When it is said to them: “Follow what God has revealed:” They say: “No! we shall follow the ways of our ancestors.” What! even though their ancestors did not use their intellect nor achieved guidance? The parable of the ungrateful is that of a shepherd calling out with what he hasn’t heard, other than unintelligible calls and cries: Deaf, dumb, and blind, they do not use their intellect. (2:170-71)
Read in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clinging form. Read! Your Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by means of the pen; taught man what he did not know. (96:1-5)
“High above all is God, the King, the Truth! Be not in haste with the Qur’an before its revelation to thee is completed, but say, “O my Lord! advance me in knowledge.” (20:114)
This Book (Quran) which We have sent down to you, full of blessings that they may ponder over its Verses, and that men (humans) of understanding may remember. (38:29)
“They deny what their knowledge does not encompass” (Qur’an 10:39)
“Acquire knowledge, it enables its possessor to distinguish right from wrong; it lights the way to heaven. It is our friend in the desert, our company in solitude and companion when friendless. It guides us to happiness, it sustains us in misery, it is an ornament amongst friends and an armor against enemies.” (Hadith)
“Seeking knowledge is a religious duty for every Muslim, man or woman” (Hadith)
“Seek knowledge, even if it is in China.” (Hadith)
The right to education stems from a simple principle, using the intellect to actualize the potential of the mind. The Qur’an places great emphasis on the pursuit of knowledge and does not discriminate between men and women in regard to accessing it, as evidenced in the very first revelation to Prophet Muhammed commanding him ‘Read’ see below.
Education not only allows women to gain knowledge about the higher truths of divinity but it promotes critical participation in the free expression of ideas and direct engagement with religious texts. Quran compares those who do not use their intellect to those who deny themselves access to the highest aspect of being a human
Even though Islam was founded on the basis of the ‘Pen’ and ‘knowledge’ which ultimately led to its golden age, this unequivocal emphasis on accessing the intellect to think or to gain knowledge is deeply severed. Some believe that marriage and childbearing are the primary roles for women, rendering educational opportunities for women unnecessary, while others cite women segregation as a primary reason for women getting a lower quality of education and their inability to access male teachers. These limitations on women and girls contrast with the Qur’anic injunction to seek knowledge and women intent on pursuing education are often disadvantaged by even within the same institution, and limited career and advancement options upon graduation.
The women followers of the Prophet saw the energizing effects revelations were having on its nascent community. They too were committed to their new faith and sought clarification from the Prophet as to why the Quranic revelations were excluding women. Their brave question, their deep desire to understand their status as women and the power of their voice forever heralded women’s inclusion in the revelations and solidified their conviction in divine justice.
WISE knows that acquiring knowledge in Islam is not an end in itself, but a means towards moral consciousness and righteous living. Accordingly, WISE believes that without the freedom to think, interpret and express, Muslim women and girls will continue to fall behind and will be unable to advance themselves through education. WISE reminds women of their responsibility as primary educator for their children, of their accountability to God, their commitment to local and global community, and themselves.
Nafisa bint al-Hasan taught hadith to Imam Shafi’I
Fatima bint Ibrahim b. Jowhar was a famous teacher of al-Bukhari
Karima bint Ahmad al-Marwaziyya was considered the best authority on Sahih al-Bukhari
Umm Abdallah was a hadith expert and delivered courses to a mixed-gender class of more than fifty students; the famous Sunni scholar Ibn al-Asakir studied under eighty different female teachers in his lifetime.
Women today are more frequently using various channels to express themselves. They are writing for newspapers, magazines, and websites, as well as using social networking tools such as blogging and Twitter. An Arabic media training course in blogging led by Ghaida’a al-Absi, designed for female politicians, activists and human rights workers, is giving women in Yemen an opportunity to share their opinions and shape public debates. Through Azizah magazine has provided a space for Muslim women to express themselves and address current issues. Rima Khoreibi uses the medium of comic books to tell the story of Iman, a teenage Muslim woman who address social issues through Islam. For women interested in voicing their opinions through op-eds, read the International Center for Research on Women’s op-ed training tips; for women interested in becoming a journalist, read the on-line training courses of News University and the Press Institute for Women in the Developing World.
Opportunities for women to pursue their talents have also increased as new education and leadership training programs are developed. Dar el Hadith el Hassania in Morocco is breaking new ground with the inclusion of women in trainings to become mourchidats. In fact, trainings throughout the Middle East, including the Yemen Women’s Leadership Program (YWLP), are providing women with critical leadership skills through an Islamic framework. The Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP) has developed e-courses for women in the Middle East and North Africa that emphasize the leadership skills required to create effective social change. Karamah, a Muslim women’s lawyer’s organization in Washington DC, runs a Law and Leadership Summer Program for young Muslim women working in various fields, with courses on Islamic Jurisprudence, Comparative Law, Conflict Resolution, and Leadership Development.