Women and Islamic Movement
Raising Muslim Children as Social Activists
By Yousuf al Qaradawi
I must say frankly here that Islamic work has been the scene of spreading hardline ideas that now govern the relationship between man and woman, adopting the strictest opinions to be ever found on this issue. This is what I saw for myself in many conferences and symposiums even in Europe and the United States. For several years in a row, I attended the annual conferences of the Muslim Student Union in the United States and Canada in the mid 1970s. Both men and women attended the lectures and debates, listening to comments, questions, answers and discussions in every major Islamic issue, including the academic, social, educational and political. The only sessions restricted to women were those allocated to dealing with the questions that concerned women alone.
However, I attended some conferences in the United States and Europe in the 1980s, and found that women were kept away from a good part of the important lectures and debates. Some of the women also complained that they had become bored with the lectures that focus on woman’s role, rights, responsibilities and position in Islam and had come to regard the repetition of those lectures as a sort of punishment imposed on them. I denounced that in more than one conference I attended, telling the participants that the rule in worship and religious learning was participation and that there never existed in Islam a mosque that had been reserved to women alone and not visited by men. Women attended the sessions in which the Prophet taught Muslims the religion. They also participated in (or at least attended) the Juma’a (Friday), the two Ids (bairams) and congregational prayers together with men. They asked questions about matters related to women without being prevented from learning the religion by their shyness, as Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) herself said. The books of Sunnah abound in questions that were directed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) by women, including those asked by women who wanted answers to questions that concerned only themselves and those asked by women on behalf of all women, as the woman who said “O Messenger of Allah, I have been sent to you by women”. Women also asked the Prophet to allocate a separate day for them that they would have to themselves without the men, so that they might have the time and privacy to ask whatever they liked without being inhibited by the presence of men. This was another privilege given to women besides the public lessons they attended together with men. The problem of women’s Islamic work is that it is men who direct it, not women, and men are careful to maintain their grip on it, so they would not allow female leadership to emerge. Men impose themselves on women’s Islamic work, including even women’s meetings, as they exploit the shyness of reticent Muslim women and never allow them to take command of their own affairs. This way, no female talents are given a chance to prove themselves in the pursuits of the Islamic Movement or to be seasoned by experience and struggle and taught in the school of life by trial and error. However, our Muslim sisters are not wholly free of blame, for they have surrendered to this sorry state of affairs’ contenting themselves with a life of ease and tranquillity in which men thought and chose for them. It is high time they took the initiative, opened wide the doors of effort and work for the Call and shut up those self-appointed female voices that have imposed themselves on the doctrine, laws and values of this Nation. These strange voices, loud as they are, represent only a defeated, downtrodden minority that has no weight both in religion and in worldly affairs. I was invited to give a lecture to female students of an Algiers university last year. As is customary after a lecture, I started taking questions from the girls in written or oral forms. Some young men were present, and one of them took it upon himself to collect the questions, sort them out and pass along to me what he thought should be answered and abandon what should not. I objected to his conduct, saying, “Why does not one of the girls do that on behalf of her colleagues”?
“Why do you men have to ‘poke your nose’ in women’s affairs ?. Take your hands off them! Let them do whatever they like, sorting out their own questions and choosing what they deem fit and then making one of their kind read them aloud”, I said. Girls were elated by my interruption and one of them hurriedly came forward to assume the role that one of the men who had escorted me to the gathering was playing.
By Wahida Chishti Valiante
Over 1400 years ago, the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Mohammed (Pbuh) by Allah (God Almighty) as a guidance and mercy to humanity, which also included social, political, economic and legal reforms. The first society to receive guidance from Prophet Muhammad was [the city of] Makkah. This was a society [which worshipped] pagan gods and had many social vices; it was run by very rich and powerful individuals.
At the time of his Prophethood, Muhammad was a married family man with hectic business obligations that included extensive travelling. How busy the Prophet must have been! Yet he was not too busy to uphold his individual moral responsibility for doing good works in order to make a difference in the lives of those who lived under very difficult social and political conditions. Women, children, seniors, and slaves were among those who had to bear the indignity of being poor, weak, and without any human or legal rights.
The Qur’an stresses doing good work and the Prophet, as a role model, provided practical examples of how an individual can make a difference, even in difficult situations such as he encountered in Makkah. With the guidance and encouragement of his uncle, the Prophet was involved in the social, political and civic matters of his community from a very young age.
He was often called upon to be a mediator and a peacemaker. Because of his honesty, people trusted him with their business transactions and valuables. His guardian was his uncle, since he lost both his parents when he was an infant. This shows how even extended family members can have an important role to play in the life of young children.
Individual, social, political and civic involvement in the affairs of society is inherent in Islam. The Qur’an states that no one is above the law, not even a ruler in whose trust a nation is placed, or a parent in whose trust the child is placed. Allah does not control human beings, but holds them responsible for their acts and deeds. The Qur’an guides humanity by appealing to our intellect and to the rational aspect of our personality that has free will. These are the tools needed to resolve political, personal and social conflicts, in order to achieve justice and equality for all.
Therefore, Muslim parents must get involved in teaching their children that one person’s effort can, and does, matter. This is why Muslim parents should begin teaching children from a very early age their civic responsibility as viceregents [administrative deputies] of Allah.
In a family, at the most fundamental level of interpersonal relationships, lies the foundation for social and political discourse. Any time there is authority and power, there is the opportunity for politics. At the highest level, this means national and international governments. At the lowest level, it means family, in which parents can teach their children to learn to resolve conflict through dialogue and negotiation. This means learning to be effective political and social activists.
The family is the focus of most basic forms of conventional relationships. Parents must teach their children the lessons of participation, individual responsibility and accountability through the art of daily give-and-take.
Children must learn to look outward, expanding the lessons learned from family dynamics to involvement in the greater community and the world. The training of a future generation of social and political Muslim activists will depend upon the lessons taught at home today.
Suggestions for Parents
Every religious lesson must include an understanding of social, political, economic and legal issues. All are interconnected for developing social consciousness.
Hold regular meetings and discussion sessions with your children on family matters. They will learn negotiation, participation, and involvement.
Hold regular family discussions to discuss local and international social and political issues. [Children] will learn that they are very much a part of the human race.
Discuss and debate the campaign issues and the stands of political candidates. If you do not like any of the candidates, explore the reasons and emphasize the process.
Believe that you can make the difference and effect change and show your children how to do it. If you are upset about a local issue, do something about it. If you are unhappy about the school curriculum, mount a petition to have it revised. Do not simply accept the status quo. If you do, your children will too.
[Mrs Valiante is vice-chairperson of CIC, a family counsellor and social activist.]
Courtesy The Canadian Islamic Congress Friday Bulletin