La Tahzan Wa La Khauf

Don't Be Sad My Friends

Employment Concerns for Working Muslim Women

Before a Muslim woman seeks employment, she must carefully weigh all of her options and prepare herself for inevitable challenges.

Every day, many Muslim women cope with the challenge of working in a non-Muslim environment: a male employee offers his hand during introductions, other employees begin to discuss private aspects of their lives at lunch, an invitation is sent to all employees for a get-together at the local bar, someone makes a joke about hijab or salah. These are just a few of the many possible situations that a woman may face as she struggles to maintain not only her job, but her Muslim identity as well. In addition, she feels the stress of trying to balance the demands of her job with those of her home and children. What is the Islamic perspective in women and work? What guidelines should be followed if a woman works? What are some strategies that may be effective in helping her to maintain Islamic values and behavior?

Setting Priorities:

The most important role for a woman is motherhood. This special role that Allah has created for her, affords her honor and respect in Islam. Where does she fulfil this role? Naturally, in her home. Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, says: “And stay in your houses, and do not display yourselves like those in the times of ignorance and offer prayers perfectly and give zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger.” [33:33] This does not mean that a woman is a prisoner in her home, but only that she should have a valid reason (such as for basic needs, education, etc) to go out, to avoid any fitnah (tribulation, trial) that may result from mixing between men and women.

A woman should not work in a non-Muslim environment unless there is some compelling reason for her to do so. Allah has not prohibited women from working, but He has provided numerous protections for women, that are primarily concerned with where, how, and with whom she associates. She should seriously consider the costs and benefits for herself, and the impact on her ability to fulfill her primary responsibilities, before taking on a job. There are many situations that may make it necessary for a woman to work, such as to assist with the financial needs of the family or to fulfill the needs of the society (doctors, midwives, teachers).

There are several obvious guidelines that should be followed if a woman does decide to work. First, she must obtain consent from her husband, who may offer a broader perspective on how her work may influence the family and its functioning. Secondly, a woman must ensure that her home and children are properly cared for. Her husband may be of assistance in this area, or outside help may be employed. Thirdly, care must be taken to choose employment that is appropriate and fits with her skills. Obviously, any work that deals with haram activities, services, or products would not be allowed but there is a world of possibilities available.

There is an immense and growing need for Muslim women in various medical fields, in education, in helping professions such as social work, counseling, psychology, psychiatry, and childcare. With the growth of technology and communications capabilities, there are unlimited opportunities for women to do some type of work or business from home (such as secretarial and typing; writing, editing, publishing; computer work, etc.) This would be an ideal situation that would eliminate many of the concerns that may arise for working women.

Maintaining an Islamic Foundation:

This common concern for women who work outside the home must be taken very seriously. Women need to be careful that the job they choose does not lead them to transgress the limits of Islam.

Fedwa is a successful computer programmer at a major University who understands the risks of working in a non-Muslim environment. She know that if she is not cautious, others may begin to negatively influence her. When she first began working, she would attend luncheons with other employees, but soon discovered that much of the time was spent on idle talk and conversation about haram activities (e.g. boyfriends, drinking). She decided that the best precaution for her would be to avoid these luncheons completely, so that a bond would not be established between herself and her co-workers. This type of influence could be so subtle, that a sister may not even be aware that she has fallen into the trap. Listening to inappropriate conversations on a regular basis may lead a sister to become desensitized and thereby forgetful about appropriate etiquette.

Another sister, Layla, echoed the same concerns. Layla is a Dental Claims Clerk at a major HMO who also decided to stop sitting with her co-workers during lunch. She and three other Muslim sisters at the same company have devised a creative way to preserve their identity while socializing at the same time. Each Friday, the sisters pray Dhuhr together in a conference room, followed by lunch. During lunch, they study about Islam in a private halaqa. Layala works with men, but does not find it difficult. Her approach is to keep her intention and interactions strictly business, while being considerate and respectful. People are likely to respect this in turn. Handshaking is often a concern, but an explanation of religious prohibitions often helps to ease the interaction. Invitations to parties where alcohol is served can be handled in a similar manner.

Layla also discussed her struggle with wearing hijab. When she first became Muslim, she considered not wearing hijab to job interviews for fear that potential employers would react negatively, preventing her from being considered. This rationale carries a strong message. After more consideration, she realized that Allah would be the only One who could assist her in finding a job. And, if she did not wear it, she would not receive Allah’s help. She wore the hijab and found a job. She felt that the hijab was a barrier in only one of her interviews. Since that time, Allah has strengthened her eman. Her advice to other Muslim sisters is to be open and honest about religious beliefs and practices, and to incorporate this into conversations.

This small opportunity to educate others about Islam breaks down stereotypes and prejudice that may be present. She also recommends offering some type of training for employees about Islamic beliefs and practices or putting up displays in companies when possible. Layla conducts a diversity training session with new employees and incorporates examples about Islam and her experiences in the presentation. Often this leads to further questions and she always-welcome co-workers to ask questions as they arise. She feels that people admire and respect a person more, if they have some aspect of spirituality in their lives.

Final Advice:

The most important advice for sisters to remember is that no matter where we are, or what we are doing, we should be persistent in fulfilling Allah’s commands, be ever mindful of Him, and rely solely upon His grace and assistance. If we are in a job where we feel that our values are being compromised, the best option may be to leave. Allah should always be our first priority, not money, personal satisfaction, or desire for prestige or power. If things seem too overwhelming or difficult, we should always turn to Allah and ask for his help and guidance.

The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, said: “Allah the Almighty says: ‘I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assembly better than it. And if he draws near to Me a hand’s span, I draw near to him an arm’s length; and if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a fathom’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.” (Bukhari).

Let us rely upon Allah in all of our matters, whether personal, social, or professional.

By: Dr. Aisha Hamdan

[From: Al-Jumuah – Vol. 12 , Iss: 11]<>
Saturday : 24/08/2002


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