In the eighth article of the work ethics series, Sumaira Dada discusses workplace issues specific to working women
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. These issues will, Insha’Allah, be dealt with in part two of the article.