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Should women go out and work like men? An Islamic Perspective

Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani
Translated by Adeel*

These days the idea that women should work with men on equal footings is pressed upon with full force.  The influence of modern western thought has spread this idea across the globe without considering as to why man and woman have been created with physical differences if they were to undertake similar tasks? Man’s physical, mental and emotional make up is different from that of woman and his capabilities are also different from those of woman. Allah Almighty has created two genders with different physical bearings. Therefore, to say that both man and woman are same is a rebellion against nature and a denial of the observation. This difference is even visible to the naked eye. Latest fashion has tried to eliminate, or reduce, this natural difference so much so that women have started dressing like men and keeping their hair like men and vice versa but even then it cannot be denied that man and woman are different genders with distinct physique and abilities.

From the teachings of the Qur’an and its messenger (ﷺ) it evident without an iota of doubt that human life has two aspects; one related to life within a house and the other without it. These two aspects are such that without taking them along together, a fair and balanced life is impossible. The affairs of a household are immensely important and the matters outside the house such as work, livelihood etc. are also very important. If both are not run fairly or done so with discrepancies, human life would be devoid of balance.

Allah Almighty has justly distributed these aspects; matters pertaining to outside the house have been assigned to man such as working, earning a living, politics, social welfare etc. Whereas, the matters pertaining to the household have been assigned to woman by Allah Almighty and His Messenger (ﷺ). Even if Allah Almighty had assigned women with the tasks pertaining to matters outside the home, there would not have been a reason to question or challenge the ruling but if we analyze from our intellect, we would reach the same conclusion that man should bear the responsibilities for the matters outside the house and woman should manage the household. Comparison shows man is more suited to the work outside because the physical strength he has been given is not given to woman. Work outside requires more strength and labour, therefore, the nature also demands that he works outside himself and leaves the household to woman.

Allah Almighty addressed the wives of the Prophet (ﷺ) and through them, all the believing women:

وَقَرْنَ فِي بُيُوتِكُنَّ

And abide in your houses.[1]

This verse does not only mean that women should not move out of their homes unnecessarily, it also points towards a fundamental reality that Allah Almighty created woman to stay at home and take up responsibilities there.

The Prophet’s (ﷺ) daughter Fatima and son-in law Ali –may Allah be pleased with them- had also divided responsibilities amongst themselves. ‘Ali would take care of the matters pertaining to outside the house while Fatima would take care of matters inside.[2] Therefore, she used to clean the house, grind wheat, and cook food.[3]

Woman has been created for the most important task of maintaining and strengthening the family system. If both man and woman go outside and earn, then the home is not properly looked after and the family system weakens and even breaks.

An argument made to stress the idea of women working outside their houses is that wasting half of the human resource is unaffordable. The argument is raised with such an audacity as if hundred percent employment has been reached for men and there are no unemployed males anymore.

 This line of argumentation further implies that work or productivity is only that which leads to immediate financial returns but if a person is working to set the family system in order, sanctify the environment at home they do not consider it productive work. In reality setting the house in order and cementing the family system is a grand task that a woman performs (in traditional societies). Therefore, she discharges a huge obligation and performs a great role which results in creation of a healthy society.

The last President of USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev writes in his well-known book Perestroika:

over the years of our difficult and heroic history, we failed to pay attention to women’s specific rights and needs arising from their role as mother and home-maker, and their indispensable educational function as regards children. Engaged in scientific research, working on construction sites, in production and in the services, and involved in creative activities, women no longer have enough time to perform their everyday duties at home — housework, the upbringing of children and the creation of a good family atmosphere. We have discovered that many of our problems—in children’s and young people’s behavior, in our morals, culture and in production—are partially caused by the weakening of family ties and slack attitude to family responsibilities. This is a paradoxical result of our sincere and politically justified desire to make women equal with men in everything. Now, in the course of perestroika, we have begun to overcome this shortcoming. That is why we are now holding heated debates in the press, in public organizations, at work and at home, about the question of what we should do to make it possible for women to return to their purely womanly mission.[4]

The primary reason for the destruction of the family system is that the purpose of creation has not been duly understood and appreciated. Materialism and greed have become the norm of society and economy which has forced people to forget the true purpose of their creation and run after temporary worldly gains while in reality, losing more than gaining.

On a side note it must be mentioned for those who may have formed a misconception that women cannot go out of homes. Staying at homes does not mean that a woman is not allowed to go out. Wearing modest and unrevealing dress a woman can go out of her home when needed. Although Allah Almighty has not placed the burden of earning livelihood on a woman but if she does not have a father, a husband a brother, or another guardian she is allowed to go out and work. Even otherwise women can go out with their male relatives for recreation and entertainment. At times the Messenger of Allah used to take ‘Aisha out with him. At times he even raced with her.[5] Therefore, staying at home must not be considered equivalent to house arrest.
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References and Notes:


* This is not a continuous and verbatim translation. Since it is based on transcribed lectures some adjustments have been made to maintain the flow and lucidity of translation.

[1] Qur’an 33:33

[2] Dhamrah bin Habib said:

قضى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم على ابنته فاطمة بخدمة البيت ، وقضى على علي بما كان خارجا من البيت

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) asked her daughter Fatimah to perform the household duties and ruled for ‘Ali to take the responsibilities outside the house.

See, Ibn Abi Shaybah, al-Musannaf, ed. Muhammad Awwama (Beirut: Dar Qartaba, 2006) Hadith 35649

[3] Abi al-Bakhtari reported:

قال علي لأمه فاطمة بنت أسد : اكفي فاطمة بنت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم الخدمة خارجا : سقاية الماء والحاجة ، وتكفيك العمل في البيت : العجن والخبز والطحن.

‘Ali said to his mother Fatimah bint Asad: I would suffice Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet (ﷺ), for the undertakings outside the house like bringing water and other necessities and she would help you in household chores, kneading, baking and grinding.”

See, Ibn Abi Shaybah, al-Musannaf, Hadith 35643, Also, at-Tabarani, Mu’jam al-Kabir, (Cairo: Maktaba Ibn Taymiyyah, 1994) Hadith 873; al-Haithmi said its narrators are those of Sahih al-Bukhari, See Majm’ az-Zawa’id, (Cairo: Maktaba al-Qudsi, 1994) Hadith 15398)

[4] Gorbachev, Mikhail, Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1987) 117

[5] as-Sajistani, Abu Dawud, as-Sunan, Translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab (Riyadh: Darussalam Publications, 2007) Hadith 2578; classified as sahih by al-Albani

Published : December 13, 2014                 Last modified : July 3rd, 2016

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2 comments

  1. JazakAllahu khayran for this,

    I was wondering whether 33:32-33 imply what the shaykh makes them imply- not only is it addressed to the Prophet’s wives and not the believing community in general, but also the passage starts with “O wives of the Prophet, you are not like other women”. Does this not clearly exclude the extrapolation of this command to the believing community at large?

    Also, the ahadith specify that women cannot travel a three days long journey without a mahram. By negation, doesn’t it mean that the women *can* travel within the city as long as it’s not a long journey?

    • The instructions are for all women and specific mention of the Wives of the Prophet (saaw) is to stress their importance for them. The same passage has instructions on establishing prayers, giving zakat and obeying Allah and His Messenger which are definitely not for the Prophet’s wives alone. Plus the ayah couples the instruction of staying at home with prohibition of going out like women of the times of ignorance which definitely holds true for all women.

      As for traveling thing, the connection of display and rulings of hijab elsewhere show it the times of need are excepted when the due Islamic etiquette is followed. No one says it is absolute haram for women to go out of home.

      I hope this clarifies

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