An article about the role of women at work

The Role of Women in Work


Islam has commanded us to strive and work, and encourages earning a livelihood, a mandate established by Islamic law. Allah Almighty says: "And when he arrived at the water of Midian, he found there a group of people watering [their flocks], and aside from them he found two women driving back [their flocks]. He said, 'What is your circumstance?' They said, 'We do not water until the shepherds dispatch [their flocks]; and our father is an old man.'" The interpretation of this verse is that when Moses (peace be upon him) arrived at the water of Midian, where people watered from, he found a crowd of people by the well and, away from them, two women were holding back their flock so as not to mix with the sheep of the people. Moses (peace be upon him) asked the women about their situation. They replied that they do not water their flock until the shepherds have withdrawn from the water and the place is free for them, as they are unable to compete with them due to their weakness and their father's frailty and inability to water the flock, otherwise, they would not have come here to water their flock.


The significance of the verse is that Shu'ayb (peace be upon him) allowed his daughters to water the sheep outside the house in Midian, as he was unable to perform the task of watering, therefore, in a state of necessity, he permitted his daughters to undertake this work.

From Asma bint Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with her), she said: "Al-Zubair married me when he had no wealth on earth nor a slave nor anything else except his horse and his camel, so I used to feed his horse and draw the water and sew the bucket and knead the dough, and I was not good at baking, so an Ansari neighbor used to bake for me, and we were women of honesty, and I used to carry the seeds from the land of Al-Zubair which the Prophet (peace be upon him) had provided him with on my head until I met the Prophet (peace be upon him) with a group of the Ansar, and he called me then said to let me ride behind him but I was shy to walk with men, and remembered Al-Zubair and his jealousy, who was the most jealous of people, so the Prophet realized I was shy, and the Prophet (peace be upon him) moved on until later Abu Bakr sent me a servant to relieve me from looking after the horse, and it was as if she freed me."


This is a clear indication of the permissibility for a woman to work outside the house if there is a necessity for her work, such as if she has orphans and there is no provider for her and them, and she does not receive anything from the public treasury, then it is permissible for her to earn by making something in her house and selling it outside the house, like baking bread in her house and going out to sell it in the market, or spinning wool in her house and going out to sell what she has spun.


Because a Muslim woman's need to work is a pressing necessity: a Muslim woman may need to work if she has no guardians to support her, or if her guardians are in straitened circumstances, and she is capable of working. She may need to work because she is married to a man who is stricken with poverty, and there is no way out of this hardship except for her to work. She may need to work because she has been widowed and needs what the conditions of her relatives, who are obliged to spend on her, do not cover, or she has no relatives for her and her children, so she practices a job that provides for these needs. She may need to work due to other circumstances that compel her to work, as the woman alone is capable of determining her need for work, judging this according to her religion and morals, and her work should be within the Islamic conditions and etiquettes. She does not go out to work just for trivial goals like entertaining herself with work. As reported in the hadith about Asma bint Abu Bakr, known as "the woman with the two belts," she helped her husband Al-Zubair ibn Al-Awwam in managing his horse and sewing ripe dates, and some of the work she used to do.


A woman is a human just like a man, she is from him and he is from her, as Allah Almighty says: "You are from one another." Human beings by nature think and work, and Allah created people to work, so a woman, like a man, is tasked with work and is rewarded for it just like a man, as in His saying: "I will not allow the work of any worker among you to be lost, whether male or female," and He says: "Whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer - We will surely cause him to live a good life."


It is known about Zainab bint Jahsh, the mother of the believers, may Allah be pleased with her, that she used to give charity from the work of her hands in the way of Allah during the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the same with Zainab bint Khuzayma, the mother of the believers, may Allah be pleased with her, where she was abundant in charity from the work of her hands, even being called the mother of the poor.


Among the mothers of the believers, may Allah be pleased with them, we refer to Zainab bint Jahsh, who was described as being skilled with her hands; she used to tan and embroider and give charity from her earnings for the sake of Allah. Sawda bint Zam'a, may Allah be pleased with her, was said to make Ta'ifi leather, meaning she tanned in the manner of the people of Taif who were famous for good leather tanning, and the profession of tanning was known among women, to benefit from raw hides for household uses and for sale, and this profession brought in significant money. And there is Zainab al-Thaqafiya, wife of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, may Allah be pleased with them, who was a craftswoman working and spending on her husband and children, so women worked at the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and earned money to support themselves, their husbands, and their children.


Therefore, Islam has emphasized the importance of work and called Muslims to seek livelihood and diligence, warned against idleness and reliance, elevated the status of earning workers to the degree of those striving in the way of Allah, and even added to the workers the attribute of worship and closeness to Allah provided it is accompanied by sincere intentions and observance of Allah's limits. The working woman must be beneficial to herself and her family, useful to others, contributing to the advancement of society, influencing its behavior, its environment, and its work sphere.


Source/ Adapted from the book, The Woman and Her Role in Calling to Allah, by the author Maysoun Abdel Rahman Al-Zahawi, 2015.