Tuesday, May 4, 2010

An educated Muslim woman?

I had a strange encounter last week which got me thinking about things. As I was walking towards our weekly ladies workshop session with a box of savoury goodies (it was almost tea time), a man who was sweeping stopped me and asked what was in the boxes. I explained to him that it was snacks for the ladies in our workshop. The exchange between us was short and simple, to the point, a common, everyday encounter. Then as I was walking away he asked me an odd question. “How come you speak English so well?” I looked at the man very confused because as a South African citizen, English is my first language. Although there are 11 official languages, I unfortunately only speak 2 of them, the other being Afrikaans. So I mumbled some stupid response like, “uhm, English is my home language, I’m from South Africa”, thinking that maybe the man thought I was from another country because I am Muslim. But, then he said, “well, you must be very educated”.

Okay, so how did he come to that conclusion from our simple exchange, really the reply I gave him was simple, I did not use complicated words or anything like that, and most Muslim women I know, whether they are educated or not speak English the same as I do. This got me thinking, what do people really think when it comes to Muslim women and education. Do they think that we lack knowledge and that we are not even able to have a simple everyday conversation? Perhaps this was not the case with the man in question, if I had more time I probably would have asked him what his reasoning was and so on. Generally though, what do people really think about Muslim women and is it that strange to see a Muslim woman who is educated?

It seems to me that people have the wrong idea about education, at least here in South Africa that is the case within the Muslim community. There’s a clear divide between what is called “secular” education and “religious” education which never quite made sense to me since all knowledge comes from Allah. But this divide goes back to the way in which people treat education. You see, for many people, education is equated with monetary gain, a formal job, the corporate persona and so on. So it’s strange to see a Muslim women, dressed in hijab and a cloak, working in the community, who is educated, because it’s more common for university graduates to be out in the workplace, fitting in with the modern, urban lifestyle.

Maybe this is why so many Muslims regard education as something that is not for Muslim women. Perhaps people believe that religion and formal education cannot go together. Of course at this point I’m thinking about how unnecessary and utterly absurd all of this is. I mean, in the time of the Prophet (SAW) women were extremely educated and yet they were the perfect Muslim female role models as well. Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her) had knowledge in all areas, her knowledge was not restricted to what is regarded today as “religious knowledge”. The same applied to the Prophet’s daughter Fatima (May Allah be pleased with her) and in fact with many of the women of that time. Yet, today it’s strange to find an educated Muslim woman who wants to strive to excel in her formal studies and at the same time wants to strive to be the best Muslimah that she can be.

Alhamdulila, this complete split between what is regarded strictly as religious knowledge and all other knowledge is slowly beginning to change and there are many people, especially young Muslim women who are realizing that they can be educated and still use that education to enhance their own lives as well as the general Muslim community. Hopefully soon the idea of having an educated Muslim woman will cease to be something strange and come to be accepted as a norm.

Image from:  www.umassd.edu/charlton/birc/academic.jpg


  1. Masha Allah,
    This is an interesting post. Yes I do find people very often seperate religous knowledge from secular. But this is really, I think, a non-muslim idea. People who are strong in the religous knowledge are usually seen to be ignorant of secular knowledge and vice versa. But the muslim comunity needs all the knowledge thatwill benefit us because as you said all knowledge is from Allah :-).

  2. Masha Allah,
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