Women and Education in Islam

Women and girls have been victims of ruthless power struggles for centuries in all societies and cultures around the world. This hegemony over women has been exercised in the form of Sati, Hitobashira, Karo-Kari and the killing of witches, which are only a few to mention. Sadly, but truly, many societies including some Muslim societies continue to exercise this patriarchy in different forms such as the denial of education, unequal salaries compared to men in workplaces, forced marriages and prostitution, among many others. Allah says:


قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِى ٱلَّذِينَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَٱلَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ‌ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُوْلُواْ ٱلْأَلْبَــــٰـــبِ


“Can those who have the knowledge and those who do not be alike? So only the wise do receive the admonition.” (Surah Al-Zumar, 39:9.)


Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (PBUH), came at a time when the Arab society, like so many patriarchal societies at that time, was rife with abhorrent practices against girls. He preached Islam, liberating women and girls in every walk of life, education is a prime aspect. This article examines the facts about the importance of female education in Islam. It does so through referencing verses of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, and hadith, authentic traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), along with offering a short glimpse of his wives’ level of education. Allah says:


تَنَزَّلُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَالرُّوحُ فِيهَا بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِم مِّن كُلِّ أَمْرٍ


“Descend the Angels and the Spirit therein, by (the) permission (of) their Lord, for every affair.” (Surat Al-Qadr 97:4)


In Islam, knowledge, its acquisition and application is a fundamental requirement for all Muslims to enable them to believe, think, and act according to the principles of the religion. Allah says:


وَلَا تُؤْتُوا السُّفَهَاءَ أَمْوَالَكُمُ الَّتِي جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ قِيَامًا وَارْزُقُوهُمْ فِيهَا وَاكْسُوهُمْ وَقُولُوا لَهُمْ قَوْلًا مَّعْرُوفًا


“And (do) not give the foolish your wealth which Allah made for you a means of support (but) provide (for) them with it and clothe them and speak to them words (of) kindness.” (Surah An-Nisa` 4:5)


This is a sad reflection upon Muslims and the societies that we have built since knowledge is one of the important pillars upon which the edifice of Islam has been raised. The very fact that the first revelation upon the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) contained the commandment to ‘read’ speaks volumes of the emphasis Islam lays on education. Allah says:


وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّمَا أَمْوَالُكُمْ وَأَوْلَادُكُمْ فِتْنَةٌ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ عِندَهُ أَجْرٌ عَظِيمٌ


“And know that your wealth and your children (are) a trial. And that Allah – with Him (is) a reward great.” (Surah Al-Anfal 8:28)


Within Islam, there is no disagreement found in the acquisition of knowledge being binding and obligatory. The importance and excellence of knowledge have been highlighted both directly and indirectly in over five hundred places in the Holy Qur’an. Indeed one of the essential duties and responsibilities of Prophethood was the dissemination of knowledge and wisdom to all. Allah says:


وَآخَرِينَ مِنْهُمْ لَمَّا يَلْحَقُوا بِهِمْ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ

كَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَا فِيكُمْ رَسُولاً مِّنكُمْ يَتْلُواْ عَلَيْكُمْ ءَايَــــٰـــتِنَا وَيُزَكِّيكُمْ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ ٱلْكِتَــــٰـــبَ وَٱلْحِكْمَةَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُم مَّا لَمْ تَكُونُواْ تَعْلَمُونَ


“And others among them who have not yet joined them; and He (is) the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.” (Surah Al-Jumu`ah 62:3)


A basic principle of Islamic Shariah states that when a commandment is revealed, even if the masculine form of a word is used the female gender is also included in this commandment. If this principle is rejected then the basic pillars of Islam such as prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, and alms-due will become null and void for women. Allah says:


وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا


“And (do) not kill your children (for) fear (of) poverty. We (We) provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is a sin great.” (Surah Al-Isra` 17:31)


So though God Almighty and the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) use the masculine form of the sentence to describe most of the commandments, women are also bound to act and follow those rules and regulations. Allah says:


إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى ٱللَّهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ ٱلْعُلَمَــــٰۤـــؤُاْ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ غَفُورٌ


“So only those of His servants who have knowledge (of these realities with a vision and outlook) fear Him. Surely, Allah is Almighty, Most Forgiving.” (Surah Fatir, 35:28.)


None of these verse specifies that only ‘wise men’ receive admonition or that only ‘male servants’ who have knowledge fear Him. If a reference to the importance of knowledge has not been restricted within the purview of men by Almighty God, why do we persevere in creating them ourselves? A number of Prophetic traditions also talk directly about knowledge being obligatory and binding in character. The Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) said:


طَلَبُ الْعِلْمِ فَرِيضَةٌ عَلَى كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ


“The acquisition of knowledge is binding on all Muslims (both men and women without any discrimination).” (Ibn Maja in al-Sunan, 1:81:224)


Islam and Education for Women

Education is one important edifice on which religion Islam has raised. The religion of peace has flourished back in the 7th century because of knowledge. Allah has asked His worshippers to seek knowledge regardless of gender. There was a time of Jahiliya when women were the oppressed entity and were buried alive but Islam rejects that facade of ignorance by elevating the rituals bound to women and honoured them with unprecedented rights. Allah says:


وَلَن تَرْضَىٰ عَنكَ الْيَهُودُ وَلَا النَّصَارَىٰ حَتَّىٰ تَتَّبِعَ مِلَّتَهُمْ قُلْ إِنَّ هُدَى اللَّهِ هُوَ الْهُدَىٰ وَلَئِنِ اتَّبَعْتَ أَهْوَاءَهُم بَعْدَ الَّذِي جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْعِلْمِ مَا لَكَ مِنَ اللَّهِ مِن وَلِيٍّ وَلَا نَصِيرٍ


“And never will be pleased with you the Jews and [not] the Christians until you follow their religion. Say, “Indeed, (the) Guidance (of) Allah, it (is) the Guidance.” And if you follow their desires after what has come to you of the knowledge, not for you from Allah any protector and not any helper.” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:120)


Islam granted them the rights to knowledge acquisition, marrying someone of their choice, retaining their identity after marriage, rights to vote, divorce, owning property and civil/political engagements.


Excerpts from Modern World

Muslim society even negates all the stereotypes that have chained with religion Islam being against women’s education. The Taliban dominated society i.e. Afghanistan has a women captain pilot who has defused the pigeonholes. The Muslim dominating society has half the population comprise of women and all are in the top fields be engineering. Allah says:


وَعَلَّمَ آدَمَ الْأَسْمَاءَ كُلَّهَا ثُمَّ عَرَضَهُمْ عَلَى الْمَلَائِكَةِ فَقَالَ أَنبِئُونِي بِأَسْمَاءِ هَٰؤُلَاءِ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ


“And He taught Adam the names – all of them. Then He displayed them to the angels, then He said, “Inform of (the) names (of) these if you are truthful.” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:31)


Arm core, medical which prevails the neutral image of Islam that Islam the only acceptable religion is in favour of women education. Women’s education is of high importance because she is the first institution to impart education to her kids onwards making them the best for the society. Allah says:


خُذْ مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ صَدَقَةً تُطَهِّرُهُمْ وَتُزَكِّيهِم بِهَا وَصَلِّ عَلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ صَلَاتَكَ سَكَنٌ لَّهُمْ وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ


“Take from their wealth a charity, purifying them and cause them to increase by it, and bless [upon] them. Indeed, your blessings (are a) reassurance for them. And Allah (is) All-Hearer, All-Knower.” (Surah At-Taubah 9:103)


It is thus imperative if a nation wishes to be successful and move towards a sustainable reality, the women of that society must be given every opportunity to attain knowledge and education which is not only her due but a right that has been ordained to her by Almighty Allah.


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