Currently AMWA has been conducting research into the barriers that exist - whether perceived or real - for Muslim women to obtain access to careers and employment opportunities. One of the common issues that face Muslim women in accessing work when they have the opportunity or the desire to apply for a position or to become more qualified, is the approval of their husbands. Not all husbands accept that Muslim women have a right to work, or to study and this can often become a cause of disagreement in the marriage. Often there is a concern for the welfare of younger children, a concern that the effective and smooth running of the household will not be maintained or be threatened, and often again there is a concern from husbands that their wife may be subjected to workplace harassment or difficulty due to her practice of the religion. (click on the Read more button for more on this post)
Education is the goal of many Muslim parents in the modern age - for both sons and daughters. However, there is a terrible tragedy awaiting the young girls throughout Europe, Australia and the Americas, who succeed in gaining an education and a professional position in society. It seems that they are not wanted for marriage.
As I have travelled to international conferences about Islam in many different countries, it seems that the number of attendees who are female increase each time. At a recent retreat there were three times as many women as men attending this intensive Islamic education opportunity. Unfortunately, many of them attended alone. Their story was often the same - either married and then divorced, or unable to find a suitable partner.
For those who married, the story was again often the same. The marriage was progressing well, the husband loved his wife, but the wife fell foul of the mother-in-law. "She's too big for her boots", "She's too independent" were common allegations against the young wife. Ultimately, the men gave in to the demands of their mother and for peace of mind, divorced the young wife. A more compliant wife from a more culturally traditional family was then chosen as a replacement.
Similarly, young men looking for wives are discouraged from choosing eligible brides from the local Western community. The husband's family has conditioned the young men to believe that they are not suitable or again, they might consider them to be too independent.
So what are these mothers in law afraid of? Muslim women from a cultural background who have moved to a Western country spend the majority of their lives caring for their family. They have little outside interests, often do not pursue a career, and have little in the way of hobbies or other activities to keep them busy outside of the home or cultural area. Unlike the common Western situation where parents can't wait for their children to 'leave the nest', Muslim 'cultural mums' dread this occasion. Their lives would suddenly become empty, and they fear the day that the children they have spent their lives caring for would desert them. A young professional man who marries an educated, professional woman is unlikely to consult with his mother on the affairs of his life, is likely to travel the world, move to a different area following either his or her profession, and will consult with his spouse on matters of family, finance and religion. A bride from a more culturally traditional background however, would expect her in-laws to be consulted on most matters, who defer in opinion to them, and would accept their active involvement in her family life. The mother-in-law could maintain her active involvement in the children's lives, and control over her son.
Silma Ihram is an educator, trainer, former School Principal and aspiring writer.
The opinions expressed on this page reflect the opinions of the author and not necessarily the opinions of AMWA.