‘Acquisition of knowledge is binding on all Muslims’ (Al-Sunna 1:81 224). This Hadith, sayings or actions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), indicates that there is no preference based on sex in getting access to education in Islam. However, there is a growing misconception among the people of other religions that Islam constrains Muslim girls from getting an education. There are two authentic sources of Islamic scriptures, which are the Holy Quran and the Al-Hadith, on the matter of girls’ education. Neither of them restricts girls from getting an education. The reasons for the projection of distorted images of Islam on women’s education are due to misinterpretation of the scriptures at various levels.
Islam is a religion of peace, justice, and equality. The first verses of the Quran begin with the words: “Read, read in the name of thy Lord who created; [He] created the human being from a blood clot. Read in the name of thy Lord who taught by the pen: [He] taught the human being what he did not know.” (96: 1-5)
In chapter 39, Qur’an says, “Are those who know equal to those who do not know?” (Verse 9). The above verses reveal that Allah ordains the responsibility of acquiring knowledge to human beings regardless of their sex, age, or race. Moreover, Allah says in the Qur’an, “And Allah has brought you out from the wombs of your mothers while you know nothing. And He gave you hearing, sight, and hearts that you might give thanks (to Allah)” (An-Nahla, 78). The link of the keywords (knowing nothing and giving thanks) in the two sentences above is a clear command to seek knowledge. It may be noticed that there is no indication in the verse of the preferred gender to be educated. Similarly, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has also emphasised the significance of seeking knowledge on various occasions. For example, the Prophet said, “Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim…” (Saheeh al-Jami’, 3914). Another Hadith, which is not authentic but highly referred to in Islamic discourse, commands to “seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave” (Mutlaq Ahl al-Hadith). Hence this rules out the span of a period for seeking knowledge. “Seeking knowledge even if it is in as far as China” is another Hadith.
Seeking and giving Islamic education to a girl is obligatory but there is a large gap seen between the madrasa going students who mainly focus on Islamic education and the students taking education in English medium schools. This gap is particularly seen in girls who are studying AALIMA COURSES and FAZILA courses. Although there is to some extent a good future seen in Islamic education, still the girls studying in madrasas are not competing with other students in results as they face tremendous hardships in their education. It could be said that girls are managing household work and they are seen as dependent on others. So there is a need to make them more competent.
The curriculum should be designed in such a way that girls passing out from a madrasa can also become a doctor, a teacher, a lawyer, an engineer, etc. They should not remain only AALIMA and FAZILA to pass fatwas. They should have the competency to compete in the world. The inclusion of such a curriculum within the madrasa schooling system has the potential to bring about a major social transformation with direct impact on several of the Millennium Development Goals: child health, maternal health, and gender equality.
A common critique of state-led modernisation efforts by detractors is the lack of attention in policy to the processes that would translate madrasa modernisation into practice. In June 2014, following the announcement of a Rs 100 crore budgetary allocation for madrasa modernisation, the Deoband school rector publicly stated that there was little clarity on ‘what the government wants to do’ as a part of the modernisation programme. Academic scholars who support madrasa modernisation have expressed similar concerns, arguing that one of the biggest lacuna in the present policy is the lack of clarity on the processes that would give effect to modernisation. For instance, how will the inclusion of secular syllabi in the so-called modernised madrasas be achieved in terms of actual time allocated to the teaching of different subjects, on ensuring training and competence of teachers teaching these subjects in madrasas, and integration of the differences between religious knowledge and the ‘modern’ knowledge of subjects into a unified whole?
We can say Islam does not forbid girls from getting an education;, instead, it insists on their education. However, the flawed madrasa education system and seeing the deteriorating condition of madrasa-going students is a growing concern that should be addressed right now.
—Ishfaq Khaliq is a Sr Engineer and Insha Jan is an Islamic Education student