“Should Muslim Women Work?”

Assalamu ‘alaikum folks,

I hope you are well. I just wanted to share this video – a stream by ‘Muslim Skeptic’ Daniel Haqiqatjou and his (ridiculously cool, Allahummabārik laha) wife – which I found absolutely fascinating. Gender, Islamic principles, modern notions surrounding feminism and liberalism, ‘work’ and ‘worth’, and more…

I personally do agree with the bulk of what has been said. But, even if you are not Muslim, and/or fundamentally disagree with Islamic takes on gender roles and their sacred value, I can almost assure you that you, too, will find this video very interesting indeed. Educational, certainly. Watch it in order to challenge your current perspectives, may-haps…

The world of ‘modernity’, as we know it, is sort of a mess. Ideas pertaining to what human beings are; what life is for. There is, underlying all this, a deep and wealthy history of reasons as to why things today are (or, seem) the way they are.

And, even in spite of such things as the detrimental high pressures that we are faced with, courtesy of the ways (I would say, ills) of modernity: we are still human beings, at the end of it all. Human men; human women. Created by Allah. Allah knows us best, and these sacred laws are certainly not without reason.

Have a watch – or, rather, a listen – to the video, Insha Allah. [Perhaps, since it is rather lengthy, you may wish to view it in chunks.]

Personally, I find it essentially and authentically liberating that, in terms of economic work – partaking in economic labour – this is not an obligation upon me, Islamically. Yet, it is something I may do, if it is good; if I enjoy doing it, and want to do it. Teaching, writing, for example: I do so enjoy doing these things, Alhamdulillah.

I think: men are men, and women are women. We are both human; we have numerous similarities between us. However, man’s nature is essentially masculine. A masculine essence, if you will. While woman’s nature is essentially feminine.

I have definitely fallen prey to the whole ‘careerist’ ideology, before. And, to the whole ‘I need to be more like men in order to be ‘liberated”, ‘Yasss queen’, mentality. These ideas are ubiquitous, so it would seem. Even quite a few of the girls I currently teach argue bitterly and vehemently that “men are trash”; that they will ‘get rich’ and ‘be independent’, all on their own.

The ‘social sciences’. There is no better way to deeply understand ourselves — humanity: in groups, and as individuals, than as tethered to Al-Haqq (Truth). Allah fashioned us – every atom, every molecule, every hormone, everything within us that facilitates thought and reason; from which social (including political) structures arise. He also authored Al-Qur’an; sent Muhammad (SAW) as our main Example, to be followed.

As Muslims, we know that men are men. With their own Divinely-ordained essences, and rights as well as responsibilities. Same with women. And men are to honour their womenfolk in a particular, tailored way, whilst women are to respect their menfolk in a particular way.

Women and men. The Qur’an elucidates that we are spiritually equal [see: Qur’an, (33:35)]. And, in terms of nature and certain gender-specific things that are asked of us, also different. It is not ‘oppression’ for something to be different to another.

In the ‘world of modernity’, where Religion is done away with as a central consideration: other things are brought into central view, as attempted substitutes. The ‘Economy’, if you will, as well as social status, which serves as being ancillary, almost, to this first ‘god’.

Whereas we Muslims are to find the Meaning of Life, as well as the very core of our identities in Islam: ‘modernity‘ enjoins individuals to ‘find meaning’ through economic work; this is where people are expected to ‘find themselves‘, too.

School. At school, I think, I had been, and children are being, strongly inculcated with this primarily ‘Economic’, careerist mentality. See, man is, by nature, a slavish creature. Whom – or What – is it that we currently find ourselves primarily serving, or seeking to serve?

When I was twelve, I identified as a ‘feminist’, and wanted to be an engineer. Not really as a result of any deep, true passion for engineering. More so… as a result of the whole ‘Prove People Wrong’, ‘Break the Glass Ceiling!’ mentality. I compared myself to my same-age cousin. Why would my aunts ask him to carry out this DIY task, or that one (for example)? Why not I?!

And now, I think I understand these things better. Life is not ‘easy’ for men, while being inordinately ‘hard’ for women, by comparison. They (men) have their rights as well as their responsibilities – and their struggles (some, gender-specific. Others, simply broadly human). And we women have ours.

The fact that this cousin of mine, at age twenty, for instance, is partially (truly) responsible for the financial upkeep of his household; driving his siblings to various places daily because he has to, while keeping two jobs and studying for a degree. It is a lot; I am proud of him.

And we could be reactionary, yelling: “How come men get to…”, “How come women have to…” and more. Or, we could (realistically) come to the conclusion that (when addressing the gender-specific realm of things) men have their own blessings and challenges. Rights, and responsibilities. Strengths and weaknesses. Azwāja. Strengths: a particular type of practical intelligence, for example. Thriving as a result of competition, too, perhaps. We women have ours. [Emotional intelligence 100. The urge to – and the talent with which – we are able to make places more homely. Have you ever seen a male-dominated workplace, in contrast with a female-dominated one? Or, male bedrooms in contrast with female ones? The differences are quite self-evident.]

These, though there are great [I hate to sound like some pompous academic here or something, but] nuances between individual people [one woman’s individual expression of femininity will likely look at least a little different from that of the next woman. One man may be completely different, compared to another man. But if you were to group all men, and all women, together, and compared between the two groups: here, perhaps, the differing essences would make themselves far more apparent]

I am just so glad that I can (finally) sink into my essence[s] more, now. Careerism, truth be told, stresses me out. I love teaching and writing; they are passions of mine. But my primary worldly ‘goal’, if anything, really is to have and to run and to keep, if I may, a wonderful home – a good little world of our own – Insha Allah.

I recently came across an anecdotal story about how a (formerly, non-Muslim) police officer – female – who had been stationed in East London, ended up converting to Islam, as a result of watching some of the Muslim families. Going from praying Jummah at the mosque, to eating out at the nearby restaurants; having an authentically good time, together.

The individualistic, atomistic, mainly economic-productivity-driven ways of ‘modernity’: they run antithetical to the fundamental callings of our souls, and, quite often: they leave us spiritually starving.

The Fitrah, my dudes: the Fitrah, deep within you, already knows where it’s at. Religion. Family. Fulfilment, Meaning. Strength. Due rights, and due responsibilities.

And I have been thinking: would it be a ‘waste’ of my human ‘potential’ if I were to continue to not absolutely prioritise economic work, in terms of my life-based considerations? The answer, as I have concluded, is no: not at all. I lose nothing if I work part-time, instead of full-time, for example. I lose nothing if ‘climbing up the career ladder’ is not a central goal of mine. In fact, I gain. More of my humanity. Lessened feelings of stress and exhaustion; a more ‘filled cup’, to give from. To those who deserve; have rights to, even, the ‘best’ of me.

I realise: ‘modernity’ would enjoin me to believe that some things are simply not ‘enough’. It is not ‘enough’ that I am teaching Year Sevens and Eights, for example; maybe it would be ‘enough’ if I were to be, someday, a lecturer at a university, or something. I have certainly been susceptible to being overtaken by these modes of thinking, before. That, for example, in order for my writings to be ‘more meaningful’, I need to work on publishing a book.

The truth is: these Year Sevens and Eights are just as valuable as human beings, as university students, or something. Also, I can achieve as much Khayr from publishing blog articles, as I can, perhaps, as a result of writing a book. I choose to consider the ‘spiritual’ value of things first, Insha Allah.

In Islam, there is this Qur’anic idea that “whoever saves one soul, it is as if he has saved mankind entirely.” [Qur’an, (5:32)]. Subhan Allah, how liberating. In Islam, it is not the ‘numerical outcomes’ of our actions, which ‘count’. It is the spiritual weight of them, stemming from the intentions underlying them. Therefore, if I aim to impart some good unto just one human being (a family member, a friend, maybe) perhaps this would be equal to imparting some good unto a hundred, or even a million, human beings. Ultimately, we are responsible for the intentions underlying our actions, as well as the steps we may take, with those intentions in mind; while Allah is in control of their outcomes.

I think it is quite common for many people my age to have a bit of that “we-need-to-save-the-world” impulse, within us. How lovely this is. However, first and foremost, it is my own (relatively small) world that requires my due attentions.

I wish to not put economic considerations first. I also do not want to put otherwise-social (i.e. the fleeting opinions of every man, woman, and child I have ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with) considerations, first. When you put Islam first, though some things may prove somewhat difficult, in the short-run: ultimate goodness (lasting, liberation, fulfilment, deep love) surely ensue.

Some are out, in this world, seeking ‘gold’. Others are out there, seeking ‘glory’. We Muslims, however: it is goodness that we ought to strive for; it is God whose countenance we strive to seek.

The video: I would really love to know what you thought of it. Anything you would like to share: please comment down below, or send me an email at: hello@sincerelysadia.blog


With Salaam, Sadia, 2020

9 thoughts on ““Should Muslim Women Work?”

  1. Assalaamu alaikum. JAK for writing about this. I am always on the lookout for material like this, exploring the Islamic way of life and how it’s better than what modernism pushes. I wanted to share my experience too, because I haven’t found a lot of people talking about this.
    I am a (female) Dr currently doing my internship. I have always been a nerd, loved studying more than anything else and almost always came in first at school. So needless to say I grew up perfectly deluded into believing my life purpose was to go to uni, secure a lucrative degree and serve humanity (lol). Hence I took up medicine despite not even being that into it. Right after high school, I got a job because that’s what independent girls do, and a few months later moved abroad on a scholarship to study medicine. At that time I had looked down on my fellow classmates who had gotten married and started their families right out of high school. I was convinced the smart thing to do was to only start a family in my 30s after I was fully settled and with my career made. And what ensued is 5 years of absolute misery. I’ve wanted to quit this course almost everyday, but couldn’t as I’d have to pay back the entire scholarship if I did. I just couldn’t deal with the lack of interest, the work load, the stress and worst of all, the nasty people and toxic environment. I’m in my last year and can’t wait for this to be over so I can finally go back home and be with my family. Being here, it’s hard to maintain the level of piety I want to reach. It’s difficult even to pray on time because of the hectic schedules. There is often no space to pray. I’ve had to pray in the janitors’ store room, and came very close to having to remove my hijab inside the OT. It wears you down spiritually and mentally. There are plenty of Muslim girls in the profession and I am truly at a loss to understand how or why they can stay in such an environment. But then I realize most of them don’t have a choice – social pressure, massive student loan debt. And worst of all for almost a decade in the profession, I really don’t believe a Dr can make much of a difference to patients’ lives because of how training goes. 6 years in and the most I do really, is check patient’s BP and refiill medications. It isn’t even all that glamorous. Most time is spent being berated and humiliated by senior Drs. And that’s one thing that has given me incredible anxiety. Really, the entire thing is a lie. You don’t realize the costs you’ve paid until you’re in too deep. I’m approaching my late 20s and I can’t think of starting my own family even though that’s what I want most in the world now. This is all thanks to the careerist delusion I’ve been fed ever since I was a little girl. I think it’s our obligation to warn our girls that choosing a career over a family is the worst decision they can make, and almost everyone will regret it, but usually only when it’s too late. I did it, I went down the supposed path of empowered, strong, independent, intellectual women, only to find that it’s just a trap, a marketing ploy to recruit as many cogs in the giant corporate machine as is possible, for the benefit of the very rich at the very top. There is no dignity here. It will only be found in the natural roles of the woman as a daughter, wife and mother. Today, I am reaping the consequences of a bad decision, while the classmates I had wrongfully looked down on are enjoying blissful lives with their sweet families, as they should. I’m proud of them for having done the right thing, despite society’s judgements. Insha Allah someday we’ll all have the chance to right our wrongs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wa alaikum Salaam Fatima. Jazakillah Khayr for your comment and sorry for my belated response!

      Thank you for sharing your experiences. I must say, it sounds very similar to the experience of another Muslim woman whom I know personally, who entered the medical profession… She struggled a lot with being married and carrying out her duties as a doctor.
      ‘Careerist delusions’… I’d really fallen into the same ways of thinking in early adolescence, putting aside the value and the honour that we ought to give to sacred things like family. It really is hard to un-internalise these ways of thinking. I look around me at the ‘high-flying career women’ and how their careers have impacted their family lives, as well as their personal health and wellbeing. It does not seem altogether fulfilling, to me.

      However, in your professional role, Insha Allah, there is Khayr. And I know there are awesome Muslim mothers who are also doctors. I guess, over time, and with help from Allah, it can – and I hope, will – get easier for you.

      To paraphrase what you’ve said: ‘doing the right thing, despite society’s judgements’. Sigh. This is just it.

      But also: when you look around at your friends’ ‘sweet families’ and how they seem to be ‘living it up’… it is always easy to convince ourselves that we want the lives that other people might have. But, in order to acquire their blessings, we would also have to acquire *their* unique tests. Maybe they feel overburdened at home, or trapped, bored, etc. I happen to also know that there are some Muslim mothers who really wish they had carried on with their studies. Each person faces her own reality, in the end. And اِنَّ اللّٰہ علیٰ کل شی ءٍ قدیر …

      [Finally, I would truly recommend maybe praying Istikhāra for your situation. I hope it all goes well for you]

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    1. Absolutely. There are some men who are more ’emotionally in-tune’ with themselves and with others (e.g. Abu Bakr RA, and Muhammad SAW). This does not make them ‘feminine’. Some women are more analytical than other women; may enjoy things like football, or martial arts: this does not render them ‘masculine’. Masculinity and femininity are essential things. In-built. For the most part, not-very-easily-definable: not readily package-able into strings of words… But we know that, in general, Allah has made men in one way, and women in another.

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      1. Well, I will add, just to make sure I don’t ever ignore these differences and distinctions, that, as you said, I’m just trying to explain that what features one has to what extent is not precisely determinable. I do acknowledge that one shall still notice them if one deals with “males” and “females” as entire groups.

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  2. وعليكم السلام,

    Agreed.
    A few points:
    • Women do have their own rights and challenges too.
    • Sometimes, it’s the case that one prefers, or unknowingly chooses, some particular thing. We, men and women, could have different versions of the Quran if one gender’s average comprehension were to differ significantly from that of the other. And, yet again, we, men and women, would have two different versions of the Quran if either one of the genders were able to experience and understand one’s emotions significantly better. There are sections in the Quran that directly address men or women in particular, but they’re all in the same Quran that everyone ought to consider and obey as a whole. Likewise, such things as intelligence and personality do differ in certain ways between the genders; but we all have them as a whole.
    • The part where you discuss whether one ought to prioritize quantity and quality, reminded me of that so popular concept (“utility/benefit”), and, of course, utilitarianism. I’d appreciate a nice essay on this topic haven’t you written one yet.
    The video I will watch soon inshaAllah.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, men and women are different where we are different, and we are the same where we are the same. We need not downplay nor exaggerate either our differences, or our similarities. ‘Qaaloo sami’naa wa ata’naa’: We hear and we obey.

      As for the ‘quality/quantity’ question. It’s something I have thought about quite a lot. In Islam, it is not about ‘quantities’, per se: more about spiritual value. For instance, arguably, it is more honourable for a man to serve his mother, than to rule over an entire nation.

      Sometimes, seeking Ihsān necessitates favouring what Allah loves more, above what ‘feels’ more meaningful, because of how much money it may earn you, or how much social prestige it may bring you, or how *many* people you would be able to do good for. Actions are but by intention. It’s best if our intentions are tethered to Islam, and if/when there comes a time to choose between things, there is always Istikhāra!

      Liked by 1 person

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