By Sarwar Md Saifullah Khaled
26 October 2013
The episode of the murder attempt by the Taliban on Malala Yousafzai, a 14 years old school girl, keen to be institutionally educated in the beautiful Swat valley of North Western Pakistan should not trigger a misleading idea about the attitude of Islam towards female institutional education. Malala's heart is as beautiful and as pure as the natural beauty of the Swat valley and likewise the beauty of Islamic attitude towards male and female education. Malala, a child prodigy, could beautifully and correctly understand the meaning of the cause that Islam stands for which the Taliban failed to understand. Such a brutal act committed by the Taliban will cause them lose the last of their sympathizer, if there is any, not only because of their such kind of brutality committed against a minor but also because of their lack of understanding of the religion they are fighting to establish. By this dastardly attempt to murder Malala the Taliban have made it crystal clear that they don't at all understand the meaning of the religion they fight for. It is an act of insult to Islam. Perhaps because of this the entire Islamic world and people of other religions and rank and file pricked by conscience around the world have justifiably stood by the side of Malala. Malala is a symbol of Islamic civilization and the former Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, while in office, has rightly termed the attack on Malala an attack on civilization. This we will understand better if we look at Islam's attitude towards education.
It is nowhere mentioned in either Al Qur'an or in the Traditions that woman or girls are prohibited from acquiring institutional knowledge. On the contrary, the first revealed five ayahs of Al Qur'an reads: "Read! In the name of your Lord and Cherisher, Who creates - creates man, from a clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Bounteous - Who teaches by the pen, - teaches man that which he knew not" (Qur'an, 96:1-5). Moreover, a Tradition reads: "It is compulsory for every Muslim (men and women) to search for knowledge" (Hadith: Ibn Maza), and further the Prophet (SM) advises: "Search for knowledge even if you are to go to remote China". This is enough to describe how much importance is ascribed by Islam to male and female Muslims to acquire knowledge. So can one claim that Malala is wrong as a Muslim girl?
The first instruction in Al Qur'an is neither Salat nor Fasting nor is paying the poor due (Zakat) or Hajj but that is reading - acquiring knowledge. Islam has ascribed the highest importance on learning and acquiring knowledge. Prophet (SM) has given utmost importance to acquiring knowledge and asked the parents to educate their children - male and female. Moreover, in the case of married women the duty of the husband is to impart religious education to his spouse. In case he is unable to do that and the spouse is willing to be educated then according to Islam the husband should allow her to go to an appropriate place to acquire knowledge. This appropriate place may be an educational institution as the case may be. But we have found in Bangladesh that a cruel so called Muslim husband has chopped off all the five fingers of the right hand of his spouse Haowa Akhtar Jui of Narsingdi on 4 December 2011 for being desirous of going to school for education. By the grace of Almighty Allah the indomitably energetic and brave Jui has successfully passed the HSC examination held in 2012 from Narsingdi Government College, Bangladesh, with her right-hand fingers chopped off. She has earned the sympathy and cooperation of all concerned and the brute husband was cursed by all.
"Islam does not permit any disparity between daughter and son in case of their rearing up" (Hadith). A time at which women were used to be ill-treated and female infants were used to be buried no sooner than their birth, the Muslim women were skilled in the realm of medicine, science and religion because Islam declares that each and every woman will have to be educated - this is the fundamental right of the women in Islam (Zakir Naik, Lecture, 2010, P.429). Moreover, Prophet (SM) agreed to the proposal of some eager women to educate them himself. He certainly used to go himself and sometimes he used to send his Sahabas (companions) to educate them (Hadith: Bukhari). Allah asks the Prophet (SM): "Say: Are those equal, those who know and those who know not"? (Qur'an, 39:9). Al Qur'an further reads: "Allah will raise up, to (suitable) ranks (and degrees), those of you who believe and who have been granted knowledge" (Qur'an, 58:11). So naturally the question arises whether the Taliban who have shot down and grievously injured and wanted to kill Malala are truly and practically the believer in: "I (Allah) have perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and chosen for you Islam as your religion" (Qur'an, 5:3). This act of vandalism of the Taliban has earned worldwide condemnation for them and raised Malala "to (suitable) ranks (and degrees)" which has earned for her universal sympathy and applause. Now after two years of the incident, 16 years old Malala clad in Al Shariah dress sits in the UN Head Quarters in the arrays of world heads of states and governments as a symbol of universal rights for education for all. There at the first anniversary of the "Global Education First Initiative" Malala demands books in lieu of tanks, pen in lieu of rifles and teachers in lieu of soldiers from the advanced countries for the terror affected countries of the world, instead of seeking trial and punishment of the ignorant that shot her on the head. Here lies the greatness of Malala soul. Islam favours forgiveness and peace.
Malala and Jui the child prodigies have done their duty faithfully and taught the world that Islam stands for the betterment and illumination of human soul. The derailed Muslims should learn from their sacrifice that a fight for the just and right causes which Islam teaches can earn praise even from those who do not belong to Islam. It has been reported that the Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations and Hollywood star Angelina Jolie has claimed a Nobel Prize for Malala. I don't know how much of the Islamic teachings Jolie has gathered but it is a clear indication that she has grasped the true essence of the greatness of the cause that Malala fights for, even though she comes from an obscure origin in the remote valley of Sowat of North Western Pakistan. It is not for the first time that Malala is being internationally saluted for her brilliant deed of raising head against the Taliban oppression of women folks. She has already earned a number of awards. She had been nominated for the International Children Peace Award in 2011 and in the same year she received the Pakistan National Peace Award from the hands of then Pakistani Prime Minister Sayeed Yusuf Raja Gilani. Recently on 12 October 2013 she was decorated with the prestigious Shakharov award of the European Parliament. This testifies to the truth: "That man (and woman) can have nothing but what he (she) strives for; that (the fruit of) his (her) striving will soon come in sight; then he (she) will be rewarded with a reward complete" (Qur'an, 53:39-41). This ayah does not limit the reward for mankind in this world alone; it implicates the reward due to mankind in the hereafter also. So Allah has honoured Malala for her right and great deed.
Now it is up to the members of the rest of the Muslim and conscientious people of the world - men and women - to carry forward the achievements of Malala and Jui so that the venomous snap of anti-Islamic and derailed Islamic forces in the name of Islam cannot do harm to the religion and raise their head to undo the favours that mankind has been blessed with. It is not a Nobel Prize or any other prize that will honour Malala much more than upholding the cause for which Malala is fighting for and became the victim of the ignorant 'religious' ones. Malala delivers a message and imparts a lesson for those who want to tread the right religious track.
Sarwar Md Saifullah Khaled is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre