A Vision for Muslim Women in the West (Part 2)


“Females who are neither wives nor mothers.”

Of course, being a wife or mother is not the only relationship a woman will have to her menfolk. She may be a sister, daughter or even an aunt. If she isn’t married and she supports the male members of her mahrams in any good that they do, then this will be counted as an achievement for her.

True sincerity is built on the acquiring of good deeds without such deeds being lauded by others. Bishr ibn al-Harith al-Hafi, one of the righteous scholars from the second early generation, used to say, “Do not do good work to be recognized, you should hide the good deed as you hide the bad ones.” Similar sentiments are well known among the early Muslims. Further, this point is summarised in number of Qur’anic verses such as the following,

“Whosoever desires the life of the world and its glitter; to them we shall pay in full (the wages of) their deeds therein, and they will have no diminution therein. They are those for whom there is nothing in the Hereafter but fire; and vain are the deeds they did therein. And of no effect is that which they used to do.”[1]

What if you want to get married but you are finding it difficult or near impossible to actually do so? Did you know that a person achieves with their intentions far more than he or she may achieve with their actions? So if a Muslim woman intends to be a mother and raise righteous children, or she wants to be a wife who supports her husband and protect his honour and his wealth – but for some reason she is unable to get married, then she will receive the reward for achieving what she sincerely intended even if it doesn’t materialise.

In explaining the verse, “Allah has decreed good deeds and bad deeds,” the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said that whoever intends to do a good deed and then does not do it, Allah will write it down as one complete good deed; if he intends to do it and then does it, then Allah will write it down as being between ten and seven hundred good deeds, or even more. Conversely, whoever intends to do a bad deed and then doesn’t do it, Allah will write it down as one complete good deed; if he intends to do it and then he does it, Allah will write it down as one bad deed.”[2]

In another amazing prophetic tradition narrated by Abu Kabshah al-Anmaari, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “There are four types of people in this world: a man to whom Allah gives wealth and knowledge, so he fears his Lord with regards to the way in which he disposes of his wealth, and he uses it to uphold ties of kinship and he realizes that Allah has rights over it. This man occupies the highest status. And a man to whom Allah has given knowledge but did not give him wealth, so he says, ‘If I had wealth I would have done the same as so and so (wealthy righteous person) is doing.’ So he will be rewarded according to his intention and the reward of both of them is the same. And a person to whom Allah has given wealth but not knowledge, so he squanders his wealth without knowledge and does not fear Allah concerning it or uphold ties of kinship with it, and he does not realize that something is due to Allah for that. That is the worst status before Allah. Then he said: A person to whom Allah has given neither wealth nor knowledge and he says: ‘If I had money I would have done what so and so (wealthy wrongdoing person) is doing’. So he will be judged according to his intention, and the burden (of sin) of both of them will be the same.”[3]

Besides this, women can participate in a variety of activities – either work, da’wah, or other social activities. However, the key thing that should be emphasised here is that such activities should be taken as secondary activities for women who are married, or who are mothers.

Here are some general guidelines that should be observed when engaged in such activities:

The involvement for any activity should have the right motivation and intention behind it. Supporting the family financially is primarily the role of the husband so Muslim men need to realize that they should not become lazy and rely on their wives or sisters to generate an income for the household. Sisters too must realize that though they may be keen to work in order to feel some sort of independence or equality to their husbands – they may be inadvertently causing their men folk to be overly dependent on them and hence may be stopping them from striving to earn and achieve more for their families.

Working to support your family, if it is needed, should be with the intention to provide for them enough to suffice them so that they will be prevented from having to beg or ask of others. Another intention a woman should have when involving herself in work is to fulfill Allah’s command when He tells us to provide for the needs of our families so that they can live in dignity. The Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “The upper hand is better than the lower hand. The upper hand is the one that gives, and the lower hand is the one that takes.”

In some cases some women work in order to give in charity (sadaqah) from their own earnings. This is also a noble aim provided that conditions are met. It was reported that Zaynab bint Jahsh, the wife of Prophet, was a very pious lady and used to be skilled in handcrafts, so she would make things in order to sell them and give in charity. Jabir ibn ‘Abdillah, one of the Companions, said, “My maternal aunt was divorced and wanted to pick some fruit from her trees. A man told her off for going out, so she went to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and he said, “go and pick the fruit from your trees. Maybe you will be able to give it in charity or do something good with it.”[4]

The second condition for women involving herself in work and other activities is that they should not detract from her more important duties such as her daily obligatory prayers and serving her husband and children. Activities such as daily prayers and serving the husband and children are immediate personal obligations that take priority over other good deeds. It was narrated from Husayn ibn Muhsin that his paternal aunt went to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) concerning some need which he had. The Prophet asked her, “Do you have a husband?” She replied in the affirmative. He said: “How are you with him?” She said, “I do what he tells me, except what is beyond me.” He said, “Look at how you are with him, for he is your Paradise and your Hell.”[5] Al-Munawi, a famous commentator on hadith wrote, ‘he is the cause of your entering Paradise if he is pleased with you and the cause of your entering Hell if he is displeased with you. So treat him well and do not disobey his commands with regard to that which is not a sin.’[6]

The third condition is that the woman should observe Islamic guidelines related to modesty and chastity. It is very sad to see some sisters who aspire to be leaders or be involved in da’wah activities neglecting Islamic guidelines related to modesty, such as taking the matter of free-mixing lightly. They frequently chat online with males, stay away from their homes until very late, and even neglect their husbands or parents. We must honestly assess which activities, even those deemed Islamic, we are doing to merely satisfy our egos and those which we do out of true sincerity to Allah.

I ask Allah to show us guidance and help us in following it. May Allah allow us to see the wisdom in what He has legislated for us and to embrace it – for indeed, anything He has commanded us with is good for us and anything he has forbidden us from is detrimental.

Sources: www.islam21c.com Islam21c requests all the readers of this article, and others, to share it on your facebook, twitter, and other platforms to further spread our efforts.

[1] 11:15-16

[2] Al-Bukhari and Muslim

[3] Ahmad, al-Tirmidhi and others

[4] Sahih Muslim

[5] Narrated by Ahmad. It was graded as sahih by number of scholars

[6] See Fayd al-Qadeer

A Vision for Muslim Women in the West

Shaykh (Dr) Haitham al-Haddad, London, UK

When you sit down to reflect on what your vision is for your life, how do you know that the vision you’ve chosen is in fact the right one? Is it by the level of happiness you are convinced that your vision, if achieved, would give you? Or is it the fame and attention you know you’ll attain if you fulfilled it? It would be a shame if you spent years going up the ladder of life, only to find that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. Imagine if after all the effort you had exerted you found yourself on the Day of Judgment wishing you’d spent all that time and energy pursuing a different vision on Earth, one that would have given you a higher status in the hereafter which, after all, will last forever.On the Day of Judgment, things will become very clear to us in the starkest of ways. We will see reality as it truly is and realize how short was the opportunity that we had on Earth as the following hadith clearly illustrates:

Anas ibn Malik narrates that the messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “The most affluent of the people in this world, of those who will go to Hell, will be brought on the Day of Resurrection and dipped once in the Fire. Then it will be said: O son of Adam, did you ever see anything good? Did you ever have any pleasure? He will say: No, by Allah, O Lord. Then the most destitute of the people in this world, of those who will enter Paradise, will be brought and dipped once in Paradise, and it will be said to him: O son of Adam, did you ever see anything bad? Did you ever experience any hardship? He will say: No, by Allah, O Lord. I never saw anything bad and I never experienced any hardship.”[1]

Imagine how such a wealthy man will feel about his supposedly successful life on Earth. What once seemed like the ultimate achievement for a human being will seem like a wasted opportunity. As the hadith shows us, any achievement in this life is worthless if it does not lead to success in the hereafter. Allah confirms this, in His saying:

“Everyone shall taste death. And only on the Day of Resurrection shall you be paid your wages in full. And whoever is removed away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise, he indeed is successful. The life of this world is only the enjoyment of deception (a deceiving thing).”[2]

Therefore when we talk about having a vision for our lives, the vision should be one that leads us to maximum achievement in the Hereafter. It was reported by Mu’adh ibn Jabal that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The People of Paradise will not regret anything except one thing alone: the hour that passed them by and in which they made no remembrance of Allah.”[3] So turning to the specific question of the ideal vision for Muslim women, we have to approach the discussion with a Hereafter-centred worldview.

Although it is praiseworthy that many Muslim women think about how best to spend their lives, it is unfortunate that many Muslim women in the West have been heavily influenced by a Western materialistic understanding of life, values and the status of women. Ironically, increasing numbers of Western non-Muslim women have begun to realise the importance and value of their role in the home and reject the notion of a woman’s worth being defined by her career, even campaigning for the right of women to stay at home.[4]

It seems that some of our Muslim sisters have bought into the career-oriented model of Muslim womanhood. They speak about empowering Muslim women to become successful businesswomen, company directors, financial advisors, police officers, members of Parliament and even actors, singers and dancers as if this is something Islam has endorsed.

To add to their delusion, we find Muslim preachers or activists who promote such ideas without understanding the Qur’anic vision for women properly. We rarely hear them referring to the empowerment of Muslim women by means of being devoted wives and outstanding mothers. Despite the countless studies and research that has been conducted into the breakdown of society in general and the family unit in particular, all of which demonstrate that Western notions of female success have played a significant role in that breakdown, many Muslim women aspire to the very lifestyle that the West is now suffering the consequences of and recoiling from.

What is the noblest Islamic achievement for a Muslim woman?

I am sure that you may have come across various conflicting answers to this question, but instead of opting for what may feel right, we must identify the appropriate tools that enable us to identify what the shari’ah says, since it is the way of life given to us by our All-Wise Creator. I have been analysing the attitude of scripture towards the role of women for some time. We find that there a number of women mentioned in the Qur’an from amongst the believers and the disbelievers. Among the females mentioned in the Qur’an two of the noblest have been presented as role models for all Believers. Allah says,

“And Allah has set forth an example for those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh, when she said: “My Lord! Build for me a home with You in Paradise, and save me from Pharaoh and his work, and save me from the people who are oppressors. And Maryam (Mary), the daughter of ‘Imran who guarded her chastity; and We breathed into her through Our spirit (Gabriel), and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and His Scriptures, and she was of the obedient.”[5]

The Prophet’s Companion Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari narrates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) described the status of these two women by saying, “Many amongst men attained perfection but amongst women none attained perfection except Maryam (Mary), the daughter of ‘Imran, and Asiya, the wife of Pharaoh. And the superiority of Aishah to other women is like the superiority of tharid (a dish) to other meals.”[6]

Let us reflect on these two verses and the qualities of these two outstanding and noble women. They were explicitly presented as role models for humanity with their foremost qualities highlighted with candour. The first role model was Asiya, the wife of Pharaoh who was one of the worst tyrants in history. Her most important quality is her distinguished connection with Allah and her fervent desire for the hereafter. She supplicated, “My Lord! Build for me a home with You in Paradise.” Her second core quality was rejecting Pharaoh, his actions and the wrong-doers. She was not taken by the splendour of this life that she could have easily attained as Pharoah’s queen. The second role model, Maryam, was primarily praised for guarding her chastity. Her second major quality was her submission to the will of Allah who tested her by causing her to become pregnant without marriage. She also believed in the reality of the word of Allah “be”, the outcome of the word, and was exceptionally obedient and submissive to Allah.

When the Qur’an mentions other women, it is very evident that in praising any believing woman it praises her for possessing similar qualities. If she is a married woman the Qur’an would praise her as a wife, supporting her husband and being dutiful to him. If she is a mother, the Qur’an would praise her for her important role as a nurturer of the next generation. I have not witnessed the Qur’an praising any woman for her contribution outside of this framework. For example, we don’t see the Qur’an praising a woman for her political involvement, da’wah activism, level of knowledge, social engagement or even leadership. This article cannot possibly include the stories of all women mentioned in the Qur’an, but a simple analysis should confirm this finding.

The wife of Imran mentioned in Surah ‘Aal ‘Imran is another example of an exemplary woman. She was a wife and a mother. The main quality mentioned in Qur’an about her is what is mentioned in the verse,

“(Remember) when the wife of ‘Imran said, “O my Lord! I have vowed to you what is in my womb to be dedicated for your service, so accept this from me. Verily, you are the All-Hearer, the All-Knowing.”[7]

According to the exegete Ibn Kathir, the wife of ‘Imran mentioned here is the mother of Maryam, and her name was Hannah bint Faqudh. Muhammad bin Ishaq, the famous biographer and historian, mentioned that Hannah could not have children and that one day, she saw a bird feeding its chick. She wished she could have children and supplicated to Allah to grant her offspring. Allah accepted her supplication and she became pregnant. She vowed to make her child concentrate on worship and serving Bayt Al-Maqdis (the Masjid in Jerusalem). She did not know then if she would give birth to a male or a female child. The fact that this is the only thing mentioned about her indicates that this is the most important contribution that distinguished her and placed her in this praiseworthy position. It is evident from the story that her goal was to be a mother and when she knew that this was likely to happen she vowed to dedicate her child to serve Allah’s cause in order to thank Him for what he had given her. Similarly, Maryam’s chief contribution was her giving birth to a great Prophet and then taking care of him. The same may be said about the contribution of Musa’s mother. Their role in the lives and achievements of these great men was indispensable.

In this vein, a person might ask himself, why was it that Allah sent male Prophets and not female? He says, “And We sent not before you (as Messengers) any but men.”[8] It is noteworthy that Allah sent over a hundred thousand Prophets, three hundred and fifteen of them messengers[9] and all of them were men.

If we survey the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), a similar understanding is found. The qualities of devotion to Allah and their families were at the centre of the praiseworthy qualities of women. For example, the Prophet clarifies the Islamic view regarding the best women and the central reason behind it saying, “The best women from the riders of the camels (the best Arab women) are the righteous among the women of Quraish. They are the kindest women to their children in childhood and the most careful of women in regards to the property of their husbands.”[10] In this hadith the Prophet explains their goodness by being good wives and good mothers.

In another statement the Prophet explains that one of the main aims of marriage is to produce and nurture children who follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in worshiping Allah and glorifying him. The companion Ma’qil ibn Yasaar narrated that a man came to the messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and said: “O messenger of Allah, I have found a woman who is from a good family and is pretty, but she does not bear children – should I marry her?” He told him not to. Then he came to him a second time and said something similar and he told him not to marry her. Then he came to him a third time and said something similar and he (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Marry the one who is loving and fertile, for I will be proud of your great numbers before the nations on the Day of Resurrection.”[11]  Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azeem Abaadi said in his commentary of this hadith, ‘Marry the one who is loving means the one who loves her husband; and the one who is fertile is the one who bears a lot of children.”[12]

We also find in the following Prophetic statement narrated by Abu Hurairah and recorded by Ibn Hibbaan, “If a woman offers her five daily prayers, fasts her month (Ramadan), guards her chastity and obeys her husband, it will be said to her, “Enter Paradise from whichever of the gates of Paradise you wish.” If entering paradise is your ultimate aim, then this hadith is a summary of how you may attain that goal and consequently, should be part and parcel of any vision you formulate for a truly successful life.

It is true that there are a number of Qur’anic verses and Prophetic traditions that mention the contribution of women in military activities, their political participation and da’wah work, however an analysis of these incidents confirms that they were carried out as complementary activities to their principal role as wives or mothers. In fact, we can go so far as to say that we do not find an emphasis in the shari’ah on any role for a woman except her role as a mother, a wife or a righteous servant of Allah. For example, we find that the shari’ah considered jihad as one of the noblest activities for men but did not encourage women to take part in it despite the military contribution of a number of female Companions.

There is a very clear hadith that demonstrates the Islamic position concerning women participating in jihad. A’ishah narrated that she asked the Prophet, “O Messenger of Allah, do women have to engage in jihad? He said, “a jihad in which there is no fighting: Hajj and ‘Umrah.”[13] Scholars either disliked women taking part in progressive jihad or prohibited it.  Similarly, a number of textual evidences praise a just male ruler. The vast majority of Muslim scholars were men and women throughout Islamic history were never of a significant number.

In conclusion, I posit that the best role, the most honorable and worthy role for a woman is striving to be a fine wife, a good mother, or both. This role does not only secure the best for a woman in the hereafter, but also fits perfectly with her natural disposition. In her study published by Centre for Policy Studies in 2009, Cristina Odone, former deputy editor of The New Statesman (1998-2004)concluded that “far from being committed to a career, the overwhelming majority of women would prefer to opt out of it. Instead of finding satisfaction in full-time work, most women realise themselves in their other roles as carers, partners, community members, and above all mothers”. Furthermore, McIntosh and Bauer concluded that working women are “often felt overwhelmed and unable to keep up with their job and family responsibilities”. They added that “the working mother felt she had two full time jobs.”[14]

The embracing of this role is a fundamental element for the stability of the family which is the cornerstone of a stable society. There are a number of studies that confirm that housewives are the preservers of society in general and in many cases they offer their families more as homemakers than the income they might bring in from a career does. Other studies confirm that that the overall economic status of society at large is better when the women of that society are focused on the upbringing of children and maintaining the integrity of their families. In the aforementioned study the author suggested that what is needed is “a profound cultural shift.” She adds that “the establishment should stop forcing women into a mould, and allow them instead to realise their ambitions. This means accepting and supporting a value system that is family-centred, not work centred; and rehabilitating free emotional services, from cooking family meals to volunteering at the school fair. We need to redirect our thinking about women’s needs, to create a society in which women are freed from unnecessarily destructive pressures, children thrive and all can feel comfortable with the roles they fulfil not just as workers, but as parents, partners and citizens.”

I ask our sisters in Islam to embrace their true role in society and reap the huge rewards that Allah has in store for them for fulfilling this role. I ask our brothers to support them in fulfilling this role. When we define a vision for our lives, we are seeking to make a contribution and leave a legacy. Your legacy, sisters is that if you take on the role that Allah has ordained for you, then you will positively affect the future of the Muslim ummah and ultimately the future of the world. That is a legacy beyond measure.

In part two we will look at the role Muslim women can play if they are not yet married.

Notes: This is the first article in this series

Sources: www.islam21c.com
Islam21c requests all the readers of this article, and others, to share it on your facebook, twitter, and other platforms to further spread our efforts.

[1] Sahih Muslim

[2] 3:185

[3] Al-Bayhaqi in Shu`ab al-Imaan and al-Tabarani

[4] See: http://www.mothersathomematter.org/

[5] 66:11-12

[6] Sahih Al-Bukhari

[7] 3:35

[8] Al Quran 12:109

[9]  The number was mentioned in a few prophetic statements recorded by Imam Ahmad in his Musnad and ibn Hibban.

[10] Al-Bukhari and Muslim and reported by Abu Hurairah

[11] Abu Dawood and al-Nasaa’i

[12] ‘Awn al-Ma’bood (6/33)

[13] Al-Bukhari and Muslim

[14] A thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an MEd in the graduate school of Marietta College titled, “Working Mothers Vs Stay At Home Mothers: The Impact on Children.”