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Muslim Stepford Wife Syndrome

Andrea Umm Abdullah questions the commonly-held belief that, to be a righteous wife, a Muslim woman must give up the very things that make her who she is.

“I feel so stifled…so lonely and lost. I feel like I don’t know who I am anymore.”


“Who was I before? I don’t remember what I used to enjoy, what my hobbies were… I don’t even look the same.”


“Sometimes I feel like the walls are closing in on me. I just feel so sad. I thought this is what I was supposed to do.”

These are not the sentiments of just one woman but, unfortunately, many. For some reason, so many of us shed everything that makes us who we are when we get married. We throw ourselves in to this image of wifely righteousness, and then burn out. The Prophet (SAW) said: “The religion is easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

Too often, I’ve talked to women about how we changed when we got married and we all nod in agreement. Sometimes we can laugh at how ridiculous we were, but sometimes we are still too sad to find the humour.


We’ve dropped out of college (or did not even pursue it) thinking a degree was unnecessary and a distraction. We’ve given away all of our work clothes and cute outfits thinking we would no longer have a use for them. We’ve given away accessories, bags, and coats because they were not all black. We gave away sneakers, boots, work shoes, sandals, and were hesitant to even wear walking shoes (don’t even think about coloured shoe laces), all in exchange for one pair of the plainest black shoe, thinking it was all a ‘righteous’ woman needed, because, after all, we wouldn’t be going out of the house.


Some of us love to read but after becoming Muslim and getting married, we donated (or threw away) every non-Islamic book we owned. The only other book we thought we should be reading, besides Qur’an and hadith, was Usool al-Thalatha. Some of us got married and gave all of our money to our husbands because that’s what a ‘righteous’ wife would do, and besides, we are being ‘provided for’ now. What could we possibly need our own money for? I’ve had women tell me they needed new undergarments because the ones they had were falling apart. But their husbands didn’t think it was important. They’ve made it clear that they will buy us everything they think we need. Some of us stop taking care of ourselves and direct all our care to our husbands. Some of us aren’t even allowed to get our hair maintained outside of the home because it’s “haram and extravagant”.


I say all of this to ask: What happened? Why did we sacrifice so much of ourselves? Where did this idea that we cannot be balanced individuals and righteous women at the same time come from? The books will tell her to groom herself (for her husband), to keep herself busy cleaning and cooking (while he’s away with another wife), and to give of herself completely because this is what a righteous wife does. But what about taking care of herself and her happiness for herself?


Why do we think being a righteous wife means we shouldn’t have needs? Why do we give our husbands their space but feel shy to ask for our own, or feel shy to admit we need attention? Why do we lose ourselves? We exchange our likes for his, taking on things he prefers while forgetting about our preferences (for everything from food to style), all for the sake of being the perfect wife.


Sadly, what happens to this so-called righteous wife is a loss of motivation, loss of self, and sometimes loss of iman. We lose our sincerity and we start to feel unfulfilled.


If I had one piece of advice for a woman getting married, I would tell her not to lose herself. She will quickly be advised about everything else. She will be advised on how to take care of her husband, how to be a good wife, how to cook, how to clean, how to be quiet, how to be patient, how to avoid making him angry and everything else in between – but she may not be reminded about moderation and how she has a right over herself.

The Prophet (SAW) once asked a companion: “(Is it true) that you fast all day and stand in prayer all night?” The companion replied that the report was indeed true. The Prophet then said: “Do not do that! Observe the fast sometimes and also leave (it) at other times. Stand up for prayer at night and also sleep at night. Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you.” (Bukhari)

Being the ideal righteous wife doesn’t mean you shut yourself off. It doesn’t mean you completely ignore your own spiritual, mental, and physical needs while devoting yourself to his. And it doesn’t mean you become empty inside. What it does mean is balance. Maintain your relationship with yourself. You need you more than he does.


Andrea Umm Abdullah is a wife and mother, trying to learn from her ups and downs of life and marriage, and using them to let Muslim women know that they are not alone in their struggles. You can read some of her other articles on saudilfe.net. This is her first article for SISTERS.