Muslim Women's Islamic Higher Learning as a Human Right: The Action Plan

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How do we expect the Muslim woman, collectively and individually, to identify with Islam as revered teachings and to act within its parameters, and to accommodate new human knowledge, be it that of a local Mufti's (clergy) injunction or a human rights advocate's recommendation, while neither Muslim societies nor human rights advocates recognize her self-identity as an autonomous spiritual and intellectual being? Accessing Islamic higher learning (deeper knowledge of the Islamic primary sources, the Quran and the authentic Hadith [prophetic tradition]), is argued to be the means by which the Muslim woman self-identity is recognized as a trustee. Relying solely on others' interpretations to guide her spiritual and intellectual needs is by itself an evidence that the Muslim woman's right to understand, to consciously choose, and to actively act on her choice of Islam is being compromised. Muslim Woman's deeper knowledge of the Islamic primary sources is significant to defining her relationship to God and to others.

Muslim woman's understanding of "human rights" within the Islamic worldview, based on pedagogical reading (the art of learning and teaching) of the Quran is significant. I derive the rationale behind the demand for woman's educational rights from the Islamic worldview. The methodologies of the discipline of education and the strategies to implement the platform for action--that define the parameters for the Muslim woman's human rights--are grounded in that worldview. Examining her role as a human entity in the Quran does not merely concern the Muslim woman's "free choice;" it concerns her ability to maintain the pedagogical dynamics of Islam to effect a sustainable change in history. Self-realization of Muslim woman can only effect a sustainable change in history when that self-realization unfolds the meaning of trusteeship. The Quranic intention of trusteeship or vicegerency (AL-khilafah) (2:30) eliminates the replacement of the individual trusteeship by proxy.

The intent of this essay is to make a pedagogical interpretation of the word and the script of the sacred, analyzing empirical data concerning Syrian Muslim women's perception of Islam regardless of their educational level. Such an interpretation is to be a meaningful exercise to women living in the post-modern era and to produce an action plan for the Muslim woman to regain her identification with Islam. One of the Quranic intentions in entrusting human beings with individual rights and responsibilities toward themselves, each other, and the universe is to bring a balance between the sexes. The interpretations of these rights and responsibilities, therefore, need to stem from efforts to exact the balance between polarized perspectives that have dominated, for instance, the fields of Muslim women's studies and of human rights activism.

The strategic implications of this chapter lie in : (1) presenting a pedagogical paradigm to rethink and to act within the balanced perspective of Islam and its primary source, the Quran, away from the many layers of "taqlids" (following precedence) and from Western rationalization of Islam, (2) facilitating for Muslim women the strategies to realize their identity and to re-learn Islam in its clear, transforming meanings, and (3) interpreting human-rights activists' concerns within the Quranic concerns for a just human society, where justice means balance and fair play in the order of things, and a sustainable change of women's role.

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Copyright 1997, Syracuse University Press. This is a pre-copyedited version of an article accepted for publication in the edited book Muslim Women and the Politics of Participation: Beijing Platform following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available through the Syracuse University Press: See also:


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Syracuse University Press


Women's Islamic higher learning; Muslim women's human right; Sustainable social change; Self-realization; Syrian women


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In Muslim Women and the Politics of Participation: Beijing Platform. Edited by Mahnaz Afkhami and Erika Friedl. Syracuse University Press (1997), 43-57

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