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The role of a woman I

◦ Woman’s work and role

1-The general role of a woman

-What influence does equality between men and women have on defining their expected roles in life? And are we allowed to say that men and women have identical roles in life, since they are one and of the same soul?

God created men and women to build life together and to complete one another all lifelong. Hence, Islam opened the door to women to wade through all the fields of struggle in life side by side with men, supporting each other, helping, and completing one another. Moreover, Islam did not separate them in roles, the thing that is clearly shown in His saying {The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil.} (9:71). Once we understand that justice embraces everything positive in life, and that evil comprises everything negative in it, we will then realize that men and women are partners in building up life. And just like men are responsible of the society, women also are equally responsible of the society they live in. So, outside the framework of the specifically motherhood and fatherhood characteristics where they perform absolutely different functions, men and women have vast areas to conquer, building life shoulder to shoulder as human beings, equal in humanity. Accordingly, we can say that Islam had opened the door to women to enjoy life as a whole, in contrast to what some people may assume that it had tied them down in their characteristics as females.

-Where and how does the role of women as females prevail? And where could they perform their role as human beings?

The sphere in which a woman can express her femininity is narrow to a certain extent, because it is restricted to her marital life where her role as a female is mainly revealed, and to her family and feminine milieu where she can show her feminine traits through wearing ornaments or whatever… not to mention motherhood that is the most important feminine role that a woman fulfills. But motherhood itself is not purely a feminine role; all the more so it is a human role in a woman’s life. Thus, the role of a woman as a human being remains her most essential role in life. She must confirm, in her actions, that she is a person of reason, a person of will, a person of affection, and a person who has a mission to carry out and she should prove that she has the ability to take part in life. So, women’s humanity is the most important aspect in their personality because it is the aspect that symbolizes the aim God (S.W.T) created them to achieve in this world. He created women to contribute to the existence with the faculties they have, just as He created men to contribute to the existence with the abilities they possess. Therefore, we believe that, while the feminine aspect of the woman’s personality is revealed in a delimited sphere, her human aspect is manifested in her whole existence as a woman. Even more, the human aspect of her personality will indeed be integrated with the feminine aspect of her conduct as a female, whether with her husband or within her own specific sensations of femininity. Verily, the aspect of humanity in her will enrich that conduct turning it into a nobler one, and will expand her giving to the partner that she joins in marriage. In other words, it is an aspect that refines the instinct and humanizes it in deeds as well as in feelings, so that the marital relationship will no longer be a relationship in which the female provides the male with her biological drives. It will rather be a human relationship where each partner, male or female, makes use of his distinguishing characteristics in order to give the other what pleases him and what satisfies both his emotional and his physical needs.

2-Women as housewives

-When Islam confirms the specifically female characteristic of a woman in its rulings and legislations; doesn’t that lead us to the conclusion that the intrinsic role of a woman, according to Islam, is the role of a housewife?

The saying that Islam ties the woman down to a homemaker role is a frequently heard reflection on the way things are, and this is why it is worth discussing. But before going into the depth of the subject, we should point out the presence of two kinds of rulings in Islam: The first kind is the binding rules that necessitate the person to do something or not to do it, and they are called the obligation and prohibition rules. And the second is the rules that urge the person to do something but do not compel him to doing it; or exactly the opposite, wishing him not to do something but at the same time do not prevent him from doing it, and they are called the preferable and the detested  or the rules that allow the person the possibility of choosing whether to do or not to do and they are called the allowed.

Well, does Islam oblige the woman to be a housewife before and after marriage? According to Islam, not a single person whether a father, a mother, a brother or any relative, is authorized to legitimately oblige the woman to manage domestic work in her parental house before marriage. So, housework is not imposed on women just like neither the father nor the mother has the legitimate right to oblige the boy to handle housework.

Yes. She can take on this charge if she willingly volunteered to, out of the sense of responsibility towards the house that is taking care of her. And when the girl becomes a wife, the fact that she manages the domestic work in her house or does not, will also remain a voluntarily matter that is up to her to decide. The contract of marriage does not bind women, from a legal aspect, to do housework, not even to rear her children and take care of them, unless the two married people worked on including the performance of these works in the marriage contract under special terms.

But Islam does not consider that women’s housework as one of the marriage contract articles, and it also does not require the women to carry out any kind of jobs outside home to support her family or to contribute in supporting it. On the basis of the marriage contract, man can demand nothing from his wife but the rights to the private marital relationship and all what is related to it. Anything other than that, such as arranging the household affairs and bringing the children up, would not be imposed on her.

From this perspective, we can approach the issue of women’s work in the house as women’s finest contribution that completes men’s finest contribution.

-But doesn’t saying that a woman is not obligated to manage her household chores as well as she is not required to lead a job outside the house, carry an implicit acknowledgement that she has a marginal role in life, or at least encourage her to stick to the margin?

Saying that a woman is not obliged to work inside the house or even outside it does not mean that she must do nothing in life. Indeed, the core issue is that Islam wanted women to handle their housework motivated by reasons of giving and not out of obligation, as a social service.

When Islam didn’t force women to manage the household affairs, it offered them the opportunity to participate in building the society they live in. From an Islamic point of view, women are as responsible as men to help people finding their way to God (S.W.T), and to guide society in the right path with all the power they have. And as we have previously mentioned, women are also charged to enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil, the thing that represents the social practical surveillance against deviation in all the domains of life; a role that might get to the level of revolt against unjustness and deviation.

And the saying that a woman is not bound to carry out any career outside home to make a living - in the light of the saying that she should share the man the responsibility of enjoining what is just and forbidding what is evil - does not mean in any way that her role in life is canceled. On the contrary, it indicates that the opportunities are, indeed, wide enough for her to perform that role in a way that her job as a mother and as a homemaker, her participation in supporting her family and even the responsibility of supporting herself do not drain her power to contribute to the public fields.

By making the hardships of home and family life, and even married life less burdensome for women; Islam had, in fact, acknowledged the role of women in building life, and offered her the chance to participate, practically, in that building process.

3- Women in the midst of marriage and motherhood duties

-Notwithstanding your emphasis that the role of a woman as a human being is her prior role in life, this priority is practically negated once we recognize the considerable value Islam attaches to the role of a woman as a wife and as a mother, the thing that necessitates her to remain home in order to take care of the children and to satisfy the husband’s needs. So, according to Islam, are women alone responsible of bringing children up? And do they have to stay constantly with their children?

Firstly: Although Islam stresses on the importance of a woman’s role as a mother and as a wife, we can benefit from the majority of its rulings that had commissioned the father with the responsibility of the family and the children in particular, and gave him the right to their custody in case of separation… The father and the mother are real partners in the task of raising a child; and although Islam regards motherhood as sacred, it had not made women responsible of rearing their children. In addition to the affection purpose of motherhood and fatherhood, they also have a parenting job that they help each other to fulfill. In this job, the distinctive nature of each parent - the mother as a woman and the father as a man - along with the kind of connection that relates the child to each one of them, have an intrinsic role in developing and enriching the child’s personality on all levels. While the mother provides her child with the inner sense of security when satisfying his physical and emotional needs as a result of her direct adhesion to his body; the father, through looking after the child’s external affairs, takes on the responsibility of supplying him with a deep sense of protection and strength through which he can face the entire outside world. This is an illustration of the mutual work that both the husband and the wife cooperate in doing.

Secondly: It is of a great importance to the child that his mother would be the one who fosters him; nevertheless, nothing binds the woman to constantly stick to the child, or even to the husband, unless he needed her in an extraordinary way.

From this standpoint, the emphasis placed on the importance of woman’s special role as a wife as well as a mother does not deny her general role as a human being because this role carries some human purposes in itself.

-In case the mother preferred to carry out a job rather than staying all the time with her infant, where can she put him?

If the mother is fully occupied, whether with her work or with anything else, and she cannot take care of her newborn, she can then rely on anyone she finds trustworthy to watch over her baby, in an attempt to fill up the emptiness caused by her absence. However, the mother should make her best trying to spend with him as much time as she can afford in order to provide him with the love and tenderness that can help him in alleviating the feeling of fear created by her not being present.

-Is it acceptable to send babies to daycare centers?

Putting children in daycare centers in such cases might seem the most practical solution and the most educationally suitable for the child because, usually, there are specialists of education supervising these centers. Nonetheless, the mother should double her efforts to compensate her baby for all the fondness that he misses in her absence, and for all the anxiety and fragility that he feels only by being present in the middle of an unfamiliar crowd of children.