In the second part of the “Women at Work” article, Sumaira Dada discusses common problems that working women face and their possible solutions
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.”