or conceal any aspect of his life? The stories that have been narrated about his life, his household and his wives represent a practical application of the words he preached, and for this reason, the Sahabah (may Allah reward them with all good) transmitted the most precise details of his life, and did not fail to record any aspect of his daily life, whether it was major or minor. This is part of the way in which Allah (SWT) caused the life of his Prophet to be recorded, including details of the precise way in which Islamic teachings were applied in his life. This is in addition to the Qur'anic references to the Prophet's life, which form a record that will remain until heaven and earth pass away.
She stands by him and offers her advice
One of the laws that Allah (SWT) has decreed for this life is that men and women should work together to cultivate and populate the earth and run the affairs of life therein. Man cannot do without woman, and vice versa. Hence the laws of Islam teach men and women to co-operate in all matters. Islam encourages a man to help his wife, as much as he is able; the Prophet (PBUH), who is the example for all Muslims, used to help and serve his family until he went out to pray, as the Mother of the Believers `A'ishah said.51
Just as Islam expects a man to help his wife with housework and running household affairs, so the woman is also expected to help him in dealing with the outside world and to play her role in life by offering her opinions and advice, and supporting him in practical terms.
History tells us that Muslim women engaged in jihad side by side with men, marching to war with them, bringing water to the thirsty, tending the wounded, setting broken bones, stemming the flow of blood, encouraging the soldiers, and sometimes joining in the actual fighp.
History has recorded many names of great Muslim men who used to seek and follow the advice of their wives, foremost among whom is the Prophet himself (PBUH), who sometimes followed the advice of Khadijah, Umm Salamah, `A'ishah and others among his wives. `Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr used to follow the advice of his mother Asma', al-Walid ibn `Abd al-Malik used to follow the advice of his wife Umm al-Banin bint `Abd al-`Aziz ibn Marwan, and Harun al-Rashid used to follow the advice of his wife Zubaydah, and there are many other such examples in the history of Islam.
The true, sincere Muslim woman understands the heavy burden that Islam has placed on her shoulders, by obliging her to be a good wife to her husband, to surround him with care and meet his every need, to give him enjoyment, and to renew his energy so that he may fulfil his mission in life. So she does not withhold her advice when she sees that he needs it, and she never hesitates to stand by his side, encouraging him, supporting him and offering advice and consolation.
The first Muslim woman, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid is the best example of a woman who influenced her husband. The Prophet (PBUH) came to her on the day of the first Revelation, anxious, trembling and shaking all over. He told her, "Cover me, cover me!" She hastened to offer her help and support, advising him and thinking of a practical way of helping him. Bukhari and Muslim report the story told by `A'ishah of how the Revelation commenced, and the marvellous way in which Khadijah responded by supporting her husband:
( Read! In the name of your Lord and Cherisher, who created - created man, out of a [mere] clot of congealed blood: Read! And your Lord is Most Bountiful - He Whtaught [the use of] the Pen - taught man that which he knew not.) (Qur'an 96:1-5)'"
The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) came back to Khadijah, trembling all over,
and said, "Cover me, cover me!". They covered him up until he calmed down,
then he said to Khadijah, "O Khadijah, what is wrong with me?" He told
her what had happened, then said, "I fear for myself." Khadijah said: "No,
rather be of good cheer, for by Allah (SWT), Allah (SWT) would never forsake
you. By Allah (SWT), you uphold the ties of kinship, speak the truth, spend
money on the needy, give money to the penniless, honour your guests and
help those beset by difficulties. She took him to Waraqah ibn Nawfal ibn
Asad ibn `Abd al-`Uzza, who was her cousin, the son of her father's brother.
He was a man who had become a Christian during the time of jahiliyyah;
he could write the Arabic script and he had written as much of the Gospel
in Arabic as Allah (SWT) willed. He was an old man who had become blind.
Khadijah said to him, "O Uncle, listen to your nephew." Waraqah ibn Nawfal
said, "O son of my brother, what has happened?" The Messenger of Allah
(PBUH) told him what had happened, and Waraqah said to him, "This is al-Namus
(i.e., Jibril), who was sent down to Musa, upon whom be peace. I wish that
I were a young man, and could be alive when your people cast you out."
The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) asked, "Will they really cast me out?" Waraqah
said, "Yes. No man has ever come with what you have brought, but his people
were hostile towards him. If I live to see that day I will give you all
the support I can."52
The first Mother of the Believers, Khadijah (May Allah be pleased with her), was a sincere adviser in the way of Islam to the Prophet (PBUH). She had already earned the great status and lasting fame of being the first person to believe in Allah (SWT) and His Messenger, and she stood beside her husband the Prophet (PBUH), supporting him and helping him to bear the worst oppression and persecution that he faced at the beginning of his mission; she endured along with him every hardship and difficulty that he was confronted with.
Ibn Hisham says in his Sirah: "Khadijah had faith, and believed in what he brought from Allah (SWT). In this way, Allah (SWT) helped His Prophet (PBUH). Whenever he heard any hateful words of rejection or disbelief that upset him, Allah (SWT) would cause his spirits to be lifted when he came back to her. She encouraged him to be patient, believed in him, and made it easier for him to bear whatever the people said or did. May Allah have mercy on her."54
She was a woman who always spoke the truth, and carried this burden sincerely. It is no surprise that she earned the pleasure of Allah (SWT) and deserved to be honoured by Him, so He conveyed the greeting of salam to her through His Messengers Jibril and Muhammad (PBUH), and gave her glad tidings of a house in Paradise, as is stated in the hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah:
Another of these great stories which feature correct advice given by a woman is the reaction of the Muslims to the treaty of al-Hudaybiyah, and Umm Salamah's reaction, which demonstrated her deep insight and great wisdom.
Umm Salamah (May Allah be pleased with her) was one of those who were with the Prophet (PBUH) when he went to Makkah to perform `Umrah in 6 AH. This is the journey which was interrupted by Quraysh, who prevented the Prophet (PBUH) and his Companions from reaching the Ka`bah. The treaty of al-Hudaybiyah was drawn up between the Prophet (PBUH) and Quraysh. This was a peace-treaty which was intended to put an end to the fighting for ten years; it was also agreed that if anyone from Quraysh came to Muhammad without the permission of his guardian, he would be returned, but if any of the Muslims came to Quraysh, he would not be returned, and that the Muslims would go back that year without entering Makkah, etc.
By virtue of his deep understanding that was derived from the guidance of Allah (SWT), the Prophet (PBUH) understood that this treaty, which appeared to be quite unfair to the Muslims, was in fact something good and represented a great victory for Islam and the Muslims.
The Prophet (PBUH) took her advice, and did as she suggested. When the Sahabah saw that, they rushed to sacrifice their animals, pushing one another aside, and some of them began to shave one another's heads, until they were almost fighting with one another because of their distress and grief, and their regret for having disobeyed the Prophet.59
After that, the Muslims came back to their senses, and they understood the Prophet's great wisdom in agreeing to this treaty, which in fact was a manifest victory, because many more people entered Islam after it than had before. In Sahih Muslim it states that the ayah,
Verily We have granted you a
(Qur'an 48:1) referred
to the treaty of al-Hudaybiyah. The Prophet (PBUH) sent for `Umar and recited
this ayah to him. `Umar said, "O Messenger of Allah, it is really
a victory?" He said, "Yes," so then `Umar felt at peace.60
for the sake of Allah (SWT)
Another way in which the true Muslim woman supports her husband is by encouraging him to spend and give charity for the sake of Allah (SWT), and not to waste money in extravagance and ostentatious purchases, as we see so many ignorant and misguided women doing.
The alert Muslim woman always wants goodness and success for her husband, so she urges him to do good deeds, and to do more of them, because she believes that by doing this, she will increase her honour in this world and her reward in the next.
One of the beautiful stories narrated about a woman's encouraging her husband to spend for the sake of Allah (SWT) is the story of Umm al-Dahdah. When her husband came to her and told her that he had given in charity the garden in which she and her children used to live, in hopes of receiving a bunch of dates61 in Paradise, she said, "You have got a good deal, you have got a good deal." The Prophet (PBUH) commented, "How many bunches of dates Abu'l-Dahdah will have in Paradise!" and he repeated this several times.62
She helps him to obey Allah (SWT)
One of the qualities of the good Muslim wife is that she helps her husband to obey Allah (SWT) in different ways, especially to stay up and pray at night (qiyam al-layl). By doing this, she does him an immense favour, because she reminds him to do something he might otherwise forget or neglect. Thus she causes him, and herself, to be covered by the mercy of Allah.
What a beautiful picture the Prophet (PBUH) drew of the married couple helping one another to obey Allah (SWT) and do good deeds, and entering into the mercy of Allah (SWT) together. This comes in the hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah (RAA), who said:
The clever and sensitive Muslim woman does not forget that one of the greatest deeds she can do in life, after worshipping Allah (SWT), is to be successful in endearing herself to her husband and filling his heart with joy, so that he will feel in the depths of his heart that he is happy to be married to her, and enjoys living with her and being in her company. So she uses her intelligence to find ways and means of opening his heart and filling it with joy and happiness, so that she may become the queen of his heart.
She understands that she is the greatest joy of a man in this world, as is stated in the hadith narrated by `Abdullah ibn `Amr ibn al-`As (RAA), in which the Prophet (PBUH) said:
The Muslim woman by nature likes to endear herself to her husband; in doing so she finds a way of fulfilling her femininity and her inclinations to make herself attractive. But for the Muslim woman, the matter goes even further: in seeking to win her husband's heart, she is also seeking to earn the pleasure of Allah (SWT), Who has made being a good wife a part of religion, about which she will be questioned in the Hereafter. So she does not spare any effort in her loving treatment of her husband: she presents a pleasing appearance, speaks pleasantly and kindly, and is a clever and likeable companion.
She makes herself beautiful for him
She makes herself beautiful for her husband by means of make-up, clothing, etc., so that she will appear more beautiful and attractive, and thus make her husband happy. This was the practice of the righteous women of the salaf, who used to devote their time to worshipping Allah and reading Qur'an. Foremost among them were `A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) and others; they used to wear fine clothes and jewellery at home and when they were travelling, in order to make themselves look beautiful for their husbands.
Bakrah bint `Uqbah came to `A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) and asked her about henna. `A'ishah said, "It comes from a good tree and pure water." She asked her about removing body hair, and she said, "If you have a husband, and you could remove your eyes and replace them with something better, then do it."66
Let those careless women who neglect their appearance in front of their husbands listen to the advice of `A'ishah, and realize that their beauty should be primarily for their husbands, not for their friends and peers. Those women who are failing to make themselves beautiful for their husbands are sinners, because they are falling short in one of the greatest duties of marriage. Their negligence may be the cause of their husbands staying away from them and looking at other women.
The wife whose husband only ever sees her with unkempt hair, looking pale and wan and wearing shabby old clothes, is a foolish and disobedient wife. It will be of no help to her if she rushes to beautify herself only when receiving guests, or going to a women's party, but remains looking shabby most of the time in front of her husband. I think that the Muslim woman who is truly guided by the teachings of Islam will be safe from such shortcomings, because she treats her husband properly, and a woman who treats her husband properly is most unlikely to fail in fulfilling her duty towards him.
It is one of the teachings of Islam that a woman should make herself look beautiful for her husband, so that her husband should only ever see of her that which he likes. So it is forbidden for a woman to dress in mourning for more than three days, except in the case of her husband's death, when she is permitted to mourn for four months and ten days. We find proof of this in the hadith narrated by Bukhari from Zaynab the daughter of Umm Salamah, who said, "I came to Zaynab bint Jahsh, the wife of the Prophet (PBUH) when her brother died. She called for perfume and applied it to herself, then said, "I am not wearing perfume because I need to, but because I heard the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) say from the minbar:
One of the ways in which the Muslim woman makes herself attractive to her husband is by being happy, cheerful, friendly and gentle, thus flooding her husband's life with joy. When he comes home exhausted from his work, she greets him with a smiling face and kind words. She puts her own concerns to one side for a while, and helps him to forget some of his worries. She appears as cheerful and serene as she can, and expresses her gratitude to him every time he does something good for her.
The true Muslim woman is fair-minded, and is never ungrateful to any person, because thteachings of her religion protect her from falling into the error of bad behaviour and ingratitude for favours. How then could she be ungrateful to her husband, her beloved lifelong companion? She knows well the teaching of the Prophet (PBUH):
Another of the ways in which a woman may endear herself to her husband is by sharing his joys and sorrows. So she joins him in some of his pastimes, and his daily work, such as reading, exercise, and attending useful talks and gatherings, and so on, so that her husband will feel that he is not alone in his enjoyment of the good things in life, but that he is sharing these pleasures with a loving, intelligent and loyal wife.
The fact that the Prophet (PBUH) raced with `A'ishah more than once indicates the fact that Islam urges both spouses to share their partner's joy and happiness in life, because this sharing will have a powerful effect in deepening their feelings for one another and strengthening the bonds between them.
Just as she shares his joys, so she also shares his worries and concerns, and comes to him with kind words of consolation, mature and sensible advice and sincere emotional support.
She does not look at other men
The true Muslim woman avoids looking at men other than her husband; she does not stare at men who are not related to her (i.e. who are not her mahrams), in obedience to the command of Allah (SWT):
Another of the characteristics of the intelligent Muslim woman is that she does not describe any of her (female) friends or acquaintances to him, because this is forbidden according to the words of the Prophet (PBUH):
She tries to create an atmosphere of peace
and tranquility for him
The Muslim woman does not only make herself beautiful for her husband and share his work and pastimes, but she also tries to create an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity in the home. So she tries to keep a clean and tidy home, in which he will see order and good taste, and clean, well-mannered, polite children, and where good meals are prepared regularly. The clever woman also does whatever else she can based on her knowledge and good taste. All of this is part of being a good Muslim wife as enjoined by Islam.
The true Muslim woman does not forget that according to Islam marriage is one of the signs of Allah (SWT). Islam has made the wife a source of tranquillity, rest and consolation for her husband:
She is tolerant and forgiving
The Muslim woman is tolerant and forgiving, overlooking any errors on the part of her husband. She does not bear a grudge against him for such errors or remind him about them every so often. There is no quality that will endear her to her husband like the quality of tolerance and forgiveness, and there is nothing that will turn her husband against her like resentment, counting faults and reminding him about his mistakes.
The Muslim woman who is following the guidance of Islam obeys the command of Allah (SWT):
She is strong in character and wise
Among the most prominent characteristics of the Muslim woman are her strength of character, mature way of thinking, and serious conduct. These are qualities which the Muslim woman possesses both before and after marriage, because they are the result of her understanding of Islam and her awareness of her mission in life.
She exhibits this strength of character when she is choosing a husband. She does not give way to her father's whims if he has deviated from the right way and is seeking to force her into a marriage that she does not want. Neither does she give in to the man who comes to seek her hand in marriage, no matter how rich or powerful he may be, if he does not have the qualities of a true Muslim husband.
After marriage, her character remains strong, even though she is distinguished by her easy-going nature, mild-tempered behaviour and loving obedience to her husband. Her strength of character comes to the fore especially when she has to take a stand in matters concerning her religion and `aqidah, as we have seen in some of the narratives referred to previously, such as Umm Sulaym bint Milhan, who insisted on adhering to Islam along with her son Anas, although her husband Malik ibn al-Nadar remained a mushrik, opposed to his wife being Muslim (see p. 166-168); and Umm Habibah bint Abi Sufyan who remained steadfast in her Islam when her husband `Ubayd-Allah ibn Jahsh al-Asadi became an apostate and joined the religion of the Abyssinians (see p. 98-101); and Barirah who was determined to separate from her husband whom she did not love, even though the Prophet (PBUH) tried to intervene on his behalf (see p. 162-163); and the wife of Thabit ibn Qays ibn Shammas, who demanded a divorce from her husband whom she did not love either, and the Prophet (PBUH) accepted her request (see p. 162).
The primary motive of these women in taking up such a strong stance was their concern to adhere to Islam, to keep their belief (`aqidah) pure, and ultimately to please Allah (SWT).
Each of them was seeking that which is halal in her married life, and feared committing any haram deed, either because she was married to a man who did not share her religious beliefs, or she was falling short in her duties towards a husband whom she did not love or could not live with. If it were not for their strength of character and feelings of pride in themselves and their faith, they would have followed the commands of theimisguided husbands and would have found themselves going astray, choking on the misery of living with a husband they could not truly accept. The courage of these women shows how the true Muslim women should be, no matter where or when she lives.
But the Muslim woman's strength of character should not make her forget that she is required to obey her husband, treating him with honour and respect. Her strength of character should make her strike a wise balance in the way she speaks and acts towards him, with no inconsistency or carelessness. Even in those moments of anger which are unavoidable in a marriage, she should control herself and restrain her tongue, lest she say anything that could hurt her husband's feelings. This is the quality of a strong, balanced character.
`A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) represents the highest example of this good quality, and every Muslim woman should follow her example. The way in which she swore an oath when she was happy with her husband, the Prophet (PBUH), was different from the way she spoke when she was upset with him. This is an example of good manners and respect. It was something that the Prophet (PBUH) noticed, as she narrated that he said:
`A'ishah's strength of character became even more prominent when she was tried with the slander (al-ifk) which Allah (SWT) made a test for His Messenger (PBUH) and for all the ummah, raising the status of some and lowering that of others, increasing the faith of those who were guided and increasing the loss of those who went astray.
Her strength of character and deep faith in Allah (SWT) became apparent, and her trust in Him alone to prove her innocence was quite clear. I can find no more beautiful description of the deep and sincere faith of `A'ishah and her trust in the justice of Allah (SWT), than that given by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, who said:
"The test was so severe that the Revelation ceased for a month because of it, and nothing at all concerning this issue was revealed to the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) during that time, so that the wisdom behind what had happened might become completely apparent and the sincere believers might be increased in faith and adherence to justice and might think well of Allah (SWT), His Messenger, the Messenger's family and those believers who spoke the truth. The munafiqin, meanwhile, would be increased only in sins and hypocrisy, and their true nature would be exposed to the Prophet (PBUH) and the believers. `A'ishah, the one who had spoken the truth, and her parents would be shown to be true servants of Allah (SWT) who had received His full blessing. Their needs for Allah (SWT) and desire to draw closer to Him would increase; they would feel humble before Him and would put their hope and trust in Him, instead of hoping for the support of other people. `A'ishah would despair of receiving help from any created being, and she passed this most difficult test when her father said, `Get up and thank him,' after Allah (SWT) had sent down a Revelation confirming her innocence. She said, `By Allah (SWT), I will not get up and thank him; I will only give thanks to Allah (SWT) Who has revealed my innocence.'
"Another aspect of the wisdom behind the Revelation being suspended for a month was that people would focus solely on this issue and examine it closely; the believers would wait with eager anticipation to hear what Allah (SWTnstrate the status of His Prophet and his family in His sight, and the honour which He had bestowed upon them. He Himself was to defend His Messenger and rebuke his enemies, in such a way that the Prophet (PBUH) had nothing to do with it. Allah (SWT) alone would avenge His Prophet and his family.
"The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) was the target of this slander, and the one who was accused was his wife. It was not appropriate for him to declare her innocence, although he knew that she was indeed innocent, and never thought otherwise. When he asked people to avenge him of those who had spread the slander, he said: `Who could blame me if I were to punish those who slandered my family? By Allah (SWT), I have never known anything but good from my family, and they have told me about a man from whom I have never known anything but good, and he never came in my house except with me.' He had more proof than the believers did of `A'ishah's innocence, but because of his high level of patience, perseverance and deep trust in Allah (SWT), he acted in the appropriate manner until the Revelation came that made his heart rejoice and raised his status, showing to his ummah that Allah (SWT) was taking care of him.
"Whoever examines `A'ishah's response, when her father told her to get up and thank the Messenger of Allah, and she said, `No, I will give thanks only to Allah (SWT),' will realize the extent of her knowledge and the depth of her faith. She attributed this blessing to Allah (SWT) alone, and gave thanks only to Him. She had a sound grasp of Tawhid, and demonstrated great strength of character and confidence in her innocence. She was not curious or anxious about the outcome when she spoke thus, because she was sure that she had done nothing wrong. Because of her faith in the Prophet's love for her, she said what she said. She became even dearer to him when she said, `I will not give thanks except to Allah (SWT), for He is the One Who has revealed my innocence.' She displayed remarkable maturity and steadfastness when her dearly beloved husband, whom she could not bear to be apart from, kept away from her for a month; then when the matter was resolved and he wished to come back to her, she did not rush to him, despite her great love for him. This is the highest level of steadfastness and strength of character."72
It is indeed the highest level of maturity and strength of character. The true Muslim woman is humble, kind, loving and obedient towards her husband, but she does not allow her character to weaken before him, even if he is the most beloved of all people towards her, and the most noble and honourable of all human beings, so long as she is in the right and is adhering to the way of Allah (SWT). `A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) set the highest example of the strength of character of the Muslim woman who is proud of her religion and understands what it is to be a true servant of Allah (SWT) alone.
The Muslim woman should interpret `A'ishah's attitude as an attitude of superiority or arrogance, pushing her husband away. We have already explained the duties of the Muslim woman towards her husband i.e., obedience, loving kindness and seeking to please him, in accordance with Islamic teachings. What we learn from the attitude of `A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) is the esteem and honour with which Islam regards woman, so long as she adheres to the laws and teachings of Islam. This is what gives her character strength, pride, honour and wisdom.
Islam gives women rights and recognition which are envied by Western women when they hear about women's rights in Islam (see p. 92), This has been freely admitted by women's liberation activists in Arab countries, as we have seen (see p. 58). Many of them have retracted their claims that Muslim women need to be liberated; one such activist is Dr. NEl-Saadawi, who was interviewed for the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Watan (mid-August 1989).
Dr. El-Saadawi was asked, "Do you think that the European women are an example to be copied?" She replied, "No, not at all. European women have advanced in some fields, but are backward in others. The marriage laws in Europe oppress women, and this is what led to the development of women's liberation movements in those countries and in America, where this movement is very strong and is even at times quite vicious."
Then she remarked: "Our Islamic religion has given women more rights than any other religion has, and has guaranteed her honour and pride, but what has happened is that men have sometimes used certain aspects of this religion to create a patriarchal class system in which males dominate females."
Clearly this patriarchal oppression mentioned by Dr. El Saadawi, which has led to the oppression of women, has been caused by ignorance of the true teachings of Islam.
She is one of the most successful wives
This discussion of the intellectual, psychological and other qualities of the smart Muslim wife demonstrates that she is a successful wife, if not the most successful wife and the greatest blessing and good fortune that a man may enjoy.
By virtue of her understanding of Islamic teaching, and her fulfilling her duties towards her husband, she becomes the greatest joy of her husband's life: when he comes home, she greets him with a warm and friendly smile, speaking kindly and sweetly, looking attractive and smart, with a clean and tidy house, pleasant conversation, and a table full of good food, pleasing him and making him happy.
She is obedient, kind and loving towards her husband, ever eager to please him. She does not disclose his secrets or upset his plans. She stands beside him at times of hardship, offering her support and wise advice. She shares his joys and sorrows. She endears herself to him by the way she looks and behaves, and fills his life with joy and happiness. She encourages him to obey Allah (SWT) in different ways, and motivates him by joining him in different activities. She respects his mother and family. She refrains from looking at other men. She keeps away from foolish and worthless talk. She is keen to provide an atmosphere of peace, tranquillity and stability for her husband and children. She is strong of character without being rude or aggressive, and is kind and gentle without being weak. She earns the respect of those who speak to her. She is tolerant and forgiving, overlooking errors and never bearing grudges.
Thus the Muslim wife deserves to be the most successful wife. She is the greatest blessing that Allah (SWT) may bestow upon a man, and an incomparable source of joy in this life. The Prophet (PBUH) indeed spoke the truth when he said:
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