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Education in Islam and Current Status of Muslim Women Empowerment

Nazwa Warda Bintay Salim Knowledge is one of the foremost and essential mainstay upon which ISLAM itself is constructed. The very fact, that the first revelation upon the Holy Prophet (pbuh) contained the direct instruction about reading, reflects the prominence Islam lays on education. Wisdom or knowledge is a great treasure and everlasting wealth. He is Allah Who gives wisdom to whom He likes. Unto whom wisdom is given, he had indeed been blessed with a great treasure (Surahal-Baqarah: 269). The Prophet of Islam calls the learning as a treasure-house and he declared that superiority in education is better than superiority in divine service. What I am saying is that knowledge, as referring to meaning, consists of the identification of the proper places of things in the order of creation, such that it leads to the recognition of the proper place of God in the order of being and existence. True recognition must be followed by acknowledgement; otherwise the recognition is in vain. Acknowledgement, like recognition, pertains to man and women both which consists in making themselves suitable to the requirements of the right or proper places of things or affairs. The requirements of the proper places of things and affairs entail action on the part of human beings, and this action is denoted by the term amal. Islamic concept of knowledge is very vast and when Islam talks of attainment of knowledge, it embraces all branches of knowledge, both religious and secular, in its fold, which are productive for the mankind. All interpreters of the Holy Quran have consensus on this that the first five verses of Sura alAlaq form the beginning of the sending of revelation: O O O O O (O Beloved!) Read (commencing) with the Name of Allah, Who has created (everything). He created man from a hanging mass (clinging) like a leech (in the mothers womb). Read and your Lord is Most Generous, Who taught man (reading and writing) by the pen, Who (besides that) taught man (all that) which he did not know. (Sura-al-Alaq, 96: 1-5) The Holy Prophet (pbuh) said: Acquire knowledge even if you may have to go to China for it. Verily acquisition of knowledge is binding on every Muslim. (Ibn Abd al-Barr). He (pbuh) said also at another place: Allah Almighty makes the path to paradise easier for him who walks on it for getting knowledge. (Sahih Muslim) Thus we can see that the Prophet of Islam made it obligatory on every Muslim male and female to acquire knowledge. According to his Sunnah: he exhorted his followers to search knowledge though they have to go as far as China. Herein it is also reported that the search for knowledge is compensation for one's sins.

The importance and excellence of knowledge has been highlighted both directly and indirectly at about five hundred places in the Holy Quran. Describing the responsibility of the Prophethood of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), Allah Almighty says: O Likewise, We have sent to you (Our) Messenger from among yourselves who recites to you Our Revelations and purifies and sanctifies (your hearts and ill-commanding selves) and teaches you the Book and inculcates in you logic and wisdom and enlightens you (on the mysteries of spiritual gnosis and divine truth) which you did not know. (Surah-al-Baqara, 2: 151) O He is the One Who sent a (Glorious) Messenger (pbuh) among the illiterate people from among themselves who recites to them His Revelations and cleanses and purifies them (outwardly and inwardly) and teaches them the Book and Wisdom. Indeed they were in open error before (his most welcome arrival). (Surah-al-Jumua 62: 2) Islam attaches so much importance to education that the Quran instructs the believers that all of them should not go out for fighting, rather they should leave some of them behind who should acquire sound knowledge of religion and should teach the others when they return from fighting (Surah-at-Tauba: verse 122) Jihad is obligatory on every adult male Muslim in case the security of Islamic is in a state danger. But even in such a state of emergency and critical situation, the importance of learning is not being ignored. The believers are being commanded that all of them should not go forth together for participation in Jihad. It would be better if they leave some contingent behind who should devote themselves to studies in religion and should acquire the capability to teach others. The Prophet of Islam released some of the prisoners who had been captured in the Battle of Badr, without ransom upon only one condition that each of them should teach at least ten Muslim children how to read and write. This shows how the Prophet viewed the need of education and literacy for all Muslim children. According to Surah Al-Mujadila verse 11 of the Quran, Allah will give high ranks and rewards to those believers who have acquired knowledge and learning. The Quran includes the learned persons among the list of the witnesses who give evidence about the Unity of God. Do you know who are the witnesses? They are Allah (Himself), the angels and the men of learning! Can there be any higher rank than this? Obviously, no. (Sura Al-'Imran: 18). According to a Hadith, the rank of a learned man is higher than that of a pious worshipper. According to another Hadith, the man who goes out in search of knowledge is in the path of Allah (Jihad) till he returns. The prayers of the Prophets and the righteous people have been mentioned in the Quran. The prayer of the Prophet of Islam given in the Quran is about increase in knowledge. Allah commanded His messenger to pray to Him in these words: ...My Lord! Increase me in

knowledge (Surah-Twaha : verse 114). This has been the most popular prayer of the followers of Muhammad (pbuh). Most of the commentators of the Quran are unanimously of the view that is addressed to the wives of Muhammad (pbuh). The wives of the Prophet are being instructed to learn which is recited in their homes of the Quran and wisdom. In the sublime company of the Prophet, whatever they learn by closely observing his conduct and attentively listening to his discourses of wisdom, they should impart it to the members of Muslim Ummah very faithfully and without any omission or commission. (Sura Al-Ahzab: 34) However, the basic principle of Islamic Sharia is that whenever a commandment is revealed, the masculine form of word is used, but female gender is also included in this commandment. If this principle is rejected then basic pillars of Islam such as prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and alms-due will also become null and void for women. So this is a proved fact that though God Almighty and the Holy Prophet (pbuh) used the masculine form of sentence to describe most of the commandments, but women are also bound to act and follow those rules and regulations. Thus it is obligatory on every Muslim male and female to acquire knowledge; hence the woman has got as much right as the man has got for acquiring knowledge and education. For this reason the injunctions of the Quran and Sunnah are equally applicable to men and women. How many of us have ever heard or known that there were times spanning ages back when top male Islamic scholars sometimes used to recommend their mixed groups of students, men and women, to learn a particular text such as Sahih al-Bukhari or Sahih Muslim from none other than some specific woman scholar? The history of Islam tells us that the wives of the Prophet did acquire sound learning of the Quran and the Traditions in the company of Muhammad (pbuh) and they played indeed a commendable role, worthy of mention, in popularizing the teachings of the Quran and the Hadith of the Prophet of Islam. Indirectly this injunction of the Holy Quran may also be taken to be applicable to the Muslim women in general. The role of the mothers in training and educating the future generations is therefore praiseworthy and thus the Quran empasizes upon them to get educated themselves and thus educate in turn the next generation Ummah. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) himself would meet the women on a particular day as requested by them, then advise and educate them (the women) about commandments of Allah Almighty. Therefore we can see that Holy Prophet (pbuh) himself made arrangements for education and training of women, therefore, a mention of one day having been specified for women only in the Prophets Mosque is found. (Sahih Bukhari). So how and why, we the men can and on what ground, restrict women from educating themselves? Now if the doors of acquiring knowledge are shut on women or unjustified restrictions are imposed upon their acquisition of knowledge, which religion will they act upon or what kind of contact will they have with the Prophets religion because the religion the Holy Prophet (pbuh) brought with him is characterized by knowledge in its entirety. Zaynab bint Sulayman gained a reputation as one of the most distinguished women traditionists of the time, and counted many important men among her pupils. Almost without any exception,

the compilers of major collections of hadith also lists a good number of women traditionists and scholars as their teachers. "A survey of the texts reveals that all the important compilers of traditions from the earliest period received many of them from women shuyukh: every major collection gives the names of many women as the immediate authorities of the author. And when these works had been compiled, the women traditionists themselves mastered them, and delivered lectures to large classes of pupils, to whom they would issue their own ijazas." Fatima bint Muhammad received from her contemporary Hadith specialists "the proud tittle of Musnida Isfahan (the great Hadith authority of Isfahan)." Shuhda 'the Writer' was a famous calligrapher and a traditionist of great repute. Her lectures on Sahih al-Bukhari and other hadith collections were attended by large crowds of students; and on account of her great reputation, some people even falsely claimed to have been her disciples. Sitt al-Wuzara became well-known as an authority on Bukhari. Her acclaimed mastery included Islamic law as well. Crowned as 'the musnida of her time', she delivered public lectures on the Sahih and other works in Damascus and Egypt. In fourteenth century, Zaynab bint Ahmad used to deliver public lectures the Musnad of Abu Hanifa, the Shamail of al-Tirmidhi, and the Sharh Ma'ani al-Athar of al-Tahawi. Do we remember the great traveler Ibn Battuta? He studied hadith with her and various other women during his stay at Damascus. Sayyida Aisha Siddiqa, mother of the faithful, was a hadith-narrator, scholar, intellectual and jurist of great standing. She is believed to have reported 2,210 Sunnah. Abu Hurayra, Abdullah ibn Amr and Anas ibn Malik were the only ones from amongst male hadith narrators who had narrated more Sunnahs than she did. This shows that women could not only teach women but also men after fulfilling certain preconditions. There were women scholars whose field of expertise went far beyond Hadith. "Umm Hani Maryam, for instance, learnt the Qur'an by heart when still a child, acquired all the Islamic sciences then being taught, including theology, law, history, and grammar, and then traveled to pursue hadith with the best traditionists of her time in Cairo and Mecca! She pursued an intensive program of learning in the great college of Cairo, giving ijazas to many scholars, Ibn Fahd himself studied several technical works on Hadith under her." It is so regrettable and sarcastic that now this Hadith literature in particular is used to hold back and deny the role, rights and status of Muslim women and confine them to the corners of our households only. The erosion of womens religious education in recent times, reflects decline in every aspect of Islam. flaccid headship and a focus on politics rather than scholarship has left Muslims totally ignorant of their own history. Today, Muslim women are hardly ever welcome in the public life and especially in the mosque, let alone being part of our pool of educators, experts and mentors. This has created serious dissatisfaction among the women in the Muslim world, which has turned some of them into bitter opponent against religion in general and Islam in particular. The existing condition is a clear distortion of Islamic teachings and its guidance. The absence of women scholars has also caused a great inequity and disparity in our Islamic

discourse in general and Islamic law (fiqh) in particular, by leaning toward the most extremely restrictive positions, opinions and provisions for the women. Contemporarily, nevertheless still there are a few Muslim women, particularly educated in the West or in the western tradition, who are establishing themselves as scholars of Islam. This is a very inspiring and motivational progress in Islam. They are making critically noteworthy contributions toward a new legacy of quality scholarship, especially in the field of gender issues. However, their emergence is not internal to Islam, and the broader Muslim society is yet to embrace them as part of the religious establishment, toward which they turn for religious scholarship. Of course, there is the conventional religious establishment, orthodox in its nature which is putting resistance against such development of scholarship and womens participation, to protect their long-established turf. Women need to give very serious concentration and men must come forward to facilitate women's development in the field of education and scholarship. Muslim men need to demand such changes as our society is still malechauvinist in its typical nature, as our Islamic pursuit for positive change can't be either inclusive or reasonable without women being our full and equal partners. We need to establish an environment where Muslim men, side by side with Muslim women, can engage in Islamic education and discourse, as students as well as teachers and engage in a relation of harmony and justice, for the greater benefit of the society. This does require no less than a revolutionary change, but it is also an Islamic must. It is like turning Islam in our lives downside up, because Islam as we understand and practice it has been morally spiritually and, theoretically capsized. Muslims of the world again need to join together to revive this glorious practice of women's scholarship. Without them, our society would be fundamentally incomplete and imbalanced, which will be reflected in every respect of our lives. That is why we again need women scholars back in our society.