Muslim Women's Islamic Higher Learning as a Human Right: Theory and Practice

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Arabic translation under the title: Da`una Natakalam: Mufakirat Amerikiyat Yaftahn Nawafidh Al-Iman (Dar Al-Fikr, 2002)


Limited access to Islamic higher learning is argued to be the basis for the Muslim woman's inability to emancipate and to self-identity as a Khalifa (trustee)--a Qur'anic mandate (or potential) of human existence. Muslim woman's reliance solely on others' interpretations to guide her spiritual and intellectual needs, be it those of Muslim or of non-Muslim men and women, is by itself an evidence that Muslim woman's right to understand, to consciously choose, and to actively act on her choice of Islam is being compromised. Full access to the Diin, the Islamic belief system, calls for the Muslim woman to take part in the interpretation of Islamic teachings of the Qur'an and the Hadith and to maintain the pedagogical dynamics of Islam, rather than being limited to maintaining the human re-production, the Muslim family structure, or the individual human rights as suggested by others.

My understanding of woman's gender justice vis-a-vis "liberation" within the Islamic worldview is based on epistemological reading (the philosophy of knowledge) of the Qur'an. The rationale behind the demand for woman's access to knowledge is derived from the Islamic framework. The methodologies of the discipline of education and learning and the struggle for human dignity that define the parameters for Muslim woman's emancipation are grounded in that framework. To examine her role as a human entity in the Qur'an does not merely concern the Muslim woman's "freedom of expression;" it concerns the woman as an autonomous spiritual and intellectual human being who can effect a change in history. The intent of this chapter and of my overall research is to make a contribution towards an educational and pedagogical interpretation of the Qur'an for women living in the post-modern era and thereby to produce an action plan for the Muslim woman to regain her identification with Islam. My analysis of empirical data concerning Muslim women's perception of Islam, the contemporary North American Muslim woman, in a historical context serves to clarify the meaning and the implications of Islamic higher learning regardless of these women's educational level. Preliminary observations suggest that the majority of Muslim women's movements do not aim to eliminate the tension between the two sexes by claiming sameness in the struggle for equality. Rather, their goal is Taqwa (to balance) the tensionback in favor of woman, as the Qur'an intends in the first place when human beings, male and female, were entrusted with individual rights and responsibilities toward themselves, each other, and the universe. I will argue that one of the basic principles of Islamic justice is gender justice. The interpretations of these "equal" rights and responsibilities, however, stem from different perspectives of Islam. Muslim women groups are scattered on a continuum from the idealized polemic Muslim to the idealized static Western perspectives. Few are those who are making efforts to exact the balance between these perspectives.

The pedagogical implications of this research lies in : (1) intervening among Muslim men by coaching them to rethink and to act within the balanced perspective of Islam and its first source, the Qur'an, away from both the many layers of Muslim "taqlid " (following precedence) and from Western interpretations of Islam, (2) facilitating for Muslim women the environment and the means to realize their identity as autonomous spiritual and intellectual beings, and to realize the vastness of their task in educating themselves and others in Islam--encluding changing the entrenched paradigm of understanding Islam studies and its practice, and (3) integrating human-rights activists' concerns within the Qur'anic concerns for a just human society, where justice means the balance and fair play in the ideals and realities among all humans.

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Copyright 2000, Syracuse University Press. This is a pre-copyedited version of an article accepted for publication in the edited book Windows of Faith:Muslim Women Scholar-Activists in North America following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available through Syracuse University Press: See also:


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Syracuse University Press


Muslim women's inability to emancipate; Islamic identity as Khalifa; Islamic higher learning; Human rights; Pedagogical dynamics of Islam; Epistemological reading of the Qur'an


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In Windows of Faith:Muslim Women Scholar-Activists in North America. Edited by Gisela Webb. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press (2000), 22-47

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