Working Women In Islamic Perspective: Prohibitory Or Permissibility -By Omar Muaz

As commonly understood by many people that a working woman only means one that goes outside her matrimonial home or her parents’ house to earn a living [in most cases a salary or an income] isn’t but, as rightly put in different ways by Amina Adamu, from Dept. Of English and French, B.U.K in her paper “Balancing the Home and Work: Tales of Working Women” one who has attained certain level of education and use it as an opportunity to secure jobs, or one who earns a living inside her home by engaging in in-door businesses as fish farming, tailoring, poultry and even selling clothes and kitchen equipment, or lastly one who earn a living within the confinement of her house by using their children to hawk and sell for them. Whichever one takes as a definition of a working woman, it’s fine and okay.

I have read many articles claiming modernism to be the root of working women. However, history has it that in traditional African society, women work as much as men [or even more] to sustain the family. They do house chores, look after children and even the man himself — besides cooking for the family, the women wash the man’s clothes and keep his room and the whole house tidy. In addition to all, as affirmed in The Journal of the Islamization of Knowledge and Contemporary Issues, Vol. 1, they go to farm and cultivate crops to supplement in the feeding and economic sustenance of the family.

By the coming of Islam — a religion that propagates women seclusion based on the Quranic provision in Suratul Al-ahzāb, verse 33 “And abide in your houses and do not display yourselves as [was] the display of the times of ignorance.” and some authentic traditions of Rasūl, prophet Muhammad (PBUH) — to Nigeria in the the eleventh century (Clerke and Lindern, 1984), women, more especially in the Northern part of the country, were restricted from going out unnecessarily which includes going to farm. They then concentrated on their roles as mothers while the men accepted and carried out their religious responsibilities of providing the basic needs for their family until the introduction of Western education [read: conventional education] to Nigeria in the 19th century.

The early 70s witnessed large enrollment of girls into conventional schools which started affecting the status-quo of family system with women starting to work as civil and public workers in various organizations and parastatals at the attainment of the conventional schools. More so, the spread of globalization through the Western media led the very foundation of the family which include respect, love and trust for each other to start playing the second fiddle.

In the 90s up to the end of the last century, 20th, many Islamic families have subscribed to the global village through connecting the satellite dish to their homes and of course the internet. Probably, due to the impact of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) — an ambitious structural adjustment program which was adopted in June 1986 as a result of initial reforms including substantial increases in domestic petroleum prices that were announced in the 1986 budget — in the 80s, the man no longer care and provide the basic facilities needed in their homes. Thus, the man lost his pride and respect as the bread-winner both from the wife and the children. Hence, women were left with the only alternative which was finding means of supplementing the family income, even outside their homes (Emeagwali in El-Sohli & Mabro, 1994).

It’s worth noting from the above paragraphs, women were traditionally working before the advent of Islam, more especially in the Northern Nigeria, which abolished the practice and with the world turning into a conventional one, women work to supplement the family income with reasons, of course, varying. There are many women that work, despite their husbands or parents being rich, because they feel bored sitting at home. This category consists almost 10% of the working Northern Nigerian women. Others go out to work to earn a living while others, at the death of their husbands, to provide shelter for their children. In addition to the mentioned categories, some work to serve humanity in governmental and Non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Some Muslim husbands and parents, based on one of these cases, allow their wives and daughters to work while others, basing their argument on the Islamic concept of seclusion, keep their women at home. Now, the question is on the concept of women seclusion in Islamic perspective. What is it? Women seclusion is a term referring to various practices designed to protect women from men in traditional Muslim societies, including confining women to the company of other women and close male relatives in their home or in separate female living quarters, veiling, self-effacing mannerisms, and the separation of men and women in public places.

According to the International Institute of Islamic Thought Nigeria Office’s journal, Al-Ijtihād, the issue of women seclusion in Nigerian context, as has been identified, include (1) complete seclusion — an opinion championed by traditionalists and fundamentalists who strongly believe that women’s role is exclusively restricted to her home only and therefore any other role outside her matrimonial home is forbidden. (2) partial seclusion — that women are allowed to go out when there’s need to go such as hospital and visiting sick relatives and even attending Islamiyya schools and (3) voluntary seclusion is seen as a more symbolic seclusion rather than physical. The third, unlike the complete seclusion which was built on the widely circulated “myth” in some years back, at least in the Hausaland, that a woman has only three outings in her lifetime — that of her being delivered from her mother’s womb, going out to her husband house [being married], and then lastly taken to her grave —, is propagated by those in favour of women going out to work outside her matrimonial homes or parents’ houses and encouraged women who have attained conventional education to work in the civil service and other parastatals.

The existence of these divergent views even during the lifetime of Usman Ɗan Fodio triggered him to write a book “Kitabul Irshadul Ikhwān” in which he stated twelve instances where women are allowed to go out in Shari’a: going out in search of knowledge, participating in religious war [Jihād] where there’s need for their assistance, attending congregational prayers in mosques, attending Juma’at prayer, attending Eid prayer, attending prayer for rain [Salatul Istisqa], attending prayer for the dead [Salatul Janaza], going to pilgrimage, going to court of law to sue or to be sued, visiting their parents and relatives, attending weeding ceremony [especially escorting the bride to her house because Aisha (RA) was reported to have done that] and buying and selling things especially when they don’t have someone to do it on their behalf.

In addition to the above mentioned twelve occasions where women are allowed to go out, going out to teach isn’t in exclusion. There are instances — according to the prophetic ahādith which were reported by Abu Dāwud, Ahmad and Imam Hakim — where women went out to teach even the wives of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The case of Shafa’a Bint Abda is a glaring example when the prophet (PBUH) not only recommended her for teaching His wife, Hafsa (RA), how to write but advised her to teach the wife how to cure rashes and bugs [Rukhyatul Namla]. Thus, Imam Ghazali, among many other Islamic scholars, emphasized the importance of women education especially in the field of Medicine and Mathematics with the essence of them specializing in these areas to cure sick Muslims and to teach Muslim children.

It can be concluded that women — even though they are fragile and weak because of them being created from a “crooked rib” of a man — among them, are those who are blessed with strength and energy to participate in even manual labour and thus, they are not completely restricted, Islamically, to work as related above. However, in order to have equilibrium in terms of matrimonial stability of the home at one hand and the woman’s pursuit for economic stability at the other, there should be an understanding between the two spouses [which is the man who is the head of the family and the woman under the umbrella and control of the man]. It’s recommendable that a working woman should fear Allah (SWT) in her minds wherever she goes and when going out should dress properly according to the dictates of the Shariah.

Allahu A’alam [ Allah knows the best]. thanks

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