Women and Learning: Is Islam a Help or a Hindrance?

abide in your houses

(This article is the third in a series of articles by our sister K. Balkhi, who consciously rejected the corporate world when she realized it failed to affirm Islamic teachings about the proper comportment of women. The first article in the series can be found here and the second article here.)

A Grand Paradox

There is indeed infinite wisdom in women staying within the protection and comfort of their own homes. As controversial as that may sound in current times, I of all women, with my endless travels, know the depth of this advice only too well.

And abide in your houses and do not display yourselves as [was] the display of the former times of ignorance. … Allah intends only to remove from you the impurity [of sin], O people of the [Prophet’s] household, and to purify you with [extensive] purification.     [Quran, 33:33]

I look back and wonder how I could have possibly been so naïve. All that solo travel. All that interaction with males. All those spots in the limelight, training and speaking. How could I have believed that just donning conservative clothing (a hijab and full-sleeves) made all mixed interaction kosher— halaal rather?

I know my intentions weren’t wicked— it was nothing but a silly naïveté coupled with the heedlessness of an accomplished new grad. But it could have been much worse. Really, with all those doses of worldliness, how could I have been so trusting of the world and its inherent follies, yet so oblivious to the rulings of my very own creator and His wisdom, to His guidelines for what is truly best for me?

This is, at best, a paradox of the greatest proportions.

Grandma’s Advice

My grandmother always used to tell me women should teach– and I would have such a hard time swallowing that with all my liberal arts, feminist baggage.

But as my life’s paradigm shift began unfolding I began to see just how ill-defined our gender roles and definitions of success really were. Practicing gender segregation, beyond the minimal convenient in our culture, became a priority for me.  I removed myself from the corporate world to avoid the relentless gender mixing.

Slowly but surely my home also adapted to facilitate my observance of Shariah-based hijaab. With the formal living room glass doors now tinted, my father could take male guests straight there without us having to worry about where our niqaabs were every time we crossed the doors. We now also have graceful ceiling-to-floor curtains separating our reception and family lounge, barring general visitors’ gaze from our living areas.

Contrary to worldly expectations, this has not entailed an isolated, fruitless existence. Quite the contrary.

Women in Learning: A Shared Global Heritage

Indeed, in the scholarly tradition of my Jamia (university), exemplary education has always been offered to women, just as it was in the prophet’s time, peace be upon him. And the beautiful part is that all Islamic guidelines and respect for gender segregation are observed. We have male and female professors, but do not interact in person, or in any other way, with our male professors.

We learn from our male professors over a complex speaker system that connects each of the men’s classes with the corresponding women’s classes within the Masjid complex. This way, despite the closely-tied learning and administration, we have zero interaction with men. It’s a one-way street; we simply listen to the classes the men are getting, and that way the quality of our core education is exactly the same as theirs. We have another set of women professors with whom we interact and discuss all our subject matter.

This is a living example of working within the guidelines the Quranic ayaat such as this:

. . . And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts . . . [Quran, 33:53]

Little did I realize I shared a global heritage. Read these uplifting observations about India’s Deobandi community:

“While there is so much talk today by others about the lack of scholarly education for women, the Deobandi community has been educating women for years. [Deoband is the Indian city that is home to the scholarly roots and heritage of most seminaries in this part of the world. The foundation for Darul Uloom Deoband was laid in 1866 when thousands of Muslim scholars were being executed daily in the bazaars of Delhi].”

“There is no shortage of women who have memorized the Quran and teach it. They have set up dozens of girls schools, which include boarding and catering, in which they study all the branches of knowledge including the six standard books of hadith. Whether it is South Africa, Europe, North America or the sub-continent they have full education for women at free or at a minimal fee and are NEVER turned down for not paying. They do this without free mixing and call for gender equity. Their community supports and funds this education the way they do for men. Even women outside of madrasah‘s gather at home for weekly education of practical knowledge.

“Many learned people never get the chance to study the six books, while Deobandi women graduate yearly from Jamia after finishing the six books.”

“Many of our great ulama relied heavily on their works in the field of Hadith extensively until this very day from Shaykh Awammah, Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah, Al-A’lawi and countless others who were masters in that field.” [Brooks al-Maliki, Abdus Shakur. The Deobandi Community and the Education of Women]

Undeniably, countless Islamic traditions, guidelines, practices are preserved by this beautiful system and path that Allah has blessed me with. By treading this path, we feel like living examples of how Shariah should be exemplified. For the first area this learning helped rectify was my daily living – and bringing it into sync with the wisdom of Shariah.

Living Inspiration

My own favorite professor is a Hafiza— she’s memorized the entire Quran. And she’s also a Muftia, which means she has been granted the highest degree possible from our jamia (university): the authority to issue fatawa (religious verdicts). Our university’s Dar ul Ifta (additional post-graduate learning option for takhassus or PhD specialization) opened to women primarily because of her insistence and brilliance.

She’s also an excellent, deeply-respected doctor.

And, most appreciated by me, she’s an exceptional teacher of all kinds of learning and a most helpful, candid counselor and mentor!

(In the next article in this series we see how woman’s work in the home is actually a kind of jihad!)


  1. Shahista March 22, 2014

    Beautifully written,may Allah continue to bless and guide you and all sisters with knowledge and understanding so that our families and communities will benefit from such beautiful teachings of Islam.

  2. Aleen March 22, 2014

    Some sisters who are single and don’t have muslim families supporting them don’t have the choice to stay at home and need to go out and work.

  3. Khadijah March 22, 2014

    As’salaamualaikum. Kindly share the name of the Jamia for those of us who may want to enrol in shaa Allah.

  4. 1866 is a historical year of the Jamia. May Allah continue with His Taufiq and award the women there as the Prettiest women in Jannah and no jealousy in Jannah. Our father would be given minimum 70 wives and our mum would be the prettiest among the 70 or more wives rewards to our father depending on his Amal.
    Allah gave the desire of man who likes many women but Alquran restricted to 4 wives only to the Rich men and must be able to perform Fairness in this world. Or marry one only if he cannot perform Fairness.
    Woman made by Allah to love only one husband. The prophet p.b.u.h.were asked by a woman who had few husbands died one by one in Matyr/Shahid. The prophet p.b.u.h. answered the lady that she would be given by Allah to choose one husband who is high in Rank due to his Akhlak. Allah gave the women in this world to make a decision before marriage/ Nikah/Ijab Kabul but not to men.Allah gave one in the dunia and one in the akhirat special to the ladies only.
    Anoher Hadith mentioned by the Ustaz that ladies would be given a Master Key to enter any door of Jannah if she could perform 4 items. Perform the commandments of Allah, Rasul, Husband and look after the property of her husband.

    Salam from Md Razale 70/72 Visit Malaysia Year 2014.

  5. K. Balkhi March 26, 2014

    Walaikomasalaam Ukhti Khadijah, it’s Jamia Ahsanul Uloom – and Alhamdulilah they started live-streaming every single class for each year of study this year. The primary medium of instruction is Urdu, with most texts we study in Arabic, and some (for learning advanced Arabic) in Persian… http://www.ahsanululoom.net – is the main site, is a bit basic though… If you contact UQA, they can put you directly in touch with myself for more details too iA…

    Much dua for you!

  6. K. Balkhi March 26, 2014

    JazakAllah Khair Sister Shahista and Brother Nor. May Allah reward you and us all Ameen.

  7. K. Balkhi March 26, 2014

    Sister Aleen, indeed… The choice to not *have to* work is a luxury for many in today’s world still…

    May Allah make His path easy for all of us – whatever it’s individual manifestation may be given each of our own personal contexts and circumstances. There is indeed much room for women to make their own living within the Shariah should they have no other worldly support…

    The concern is that many choose to work for other reasons, even though they are Alhamdulilah generously already provided by, by Allah… And indeed, that is a path I have myself erroneously tread, may Allah forgive us all…

    JazakAllah Khair.

    You will be in our special dua…


  8. Ahsan Khaja March 29, 2014

    Very Hon’ble daughters, As-Salamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu,
    Purification of our own selves is the greatest achievement but it must end with our last breath.
    A daughter by name Eman Daglus born and brought up in America wrote a book by name
    “A Well-Guarded Treasure” after she shifted to Amman, Jordan. If I want to put a price tag to
    this book, it must be not less than Jannatul-Firdous. Was Salatu was Salaam ala mun,
    laaa nabiyya badaaa. ALLAH AZZA WAJAL increase us in taqwa, hikmah, ilm and tremendous
    best resources & community to protect people from falling in hell-fire, aameeen.
    Grand Father to grand-children.

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