Should Muslim women stay at home?

Story by  Eman Sakina | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 03-06-2023
A Muslim woman selling national flag on Republic day in New Delhi (Ravi Batra)
A Muslim woman selling national flag on Republic day in New Delhi (Ravi Batra)


Eman Sakina

Women in principle have a responsibility towards their families and their children, although this does not forbid them to go outside nor it is forbidden for them to have jobs. The issue is that there are priorities in the responsibilities of a woman. If these responsibilities are not jeopardized by her job and her work is permissible and meets the guidelines of Islamic Sharia, it is fine for her to work.

A woman is permitted to go outside as the women during the times of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to attend the mosque. They also used to attend with the Prophet in his conquests to nurse the wounded. The wives of the Prophet went out for Hajj and Umrah.

We have been used to thinking that women have been created for family life and for raising children, and thus their natural place is in their homes. Nothing in the Quran or Sunna clearly supports such a view or assumption. Such a division of labor between the husband who earns the living of the family and the wife who stays at home doing housework is a societal experience, which has occurred for a very long time throughout history in so many societies, including the Arab society at the time of Islam, and the subsequent Muslim as well as other societies until recent times when change has come out. Women learn and work equally to men, and the family responsibilities are requiring more financial resources. Caring about the home must be reviewed, and the Prophet's traditions indicate his assistance to his wives.

Moreover, the Arabic word "qawwamun", with its preposition "'ala" which describes the relation of men to women in the Quranic verse 4:34, does not imply any superiority, but simply means "taking full care of". The verse reads: "Men take full care of women, for what God has granted some of them distinctively from the other, and what they may spend out of their possessions".

Because of the differences between men and women in these areas, men must be responsible for taking care of both the woman's and the children's needs, at least when the woman is hampered by such a distinctive natural function of reproduction. This setback is temporary; therefore it cannot be used as justification for keeping the woman at home for the rest of her life. It also has no negative effects on the woman's intellectual or psychological abilities. She is not expected to have children or raise them for the rest of her life, and kids must start going to school at a particular age. What, therefore, should keep a woman at home if she is unable to marry or have children?

It is time to look to the woman as an equal human being, not just as a bearer and raiser of children, a cook, a home-cleaner, or a dishes and dirty laundry washer, etc. Family life and raising children require a join-effort from both the man and the woman. Since the woman has her right and obligation in obtaining an education according to the guidance of Islam, it is good for her personality and society, just as it may be good for the family itself to support the woman's right to work, and if this right is beneficial for all parties, it should be secured.

Islam never forbids women to work inside or outside the 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 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.

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

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 on battlefields, in addition to preparing food for the other warriors.

These and other instances demonstrate that working outside the home is never against the law in Islam, regardless of whether a woman is married or not. However, Islam has established specific laws to safeguard working women, ensure their safety, and avert any potential negative effects. One of these rules states that women must cover themselves with loose garments and wear the hijab. She should never leave the house wearing anything too tight or transparent. In other words, she should not go out wearing anything that would make a man feel attracted to her sexually, use perfume or make-up, or expose any of her 'awrah (parts that must be covered). When going to work, a woman should not be a source of temptation or mix with guys who are allowed to be around her.

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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.