I wrote this awhile ago (2009) but didn’t get around to publishing it here (I know, I know). Serious post this time. Just a musing… not amusing. 😛 heehee. Okay enough. It is serious!
In thirteen days I will be heading back to work after my maternity leave and vacation time is up. Or rather, I have the privilege of being able to work from home for a few months to spend more time with my infant son. This again has me thinking of the injustices of support for mothers in American society. I am one of the lucky ones. All my company is required to offer me after the birth of my child is 3 months of unpaid leave. Instead, they offered me two months paid for the time I’ve worked here (temporary disability leave), plus my vacation time from last year which I was able to carry over. It is more than many mothers get. In fact if they had adhered to my doctor’s note, I would only have been able to get 6 weeks of paid time… that was all the doctor would sign for, in fact all anyone in her practice would sign for as “disability leave”. My doctor was great throughout my pregnancy, but I find such a policy contrary to the interests of mothers everywhere. When will the U.S. join the enlightened countries of the world that support and empower their mothers? How can this be women’s rights? Are our only rights to be treated as men, who are not capable of bearing children, and make childbearing and rearing, one of the most fulfilling things anyone is capable of, something that may only be indulged in as a leisure activity for those who can afford it?
In Islamic society, women have different rights as mothers and wives. Yes, they have more rights. I am not talking about any particular country of the world, I am talking about the rules for our society laid out by God (Allah) in the Qur’an.
Muslim society allows and makes it easier for a woman to have a “traditional” role of mother. A wife has the right to be supported by her husband. He is obligated to pay for the support of his wife and children, and to spend on them.
This is much different from today’s U.S. society where many women are expected to work outside the home, in fact even if a woman choses not to, she may often have to do so simply to help the family afford to live. This severely limits choices in raising children, breastfeeding them, schooling them, and attending to them in general. Not only do workplace rules (such as those surrounding maternity leave, and lack of affordable childcare) reinforce this, but so do expectations by both men and women of women working and also taking care of duties of home and children. The unfortunate result is that many women are not able to stay home with their children even if they want to. Placing children in expensive schools or daycares, feeding them artificial milk, has become the norm and those who attempt to deviate from it are considered to be asking for special privileges.
This is not to say that Islam requires a woman to stay home, raise children, or breastfeed them. A woman may work if she wishes to, but if she earns money it belongs to her alone, her husband is still obligated to support her, so she has the choice. The prophet Mohammed’s (pbuh) first wife, Khadijah, was a successful businesswoman. She also does not have to nurse, there’s even the option (less used in our days of mechanical–can I say painful–milk extraction) of hiring someone else to nurse the child (Mohammed himself was nursed by wetnurse!). Wetnursing is not taken lightly in Islam, it creates additional familial bonds between nurse and child.
The Noble Qur’an – Al-Baqarah 2:233
The mothers shall give suck to their children for two whole years, (that is) for those (parents) who desire to complete the term of suckling, but the father of the child shall bear the cost of the mother’s food and clothing on a reasonable basis. No person shall have a burden laid on him greater than he can bear. No mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child, nor father on account of his child. And on the (father’s) heir is incumbent the like of that (which was incumbent on the father). If they both decide on weaning, by mutual consent, and after due consultation, there is no sin on them. And if you decide on a foster suckling-mother for your children, there is no sin on you, provided you pay (the mother) what you agreed (to give her) on reasonable basis. And fear Allah and know that Allah is All-Seer of what you do.
Obviously, this represents the ideal situation. The guidelines laid out in the Qur’an show us the means to a harmonious society, but it is up to each muslim to do his or her best to follow them. In my situation, I ended up having to leave my marriage during my pregnancy, and will be providing support for my family (my son and I) on my own. Perhaps this shows the influence of lax attitude which is sadly growing more prevalent in terms of the rights of women and the obligations of the husband to provide a safe and adequate home. But this is not what is laid out in the Qur’an… quite a different picture is painted there. Men are not only commanded to support their wives and children, but to be kind to and look after them in other ways.
The prophet Mohammed (pbuh) said, “The best among you is the one who is the best towards his wife.”
In another hadith, Abu Huraira reported him as also saying, “Woman is like a rib. When you attempt to straighten it, you would break it. And if you leave her alone you would benefit by her.” (Hadith – Muslim, #3466) So a man should not try to bend or force his wife to one way of being or another, but to appreciate the good already in her.
This is further illustrated in another hadith: Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger as saying: “A believing man should not hate a believing woman; it he dislikes one of her characteristics, he will be pleased with another.” (Hadith – Muslim, #3469)
In another hadith, “A man got up and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! I intend to go to such and such an army and my wife wants to perform Hajj.” The Prophet said (to him), “Go along with her (to Hajj).”(Hadith – Bukhari 3:85, Ibn ‘Abbas ) In this case his obligation to accompany and protect his wife took preference over his intention to serve as a soldier.
Once Mu’awiyah asked the Prophet, peace be upon him: “What are the rights that a wife has over her husband?” The Prophet, peace be upon him, replied: “Feed her when you take your food, give her clothes to wear when you wear clothes, refrain from giving her a slap on the face or abusing her, and do not separate from your wife, except within the house.” Once a woman came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, with a complaint against her husband. He told her: “There is no woman who removes something to replace it in its proper place, with a view to tidying her husband’s house, but that God sets it down as a virtue for her. Nor is there a man who walks with his wife hand-in-hand, but that God sets it down as a virtue for him; and if he puts his arm round her shoulder in love, his virtue is increased tenfold.” Once he was heard praising the women of the tribe of Quraish, saying: ” . . . because they are the kindest to their children while they are infants and because they keep a careful watch over the belongings of their husbands.”
The Qur’an further says:
And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women. (Qur’an 2:226)
They (your wives) are your garment and you are a garment for them. (Qur’an 2:187)
And among his signs is this, that He has created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them; and He has put love and mercy between you. Verily in that are signs for those who reflect. (Qur’an 30:21)
Mothers especially are given high regard in Islam, though children (young and old) are commanded to respect both of their parents, the mother’s place is unique.
The Noble Qur’an – Luqmaan 31:14-15
And We have enjoined on man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents. His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning is in two years. Give thanks to Me and to your parents, unto Me is the final destination.
But if they (both) strive with you to make you join in worship with Me others that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not, but behave with them in the world kindly, and follow the path of him who turns to Me in repentance and in obedience. Then to Me will be your return, and I shall tell you what you used to do.
The Noble Qur’an – Al-Isra 17:23-24
And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honor.
And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy, and say: “My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up when I was young.”
In another hadith, often summarized in the expression “Paradise is under the feet of the mother”:
Ibn Majah and al-Nasa’i narrated that a man came to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and said, “O Messenger of Allah! I intend to go on a (military) expedition, but I have come to ask your advice.” He said, “Is your mother alive?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “Then stay with her, for the Garden is under her feet.” –Kashf al-Khafa’, no. 1078; Al-Da’ifah, no. 593.
In another Hadith – Bukhari 8.2, Narrated by Abu Huraira
A man came to Allah’s Apostle and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Who is more entitled to be treated with the best companionship by me?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man said. “Who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man further said, “Who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man asked for the fourth time, “Who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your father.”
I have hope insha’allah that more women will be afforded their true rights still…by muslims and by non-muslims, for the instructions God has given are to all of humankind. We haven’t gotten there yet. On the one hand it is needed on a personal level for men to treat their wives, daughters, and other women with the respect, support, and kindness that they are commanded to. On the other hand it is needed by society as a whole to give women the rights they deserve to have, as women, as mothers, as daughters… not by forcing them to act the way that men do in order to get by in life, but by allowing them the support to fulfill themselves as mothers as well. Right now few have that option… it is either lose out on motherhood altogether, or try to do both by working and supporting the family at the same time, resulting in a frazzled mother, a hectic home, and a still unequal workplace.