Short Answer: “No, a woman is not obligated to do housework. Yes, you can easily find a number of “Islamic” websites that list housework as a woman’s duty, but the fact of the matter is that these claims are not backed up with proof.” While a wife does have certain responsibilities, like guarding her husband’s property, allowing him to be qawwam of the family, and making love to him when they are both in the mood, cooking, cleaning, and caring for his kids is just as much his responsibility as hers. They could make an agreement about whose job such-and-such is, but Islam does not dictate one.
Thank you for your question, sister.
It is a very important one in regards to a topic that is highly misunderstood.
To put it simply: no, a woman is not obligated to do housework.
Yes, you can easily find a number of “Islamic” websites that list housework as a woman’s duty, but the fact of the matter is that these claims are not backed up with proof.
In fact, in my research, I have not even come up with any indication that raising children lies solely on women (another common claim).
So, what are a wife’s responsibilities?
Protecting their husbands’ house and property
It is mentioned in Bukhari, Muslim, and Tirmidhi that one responsibility of a wife is to guard her husband’s property while he is away, and not to allow anyone into the home who he does not want there.
Allowing their husbands to be qawwam
The subject of qawwam is another interesting and misunderstood one. It is mentioned in the Quran that men are qawwam over women.
The meaning of qawwam in Arabic implies that it is a role of caretaking and protecting – not one of guardianship, ownership, or lordship.
Though it is not a position of superiority, it is one of responsibility.
Therefore a husband can Islamically make final decisions in a family, though it is not permissible for him to act like a dictator, doing whatever he pleases.
Acting in such a way, after all, is not truly qawwam.
It is well-known, and oft-repeated that a husband has the right to intercourse with his wife.
It is, however, also important to bear in mind that a wife has the right to intercourse with her husband, as well. Indeed, it is the right of a man, but it is not his right alone.
Whose responsibility, then, is housework?
It is not uncommon in the Middle East for there to be a full-time maid employed in order to care for housework.
So does that mean that we Muslim women in the West, where such things are unheard of, are saddled with the work?
As usual, the best answer to this question lies in the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad.
Prophet Muhammad: A Real Man
A’isha, when asked what the Prophet used to do in his house, answered,
He used to keep himself busy serving his family, and when it was time for prayer, he would go for it. (Bukhari)
What’s interesting about this Hadith is that, in Arabic, the word “mihnah” is used for “busy serving.”
This word also gives the implication that something is a job, meaning that the Prophet wasn’t “helping out” his wives – he was engaging in his duty, his job.
Another interesting Hadith collected by Bukhari quotes A’isha as saying:
He did what one of you would do in his house. He mended sandals and patched garments and sewed.
This Hadith is important because it highlights that it wasn’t something that only the Prophet Muhammad did.
Rather, it was commonplace for men to do such things, effectively weeding out the argument that men nowadays couldn’t possibly be held to such rigorous standards that only the Prophet himself could fulfill.
On the contrary, all ordinary men did such things.
What about raising children?
There is little debate that raising children is largely the responsibility of the wife.
It is accepted as fact, explained by stating that women are “caring in nature.”
While it is true that many women are caring in nature, not all are.
Likewise, many men are even more caring than women!
And when you dig deep into the topic, you discover that there is no evidence that gives the sole responsibility of child-rearing to women.
There are many examples in the Sunnah of the Prophet being a loving and engaged father.
And while it may be true that historically much of child-rearing has been done by women, there is no indication that it is a woman’s Islamic duty to take on the bulk of the responsibility.
Islam does not dictate household responsibilities to the wife.
What is clear, however, is that you and your husband are very welcome to come up with an agreement about who is responsible for this or that chore.
There are many common misconceptions regarding the responsibilities of Muslim women, but you will often find that they are culturally-motivated, and have no proper place in Islam.
The best advice I have: talk with your husband, explain your perspective, and provide this evidence that it is equally his responsibility as it is yours, citing Prophet Muhammad’s example as proof.
And Allah knows best.
I hope this helps.
Salam and please keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
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