By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
(Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah
Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009)
21 January 2019
Shah Ahmed Shafi, the head cleric/ leader
of a growing Islamic organization of Bangladesh, ‘Hefazat e Islam’ made the
following declaration during the annual gathering of parents of students of a
renowned madrasa on Jan. 11.
"Don't send your daughters to schools
and colleges after grade 4 or 5. If you send your daughters after that, they
will become disobedient and elope with men,"
The remark received severe criticism and
condemnation from a large body of intellectuals and Ulama of Bangladesh which
can boast of a moderate / secular version of Islam.
Muhibul Hasan Chowdhury, the state Minister
for education of Bangladesh remarked:
“if anyone tries to deprive women from education, it is
This article is a rejoinder to the learned
minister’s mild remarks and aims to expound the grave consequences and
religious questionability of the cleric’s quoted statement and suggests
legislative deterrent against any public declaration of views that are
subversive of its Muslim women’s human rights, Islamic rights and
Anyone who imposes any restriction on
women’s education on Islamic religious ground acts against the message and
spirit of Islam. Islam does not put any such restriction against women.
Education is a bounty of Allah which is open to all regardless of gender. To
deprive Muslim women of this bounty is to deny them of a great bounty of Allah.
The truth is, restricting women from
developing their education potentials deprives them of their universal human
rights, greatly reduces their scope or potential in the job market and thus
makes them completely dependent on their husbands or male guardians for their
livelihood. It also hampers their intellectual growth and reduces them to the
lowliest of creature, for the Qur’an says: “Indeed the worst kind of all living
creatures in God’s sight are the deaf and dumb, who do not use reason” (8:22).
It is undeniable that grossly undereducated
women (who barely crossed the primary level) are likely to be completely
submissive or ‘obedient’ to their husbands in all matters of life and bear
silently all kinds of domestic injustices and abuses as and when inflicted.
This was normative in human society until recent times. But Gender dynamics
have changed drastically over the past decades and Muslim women all over the
world are claiming and attaining rights equal or close to those of men within
the framework of Islamic principles. As a Muslim country, Bangladesh has made
enormous strides in promoting universal education among girls – thanks to the
enlightened leadership and vision of its Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. Now if
a prominent religious leader makes a public statement against women’s right to
education, he is undermining her epoch-making efforts and grievously misguiding
In Bangladesh Muslim women have to compete
with women of other religions in all fields of employment, professions and
private and public sectors. Therefore, any attempt to prevent them from fully
developing their education potentials will greatly handicap them against
non-Muslim women who do not face any such restrictions. On top of this if they
are made to wear full veil that their non-Muslim counterparts do not wear, the
Burqa clad semi-educated Muslim women of Bangladesh will only qualify to do
menial jobs which requires no educational background, technical skill or
interaction with mixed gender. So one wonders if such reportedly great scholar
– who also insists on full veiling of girls, is restoring Islamic values, or
conspiring against Muslim women folk and Islam or is dictated by some
ultra-conservative quarters or has some other motives –God knows best.
No doubt, one has the freedom to express
his views but if such views put the Bangladeshi Muslim women at a great
handicap viz a viz their other civilisational counterparts, deprive them of
acquiring a universal bounty of Allah, make them ‘obedient’ (and silent)
against domestic abuses, reduce their earning potential to those in the lowest
category of job and render them unfit to guide their children in education –
such opinions are grievously detrimental to the society and must be strongly
censored and opposed as Bangladeshi intellectuals including some enlightened
Ulama have done. But since the said cleric is reported to have massive
following and is proclaiming his views in public meetings, time and again, laws
need to be framed to prevent him and any other ultra-conservative cleric or
misogynistic quarter from expressing such views in any public gatherings.
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.
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Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women
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The legal remedy could be to legislate a fundamental right of all
children to school education and making it available free to those who cannot
afford it. Also, make it a punishable offence for the parent, if they fail to
send their children to school.
In a democracy, the right to freedom of speech is too sacrosanct to
compromise and you cannot do much about people speaking their mind. To
legislate against such freedom may be worse than the disease. It amounts to an
admission that the people of Bangla Desh do not deserve the rights in a
democracy, and what they need is an authoritarian rule.