Development of the Concept of Women’s Work

Oleh: Dr. Zayd ibn Muhammad al-Rummaani
Member of Education Committee, Imaam Muhammad ibn Sa’ood Islamic University

The movement to bring women out of the home to work started in a major way in the western world after the Industrial Revolution, which led to men’s migration to the cities, so women took their place in the countryside. When the unions emerged, owners of workplaces used women to counteract these unions. This – as researchers and historians will confirm – was the plan of Jewish elements, aimed at destroying society by destroying the family, in order to take control of society.

Women’s work role increased further as a result of the major wars which led to the conscription of young men. It was also increased by the media which propagated the idea of women working, and promised freedom and a way out from the eras of intellectual stagnation and social backwardness during which women had been obedient servants running the affairs of the household with no status of their own. The emergence of women was also used for material gains, the fulfilment of base desires, prostitution and corruption.

Dr. Saalih al-Assaaf says in his book, Al-Mar’ah al-Khaleejiyyah fi Majaal al-Tarbiyah wa’l-Ta’leem (Women of the Gulf in the field of education) that women’s entry into the work-force came about as a result of plans drawn up by the capitalists who had been spawned by the Jews, to create a global society with no religion or morals; their main tool in reaching their evil goals was woman.

It was said that the concept of women’s work and interest in this concept go back to the Industrial Revolution in Europe, when the factory workers started to strike because of their exhaustion caused by long hours of work for limited pay. Because of this, women were brought into the work-force to make up for the shortage of workers in the factories, lest work stop and financial losses occur as a result.

Women and work in the West

Women in the west did not enter the work-force until after men had ceased to meet their needs, then they were forced to work.

Dr. Yoosuf Moosa (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “Perhaps it is worth mentioning here that during my stay in France, the family in whose house I stayed for a while had a servant girl who, from her features and demeanour, obviously came from a good background. I asked the lady of the house, `Why do we have this girl as a servant? Does she not have a relative who can keep her, thus saving her from having to work?’ She replied that the girl came from a good family in the city, and she had a very rich uncle, but he did not care about her. I asked, `Why does she not take the matter to court so that the judge can order him to spend on her?’ The lady was amazed by this, and told me that this was not permitted by law.

When I told her about the rulings of Islam on such matters, she said, `Who will bring this kind of legislation to us? If we had this type of legislation, we would not have girls and women having to go out to work in companies and factories.’”

The father in western countries is not obliged by the state, or by tradition, to spend on his daughter once she reaches the age of eighteen. So fathers force their daughters to find work when they reach this age, or to pay rent for the room in which they live.

Women’s work in the west has resulted in the disintegration of the family and the vagrancy of children. This is what has led western academics and thinkers to raise their voices to warn their societies against the perils of women working outside the home.

Anna Rhode said: “Finding her daughters work in the houses of others as servants and the like is better and less trouble than finding them work in factories where they are contaminated with the dirt and lose their beauty for ever. Would that our country was like the Muslim countries! It’s a shame that England has made its daughters an example of immorality and promiscuity. Why do we not strive to find our daughters work that suits their nature?”

Alexis Carrel said: “Modern society has made a huge mistake by replacing the teaching of the family completely with the teaching of the school.”

Dr. Wayne Dennis said: “The child’s intelligence and ability to speak develop and become strong when he grows up among his parents and is not left to the care of educators, servants and teachers.”

Bertrand Russell confirmed: “The family has disintegrated because of women working in public. Real life shows us that women rebel against the traditions of good morals, and refuse to stay faithful to their husbands when they become financially independent.”

Negative consequences of women’s work

Women’s emergence into the work-force has been accompanied by social changes in the family structure and in the relationships between husbands and wives, children and parents.

Some academic researchers have noted the conflict between women’s work and their role as mother and wife, which affects them
emotionally and physically, so that they have to seek the help of others to raise their children.

There is scientific evidence to show that longer breastfeeding makes a child more sociable. Hence the child needs his mother to devote enough time to breastfeeding so that he will be more self-confident and grow naturally.

In addition to the above, there are other negative consequences caused by women going out of the home to work. These include:

The mother’s lengthy absence at work cuts down on the period of breastfeeding, and reduces the flow of milk. Some women have been forced to wean their children at an early age, because their work does not give them the opportunity to nourish themselves properly which is essential during the breastfeeding period.

When women go out to work, this weakens the ties of love among the members of the family, and may lead to its disintegration and collapse. The increase in the divorce rate in countries where many women go out to work is well known.

Women’s work in Islam

Islam is the religion which honours women and protects them, aiming to keep them safe and chaste, because this protects the whole society. So the woman offers comfort to the man and is his confidante and nurse, the one who breastfeeds him and nurses him. So if she is righteous, then she prepares a righteous generation for the future.

The home is the woman’s domain, her base of operations in life. The Qur’aan and Sunnah command women to stay in their houses. Allaah has given both spouses their rights, and has enjoined upon each their duties, so that the structure of the family and the society may complement one another. So the man has to work and strive to earn a living, and spend on his family, and the woman has to take care of breastfeeding, nurturing and bringing up the children. If she forsakes her domestic duties, then the whole family suffers, emotionally and physically.

At the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and the Khulafaa’ al-Raashidoon, women took part with men in numerous fields, such as the pursuit of knowledge. There were women who narrated ahaadeeth and reports, literary women and poetesses, and women who were well versed in science and handicrafts.

The wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and the wives of his Companions (may Allaah be pleased with them) used to go out on military campaigns with the men, bringing water and preparing food, taking care of the wounded, and urging the army to fight, all within the bounds of proper covering and chaste conduct.

There are essential and urgently-needed kinds of work which have to be undertaken by women, such as teaching. If we do not allow women to teach young girls, who is going to teach them? Should we leave them ignorant, or should we bring in men to teach them, with all the risks involved in that?

This also applies to the practice of medicine and nursing. If women teach girls, there is less danger involved than if we let men teach them.

Provision of social services and charitable work to women are other areas which should be undertaken by women, so that we may become self-sufficient and have a specialized female workforce.

The concept of women’s work in Islam is more comprehensive and deeper than that proclaimed by those who advocate that women should be liberated from the home only so that they may obtain paid employment. Motherhood is work; bringing up children is work; housework is work; upholding the values of society is work.

Women’s work in the Muslim countries

When women in Muslim countries went out to work, it was in imitation of and in admiration of the portrayal given by cheats and deceivers of western women’s so-called freedom and false economic independence.

So Muslim women were influenced by the women of the west, and more of them went out to work. As a result, there was an increase in unveiling (removal of hijaab) and mixing with men, which in turn led to the spread of corruption and evil in the society.

Islam wants women to be their husband’s allies, to support and encourage them in their duties and work; it wants the woman to be in charge of her home, to raise the next generation, to be a loving companion to her husband and to be educated and cultured; it wants her to be strong in her religion, sincere and honest, patient and content with her life.

In the past there were Muslim women who were scholars, teachers and workers, who played a valuable role.

`Urwah ibn al-Zubayr (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “I never saw anyone more knowledgeable in fiqh, medicine and poetry than `Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her).”

The Sahaabah (may Allaah be pleased with them) acknowledged the rights of the Mothers of the Believers, learned from their advice, and asked them about religious matters concerning which they did not have knowledge.

There have always been female workers, even during the time of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) did business with the wealth of Khadeejah (may Allaah be pleased with her). It was reported that a woman from among the Ansaar came to the Messenger of Allaah whilst he was sitting at al-Marwah, and said, “O Messenger of Allaah, I am a woman who buys and sells. It may be that I am about to sell a product, then someone offers me a higher price.” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Do not do that (do not accept the higher price). When you want to buy something, make your offer, and then it does not matter whether your bid is accepted or not.”

In Islam, a woman is the custodian of her husband’s wealth and is responsible for her “flock” (i.e., those under her care, her children).

The women of the Sahaabah (may Allaah be pleased with them) used to undertake difficult work in their homes, as was reported from Faatimah (may Allaah be pleased with her) and Asmaa’ (may Allaah be pleased with her). They used to cook, wash (clothes), grind flour, make dough, bake bread and feed horses.

Reasons for work, and developing home-based work

Women are women, in the past and in the present, at every time and in every place. There may be women who want to earn money in order to feel personally independent, or for the satisfaction that they derive from their work.

It may be that women want to work in order to be on the safe side, in case they become widowed or divorced. Or perhaps both spouses think that it is necessary to raise the family’s standard of living.

In the past, this desire to work was fulfilled through things that women did in their homes. But it seems that modern progress has changed some things, and now there are professions that are practised outside the home.

Therefore it is preferable for society to develop fields in which women can work at home, so that they can earn money or serve their societies from their homes.

When and how can women work?

Dr. Saalih al-`Assaaf answers this question in his book al-Mar’ah al- Khaleejiyyah, where he says:

“Women can work where there is an urgent social need which requires women to do paid work that is suited to their feminine nature and that does not conflict with Islamic values.”

With regard to how they may work, he says that women can work according to the following conditions and guarantees:

* That her paid work should not go against her feminine nature.
* That her paid work should not lead to her mixing with men.
* That her paid work should not hinder her from playing her role in the family.
* That her paid work should not cause her to make a wanton display of her beauty.

So, if these conditions are taken into consideration and there is an urgent social need, women can do paid work in a number of fields, such as:

Medicine, nursing, teaching, social services and commercial ventures serving women, such as weaving, textiles and sewing.

To what extent does women’s work have an effect on the development of the national economy?

The concept of women’s work is based on the view that women form an important human resource which should be put to use in increasing the country’s productivity. This may be achieved by using local women to replace foreign workers, so that they become producers and not merely consumers. Making use of women to help develop the national economy is a matter whose desirability is agreed upon.

But is it only women’s paid work that counts? Of course not. We should look at both women’s paid work and their unpaid work as represented by motherhood, child rearing and housework.

Ways of increasing women’s input in social and economic development

In order to enable women to do what is expected of them, and to increase their input in social and economic development, we must do the following:

* Strive to ensure that all girls, in the cities and in the countryside, receive an education.
* Add a curriculum of study just for girls, to teach them some kinds of work that can be done at home.
* Teach girls how to bring up children and teach them (their children) how to speak, walk, keep clean and take care of their health.
* Teach girls to respect themselves and not to be deceived by whims and desires and the media, or to follow the latest foreign fashions, so that the national income will not be wasted on useless things.
* Focus on woman’s role as the mistress of the family and educator of children, and as an important element in the nation’s progress and development, if women take their responsibilities and duties seriously and do them well.

In this manner, women can play a practical role in achieving social and economic development, for their own happiness and for that of their families and society.

Some thoughts about the economic aspects of women’s work

In Islam, women are not obliged to cook and clean as a compulsory duty, which confirms that women’s work in the home is form of economic productivity. This highlights the difference between (the Islamic view) and the western view of women’s work in the home.

There has been a marked increase in a number of countries of work opportunities for women at all levels of qualification and responsibility. In most of the industrialized nations and developing countries, women’s entry into the work force has increased until nearly 30% of women are engaged in economic activity, and approximately one-third of the workforce is composed of women, especially in the industrialized nations.

Some have said that if women in the advanced nations need to work despite their husbands’ high incomes, then women in the developing nations need to work even more, because their husbands have lower incomes and they have more children, so their work will help to speed up the social and economic development of their societies.

And they say that women form half of society and half of the workforce, so if we do not make use of them, this will be a waste of resources and an insult to women’s honour and position.

But the fact of the matter is that there are historical reasons for women’s work in the west, reasons that have to do with the west’s social structure and moral values.

Moreover, the size of the family and a larger number of children should dictate that the woman stay at home because she has an increased burden of responsibility.

Not including women’s housework in the GDP is misleading according to the standards of measuring economic activity, because women’s housework is also a kind of productivity which should be factored into the GDP by calculating the equivalent value if others were paid to do this work.

When we look at the material gains earned through women’s income, we should also consider the alternatives, and take into account how much is lost by paying servants, drivers, babysitters and daycare providers, and how much is spent on ready-made foods. All this means that what is left does not counterbalance the negative effects of women going out to work. Some of them explain the increase in numbers of working women by referring to the rising cost of living, the desire for a higher standard of living and the emergence of modern household tools which make housework easy. They also point to the rise in women’s levels of education, and the appearance of services which help women go out to work, such as day care centres, restaurants and transportation. But in fact, up till the present day, all organizations, even international ones, have failed to achieve true equality in pay between men and women. Businessmen have refused equal pay on the grounds of economic productivity.

Women do less work and are less productive than men; they are less innovative and less ambitious. They also have the additional burden of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and thinking of their children. The demands of their feminine nature make them unable to match men in terms of work, and hinder them from advancing in the work place. This means that women’s wages are half those of men in most countries. Moreover, women are naturally inclined towards wearing make-up and jewellery; if they go out of their homes to work, they are going to spend much of the money that they make on clothes, adornments and fixing their hair. Many countries are suffering because of millions wasted on foolish adornments, things that do not enhance society or contribute towards economic development.

A number of studies confirm that productivity is reduced because of women’s presence in the office.

However, there are kinds of work that can be done at home, which are highly feasible and suitable for women, such as spinning, weaving, textiles and home economics. These kinds of work have been well known from ancient times. `Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) said: “The spindle in the hand of a woman is like a sword in the hand of the mujaahid.” The mother of Sufyaan al-Thawri used to tell him: “O my son, seek knowledge, and I will take care of you by my spinning.”

This kind of expertise can be handed down through the generations and built upon until a distinctive product is developed, as we may note in some societies such as the carpets from Iran and Kashmir which are made by hand at home.

Often such products are well-made and command high prices, and there is a high demand for them.

With regard to the number of children in the family, there are usually fewer children in families where women go out to work, and more in families where women do not work. This is not appropriate. Some societies need to increase their number of inhabitants, and some states even encourage people to increase the population by offering help for every child born to the family.

So it is essential to change the curriculum of women’s education as regards the number of years spent in school and the specialties taught. There is also a need to change the structure of women’s work by developing jobs with shorter hours, the flexibility to come and go, and part-time and short-term employment. In Japan, for example, women play their motherhood role by taking care of their children more than American women do.

Japanese women do not climb the career ladder which leads to a lifetime of work; they leave work after they get married.

Finally, I say that women have enough to do at home to keep them busy, fill their time and keep them from getting bored. They do not need to work outside the home in order to achieve this.
Study prepared by Dr. Zayd ibn Muhammad al-Rummaani
Member of Education Committee, Imaam Muhammad ibn Sa’ood Islamic University
Quoted from al-Da’wah magazine, issue #1742, p. 38
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