Yesterday I came across a tweet on Twitter which made some unpleasant generalisations about Muslim women and Islamic knowledge. It claimed that when men study the Shari’ah, it leads to “More ibadah > more humility > teaching others > dawah > serving the community” while when women do the same, they end up becoming hijabi fashion bloggers, then eventually taking off the hijab and dating non-Muslim men. I became aware of this because someone quoted him and noted that they were disgusted with his remarks, but I also discovered that a few of the people I follow also follow him. The man is not noted as a scholar or speaker on Islam but is a business copyrighter and branding consultant of some sort based in Dubai, and his website consists of endorsements by various customers. When this comment was challenged, another individual said that it was not all Muslim women who studied Islam that were described but just “SOAS students”, which is also a slur on a great many of them.
SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies, is part of the University of London, England, and as the name implies, attracts a large ethnic minority student base, including Muslims, a lot of whom are politically engaged. The comment seems to be based on the example of one woman on Twitter who studied Islamic studies at SOAS, wore hijab until a year or so ago then stopped. That doesn’t mean she is dating non-Muslims (or indeed anyone) and certainly not that all Muslim women who study there and are practising Muslims on arrival, or graduation, stop practising or start doing things well-known to be haraam (forbidden in Islam) shortly after. Some students are Muslim, some are not, some are practising to one degree or another, some are not, just like in any British university.
The tweet mentioned in my introduction shows great ignorance about the importance for Muslims of gaining Islamic knowledge. In this day and age, the great majority of Islamic scholars are men, and the majority of Islamic colleges of learning only take men and boys. Typically when a community decides to establish a centre of learning it will be to teach imams and they are male, and a college for girls will be an afterthought. The reasons typically are that separate facilities are needed for boys and girls (or men and women) so that they mix as little as possible if at all, and it is a lot easier to just take one sex and that usually means males. This puts women at a great disadvantage in the community because, among other things, you will have a whole generation of teachers of Islam teaching about matters of physical purity who have little idea of what it is like to be a woman or how the female body works, or arbitrating a Muslim divorce case having never discussed the issues at stake with women — they may, however, have imbibed prejudices against women from hearing complaints from men over cups of tea or dinner over many years. A further reason why it is important for women to have access to Islamic learning is that they will be able to teach their children, which is important as they are likely to spend more time with them than their fathers who, regardless of their level of knowledge, will probably be out working when the mother might not be, especially when the children are very young. These are just a few of the many reasons. All in all, a community in which everyone has knowledge is of greater quality than one in which only 50% of the population do.
There are, of course, cases in which it is blameworthy to seek Islamic knowledge — anyone who does so in order to compete with scholars or argue with fools, according to a hadith, will go to Hell, as will someone who became a scholar to gain fame and admiration. However, we do not presume that this is the reason why anyone studied the religion. Early Islamic history is full of examples of very worthy female scholars, some of whom were the wives of well-known male scholars and some of whom gave public lectures attended by men and women, and some of whose students were well-known imams such as al-Shafi’i. They were particularly renowned as transmitters of hadith and it has been observed that none of them were liars, of which there were a large number among male hadith transmitters, for various reasons (e.g. sectarianism, raconteurs who used hadith as entertainment). Some of these are scholars of the salaf, and excepting the Sahabiyyat (whose knowledge of the deen came from living with the Prophet, sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, and his Companions rather than from studying in a school), they are the best of women in Islam, yet according to this copywriter chap in Dubai, they should be considered the worst! How so?
There is a marked tendency nowadays among Muslim men on the Internet towards imbibing ideas from the alt-right and blaming ‘uppity’ women for their failures or the fact that they cannot get married or find a ‘good’ submissive wife. This is not entirely new; a few years ago articles from the “Save the Males” site (run by Henry Makow, inventor of the game Scruples) appeared on Muslim bulletin boards on a regular basis and nowadays Jordan Peterson is the favoured reactionary misogynist. They extol the virtues of patriarchy which they say is the Islamic model for the family and for how men and women should relate to each other, yet they do not ask if they are the sort of patriarch anyone would want in charge of their affairs. They are similar in mentality to the so-called hoteps among the Black community, men who hark back to a past in which men were kings and women were their willing and obedient servants. (They often idealise ancient Egypt, hence the name.)
And when vulgarity and misogyny meet, you get men who show no respect to women, however religious or chaste they might be. Every woman is a whore except their mother; there is always some reason to doubt that she is worthy, no matter if she does all her prayers, knows the Qur’an by heart and wears the requisite loose dress and headscarf or even covers her face. If she’s not corrupt now, she will be in the future; they all are. They will fault a woman if she is ignorant or if she has knowledge. Since we are expected in Islam to think the best of people, especially other Muslims, and not entertain undue suspicion or the claims of backbiters and gossips, we should not be listening to or chatting with a misogynist of this type who does not think of the implications of the things he says. If you are a man, how do you think your wife would feel if she found you bantering with a man who shows open disrespect for her and others like her? How would you feel if a white (non-Muslim) co-worker you thought was a friend kept an online feed that was full of material portraying your people as drug-dealers or child-molesters? Show her, and your sisters, mother, and other women some respect, and cut these men out of your circle.
Image source: Abdel Hassouni, sourced from Wikimedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 (BY-SA 4.0) licence.
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