The Place of Women in Islam and the Education of Females

Women’s dignity and chastity turns society into a Paradise. Generations raised in that Paradise become society’s source of peace. Thus a righteous woman is like a crystal chandelier, shedding light in the family. 

Q – What is the place of women in Islam? In the contemporary world, deceptive fancy words push women into the streets to look for happiness. But where should women look for happiness?

Allah the Almighty created women as emotionally deeper and stronger than men. This emotional depth is the natural requirement of women’s primary task, the protection and education of human progeny. When the value of this divine appointment is ignored, a woman’s nature is betrayed.

Today, a false competition has arisen between men and women. But competition is contrary to the design of human beings, who are made to cooperate with each other. When women’s service as wives and mothers is not respected, then peace and tranquility at home are lost; social life is shaken; and individuals lose their personalities.

Because women’s and men’s physical and spiritual features are not identical, they cannot usefully be claimed to be practically and legally equal. The important matter is not a literal equality between the sexes, but a balanced distribution of rights and responsibilities.

Allah the Almighty created an equitable distribution of tasks between men and women. He appointed them different but complementary family roles. When men and women are materially and spiritually united with each other, a maturity appropriate to their respective roles arises and then family and society alike reach peace and tranquility.

The maturity of a woman appears when she protects and develops the beautiful features that Allah has bestowed upon her so as to bring depth and refinement into her family. If she loses sight of this possibility, abandoning her own real experience for what others tell her is her nature, she loses her dignity and devastates her social value. Slowly grace, gentleness and sincerity become impossible for everyone and ultimately society becomes more like a desert.

But when women are able to live according to their own authentic experience and natures, they can turn society into Paradise. Woman is like a crystal chandelier, shedding light over society. If we turn the pages of history, we can see that societies rise and fall with the status of their women. If only the streets appear to women as sources of happiness, then the paths of life will be strewn with shards of glass.

Women’s happiness lies hidden in the reverence shown them by their families. The famous saying of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), is crucial:

Paradise lies under the feet of mothers.[1](Suyuti, Jami` al-Saghir, I, 125)

This unconditional call for respect is the greatest news for mothers everywhere.

A virtuous mother is the divine embrace of mercy, the source of her family’s joy, the light of pleasure and delight and the focus of every family member’s compassion. She is the exceptional and carefully selected manifestation of Our Lord’s key names “the All-Merciful” and “the Most Compassionate.”

There is no other being created who deserves our admiration and love as much as our mothers do. They carry us for nine months in their bellies, for a few years in their arms and for a lifetime in their hearts. And mothers who shoulder housework and childrearing really deserve endless love, deep respect and lifelong gratitude.

Is there any device to measure the level of endless sacrifice in our mother’s heart? She didn’t eat so that we might eat; she didn’t clothe herself so that we might be clothed; she didn’t sleep, so that we might sleep well at night. Is it possible to pay our debts to our mothers (and fathers) who would do everything they could not to see us hurt?

Rumi says, “Be careful about your mother’s right: make her the crown of your head. If there were no mothers’ labor pains, babies would find no way into the world.”

Abu Hanifa, a great friend of Allah and a legal scholar, refused to be the judge of Baghdad in order not to participate in the oppression of the government. Caliph Abu Ja`far al-Mansur put him in jail and had him whipped. Every day he had the numbers of lashes increased. Abu Hanifa was worried not for the pain of the lashes, but for what his mother might feel if she learned he was in prison. He sent a message to his friends: “Please do not let my mother hear of my situation. She could not endure it if she knew of my suffering. She would be devastated and I cannot bear to see her sad.” Abu Hanifa expressed here a prime example of a mother’s compassion. Note too that his love for his mother lessened his concern for his own pain.

Another example is displayed in Bahauddin Naqshband’s saying, “Let those who wish to visit our grave visit our mother’s grave first.”

It was Abdurrahman Molla Jami`, another Naqshi master, who first said, “How can I not love my mother?  She carried me for nine months in her belly, then for awhile in her arms and finally for a lifetime in her heart.”

Q – What is the importance of mothers in raising the younger generation?

Guessing a nation’s future is not miraculous. It is enough to look at the state of its youth. Youth in every era of history have looked for excitement, for a way to spend their energy. This quest is like society’s heartbeat. In other words, every nation takes shape according to the ideals and feelings of its youth. If a nation’s youth spend their time and energy on good deeds, then that nation’s future becomes secure. On the contrary, if a nation’s youth spend their time and energy on selfish deeds and become the slaves of their desires, then that nation moves toward disappointment and loss. Therefore mothers in particular must be very careful in parenting the future generation. All of the friends of Allah and the great statesmen of history, got their first discipline from pious mothers.

The best examples for how this works come from the female Companions. They taught their children altruism and sacrifice in every way they could. They also filled the souls of their children with love for Allah and His Messenger. Thus they proved that strong nations are created from strong families. And strong families, in turn, are the works of righteous women, who pass through a spiritual education and eliminate their petty desires.

Q – What is the role of Qur’anic schools in girls’ education? And what are the most important issues requiring educational attention in these schools?

All institutions, especially those responsible for spiritual education, like Qur’anic schools, must be places of compassion, altruism and service. More than just giving information, schools should inspire students with love, mercy and the excitement of serving others. Insensitive teachers who cannot make the little hearts under their tutelage feel the joys of faith and love for the Qur’an, are under a heavy responsibility. The schools they teach at belong to the entire Muslim community and their students are merely entrusted to them. If they cannot give their charges a proper education, they will be liable for those students’ rights in the Hereafter.

In the contemporary world, where many people are enslaved by materialism, Qur’an teachers must be more sensitive toward their students. They should seek first of all to fill the hearts of their students with love and respect for their teachers. Before even starting to teach the alphabet of the Qur’an, they should inspire their students with the grandeur and importance of the work of study. They should fill their students’ young hearts with love for Allah and His Messenger.  They should be able to manifest grace and refinement and the many varieties of beauty present in Islam, through their own pure hearts.

Qur’anic teachers who act sometimes like judges and sometimes like executioners and who attempt to establish their authority through force and stern faces, are wasting their efforts. Such an attitude is a great mistake. There is, in fact, not a greater mistake to be made than turning people away from Qur’anic education and consequently darkening their lives.

Teachers and their assistants should learn how to be of mature service to the people. A mature servant has a heart is full of wisdom. Mature servants are merciful, altruistic and upright, as well as being people of action. They are enemies of hatred. Also, mature servants should be able to protect their faith and personalities under any circumstances and therefore able to have a positive effect on whomever may be around them.

Mature servants are able to keep their hearts free from the love of property, the love of position and the obsession with profit. As the Sufi saying goes:

This world becomes a paradise through three practices:

offering charity with hands, tongue and heart

forgiving, rather than criticizing, the servants of Allah;

not reciprocating the oppression of oppressors , but helping them to understand and correct their mistakes.

According to another Sufi saying, good people are to be found in the following three groups:

Those who do not hurt anybody;

Those who are too modest to hear their good qualities from others;

Those who see the creation as a divine trust and who look at creatures through the eyes of their Creator.

Just as scenes of flowers and roses can make even the harshest person smile, so the souls of those who are hoping to guide society should spread happiness to the people around them. Even the hardest and the most despicable hearts should be moved to wake up and soften before them.

The primary aim of Qur’anic schools for girls should be the moral education of their students rather than their material education, because tomorrow’s foremost mothers will be among the graduates of these schools. When girls graduate, they should be able to display the beauties of Islam. Qur’anic school must be adorned with the spirits of two Fatimas.[2]

Q – Who are these two Fatimas? Could you elaborate, please?

The first Fatima is the one whose virtues are mentioned in Sura 76, verses 8-11. When Hasan and Husayn (may Allah be pleased with them) were children, they got very sick. Their parents ‘Ali and Fatima (may Allah be pleased with them) offered three days of fasting as a prayer for the children’s health. On the first day, when they wanted to break their fast at dinnertime, a poor man came by and asked, “Please give me something to eat, for the sake of Allah!” They gave him all the food on the table. Then they broke their fast with water.

On the second day, an orphan came to their door and asked, “Please give me something to eat for the sake of Allah!” Again they gave him all the food on the table and broke their fast with water. Later, they began the next day’s fasting with no more than water, too.

On the third day, around the same time, a slave came to their door and asked food. Again they gave him all the food on the table and broke their fast with water. Then the following verses were revealed:

And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive:” Surely we fear from our Lord a stern, distressful day!” Therefore Allah will guard them from the evil of that day and cause them to meet with ease and happiness; and reward them, because they were patient, with garden and silk. [3]

There are three things in these verses that should attract our attention.

First, they call for us to be able to see the creation through the eyes of the Creator and to be able to make the needy happy. In this regard Abu Bakr al-Warraq (may Allah bless his soul) says:

Those who do not give in charity should not claim that they will attain Paradise. Those who do not love the poor should not claim that they love the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him). Both of these claimants are liars.

Second, the verses advise us to give our charity for the pleasure of Allah the Almighty alone. ‘Ali and Fatima (may Allah be pleased with them) used to say, We do not expect anything in return. We do not expect gratitude. We give in charity just for the contentment of Allah the Almighty.” We should do the same and expect nothing in return from the servants of Allah.

The third thing to notice is that these reverend and exemplary people say, “We fear for the Day of Judgment.” This is the state of hearts that are filled with awe of Allah. Approving such sincerity and service, Allah the Almighty responds, “We will protect them from the calamities of that Day.”

Another example that manifests the spiritual world of our first Fatima is her love and sacrifice for the Prophet.

Once the Prophet was offering his prayer in the shade of the Ka`ba. His great enemy Abu Jahl happened to come by; he was happy to catch the Prophet alone. Abu Jahl and some other members of the Quraysh tribe who were with him immediately sent somebody to fetch the abdominal contents of a recently slaughtered camel.  When the filthy guts arrived, those wretched men dumped them over the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) while he was making his prostration. The Prophet’s uncle `Abbas, who was not a Muslim at the time, saw what had just happened, but felt unable to speak up against his fellow tribesmen. Just then Fatima, who was only about nine or ten years old at the time, ran into the sanctuary and began struggling to pull the steaming offal away from her father, crying the whole time. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) finished his prayer and comforted her, urging her not to cry.” (See Bukhari, Salat, 109, Jihad, 98, Jizya, 21; Muslim, Jihad, 107)

Fatima was so brave that she could stand up against the idolaters. Even ‘Abbas, the Prophet’s uncle, dared not do that, even though the Arabs are known for making sacrifices for their relatives. Fatima loved Allah and His Messenger more than anything else. This is why she is often called Umm Abiha:  “the mother of her father.”

Our second exemplary Fatima is the one who stopped ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) when he was on his way to kill the Prophet. She became the reason for ‘Umar’s conversion to Islam. On that day, she recited the Qur’an so devoutly that a coldhearted person like ‘Umar found himself softening, so that he began to weep out of compassion.

It is very important for the girls in these schools to take the two Fatimas as role models. Each and every girl should be generous and altruistic, should perform her deeds for Allah’s sake and should recite the Qur’an with joy and spirit. When our girls resemble the two Fatimas, they will be able to achieve every desired objective.

Nor should we forget our mother `A’isha (may Allah be pleased with her). She was the most intelligent of the wives of the Prophet and was accepted as one of the seven legal scholars among the Companions. Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said about her:

“Learn one third of your religion from `A’isha.”(Daylami, II, 165/2828)

Therefore every Muslim woman should aim to take lessons from the intuition, chastity and intelligence of our mother `A’isha.

Our supplication from our Lord is to be blessed with daughters who have the heart of our mother Fatima, the intelligence and chastity of our mother `A’isha and especially the altruism and fidelity of our mother Khadija (may Allah be pleased with them all).

Amin!

[1].     A similar hadith runs as follows:

       A Companion named Jahima came to the Prophet and said:

       “O Messenger of Allah! I would like to go to war with the Muslim army. I came here to talk to you about it.”

       Allah’s Messenger asked him, “Is your mother alive?”

       He said: “Yes, she is.”

       Then the Messenger of Allah said, “Then serve your mother, because Paradise is under her feet.” (Nasa’i, Jihad, 6)

[2].     The author of this book, Osman Nuri Efendi, assisted in the opening of many Qur’anic schools for boys and girls. This is why he emphasizes the significance of good behavior in teachers of the Qur’an and the importance of their being compassionate and loving.

[3].     This is the origin of 76:8-12, according to Wahidi, p. 470; Zamakhshari, VI, 191-92; and Razi, XXX, 244).