Thursday, August 16, 2012

Does Islam establish gender roles for women? Part 5


Dear scholars, as-salamu `alaykum. What is the ruling on women’s going out to work and what are its regulations? Jazakum Allah khayran.


Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

Dear questioner, thanks a lot for your question which reflects your care to have a clear view of the teachings of Islam. Allah commands Muslims to refer to people of knowledge to get themselves well-acquainted with the teachings of Islam as well as all aspects of life.

It is permissible for a woman to work outside the home as long as the regulations set by the Islamic Shari`ah in this regard are observed.

In his response to the question in point, Dr. `Abdel-Fattah Idrees, professor of comparative jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University, issues the following fatwa:

Islam enjoins work and being active, for Almighty Allah says, (And say (unto them): Act! Allah will behold your actions, and (so will) His Messenger and the believers.) (At-Tawbah 9: 105) Allah the Lawgiver has also promised rewards for those who work and He made working hard one of the reasons for His forgiving sins, as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Whoever goes to bed exhausted out of his own hands’ hard work will be forgiven (for all his sins).”

Islam never forbids women to work inside or outside home. To illustrate, the wives of Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) used to work at home. For example, they used to dye their own clothing and tan hides in addition to their other housework activities, such as preparing food, cleaning their houses and serving and taking care of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

Another example of women’s work is that the Prophet’s wife `A’ishah used to prepare the herbal medicine prescribed by his physicians, and she also used to give it herself to Allah’s Messenger and nurse him, in addition to her housework. Furthermore, the wives of the Prophet’s Companions used to do their housework and the like. For instance, Fatimah (daughter of the Prophet) used to run the quern (hand mill for grain) herself till her hands became swollen, and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not disapprove of that. Another example is that Asma’ bint Abi Bakr, wife of Az-Zubayr ibn Al-`Awwam, used to work hard inside and outside her home. She used to feed the camel and the horse and look after her husband and children. Asma’ also used to go on foot to fetch the fodder from her husband’s land three kilometers from Madinah, and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) once saw her on her way and he did not show any disapproval.

That is to say, women’s going out to work is not forbidden in Islam, for some women used to go out to work in the Prophet’s lifetime and he did not disapprove of them. Among those women was Umm `Attiyah, who used to perform circumcision for females, wash and enshroud the deceased females of Madinah, and nurse and treat the injured Muslim warriors in battlefields, in addition to preparing food for the other warriors. Another example of such working women was Rufaydah Al-Aslamiyyah, the first female doctor in Islam, for whom the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) specified a tent in his mosque in Madinah in order to treat and nurse the injured Muslim warriors of the Battle of Al-Khandaq (the Trench). Ar-Rabaiyyi` bint Mu`awwidh and Umm Sulaim used to set out with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in his various battles to provide water for the Muslim warriors, hand weapons to them, prepare food for them, treat the injured, and carry the martyrs to the burial places. Furthermore, Ash-Shifa’ bint `Abdullah used to go out to teach the Muslim women to read and write and to practice medicine during the lifetime of Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him). Umm Mihjan used to clean the Prophet’s Mosque, and when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) noticed her absence and his Companions told him she had died and had been buried (as they did not want to disturb the Prophet’s sleep when she died), the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) went to her grave and offered the Prayer for the dead over her. One more example was that Caliph `Umar ibn Al-Khattab appointed a woman named Ash-Shifa’ to occupy a position called al-hisbah or market inspector who saw that scales were just and accurate and that transactions were carried out according to the rulings of Islam.

All these examples and many others show that Islam never forbids a woman to go out to work, whether she is married or not. Yet, Islam has set some regulations to protect working women, guarantee their safety, and prevent any possible evil consequences. Among these regulations is that a woman should wear hijab and cover herself with loose clothing. She should never go out in skin-tight or see-through clothing. In other words, she should avoid wearing anything that may sexually attract men, nor should she go out wearing make-up or perfume or uncovering any of her `awrah (parts that must be covered). A woman should not be a source of temptation while going out to work, nor should she mingle with men lawful for her to marry. She should also avoid the gatherings of men, as when entering or leaving the work place or getting in the bus to or from work, and should not walk with a swinging erotic gait. Moreover, a woman should be engaged in a kind of work that suits her physiological nature, and should get the permission of her legal guardian or husband to work outside the home. In addition, a woman should make sure that her work would not result in any violation of the rights of her husband or children if she is married. These regulations have many illustrations in the Qur’an and the Sunnah, yet there is no room to mention them here.

It is worth mentioning that distribution of the roles and duties between the two spouses is an integral part in this concern, so that neither of them would be comfortable and satisfied at the expense of the other who would be suffering. In this way family life can proceed smoothly, and the woman is able to play her fundamental role as an active and effective member of the Muslim society without neglecting her role in establishing a good family, which is a pillar of the Muslim community.

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