Jahiliyyah

Before you listen to those petitioning young Muslim women not to go to college and university, ask yourself who will benefit from that decision. I confess that it makes me angry that we have highly educated people amongst us — graduates themselves — actively discouraging young women from studying. Why? Who gains from their illiteracy? Does our community gain anything? Does society as a whole? Do they as individuals?

The purpose of our deen is to create a healthy and safe environment for all. So why not steer young people, male and female, towards a life serving this noble aim? Does society not need nurses, male and female? Does it not need clinical psychologists? Mental health practitioners? Dentists? Inspiring teachers? Do we not need researchers? Ethical software platforms? Capable journalists? Influential business women? Architects? Scientists? Lawyers, advocates, judges?

What is this primitive mindset which causes us to instruct young women to return to their homes and contribute nothing to society? A complete misunderstanding of your religion for a start. I appreciate there is an alt-bro movement in full swing nowadays, which views highly educated women as a scourge on their families and community. “The trouble with Muslim women today,” begins each wheezing lament online, and here follows the long litany of their faults.

Even if your view is that a woman’s role is as mother alone, taking care of the home, how will your children be harmed by an educated mother, capable of teaching her children well? And how will you be harmed as her spouse by intelligent conversation and a deep understanding of faith? How will her friends and companions be harmed by her learning?

It’s true that I have often opined that my university education was of little personal benefit to me in contributing to my professional development. But that was an experience specific to me, due to biological and psychosocial factors beyond my control. I am not a valid case-study by which the world should be judged. It’s true that not everyone will benefit from a higher education. That goes for most realms of life, though. And yes, of course, these new environments can pose challenges if you’re not grounded in your sense of self.

An argument against young women going to university posed by one learned graduate is that she herself knew so many sisters in her day who got mixed up with boys and abandoned their faith altogether. A tragedy. But ponder this: many others found faith at university, she and her husband included. Me too.

In the year I took up this path as an undergraduate twenty-four years ago, several other students also converted. Two were women: one Welsh, the other African-American; both remain very active advocates in the Muslim community to this day. Others of Muslim heritage, previously non-practising, took up their faith for the first time at university. And I’ve personally known many Jews, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus who jumped aboard the caravan too — highly educated men and women, responding to the calls of their soul.

Don’t listen to those demanding an illiterate generation, selling you a dumbed-down vision of faith, yearning after that romantic untainted society of old, which never existed. Our faith tradition, in better days, long valued educated men and women. There was no distinction between religious and secular knowledge; they were intertwined, because they are intertwined.

Educate your daughters. Let them pursue higher degrees to rise to the top of their profession, if that will benefit society. Encourage your wife to study, and your mother too. Open books in your home. Have intelligent conversations with your family. Cherish the companion at your side and her strong opinions. Stop arguing about the mundane and start arguing about the profound instead: put your beliefs to the test and see who has the strongest proofs.

Don’t listen to men and women of minuscule faith, petitioning you to infantilise yourself, closing the door on what you are called to: to serve your family, community, society and all mankind. Islam is the opposition of Jahiliyyah (ignorance). In its practice, it promotes not only faith, but knowledge, reason, justice and the realisation of a human’s full potential. Let us not return to Jahiliyyah, please.

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