Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Muslim woman’s path to knowledge

“I’m studying for my Science exam”, my 30-something friend unashamedly and boldly replied to me when I asked her what she was busy doing. A few days prior to this she told me that the Department of Education had decided that they might bring the final exam forward for students currently completing their Grade 12 exams through correspondence. It was quite late at night and I was feeling the tiredness overtake me, I could not imagine how she was feeling. What with having to juggle a husband, 2 children, a full-time job and studies! I honestly have so much admiration for this woman. I wonder if I would have had the courage to do what she is doing, and I really don’t think I would have.

This woman left school when she was about 16 years old and changed her entire life. From being a rebellious teenager she began to wear niqaab (face veil), and got married shortly after, and the remarkable thing is that this was all her choice!

After she got married, she studied an aalima course, to completion (which is about 5 years of intense study). Now, in her 30s she made the decision to complete her high school studies.

Some of you might be wondering what’s so inspiring or remarkable about this. You might even argue that it’s no big deal, and that studying and education is not that important anyway. Some of you might think that this woman is wasting her time, that she has what every woman needs already. But, before you think further, let us consider the implications of all this a little more.

“I want my children, especially my daughter to know that there are possibilities out there, that they can do more, and that they can reach amazing heights and still stick to the Allah’s laws. I want them to understand that as Muslims we are encouraged to do this”. This is one of my friend’s major reasons for going back to study, to show her children that Islam does not restrict women; that both men and women are encouraged to seek knowledge, and to emphasize that as a Muslim she is encouraged to use her potential, learn more and excel at whatever it is that she is doing. She has understood that if she is more informed and the more knowledge she has, she will be able to use this to assist her children and to understand the world that they live in. Moreover, she has understood something that many people are still unable to fathom; that receiving education does not equate having a high powered corporate job. There are so many positive things that women are able to do with education, but they are restricted because of the fear that once they receive education they will want to dedicate their lives to a career instead of a family, and admittedly this fear is very real. However, a lack of knowledge and education can also bring about negative consequences, so where does one draw the line, and can a woman have a balance between family, education and work, all the while adhering to her religious duties?

For my friend there are certainly times, especially closer to exams, when the pressure mounts, and everything feels too much to handle and her time with her husband and children gets cut short and she thinks to herself; “Why am I doing this!” But she has the support and encouragement of her husband and family and she knows what her priorities are and she tries to take things in its stride, and at the end her results are always excellent. It seems to me that this balance is achievable with a correct understanding between people, and with the right intentions.

One major misunderstanding of most women is that your life’s ambition is over when you get married. It’s like before you get married you can study, work or do whatever it is, but once you get married, there’s no need for anything else because now you have fulfilled your ambition. Now, I am definitely not saying here that marriage is not an important ambition, I’m also not saying that women should all go and work and study, despite being married. What I am saying though is that our purpose goes beyond just being married, our purpose is to worship Allah and in my opinion, in order to do this in the best way, we have to use the abilities that has been given to us to enhance our own lives, the lives of our children, the lives of our family members and the lives of people in our community.

At this point I have to emphasize that the quest for Islamic knowledge should take precedence! It does not help if a woman or anyone else for that matter has knowledge in many different fields and areas but lacks Islamic knowledge. Only with the correct Islamic knowledge, can all other forms of knowledge and education be put into good practice. My friend’s example is once again testimony to this. She first acquired in-depth Islamic knowledge and now she is able to use the other knowledge that she is gaining in a positive way and in a way that does not go against the rules of Islam. With her understanding of Islam and her strong emphasis on Deen she can integrate her current studies into her life in a meaningful way.

Alhamdulila, everything happens with the will of Allah and I am thankful that I have had the chance of witnessing the path that my friend has taken because it has taught me so much. No one is too old to learn new things and the quest for knowledge should not be deprived to anyone, male or female. The most important thing I have learnt from her though is that as a Muslim woman, you can do many things while still upholding your Islamic duties and following the rules of Islam. When my friend sits down to write her final exams, she will be wearing her niqaab, she will be dressed in her long cloak, she will have her husband and children eagerly waiting to hear how it went, and I know that she will excel, because she has not chosen a path at the expense of her Islam and before she begins her exam, I know she will be talking to Allah. For me, this is a female Muslim role model, and so, when she gets her final results and passes, as I know she will, this will be for all her Muslim sisters!

May Allah (SWT) give her success and help us all to uphold the true religion of Islam, no matter what we are involved with (obviously as long as it is in accordance with the rules of Islam).

Image from: www.contented.com/.../2009/11/diploma.jpg

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