This essay is complementary the following article but honed for its abrasive but honest title: ‘The Opponents of the Right to Universal Education (RTE) To the Muslims Are the Enemies of Indian Muslims
By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
November 06 11 13
Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009
The Qur’anic Perspective on Advancement of Knowledge
The Qur’an tells us that in the divine creative scheme, humankind is appointed God’s representative (Khalifah) on earth (2:30, 6:165, 27:62, 35:39) and endowed with the intellectual faculty (‘aql) to identify and characterize every object individually (2:33) and articulate his observations in coherent speech (55:4). He is granted special ‘favours’ above much of the creation (17:70), is fashioned in the finest model (95:4) and whatever is in the heavens and the earth is made serviceable to him (31:20, 45:13). Humankind is thus programmed to acquire knowledge and this goes for both the sexes.
The Qur’an does not provide any basis to connect the divine blessings with the masculine gender or to restrict women from acquiring education. In fact any such restriction will stifle a woman’s capacity to act as the Auliya of man (9:71), have an independent income (4:32) claim her lawful rights as a woman (share in inheritance, dowry at the time of marriage, maintenance upon divorce for example) and transmute Islam from a religion of women’s rights  to a religion of men’s unilateral rights and over lordship over women that it came to abolish.
In light of the foregoing Qur’anic pronouncements, there can be absolutely no Qur’anic basis to bar Muslim girls from acquiring universal education to the highest possible level as their circumstances and external environment permit.
Patriarchy Casting Its Long Shadow over Islam
The world has gone through a long history of undiluted patriarchy when women’s role was confined within the four walls of her house and the notion of universal or advanced education for women was civilisationally pre-matured. That was a time of scarcity, hard physical labour for livelihood, constant warfare involving direct engagement in battlefield, long and hazardous journeys on trading and military missions, which were suited to the masculine gender and gave patriarchy the unchallenged space in practically all spheres of life – a construct of history appropriated in all major religions but challenged up front by the Qur’an.
However, gender dynamics has seen a sea change over the last hundred years and the patriarchic paradigms of the medieval era have been virtually overturned in many areas. This includes, among other things, the right of women to acquire universal or modern education – a right that women in all major civilization have established and are fully realizing by attaining highest levels of education in practically all professional, academic and scientific fields that would have been beyond the dreams of their great grandmothers. As this gender revolution largely bears with the Qur’anic message – except for its excesses in some areas, it will stand in blatant contradiction to the Qur’anic message to bar Muslim girls from acquiring universal education or studying beyond the primary level as some ultra-conservative Ulema suggest. This is all the more shameful as Muslim women were intellectually active in the early centuries of Islam, and there are examples of female jurists (Faqihat) holding high judicial offices and taking classes of mixed gender students and awarding certifications .
This raises the question, why some Ulema and the extremist and terror outfits insist on barring Muslim girls from going to secular schools and restricting the limit of their schooling to the primary level.
Pre-Islamic Jahiliya Casting Long Ominous Shadow over Islam
During the colonial era, the Ulema forbade universal/ modern education introduced by the European colonizers to all Muslims regardless of sex – a truism that needs no elaboration. While decolonization saw some liberation in Islamic thoughts – thanks to the revivalist movements of some of the great champions of modern education like Rifa'a al-Tahtawi (1801-1873), Syed Ahmed (1817-1898, Chiragh Ali (1844-1895), Begum Ruqaiya (1880-1932), and others, their efforts failed to produce any significant result. A veritably ‘Jahiliya’ movement held the Islamic societies in its pincer grip since around the sixth century of its calendar. The movement waged under the euphemism of ‘Taqlid’ - a juristic notion of precedence aimed at freezing customs, traditions and knowledge at what was normative (Sunna) in the Prophet’s era, and thus appropriate many customs and notions of Jahiliya that overlapped with his era. Thus, the Ulema given to prostitution legalized it as ‘Mut’ah’ marriage, the advocates of Zihar (pre-Islamic custom of on the spot divorce) appropriated it in the ‘triple Talaq’ and the sympathizers of the rapist put a divine seal to an abdominal crime by pressurizing the rape victim to marry the rapist under the rape law. The orthodoxy, covert or unwitting agents of the pre-Islamic Jahiliya canonized a Sharia Law of Islam, which in many key areas contradicted the Qur’anic message . In their exaggerated self esteem, they privileged their own opinions over those of the Qur’an and declared, “Any Qur’anic verse which contradicts the opinions of ‘our masters’ will be construed as having been abrogated, or the rule of preference will be applied thereto. It is better that the verse is interpreted in such a way that it conforms to their opinion” . Thus, the pre-Islamic Jahiliya cast its ominous shadow over Islam for a long time in its history.
While the political history of Islam has see-sawed and had its own share of vicissitudes, the cloud of Jahiliya has persisted. The orthodox Islam has clung tenaciously to many of its pre-Islamic notions and rendered Islam a cross-breed of Jahiliya and Qur’anic message in the institutions of Hadith  and Classical Sharia Law .
Fast forwarding to this era, and training our argument to the captioned theme, it is the present day counterparts of the agents of Jahiliya who are bent on keeping Muslim women under complete domination of men – uneducated, incapable to earn a livelihood except by doing some menial or lowly job, barred from learning the arts and crafts of the era – song, music, artistic dance, swimming, all kinds of healthy sports and even such basic and inalienable rights as running, laughing or driving a car. God alone knows how these self proclaimed custodians of Islamic faith today will feature in their divine records.
A Pressing Social Factor Underpinning Some Ultra-Conservative Ulema Aversion to Intellectual Advancement of Muslim Women
There is conceivably a strong social reason for Muslim Ulema’ aversion to women’s universal/ modern education.
Largely the products of traditional madrasas, the Ulema are groomed in Islam’s theological discourses which evolved in the early medieval ages. Accordingly their worldview and general knowledge are informed by the ground realities of that era, and as such stand archaic and anachronistic today. This reduces their employment opportunities and earning potential, stunts their intellectual growth and purports to alienate them socially and intellectually from a woman who has gone through universal/ modern education. They therefore want to make sure that the Muslim girls they marry have no edge over them in knowledge of the world or earning potential and are no more intellectually gifted than they are. They also want to ensure total subordination and obedience from their wives as in the medieval ages and idealized in the books they have read – something that a girl with even primary level of education will detest. This may explain their insistence to prevent girls from studying beyond the primary levels.
What Is The Way Out?
The answer is obvious: The curriculum of the madrasas must be harmonized with that of general education board, so that there is no intellectual and cognitive dissonance between a male product of madrasa and a female product of modern education.
As for technically religious teaching, there could be one class through the secondary level for general orientation to Islam’s core spiritual tenets and definitive commandments. However, the general/ universal subjects taught (as in secular/ modern schools) must not be regarded as un-Islamic as “the ever expanding fields of universal sciences and diverse faculties of knowledge are nothing but the manifestations of the Words (Kalimat) of God (18:109, 31:27) that cannot be divided between Islamic and non-Islamic domains. As for the theological discourses, notably the Hadith literature… since this is a very technical field, it should be reserved for enlightened specialists who have attained sufficient maturity, knowledge, and training to distinguish between weak and reliable Hadith, and not to confuse them with the Word of God” . Thus, as for any other specialized subject – law, commerce, science, engineering, management and so forth, the Islamic theological disciplines and Sharia Law must be taught at college and university levels.
1. Gender Equality in Islam
3. The Classical Islamic Law (Islamic Sharia Law) is NOT a Word of God!
4. Ahmad Hussain, Doctrine of Ijma in Islam, New Delhi, 1992, p.16
5. The Grievous Impacts Of Hadith Sciences In The Later Centuries Of Islam – A Soul Searching Exercise And A Final Call To The Muslim Ulema And Intellectual Elite
6. Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed, Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009. p. 363
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.
Jahiliya indeed is the malady that afflicts much of the Islamic world today. Whether they call themselves Talibans or Jamaate-Islami or al-Shabaab or Hefazate-e-Islam, we can lump them all together as Jahiliyas. Moderate sane Muslims believe in gender equality and enthusiastically support women's education and rights to employment.