(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.
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.
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!)