Women: An attitude towards chores for women in Islam

Q672 :I have heard many people say that girls should be denied the right to education, because in Islam, a woman's duty is merely to look after the house and the children. How far is this true?

A672 : Allah has sent His messenger to convey to mankind His message which assigns to them certain duties. Everyone who fulfills his duties and works with diligence to fulfill what Allah requires of him is promised the reward of admittance into heaven. This applies to both men and women. One basic requirement of Islam is that which we inadequately translate as "fearing Allah". This "fear" actually means to be always conscious of Allah and to remember our duties toward Him at all times. It is a fact of life that the closer our own concepts of Allah to the concept laid down by Islam, the more God-fearing we are and the more likely we are to win admittance into heaven. Fearing Allah does not entail a relationship of fear and enmity. Indeed, the Islamic concept of Allah is that of a Supreme Being who is kind, merciful, gracious, dispensing His grace to believers and to non-believers. When we work to please Him, we experience a life of happiness that is incomparable to any other type of happiness. It is pure and sublime. At the same time, we always guard against incurring His displeasure. That comes only as a result of disobeying Him. We, therefore, need to try always to be conscious of what may displease Allah and avoid it. That is what is meant by fearing Allah all the time. It is, then, appropriate to ask how do we develop this sense of fearing Allah. There is a Qur'anic statement, which is highly relevant in this context. Allah says: "Those among Allah's servants who truly fear Him are those endowed with knowledge." (35:28) Knowledge is then essential to develop a true sense of fearing Allah. Indeed, the wider a person's knowledge, the more likely he is to be God-fearing, provided that his knowledge is based on sound faith. It is certainly true that both men and women need to fear Allah, and to develop that sense. Hence, they need knowledge. Moreover, people need to know what duties are required of them and how to discharge these duties. To do so, they need knowledge. In this, men and women are equal. To start with, they have been required to fulfill the same duties. As such, they stand in the same position with regard to their needs of knowledge. Anyone who thinks that a woman could fulfill her duties which Allah has imposed on her without knowledge, while man needs such knowledge for fulfilling his duties, does not know what he is talking about. You quote some people as saying that the woman's duty is to look after the house and the children. Even if we say that this is true, she is in need of education to discharge her duty properly. How do we expect an ignorant woman to look properly after her children? In this day and age, it has become increasingly clear that an educated woman can look after her children better. It is not only that she could look after their own education, but she can also look after them from the health and nutrition points of view, making sure that they are vaccinated, watching their growth, ensuring that they have proper nourishment, etc. Having said that, I have to point out that it is not true that a woman's duty is to look after her house. This is not an Islamic duty. Indeed, Islam does not require any married woman to look after her house, or to clean it or to do any household work. All that is the duty of the man, because the house is his and he is in charge of the family. Whether he does this type of work himself or employs a servant is his choice, but he certainly cannot require that of his wife as something assigned to her by Islam. I realize that it is customary or traditional in almost all societies that the woman looks after the house. Hence, we have the term "housewife" which refers to a married woman who does not go out to work, but looks after her family and her house. This is acceptable from the Islamic point of view. Indeed, the Prophet has sanctioned this when he talked to his daughter, Fatimah and her husband, Ali. He divided responsibilities between them in a satisfactory manner, saying that the man should look after the external affairs of the family, i.e. the duties outside the home, and the woman looks after the inside. But this is a recommendation, not a duty. [Recommendation of the Prophet cannot and should not be ignored, though.] Hence, no one may use this responsibility in order to deny a woman her right to education.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )