Salam (Peace) Amy,
Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.
It is a sad fact that many Muslims in the world today, even the ones who devoutly practice Islam, do not always act upon all the aspects of the religion, which were practically demonstrated by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him-PBUH).
Many times, their country’s culture seeps into their mindsets, beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes; especially as far as gender roles and responsibilities are concerned.
That is why I always advise non-Muslims not to judge Islam by the outwards actions and conducts of Muslims today.
Islam is the most balanced and nuanced way of life, and it should be given more precedence than culture, no matter which part of the world a Muslim hails from. Islam offers the optimum and most moderate and balanced way of living for both genders.
In Islam, the wife and mother is primarily responsible for the duties related to early-childhood-rearing, when the children are very young. She is obligated to fulfill her duties as much as she can. And she may employ domestic help when it comes to housekeeping and child rearing.
However, that does not mean that the husband should be absent in fulfilling these roles alongside her, especially if the work gets too much for her. The Prophet (PBUH) used to do household chores when he was at home.
He used to enjoy spending time with his family. He lovingly picked up babies of other people, to bless them. He mingled and joked with older children. He is the best role model that all Muslim men should follow, no matter which era of time they dwell in.
Consequently, all Muslim husbands should try to happily pitch in around the house, and with raising the children, if their schedule and health allows them to.
However, the reason why many if not most born Muslim men hesitate and desist in this issue, is largely because of their cultural ethos and mindsets.
In most Eastern countries, boys are brought up with a certain mentality, including what kinds of “work” are considered suitable for them according to their gender. In many such societies, religion has little to do with the way boys and girls are brought up.
Children as young as ten have gender-based roles and duties ingrained in their mindsets. Elders of the family dictate to the male as well as female child what kind of work they should help the adults out in, and the duties are usually mutually exclusive.
So, for example, when adult family members act scandalized and horrified, when a young boy offers to change his baby sibling’s nappy, or a little girl eagerly tries to help her father fix his car–and shoo away the child gruffly and harshly–the child will lose their confidence and avoid trying to help out with such an errand again.
This is especially true if this happens repeatedly. The 9-year-old boy is told to leave his dinner plate on the table, and not to wash and put it away in the kitchen because his sister is “supposed to do that”.
The 12-year-old girl is discouraged from helping her father calculate his monthly bills and budget, and instead is told to “go make tea” for him. The tired mother acts horrified when her son tries to help her mop the floor, and tells him to fetch his sister instead, to help her do it.
As a result, culturally-influenced ideas regarding what emasculates a man, are deeply ingrained in a young boy’s mind, long before he turns into a man. As an adult, he carries over these ideas into his own marital home.
Furthermore, as children in some cultures around the world grow up, they keenly absorb and retain the attitudes towards gender roles that they observe in their own homes.
Most of the time, these have little to do with religious beliefs, like I previously pointed out. E.g. in my country, Pakistan, most Hindu and Christian girls and boys are brought up with more or less the same cultural mentality as Muslim children.
A boy will never be expected to clean up the kitchen, nor babysit his younger siblings, even if he is free and able to do so. Either the household maids, or his female family members will do that.
Religion in patriarchal and misogynist societies is often used in a biased manner, to sustain and back up cherry-picked parts of cultural beliefs that allow those in authority to continue to exert control over their dependents.
E.g. the laws of Islam regarding giving daughters and sisters their rightful shares of inheritance are completely ignored and not even discussed, much less put into practice. Whereas, the verses of Quran and Prophetic sayings (ahadith) regarding the parents’ and husbands’ rights over women are widely repeated, exhorted, shared, and discussed. And likewise women’s rights over husbands’ are hushed.
The Quran and Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) actions and sayings throw factual light upon what Allah has ordained regarding the rights and treatment of women in Islam.
I invite you to find out the truth about what Islam says regarding the kind treatment of all women, especially wives. There are two chapters (surahs) in the Quran that have many commands and laws related to the rights of Muslim women, and they are: Al-Nisaa and Al-Talaq.
The latter chapter exhorts the kind treatment of wives who are even being divorced by their Muslim husbands, so what can be expected for those wives who are still married to them?!
As for changing diapers, it is a fact that many husbands feel averse to performing this duty, not because they do not love their children, but because they are disgusted by what is inside those dirty diapers!
I hope this answers your question, Amy. Please stay in touch.
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