Written by Theresa Corbin
Traditionally, in most parts of the world, men left the home and worked for a few hours a day and earned money, while women worked 24 hours a day cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing for free.
There are examples in many societies were these roles where not so clear cut. We can think of a quite a few examples of Muslim women who were (are) business owners, boss ladies, scholars, etc. And we can think of many examples of Muslim women who took (take) care of the home and family, and even examples of women who did both.
But in modern times, it has become a matter of degradation to be the one in the family who does the dishes, washes the clothes, and generally takes care of the home and family. Some even go as far as to call it “woman’s work”, and view nurturing and caring for our property and our loved ones as humiliating tasks.
There is nothing wrong with being a homemaker, whether you are male or female. In fact it takes a strong person to work for free and without much gratitude from others.
Think of all the people who washed the dishes once and expected a parade in their honor. That’s because these kinds of people do not have the strength or wisdom to do the thankless and unpaid work that creates a clean and happy environment for the family.
When we look to Islamic perspective, the work of nurturing loved ones and caring for the home is not prescribed for women even though women are usually the ones who have the strength to do it. Nowhere in the Quran or the Sunnah does it say that woman shall wash-eth the dishes or it doth be for the female to scrub-eth the hearth.
In fact, there are several ahadith (prophetic traditions) that state plainly that the Prophet (PBUH) did a lot of housework. Aisha, the wife of the Prophet (May God be pleased with her), was asked:
What did the Prophet do in his house? She replied, He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was the time for prayer he would go for it. (Narrated in Bukhari)
In another report Aisha said:
He mended sandals and patched garments and sewed.” (Adab Al-Mufrad graded sahih by Al-Albani)
Note that in these ahadith, it does not say that he helped. Many people will phrase these ahadith as him helping out around the house. But the word “helped” implies it was someone else’s burden to bear, and he was just helping them.
It says he did work. He did housework. He cared for and nurtured his family and didn’t expect anyone else to do it for him. Nor did he find it beneath him. Islam does not assign one gender to be responsible for the housework. In fact, in some schools of though, if the wife does fill the role of cook and housekeeper, she is to be paid for her effort.
Women are not meant to be married just because men “need” maids and cooks (I believe men are entirely capable of doing these things all by themselves). Women are to be married as partners to men and men to be married as partners to women.
They are your garment and you are a garment for them. (Quran 2:187)
And housework is not “woman’s work” in the Quran nor is it considered a degrading role in the Sunnah.
And so it is up to each couple, each family to equitably negotiate who does what around the house without putting too much burden on one person. So, dear bothers, please keep this in mind when your wife comes home from work and you expect her to cook dinner and clean the house while you watch TV. You are not entitled to rest while she works by virtue of your gender.
But there is a balance in this. Because sisters also need to keep this sharing the burden thing this garment to each other thing in mind when your husband is working three jobs just to make ends meet and you get mad and make a gender issue out of him forgetting to pick up his socks because he is delirious.
Our job as spouses is to share the load of life, to get each other’s back, not to act like one person must do one role no matter how hard and heavy it becomes for them. Nor should we act like doing certain tasks is degrading.
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