This is not strictly true and I will try to explain why and give some examples. Please keep in mind that this is a very broad and debatable topic with different opinions. However, I will try to give some insight into this topic giving both reasons for and against women working.
In Islam, certain basic roles and responsibilities have been given to people including men and women. With the case of men, they are required to work and to support their families while women are primarily required to look after the home and raise the children. On a side note, this is part of the reason why men are given twice the amount of money in inheritance as women –because men are obliged to use the money to support their families whereas women are not obliged to give any of their money to anyone, even if they have enough money themselves.
Some people might feel that it is quite restrictive for women to primarily be obliged to look after the home and raise children but naturally, men and women are equal but different. For example, women give birth, which is something that men cannot do and women are more suited to raising children. There is no need for women to feel ashamed of this role in Islam as women are granted a very status, which they can feel proud of. For example, someone asked the Prophet PBUH (Peace Be Upon Him) “who amongst the people is most deserving of my good treatment? He said: Your mother, again your mother, again your mother, then your father, then your nearest relatives according to the order (of nearness)”. (Sahih Muslim 2548b). Mothers are mentioned three times before the father. Likewise, wives also hold a very high status as the Prophet PBUH mentioned: “This world is but provisions, and there is no provision in this world better than a righteous wife.” (Ibn Majah 1855).
Women do not need to feel obliged to work or support their families financially and compete with men. For example, there is no need to have the same numbers of women studying civil engineering as men. Instead they can remain proud of their high status as mothers, wives and sisters and do not need to trivialize these roles or feel that they are “only” housewives. It is interesting that in the Arabic language, the word for “housewife” is “Rabbat Bait”. The root word for this is “Rabb” –i.e.: Lord. So if you like, you can almost think of the Arabic title as “Lord of the House”!
From a social point of view, if both men and women are working, they will spend less time with their children and might have a weaker relationship with them. Many will therefore put the children in the care of nannies or put them in daycare centres and have less influence over their upbringing.
From an economic point of view, if both men and women work, they will earn more but will need to pay more taxes and will also need to spend more money on childcare. This could potentially lead to a shortage of vacancies for men if many more women work.
From a personal point of view, being a supportive wife and mother is a very difficult job regardless of whether someone is doing a part time /full time job as well. Some women are very ambitious and resilient and have the ability to manage all these demands successfully but not everyone can do this. In some cases, feeling obliged to work can add unnecessary pressure and stress to women, making them get angry more easily.
Women can in fact work if they choose provided that they remain within the boundaries of the religion and still fulfill their primary duties. Having said that, there are women who do not want to work for anyone and find working outside restrictive as they are obliged to work at certain times, do certain duties and more and they have less time to spend with their families. Also, not all work environments are good and sometimes women experience harassment at work, even in very high positions. According to a BBC survey in 2018, 53% of women experienced harassment at work compared to 20% of men (you can find out more from here). A very famous example of this was the case of “Harvey Weinstein” (you can find out more from here).
Having said the above, both men and women have their own strengths and abilities with women able to do better in some roles than men. Notice for example that many skilled labour jobs are still performed by men such as working as plumbers, electricians and automotive engineers whereas many roles are often performed by women such as nursing. From a personal point of view, I have been teaching for many years and the majority of staff in the languages departments in the UK where I have worked and studied included women (maybe because women are generally better at languages than men?). This includes my manager who was a Muslim woman but was by far one of the best managers that I have ever had.
In some professions, women are also needed such as in the medical profession. For example, it would be unrealistic for men to insist that their wives /female relatives must only be seen by female staff if they themselves also insist that women must not work in the medical profession.
There are many examples to disprove the stereotype that Muslim women cannot work and are only confined to the house. Perhaps the best example to disprove this and something to think about is the case of Khadija, the first wife of the Prophet PBUH. Not only did the Prophet PBUH work for her before getting married but she also continued to support him after he became a Prophet. She gave birth to 6 out of 7 of his children and raised them. She was not only richer than him, but 15 years older and had previously married and yet they were so happy together that the Prophet PBUH never felt a need to marry anyone else and only remarried years later after she died but even then he often missed her and sent gifts to her friends. There are many other examples such as Rufaida who had a “military hospital” and cared for companions of the Prophet PBUH who were injured in battle and Aisha, the wife the Prophet PBUH, who was one of the greatest narrators of Hadith (sayings of the Prophet PBUH) and advised other companions on difficult issues. You can see many more examples from my video, Great Women in Islamic History, which you can see from here.
In modern times, Muslim women still take up many important roles including everything from lawyers, teachers, managers, nurses and more. Many also run their own businesses and there are also women who manage to balance their duties by leaving work for a few years to look after their children and then they return to work later when their children have grown up. Here are a few examples from more recent times:
- Bilkiss Navsarka ran her own mini market from 1990-1998 in Coventry in the UK. She has been an inspiration and support for her children. Her son, Abz Navsarka, runs his own business, DessertVan, and was the youngest entrepreneur in the UK as he started his business at the age of 12. (You can find out more about his business from here). Her older son, Riz Navsarka, runs his own business, Mesmereyez and has also won awards (you can find out more about his business from here). Her daughter, Maria Navsarka, has started her own pudding business. You can find out more from here.
- Zeynep Turudi is a successful Turkish entrepreneur who runs her own Turkish confessionary business and won an award for the best new business (you can find out more about her business from here).
- Maaria Mozaffar is a lawyer in Chicago in the US and also heads a project for women, “The Skinless Project” (you can find out more from here).
- Hanan El Hroub won an Award in Dubai for being the best teacher and received the award from the Pope.
- Dr Ruksheda Syeda is a specialist on mental health and is a Ted speaker. She also founded her own organization, MARG (Marriage And Relationship Guidance). You can find out more about her from here.
- Dalia and Yasmin Mogahed: Dalia Mogahed is a scholar and was an advisor to former US President Barrack Obama. Her sister, Yasmin, is an author and gives lectures on Islam. You can find out more about Dalia Mogahed from here.
***Was this answer useful to you? If so, please share and subscribe)***