Islam and women

"To work or not to work"

We have heard so many times; "Women are forbidden to work under Islamic law", but is it true? How could Islam be a religion that cares both about the individual and the community, yet forbids half of it from working? Are there any justified reasons to forbid women from working?

The purpose of this article is to share with the reader an objective insight to what Islam teaches about women and their right to work and hold a job.

1- WHAT TEACHINGS FORBID WOMEN FROM WORKING?

Although many have propagated that Islam forbids women from working, we have not seen or heard any who would tell us ACCORDING TO WHAT VERSE OR WHICH TEACHINGS Islam declares this.

THE CLAIM that Islam forbids women from holding a job has no basis whatsoever in Islam nor in any of its teachings.

The Holy Quran and the Books of Hadith (Hadeth or Hadeeth) -the teachings of Muhammad (peace be up on him)- are available today in almost all written languages. We have yet to see a reference from the Quran or the Hadith that forbids women from working.

THE CLAIM that Islam forbids women from work is nothing more than a pure assumption that is usually based on what "somebody" said or did.

2- WHAT DO GOVERNMENTS DO?

One of more popular reasons why many think that Islam forbids women from working is that there are some governments in predominantly Muslim countries that forbid women from working. However, any reasonable person who would hold Islam responsible for what a government do -if the major religion of that country is Islam, will have to be honest enough to hold other religions responsible for what other governments do, too.

Many other countries where the major religion is based on the Bible, for example, allow and sustain laws that give pregnant women THE RIGHT TO KILL THEIR OWN UNBORN CHILDREN. Would it be reasonable to conclude that since the major religion of such country is based on the Bible, that the Bible teaches…it is OK to kill…!…?

3- WHAT DO PEOPLE DO?

Suppose you have a neighbor who tells you he is a good Christian and that he goes to church every Sunday, then later you find out that he belonged to one of the racial supremacy churches. Further, you learn that he believes that non white people are the children of the devil and they deserve to be killed. Should you blame Christianity, the Bible or Jesus Christ (peace be up on him) for what your neighbor believes in?

The honest answer of course is no, and so is the case with those few Muslims who believe that women cannot work. They are as mistaken, just as the example's neighbor whose belief in racial supremacy is not based on what the Bible teaches.

4- REQUIRING WOMEN TO WORK?

It is a surprise of course for most people to find out that Islam -in many cases- REQUIRES women to work and hold jobs. One of the reasons it is a surprise is that there is no other religion that requires women to go to work.

To understand this vital point, we need a broader look to another issue that is vital as well:

A) Covering women's body.

As you have seen in our articles about women's dress code, instead of using her body as a sex object, a Muslim woman observes HIJAB (covering the head and the body) because Allah -God in Arabic- has told them to do so. We find in the Holy Qur'an; chapter 33 verse 59: "O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out or are among men). That is better in order that they may be known (to be Muslims) and not annoyed". With this important command, women have to cover their beauty, except from their husbands and family.

B) Looking at somebody's uncovered body

Islam teaches that a man should not look at any woman's uncovered body, unless she is his wife, and the same applies for women too, as we read; " Successful indeed are the believers. Who are humble in their prayer … And who guard their private parts. Except before their mates…" (23:1-6).

The verse -and other teachings as well, commands that; unless one is forced by necessity -see (2:173)- he or she should not be looking to the other sex's uncovered body, unless of course, the other is the lawful mate.

C) Reorganizing the community.

As a comprehensive system for both the individual and the community, Islam REORGANIZED with these simple rules the individual's role in the community. For example, unless forced by necessity, men could no longer be the physicians who would uncover women's bodies to treat them regularly.

D) The practical need and application.

This example of forbidding male physicians to treat women, unless forced by necessity, HAS CREATED THE NEED for other women to become physicians. Muslim women had to study medicine and to become physicians to treat female patients.

E) Teaching and leading prayers.

Reorganizing the community was not limited to physicians treating the same sex. In another example, after the death of the Prophet (peace be up on him), besides his companions who taught others what he said and did, the Messenger’s surviving wives and his daughter Fatima became teachers to all Muslims too. they have become teachers of the religion especially for other women on women's matters and the very specific rules that are applied only to women. Almost half of the Hadiths -the teachings of the prophet peace be upon him- were narrated and taught by his wives and his daughter Fatima.

5- MUSLIM WOMEN IN HISTORY

When the British forces arrived to Egypt and took the country as a part of the British Empire in the 19th century. They found that there were female students in medical schools. The new occupying leadership banned women from going to medical schools and from becoming physicians. It seems as though their (good...?) reasons might have been:

First: They have never heard or seen of a female physician and it was not going to be those Muslims who were to set the standards for the "British Empire" to follow…!?

Second: Because of their culture and religion, it was OK for physician men to treat women and to look at their uncovered bodies. So THERE WAS NO NEED for women to become Physicians.

Third: They thought that women were too delicate to handle blood or cutting tools associated with the physician's job. According to their understanding, women could be as help, but they could not handle being physicians.

6- MUSLIM WOMEN IN MODERN DAYS.

Today, there is even a greater need for women to hold jobs in the Islamic community. A few examples of these needs in an Islamic community are: Gynecologists, family practice physicians, dentists, teachers and even security officers to search other women at airports or police stations and so on.

As you have seen, there is not a single verse or teaching in Islam that forbids women form working or holding a job. On the contrary, an Islamic community must have women holding certain jobs to be able to comply with the rules of not looking at the other sex's body. It was because of this simple rule that led women to work and hold jobs, to teach and to lead prayers, more than 1400 years ago...only in Islam.

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Articles about women's dress code:

Woman's rights and women’s dress code in Islam

Hijab (Veil) and Muslim Women

The question of hijab: suppression or liberation?