Theology Thursdays: History Shows the Importance of Women in Muslim Life by Jawed Anwar
The Qur'an and the Hadith (teachings of the Prophet) inspires every man and woman to seek knowledge, and women have made significant contributions in education and other fields.
Foremost among these women was Hazrat Aisha, the youngest wife of Prophet Muhammad and the most learned lady of her time. The Prophet married Aisha in her youth while she was receptive to the values needed to lead and influence the sisterhood of Muslim women. Aisha had an outstanding quality of intelligence and memory and, by virtue of these qualities, is considered to be one of the most reliable sources and teacher of Hadith. She had expertise in the Qur'an, shares of inheritance, lawful and unlawful matters, poetry, Arabic literature, Arab history, genealogy, and general medicine.
The first madrasa for women and with a female teacher was established in the home of Aisha, the mother of Muslims.With a curtain separating the men from the women, men also attended Aisha's classes.
The Prophet even commanded that the slave girls be educated, and he asked Shifa bint Abdullah to instruct his wife Hafsah bint Umar. Both men and women attended lectures of the Prophet, and by the time of the Prophet's death, there were many women scholars.
Aisha’s student and close friend, Amra bint Abdur Rehman, was an outstanding scholar whose views overrode the views of other authorities. In the Muwatta she is taken as the primary authority of three legal issues: the prohibition against digging up graves; the ban on selling unripe fruit; and the effect of crop damage on the sale of agricultural produce.
In the long list of scholars in the early centuries of Islam, one was Nafisa bint al-Hasan, a female teacher of Imam Shafi'i, one of the five most famous Imams (founders of a school of opinion). The Imam sat in Nafisa's circle in al-Fustat at the height of his fame in Egypt.
In his History of Damascus, Hafiz Ibn Asakar (1175) mentioned the names of eighty women from whom he studied the knowledge of Hadith. The Imam of tasawwuf, Hafiz Ibn-e Asakar, was the student of Shuhda bint Abi Nasr), one of the best scholars of her age. She lectured publicly in one of the main mosques of Baghdad on various topics.
Women of Islam took great interest in spreading mass education in different parts of the world. The sister of Ghazi Slahuddin Ayyubi (1193), Zammurd, and niece Uzra, founded two separate madrasas. A Muslim woman Fatima bint Muhammad al-Fihri is the founder of the oldest living university of the time (much older than Oxford and Al-Azhar), the University of Qarawiyyin in Fes, Morocco. Her father was a rich businessman, and she spent all her inheritance money to build and decorate the university. To become closer to Allah, she fasted continuously during the construction of the university. The university building is along the finest standard of architect. Within the university is a masjid in which thirteen thousand people can pray at one time, and there is a huge, unique library. Students from Algeria, Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, and other African nations go there to seek knowledge and higher education.
Razia Begum (637H/1240A), the third ruler of Muslim India, established two madrasas in Delhi, Moazzia and Naseriya. In the period of Sultan Muhammad Shah Tughlaq (d.752H/1351A) there were one thousand madrasas in Delhi, and several of them were for women.
Professor Muhammad Saleem offers many examples of women who made significant contributions to education and learning. Women were lawyers, calligraphers, poets, mathematicians, doctors and even warriors.
A lady servant of Emperor Akbar founded Madrasa Maham Anga. Fatima Sughra Begum from Bihar left a huge property as a trust called "Sughra Waqf State" for education. A learned woman from Calcutta, Saulat un Nisa, presented a huge amount of thirty thousand rupees to Maulana Rahmatullah Muhajir. Maulana built a madrasa in Haram, Macca named Madrasa Saulatia in the name of the donor. This madrasa is still alive.
Women's education must have a system to fulfill the three basic responsibilities of women as defined in the Qur'an and Hadith: 1. the bearing of children, 2. the evolving, maturing, and training of young people, and 3. the providing of comfort and peace in the home.
In the Western civilization, a woman is a commodity, an advertisement tool, a material producer, and a sex idol, and family life is optional. But in the Islamic civilization, a woman is a wife, a mother, a sister, and a daughter, and family life is obligatory. Women are exalted spiritually because of her contribution in the natural reproduction of the best creature on this earth, human beings. Population growth has decreased dangerously low in all Western and Western-influenced countries, but reproduction is necessary to continue the human race. Nurturing and training young boys and girls is the woman's primary job, and this is the best job in the eyes of the Creator. Earning an income for livelihood is an inferior job and is a responsibility solely assigned to men.
The kindergarten of even an uneducated and untrained woman's lap is better than the public kindergarten. A woman of slight or no knowledge is the best educator for her child. Through providing milk, singing, and telling stories, a mother can teach love, respect, sympathy, sacrifice, attachment, and other moral qualities. By sending children to pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, or day care centers operated by secular teachers or to secular baby sitters, parents morally slaughter and bury their children. All the most noble, respectable, and highly moral and spiritual people were trained in the laps of good women of high character. In Islam, there is a strong tradition of home schooling.
Biographies and articles of Khaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki (d.1235), Khawja Nizamuddin Mahboob Ilahi (d.1225) of medieval India, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1818-1898), Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar (1873-1931), and Dr. Muhammad Iqbal (1873-1931) of modern India who did great services to Ummah (community), confirmed that they were the products of wonderful mothers. On the other hand, the kindergartens of broken and disturbed families produce evil and revengeful personalities, as confirmed by the biographies of Hitler and Mussolini.
This article appears inThe Muslim Weekly
Thursday, April 7, 2005