Women: Homemaker or Mountaineer?

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Contributor: Theresa Corbin ||

The question is one that has been proposed throughout the ages, is woman meant to solely be a homemaker or can she-or even should she-be more? It is a question that many women like myself find insulting.

Rarely a culture has not claimed that woman’s place is in the home. Men have misused religion, wrongly referenced the female’s “delicate constitution”, and even cited a make believe emotional or mental “lacking”. All this slander of one gender has been solely for the purpose of claiming homemaker is the correct and only life choice for women. And along the way, many a womans’ capability is hindered.

While being a homemaker is a noble and rewarding life path that -if a women should choose to pursue it- she should be honored for her hard work and sacrifices for her family. But the problem comes in when people make the false claim that women MUST choose this path in life.

For those of us living in the West, this is a thing of the past. Women are rarely told they must stay at home and forget any other ambition. Memories of the 1950s wives who were forced to leave all dreams behind to be homemaker are categorized with other backward practices of our collective conscience.

But for the Muslim women, this way of thinking and viewing women is still very much alive and affecting women’s lives negatively. This became very clear to me when I converted to Islam, got married, and moved to an ultra-conservative community.

When I move after marrying, my husband and I found ourselves in the company of those who considered the harshest option the more closely related to righteousness. I do not begrudge these brothers and sisters. They were doing their best and trying to find their way.

But being involved with this group meant that most jobs were labeled haram (and many lived in poverty because of it), men were to wear thobes and women all black and niqab (or the sincerity of the person would be questioned), and a woman’s place was as a homemaker. Period.

For me this brought up serious issues. I had dropped my classes at the university I attended when I married and moved. I had planned to transfer upon arrival to my new city and finish my degree. But being a part of this small, ultra-conservative group meant that that ambition was out of the question.

As a new convert, a new wife, and a new member of this closed group, I felt I had no recourse to argue. So I cleaned and cooked. But cooking for two and cleaning a microscopic apartment left me with lots of time on my hands. I became bored and resentful.

So to fill the time between homemaker tasks, I set my mind to studying Islam. Luckily, I had access to the community library and bookstore. I read every book, then reread my favorites. I went to so many lectures, classes, seminars, and what have you, that it was hard to keep track.

In my pursuit of knowledge, I learned that the hardest thing is not always more closely related to righteousness (and sometimes this is a sign of insecurity of faith). I learned that outward appearances sometimes has little to do with inward character.

And I learned that the female companions of the Prophet (may Allah be pleased with them) and the women from the early generations of Muslims played many roles in their society. They were in fact homemakers- and proud to be- but they were also teachers, soldiers, overseers of the market place, founders of nonprofits, business owners, farmers, scholars, and one was even a founder of a university.

I found that in the first community of Muslims, as they left their pagan ways of treating women, it became the norm to see women helping their husbands in the fields, trading and operating businesses of their own, and coming and going from their homes. God has made men and women, collectively, the trustees of God on earth (Quran 17:70 and 2:30).

I learned that Islam is such a perfect way to live because of what it instructs and because of what it remains silent on. Islam has not defined the gender roles beyond the bare bones of modesty and who has what rights in a marriage, inheritance, and divorce. Beyond these few rulings, men and women are free to pursue whatever hobbies and careers they wish and free to establish their own dynamic within their relationships.

But still, Muslim women everywhere struggle with the concept that Islam dictates that they must be homemakers or at the very least if a women does want a career, it must be from the home. While there is nothing wrong with this as a path in life, it is not for everyone and should not be forced on women in the name of Islam because it has nothing to do with Islam.

When we falsely relegate tasks, or “appropriate” spheres of life to specific genders, claiming Islam, we ignore our history. And we ignore the fact that everyone has different talents and unique qualifications to do different tasks. We find one gender or the other is unfairly burden with too much (whether it is in the home our outside of it) and we incapacitate over half of our population (women) by refusing to allow them to use their talents and seek out their ambitions and goals.

Isn’t it time to take a real look at what Islam says and doesn’t say about gender roles and remove cultural bias? Isn’t it time that we let Muslim women, equal trustees on the earth, decide for themselves whether they will be homemakers, mountaineers, or both?

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