Practice of house husbands forbidden in Islam, say clerics
Several influential Islamic clerics in Malaysia say the practice of house husbands - men who stay home to do housework while their wives work at the office - is un-Islamic and should be prevented.
The ruling could hamper government policies to encourage men to take on a larger share of family chores.
The government has approved paternity leave and is willing to give tax breaks and other incentives to men who share housework.
However, the clerics ruled over the weekend that the practice of house husband is seriously flawed, against 'natural order' and conflicts with Islamic sharia law.
'Such a practice is clearly forbidden in Islam,' said Noh Gadut, an influential Muslim cleric. 'It is against sharia which has allocated responsibilities to man and wife.'
Some ordinary Malaysians also find it 'unsettling' for men and women to switch roles.
The issue was first raised by The Star daily, which reported on May 3 that increasingly more men were taking to home work while their wives worked in offices.
Since then, Malaysians have been writing to newspapers expressing their support and opposition to the idea.
The debate has also prompted people such as accountant Azman Johar to step forward and confess, and defend house husbands.
'I find it fulfilling to cook and wash and raise my two kids,' he said in a letter to The Star last week. 'But some people are hostile because male homemakers are still new here.'
Opponents argue that children may be confused by the switching of roles and grow up in an unreal world.
'They can't relate when they grow up. They will see women as males and males as women and develop psychological problems,' said Brenda Lim, a clerk, in another letter to the newspaper.
Nobody knows how many men are house husbands, but The Star said the figures were increasing because it was trendy among young couples. 'Many male students returning from overseas studies preferred to be homemakers instead of office workers,' it said.
The government has referred the matter to the powerful National Fatwa Committee for a final ruling.
'Individuals clerics should not pass judgment before the committee makes a ruling on the matter,' said Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Women and Family Development Minister Shahrizat Jalil said house husbands were contrary to Malaysian culture. 'The only reason males might want to stay home is probably they are just lazy or can't cope with office work,' she said. 'It is quite shameful.'