The shooting of the fifteen year old Pakistani girl last October, Malala Yusufzai shocked and horrified many across the world - Muslim and non-Muslim. The dominant narrative that has been promoted by the mainstream media, human rights organisations, and Western governments and politicians is that the attempted assassination of this young girl by ‘Islamists’ in Pakistan was due to their opposition of her women’s rights activism and advocacy of education for girls in the country. Following the shooting, many institutions and personalities rallied to her cause, praising her for bringing women’s education to global attention, including former British Prime Minister and UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On the 12th of July, Malala was invited to address a gathering of youth at the UN headquarters in New York where she advocated the need for free compulsory education for every child.
The cause of improving the educational rights of girls in Pakistan and globally is a noble one. However, far from noble are the shameless attempts by Western governments, institutions and politicians to exploit this young girl, her struggle, and the horrific attack against her for their own political goal of intensifying the propagation of Western secular, liberal values to women and girls in the Muslim world through education, and to weaken their Islamic identity and values. The cynical nature of their support of Malala and lack of true concern for the educational rights of Muslim women is demonstrated by their hypocritical stance and silence towards hijab and niqab bans in secular states such as France, Belgium, Turkey, and Uzbekistan that have deprived Muslim girls and women of a good schooling simply for abiding by their Islamic dress. The question should surely be asked - where were the strong voices of opposition of such secular states and politicians to the European Court of Human Rights’ Judgements that ruled against the right of Muslim women in France and Turkey to seek a good education while also adhering to their Islamic beliefs?
Malala’s story has also been used to further fuel and re-enforce the age-old myth that Islam and Islamic rule oppresses women and deprives them of their rights and that they are in need of Western-style liberation. It is a narrative that has been employed historically and over decades, continuing into modern times to maintain Western secular hegemony over the region by fighting the resurgence of Islam internationally in order to prevent the establishment of an Islamic system in the Muslim world that would threaten Western political and economic interests. However, it is not Islam but Western colonial foreign policy that has stripped women and girls in Pakistan and many other Muslim countries of a valuable education. The ‘War on Terror’ and occupation of Afghanistan has created a constant climate of insecurity and instability in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the region, marked with frequent drone attacks and bombs that have killed thousands over the years, including countless women, girls, and children. A UN Committee on the Rights of Children report stated that hundreds of children are reported to have died, “as a result of attacks and air strikes by the US military forces in Afghanistan” between 2008 and 2012, due to the use of “indiscriminate force”. Where are the rights of these children? Clearly their deaths are acceptable collateral damage to such colonial governments for the sake of securing their interests in the region. Such occupation, war and instability has also generated a lawless environment riddled with crime, abductions, and rape. All this has lead to many parents preventing their daughters from travelling far from their homes, including to school. Furthermore, how can states plagued with instability, destruction, and insecurity ever provide a good quality of education to their citizens? After more than 10 years of occupation, almost 9 out of 10 women in Afghanistan remain illiterate. Hence, it is the destructive Western colonial foreign policy that has not only robbed girls of an education, but robbed them of their lives and dignity, and stands as one of the main obstacles to their effective schooling.
Coupled with this, secular Western-backed regimes in the Muslim lands have allowed the influx of liberal culture into their states through their entertainment and advertising industries as well as through implementing a secular education system. This culture that sanctifies sexual freedom; sexualizes, objectifies and degrades women; and encourages men to treat women according to their desires has contributed to the high levels of sexual harassment, bullying and rape in the schools and streets of countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Egypt. This has caused many girls and women to feel reluctant to venture outside of their homes to seek an education. In addition, the flawed Western capitalist system has destroyed the economy of countries in the Muslim world, burdening them with huge debts due to heavy interest based loans and failed economic policies, such that more is spent on debt-repayments than education, healthcare, infrastructure and other public services. The result is insufficient and crumbling schools, poor numbers and training of teachers, and lack of necessary books and equipment. Furthermore, the impoverishment of the people through capitalist policies imposed upon the Muslim lands by Western states and their institutions such as the IMF as well as the lack of free schooling has caused many parents to reluctantly prioritise education for their sons over their daughters. Not surprising therefore that more than 60% of women in Pakistan and around 50% of women in Bangladesh and Egypt are illiterate.
It is therefore Western foreign policy and the capitalist, secular system that has been imposed upon our Muslim lands which has proven to be the greatest obstacle to providing good quality education to women and girls in the Muslim world.
Islam is clear about female education. It not only views the seeking of knowledge regarding Islam and its solutions to life’s affairs as an obligation upon women, as according to the hadith of the Prophet(saw), طلب العلم فريضة على كل مسلم “Seeking Knowledge is obligatory upon ALL Muslims” but also directs the Muslimah to study the world around her. Indeed, the wife of the Prophet (saw), Aisha (ra) was not only a great scholar of Islam but a great scholar of medicine, poetry, and general knowledge. Islam also obliges the Muslim Ummah to be a leading nation in the world, encouraging men and women to contribute to the betterment of society and to excel in various spheres of life, including in academia, science, medicine, technology, and industry. However, all these educational obligations and rights of women can only be secured by a system that truly values the beliefs of Islam and its emphasis on the importance of female learning. That system is the Khilafah state whose constitution is based purely upon the Qur’an and Sunnah. Hence, in accordance to Islam, the Khilafah is obliged to invest heavily in education and provide free primary and secondary education to girls and boys alike and as far as possible fund higher studies. It assures specialized and independent female schools abiding by the Islamic regulation of segregation of the genders, managed by well-trained, well-paid and qualified female teachers. And it encourages and facilitates women to specialize in various fields to become for example scholars of Islam, doctors, scientists, mathematicians, architects, judges, lecturers, engineers, or IT specialists. All this is funded by a sound Islamic economic system that embodies the tools to generate a stable economy and economic prosperity, implemented by the Islamic ruling system that prioritises education and views it as a basic right of every citizen. It will strive through its education, media, and judicial systems to eradicate any cultural attitudes in its society that prevent women from having access to education. Finally, the Islamic social system and other Shariah laws will ensure that the high status of women is always maintained, that they are never devalued, that men treat them with respect and not according to their desires, and that harsh punishments are issued for any violation of their dignity, ensuring a safe environment within which girls can travel to school and pursue their studies. It is all this that will lead to the eradication of female illiteracy and to women’s educational aspirations being fulfilled.
It was under this system of the Khilafah that women’s education flourished historically creating brilliant female inventors such as Marium al-Istirlabi who pioneered the development of the astrolabe in the 10th century for calculating the position of the sun and stars; excellent female engineers such as Fatima Al-Fihri who constructed the first university in the world in Qarawayyin, Morrocco; and thousands upon thousands of female scholars as detailed in the 40 volume book by the scholar Mohamed Akram an-Nadwi which provided biographies of 8000 female scholars who existed during the time of the Islamic civilization. Under this true Islamic system, the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo gave access to women as students and as lecturers - a right that women in the West only acquired within their universities centuries after. Indeed, the proportion of female lecturers in many classical Islamic colleges was higher than in many Western universities today. All this was a result of Muslims making Islam the central and only motivating factor for their development. The Khilafah was therefore a state that truly pioneered the world in female education and Insha Allah will again produce a first-class education system for women and girls again upon its establishment!
Dear brothers and sisters, the script of the Malala story is being written by Western colonial governments, not to improve the rights of women but to continue their colonial intervention and control of the Muslim world. The education they offer for the region is not sincere but aimed at further spreading their secular, liberal values that has corrupted our youth; and it must be strongly rejected. It is through returning to our Islamic roots and laws through establishing the Khilafah that alone holds the key to fulfilling the educational aspirations of women and ensuring that all their God-given rights are secured. Allah (swt) says,
((يريدون ليطفئوا نور الله بأفواههم، والله متمّ نوره ولو كره الكافرون))
“They wish to blow out the Light of Allah (i.e. this deen of Islam, the Qur’an, and the Prophet (saw) with their mouths). But Allah will bring His Light to perfection even though the disbelievers hate it.” [TMQ As-Saff: 8]
Women of Hizb ut Tahrir/ Britain