By Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi
The Quran speaks about husbands and wives in the context in which children are born and trained as servants and worshipers of Allah. The husband-wife relationship is the pattern for the children to learn about the difference between men and women, and the complex adjustment necessary to balance love and power. The achieved balance is authority by which the young person can give themselves the commands which they have been getting from their parents.
Within the home this arrangement is expressed as the authority of the husband to be responsible for the protection and financial maintenance of the family, where it fits in the world outside the family. The authority of the wife is the running of the household and welfare of the children. Nothing in Islamic Law requires that the division of the tasks in these two areas must be divided strictly between male and female. The wife can be earning money and the husband can be looking after the children: this happens in many islamic families and communities worldwide including even the pastoral nomadic societies.
The problem in modern times, not only for Muslims, is that improved social mobility, in tense urbanisation has meant families get smaller and smaller. This means that women with young children are starved of adult company. They have no one to share the burden of looking after very young children. The solution to this is to build communities and community spaces where women can meet and exchange joys and sorrows, learn about the religion and so on. This is not a perfect substitute for an extended family, but it will still work.
Specifically, in Muslim societies, over many centuries the custom has become established that women have no public role. This needs to change. Women must have authority outside the home to balance the husband, authority inside the home. What women can earn by caring for the husband and children is no less than what men can earn by protecting and providing for them. Similarly, outside the home what men and women can do to serve the community is equally rewarded.