Written Vs. Not Written Stuff: Opposing Education For Muslim Women and Girls – Part I

Written by Saadia Haq

Education is crucial for human development and no one can deny its importance in today’s times. The realm of education not only helps communities to realize their full citizenship in a democratic set up but also acts as a root source for their evolution as free human beings capable of making informed choices.

Sadly Muslim countries lag behind due to the negligence and religious notions attached with attaining the so called westernised secular base education.  Muslim women particularly suffer under the complex societal standards under the guide of religious teachings. In current times, millions of Muslim students receive some or almost all of their formal education inside madrasas or religious schools. Typically these informal institutions provide young Muslims with the religious foundation in Qur’anic recitation and Islamic values that supersedes the needs of modern times. Lack of state attention and widespread poverty forces large number of Muslim students to make do  with the religious based education.

Though there is nothing wrong with going to a madrasa but if we talk about the Muslim girl child education, families consider that their daughters ‘only’ require the Madarasa based education and have the strangest of notions that Muslim women do not need any other education.

As a Muslim feminist who fights daily on the importance of modern education for children and youth I get frustrated with the backward thinking of my own community.  So when sister Papatia Feauxzar floated the idea to write on this topic, it felt like a heaven sent opportunity to raise our collective voices for the betterment of the Muslim women rights.

The need for power and control over Muslim women continues with misinterpretations of Islam and its teachings. So when volunteers like ourselves speak out we are berated for spreading anti Islamic agenda and disrespecting the male dominated religious leadership. This cultural norm of speaking over our heads, by that I mean Muslim girls and women heads helps maintain male dominance on most aspects of lives especially education.

Frankly, we see little use in serving the ‘deen’ by agreeing to community leadership and family elders mindsets  set against secular and formal education for the Muslim girl child. I cannot emphasise enough the need for us to understand and address the existing religious bullying and manipulation. I am fully aware that we have to protect the most vulnerable in our community and moreover we are losing talented and vibrant sections of our community whose role is particularly important for our future and progress.

I also need to voice that Muslim women, both those born inside the faith and converts as well as little children suffer the most from this annoying “stop disrespecting scholars” argument. There is no denying the wide spread violence against women in Islamic countries, particularly situations like married women forced to stay in abusive marriages, youth oppressed to quietly accept parental abuse under the guise of  “reverencing the wombs that bore you” and any interest towards formal education and learning being labelled as  the “imitation of the kuffaar” nonsense.

In case of Muslim women converts and my on-going conversations with many I have observed how they have felt let down due by the very faith they choose to embrace due to their abusive experiences. They are also perplexed right so as how violence against women is in many ways condoned and supported by the Muslim communities.

Attitudes On Girl Child Education Among Muslim Communities

There are many issues that act as obstacles in way of girls and women education in the Muslim world. I come from Pakistan, where the Taliban had shot a teenager going to her school and today I feel proud of fellow citizen Malala Yousafzai for heading the world wide debate on Muslim girls education.

There are many unknown Malalas and other stories in our communities. Families due to poverty feel that spending on girls education is useless because after-all they have to grow up and get married. Muslim parents think that they wont get any lucrative benefit by educating their girls. 

Community religious leadership also spins the wheel that if girls get educated they will become disobedient and westernised, refuse to do house work and accept decisions made by elders for their future.

Secondly, the frustrating notions of honour in the bodies of Muslim girls and women makes them responsible to maintain family dignity and respect so any idea of education might make them become influenced by boys.

This is interlinked with the fact that the religious schools maintain segregation and deemed as safer environment for girls; parents willingly will send their girls that are at longer distances in their misguided belief on women safety and chastity maintenance. Don’t get me started on the child abuse issue inside the madrasas, that one is for anther time.

Ideas such as Islam emphasises religious or Deeni Taleem for women, therefore worldy education has always to be avoided. Child marriage is also another virus that halts girls getting education in our community.

Young girls are forced to learn household work rather than going to school because they are to be married at young ages and parents worry that if their daughter gets a good educated, they wont be able to find a groom for her.  Muslim parents of boys are shamelessly open that they require young bride and have a tendency to refuse educated girls as prospective daughter in laws.  

All in all such a recipe for maximum disaster has forced Muslim women to be kept behind the shadows of religion and priesthood. Unfortunately, many Muslims are caught in a sort of time warp, ridiculously some are cherishing the desire to lead lives some fourteen hundred years backward in time whereas others are going about promoting distorted visions of Islam in the quest to maintain power and control.

With passing time, thousands of Muslim women in Asia, Europe, Africa and other places have challenged these notions because we understand what our community, our parents and teachers are telling has little to do with Islam and more to do with shame culture. There is a wave of bad-ass Muslim feminists across the globe that have studied Islam and began using the scripture as a   mechanism to get back the rights to education.

We have already come out of the shadows and this change is happening right here, right now sending clear message that we the Muslim women know our rights and can debate our freedom of choices.


Stay tuned for part II and do share your thoughts on our collaboration. Thanks, we also take the opportunity to wish you a blessed 2019!

Originally posted on The Humans Lens Blog.

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