by Sh. G. F. Haddad

In the "book of Marriage" of his masterpiece Ih.yā' ʿUlūm al-Dīn Imām al-Ghazzālī cites the "h.adīth of the camel-saddle" which came to us through at least six Companions and is therefore a nearly mass-narrated, mashhūr narration:

A woman from the tribe of Khathʿam asked the Prophet ﷺ , "Tell me what is the right of the husband over the wife? For I am an unmarried woman and I shall marry if I can, otherwise I shall remain unmarried." He said:
"The right of the husband over the wife is that if he wants her she must not prevent him, even if she were sitting on the back (z.ahr) of a camel. Also among his rights is that she must not give out anything from his house except by his permission. Otherwise, she shall bear the burden of sin while he shall obtain the reward.1
Also among his rights is that she must not fast a single day voluntarily without his permission;2
if she does, then she has only gone hungry and thirsty and it shall not be accepted from her. She must not leave his house except by his permission.3
Otherwise, she is cursed by the angels of the heaven, by the angels of mercy, and by the angels of punishment until her return."
"Even if he is a wrongdoer [in keeping her from going out]?" "Even if he is a wrongdoer."
She said: "I shall never marry!"4

The correct wording is not the "back" but the "saddle" (qatab) of the camel as in the h.adīth, "When the man calls his wife to his bed let her respond immediately even if she is on the camel-saddle."5 Abū ʿUbayda al-Qāsim ibn Sallām and al-H.akīm al-Tirmidhī showed that this should not be understood in literal terms but that women would sit on camel-saddles to facilitate birth-giving.6 The narration is therefore a hyperbole meaning that if she must obey even when she is about to give birth, then what about other situations far less tasking on her? This sense is further confirmed by the wording of al-Tirmidhī's narration in his Sunan: "When a man calls his wife for his [sexual] need let her come to him on the spot, even if she is [baking bread] over the oven,"7 meaning doing something that cannot wait.

A further confirmation is the famous narration:

When Muʿādh ibn Jabal returned from al-Shām he prostrated to the Prophet ﷺ who said, "What is this, Muʿādh?" He replied, when I came to Shām I found them prostrating to their priests and bishops, so I told myself I would like to do the same to you." The Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said: "Do not! If I were to order anyone to prostrate to anyone else, I would order woman to prostrate to her husband due to the greatness of his right over her. I swear by Allāh that no woman shall taste the sweetness of faith until she fulfills the right of her husband even if he should want her while she is on top of the camel-saddle!"8

One version continues:

I [Mu'ādh] asked them, "Why do you do this?" They said, "It was the greeting of Prophets before our time." I said, "We have more right to do this with our Prophet." But the Prophet of Allāh said: ﷺ "Truly they lie about their Prophets just as they have distorted their Scripture. Truly Allāh has given us in exchange something better than that, [namely] the salaam, which is the greeting of the dwellers of Paradise."(*)

Al-Tirmidhī indicated in his Sunan that the segment "If I were to order anyone to prostrate to anyone else, I would order woman to prostrate to her husband" is reported from ten Companions.9 This number qualifies it for mutawātir status by the criterion of some of the authorities of us.ūl and h.adīth although there are more Companion-reporters of that narration, such as the following example from Qays ibn Saʿd in Abū Dāwūd's Sunan:

I went to al-H.īra and saw them prostrating before a satrap (marzubān) of theirs, so I said, "The Messenger of Allah ﷺ is more deserving of prostration." Then I came to the Prophet ﷺ and said, "I went to al-H.īra and saw them prostrate before a satrap of theirs, but you are more deserving, Messenger of Allah, to have people prostrate before you." He said, "Tell me, if you were to pass by my grave, would you prostrate before it?" I said No. He replied, "Therefore, do not do so. If I were to command anyone to prostrate before another I would command women to prostrate to their husbands, due to the special right Allāh gave to husbands over them."

Another version states: "By Him in Whose Hand is the soul of Muh.ammad! A woman cannot fulfill the right of her Lord in full until she first fulfills the right of her husband in full, even if he were to want her while she is on top of the camel-saddle, she should not prevent him."10 In ʿA'isha's narration the Prophet ﷺ calls the believers to "respect your brother" meaning himself:

The Messenger of Allāh ﷺ was in the midst of a group of the Muhājirīn and Ans.ār when a camel came over to him and prostrated before him. Seeing this, his Companions said, "O Messenger of Allāh! the beasts and trees prostrate to you, and it is even more right that we should prostrate to you." He replied, "Worship your Lord, respect your brother, and if I were to order anyone to prostrate to anyone, I would order woman to prostrate to her husband; and if he were to command her to heave rocks from a yellow mountain to a black mountain and from a black mountain to a white mountain, she should do it."11

In another mursal version from al-H.asan al-Bas.rī, the Prophet ﷺ is related to address his daughter - either Ruqayya or Umm Kulthūm - saying: "Dearest daughter! Truly a man has no wife if she does not bring what he desires and blames him to his face, even if he should order her to heave rocks from a black mountain to a red mountain or from a red mountain to a black mountain. So be happy with your husband!"12

A further confirmation is the narration also adduced in the Ih.yā':

One of the families of the Ans.ār had a camel which began to act difficult with them and not let them ride him. They came to the Prophet ﷺ 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 ﷺ said to the Companions: Let us go. They went and entered the enclosure where the camel was. The Prophet ﷺ walked towards it and the Ans.ār exclaimed: "Yā RasūlAllāh! he has become like a dog and we are afraid for you lest he act violent!" The Prophet - blessings and peace upon him - said: "He has no grudge against me. When the camel saw the Prophet ﷺ it came towards him and fell prostrate in front of him. The Prophet ﷺ took its forelock, and there was nothing more docile than that camel. Then he took it to work. The Companions said: "Yā RasulAllāh! 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 appropriate 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. 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."13

The Prophet ﷺ also said: (1) "The one person in the world owed the greatest right by a woman is her husband, and the one person in the world owed the greatest right by the man is his mother."14 (2) "Any woman that dies and her husband is happy with her, enters Paradise."15 (3) "The right of a woman over her spouse is that when he obtains food he feed her, that when he obtains clothing he clothe her, that he not hit her face nor insult her, and that he not stay away from her except inside the house."16


1 Segment narrated from Abū Hurayra by Muslim and Ah.mad.

2 Segment narrated from Abū Hurayra by al-Bukhārī, Muslim, al-Tirmidhī (h.asan s.ah.īh.), Abū Dāwūd, and Ah.mad.

3 Segment narrated from Tamīm al-Dārī by al-T.abarānī in al-Kabīr (2:52 #1258) and al-Awsat. and al-Rūyānī in his Musnad (2:487 #1513) as part of a longer narration with weak chains because of D.irār ibn ʿAmr as indicated by al-Haythamī and al-Munāwī (2:5); and by Abū al-Shaykh, Ibn ʿAsākir, and al-Daylamī in al-Firdaws (2:131 #2666) cf. Kanz al-ʿUmmāl (#14567). Also narrated from Abū Umāma (with a very weak chain because of ʿAbd al-Nūr ibn ʿAbd Allāh as indicated by al-Haythamī) and Muʿādh ibn Jabal by al-T.abarānī in al-Kabīr (20:63), al-H.ākim with a different chain (2:190 - al-Dhahabī: "munkar wa isnāduhu munqatiʿ"), and al-Bayhaqī, cf. Kanz al-ʿUmmāl (#44803, #45117). Also narrated by al-T.abarī in his Tafsīr (28:132) as a maqt.ūʿ saying by the Tābiʿī al-Dah.h.āk as an explanatory commentary on the verse { Expel them not from their houses nor let them go forth unless they commit open immorality} (65:1). Al-Nawawī mentioned in Sharh. S.ah.īh. Muslim that the obligation of the wife to ask permission is confirmed by the H.adīth of the Prophet ﷺ narrated from Ibn ʿUmar by al-Bukhārī and Muslim: "If your wives ask you permission to go the Mosque at night, let them." The wife of Ibn ʿUmar sought permission to go out even after he divorced her as narrated by ʿAbd al-Razzāq (6:321). Another prohibition in this type of narrations is, "She must not allow someone into his house while he is present except with his permission." Narrated from Abū Hurayra by al-Bukhārī, Muslim, Abū Dāwūd, and Ah.mad.

4 Narrated from Ibn ʿUmar by Ibn Abī Shayba (3:557), Abū Dāwūd al-T.ayālis.ī in his Musnad (p. 263 #1951) as stated by al-Suyūt.ī in al-Jāmiʿ al-S.aghīr (#3737), ʿAbd ibn H.umayd in his (p. 258), al-Bayhaqī in his Sunan al-Kubrā (7:292 #14490), Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr in al-Tamhīd (1:231), and Ibn ʿAsākir cf. Kanz al-ʿUmmāl (#44808) all with a weak chain for an obligation-type narration because of Layth ibn Abī Sulaym as stated by al-Dhahabī in the Siyar (al-Arna'ūt. ed. 6:184), cf. al-ʿIrāqī in Takhrīj Ah.ādīth al-Ih.yā' and Ibn H.ibbān in al-Majrūh.īn (2:233), but the h.adīth is confirmed by the authenticity of its parts. Also from Ibn ʿAbbās by al-Bazzār with a very weak chain because of al-H.usayn ibn Qays who is known as H.anash and is discarded as a narrator (matrūk). The last bracketed segment is only in the latter version.

5 Narrated from Zayd ibn Arqam by al-Bazzār in his Musnad and al-T.abarānī in al-Kabīr (5:200-201 #5084; 5:208 #5117) and with a chain of trustworthy narrators as per al-Haythamī (4:308 #7643, 4:312). Al-Suyūt.ī indicated it was sound in al-Jāmiʿ al-S.aghīr as stated by al-Munāwī (1:343-344).

6 In Gharīb al-H.adīth (2:361) and Nawādir al-Us.ūl (#141 "What woman is best?").

7 Narrated from T.alq ibn ʿAlī by al-Tirmidhī (hasan gharīb), Ah.mad, Abū Dāwūd al-T.ayālis.ī in his Musnad (1:147 #1087), al-T.abarānī in al-Kabīr (8:334 #8248).

8 Narrated from ʿAbd Allāh ibn Abī Awfā by Ibn Mājah and Ah.mad and from Muʿādh ibn Jabal by al-Bazzār and Ah.mad with chains of trustworthy narrators as per al-Haythamī (4:309) and by al-H.ākim (4:172=1990 ed. 4:190) who declared it s.ah.īh. as per the criteria of al-Bukhārī and Muslim, al-Dhahabī concurring. A second narration from Muʿādh in Ah.mad states that this was upon his return from Yemen.

(*) Narrated from Abū Laylā, from Mu'ādh by Ah.mad with a good chain.

9 Abū Hurayra, Muʿādh ibn Jabal, Surāqa ibn Mālik ibn Juʿshum, ʿA'isha, Ibn ʿAbbās, ʿAbd Allāh ibn Abī Awfā, T.alq ibn ʿAlī, Umm Salama, Anas, and Ibn ʿUmar.

10 Narrated from ʿAbd Allāh ibn Abī Awfā by Ah.mad with a good chain.

11 Narrated from ʿA'isha by Ah.mad and (bracketed segment only) Ibn Mājah and Ibn Abī Shayba (3:558), all with a weak chain because of ʿAlī ibn Zayd ibn Judʿān as stated by al-Būs.irī in Mis.bāh. al-Zujāja (2:95), while al-Dhahabī said he was too weak to accept a ruling of h.alāl and h.arām on the basis of something narrated only through him - let alone ʿaqīda or īmān - although al-Tirmidhī considers him "truthful" (s.adūq), al-Haythamī (4:310) declares his narrations "fair", and Ibn Kathīr in al-Bidāya accepts this narration as meeting the authenticity criteria of the Sunan. Furthermore, it is generally strengthened by other narrations as indicated by al-Būs.irī. Cf. also al-Daylamī in al-Firdaws (3:344 #5038).

Note: The English translation of a book named Taqwiyat al-Imān states (p. 97):
"If someone maintains that making a prostration to a creature was permissible in the earlier religions, for instance, the angels prostrated to Adam and Prophet Jacob (AS) prostrated to Prophet Joseph (AS) and hence there is no harm if we make a prostration to a saint as a token of showing our respect to him. We must remember that such a thing proves and confirms one's Shirk and thoroughly deprives him of faith" then comments (p. 138-139) after citing the above narration: "It means that all the human beings are brothers to one another. The one who is the most elderly and the most pious is an elder brother. We should respect such a person just like our elder brother. Allāh is the Rabb of all and therefore, we should worship none but Him alone. Thus we understand that all the people who are close to Allāh, regardless of whether they are Messengers or saints, are none but the helpless slaves of Allāh, and are our brothers, and as long as Allāh has bestowed on them marks of greatness, they are like our brothers and we are instructed to obey them."

This comment contains grave errors: First of all, this specific narration is problematic as mentioned above. Second, Ibn Mājah's and Ibn Abi Shayba's narration of the same h.adīth with the same chain does not contain the clause "Worship your Lord and respect your brother." Lastly, ʿAffān ibn Muslim, Ah.mad's Shaykh together with ʿAbd al-S.amad al-Tannūrī, explicitly states "akhbaranā al-maʿnā" - "he narrated to us the meaning," warning that this h.adīth was conveyed to them (by H.ammād ibn Salama) paraphrased and not in its actual wording. Yes, every clause of this h.adith is confirmed or strengthened separately by other narrations; but not the clause from which the author of Taqwiyat al-Imān attempts to infer a ruling or an appellation pertaining to the Prophet ﷺ or to Prophets in general. Nevertheless, even if we were to consider the chain strong and the wording authentic, it would not have the meaning that he claims, due to many reasons:
(1) The Prophet ﷺ said "your brother" and neither used the plural nor said "your big brother."
(2) The Prophet ﷺ is not only referring to Prophets and Saints. Rather, he is saying: worship belongs to Allāh while all human beings are as one nation of brothers in the sense established by the hadiths: "You all come from Adam" and "Be servants of Allāh and brothers."
(3) There is no actual prohibition of prostrating to him ﷺ in this particular h.adīth. He only says to "worship Allāh and respect our brother," alluding to the fact that prostration can denote both worship and respect, although human beings are too honorable to prostrate to other than Allāh Most High.
(4) Even if it were authentic, the sentence "Worship your Lord and respect your brother" would actually be a Prophetic nas.s. explicitly distinguishing between the two types of prostration: the prostration of worship and the prostration of respect, not a stipulation that we are permitted to call the Prophet our brother or our big brother; even less a proof that the prostration of respect is shirk.
(5) In the more authentic version of this h.adīth he ﷺ merely states: "It is not appropriate (la yas.luh.) that any human being should prostrate to another human being." If it were shirk he would have emphasized it and not used the understatement "it is not appropriate."
(6) In yet another authentic h.adīth where Muʿādh prostrates to him ﷺ , he says: "What is this, Muʿādh?" Then after hearing the latter's explanation he simply orders: "Do not," neither calling it shirk nor asking Muʿādh to reiterate the testimony of faith, contrary to the irresponsible claim that such a prostration "confirms one's Shirk and thoroughly deprives him of faith."
(7) Nor did the Prophet ﷺ call it shirk when Qays ibn Saʿd affirmed his desire to prostrate to him as narrated by Abū Dāwūd in the "satrap" h.adīth nor did he ﷺ ask him to reiterate the shahāda.
(8) In a highly authentic h.adīth he ﷺ referred to himself as "the Master (Sayyid) of all human beings" and Allāh Most High in His Book forbids us to call him in the same way as we call one another.
(9) Are we to call the wives of the Prophet ﷺ "our mothers" while we call him - blessings and peace upon him - "our brother"? and are we to call Sayyidinā Ibrāhīm our father, and Sayyidinā Adam also, but Sayyidinā Muh.ammad ﷺ "our brother"? A ridiculous and truly impious notion.
(10) The whole gist of this narration is to stress that men are custodians over creation deserving of its respect beginning with their wives, but due to their cruelty have become unworthy of this recognition from their wives and even their beasts of burden, although the Prophet ﷺ has stressed that it would not be excessive for a wife to give her husband the respect that a prostration connotes, even an undeserving wrongdoer. In fact, a view of the entirety of the narrations in this chapter indicates that the main issue stressed by the Prophet ﷺ here is the respect of wives for their husbands, not the status of the prostration to other than Allāh Most High.
And Allāh knows best.

12 Narrated by al-Dūlābī in al-Dhurriyya al-S.ālih.a (p. 59 #78) and al-Bayhaqī in Shuʿab al-Imān (6:419 #8736).

13 Narrated from Anas by Ah.mad, al-Bazzār, and al-Nasā'ī. Its sub-narrators are all those of al-Bukhārī or Muslim except for H.afs. ibn Abī Anas but he too is "trustworthy" (thiqa). The last sentence is also narrated from Abū Umāma by al-T.abarānī in al-Kabīr with a very weak chain - as indicated by al-Haythamī - and with the addition, "Nor has any woman the right to go out of her husband's house nor spend out of her husband's house except with his permission." Al-Baghawī relates a version in his Sharh al-Sunna where the Prophet ﷺ specifies that the camel complained of over-work and harsh conditions.

14 Narrated from ʿA'isha by al-Nasa'ī in his Sunan, Ah.mad, al-Bazzār, al-H.ākim who declared it sound - al-Dhahabī concurring - and others.

15 Narrated from Umm Salama by al-Tirmidhī (h.asan gharīb) and Ibn Mājah.

16 Narrated from Muʿāwiya ibn H.ayda al-Qushayrī by Abū Dāwūd, Ibn Mājah, al-T.abarānī in al-Kabīr and al-H.ākim who declared it sound while al-Dhahabī concurred.

Blessings and Peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions.

Hajj Gibril
GF Haddad ©

Someone commented:

He replied, "Worship your Lord, respect your brother, and if I were to order anyone to prostrate to anyone, I would order woman to prostrate to her husband; and if he were to command her to heave rocks from a yellow mountain to a black mountain and from a black mountain to a white mountain, she should do it."

What would you say to a man who does not fulfil his responsibilities as a husband, leader and caretaker of the family (rather, leaves a great deal of it to his wife), yet expects such obedience and reverence from his wife as is mentioned above? Isn't there some qualification for such obedience?

Secondly, I am by no means a rejecter of hadith or a feminist, but I have difficulty believing that our Blessed Prophet, knowing the oppression that men have exercised over women throughout time, and being such a protector of women and their well being, would ever have said such a thing which could be misused by men until the end of time. Can you comment on this?

There are qualities that make some exceptional husbands eminently deserving of such respect. However, to be precise and faithful to the Prophetic intent - insha Allah - in answering your question, the actual qualification is that he is the husband, period. Some of the narrations state that the Prophet ﷺ was asked, "Even a wrongdoer?" and he replied "Even a wrongdoer." If every husband were an examplary just, kind, and loving man there would be no problem.

This is why the noblewoman of Khathʿam, when she heard this answer from the Prophet ﷺ , did not ask herself how or where she would find a husband worthy of this but simply said: "In that case I won't marry." She preferred to give up the superiority of the married state rather than risk falling short of her obligations as a wife.

It goes without saying that the Prophet ﷺ knew better than us that plenty of men are poor husbands and that there would be no lack of abusers seeking excuses or justification with those hadiths. But there is also plenty of other evidence that exposes those abusers verbatim as bad husbands and bad Muslims. So, on the one hand, the basic right of respect is the husband's; on the other, he has to know that such respect does not justify him nor benefit his Religion in itself. He has to earn his justification by acquiring real attributes reflecting acts beyond titles, such as actually fulfilling the duties of a husband, a father, and so forth. Otherwise he is like a teen-age girl eager to "be a mother" without a thought to the huge responsibilities that go with that noble title.

We should not question the veracity of those reports just because we can't imagine the Prophet ﷺ promoting injustice - he never does. This is not what those narrations are, even if they can be misused that way. My intention in posting them was only to document their authenticity in response to some well-meaning brothers who saw in them potential means to justify the oppression of women. But the narrations are authentic just as the Qur'anic verses that can be similarly misused are authentic.

The Divine dispensation apparently couches the issue in men-centered terms. The Qur'an call a man's wife and children a potential fitna but not the reverse. Many narrations also describe the relation between the sexes in terms of fitna caused by women to men rather than vice-versa. We need to understand those verses and hadiths appropriately, balance them with other evidence on the ethics of relations between the sexes, and correct our thinking and behavior accordingly.

For example, examine the verse: { And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness, and men are a degree [daraja] above them} (2:228).

In other words, Allah
(1) gave men and women similar rights; then
(2) He gave the men a greater degree of responsibility over the women than that of women over men. It follows that the rights owned to the wife are unnegotiable, whereas the husband has to give up certain rights - precisely such as that mentioned in the hadith under discussion. This is not a feminist reading but the actual explanation of Ibn ʿAbbas according to al-Tabari in his Tafsir, and the latter preferred it over all other commentaries of that verse.

Al-Tabari in his Tafsir narrated from Ibn ʿAbbas: "The daraja mentioned by Allah Most High here is the *forfeiting, on the man's part, of some his wife's obligations towards him* and his indulgence towards her, while he is *fully obligated to fulfill all his obligations towards her*, because the verse came right after { And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness} . Hence Ibn ʿAbbas said: 'I would not like to obtain all (astanzif) of my right from her because Allah Most High said { and men are a degree above them} .'"

Clearly this is a test for men and women as well as their ladder to high levels. The intensity of this test is probably highest in our time. But so are the rewards, both aspects having been predicted in yet other hadiths. We all agree, Muslim men and women, that we need to work on ourselves more than ever. We should at least remember that whatever counts as a husband's and wife's perfect moral qualities among non-believers, should all be ours first, and more.

Hajj Gibril
GF Haddad ©

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