By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
(Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009)
21 January 2019
Shah Ahmed Shafi, the head cleric/ leader of a growing Islamic organization of Bangladesh, ‘Hefazat e Islam’ made the following declaration during the annual gathering of parents of students of a renowned madrasa on Jan. 11.
"Don't send your daughters to schools and colleges after grade 4 or 5. If you send your daughters after that, they will become disobedient and elope with men,"
The remark received severe criticism and condemnation from a large body of intellectuals and Ulama of Bangladesh which can boast of a moderate / secular version of Islam.
Muhibul Hasan Chowdhury, the state Minister for education of Bangladesh remarked: “if anyone tries to deprive women from education, it is unconstitutional”
This article is a rejoinder to the learned minister’s mild remarks and aims to expound the grave consequences and religious questionability of the cleric’s quoted statement and suggests legislative deterrent against any public declaration of views that are subversive of its Muslim women’s human rights, Islamic rights and constitutional rights.
Anyone who imposes any restriction on women’s education on Islamic religious ground acts against the message and spirit of Islam. Islam does not put any such restriction against women. Education is a bounty of Allah which is open to all regardless of gender. To deprive Muslim women of this bounty is to deny them of a great bounty of Allah.
The truth is, restricting women from developing their education potentials deprives them of their universal human rights, greatly reduces their scope or potential in the job market and thus makes them completely dependent on their husbands or male guardians for their livelihood. It also hampers their intellectual growth and reduces them to the lowliest of creature, for the Qur’an says: “Indeed the worst kind of all living creatures in God’s sight are the deaf and dumb, who do not use reason” (8:22).
It is undeniable that grossly undereducated women (who barely crossed the primary level) are likely to be completely submissive or ‘obedient’ to their husbands in all matters of life and bear silently all kinds of domestic injustices and abuses as and when inflicted. This was normative in human society until recent times. But Gender dynamics have changed drastically over the past decades and Muslim women all over the world are claiming and attaining rights equal or close to those of men within the framework of Islamic principles. As a Muslim country, Bangladesh has made enormous strides in promoting universal education among girls – thanks to the enlightened leadership and vision of its Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. Now if a prominent religious leader makes a public statement against women’s right to education, he is undermining her epoch-making efforts and grievously misguiding his followers.
In Bangladesh Muslim women have to compete with women of other religions in all fields of employment, professions and private and public sectors. Therefore, any attempt to prevent them from fully developing their education potentials will greatly handicap them against non-Muslim women who do not face any such restrictions. On top of this if they are made to wear full veil that their non-Muslim counterparts do not wear, the Burqa clad semi-educated Muslim women of Bangladesh will only qualify to do menial jobs which requires no educational background, technical skill or interaction with mixed gender. So one wonders if such reportedly great scholar – who also insists on full veiling of girls, is restoring Islamic values, or conspiring against Muslim women folk and Islam or is dictated by some ultra-conservative quarters or has some other motives –God knows best.
No doubt, one has the freedom to express his views but if such views put the Bangladeshi Muslim women at a great handicap viz a viz their other civilisational counterparts, deprive them of acquiring a universal bounty of Allah, make them ‘obedient’ (and silent) against domestic abuses, reduce their earning potential to those in the lowest category of job and render them unfit to guide their children in education – such opinions are grievously detrimental to the society and must be strongly censored and opposed as Bangladeshi intellectuals including some enlightened Ulama have done. But since the said cleric is reported to have massive following and is proclaiming his views in public meetings, time and again, laws need to be framed to prevent him and any other ultra-conservative cleric or misogynistic quarter from expressing such views in any public gatherings.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.