Freedom to choose

October 16, 2017

Art by Bobbie Burgers

There’s an old saying that behind every great man is a great woman, I think most of us still believe that but we nevertheless would rather the woman stand for herself instead of behind her man. A lot of what feminists —Muslim feminists included, complain about and fight against are legitimate concerns, but in reality, within an Islamic framework, that fight would cease to exist. In American society, there was a time when women were told they ought to stand behind their man. That the only appropriate role for a woman was that of housewife and mother. That is a deeply limiting view of women and one that should have been —and successfully was, fought against. But it’s a fight that has no relevance in Islam.

In Islam, women are told that within their marriage they must make their bodies available to their husbands, that is the most explicit command. Cleaning the house and cooking are not explicit duties of the wife. As one Islamic teacher explained, “At least in the Shafi’i school… the wife’s primary obligation and role is not taking care of the house, but taking care of herself for her husband to enjoy being with her physically”. While I’m sure there will still be women and non-Muslims who find that responsibility “oppressive,” it is still a lot less restrictive than what was expected of the ideal 1950s American housewife (and less overwhelming than what is expected of the modern wife —that she works full time outside the home, be sexually available to her husband —and still end up taking care of most of the housework and childcare). One cannot simply take the feminist fight to any and every community, sometimes it simply doesn’t apply (Hence my issue with “patriarchy” being seen as a worldwide system that oppresses women and uplifts men). But, it is important to make the point that some Muslim men, some Muslim communities and some Muslim-majority countries will reinforce these narratives of the ideal housewife as if it is part of Islam —some also think wives have to serve the husband’s mothers or that having a daughter is shameful, these are unfortunate cultural attitudes that persist in some Muslim-majority countries despite Islam, not because of it.

As Muslim women we have to realize that our framework is completely different, outside of “conjugal rights” to our spouses, we have a great deal of freedom in choosing our life’s path —in some ways we have more freedom than the men who are charged with making a living to take care of us. This freedom opens a world of possibilities that neither chains us to a particular narrative nor forces us to fight against one. That allows us the freedom to work outside the home, yes —but it also gives us the freedom to be homemakers, to fully embrace either role without force or embarrassment.

And a lot of women would choose to be homemakers if they felt free to do so:

“Working mothers with small children now say they work, “Because I have to.” Why do so many women say that? If we have been freed from oppression and are supposed to be liberated, then how has it come to pass that so many women are forced to do what they do not want.” — Wendy Shalit, Return to Modesty

Islam gave women the perfect framework —freedom to choose homemaking, working outside the home, or something else entirely. We have to stop fighting a fight that isn’t ours. In fact, we have a way out for all women through the lens of Islam.

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Related: Daniel Haqiqatjou’s (pronounced: Ha-qee-qat-joo) article on feminism, here and my video response, here.

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2 Comments

  • Simi

    This was a good read. It’s certainly something that has been wildly consuming my thoughts recently. After I went through depression, I lost whatever passions I had concerning a career path. The idea of working in a random job that I don’t enjoy just for the sake of money(which my husband should be providing) and missing my prayers has never sat well with me. After getting closer to Islam, I learnt my rights as a female and I am content with them. I’m completely fine with being a housewife, but with how society is shifting, it’s making women who choose that route appear as weak. I’m not yet 18, I still have time and I have complete trust that Allah(swt) will bless me in whatever path I choose to pursue. It’s just, especially as I’m in the West, my female peers are all in the midsts of studying and attempting to build independant careers, thus I do feel pretty strange when all I’m thinking about right now is getting married. I have to work on my Deen first and become more responsible.

    jazakAllahu khayrun for this blog post, it made me feel less alone.

    • Noor

      That’s wonderful that you’re able to think for yourself even at such a young age, being freed from paid labor in one of God’s greatest gifts to women, we should take advantage of it. May Allah guide your path in whatever road you take.

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