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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Restoring the family? Really? What's the Islamic ideal?

The main ideological aim of the backlash has been to reassert the centrality of the traditional nuclear family. This has meant undermining many of the most basic ideas of the women’s movement: that women should be able to freely leave unhappy marriages; that women can combine work and family; that a woman’s right to control her own body is fundamental to equality.
Perhaps the most striking example of this is President George W. Bush’s Healthy Marriage Initiative, which seeks to promote marriage among low-income families.3 The current House of Representatives’ welfare reauthorization bill earmarks $1.5 billion of funds for poor women and children to be diverted into this program.4 Diverting $1.5 billion in desperately needed funds from the welfare system to educate heterosexuals in marriage skills, while simultaneously opposing the right of gays and lesbians to marry, exemplifies the hypocrisy of the family values agenda.
Family values advocates place most of the blame for social ills on the breakdown of the nuclear family. Childhood poverty is blamed on single mothers. School shootings are explained by the phenomenon of "latchkey kids" whose mothers put paid work ahead of parenting. Declining test scores are not attributed to reduced school funding and overcrowded classrooms, but parents who do not spend enough time helping children with their homework.
While conservatives often couch their proposals in soft and "compassionate" language, the actual policies they advocate are reactionary. They aim to repeal no-fault divorce laws, re-stigmatize single motherhood, and take away women’s right to control their own bodies. Because conservatives consider the restoration of the traditional nuclear family as the primary goal, they often oppose measures that would actually improve families’ lives, such as child care funding or paid maternity leave. As a member of the conservative Family Research Council put it: "Providing child care is a distraction from our main goal of helping married women stay home to raise their kids. If you make it easier for mothers to have careers, you also reward divorce and illegitimacy."

Opt-out revolution?
While the Christian Right has long championed the return of the traditional family, today the media is busy trying to sell the idea of a "post-feminist" revolution in women’s attitudes toward work and family. The pundits of post-feminism argue that women have achieved equality and are now suffering from an excess of liberation. They would like us to believe that the daughters of the Gloria Steinem generation are abandoning the workplace to dedicate themselves to the more fulfilling realm of home and family.
In recent years, there has been a proliferation of articles, news stories, and books heralding this supposed phenomenon. An article that ran in the New York Times Magazine in October 2003 is typical. Titled "The Opt-Out Revolution," the story ran on the front cover of the magazine with the provocative statement: "Why don’t women run the world? Maybe it’s because they don’t want to."6
In the article, Lisa Belkin, the Times’ life-work correspondent, examines a small group of Yale and Princeton graduates who have chosen to leave behind the corporate world to stay home with their children. From this small and unrepresentative sampling, she concludes that there is a significant trend of women choosing to become stay-at-home mothers. She paints this not as a return to traditional values but as the new wave in feminism: "This is not the failure of a revolution, but the start of a new one."7
Yet many of the sentiments expressed in the article are a throwback to the 1950s. For example, a large proportion of her story is devoted to the idea that women are biologically conditioned to play a nurturing and child-rearing role. She claims that much of the conversation among women today is "not about how the workplace is unfair to women, but about how the relationship between work and life is different for women than for men." She quotes one mother saying, "I think some of us are swinging to a place where we enjoy, and can admit we enjoy, the stereotypical role of female/mother/caregiver. I think we were born with those feelings."8
In addition, this group of privileged women shuns any connection to an actual movement for women’s equality. In the words of one woman: "I don’t want to take on the mantle of all womanhood and fight a fight for some sister who isn’t really my sister because I don’t even know her."9
Just a few months after the Belkin story, Time magazine ran a similar article on its cover called "The Case for Staying Home." Reading through the article, one discovers a story of long work hours necessary to make ends meet, inflexible workplace policies, and enormous societal pressure on mothers. However, the conclusion the editors chose to run on the front page was: "Caught between the pressures of the workplace and the demands of being a mom, more women are sticking with the kids."10 In the climate of post-feminist family values, a story that might have been an opportunity to expose the difficult demands of the workplace becomes another argument for women returning home.
Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels, the authors of the book The Mommy Myth, refer to "the new momism." They describe how the media has created an unattainable ideal of the mother who can "do it all"—while removing the social supports (welfare, child care funding, preschool education, etc.) that working mothers so desperately need. This has left women to conclude that, if they are unable to successfully manage the multiple demands of paid work, housework, and child care, it is their own personal failure. Women who work are fed heavy doses of guilt as news stories about bad day care, latchkey kids, and the dangers of "detached parenting" fill the airwaves.
The authors show how the ideas of women’s liberation have been turned on their head by this campaign:
The mythology of the new momism now insinuates that, when all is said and done, the enlightened mother chooses to stay home with the kids. Back in the 1950s, mothers stayed home because they had no choice, so the thinking goes. Today, having been to the office, having tried a career, women supposedly have seen the inside of the male working world and found it to be the inferior choice to staying home, especially when their kids’ future is at stake. It’s not that mothers can’t hack it (1950s thinking). It’s that progressive mothers refuse to hack it. Inexperienced women thought they knew what they wanted, but they got experience and learned they were wrong. Now mothers have seen the error of their ways, and supposedly seen that the June Cleaver model, if taken as a choice, as opposed to a requirement, is the truly modern, fulfilling, forward-thinking version of motherhood.11 The intent of all of this is to convince us that the institutional barriers that women faced in the past have been broken down (or at least mitigated) and replaced by a set of individual choices that they may pursue. As one woman put it, "Women today, if we think about feminism at all, we see it as a battle fought for ‘the choice.’ For us, the freedom to choose work if we want to work is the feminist strain in our lives." The value of this notion to employers and politicians cannot be underestimated. It allows them to reframe the question of women’s equality as one of personal achievement, rather than institutional change.
The main problem with the theory of women’s recent return to the home is that it’s simply not true. There is no sign of a mass exodus of women from the paid workforce. In fact women, including mothers, are doing the opposite; they are working longer and harder than ever before. In 2003, 78 percent of women with school-aged children, 59 percent of women with children under the age of five and 54 percent of women with infants worked for pay.12
Clearly, women are not heading home—and for a very simple reason. Far from the idea that women working outside the home for pay is a matter of individual preference, most women work because they must. In an era of increasing job insecurity and economic precariousness, 30 percent of working women make all or almost all of their family’s income, and 60 percent earn half or more of their family’s income.13 Women’s wages are not pocket change or disposable earnings that could be done without if only families would eat at home as some of the back-to-home crusaders argue. Women’s wages have become increasingly crucial to families’ ability to stay afloat.

In fact, the common problem with both the right-wing family values advocates and the pundits of the post-feminist revolution is that neither speaks to the actual reality of the majority of real women and children’s lives. The family values crusaders may long for a return to the traditional family, but that family, to the extent that it ever existed, no longer does. Only 9 percent of people today live in the traditional nuclear family of two married parents with a wage-earning father and full-time mother.14 The trend is toward a greater diversity of families. Today, families may be headed by a gay couple, a single mother, an unmarried couple, or a combination of biological and stepparents. Despite the media-induced anxiety about unwed mothers, divorce, and gay marriage, 90 percent of people, when polled, say society should value "all types of families

The Islamic View : has a quite different mindset on matters of women in the workplace

Danger of Women Freely Mixing with Men, especially in their Participation in the Work Arena of Men      
Wednesday, 30 May 2007  
By Shaykh 'Abdul 'Azeez Ibn Baaz (rahimahullaah)
A much needed warning from the Muftee of the Ummah concerning the widely spread practice of women working alongside men. 

The open call, or its intimation, for women to go out to work in the same arena as men, resulting in the mixing of sexes, citing the necessities of this age and the demands of civilisation as proof, is indeed a very dangerous matter.

The following Fatwa was taken from the book entitled, 'Mushaarikatul Marr'a Lirrajuli Fee Maydaan 'Amaliihee',

All Praise is due to Allaah, The Lord of the Worlds, and may the Prayer and Peace be upon His trustworthy Messenger and upon all his family and Companions.

The open call, or its intimation, for women to go out to work in the same arena as men, resulting in the mixing of sexes, citing the necessities of this age and the demands of civilization as proof, is indeed a very dangerous matter. It has dangerous ramifications, bitter fruits and disastrous consequences. And this call is made despite it conflicting with stipulations in Islamic Law, which requires a woman to remain in her home to fulfill the duties which are particular to her._"This point even many Muslims disregard and lack wisdom in. But the scholars know better" end of my words.

Whoever would like to see from close proximity the immeasurable [damage] which has been caused by the mixing of the sexes, then let him consider with fairness and impartiality, seeking only the Truth, those societies who have succumbed, whether [by] choice or by force, to this affliction and he will find grievance and regret from both the individual and society because of the feeling of the woman [being away] from her home and the [resultant] breaking up of the family.

This we find mentioned, not only by many authors, but throughout the media, solely because it is the destruction of the society and its foundations.

There are many clear, authentic proofs which forbid the seclusion of a man with "Al Ajnabiyyah" (i.e. literally; a foreign woman - it includes all those women whom a man is permitted to marry by Islamic Law.), his looking at her and those steps which lead to the occurrence of what Allaah (Ta'aala) has forbidden. They are unequivocal in forbidding the mixing of men and women because it leads to what is not commendable.

The ousting of the woman from her home, which is her domain and base in this life, is her removal from her nature which Allaah (Ta'aala) created her upon.

So the call for women to step into the arena of men is a great matter of great danger for the Islamic society. The resultant mixing of men and women is one of the leading causes of fornication, which fragments the society, cheapens its value and undermines its morality.

It is clear that Allaah, The Blessed, The Exalted, created for women a particular physique, which differs completely from the physique of man. With it, He prepared her to carry out her duties in her home and among women. And due to this, the plunging of women into the arena designated for men must be considered her removal from her nature. That is a great injustice to a woman and is the extinguishing of her personality. The effect of this is passed on to both the males and the females of the next generation.

They are deprived of education, tenderness and affection, because the mother has been separated from her responsibility in these matters and completely removed from her domain, out of which it is not possible for her to find peace, stability and tranquility. The condition of those societies which are entangled in this is the strongest proof for what we say. Islam has designed for both the husband and the wife particular duties and it is for each one of them to fulfill those duties in order that the building of the society, both inside and outside the home, may be completed.

The man is responsible for expenditure and earning while the woman is responsible for bringing up the children, tenderness and affection, suckling the young, weaning them and all other duties appropriate to her, such as teaching the young and the management of their schooling, their medical care and so forth.

For a woman to abandon her household duties is tantamount to the ruin of the home and its occupants and there follows as a consequence the break up of the family, to such an extent that the society becomes but a form, an image with neither reality nor meaning.

Allaah The Sublime, The Exalted says: {Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allaah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means.} (The Noble Qur'an: Surah 4 Ayah 34)

This noble Ayah (1) points out that it is the custom of Allaah (Ta'aala) in His creation that man has guardianship over women and is a degree above them.

The meaning of Allaah's Ordering a woman to be settled in her home and forbidding her from At Tabbaraj (i.e. for a woman to display of her beauty that which evokes the desires of men, and which it is obligatory for her to veil) is the prohibition of Al Ikhtilaat, which is the mixing of men and women in the same place of work, buying and selling, picnics or travel and so forth. This is because the plunging of women into this arena leads to her falling into that which is forbidden, and that is a violation of Allaah's command and the neglect of His Law, which it is obligatory for a Muslim woman to abide by.

The Qur'an and Traditions of the Prophet (salallaahu 'alayhee wa sallam), both show that the mixing of the sexes and all that might lead to it, is not permissible.

Allaah, The Sublime, The Exalted says: {And stay in your houses, and do not display yourselves like that of the times of ignorance, and perform As Salat (Iqamat as Salat), and give Zakat and obey Allaah and His Messenger. Allaah wishes only to remove Ar Rijs (evil deeds and sins) from you, O members of the family (of the Prophet), and to purify you with a thorough purification.} (The Noble Qur'an: Surah 33 Ayah 33)

And so Allaah (Ta'aala) Ordered the Mothers of the Believers (2) - and all Muslim women are included in that injunction to be settled in their homes because in that is their protection and their being distant from the causes of immorality. A woman leaving her home unnecessarily could lead to "At Tabarraj" and other harm. They are also ordered to do righteous deeds, such as the performance of Prayer, the paying of Zakat and obedience to Allaah and His Messenger (salallaahu 'alayhee wa sallam), which all protect her from committing vile and reprehensible actions.

They are then directed to what will benefit them in this world and the next, which is to be in continual touch with the Qur'an and the Prophetical Traditions, both of which remove impurities from the heart and purify it from iniquity, guide to the Truth and to that which is correct.

Allaah, The Exalted says: {O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the Believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (i.e. screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way). That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allaah is Ever Oft Forgiving, Most Merciful.} (The Noble Qur'an: Surah 33 Ayah 59)

And so Allaah (Ta'aala) ordered His Prophet (salallaahu 'alayhee wa sallam), the transmitter of the Message from his Lord, to tell his wives and daughters and all the women of the Believers to shroud themselves with their Jalabeeb (3) if they had to go out for a particular need, in order that they would not suffer harm from people with corrupt hearts. And so if this matter is of such importance then imagine her stepping into the arena of men, mixing with them, exposing her need to them through employment and by so doing, relinquishing much of her femininity and losing her modesty. All this, in order to achieve an equality of the two sexes which are different both in meaning and form.

Allaah, The Sublime, The Exalted says: {Tell the Believing men to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts). 

That is purer for them. Verily, Allaah is All Aware of what they do. And tell the Believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer palms of hands or one eye or dress like veil, gloves, head-cover, apron), and to draw their Khumaar (4) all over their Juyoob (5) (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms)...} (The Noble Qur'an: Surah 24 Ayat 30-31)

Allaah (Ta'aala) ordered His Prophet (salallaahu 'alayhee wa sallam), to inform the Believing men to lower their gaze and to guard themselves against committing adultery and fornication and then He, Exalted made it clear that it was more befitting them. It is clear that guarding the self against committing adultery and fornication is achieved by avoiding its causes and there can be no doubt that leaving the eyes free to gaze, and the mixing of men and women at work and elsewhere are some of its major causes.

These two matters, lowering the eyes and guarding against immorality which are demanded from the Believer, are impossible to achieve while he is working with "Al Marr'a Al Ajnabiyyah" (once again: literally a foreign woman. It includes all those women whom a man is permitted to marry by Islamic Law), as his colleague or partner.

And so Allaah (Ta'aala) ordered the Believing women to lower their gaze and to be chaste and not to display their ornaments, except those which are openly apparent, He also commanded them to let their head coverings fall down over their breasts, which would include her covering her head and face.

So how can the lowering of the eye's chastity and the concealing of a woman's adornment be achieved when she goes to work with men and mixes with them, all of which guarantees the occurrence of that which we should be wary of?

How is it possible for a Muslim woman to lower her gaze while she is side by side with "Al Ajnabee" (literally a foreign man. It includes all those men whom a woman is permitted to marry by Islamic Law), on the pretext that she is participating with him or is equal to him in all that he does?

Allaah (Ta'aala) has forbidden all the causes of that which is prohibited and so He has ordered women not to use enticing speech with men because that can awaken in men a desire for women.

Allaah, The Exalted says: {O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women. If you keep your duty to (Allaah), then be not soft in speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire, but speak in an honourable manner.} (The Noble Qur'an: Surah 33 Ayah 32)

What is meant is the sickness of lust, so how can that be avoided while the mixing of the sexes is occurring?

What is quite clear is that if she goes out to work with men she most certainly will speak with them and they will speak with her, and she will beautify her speech for them and they for her. In addition to that, Shaytaan makes immorality appealing and calls people to it, until they fall prey to him. And so Allaah (Ta'aala) in His wisdom has ordered women to be veiled.

That is only because amongst people there are those who are righteous and pure and others who are adulterers and fornicators. Thus, veiling/concealing prevents, Insha' Allaah, temptation, hinders its causes and by it purity of the heart of both men and women is achieved as well as the distancing of suspicion and accusation.

Allaah, The Sublime, The Exalted says: {And when you ask (the Prophet's wives) for anything you want, ask them from behind a screen, that is purer for your hearts and for their hearts.} (The Noble Qur'an: Surah 33 Aya 53)

And the best screen for a woman, after the covering of her face and body with clothes, is her house.

Islam has forbidden women to mix with "Al Ajaanib" (i.e. plural of Al Ajnabee), so that she does not expose herself to temptation, directly or indirectly. It requires her to be settled in the house and not go out, except when obliged to, and to do so with the decency required by Islam.

Allaah (Ta'aala) has termed her remaining in her home "Qaraaran" (i.e. lit. being settled, stable, steady or still.), and in it is the subtlest of meanings, because it contains the settling of her self and the tranquillity and delight of her heart. The leaving of that stability leads to the disturbance of her breast and her exposure to that whose outcome is not commendable.

Islam has prohibited a man's seclusion with "Al Ajnabiyyah" under any circumstances, and it has forbidden her (the woman) to travel except with her "Mahram"( A Male Relative) in order to curtail the description of Shaytaan.

For this reason Allaah's Messenger (salallaahu 'alayhee wa sallam) said: "I have not left behind me a trial more harmful to men than women." He (salallaahu 'alayhee wa sallam) [also] said: "Be wary of the life of this world and be on your guard against women, because the first trial for the Israelites was through women."

It is possible that some of those who call for the mixing of the sexes depend upon the superficial meaning of some of the texts of Law, the real meaning and purpose of which are not perceived except by he whose heart has been illuminated by Allaah (Subhannah wa Ta'aala) and who has been given understanding of Allaah's Religion and has gathered all the evidence together, until it has been unified in his mind, so that no part of it is separated from any [other] part.

A misunderstanding has occurred, for instance, because some women accompanied the Prophet (salallaahu 'alayhee wa sallam), on some military expeditions. The correct explanation for this, however, is that they did so with their "Mahaarim" (i.e. plural of Mahrim), in order to achieve many benefits and it did not lead to what is feared for them nor [did it lead to] immorality because of their Faith and Piety, [and] their supervision by their "Mahaarim" and their care about remaining concealed following the Revelation concerning it, in contrast to many of the women of this time.

It is clear that a woman's leaving her home in order to work, is a completely different situation from when the women went out with Allaah's Prophet (salallaahu 'alayhee wa sallam) on a military expedition. So to compare the one with the other must be considered an incorrect analogy.

We must also ask what it was that the Rightly Guided predecessors understood concerning this matter. There can be no doubt that they understood the meanings of the texts better than other people and were closer to the implementation of the injunctions of the Qur'an and the Traditions of the Prophet (salallaahu 'alayhee wa sallam).

So what has been constantly related by them throughout history?

Have they extended the range of a woman's activity, as those who call for the mixing of men and women claim, and thus reported that what has been mentioned in the texts is that a woman can work in every field of life with men, so that she competes with them and they compete with her? Or did they understand that these matters were limited and did not go beyond them?

If we examine the Islamic conquests and military expeditions throughout history, we do not find this mixing of men and women. However, the call today for the recruitment of a woman as a soldier, who carries weapons and kills like a man, is nothing more than a reason to ruin and breakdown the morals of the army, in the name of 'relaxation' for the army.

This is because there occurs quite naturally between a man and a woman, affection, intimacy and relaxation through conversation when they are alone together; and as one thing can lead to another, it is wiser and more prudent and further from future regret to close the door of temptation.

And so the prime objective of Islam is the promoting of that which is beneficial and the averting of [all that is] evil, and closing the doors of its causes. It has been mentioned previously that the mixing of men and women at work is a major cause for the decline of a people and the corruption of its society.

It is also an historical fact that one of the main reasons for the decline and decay that happened to the old Roman and Greek civilisations [and others] like them, was the emergence of the woman from her particular domain into that of the man's [domain] and their competing together. This led to the corruption of the morals of the men and their abandoning that which would push the community to a material and spiritual development.

Also, if the woman is busy outside the home, this leads to the man becoming idle, causing a decline and collapse of their (the men's) role, and the corruption of the family, causing the collapse of its structure and the corruption of the morals of the children. As well as this, it also leads to the violation of the principles which Allaah (Ta'aala) has declared in the Qur'an, which is that man has been placed as the guardian.

It is also the objective of Islam to distance a woman from everything which contradicts her nature, and so [it is for this reason that] she is prohibited from being entrusted with public governorship, such as the leadership of the country, the administration of the Law and all those duties which carry public responsibilities.

This is because the Prophet (salallaahu 'alayhee wa sallam) said: "Never would a community succeed which entrusted the direction of their affairs to a woman." (Related by Al Bukharee in his collection of authentic Hadeeth.)

And so the opening of the door for her to step into the arena of men must be considered contradictory to what Islam wants for her of happiness and stability. And so Islam prohibits the enlisting of a woman in that which is outside her proper arena and field of activity.

Besides what has been mentioned in the Qur'an, and the Traditions of the Prophet concerning the difference between their two natures and duties, experience has also proven - especially in those societies where men mix freely with women - that men and women are both by nature [not] equal. And those who call for the equality of the fair sex with men are either ignorant, or pretending to be ignorant of the basic differences between them.


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