“Men are the protectors and maintainers (Qawwam) of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and to their husbands), and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband’s property, etc.)…” (An Nisa 4:34)
Allah (swt) says that men are the Qawwam of women. The word Qawwam is derived from the Arabic verb Qama/Uqeemu, which means ‘to stand’. Qawwam is an exaggerated/excessive form, which indicates constant standing. Just as a bodyguard continuously stands guarding a VIP, the man of the family is supposed to watch over and protect the women of the household. The verse above explains that he is given this function because he is required to spend his wealth on them for their maintenance. When one spends on someone continuously, it is natural that he will protect them from all dangers. He will empathize with them and will be inclined to manage their affairs with their best interest in mind.
The applied meaning of Qawwam thus encompasses a range of responsibilities of the man, which include financially providing for his family, protecting them, empathizing with them, understanding them, managing their affairs, making decisions that affect them after proper consultation with them, providing the space and opportunities for the constant learning and growth as well as catering to their every physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, educational, and financial need. In short, his role is that of an enabler of success of all members of the household. In order for him to carry out all these responsibilities successfully, he has been granted the leadership role of an Ameer of the family.
Abdullah bin Umar (rtam) reported: The Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of the people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects; a man is the guardian of his family and is responsible for his subjects; a woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and of his children and is responsible for them; and the slave of a man is a guardian of his master’s property and is responsible for it. Surely, every one of you is a shepherd and responsible for his flock.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
It is apparent from the above Hadeeth that every group of people should have a leader for its proper function. It is not possible for a group to have two leaders or else chaos will ensue. Thus, for a family unit, Allah (swt) in His infinite wisdom has chosen the men to lead. It does not matter how weak the man is or whether he earns less than his wife; he is supposed to be ultimately responsible for all family members.
This does not mean that the man of the house is a dictator, who does not consider in his decisions the Shoora (consultation) of all his family members. It does not mean that he is to be feared by those under him, or that he can enforce decadent cultural restrictions, which have little to do with Islam. Rather, the husband should study the Prophet’s (sa) Seerah deeply for improving his leadership skills. For supporting the husband, the wife is required to be obedient to the husband, as stated in the above verse. However, it is worth noting here that the wife’s obedience is first to Allah (swt), then to the Prophet (sa), and only then to the husband. Thus, if the husband makes demands against the commands of Allah (swt) and His Prophet (sa), she should decline to be obedient.
Part of the responsibility of the Ameer is to engender leadership skills in those under him. The primary manner to do so is to be good role models themselves. Children may be trained to accept more responsibilities at a young age, for example, they can be asked to take care of their pets, be the captain of their school cricket team, be the imam at home leading their siblings and cousins in Salah, or babysit their siblings while the parents are away. Leadership skills can formally be learned in a Boy Scouts / Girl Guides troop. The key element in making the next generation future Ameers of their families and societies is to make them feel empathic towards others. This can be done by engaging them in charitable services for those less fortunate than them. Lastly, by providing them with comprehensive Islamic knowledge, parents would help them understand their roles as young adults. The guidance from the examples of the Prophet (sa) and his companions are invaluable in this respect.
Men are made responsible for a gamut of their family’s needs and, hence, are given leadership roles by Islam. Like everyone under a leader, the wife is required to help the leader by being obedient to him, provided nothing is being demanded against Islamic principles. The man of the family should consult with his family members and do everything that is in their best interest. He should use his position responsibly to help all the family members develop themselves. He should not misuse the privilege of leadership he is given. He is responsible to pass on good leadership skills to their offspring, so that they become exemplary future Ameers.