Afghanistan: Banning girls’ education in the name of Islam

By Mahjuba Mustabshera

“Mother, they didn’t let me go to school today. They said girls aren’t allowed to go to school”, the cry of an Afghan girl breaks the hearts of those on social media as the world expresses deep disappointment.

These tears are the result of shattered hopes as Afghan girls were expecting to return to school for the first time since the Taliban seized power in August 2021. However, merely hours after school’s reopening for the new academic year on 23 March 2022, the Taliban administration declared the closure of schools for female students above the sixth grade.

Upon hearing about the heart-wrenching notice, interviews of countless crying Afghan girls flooded the media. In an interview with BBC news, Fatima said, “We just want to be able to learn and serve our people. What kind of country is this? What is our sin?” She called out the Taliban saying, “You’re always talking about Islam, does Islam say to harm women like this?”

With the Taliban wearing the banner of Islam, naturally Fatima is not the only one asking such questions. It makes the entire world wonder if such hindrance to a basic human right is what Islam is all about. Consequently, groups like the Taliban have only added to the media’s deteriorating image of Islam.

During their last rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban banned most female employment and female education. Although this time around, they promised opportunities for girls’ employment and education, the failure to keep their word made everyone suspicious of their intentions to allow girls to learn at all.

Spokesman for the Ministry of Education, Aziz-ur-Rahman Rayan shared that the central leadership of the group had ordered the schools to remain closed until “a comprehensive plan has been prepared according to Sharia and Afghan culture”.

However, even before the Taliban’s rule, Afghanistan’s secondary schools were already gender-segregated and the girls’ uniforms were a modest black outfit and white hijab.

Moreover, according to the Taliban administration’s external relations and donor representative, Waheedullah Hashmi, although the urban centres are mostly in support of female education, much of rural Afghanistan – especially the tribal Pashtun regions – are in opposition.

Hashmi revealed, “In some rural areas a brother will disown a brother in the city if he finds out that he is letting his daughters go to school.”

All of these incidents make it apparent that the issue of female education is a matter of controversy among the Taliban figures. Therefore, it is crucial for the public to be aware of the real message of Islam in order to comprehend if religion is truly the factor preventing Afghan girls’ education or if the Taliban is simply against it.  

What does Islam say about girls’ education?

The first revelation of the Quran is enough proof about the importance given to education in Islam. Allah revealed:

Read in the name of your Lord who created, created humans from a clinging clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by the pen; taught humanity what they knew not. [96: 1-5]

From these verses, it is evident that Allah addressed humankind – not a specific gender – to seek knowledge. Hence, these verses alone eradicate any statement or action that denies girls’ right to education as they emphasise the acquisition of knowledge.

During the Jahiliyyah period, when Arab society was infested with abhorrent practices against girls, Allah sent Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a guiding light, who, not only liberated girls and women in every walk of life, but also turned education into a principal aspect.   

In an authentic Hadith, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

Seeking knowledge is an
obligation on every Muslim. (Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 74) 

From this Hadith, it can be inferred that seeking knowledge is not just a right but a religious duty upon every Muslim, whether male or female.

Upon studying the intellectual abilities of the two wives of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), namely Khadijah Binti Khuwailid and Aishah Binti Abu Bakr, the position of female education in Islam becomes much clearer.

Khadijah, Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) first wife, was the richest woman in Mecca during her time. She was a wealthy tradeswoman under whom many men were employed. Undoubtedly, to be a woman managing a large business in a patriarchal society required her to possess a great level of wisdom and understanding.

Aisha, Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) youngest wife, is a hallmark in female education in Islam. She was a Muslim scholar with remarkable memory, who narrated more than two thousand Hadith and was known for teaching distinguished scholars. Her contribution in the field of knowledge in Islam demonstrates that a woman can be a scholar, with influence over men and women.

In a nutshell, Islam in no way, shape or form contradicts female education. It is an irony that while Islam makes it a responsibility upon every Muslim to seek knowledge, Muslim countries like Afghanistan are still categorised among the developing countries in the world.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, as of 2020, the literacy rate of Afghanistan is around 43%, with a substantial gender gap i.e. 55% literacy rate among men and only 29.8% literacy rate among women.

Hence, the so-called “Islamic” group ruling over Afghanistan that tells the whole world that what they are doing is in favour of the religion is in reality contradicting the essence of it. ***

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