There are narratives reported from the Prophet (sws) which say that a wife cannot observe optional fasts until she seeks permission of her husband:

 

عن أبي هُرَيْرَةَ عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم لَا تَصُومُ الْمَرْأَةُ وَبَعْلُهَا شَاهِدٌ إلا بِإِذْنِهِ

Abū Huraryah reported from the Prophet: “A wife should not fast in the presence of her husband unless she seeks his permission.”[1]

 

On the basis of such narratives it is concluded by many critics of Islam that it is a misogynist religion and oppresses women: she does not even have the right to exercise her will in offering as personal an act as worship.

A little deliberation shows that this narrative is very similar in nature to the narrative regarding refusal of sexual intimacy by the wife elaborated upon earlier. Hence, in order to understand it, the following points need to be refreshed in memory:

Firstly, a husband and wife safeguard the chastity of one another by providing one another a legitimate means of satisfying the sexual urge. This protection of chastity is essential for the preservation of the family unit – the very institution on which the stability of a society hinges. Hence anything which puts chastity in jeopardy is disliked by the Almighty.

Secondly, a man is an addressee of the directive mentioned in this Hadīth on an equal basis. He too should take into confidence his wife and consult her if he wants to observe an optional fast. It needs to be appreciated that both in the Qur’ān and in the Hadīth, men are not addressed in this manner because generally they were the dominant party in those times; however, today these circumstances have changed in some societies, and hence this subtlety must be kept in mind while reading such narratives that both are equal addressees of such directives.