Islamic Organizations Should Embrace FWAs
Allah says in verse 233, Surah Al-Baqarah, which means, “The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years if the father desires to complete the term. But he shall bear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms…”
This verse shows that in Islam, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their children and the ideal breastfeeding period is two years. Fathers are responsible for the living expenses of the mother and child during this period.
Based on this verse, most Muslim parents decide to give their children breast milk. Other than being very convenient, breastfeeding is also cheap and has a positive effect on the mother and baby relationship. Moreover, breast milk is also believed to be the best milk for baby’s growth.
The breastfeeding process usually runs smoothly until the time comes for working mothers to return to work. If the employer provides a “Nursing Room” at work, then it would be easy for mothers to pump their milk and store it in the refrigerator provided. However, if the employer does not provide such facilities, then mothers need to figure out a way to solve this problem.
“Nursing Room” is a form of Flexible Working Arrangements (FWAs) as one of the employers’ effort to help employees achieve work-life balance. Other than nursing room, other forms of FWAs are flexible working hours; flex-place; part-time employment; increased maternity and paternity leave; career breaks; flexible leave options; and job sharing. In the West, variety of FWAs are being offered by employers and in some European countries for example, it is being regulated in order to help employees to achieve work-life balance.
In Malaysia, there are mothers who face challenges to continue breastfeeding after returning to work, especially when the employer does not provide a nursing room at work. Mothers who have their own room at the office will have no problem. However, for mothers who do not have their own room at the office, they might pump their milk in a friend’s room or in the surau or perhaps in the toilet. In addition, they have to bring breast milk storage bag in order to maintain the quality of the milk until they reach home. Imagine if any of these mothers are assigned to work out-station for a few days. Will or should their milk go to waste?
For some, the solution is simple. They say, “That is the reason why Islam emphasizes a woman’s place is at home. If they stay at home, it’s easy to breastfeed. No need to pump the milk, no need to bring the breast milk storage bags and employers do not have to provide nursing room at work. After all, husbands are responsible for the family living expenses.” Is this true? Is this simplified solution Islamic?
In 2016, Johnson & Johnson in Malaysia won the “Best Lean Organization” for the Life at Work Award for one of its initiatives namely “Breast Milk Shipping Programme”. This programme supports nursing mothers during business travel by shipping the breast milk from the hotel or worksite to home. All shipping costs are fully funded by the company.
In the Life at Work Award 2018, Hong Leong Bank won the Best New Entrant (Malaysian Organization) for its initiatives in providing fully equipped nursing room at their branches.
Ironic, isn’t it? On one hand, it is the Qu’ran which clearly states that parents are recommended to suckle their children until the age of two, yet it is the non-Muslim companies who are eagerly supporting their employees for this cause.
As mentioned earlier, all these FWAs are intended to create and support work-life balance so that employees can work without jeopardizing their responsibilities towards their family. The fact that these employers are helping their employees to take care of the family means that these employers care about their families and consider it part of their responsibilities. In other words, in addition to care for their workers, these employers also care for their workers’ families.
This reminds me of one of the attributes of maqasid al-syariah, which is “Preserving the Progeny”. Besides preserving life, intellect, religion and property, Islam demands that Muslims preserve their progeny. Muslims are prescribed to preserve their progeny, not only at the individual level, but also at the institutional level, starting from the smallest institutions in the community – the family, the schools, the employers and the nation should strive to preserve these five important things.
Again, isn’t it ironic? It is Islam, through the maqasid al-syariah that urges us, as an individual or an institution, to protect the progeny, and yet, we the Muslims and Muslim organizations do not seem commit ourselves to FWAs. It is high time for Muslim bodies to embrace FWAs. If the West do it for work-life balance, let us do it in the name of Allah SWT.