Women at Work – Part 2

Vol 5 - Issue 3 Women at Work 2

That women are allowed to work should now come as no surprise to readers of the first part of this article. However, once a woman chooses to work, the decision and its realization are no less than a hurdle race. Let’s take a look at some of the common problems and their solutions in the light of the Quran and the Sunnah.

Giving up career to get married?

A common job interview question for women is whether they are single. It appears, as if career and marriage cannot coexist. Should women give up their careers in order to get married?

For a Muslim woman, family should come before her personal career. That does not mean, however, that a career is unimportant; in fact, the order of priority is a guideline of how to deal with the diverse roles a Muslim woman can and should play in society. In Islamic history, we find married Muslim women taking an active part in politics, farming, business and even in the field of war. The fact that they did not put career before marriage is proven by the excellent generation of Muslims they raised.

For example, we find Asma Bint Abu Bakr (rta) working on a farm and transporting the produce herself. She mentions that when she got married to Zubair (rta), they did not have wealth. Therefore, the Prophet (sa) gave them some land about two miles away from their home. Her son Abdullah Ibn Zubair (rta) became well known for his devotion to the cause of Islam.

In the battlefield, we hear of Umm Ammara (rta), who participated in wars and even lost her hand in the Battle of Yamamah. In the Battle of Uhud, she struck down a man, who had hurt her son. We also find Umm Sulaym (rta) carrying a dagger and tending to the wounded in the Battle of Uhud. One of her sons, Anas Ibn Malik (rta), became a renowned companion of the Prophet (sa).

Following Islamic guidance to prevent harassment

One of the criteria that women should fulfill in order to work is to dress modestly in accordance with the injunctions of Islam. They should also select professions that do not involve a lot of interaction with the opposite gender. If, however, the job requires a lot of interaction, one must take care to act with caution, care and poise. Interaction should be work-related and seclusion must be avoided. The Prophet (sa) said that whenever a man is alone with a woman, the Devil makes a third. (Ahmad and At-Tirmidhi)

The Prophet’s (sa) wives were addressed by Allah (swt) and were told not to be soft in speech: “O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women. If you keep your duty (to Allah), then be not soft in speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease (of hypocrisy, or evil desire for adultery) should be moved with desire, but speak in an honourable manner.” (Al-Ahzab 33:32)

If one follows the above guidelines, any chances of unwanted attention or harassment would decrease to a large extent.

Debate on travelling alone resolved

A lot of debate has ensued over whether women can travel alone. The European Council for Fatwah and Research states that travelling alone is primarily unlawful, as we know from a Hadeeth of the Prophet (sa): “A woman, who believes in Allah and the Hereafter, shall not travel for (a period of) a day and a night, unless accompanied by a Mahram of hers.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

The Council goes on to say that: “other scholars stipulate that her travel is permissible in the company of a trustworthy group of men or men and women… Caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (rta) allowed the Prophet’s wives to travel for Hajj with a group of believers and sent with them Usman Ibn Affan (rta) and Abdul-Rahman Ibn Auf (rta).

“In the Hadeeth of the Prophet (sa) to Adiy Ibn Hatim, we read: ‘If you live long, you will see the woman travel from Hirah (a city in Iraq) to circumambulate the Kabah, fearing none but Allah.’ (Bukhari)

“This confirms that the cause (of the prohibition) is fear (of insecurity). If security is guaranteed and fear is no more present, a woman may travel, particularly nowadays, when travel has become easy, whether by air, train or coach. In all these means of transportation, company is available and security is realized for the Muslim woman.”

Despite the above permission, the woman should ask herself what makes her feel safer – travelling alone or with a group of women / a Mahram relative. If a woman is competent, organization will make concessions for her to comply with the Islamic condition on travelling accompanied with a female colleague and will not see this as a hindrance in her employment.

Sharing household expenses is not mandatory

In Islam, the financial responsibility of the household rests with the man. Allah (swt) states: “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means.” (An-Nisa 4:34)

On the other hand, such scholars as Dr. Rifat Fawzi (Professor of Shariah, Cairo University) and Sheikh Ahmed Kutty (Islamic Institute of Toronto) hold the view that women should contribute to the household expenses. In his Fatwah, Sheikh Kutty says: “If a wife gives her husband from her salary voluntarily, it is totally permissible for the husband to make use of it. But because of the fact that the wife’s working takes its toll on the husband, the wife should be fair enough to contribute something towards the maintenance of the house and the family.”

Nevertheless, a man cannot coerce his wife to work and share in the household expenses; neither can he forcibly take away her money. According to late Sheikh Muhammad Al-Bahyy (former dean of the Faculty of Theology at Al-Azhar University), “the wives’ right to the entire ownership of their Mahr (dower), which is given to them by their husbands, indicates their financial independence. It is not lawful for a man to take the Mahr, or a part of it, back from his wife except in two cases: if the wife remits it voluntarily, or if she gives it back to him in return for divorce from him (An-Nisa 4:4, Al-Baqarah 2:229).”

He further goes on to say: “As it is the case with Mahr, the wife has full ownership of her other sources of wealth, such as her salary. It is not lawful for the husband to take part or all of his wife’s salary, unless she gives it to him voluntarily.”

Women’s rights have not been imported

To conclude, I would like to quote Fatima Mernissi: “We, Muslim women, can walk into the modern world with pride, knowing that the quest for dignity, democracy and human rights, for full participation in the political and social affairs of our country, stems from no imported Western values, but is a true part of Muslim tradition.”

Women at Work – Part 1

Vol 5 - Issue 2 Women at work

Maneuvering her way through the maze of crawling traffic, Sara finally managed to park her car in a cramped parking lot. Having managed to drop her two children at school barely making it on time, she winced at the thought of facing the new supervisor at work. He appeared to be taking a keen interest in how she spent the day. Often, he would come in and inquire what her plans were for the evening. Lately, she was also feeling quite stressed out. A job opening in another organization came as a great blessing and a way out of the disturbing situation.

All women, however, may not be as lucky as Sara. Harassment at the workplace is one of the many problems that working women have to deal with on a daily basis. Often, their protests are not taken seriously, especially if the perpetrator is in a position of authority. The situation speaks volumes about the ignorance regarding the Divine Guidance on dealings with the opposite gender.

Allah (swt) says in the Quran: “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts). That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts) and not to show off their adornment except that which is apparent.” (An-Nur 24:30-31)

Instead of solving the problem by dealing with it straightforwardly, many women simply opt out of work altogether. Some people assert that women are not allowed to work in the first place. What does Islam say about this issue?

Are women allowed to work?

According to several noted scholars, women are allowed to work.

Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states in his Fatwah: “Islam allows her to work outside the home in an appropriate job, which suits her nature, her concern and her capacity and which does not crush her femininity. Her work is legitimate within certain limits and certain conditions, especially when she or her family needs the outside work or when the society itself needs her work in particular. The need for work is not merely limited to the financial aspect. It could be a psychological need, such as the need of a specialized learned woman, who is not married, or the married woman, who has no children or who has a lot of leisure time and to alleviate boredom.”

The scholar further goes on to say that Islam does not forbid women to work inside or outside the home. He gives the example of the wives of Allah’s Messenger (sa), who used to work at home. They used to dye their own clothing and tan hides in addition to other household activities. He gives the example of Syedna Aisha (rta), who prepared herbal medicines, Asma bint Abu Bakr (rta), who used to work inside and outside her home, Rufaydah Al-Aslamiyyah (rta), who was the first female doctor in Islam, and Umm Mihjan (rta), who used to clean the Prophet’s (sa) mosque. In fact, the second Caliph of Islam Syedna Umar Farooq appointed a woman, Ash-Shifa, as a market inspector in Madinah.

The European Council for Fatwah and Research states: “We do not deny that some countries have very strict traditions regarding women, so that they become more like prisoners in their own homes, until death comes to them. However, even though some scholars may agree with this, it remains that clear, covert and correct legal evidence contradicts these traditions in addition to the objectives of Shariah, the interests of mankind and the development of age and people.”

Daiyah Zeinab Mostafa states: “We cannot forbid women from work and deprive the society from the benefit and knowledge that they have, under the pretext that Islam forbids women to work, which is completely baseless. If we return to the Seerah (biography) of the Prophet (sa) and his companions, we will find that they lived a happy life, when men and women worked together to fulfill their duties.”

Conditions for working

It is clear from the above rulings and opinions that women are allowed to work. However, they need to keep in mind certain conditions:

Work should be lawful, not forbidden or leading to the forbidden

Some of the occupations that are forbidden or lead to the forbidden include working as a flight attendant, which requires wearing provocative clothing and interacting closely with the opposite gender, working as a private secretary, requiring being alone with the manager, or working as a dancer, who excites physical instincts and lusts.

Maintaining Islamic conduct in dealings

The rules of modesty, as laid down by the Quran and the Sunnah, must be observed. The proper Muslim dress should be worn; one must not look lustfully but be serious in speech and decent in gait.

Work should not result in neglect of the primary duty

The Muslim wife’s primary duty is towards her family. According to Zainab Al-Alwani, instructor of Fiqh and Islamic studies in Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (Virginia, USA), educated Muslim women should strike a balance between work and family obligations by choosing a flexible job or choosing to work fewer hours. Daiyah Zeinab Mostafa further goes on to say: “Work can be obligatory for her, if she does not have anyone to look after her, and she is able to work and earn her living in a lawful way. It could be forbidden, if her work would lead her to neglect her duty as a wife and as a mother. It is entirely lawful and allowed, if the woman can strike a balance between different duties and obligations.”

Dealing with problems at work

A number of problems and dilemmas crop up, once a woman decides to work. Harassment, discrimination, travelling alone or choosing a career over marriage are just the tip of the iceberg.