Wa `alaykum as-Salam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh:
The Messenger of Allah said,
It is not right that any human being should prostrate to another human being, and if it were right for a human being to prostrate to another human being I would have ordered the women to prostrate to her husband due to the greatness of this right upon her. By Him in whose Hand is my soul, if from his foot to the crown of his head there was a wound pouring forth pus, and she (the wife) came and licked that, then she would (still) not have fulfilled his right.
Footnote: Reported by Ahmad (3/159) and others. Its chain of narration is declared to be good by al-Mundhiree in at-Targheeb wat-Tarheeb (3/75), and it occurs in S[a]heehul Jaami' (no.7250)
There are many sisters, unfortunately, especially in the West, that feel unable to forgive the entire male population due to the sins of some of them and therefore court celibacy and shun marriage, committing a sin in the process if they are among those upon whom marriage is obligatory, which includes most people. It is a cliche that men are cruel; but in Islam we excuse neither misanthropy nor misogyny; nor do we say as Hamlet said to Ophelia, "Get thee to a nunnery." Rather, trust in your and their Creator and cherisher and look for someone whose Religion is strong and who treats a wife as Allah Most High and the Prophet upon him blessings and peace, ordered husbands to do: with kindness, gentleness, mercy, generosity, tenderness, forgiveness, good humor. May Allah grant this to every husband after Iman.
Our liege-lord `Umar narrated - Allah be well-pleased with him:
"The Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, went out one day with `Umar ibn al-Khattab. A woman came up to them and said to the Prophet : 'Messenger of Allah, I am a respectable Muslima but I have a husband in my house who is like a woman.' He said: 'Call your husband.' She called him - he was a cobbler - and the Prophet said to him: 'What do you say about your wife, `Abd Allah?' He replied: 'By the One Who honored you! I try my best with her. [lit.: My head has not remained dry away from her.]' His wife said: 'Hardly once a month!' The Prophet said to her: 'Do you hate him?' She said Yes. The Prophet said upon him blessings and peace: 'Bring your heads close together.' He placed the woman's forehead against her husband's and said: 'O Allah! Make harmony between them and make them love one another.' Later, the Prophet was passing by the bedding market together with `Umar ibn al-Khattab, whereupon the same woman came out carrying skins on top of her head. When she saw the Prophet she threw them down, came over to him, and kissed his feet. The Prophet said: 'How are you with your husband?' She replied: 'By the One Who honored you! There is no new possession, nor old inheritance, nor child of mine dearer to me than him!' The Prophet said: 'I bear witness that I am the Messenger of Allah!' Whereupon 'Umar said: 'And I, too, bear witness that you are the Messenger of Allah!'"
Al-Bayhaqi narrated it with his prestigious chain through Imam al- Tirmidhi and his teacher Imam al-Bukhari - also from Jabir without mention of `Umar - in Dala'il al-Nubuwwa (6:228-229). Ibn Kathir mentions it in al-Bidaya wal-Nihaya. Imam al-Dhahabi said of al- Bayhaqi's Dala'il al-Nubuwwa: "You must take everything in that book for it consists entirely of guidance and light." Siyar A`lam al-Nubala' (Fikr ed. 15:39=Risala ed. 20:216, chapter on Qadi `Iyad).
As for the hadith cited in the question, it is narrated by Imam Ahmad, al-Bazzar, and al-Nasa'i thus:
One of the families of the Ansar had a camel which began to act difficult with them and not let them ride him. They came to the Prophet - upon him blessings and peace - and said: "We have a camel that is being recalcitrant and prevents us from riding him, and we need to water the date-trees and the plantations." The Prophet said to the Companions: Let us go. They went and entered the enclosure where the camel was. The Prophet - upon him blessings and peace - walked towards it and the Ansar exclaimed: "Ya Rasul Allah! He acts like a [wild] dog and we are afraid for you lest he act violent!" The Prophet replied: "He has no grudge against me." When the camel saw the Prophet it came towards him and fell prostrate in front of him. The Prophet - upon him blessings and peace - took its forelock and there was nothing more docile than that camel. Then he took it to work. The Companions said: "Ya Rasul Allah! This is a brute beast and it prostrates to you! We, who are rational, ought all the more to prostrate to you." He said: "It is not fitting that any human being should prostrate to another human being and if it were, I would order woman to prostrate to her husband due to the greatness of his right over her."
The hadith is sahih to this point by the criteria of al-Bukhari and Muslim but NOT its continuation:
"By the One in Whose Hand is my soul! If the husband were from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head one big wound oozing with pus and matter, and she were to receive him and lick him, she still would not be repaying him his right in full."
So the segment, "if from his foot to the crown of his head there was a wound pouring forth pus etc." is weak or very weak as shown by Shaykh Shu`ayb al-Arna'ut in his marginalia on the Musnad of Imam Ahmad (20:64-66 §12614). This is not to say that it is forged but Allah knows best.
As for the explanation of the meanings of the weak segment:
(1) it is figurative; marriage is not about festering wounds and
oozing pus but about patience in adversity together with many
other aspects, some light and some grave;
(2) it is a hyperbole destined to explain why Paradise is so easily gained by women provided they only keep Salat, fast Ramadan and obey their husbands whereas men have many more responsibilities.
[Sun, 11 Apr 2004]