A Helping Hand
I grew up in a very traditional Pakistani household. My mother was a stay at home mom and my father worked full time, sometimes working two jobs to make ends meet.
Growing up, this was considered the norm in our community; I never saw women work outside of the home and the men never did household chores. Even though I am born and raised in America, there are a lot of aspects of the Pakistani culture that my parents and extended family made sure stayed intact – this concept was one of them.
My mom ran our home perfectly. It was always clean, food was always cooked and my sisters and I always had the best hairstyles. My dad worked a lot and she always (and still does!) took the best care of him. I always considered this to be normal; the man worked and the woman took care of the kids and home. I remember when I was 10 years old, someone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and I told them, “A homemaker like my mom”. I always assumed I would have kids, stay home and take care of them because that’s what my mom did. It wasn’t until I actually got married did my perspective change.
My husband and I got married at quite a young age; he was 20 and I was 18. Because we had an arranged marriage, we didn’t know anything about each other and what our opinions were in regards to gender relations, raising a family, etc. He is originally from Pakistan, so naturally I assumed he had the same opinion like a lot of other men and he probably didn’t want me to work. All I had to do was spend time with him and his family to see how wrong my assumptions were.
One thing you should know about my husband is that he loves to eat. Anything and everything, mashaAllah this guy has an appetite (I’ll explain why this is relevant in a minute). My mother-in-law (May Allah grant her Jannah) had to put up with a son who loved to eat and who would demand all kinds of dishes when he came home from college. My mother-in-law was a seamstress and was always busy with her work; she couldn’t just drop everything and make her son what he wanted to eat so she taught him how to cook. The first thing my husband learned how to make was homemade french fries and from there he learned how to make all kinds of traditional Pakistani dishes. His brother would also help out around the house by washing dishes and helping their mom wash clothes. They knew she couldn’t do it alone and because their sister got married and moved out, they had to help their mom run the house. That was their normal.
We know from Islam that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ played an active role in his home with his wives. It is said in a Hadith that Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) was asked about the manners of the Prophet ﷺ in his home. She replied: “He washes his clothes, milks his ewe, and serves himself”. It’s clear from this Hadith alone that the concept of helping out in the home is an Islamic practice. However, many families let culture get in the way and tend to forget this aspect. Of course Islam clearly defines roles for men and women and yes, women are the maintainers of the home; I personally believe my home and family are my responsibility. But there isn’t anything wrong with me asking for help from my husband and there isn’t anything wrong with him helping me – that seems to be a forgotten Sunnah.
Fast forward to almost 10 years of marriage and my husband helps me out around the house even more now than when we first got married. You see, I have been working full time for the past year and a half. We, as a couple, realized that the cost of living in our particular city is quite high and honestly, two people need to work in order to make ends meet. Alhamdulillah I have a great job but this also comes with the daunting task of balancing home life while being gone 8 hours a day. This is where the Prophet’s ﷺ teachings and examples come into play in our home.
My husband has a great work schedule where he’s off two days during the week and it’s during those days that my duty of cooking is relieved to him. Originally when we first got married and I was in the midst of finishing my Bachelor’s degree he would sometimes cook and I used to feel guilty. It was hard for me to grasp that my husband, the man of the house, would suddenly do my job. However, he explained to me that his intention behind doing it was not to put me down (which I honestly thought was the case at first) but to just be helpful. He would see I was busy with other things and he just wanted to remove some of the pressure off of me. Now that I’m working full time and our schedules are so packed, we realize that in order for our home to function properly, both of us need to pitch in order to make things run smoothly. It was also hard for me to admit to my family that we don’t have a “traditional Pakistani” home, but rather, one with Islamic roots. I was prepared to get criticism from everyone, but in fact that has yet to happen (to my face at least). My mom now asks me every Thursday and Friday what my husband made for dinner. She knows those are my days off.
I’m not writing this to brag or to show that my husband is wrapped around my finger. My purpose in sharing this aspect of my life is to remind people that while there are defined roles for men and women according to the Qur’an and Sunnah, we also have to remember that Islam tells us to be helpful to each other and not make things difficult for one another. Because marriage is about two people coming together to make a life, it’s important for there to be communication about hopes and expectations. What works for my husband and I may not work for all. My husband loves to eat, therefore he loves to cook. But by not succumbing to cultural expectations, and instead remembering what Islam says in running our home, we’ve become a pretty good team.
By: Miriam (MW Contributor)