Opinion : Women education is a road to progress for Indian Muslims

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By Marhaba Hilali

I attended a function near my neighbourhood when the Hijab issue intensified and western media started taking note of it. All women were discussing about Hijab and Pardah and how its their constitutional right to practice , profess and propagate their religion ( Article 25 ) and how Islamic teachings encourage them to cover their heads. They were all middle class women.  I was happy to know that women of my community are aware of their political and constitutional rights. But I would have been happeir if the debate was expanded to the condition of Muslim women in contemporary times ; their education, their economical empowerment, their representation in politics and their place in Muslim Society.

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The hijab row invited intense debates in various media. Many editorials and articles were published in national news papers and majority of the authors  belonged to other religions.

Not seeing Muslim women in Pardah or Hijab should not bring shame to us. but not seeing them educated and empowered enough to compete is really a matter of shame.
Its not that there are no intellectual Muslim women voices to make their appearance in national and international media platforms . But they are “ a few “

And those “ a few “ come from affluent and educated Muslim families.

But here, my area of concern is those lower middle class Muslim women. Who have been continuously marginalised.

By the time I am writing this  to you, our representation in administration is around 3%  in Police service is around 4% . We have literacy rate of around 60% , bank credit around 6.6% in Private sector banks, female literacy rate around 51 % , in short we are doing worse than SC and STs.

And these statistics are even worse for Indian Muslim women .  According to the 66th round of the National Sample Survey Organisation (2009-10), out of every 1,000 women in the labour force, only 101 were Muslims.
According to a report by Professor Gilles Verniers ( A political science professor at Ashoka University)

Five of the 16 Lok Sabhas since Independence have had no Muslim women members, and their number never crossed four in the 543-seat lower house of parliament.
Since Independence around 612 women have been elected to 16 Lok Sabhas, of them around 21 have been Muslim women.

Muslim women progressing in the field of academics, Science, art and politics are exceptions and not the norm.

Who is to blame? We, government or misfortune?

Can we change the government? No.

Can we change our destiny? No.

Can we change ourselves? Yes.

But the change won’t happen by putting all the blame on religion.

The root cause of this regression has nothing to do with Islamic teachings. Let me share you the events that took place 1400 years ago. When Prophet was born in Arab instead of Bani Israel . What was the wisdom behind sending the last Prophet to Arabs ? If you read Islamic history, you will come to know about Daur E Jahaliyah ( The age of ignorance) the characteristics of this age was not poverty, misery or famine. But the mistreatment of women, the systematic oppression of women. The marginalisation of women. Then the Prophet came up with the ideas of equality and justice and gave tremendous importance to women. When he had to say who was the best among us he didn’t say that the best are those who offer salah five times a day, he rather said “ The best among you are those who are best with their women and those who are most beneficial to others”

When the order and progress came in Arab society it didn’t characterise by wealth or prosperity but the improvement in the lives of women.

There is an African Proverb

“ Educate a Man and you educate an individual, educate a woman and you educate a nation “

But who wants to reflect upon this ?

When women are beautiful and pretty we tell them that they are entitled to an easy life thus they don’t need to invest in knowledge and skills.

When they dream big and have visions to bring change in society , we call them “ Badtameez and Behaya” . They are not preferred for marriage because society  think that they can not make a good wife.

When we have to find solutions of something , we don’t consider women “ a go to person” . Cause according to us they are dimwits , we forget the fact that whenever the Prophet was in crisis, whenever he would afflict with trials , he would first rush to Khadijat Ul Qubra and his daughters and not his companions( Sahabas) .

When we want to marry off our boys, we  look for young, white, semiliterate wife who can lighten up our home with her beauty and not with her intellect. We forget that the holy Prophet had married a woman who was a widow and 15 years elder to him. She was more educated than the holy Prophet.

When we have to choose a groom for daughters, we impose your choice and our cultural practices on them. We look for wealth and prosperity. We forget that the Holy Prophet had prioritised character over wealth and all alliances were materialised with the due permission of his daughters.

But why are we talking about marriage? Because the choice you make during that alliance decides the future of your children.

“When there is harmony in the home, there is the order in the nation. When there is the order in the nation, there is peace in the world.” – A P J Abdul Kalam.

Our ignorance is not just limited to restricting women to home.

How many times we have reflected upon our behaviour ?

Allah says in Quran “Verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people as long as they do not change what is in themselves“  – Quran 13 : 11

When we have to talk about our glorious past we remember Ertugrul Ghazi, Salahuddin Aiyubi and Delhi Sultans but we forget Ibn Sina ( Thinker, astronomer) and Muhammad Al Khwarizmi( founder of Al Gebra )

Our glorious past is just about war, empire and power but never about our exceptional inventions in maths, medicine and philosophy.

We have forgotten those five pillars of Islam and we have made eating delicious nonveg food the very first pillar. Unaware of what our religion says about gluttony.

When we gather,  the debate and discussions are never about our conditions and solutions but always about Which Biryani is better and where can we get tastiest Nihari.

We remember Allama Iabal only when we listen to Sare Jahan se Accha. We forget is Shiqwa , Jawab E Shiqwa, cause it make us ashamed . We don’t like it when someone demands us to become the better version of ourselves. Strange, isn’t it? The words that he wrote some hundred years ago are still applicable to the Muslim youth of contemporary age.

But are we going to be marginalised throughout our existence ? Yes, if we are still stubborn and apprehensive of radical Change that we need.

And No, if we decide to improve the condition of Muslim women, if we invest in knowledge. If we invest in skills, If we stop watching Ertugrul and start doing something productive, the things that make sense. The things that are necessary. The things that are the need of the hour ; investment in education.

The reference of heaven has been given in the Quran over hundreds of time. But its no where written that “ Believers who offer Salah will go to Jannah “ but the emphasis has been given on righteous acts “ Those who attain to faith and do righteous deeds , the gardens of paradise will be there to welcome them ( Quran 18 : 107)

The attainment of faith is characterised with righteous  deeds and not just offering salah and following rituals.  And oppressing women, imposing your choice on them, belittling them, laughing on their dreams and not allowing them to pursue higher studies surely don’t come under righteous acts.

It’s high time we should start having progressive interpretations of Quranic verses.

If the Prophet said that “ Haya is an essence of Islam and people should be mindful of their clothing and their gaze “ then we must always remember his opinion about education too, when he said “ One who treads a path in search of knowledge has his path to paradise made easy by God …“ ( Riyadh Us Saleheen , 245 )

Our Islam shouldn’t be selective, on one side you want to see women in Pardah cause it has found reference in Quran, and on the other side you deny them the other rights given to them in the Quran ; The right to education ; The right to freedom

If any area  that has required an urgent attention then its leadership. Where Indian Muslim women’s presentation is minimal or nil. And it will be achieved only with education and exposure.

Before I end let me remind you the first verse to be revealed upon the holy prophet .

It was “ Iqra Bismi Rabbikal Laji ( Read, for the sake of your lord ) “ Allah didn’t say pray, He didn’t say Jihad, He didn’t say fight, He didn’t say get married, He didn’t say accumulate wealth. He didn’t say Pardah, He said “ Read “ . The very verse exhibits the importance of knowledge and education in Our lives.

In his book “Remembering God “  Gai Eaton writes “

Whatever may be said by certain misguided Muslims, education is not simply a right but an obligation for women just as it is for men. To seek knowledge throughout his or her life is a duty incumbent upon every Muslim, regardless of sex, and so is the sharpening and deepening of the gift of spiritual intelligence for which God has singled out the human creature alone among created beings( Ashraful Makhluqaat) “

And here Education is not limited to reading Islamic literature but to expand your intellectual horizon. Whenever I read the creation of Earth in Geography, it always mesmerised me I can’t stop thinking about his greatness. Whenever I read biology and the mechanism inside a human body , it encourages me to offer 2 extra Namaz in his glory. How beautifully he has planned everything. How great architecture he is. When I read history and about the glorious past of the Kings and there Palaces it reminds me to stay humble , because in the end you will return to the dust whether you are a king or a slave. My thirst for knowledge has always brought me closer to the God and it has encouraged me to a better human being.

Hence ,I feel , lack of right education is the root cause of all the issues I have mentioned here. And progress can not be achieved without educating Muslim women.
If we are still not pondering on this then we are just one step away from Allama Iqbal’s prophecy

“Na Samjhoge To Meet Jaoge Aey Hindi Musalmanon

Tumhari Dastan Tak Na Rahegi Tumhari Daaston Mein”

 

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