When you see a hijab (head covering)-clad woman walk by, what is the first thought that crosses your mind?
“People are shocked to see that a Hijabi can be smart,” Dr. Ali, an Ophthalmologist from California, who has worn a headscarf her whole life, tells me. She describes the incredulity that sweeps over certain people when she walks in as their doctor.
What many don´t know is that education is obligatory upon every Muslim woman and man. Every single Muslim woman I know is beyond talented and extremely capable. In my direct circle, there are doctors, teachers, journalists, engineers, lawyers, and psychotherapists, to name a few.
Despite the false narratives plaguing much of the news media, Islam places strong and equal emphasis on the education and academic excellence of women and men alike. In fact, one of the very first Qur´anic prayers that Muslim girls and boys are taught is, “O my Lord, increase me in knowledge,” (20:115) a prayer recited before any kind of learning.
Today, notorious political groups such as the Taliban have unfortunately tainted the beautiful teachings of Islam for their own twisted and draconian agendas. Just the fact that they won’t allow women to go to school proves that they are far-flung from the true teachings of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). This man of God came to a nation that treated its women like savages and handed the torch of power to them by providing them incredible rights and safety. Education was an integral part of that golden package.
He declared, for example,
“It is the duty of every Muslim man and Muslim woman to acquire knowledge.”
When 7th Century Arabia did not possess a single center for secular education (much like most of the world at that time), he encouraged Muslims to “seek knowledge even if you have to go to China.” This is no small feat. 1400 years ago, when traveling didn’t involve cars and airplanes, a journey from Arabia to China meant venturing across the globe for months, trekking perilous paths, and navigating unapologetic waters along the way, all for the sake of education.
But it didn’t stop there. Education, the Prophet Muhammad taught, did not end with a degree. No – as long as there is life, there is learning. “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave,” he´s recorded to have famously said. He emphasized the bridging between secular and spiritual sciences in an amazing way.
What if I were to tell you that the first ever University was founded by a Muslim woman? The University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco, was founded by Fatima al-Fihri. This is acknowledged by the Guinness World Records and UNESCO. Fatima was extremely passionate about education and decided to create an educational hub offering advanced studies in various subjects, both religious and secular. Its popularity grew and soon people from far and wide were travelling to attain knowledge here; it runs to this day. The concept of a university as we know it today is thanks to a Muslim woman!
The worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, has repeatedly emphasized the education of Ahmadi Muslim women. At the keynote address he made at the UNESCO headquarters on October 8, 2019, His Holiness explained that the Holy Prophet of Islam (Peace and blessings be on him) stated:
“If a person had three daughters, whom they educated and guided in the best way, they would be sure to enter paradise. This is contrary to the extremist’s claim that a violent Jihad and the slaughter of non-Muslims will take a person to heaven. The Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings be upon him) taught that the way to enter heaven was by educating and instilling moral values within girls. Based upon these teachings Ahmadi Muslim girls across the world are educated and are excelling in various fields. They are becoming doctors, teachers and architects and entering other professions through which they can serve humanity. We ensure that girls are given equal access to education as boys. Hence, the literacy rate of Ahmadi Muslim girls in the developing world is at least 99%.”
Ahmadi Muslim women are pursuing education and careers for a much greater purpose than simply earning an income. We are here to serve humanity, all while breaking Hijab and Islam stereotypes. It is not in spite of Islam that we strive to attain education, but because of it.
by Rija Ahsan
Rija Ahsan is a teacher, educated and formerly employed in Canada. She is currently based in Milpitas, CA.