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Education of women in Islam

January 8, 2014

Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim

By Abu Amina Elias

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

Islam encourages women to be educated in the religion and in all beneficial matters in which they are capable. Seeking knowledge, especially religious knowledge, is an obligation upon all Muslims regardless of their gender.

Allah said:

وَقُل رَّبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا

Say: My Lord, increase me in knowledge.

Surat Ta Ha 20:114

Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

طَلَبُ الْعِلْمِ فَرِيضَةٌ عَلَى كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ

Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.

Source: Sunan Ibn Majah 224, Grade: Hasan

The Prophet set aside a special time for the Muslim women so they could attend circles of religious instruction.

Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri reported: A woman came to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, and said, “O Messenger of Allah, the men only benefit by your speech, so make a day for us when we can come to you and you teach us what Allah taught you.” The Prophet said:

اجْتَمِعْنَ فِي يَوْمِ كَذَا وَكَذَا فِي مَكَانِ كَذَا وَكَذَا

Gather on a certain day at a certain place.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 6880, Grade: Sahih

The Prophet promised a double reward for a man who has a servant girl and he educates her and then marries her.

Abu Musa reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِذَا أَدَّبَ الرَّجُلُ أَمَتَهُ فَأَحْسَنَ تَأْدِيبَهَا وَعَلَّمَهَا فَأَحْسَنَ تَعْلِيمَهَا ثُمَّ أَعْتَقَهَا فَتَزَوَّجَهَا كَانَ لَهُ أَجْرَانِ

If a man teaches his servant girl good manners, educates her in the best manner, then he emancipates her and marries her, he will have a double reward.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 3262, Grade: Sahih

The Prophet would teach his daughters about Islam and the attributes of Allah.

Abdul Hameed reported: His mother served some of the daughters of the Prophet and she told him the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, would teach his daughter, saying:

قُولِي حِينَ تُصْبِحِينَ سُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ وَبِحَمْدِهِ لَا قُوَّةَ إِلَّا بِاللَّهِ مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ كَانَ وَمَا لَمْ يَشَأْ لَمْ يَكُنْ أَعْلَمُ أَنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ أَحَاطَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عِلْمًا

Say in the morning: Glory be to Allah. I begin with praise of Him, there is no power but in Allah. What Allah wills comes to pass and what He does not will does not come to pass. I know that Allah has power over all things and He comprehends everything with knowledge.

Source: Sunan Abu Dawud 5075, Grade: Hasan

A great role model for the education of women is Aisha, the mother of the believers. She was one of the greatest scholars of Islam among the early Muslims. The learned companions of the Prophet would go to her for answers and advice.

Abu Musa reported:

مَا أَشْكَلَ عَلَيْنَا أَصْحَابَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ حَدِيثٌ قَطُّ فَسَأَلْنَا عَائِشَةَ إِلَّا وَجَدْنَا عِنْدَهَا مِنْهُ عِلْمًا

We never had a new problem occur to us as the companions of the Messenger of Allah except that we would ask Aisha and find with her some knowledge concerning it.

Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 3883, Grade: Sahih

Masruq reported: He was asked, “Was Aisha knowledgeable of the obligations?” Masruq said:

إِيْ وَالَّذِي نَفْسِي بِيَدِهِ لَقَدْ رَأَيْتُ مَشْيَخَةَ أَصْحَابِ مُحَمَّدٍ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ

By the one in whose hand is my soul, I saw the learned elders among the companions of Muhammad ask her about the religious obligations.

Source: Musnaf Ibn Abi Shayba 30387, Grade: Hasan

There are many other women who were scholars in the early age of Islam and through the succeeding eras until today.

  • Mu’adhah al-Adawiyyah was a narrator of prophetic traditions from the second generation of Islam who related sayings from Ali ibn Abu Talib, Aisha, and Hisham ibn Amir.
  • Amrah bint Abdur Rahman was a student of Aisha from the second generation of Islam who related sayings from Umm Salamah and Rafi ibn Khadeej and was considered a legal scholar in the city of Medina.
  • Hafsa bint Sireen was a student of Umm Atiyyah, Anas ibn Malik, and other companions of the Prophet. She was a legal scholar from the second generation of Islam and one of her students, Qatadah, is an important authority in the exegesis of the Quran.

There are so many women in the scholarly history of Islam, particularly those specializing in the prophetic traditions, that Dr. Akram Nadwi was able to compile the biographies of more than eight thousand women scholars in forty volumes.

Therefore, Muslims should take these great women scholars as role models. Islam commands us to seek knowledge and to value education regardless of gender. We should offer girls and women the opportunity to learn the religion as well as what will benefit them among the worldly sciences.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.