The Universal Right to Education

The Qur’an affirms the right and obligation of both men and women to seek knowledge and does not distinguish between secular and religious knowledge. Education is a means to attain spiritual maturity and enables the individual to be accountable for his or her own actions. To emphasize the importance of education, the Prophet held religious lessons for women because he believed gender equality in education to be imperative, saying, “How good are the women of the ansar (the Helpers) that their shyness does not prevent them from learning religion?” (Sahih Muslim, Book 3, Hadith no: 649)

The Qur’an urges both genders to think critically and share knowledge widely, evidenced by the early women who were interpretive authorities and held prominent roles as transmitters of Hadith, such as Umm Waraqa bint Abdallah, one of the Prophet’s Companions. She transmitted the memorized Qur’an before it was written, as The Prophet believed she would protect its authenticity, showing how the Prophet viewed women as incorruptible and trustworthy.

Qur’anic Support

“Why do you not use your mind to think for yourself?” (Qur’an 29:20)

“And say, ‘My Lord, increase me in knowledge.’” (Qu’ran 20:114)

Say: Are those who know on the same level as those who know not? (39:9)

The Prophet’s Sayings

“Go as far as China to seek knowledge.”

“The quest for knowledge is a compulsion for every Muslim.”

As centuries progressed, women began to be systematically excluded because of sociopolitical pressures like war and poverty, and unjust religious interpretations. Those who deny girls’ and women’s education use the traditional patriarchal interpretation of qiwamah (male guardianship over women), limiting women’s right to free movement and impeding their access to education.

In addition, gender segregation, travel without a male companion, and lack of qualified teachers prevent women from pursuing higher education. Extremist groups like Boko Haram, who limit women’s educational pursuit, misconstrue Islam’s peaceful teachings to pursue political power and maintain patriarchal dominance. Additionally, there is a pervasive belief that education is wasted on those who will not get professional jobs, and that a woman should be a homemaker.

In recent years, there have been many developments for women’s education. In fact, 70 percent of Iran’s science and engineering students are women. In the UAE, the women outperform men in school and the ratio of women in third level education is 85 percent. Today, countless Muslim women around the world have begun empowering themselves by claiming the rights the Quran preserves for them in leading their communities.

WISE Position

We work towards advancing Muslim women’s intellect at all levels of education and society. By defending Muslim women’s freedom to interpret, think, and express themselves, especially concerning Islam’s primary texts, we believe that Muslim women can empower themselves by promoting their rights and pursuing their talents. Preventing women from furthering their intellect, engaging in critical thinking, and practicing creativity is un-Islamic.

WISE Women Active On the Issue

Past approaches to empowering Muslim women typically employ a distinctly Western framework for understanding the problem, relying exclusively on measurements of economic status, educational level, health care or political participation. WISE approaches change from a holistic perspective that addresses the many interrelated factors that contribute to gender-based inequality and disempowerment.

Related Articles

Guttman, Amy, “Set To Take Over Tech: 70% of Iran’s Science and Engineering Students are Women” Paul, Wiseman. "Afghan girls stay in school despite attacks." USA Today n.d.: Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2010.