Even before the Stone Age, man held the responsibility and honor of being a ‘hunter and gatherer’. Being a provider, naturally or otherwise, has always been a vital and admirable trait in a husband. It is a value central to the male “tool box” and a timeless obligation that extends beyond any specific culture or religion. However, in today’s day and age, women are increasingly entering and excelling in the workforce. Western culture has shifted the paradigm and placed a portion of the burden for providing for the household on wives.
Despite these shifting societal expectations and norms, the burden placed on men, according to Islam, has not altered. Not only are men required to provide for their families financially, the subject of this article, but it is also compulsory that they provide emotionally, physically, and spiritually for their spouses and families.
By consensus of the scholars, a man is legally obligated to provide for his wife and children. This includes food, shelter, and clothing. In addition, this responsibility, in principle, is NOT a shared one. The husband is required to be ‘THE provider’ and not just ‘A provider’.
Where is the husband’s obligation to be a “provider” delineated? This commitment, and its being specific to the husband is found in numerous places. Allah (swt) says in surah Baqarah (2:233), “Upon the father is the mother’s provision and their (i.e. the wife and children) clothing according to what is acceptable.” He (SWT) also states, “Let a man of wealth spend from his wealth, and he whose provision is restricted then let him spend from what Allah has given him” (Talaq 65:7) Further, in surah Talaq (65:6), it states, “Lodge them [in a section] of where you dwell out of your means…”.
In the Sunnah, we find even more evidence. The Prophet (saw) said, “The best alms is that which is given when one is rich, and a giving hand is better than a taking one, and you should start first to support your dependents.’ A wife said, ‘You should either provide me with food or divorce me.’ A slave said, “Give me food and enjoy my service.” A son said, “Give me food; to whom do you leave me?” The people said, “O Abu Huraira! Did you hear that from Allah’s Messenger (saw)?” He said, “No, it is from my own self.”
Although it is mandatory for a man to provide for his wife and children, it doesn’t mean that he is not to be rewarded for such efforts. The Prophet (saw) said, “When a Muslim spends something on his family intending to receive Allah’s reward it is regarded as Sadaqa for him.” [Bukhari] This may lead some to ask, “If it’s Sadaqah, does that means it’s only recommended that I provide for my family? Of course the answer to this is a resounding no.
Ibn Ḥajar reports in Fatḥ al Bāri that “Providing for one’s family is mandatory by the consensus of the scholars. The reason it was referred to as Sadaqah was so they wouldn’t assume that they would not be rewarded for carrying out this antecedently mandatory act. They understand how much reward there is in Sadaqah. This way they won’t hasten to aid the people outside of their family until their family is comfortable. It was a method to encourage them to fulfill that which is obligated before the recommended.”
The Prophet (saw) said, “The most excellent dinar is one that a person spends on his family, and the dinar which he spends on his riding-animal in the way of Allah, and the dinar he spends on his companions in the way of Allah”. [Muslim]
In closing, while providing for one’s family is a man’s duty, this does not imply that it is not filled of blessings and reward. Rather, fulfilling an obligation is amongst the most beloved acts in the Eyes of Allah and He rewards accordingly.
-Allah knows best
 Reported by Imam al Bukhari [may Allah have mercy on him] in a chapter titled “The obligation to spend on one’s wife and household”