Status of a Housewife in Muslim Society
By: Prof. Q.M.M. Kamoonpuri
In an Islamic society, a housewife -- within the limits of her influence is responsible for anything that happens inside her house.
She is neither an employee nor a slave. In fact, she is a queen and her husband and children are her adoring soldiers. This supreme position provides her with a good opportunity to show her talents, artistic abilities, hospitality and management skills; and good husbands show appreciation and respect for what their queens do.
The apparent isolation of a housewife from the outside world gives the wrong impression that housewifery is an economically dependent occupation. This is utterly wrong. A housewife cannot be regarded as an economically inert or inactive partner in life, just because she devotes herself to housewifery only. Indeed, by doing so, she provides a peaceful and comfortable home for her husband.
Studies have shown that man's psychological, intellectual and physical well being depended on his wife's potential. Many writers, scholars and scientists have acknowledged the great contribution of their wives in their intellectual endeavors. Many of them have dedicated their works, books and discoveries to their wives with such admiring remarks like "This work could not have been completed without the help of my wife," or "I owe a great depth to my wife who has provided continual energy to do this work."
Even those scholars, whose wives have not been associated with them intellectually, have acknowledged that their work could not have been completed without the patience and understanding of their wives.
Of course, there is May women who are not supportive wives. They create serious problems for their husbands. Marriage is not simply a biological union of male and female. Rather, it is an institution of great enterprise. A housewife, then, cannot be considered an inert partner; she either generates or consumes an enormous amount of energy.
The Holy Prophet (SAW) prays to Allah, the Almighty about bad wives, saying: "Oh Allah! I take refuge in you from a wife who makes me old before the period of my old age."
Housewifery Is an Outstanding Feature of a Woman:
Expectations about proper gender role behavior are related to the biological differences between males and females. Studies have shown that there are obvious differences between males and females especially in anatomical, chromosomal, hormonal, and reproductive features.
However, gender roles are so much a taken-for-granted feature in Western culture that many people hardly recognize biological laws associated with gender roles. This has made them to establish their own social norms contrary to the biological laws. They, therefore, do not identify certain roles as clearly feminine or masculine.
Gloria Bird, a renowned sociologist, writes: "For nothing has influenced more changes in relationships and family-life than redefined assumptions about the meaning of gender and the division of roles and responsibilities between the sexes."
Islam precisely prescribes gender roles for almost all aspects of one's behavior and life. In a true Islamic society, gender roles are fixed according to the psychological and physiological aspects of being male or female.
In the Islamic perspective, gender roles are what indicate other and one too, one's maleness and femaleness. From this viewpoint, both husband and wife have well defined sets of expectations and norms, which clearly direct them to do what is permissible, and usual behavior of that special sex.
For example, housekeeping is basically associated with a woman, presumably the married woman. An ideal woman is one who is an ideal housewife and an ideal housewife is an ideal woman. A housewife's natural ability emphasizes that she is biologically equipped to do her job. Every normal healthy woman is naturally inclined and has a natural ability to manage multifarious household duties. A man cannot be a housewife. He is biologically unfit for this job. This runs counter to the biological laws and, of course, Islamic Shariah.
Life of working couples frequently ends with divorce or long separations. It is obvious that, when both husband and wife equally get involved in business or employment, they would inevitably neglect many natural demands of each other.
For instance, an employed wife may find it difficult to stay home and take care of her sick husband. Dual-career families get some financial satisfaction in terms of material benefits but both husband and wife feel extensive pressure and stress. It is not unusual for these couples to feel frustrated when they return home and find each other unconcerned or indifferent when they desperately need one another for comfort. When both husband and wife feel tired and are drained from energy and neither of them really relishes doing housework chores, marital tensions become inevitable.
Working wives have to do most, if not all, of the household duties in addition to their full working load under employment commitments. The natural gender role-expectations always demand her to do her natural duties too. Thus, it is practically difficult for dual career women to accommodate both house and outside work. This, therefore, makes a working woman incompetent both at her working place as well as at home and may even cause serious difficulties in her married life.
When a working woman neglects office work in favor of household works, the employer issues warning letters, and if she compromises household work in favor of office work, the husband gives threatening signals. Thus, a working woman becomes a target of humiliation and criticism both at home and at her job.
The Kingdom of a Housewife
Unfortunately, many in our Islamic society have developed the concept that housewives are assets of their husbands. They classify housewives as women who are illiterate, economically inactive, socially backward and menial. But, this is contrary to the truth and portrays a wrong image of a housewife. This wrong image has, particularly, been developed by Westerners who need and use women for their commercial ventures.
A woman's role is unduly undermined in the West, particularly, by their mass media. This has aggravated the plight of housewives. But, the truth is that a housewife is her husband's colleague. She is equal to her husband in production but the tools of her endeavors are different. This is a difficult equation, which many people in the West do not understand. To know a housewife's worth in economic terms is to know the domain of her kingdom. She runs different home affairs amazingly. This is her primary function without which men would have serious difficulties.
Housewife and Relationship with In-Laws
Marriage is a union between a man and a woman from two different families. Each family has its own way of life which makes it very difficult for a newly-wedded woman to become an active member of an entirely new set-up of living system fast. It has been found those relations between a wife and her in-laws disturb most of the marriages.
The most troublesome and common in-law conflicts are between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Among many factors involved, the most common ones are mainly the psychological and emotional factors.
The newly married girl, who until marriage was served by her mother, now finds herself thrown into competition with her husband's mother who often judges her in terms of her abilities as a cook and a housekeeper. In her husband's house she finds that her mother-in-law may have an opposite character to that of her mother. On the other hand, the mother-in-law suffers psychological problems after seeing a new woman in her house having equal or even greater importance.
Islam teaches us how to overcome these psychological problems in many ways. Explaining these ways are beyond the scope of this article but, in short, a successful Muslim wife is one who lives cordially with her in-laws winning their affection without being unduly ignominious or servile.