Tuesday, October 18, 2016
How can we support/ promote female scholarship? (Note: this will all come from a very traditional/ conservative/ Orthodox perspective bc I always do.)
- Acknowledge that for many, many decades, Muslim women have *not* had the same resources, access, and opportunities for seeking Islamic knowledge that men have.
This is due to a variety of factors - whether it is outright exclusion (such as from Medinah University - and yeah, I know this is pretty much just relevant to Salafis, but let's face it, a huge percentage of Western shuyookh today are graduates from there and it has had a huge impact on Islam in the West); limitations both legal, financial, and familial (foreign women can't study in Saudi without a mahram, who is not allowed to legally work while residing there; many women can't support themselves financially if they choose to study full-time at a traditional seminary, and few have support systems that will take care of them financially; many women have parents or spouses who disapprove or outright prohibit them from studying the Deen in such a manner; those who do have supportive parents/ spouses might end up pregnant or already have children, without the financial or extended family support network to facilitate full time serious studies).
This doesn't mean btw that *no* women have been able to pursue serious Islamic studies from traditional seminaries, or that there are no men who support their wives in seeking knowledge - obviously this is not true - but it is a very serious factor that has affected the average Muslim woman’s ability to do so.
- Understand that many of the opportunities available today are very recent iniatives - online institutes have flourished over the last 5-10 years alHamdulillah but that doesn't change the fact that for decades before that, they didn't exist (bc the Internet didn't).
Growing up, my dream was to be able to study Islam the way my father got to, and the way that it was already assumed and known that my brothers could if they wanted to. That never happened because solely by virtue of being a female, I was not logistically able to go to the same institutes. (And the one opportunity that I did have, after having earned a sponsored scholarship to study Arabic overseas, was promptly nixed because of my then-husband.)
- Supporting women to study the Deen doesn't mean saying, "Look you can study online so easily, go ahead! But make sure that you cook, clean, and raise my children satisfactorily and without complaint, and make sure that I don't feel neglected or inconvenienced in any way, shape, or form."
It means recognizing that women with children in particular are in need of financial and domestic support (whether that means housekeeping, a babysitter or extended family to help with the kids, or otherwise) as well as emotional support (the husband making personal sacrifices in order to provide the time and space for the wife to study).
- Supporting female scholarship means that when you find out about women with Islamic knowledge, seek to have them included and involved in the community - both amongst other women and with the entire community at large.
Yes, some female teachers prefer to only teach other women, and that's fine. But there are also many who are happy to engage in more public da'wah roles, to speak to mixed audiences, to share their knowledge and their unique perspectives to everyone.
Don't assume that a 'pious' female scholar will automatically be against mixed gender audiences. Many female teachers today, such as Sh Tamara Gray, Sh Muslema Purmul, and numerous others have no problem appearing in public.
Don't claim to support female teachers but, when they are to be a part of an event or program, sideline them or relegate them to some corner or treat them with any less respect and seriousness than you would show a male teacher in their position.
Don't assume that just because you don't know who the female teachers are, that they don't exist. Don't say, "oh, well, where are their organizations then if they've been doing so much?" Make a damn effort to learn about them, especially if you yourself are a part of a da'wah organization or masjid board and in a place to build platforms for all teachers of Islamic knowledge. And once you know about them, support them and promote them in the same way that you do with male du'aat and shuyookh.
- Acknowledge the female da'ees, teachers, and shaykhaat. Call them by the titles they deserve - whether it be Ustadha or Shaykha or Aalimah or otherwise. Enough of this "sister so-and-so" when the "sister" has spent 10 years acquiring Islamic knowledge, with the appropriate ijaazas and experience, while Bro Fresh over here who just got out of Medinah and still wet-behind-the-ears is adoringly addressed as "ya shaykh!"
(And don't give me the "a sign of modesty and piety is to not want to be called by a title" - y'all still be calling Bro Fresh "shaykh" and I don't hear anyone questioning his piety or modesty.)
- For the men in particular, if your daughter/ sister/ wife/ niece/ any woman at all that you know expresses a serious interest in pursuing Islamic studies, help her in any way that you can. Find out where she can study, how you can facilitate it for her (financially or otherwise), make sure that her marriage contract contains the clause that she *must* be allowed to continue and complete her Islamic education, and that yes, she has the right to *not* have kids until that happens.
The first time in my life that I was able to complete anything resembling a formal Islamic education was when my father took the time to drive me, for 30-45 mins each way, after work, three times a week, to the Islamic center where I could take classes to complete a diploma. My mother watched my daughter for me on the nights that she didn't come with me to class. The second time I was able to take Islamic classes, was because my now-husband encouraged me to do so and paid for them when I couldn't, and I was in a situation where I had the time and space to complete those classes comfortably.