Muslim homes and housemaids
ONE of the challenges facing our generation as human beings is that of combining work with raising a family. In order to overcome this, many contemporary young families have resorted to hiring maids to look after the home- taking care of the kids, cooking and doing other household chores. This in itself has resulted into a lot of issues that have defeated the aim of getting these house helps.
Very recently, a video of a Ugandan housemaid who maltreated a toddler kept in her care went viral on the Internet. A report on this was given thus: ‘Jolly Tumuhiirwe, a Ugandan nanny who was caught on secret camera torturing 18-month-old Arnella, has spoken out.
Tumuhiirwe, who has been charged with attempted murder and due to appear in court on Dec. 08, 2014, spoke from Luzira prison. She asked the ‘world’ to forgive her for what she did’.
According to Ugandan Online.net, she said: “My dad in Kabale was very sick and yet my mom did not have any money. I asked my bosses for some money to send to my dad but they told me that I hadn’t made a month yet and my father was dying, so it kept on haunting me.”
This is not an isolated case as instances abound all over the world. However, what is important to note is that at times, the action of these maids is a reaction to the abuse and maltreatment they received from their employers as reflected in the following report:
Entitled ‘Migrant domestic workers beaten and abused by Lebanese employers’, it was reported, in part, that “several countries have banned their citizens from working in Lebanon because so many of them are turned into virtual slaves there. Lebanese labour laws offer no protection for migrant workers. An estimated 200,000 domestic workers in Lebanon, the majority women, are living in servitude and are subject to abuse and exploitation, according to a human rights expert. At least, one migrant worker a week commits suicide in Lebanon because of the brutal conditions.”
Islam advocates sublime human conduct
It came to polish the behaviour of people, whether individuals or groups, and to ensure their human rights in the best possible manner and form of human conduct. It did not stop there. It also called for a better treatment of animals.
In short, Islam is the religion of integrity and conclusiveness. In Surah Maidah, Allah says: “This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed my favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.”
Islam has set the perfect example of human conduct. It has provided the correct guidelines which man should observe in his words, whispers, silence, food, drink, clothes, cleanliness, work, production, trade, job, and treatment of parents.
Islam enjoins us to be compassionate to our children, good to our neighbours and kind to our maids. A man should be merciful to his wife. The word “kindness” connotes good treatment of others as well as worship. In religion, it means to worship God as if you can see Him and if you cannot see Him, He certainly sees you.
Islam is a religion of both worship (“I have created jinns and men only to worship Me”) and good conduct (treatment to others). As the Prophet (peace be upon him) has said: “Religion is good treatment to others.”
Despite this, it is not uncommon to see some Muslims throw away all these noble values. They ignore the simplest of them which is being kind to maids whom Allah has put under their service/care.
Allah says: “And He has raised you in ranks — some above others — that He may test you in that which He has bestowed on you. Surely, your Lord is swift in retribution, and certainly He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
Allah has created ranks among people so that life is balanced and the needs of the people are complemented. People need each other for life to go on.
Household chores do take up a considerable amount of our time and energy, though, since most of us tackle them ourselves. Consequently, often it is easy to fall into the trap of perceiving them negatively as simply a waste of time, or a burdensome “headache” to rid ourselves of as soon as possible.
The hadith below brings us glad tidings:
It was narrated from ‘Ali (RTA), “Fatimah (RTA) complained about the pain caused to her hand by the mill, and some prisoners had been brought to the Prophet (SAW), so she went but did not find him, but she met A’ishah and told her.
When the Prophet (SAW) came, A’ishah told him about Fatimah coming to her. The Prophet came to us, and we had gone to bed. We started to get up, but the Prophet (SAW) said: “Stay where you are.” Then he sat between us, until I could feel the coolness of his foot on my chest. Then he said:
“Shall I not teach you something better than what you asked for? When you go to your bed, magnify Allah thirty-four times, glorify Him thirty-three times and praise Him thirty-three times. That is better for you than a servant.”(Sahih Bukhari: 3502 and Muslim: 2727) Al-Tabari said in his commentary on this hadith:
“We may understand from this hadith that every woman who is able to take care of her house by making bread, grinding flour and so on, should do so. It is not the duty of the husband if it is the custom for women like her to do this themselves”.
A servant is a person who helps us do our work at home. He or she obeys orders and makes our tasks lighter. Good servants are indeed hard to come by, but when they do, they are a great blessing indeed.
However, Fatimah bint Muhammad was a very special woman. She had a short lifespan, which she spent in poverty and considerable hardship; yet, despite not having lived a very long life, she won the highest spot in the Akhirah, and we all know it was not just by virtue of being the Prophet’s daughter, because the blood connection will not get us anywhere unless it is accompanied by virtuous deeds.
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) always advised Fatimah to adopt the “high road”, even in matters as seemingly ‘trivial’ as domestic work. Whilst it is true that this hadith by no means implies that keeping a servant to help out in housework is in any way frowned upon in Islam, the Prophet was actually pointing out to his daughter that it was better for her to turn only to Allah for relief from her physical fatigue, than to seek out tangible, worldly means to relieve her tiredness from her daily work.
Remembrance of Allah, in the form of takbeer (Allahu Akbar), tahmeed (alhamdulillah) and tasbeeh (subhan Allah) takes very little time to actually do with the tongue. However, dhikr has deep impact on the soul of a person when s/he recites these adhkaar with concentration, whilst keeping in mind the depth of their meanings.
For example, each time we recite Allahu Akbar, we can think about Allah’s majesty and how He provides the solution to all our problems; each time we recite Subhan Allah, we can bring to mind the universe and the flawless creations and systems it contains; and each time we recite alhamdulillah, we can think of one of Allah’s countless blessings upon us, such as our hearing, sight, limbs, intellect, health, food, drink, shelter and family. Now, after just two minutes of doing this (the prescribed dhikr takes no more than two minutes!), wouldn’t a humble servant feel relieved of the stress and fatigue caused by household chores?
Another point to note is that Fatimah bint Muhammad (RTA), who is the leader of the women of Paradise, also ‘complained’ of housework. Her hands were becoming calloused because of grinding flour in the mill herself. When she heard of her father receiving prisoners of war, she proactively tried to get one as a servant for herself.
This shows us that it is not blameworthy to complain when there is cause for it, for instance, when the work/toil is causing considerable physical injury or fatigue. Even Prophet Musa (ASW) exclaimed to his servant whilst travelling to find Khidr:
“Bring us our breakfast. Verily we have found fatigue in this journey of ours!” (18:62)
Therefore, to complain with just cause is not a sin at all.
Also, we get to see the concern and love that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had for his daughter. When he discovered that she had come enquiring after him, he went to visit her himself.
However, if it becomes expedient to hire domestic help especially in cosmopolitan communities where both husband and wife have to engage in employment outside the home, the rules of engagement as provided for by Islam is that they should be treated as if they are one’s children or siblings. The Prophet admonished “… feed them with what you eat, cloth them with what you wear. Do not overburden them, when you give them a task that is beyond them, assist them in the execution of such tasks…” Doing this, to our mind will engender mutual love instead of acrimony and hate that seem to be the order of the day between domestic staff and their masters.
• Imam Animashaun is Dawah Officer, NASFAT, Lagos