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

The following is based on the work of Mufti Taqi Usmani and taken from his book ‘اسلام اور دور ا حاضر کے شبھات و مغالطے’ – Islam and doubts and misconceptions of the modern age. These have not been translated exactly and have been stated in my own words. 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. The target audience are the Muslims but non-Muslims may also benefit from these.

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.

Indeed, Allah knows the best.

References and footnotes:

[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


9 thoughts on “Should women go out and work like men? An Islamic perspective

  1. As per mullahs most of them.. Men r ultimate boss of household.. One sided decission of man breaks household too mind that restrictions in decission making ..Man dies still woman work at home n die of hunger n no income.. Man goes abroad woman cannot travel with other man.. Woman r bonded signed slave for home.. Is that it is?

    • It is a good question and I can understand your feelings well. The problem is that we have made our society very opposed to the Islamic culture; we have let our culture overtake the Islamic culture. A divorcee or a widow is not looked down upon in Islam and they remarry but in our times, this is very rare. Hence, your question as to what a woman should do if her husband dies makes sense in this context and not in the Islamic context.

      A woman’s primary place being home does not mean that she is under house arrest – it simply means that the home is the primary purpose (as Gorbachev also wrote). Of course she can go out and must go out and do what is necessary. Staying locked indoors can cause many problems as well which may include suffocation, vitamin D deficiency and further issues resulting from it among others. The Prophet (s) said: There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm. Why would you think that the woman is under suffering?

      Moreover, if it is really required, women can work out of their homes as well such as in the instances you mentioned i.e. being a widow and needing to support herself or her children. Ideally, we Muslims should be proactive rather than reactive and should devise ways for women to work as well, even if not needed. As parents, we should train our daughters with skills they can use to make a living and as men in general, we should devise ways they can continue to earn and there may be several ways for this: in the recent past before the internet boom, women would trade in their neighborhoods among other ways. Now, the modern world provides several opportunities as well in the fields of marketing, social media, accounting, designing, translating, book writing and publishing, and what not. Why not utilize them and help women excel and exceed in these fields? Why not teach our daughters languages as kids so they have ample more opportunities in those fields as well? Why not teach them writing and narrating skills? Why not teach them proper education as well.. the useful ones not necessarily or always taught in schools?

      Would it surprise you that the scholars have said that it is an obligation (fard kifaya) upon the community to train women in the fields of science, medicine, surgery, nursing, and teaching among others?

      Personally, if you ask me to leave religion on the side and then decide the ideal work for my daughter, I would say that I would never like her to work in a corporate world today. As a man, I’m not a fan of the corporate world working in a venomous environment; how can I be happy by throwing my daughter in this dark pit? The western world is awake to these corporate ills and they keep coming up with theories and laws but the bottom line does not change – this world is cruel.

      In addition, a woman who finds Islam restrictive has no problems reporting to her male boss who may or may not be a perv but to accept her husband to have one degree up is not acceptable to her. The Prophet (s) said: The leader of the nation is their servant. If Allah has granted the protector status to the man, he is supposed to serve her and this is much better than reporting to the best boss in the world.

      So in short, Islam is not anti-women. We as Muslims should be proactive rather than reactive.

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  4. What is notable here is that Mufti Taqi Usmani focuses primarily on the differences between men and women. That he should do so is not surprising. Rarely if ever does one observe a system so strongly intent on separating the sexes as Islam, with often the justification for such separation being “men and women are different.”

    From early on, the children of Muslims are shown verse after verse after verse in which the god of the universe prefers to speak to only one gender, men. With regards to rewards given by this god, the man is first in line. No male-houris for women, and just half the inheritance. The allah of Muhammad openly admits he favors men more than women (Quran 2:228 and Quran 4:34).

    Muhammad went so far as to make the ultimate distinction between men and women: he declared that women are deficient in intelligence. (Sahih Bukhari, 1:6:301). Connected with this, Muslim girls may well be taught by their elders that Muhammad looked into hell, and saw that a majority of its inhabitants were women (Sahih Bukhari & Sahih Muslim).

    And the Muslim girls as well as boys grow up learning that the sexes must be kept apart. The Prophet Muhammad says: “No man is alone with a woman but the Shaytan is the third one present.’” [Narrated by Ahmad, Tirmidhi and Hakim). To keep this invisible “Shaytan” away, the Islamic world envisages a world in which there is far less communication between men and women than that found in nonMuslim society. To ensure that this happens, Muslim men, told by the god of Muhammad that they are better and in charge, may demand that their wives stay home and not leave (unless they can be accompanied by a male guardian).

    NonMuslim society (most of humanity) screams out: THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN ARE FAR MORE SIGNIFICANT THAN ARE THE DIFFERENCES!! Both women and men have not just a longing for happiness, but special talents to employ, as well as valuable knowledge and opinions to share.

    Forty-eight women have won the Nobel Prize for noteworthy contributions to humanity. Had these women not ventured out into the world but instead had been confined to their homes, would our world be not quite as good? What do you think? A very recent female Nobel Laureate, Svetlana Alexandrovna Alexievich, wrote a book entitled, War Does Not Have a Woman’s Face. I myself agree with this assessment about war, and thus tend to doubt any god who would put into hell more women than men.

    In Saudi Arabia until extremely recently, women were denied the right to drive cars. In America, women have been sent to outer space as astronauts. Mr. Usmani asserts that a young girl should confine her aim in life to the walls of the home she shall live in. In the nonMuslim world, a girl is free to aim at the stars.

    • Why does God speak to ‘men’?
      Women have half inheritance?
      No male houris?
      Men are superior to women (Quran 2:228 and Quran 4:34)? and
      Women are deficient in intelligence?
      Majority women in hell?

      Where did you get the idea that women should be confined to the four walls? Islam makes it obligatory to have women doctors, nurses, teachers, scholars, professors, and so on. It is not a mere recommendation but an obligation on the society to have women in such roles.

      As for your comment on segregation, I don’t think that is valid at all. In fact, even western society is divided on it. In Islamabad, Pakistan, a delegation from the education department had come and they visited an all-women’s university which they loved immensely. I guess they should have been taught that this is oppressive to the women; however, they thought otherwise and were very impressed by this idea. I don’t need to give crime and rape statistics as I know the usual response is that in Muslim countries it is not reported. How can one argue with such an ad-hoc, made-up, and baseless claim? So let’s ignore that but I would still request you to be genuine with yourself and think about it with an open heart and mind.

      You gave the example of Saudi Arabia. Even though a single country is not representative of all Muslims, your example is still wrong. In fact, other Muslims and those who visit Saudi Arabia get a total opposite impression which is that Saudi women are spoiled and pampered. Travel more my friend. I suggest you visit some Muslim countries and see for yourself; hopefully, your misgivings will be clarified.

  5. Please, Mr. Rahma, understand that I was responding to arguments of Mr. Usmani, and not to your arguments.

    Do examine this sentence stated above (presumably reflecting Mr. Usmani’s point of view): “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”. (emphasis added).

    Unlike Mr. Usmani, you yourself Mr. Rahma have a far more modern & admirable point of view in my opinion — you write: “Islam makes it obligatory to have women doctors, nurses, teachers, scholars, professors, and so on. It is not a mere recommendation but an obligation on the society to have women in such roles.”

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