Can a woman refuse intimacy with her husband?
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
The relations between spouses should be based on tranquility, love and mercy. Allah says, “And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.” (Ar-Rum: 21).
Tranquility, love and mercy are very important concepts in Islam. These three summarize the ideals of Islamic marriage. It is the duty of the husband and wife to see that they are a source of comfort and tranquility for each other. They should do everything physically, emotionally and spiritually possible to make each other feel happy and comfortable.
There is one parable that Allah, Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala, puts forth for increasing the love and mercy between a husband and wife, and this parable is one of the most eloquent and striking in the Qur’an.
It paints a vivid picture of the relationship between spouses employing the metaphor of clothes. Allah, Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, says:
“Permitted to you, on the night of the fasts, is the approach to your wives. They are your garments and you are their garments. Allah knows what you used to do secretly among yourselves; but He turned to you and forgave you; so now associate with them, and seek what Allah has ordained for you, and eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appears to you distinct from its black thread; then complete your fast till the night appears; but do not be have a conjugal relationship with your wives while you are in retreat in the mosques. Those are limits [set by] Allah: Approach not nigh thereto. Thus Allah makes clear His signs to men: that they may learn self-restraint”. (2:187)
Subhanallah. Your spouses are garments for you. A garment may or may not fit perfectly, but either way, it covers imperfections, protects, and beautifies.
Our clothes are physically the closest object to our bodies. The husband and wife should be close to each other like the closeness of the garment to the naked body. They should be able to share the most intimate of thoughts with each other without the fear of being judged by the other. They should be open and transparent with each other and should be able to communicate their feelings, frustrations, and desires – physical, spiritual and emotional – with honesty and without embarrassment.
With that in mind, I pose the question: can a woman refuse intimacy with her husband?
Allah, Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, says:
Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth [righteousness] for yourselves. And fear Allah and know that you will meet Him. And give good tidings to the believers. (Al-Baqarah: 223)
Rasulullah, Shalallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said:
“By the One in Whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, no woman can fulfil her duty towards Allah until she fulfils her duty towards her husband. If he asks her (for intimacy) even if she is on her camel saddle, she should not refuse.” (Narrated by Ibn Maajah (1853); classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Targheeb, 1938.)
Abū Hurayrah narrated from Rasulullah, Shalallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam: “If a husband calls his wife to go to bed with him and she refuses and the husband spends the night in anger [at her refusal], then the angels curse her till dawn”. (Bukhārī: No. 2998).
Imam al-Nawawi (Radia allahu anhu) states in his commentary on the Hadith of Abu Huraira stated above:
This Hadith indicates that it is unlawful (haram) for the wife to refuse her husband for sexual intimacy without a valid reason. Menstruation will not be considered a valid reason, for the husband has a right to enjoy her from above the garment (on top of cloths). (Sharh Sahih Muslim, P. 1084)
Women should understand that their husbands have rights over them. It is not permissible for a woman to refuse her husband these rights. If a woman consistently refuses to spend the night with her husband in his bed she is considered to be naashiz (defiant, rebellious, disobedient).
Nushooz (defiance, rebellion) is when a wife does not let her husband be intimate with her or she responds to him unwillingly as if she finds it too much when he calls her, and she only responds reluctantly. (said Al-Bahooti )
Allah, Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, says:
“As to those women on whose part you see ill conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely, Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great” [al-Nisa’ 4:34]
The fuqaha’ (the scholars) said: If she persists in her disobedience after he has admonished her and refused to share her bed, i.e., has not slept with her as long as she persists in that, and not spoken to her for three days (because Allah says, ‘refuse to share their beds’ – if she persists even though he has refused to share her bed and not spoken to her for three days) then he may hit her, but not hard.
It needs to be realized that a husband and wife, besides fulfilling various other aspects of the divine plan, are like the guardians of each other’s moral conduct. Therefore, if a husband approaches his wife to fulfill his sexual desire under normal circumstances, he would expect her to show her consent. Of course, if she is tired, ill or is not in the proper frame of mind, it is the husband who should adjust to the situation. The above hadīth pertains to a refusal by the wife without any genuine reason because all directives of Rasulullah, Shalallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, have common sense exceptions.
Similarly, if a husband sees that his wife needs him for the same purpose, he should not refuse without a reason. In other words, both husband and wife are the addressee of such a directive.