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Spying on one’s spouse

Question:

What do the scholars and experts of Shari’ah say: Can a husband spy on his wife or vice versa?

Answer:

It is not permissible to spy on one’s spouse in the shari’ah. Spying is an unlawful activity; in the home it leads to mistrust and breakdown. The Qur’an states: “Believers, do not be suspicious, since some suspicions are sins. Neither spy on one another nor backbite about each other.”  (Sural Al-Hujarat:12)

Where spying is prohibited, it is important to understand the difference between tajassus (espionage) and tahassus (investigating). In commentary of the prophetic narration, ‘Do not investigate, and do not spy on others,’ Imam Nawawi mentions, “Some of the scholars said that tahassus (investigation) means listening to other people’s conversations, and tajassus (spying) means looking for their mistakes. It is also said that tajassus is searching for secrets. The word is often used with an evil undertone. A spy gathers secrets for evil reasons and the nāmūs (investigator) gathers secrets for good reasons. It is said that tajassus is gathering information for someone else, and tahassus is gathering information for oneself. This was the view of Tha’lab.” (Al-Minhaj Sharh Sahih Al-Muslim)

There are examples in the beautiful life of the Prophet ﷺ where he carried out several investigations to safeguard the Muslim community. An example of this is when he ﷺ sent several companions to investigate and find a letter that the companion Hatib ibn Abi Balta’ah sent to Makkah on the hands of a woman. Allah Ta’ala blessed the Prophet ﷺ with the knowledge of the unseen and he ﷺ commanded Sayyiduna Ali, Sayyiduna Zubayr Ibn Al-Awwam and Sayyiduna Abu Murthad Al-Ghanawi to leave for the garden of Khakh where they would find a woman carrying a letter on behalf of Hatim.

Sayyiduna Ali narrates:

“… we caught up with the woman whilst she was riding her camel at the place the Messenger of Allah ﷺ had mentioned. We said to her, ‘Where is the letter you are carrying?’ She replied, ‘I have no letter.’ We made her camel kneel and searched her saddle and belongings but did not find the letter. My two companions said, ‘We cannot see any letter.’ I said, ‘Certainly Allah’s Messenger ﷺ did not lie. By Allah, if you do not bring out the letter, I will thoroughly search you for it.’ Seeing the severity of the situation, she put her hand into the knot of the cloth tied around her waist and handed over the letter.  We returned to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ with the letter. The Prophet ﷺ said to Hatib, ‘What made you do this, O Hatib?’ He replied, ‘I am a believer in Allah and His Messenger ﷺ. I have not left my religion. I only hoped to do a favour for the people of Makkah so that Allah ﷻ might protect my family and my property, as all of your other companions have some relatives in Makkah through whom Allah will protect his family and property against harm.’ Upon hearing that, the Prophet ﷺ said, ‘He has spoken the truth, so the rest of you are not to say anything to him except good.’ Sayyiduna Umar said, ‘He has betrayed Allah, His Messenger and the believers so allow me to kill him.’ The Prophet ﷺ said, ‘O ‘Umar! What do you know? Perhaps Allah ﷻ looked upon those who participated at the Battle of Badr and said, ‘Do whatever you like, for Paradise has already been obligated for you.’’ On hearing that, Sayyiduna Umar started to weep and said, ‘Truly Allah and His Messenger know best.’” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

This narration clearly shows the permissibility of carrying out an investigation to protect oneself and one’s home. It is an accepted principle in Usul Al-Fiqh that ‘the ruling revolves around the reason(‘illah)’. If the situation between a married couple is such that without an investigation the marriage will totally breakdown, tearing the families apart, then in such a scenario it will be permissible for a spouse to investigate another spouse with the following conditions:

  • The investigation is being carried out to save the marriage and not for any evil purpose.
  • It must be to safeguard the higher aims of shari’ah. This is the protection of one’s religion, life, lineage, intellect, and property.

If any one of these conditions is fulfilled, it will be permissible to investigate a spouse. If neither of these conditions are fulfilled, then it will be impermissible to investigate a spouse.

And Allah ﷻ knows the best

This fatwa is written by Dr Musharraf Hussain Al-Azhari Translator of Majestic Quran, www.majesticquran.co.uk