Posted by: Dawud Israel | May 13, 2009

“She Isn’t Wife Material”- Marriage and Emotional Realities of Muslims


This is one of the more hotly discussed “male” topics out there. I personally think it would be helpful if sisters got perspective on this. If a guy comes to the point of saying, “She isn’t wife material,” then its usually the final verdict on him not being interested in marriage. This is, at least in my own experience.

It is related by Abu Hurayra that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “The best of women are the riders of camels, the righteous women of Quraysh. They are the most compassionate to their children when they are young and most prudent with the property of their husbands.” (Bukhari, 4794)

There is another Hadith I wanted to find but I couldn’t but it mentions the virtue of caring women. If you want to know the secret to being an awesome wife or getting lots of proposals sisters, its all in the compassion and caring you have for others. Most Muslim are familiar with the Hadith of marrying a person who is “religious,” but I think the problem with quoting this hadith so much, is we don’t really understand what religious is!

Religiosity in a spouse means…

Its difficult to judge and I think one reason why Islamic marriage classes fail is because they don’t go into in depth discussion on what they mean.

The Prophet (s.a.w) loved his wives because of their religious qualities. Aisha once related the fine qualities of Zainab: “(Zainab) was the one who was somewhat equal in rank with me in the eyes of Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w), and I have never seen a woman more advanced in religious piety than Zainab, more God-conscious, more truthful, more alive to the ties of blood, more generous and having more sense of self-sacrifice in practical life and having more charitable disposition and thus more closer to Allah, the Exalted, than her.”  (READ IT AGAIN!)

The Prophet (s.a.w) once sent Zainab a proposal of marriage. She refused to accept the proposal straight away, expressing her intention to refer the matter to Allah: “I do not do anything until I solicit the will of my Lord.” Allah, the Responsive, answered her plea for help and revealed an ayah approving of the marriage. We may seem shocked at her refusal to accept a proposal from what is the best husband any woman can have, yet she was just recognising that it is Allah who knows how successful such a marriage will be, and as a sign of appreciation, that reply is now preserved in our Holy Book: al Qur’an.

Choosing the Desired Wife

This, is what religious means…it does not mean, what religion you “show off” or that she just wears hijab. It comes closer to meaning she prays Tahajjud regularly than to mean she memorized the Quran (but not the meaning of it!). But even then, so what? If she learned tajweed, great, but you can send your children to learn tajweed elsewhere…wouldn’t you prefer to have a wife who prays tahajjud and can teach your children how to pray it as well? How to make dua to Allah with sincerity? The caring goes beyond then “give and take,” but cares for people in ways they can’t easily repay.

It is important than to discern, religious is not what is zahir (outward) but rather batin (inwards). We focus on the superficial stuff like hijab and beard and therefore come across as more dead…but ignore the spirtual stuff, that is closer to our ruh (soul) which gives us life. Spiritual purification, mercy, akhlaaq (manners) and overall respect for others. Its best understood not as just what is inwards or what is outer, because if you have those two- one is hidden, the other is totally material. Rather, it should be understood as the “linking” of those two concepts, the connection of something going from the inner to the outer, the interrelationship, communication and process of it coming from the heart and ending up on the lips or the hand carrying out a good deed. When a person sees the coming out of those inner qualities of love and care and then carry all the way to completion of a beautiful good deed. This is really an essential definition of witnessing something that raises your emaan, a sort of miracle…because miracles occur to change and transform our hearts for the better. This applies to all Muslims, male and female, but if you can see it in a (potential) spouse, then you’ll understand the Hadith, “There is nothing more precious in this world than a pious wife,” in a way very few actually do. This also applies to sisters considering brothers for marriage, because the reality of miracles is the one who witnesses them is open and must allow themselves to accept what they are seeing- otherwise, they are like the disbelievers.

What is wife material…?

Religiosity for women is best expressed in her being caring, compassionate, merciful for others because this is a clear sign of a soft sincere heart. A guy doesn’t want the feeling he has married a mullah (an Islam of the books, not of heart and soul) with the sister following rigid rules, nor does he want her to be “dead” of emotion. One thing among our sisters is how they make an effort to frown so as to look modest…I think this is a little too much and depressing. She need not be all smiles, but she need not be all frowns neither…

By far, this caring and compassion will put any sister in first place for the running in any marriage offers or proposals. Remember how when our Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam came down from the Cave of Hira frightened by Jibreel alayhi salam and Khadijah radiallahu anha, didn’t say anything or argue, but just held him and comforted him. This is why the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam would mention to Aisha radiallahu anha how much he loved Khadija, even after she died.

In our community as well, you hear stories of “aunties” hunting and talking to sisters as potential wives for their sons or relatives. What these aunties are looking for is the same caring and compassion. They want to see how she talks to her elders, with love and respect, and making sure they are comfortable. This rockets her into first place running for marriage proposals. Not only this, but the families are pleased by the wife and so they won’t be disappointed or have any reason to complain. If you think of the stories of women in Islam, it has always been this characteristic of caring and self-sacrifice that extolled their virtue and showed how religious and pious they were. Remember Maryam enduring all the ridicule from others and the hardships to bear Isa alayhi salam? Remember the mother of Musa alayhi salam worrying about Musa when he was placed into the basket and then coming back to see him and nurse him? Remember how Aasiyah, the wife of Firawn would patiently endure her Islamic belief even though her husbands delusions?

Wife material is best understood as this quality of showing caring, compassion and having a soft-heart. Think of nurses in a hospital or nuns caring for the disabled and poor. And it goes with it to say, its not easy to “fake” this, although one can learn how to be caring, detecting in people when things might not be going so well for them, asking them or cheering them up, and not complaining or asking for anything in return for this. Remember: with all this, you are impressing Allah- not others, because it is Allah Who will open the door to a successful marriage. Those qualities are important for a successful marriage. Read the hadith about Zainab radiallahu anha again. This is crucial because, it means to aunties, guys and the extended family, even if this sister has secrets she isn’t telling or has done something wrong or has a troubled past- they can still maintain confidence in her, trust her and see her virtues outweigh and displace any faults she has. It means, she is going to be more beneficial than harmful/uncontributing to the family structure.

Read this thread from the AlMaghrib forums. It talks how a sister was insulting AlMaghrib, and ways of how to respond to it. The sister who posted the question didn’t consider perhaps this person was insulting AlMaghrib as a way of shouting out for help and trying to tell her things aren’t going so well in her life right now and she needs a friend. Others in the thread suggested perhaps all she needs to do is ask this sister, “Is everything ok? Do you need anything?” This is something all Muslims should be conscious of, clueing into what is really going on with people, not wasting time judging but jumping ahead without hesitation to try and help a person.

A word about Sisters in Islamic Work

Another obstacle in sisters developing this caring and compassion is sisters need to learn how to say “no” to Islamic work. Its a great thing sisters do so much Islamic work, and they are my heroes for this. They’re so busy organizing events and running the show, really. But, they can’t always be yes-men (women) doing everything and agreeing to take on everything. They need to push the guys to step up to the plate. They should focus on that. What happens because of them being so active is sisters become leaders and are more assertive in Islamic work and so when marriage time comes around…they come off as more “manly” then most men and in a sense, aren’t as feminine. They expect there should be guys just like them, just as Islamically active, but ignore the reality that their weren’t very many in their MSA or local community. My advice again, is for sisters to push brothers to get Islamically active earlier so when marriage time comes around their are some brothers with a similar mentality and more compatible with these sisters.

When all goes wrong…

Lastly, even after all this a guy should remember he is not the final judge when it comes to sisters. Even if she lacks in desirable traits he shouldn’t abandon her and there is even a Hadith where Allah rewards a man who stays with his wife in old age, knowing he may not like her so much but because if he left her no one would care for her. The other key thing is, just because a sister isn’t super-caring doesn’t mean you should not be caring. In fact, I think its a two-way street: the sisters in our times aren’t so caring (at least in Canada/USA) and can come across as emotionally dead to others feelings, but actually, our men are no different. Its seen as more “real” for women, because they are supposed to embody those caring traits, but men, especially in some circumstances like polygyny, the MUST embody those traits. I’ve heard of stories where the guy just all of a sudden gets up and leaves, abandons the family and thinks he has justification for this because of what he perceives as the woman’s shortcomings. This is also wrong and this is why a lot of marriages just fall apart. If a man cannot tolerate a woman, this is his test from Allah to be patient with. Otherwise, he is not husband material.

A great deal of divorces happen simply because people do not know how to tolerate someone they disagree with or learn to overlook peoples faults. I think it begins in our community, where we focus on each others faults, how this person prayed wrong or how this person wronged me. But then instead of forgiving, we hold a grudge. The Quran says, “khud af’u,” which means, “and overlook their faults.” This is important! At times, I can’t stand certain people but don’t try to cast the impression I am avoiding them or hating them, no matter how much they hurt me. Look at the Seerah for examples, how they mocked our Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam when he described Isra wa’l Miraaj- they asked him what Isa alayhi salam looked like and what Musa alayhi salam looked like, and although the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam knew they were mocking him, he STILL described the appearance of these Prophets! I’ve noticed in events, some brothers and sister will not show up simply because one or two people they had an argument with or don’t like are there. It seems small then, but fast-forward to a marriage where they cannot tolerate it and it will end in divorce. Learning to tolerate people you may dislike is important. In Tafsir ibn Kathir one Sahabi says, “We would greet (or smile at) people even though we secretly hated them in our hearts.” This is called Tuqya- and it is permissible until the Day of Judgment. Learning to put up with this is important in developing sabr (patience) and caring for a person when it is hard to do so is where Allah will really take notice and really reward you. Think of family members, a father cannot abandon his daughter, because they are bound by the bonds of family and have to come to deal with each other and love each other, even if there is tension. Similarly, a guy should approach his wife in the same manner, understanding he has to learn how to care for her and love her, despite all that may happen. He should not consider divorce so quickly, just as a father does not consider abandoning his daughter, nor a mother considers abandon her daughter. This is why parents are so protective of their daughters- they love them more than any suitor loves her, because the suitor may already have considered divorce whereas the father and mother will never abandon their daughter. In short, if a guy cannot overlook her faults, forgive her, be patient with her and do these caring and merciful things, he is NOT husband material!

One shaykh commented, “Religion begins where empathy ends.” And this is very important to consider, especially in light of recent marital problems among Muslims in the West.

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, Ameen.


  1. Salaamu alaykum br.Dawud,

    Just a thought about sisters and Islamic work…

    I think it’s a little strange that you propose sisters should focus on encouraging brothers to step up in Islamic work.
    I get the point of what you’re getting at, but I think the active brothers should focus on recruiting their not-so-active friends.

    It wouldn’t make to much sense for me to go to some random brother that I only know thru school and volunteer work and tell him to step his game up. We’re not friends, and that advice should come from people who know you and know your situation.

    Once the brothers begin to step up, then we can talk about sisters perhaps easing up and not having to be so assertive in Islamic work. But nothing will get done if someone doesn’t step up and become a leader.

    I know your intentions are probably in the right place, but it’s coming off as offensive and a huge cop out to say that it’s sisters’ job to make brothers work.

  2. Wa aleikum salam wa rahamtullahi wa barakatuhu sr. Zaynab

    Actually, what I was suggesting is like a full-scale effort…like, ALL the sisters in an MSA force the brothers to come out! Mass action with things like petitions and calling guys wussies, etc. The reason I suggest this is because I know some sisters will try and approach brothers to help out, and these brothers being “oh-so- religious” totally ignore her and run away…as if she is the plague. They stay away from Islamic work, BECAUSE of the sisters dominate it…so having a group of sisters forcing the guys to stop being cowards I think is more effective then just one well-intentioned sister.

    But on a small scale, I know what you mean and personally, I try to do the same. However, I can speak from my own experience- its not so easy either for guys to recruit others. At my last event, I was the ONLY guy even though I tried to recruit more (one or two later came out and then some uncles). And there are many events and projects where its virtually ALL sisters. So where are you going to get brothers to recruit other brothers when there are NONE in the first place?

    So you have a scenario where either the small handful of brothers can try and recruit others (they probably already have tried, failed or exhausted their contacts) OR the massive amount of sisters can try and recruit brothers, using the channels they are most comfortable with. It wouldn’t be smart to put all your eggs in one basket. I personally think if sisters did it, guys would listen because they would give it more importance then they would to anything their clown friends say, and they would also feel it because it would affect their pride knowing sisters are doing so much, while the guys sit around.

    You can always recruit your family members. In some communities a brother and a sister speaking on an Islamic project is no big deal because there is maturity and understanding of boundaries. But in other communities it is an issue- so the sister would be wise to speak to the aunties, uncles, parents and elders in the community to pressure their men and boys to be active in Islamic work. You have to use your hikmah and discretion.

    All you need to make sure everyone understands your intention, your goals and how you need a minimum amount of brothers to help out.

    You might want to also read this post because in it, I talk about how Allah replaces people, and how we shouldn’t think that if we don’t do this, no one else will…thats why we have corrupt masjid leaders! Allah ALWAYS replaces people, so if you do leave, someone will take your place- just try and make things so a brother replaces you.

    • Jazak Allahu khayr for your efforts, br.Dawud.

      I guess we’re just seeing this from 2 different perspectives. Just something we’ll have to agree to disagree on.

      Otherwise, there were some very good reminders in this post. And jazaks especially for the reminder about how Allah will always protect His deen and can replace us, DEFINITELY something that should be kept in the forefront of our minds when discussing da’wah.

      Khayr, insha’Allah.

  3. JazakAllahu khair brother…that was a wonderful article, inspiring us all to ‘sabr’ when it comes to marital life, and that example of a father/mother-daughter v/s husband-wife is just awesome. It is a fact that knowing you can have ‘out’ contributes to the fact that you are more likely to be intolerant or not work hard enough or be more forbearing.

  4. “Religion begins where empathy ends.”

    can you elaborate on that?

    also, in your opinion, why do you think sisters are stronger in their deen or are atleast more active in the West than the brothers?

  5. GC:

    Open to interpretation and contemplation. Think on it!

    You can see what empathy means on Wikipedia to see what I am getting at with Islamically-motivated caring and compassion as opposed to just compassion on its own:

    In this context, I thought of it as this: Empathy as in feeling for the person and caring for them…there is a point where, “helping people because it feels good” or “because I am in love” isn’t enough. Because when those feeling ends…people leave each other, run away or hate on another. So Islam is important, as embodied by compassion and true caring- because even if you have no feelings for this person…and they may not have that much for you, you STILL care for each other. Religion begins here and empathy ends there.

    Islam looks out for everyone’s welfare…for example, many scholars have ruled that Muslim men are prohibited from marrying Ahlul Kitab if there are single Muslim women available, because we are to “protect” the sexual rights of our sisters and care for each other.

  6. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh,

    I like that.

    And lol – i knew what empathy meant, don’t need wikipedia for that but thanks for the link ma brotha.

    So in the context of your article, are you saying with this quotation, that sometimes you just gotta be nice to your spouse, regardless of how bad you feel about them, or regardless of how messed up they are?

    I remember a shaykh saying something similar, about how Asiya RA was one of the best women ever to step foot on the face of this Earth, and yet her husband Firaun is one of the most evil of people in history. And the Shaykh concluded that your spouse being a bad person or bad Muslim is not an excuse for you as the individual to not be a good Muslim.

  7. i really enjoyed skimming through this… it is good for life and has helped me with a concern i face… SUKRAN

  8. Hmmm…good post to think on.

    I agree about the MSAs and events are being largely coordinated by sisters. I think we SHOULD step up and demand that brothers take the lead.

    The problem I see is that the brothers are too busy building a career and earning money sometimes to have the time. Many of them have actually jobs, co-op and whatnot to take part on events (especially after univeristy ends). Others do not feel fit or religious enough because they know that all will be looking towards them to lead. I can make a ton of excuses for them though but the fact of the matter is — they aren’t active and we need to address this problem somehow.

    I would just say one thing from what I have seen in other sisters and their nature. A lot of them are very professional when they are doing their tasks, but are SO very different when away from it. Its really hard to explain to a brother but really….I know soooo many sisters who are extremely loving, caring, and sweet. But when they are doing their jobs, they try to do it seriously and professionally. It does not mean they are like this all the time. Different situations ask for them to present themselves differently.

    One sister I knew very well who was always so happy and lovable (I only knew her away from MSA, lived with her) actually broke down in front of me one day, crying because she heard that the guys in MSA thought of her as really serious and stern. She told me she didn’t know what to do…because the hadith asked her to not smile too much and speak in a strong manner in front of guys. It didn’t make sense to me why ANYONE would think of her that way, because she was really far from it. If only they knew…

    That brings me to another point: many sisters are involved because of the pressure that others place on them. This sister wanted to quit and be away from MSA after this incident, so that she could be herself and away from being judged falsely.
    But other sisters looked down upon her for abandoning her duties when there are already so few willing to do it.
    Sisters are very susceptible to the peer pressure…many also do it to show that they are not just muslimah ‘hijabis’ by look and are actually religious! Sisters target these girls to join and volunteer because they know they will eventually come to help.

    also, women have a very different nature than men. Women like to volunteer, do things for others and learn while doing this. Many find refuge and feel closer to their religion because of doing these activities. They like the sense of belonging in a group.

    Though I can easily say that sisters that wear the hijab and DO NOT take part in MSA and its activities are usually regarded as ‘strange’ and not very Islamic. its very odd when you think about it actually…but its just how most people think. People (including myself, I should say) do not understand them and their lack of motivation to take part in the religion. I remember sometimes we had discussions such as the guys asking us “why don’t you ask so-and-so (a hijabi) to help with the event? I am sure she will” – “I don’t think she can, she is busy” and people look down upon her for being too busy for MSA (even if it is because she is juggling a job and school work). If its the other way around, its not the same. If a guy is busy with studies for his mid-term and we are asking the brothers to talk to him to help out, if he can’t thats cool cause he probably needs to get good grade so he can work for his future family, he is aiming for a high paying job so we commend him for his efforts as a Muslim. most people just shrug and move on, accepting that excuse.

    These subtle way of thinking and tendencies we have kind of made the situation what it is, I think. I actually never though about many of them until now.

  9. Off topic but I have to add. Sometimes I do not know if I should commend or feel bad for those chasing status, money and high paying jobs.

    Its so conflicting — we hear all the time that Muslims should step up and represent our population well by being in so-so field of work. Or that our parents worked to hard to get, our only aim should be so become a ___ to make them proud.

    I don’t mind us chasing a certain title job — its only when I see this pride and arrogance in the eyes of the people that sickens my heart. While some had started with good intentions, they grew to be arrogant after when countless aunties and uncles glorified their job title and status. Its double edged sword.

    I just hope that InshAllah I never become one of them. May Allah SWT kill the pride in all of us.

  10. S.S.

    Personally, my advice is for those sisters to just give the MSA the cold shoulder for a while. Its hard and it hurts but give them a month or two or even three and they will find another person to take their place. You just have to make sure, they get the message your not coming back.

    What I was getting across was not that, they are stern or strict, but that the Islamic work and leadership…changes them. I don’t know to what extent but thats always been my feeling.

    I do know in my MSA they do not want any non-hijabi sisters helping out. Instead they just give them a pamphlet on the importance of hijab. Its not enough and if you actually want them to wear hijab- you would set a good example and take them under your wing.

    And I’m glad you made the point about how brothers do need to establish themselves. I spent a lot of time in MSAs, skipping classes and yeah, as a brother, its kind of done some harm to my future. Sisters I know speak as if its more important for them to get educated etc, than a brother which is somewhat unfair.

  11. This issue of “femininity” not showing in our sisters is actually something that sr. Megan from Practimate is discussing with the sisters in her e-mail series. The things you say about being warm, kind, compassionate, etc. are all things that she is emphasizing a lot. Your post, being a brother and all, proves what she is saying is true.

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