The Education of Women

Bahishti Zewar, Fiqh, Part 1-Beliefs & Laws of Tahara / Saturday, August 16th, 2008

The  Education of Women

After knowing the Hadith, “Seeking of knowledge is compulsory on every Muslim male and female”, and other texts which make the acquisition of knowledge compulsory on both males and females, there remains no need to write a special article on this subject. Moreso because this subject was touched on in the journal “al-Qasim” volumes one and two. But because of a few incidents and peculiarities (which are connected more to the condition of Indian women) and which are witnessed quite often, it is necessary to write a special and detailed article on this subject, and is therefore being repeated.

It should be known in this introduction that as far as has been pursued, there are people who think in three different ways: (1) there are those who do not oppose nor support the education of women. At the same time they do not place any importance on it, (2) those who are completely opposed to it, and (3) those who support it totally. All three groups have different shortcomings. The fault of the first group, which is the greatest and severest fault, is that it does not regard any need whatsoever to educate women. This total disregard is both in their men and women. The proof of these people which has actually put them into confusion is the question whether women have to seek employment, because of which arrangements have to be made for their education? From this we can deduce that these people have not understood the object of education, they have not pondered over those verses and Ahaadith which have made the acquisition of knowledge compulsory on both male and female, nor have they understood the type of education which is fardh. So it should be understood that the object of knowledge is not to get employment because knowledge which is compulsory to acquire is not knowledge for a livelihood but knowledge of the Deen, knowledge with which man’s beliefs, actions, dealings, society, and character are put in order, and the fruit of which in this world is that he is blessed with the wealth of “they are the ones who are on guidance from their Lord”, and in the hereafter he gets the glad tidings of “they are the one’s who are successful”. So the necessity of acquiring Deeni knowledge is obvious, both textually and logically. The textual proofs are as follows:

1) “The acquiring of knowledge is wajib on every Muslim.” (Bayhaqi on the authority of Anas)

2) “The acquiring of knowledge is a faridah (compulsory duty) on every Muslim.” (Daylami on the authority of Ali)

3) “The acquisition of fiqh (understanding of Deen) is wajib on every Muslim.” (Hakim in his Tarikh on the authority of Anas)

4) “Acquire knowledge and pass it on to the people.” (Darqutni on the authority of Abu Saeed, and Bayhaqi on the authority of Abu Bakr)

5) “Acquire knowledge before it is raised.” (Daylami on the authority of Ibne Mas’ud on the authority of Abu Hurayrah)

6) “O people! hold on to knowledge before it is raised.” (Tabrani and Khateeb on the authority of Abu Umamah)

7) “O people! seek knowledge before it is raised.” (Ahmad and Daarmi, Tib and Abu al-Shaykh in his tafseer, and Ibne Mardawiyya on the authority of Abu Umamah)

8) “Destruction for the one who has no knowledge.” (on the authority of Hudhayfah)

Apart from this, there are other proofs which refer to the acquisition of knowledge for both males and females.

As for a logical proof: for reformation, beliefs and good deeds are compulsory. And beliefs and good deeds are dependent on acquiring knowledge of them. This is something that is obvious. And that thing upon which a compulsory thing is dependent, is also compulsory. So to acquire knowledge is also compulsory. Nevertheless, that deeds are dependent on knowledge is something that is very obvious. But if we go a little further, then it even becomes seen or observed. Consequently, the state in which uneducated women are, can be seen by all: that they cannot distinguish between kufr and shirk, nor do they have any love for Iman and Islam. They blurt out whatever they want with regards to Allah Ta’ala. They talk against the laws of Islam with arrogance. In order to bear children or to subdue the husband to their whims, they will try anything that they are shown, whether it be witchcraft, charms, magic or special incantations irrespective of whether these things are permissible or not. If this is the state of their beliefs, then what can be said of their salaat and fasting? So much so that apart from discarding these duties, some of them even mock at them, and go even further by taking ill-omens from them. In other words, some of them do not perform their salaat despite knowing that it is fardh. Others do not respect it and do not regard it as compulsory, while others take ill omens from it and regard it as a cause of harm. The latter two reach the stage of absolute kufr, while the first is regarded as fisq and a major sin. If this is the condition of their salaat and fasting, wherein no money is spent, then what will the condition of their zakaat and hajj be? One should not even bother to ask about these things. And if this is the condition of their beliefs and Ibaadaat, then there is no possibility of putting right their business and social dealings (mu’aamalaat). This is so because salaat, fasting, etc. are regarded as Deeni activities. As for business dealings, the majority of people regard them as worldly activities. It is for this reason that it is only the very pious ones who try to set right their mu’aamalaat. What improvements can uneducated women make?

If this is the condition of their mu’aamalaat, then when will their minds ever go towards reforming society (mu’aasharat)? This is so because mu’aamalaat are regarded as huquq al-ibad (the rights of fellow beings), as opposed to mu’aasharat because this aspect of huquq al-ibad is not apparent in it. Therefore, giving importance to this is extremely minimal. If there is so much of complacency with regard to mu’aamalaat and mu’aasharat, when will any efforts be directed towards internal character, such as humility, sincerity, fear, love, patience, gratitude, etc.? We know that to a large extent the effects of mu’aamalaat, and to a less degree, the effects of mu’aasharat reach other people. Hence, at times they are even regarded as pious or disgraced, depending on their mu’aamalaat and mu’aasharat. But when it comes to one’s internal character or condition, then even its overwhelming effect is restricted to ones self. As a result of it being concealed, others do not even come to know of it whereby a person could be addressed as a religious or irreligious person. It is for this reason that giving importance to it is very rare, so much so that this is even the case among the pious. Then what can be expected of the masses?

Be that as it may, the real cause and reason for this complacency in all religious matters is a paucity of knowledge of the Deen. So where there is no knowledge at all, and added to this where the intellect is naturally deficient (because women are naturally deficient intellectually, meaning that where there is no intellect and no knowledge) then there will be no limit to the shortcomings mentioned in the above matters. Both intellect and experiences bear testimony to the fact that without knowledge, actions cannot be put right. And to set right one’s actions is wajib and fardh. Consequently, the acquisition of Deeni knowledge being compulsory, as had been claimed above, has now also been proven logically. And prior to this, it was also proven textually (i.e. through Ahaadith). It has now been established both ways that to acquire knowledge of the Deen is compulsory.

Those who feel that there is no need for women to acquire knowledge because they do not have to seek employment, have been proven to be wrong. This is the answer to their assumption. However, there could be some doubt that by establishing that acquiring Deeni knowledge is compulsory, it does not necessarily mean that it becomes compulsory to acquire education in the normal way: that books should also be taught to women. Instead, it could be acquired by asking and questioning the ulama. The answer to this doubt is that this is correct, and we do not even say that education in the normal way is compulsory. However, at this point, three principles are worthy of noting:

(1) If something is compulsory, everything that will aid in fulfilling it will also be compulsory. For example, a person is unable to go for Hajj on foot. But in his time, trains and ships have been set aside to undertake that journey and he also has the money and ability to undertake that journey. It will therefore be compulsory on him to intend to undertake the journey, purchase the ticket and board the train or ship. To purchase the train or ship ticket and to board it in itself is not compulsory on him according to the Shariah, but because it is a means to fulfilling a fardh act (i.e. hajj), it will also become compulsory on him. This is called fardh bil-ghayr (i.e. compulsory because of another factor).

(2) Experience has shown that for knowledge to be well preserved in the minds, the study of books is nesessary. This happens to be the normal way of education. And to preserve Deeni knowledge is compulsory. So based on the first principle, it will also be compulsory to impart Deeni knowledge in the normal way. However, this is wajib alal-kifayah, i.e. in every place, there should be a few persons who have studied the Deen and who can answer the questions of those who need to know.

(3) It has also been established that to have ulama among the males is not sufficient to fulfil the Deeni requirements of women. There are two reasons for this: (1) Because of purdah (this is one of the most important of obligatory acts). It is almost impossible for all women to be able to go to the ulama. If the menfolk were to be used as a means, then some women do not even have anyone whom they could use. In some places, even the men give no importance to matters of Deen, so where will they take the responsibility of finding out for others? For such women it becomes extremely difficult to find out matters of the Deen. If by chance, access to someone is possible, or she has a father, son, brother, etc. in the house who is an aalim, then there are certain matters which women cannot ask them about. There may be such informality with the husband, but for all of them to have such husbands is generally impossible. In order to fulfil the general needs of women, there is no alternative but to have such women who are educated and from whom other women could get answers to all their questions. Based on this, it is established that to impart Deeni knowledge to women in the normal way, is wajib. So now, this doubt has also been cleared and it has been established that it is a necessity to have a system of education for women similar to that of men. This wrong notion that there is no need to educate women has been totally uprooted.

We will now deal with the second group which is opposed to the education of women and which regards it as extremely harmful. It is their claim that most educated women are liberal, fearless, shameless, cunning and immoral. Especially if she knows how to write, she becomes even more daring. She writes to whoever she wants and sends messages and greetings to whoever she wishes. Similarly, others also get the urge to express their desires by sending letters to her. When these messages reach her, she gets affected by them and also sends compassionate replies. This bond grows until whatever was bound to happen, happens. At times she does not reply, but keeps silent. Those who are ill at heart take this as a sign of acceptance and try to fill this void in the future by sending messages, greetings and letters. It is a general principle that, that which is written affects the ears. Furthermore, the ways of expression of some people are very enchanting and women are soft-hearted by nature. So for the web of shaytaan to spread is not surprising. If a woman to whom a letter was written was displeased, and she even expressed her displeasure, but fearing the consequences of what her husband or family members would say or do, she did not inform them about this. In this way, those who wrote the letter will be safe from any harm. They will get more bold and at the next opportunity, they will write again. All this happened because the women were educated. If they were uneducated, they would not have been able to write anything, nor would anyone come to know of them, and this whole chapter would have been closed.

This evil becomes even more conceivable when a particular woman’s articles begin to appear in the newspapers. By reading these articles, those shayateen who are conversant with the language are able to gauge the complexion, nature, feelings and thoughts of the writer. The sparks of such a fire spread even wider, especially if what she has written is in the form of a poem. These days, the outrage is even greater, because out of boastfulness, the name and even address of the writer is clearly stated, that she is the wife of so and so, or the daughter of so and so, residing in a particular place. All these evils came about because of their being able to read and write. If all these secret liaisons were discovered by the husband or family members, then because educated people are quick-witted and good at making-up stories, she will come up with such explanations and excuses that no word will come against her. She will make excuses and pretentions and begin crying and say that she had said this and not that, etc.

She might even threaten to kill or drown herself until that poor person who had enquired about it will have to flatter her and he will not even dare uttering a word about it again.

Another evil prevalent in these educated women is that they read all sorts of books: love-stories, suspense, sexually explicit novels and poems that arouse one’s desire. Due to this, one’s nature becomes corrupted. At times, they read these poems aloud and their voices are heard by the neighbours and on the street. Someone becomes enchanted with her voice and falls onto her heels. Even if he is unsuccessful in his pursuits, she is bound to become a cause of disgrace and distress.

This is the crux of the beliefs of these people. I do not deny nor reject these incidents, but I will definitely say that these people have worked with short-sightedness. They have not pondered over the reality of these incidents. The reality is that education is not responsible for all these evils. The responsibility either lies on the system of education, or the syllabus, or the methodology, or poor planning. In other words, it could have happened that those books were not taught with which one could learn the rules of halaal and haraam, details of reward and punishment, the method of moulding one’s character, and with which one could attain fear, reverence, understanding and respect for haqq (truth). They have just been taught to read the alphabets and left at that. Out of their own choice, they studied different booklets in Urdu and increased their mastery over reading and writing. By getting the title of “educated person”, they have given education a bad name. So it is obvious that merely learning the alphabets cannot be called education, nor can it take the responsibility of reforming their actions and conditions.

Alternatively, it could have happened that despite the syllabus being beneficial and adequate, no effort was made to embed the themes of that syllabus into their hearts and nothing was done to ensure that they were put into practice. For example, if a girl who has been taught that gheebah (back-biting) is a sin does indeed make gheebah, she should be reminded immediately that what she is doing is contrary to what she learnt. Or she was taught the necessity of hijaab (seclusion) or of speaking in a low tone, and thereafter a shortcoming or negligence was noticed in this respect, then she should be immediately reprimanded. Or she was taught to regard the greed for wealth and jewellery with contempt and later she expressed the desire for expensive clothing or unnecessary jewellery, then she should be immediately made mindful of this. In this way there is a hope that noble characteristics and good deeds will be inculcated in her.

Alternatively, it could have happened that her very nature and disposition did not have that capability and potential. Then in such a case, the idiom “imparting knowledge to the one who does not have the potential is like placing a ball on a dome” and the poem “how can a good sword be made from inferior steel?” Without good education, a person cannot become an insaan (total human)” will both apply. This discussion was connected to their very circumstances and actions. And as for those actions that were enumerated in regard to other corrupt persons, this is due to poor planning. The best way of combating this is to exercise sternness by employing the men-folk as intermediaries. They should be clearly informed that these are the causes of such evils.

If these are the causes, then why are the women singled-out? If men had to face these same causes, they would also become like this. So on what grounds are women being stopped from education and men given full freedom in this respect? In fact, given full importance? After pondering on the reason for this difference, we find no answer except that evils committed by women or attributed to them are regarded as a cause of disgrace and distress. And if the same evils are committed by men or attributed to them, then society does not regard them as a cause of disgrace and distress. It is for this reason that when it applies to women, these evils have been regarded as barriers to their education, and not when it applies to men. Apart from this, it is obvious from the Shariah point of view, that when it comes to education, men and women are equal. If sinning is evil and worthy of condemnation for women, then so is the case for men. And if it is a cause of chastity and honour for men, then in the same way it is also for women. So, if both are equal according to the Shariah, but unequal according to custom (urf), and this discrimination is actually practised, then it clearly shows that custom is being given preference over the Shariah. This is a very big branch of ignorance the cause of which is pride and self-glorification and nothing else. This is not my claim alone; the opposition also acknowledge this. Accordingly, very often we hear them saying that a man is like a utensil: if it gets dirty ten times, and thereafter you wash it, it gets absolutely clean. A woman, however, is like the lustre of a pearl: if it comes off even once, it cannot come on again. In other words, this clearly means that when it comes to men, they regard sinning very lightly. And for women, they regard it very seriously. Apart from pride, there is a very great possibility of passing a fatwa (religious verdict) of istikhfaaf (belittling the rules of the Shariah).

Now, just the third group is left. These people support and defend the education of women but have erred in determining or laying down a system for it. Some of their mistakes have already been incorporated when discussing the second group above. For example, teaching the women to read the alphabets only and thereafter leaving them to read the different booklets and magazines of their choice. Or, for example, not ensuring that they put into practice what they learn – different examples in this respect were also mentioned. We will now mention some other mistakes of theirs. For example, instead of teaching them Deeni knowledge, some of the women are taught History, Geography and English. Worse than this, they also teach them the Bible. This is due to just blind following of the Europeans. In other words, they feel that the worth and credibility of their syllabus is dependent on this. But they do not think that even if there was no difference between the two of us in regard to customs, habits, natural inclinations and peculiarities, the greatest distinction of religion still exists. That we follow the religion of Islam and they either follow no religion (which is the case with a majority of them), or they follow a religion opposed to our religion. Therefore, they will either have no religious education, or if they do have, it will be superficial, or it will be worldly education, or education of some other religion. In any case, this system of education of theirs has a specific basis. But if we had to choose their system of education, on what basis is it going to be? If the purpose of their education is different, as has just been mentioned, and our goal is different, as had been briefly explained when rectifying the mistakes of the first group, i.e. rectifying the beliefs, actions, transactions, social dealings, and morals; and this goal is dependent on Deeni knowledge – then it is obvious that for us to adopt their system of education is unsuitable or incompatible. However, if one also feels the need to earn a livelihood as well, then there will be no harm if one learns those sciences after having acquired Deeni knowledge. Those sciences refer to those things upon which one’s livelihood is dependent, such as English, History, Geography, etc. Apart from these things, such a person will have no need to study the Bible.

It is obvious that the need to earn a livelihood is only experienced by men and not women, the reason being that the responsibility for supporting and providing for them is on the men. Secondly, Islam has emphasized purdah for women, and those specific ways whereby a livelihood could be earned are dependent on specific branches of knowledge. And these branches cannot be learnt while in purdah. Therefore, to teach them these things is fruitless and a waste of time. In fact, apart from being fruitless, it will also be harmful, as will be explained later. In any case, these sciences which are known as “modern education” are in no way proper for women. However, it would be good to have sufficient knowledge of certain worldly aspects such as writing, Mathematics, some sort of handicrafts, etc., so that if at any time there is no one to see to their needs, they could earn a living.

As for learning good manners, then whoever wishes, he could check and see for himself that no other system or education can teach good manners and character the way Deen can. Hence, take a person who has been totally influenced by Deeni knowledge and another person who has been totally influenced by modern civilization. Thereafter, compare their character, social dealings and transactions, and you will find that there is a world of difference between the two. However, if someone regards pretention and deception as culture, then his mistake will be that he has misunderstood the meaning of a particular concept. At this very moment, if some religious person comes to mind who has some short-coming in real character, then the reason for this will be that he did not take full benefit from Deeni knowledge. In other words, Deen has many aspects: beliefs, actions, mu’aamalaat (transactions), mu’aasharat (social relations), and self-purification. Some people regard only salaat and fasting as knowledge of the Deen and only people who fulfil these duties as religious people. This is a mistake in itself. To have sufficient knowledge of all the aspects of Deen mentioned above is called Deeni knowledge. And those who abide by the rules of all these aspects are called religious people. So that person who was called a religious person but was found to be wanting in his character, is in reality not fulfilling all the aspects of the Deen. And the discussion is on that person who is influenced by all the aspects. Now the doubt has been cleared. The author has written a booklet entitled “The Rights of Knowledge” which clears similar doubts and is worth reading.

In short, culture and good manners cannot be learnt from any system of education the way it can be learnt from Deeni education. It is this very Deeni knowledge which brought about that character and good manners in our ancestors, and which was not only acknowledged by Europe but also adopted by it. However, we are totally unaware of the “wealth” that is in our homes and begging from others. How beautiful the words of Maulana Rumi are! He says: “There is a basket full of bread on your head, and yet you are going door to door searching for a crumb. You are standing in knee-deep water, and yet you are distressed out of hunger and thirst.”

Some people get their daughters educated at the hands of liberal and shameless women. Experience has shown that the company one keeps has a definite effect on one’s character and emotions. This is more so when the person in whose company one is, is followed and respected. Obviously, who can be more worthy of following and respect than one’s teacher? So in this case, that liberalism and shamelessness will also come into these girls. In my opinion, the best woman is the one in whom hayaa’(shame and self-restraint) is natural. This is the key to all good. When this is not found, then no good can be expected, nor can any evil be discounted. The rule, “when hayaa’ goes away from you, then do whatever you wish”, is general. But in my opinion, the generality in “whatever you wish” is applicable more to women than men. This is so because men still have aql (intellect) as a deterrent, while women have a shortfall of this as well. Therefore, they will not have anything to stop them.

Similarly, if the female teachers are not like this, but the class mates and school mates are like this (i.e. liberal and shameless), then being close to them will also cause many harms.

After this discussion, the condition of two evils, which are presently widespread, may also have come to the fore. One is the construction of girl’s schools, and like normal madrasahs, to allow girls of different communities, classes, and thoughts, to come there daily. Even if the teacher is a Muslim, even if they come in cars, and even if they come here and stay in secluded places; incidents have shown and experience has proven that here such causes are combined, that they have a detrimental effect on their morals. This company has proven to be destructive to their chastity. And if the teacher is also like this, then it is like having a double dose of a bitter pill.

The second evil is that if a girl mixes with a teacher of a mission school by going to her daily or weekly for tuition in something or some craft, then both her chastity and Iman will be in danger. It is extremely distressing that some people regard these evils as a means of honour and call these teachers into their very homes. In my opinion, let alone these great evils which a girl gets trapped in on account of being a child and blindly following someone; even if an elderly Muslim woman follows this teacher and gets into a conversation with her even once, then too it will be dangerous. Some of those harms which we had promised to enumerate are these which have just been mentioned. And some of them have been mentioned when discussing the opinions of the second group.

The best method for girls is the one that came down to us from generation to generation. That two or three girls get together according to their relations and then study. As far as possible, they should try and get a female teacher who does not charge any fees because experience has shown that this type of education is more blessed and more effective. But if there is no alternative, there is no harm in paying. Where no female teacher is available, then the menfolk of the house should undertake to teach them. This is in regard to the system of education. As for the syllabus, then as far as possible, they should be taught to read the Quran correctly. Thereafter, Deeni books which have been written in simple language and in which all aspects of the Deen have been dealt with completely (in my opinion, the ten parts of Bahishti Zewar are sufficient to fulfil this need). If the men of the house are imparting the education, then those matters that are “shameful” should be left out and taught through their wives. If this is not possible, then these matters should be marked off so that they can remember them and once they get more mature, they will automatically understand them. Alternatively, if her husband is an aalim, she could ask him, or her husband could inquire from an aalim on her behalf.

At the end of Bahishti Zewar, there is a list of some beneficial books, the reading and studying of which will be very beneficial for women. If all cannot be studied, then a necessary number should be studied and the balance be kept for reading. Together with education, practising on the knowledge should also be seen to. It should also be ensured that the desire to teach be inculcated in them so that they have some contact with knowledge throughout their lives. In this way, there will be a constant revival and yearning for ilm and amal (knowledge and practicing on it). They should also be urged that at no time should they be negligent in reading beneficial books. After completing their necessary syllabus, if it is found that they have the potential, they should be directed towards learning Arabic so that they are able to understand the Quran, Hadith, and Fiqh (jurisprudence) in the original language. In my opinion, those girls who read the translation of the Quran only, make many errors in understanding it. Therefore, for most of them this is not good.

All this was in regard to reading. As for writing, if there are indications that there is no shamelessness or boldness in her nature, there will be no harm in learning to write. In order to carry out household necessities, there is also a need to know how to write. But if one foresees harm, then instead of trying to learn unnecessary (not wajib) things, it would be better to save one’s self from evils. In such circumstances, she should not be taught to write, nor should she learn by herself. This is the verdict of the wise on the issue of women learning to write.

I now end this article and perhaps there will be no need to repeat it.

Ashraf Ali Thanwi

Shawwal 1331 A.H.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *