Why the Hefazat leader would like to view women as inferior
As an individual woman who has worked for over 40 years in various countries of the world, I am amazed that in the 21st century, the Hefazat leader, preaching to parents of Darul Ulum Mainul Islam Madrasa students in Chittagong, urged them not to educate their daughters beyond primary school, as they would become disobedient. He also preached that women should practise complete segregation and compared them to a tamarind.
Has the Hefazat leader forgotten that in Islam the Prophet (pbuh) himself respected women’s freedom and education? Once when all the Quraish caravans gathered to travel to Syria, they found that Bibi Khadija’s caravans equalled those of all the traders of the Quraish tribe, to which the Prophet belonged.
A widow, a philanthropist, a successful business-person, she was generous as well as courageous. She gave freely to the poor and provided dowry to young women unable to get married due to poverty.
She hired the Prophet (pbuh) and recognizing his strong character, Khadija proposed marriage to him through a friend, and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) agreed. She was 15 years older than him, but it was a great marriage. This broke the stereotype of parents arranging marriages, or a man proposing to a woman. So women could be free, run businesses, and propose marriage over 1400 years ago. Bibi Khadija died after 25 years of married life. She broke the glass ceiling.
Hazrat Aishath was the third wife of the Prophet. She was an authority in medicine, history, poetry, and recorded words and actions of the Prophet (pbuh). She played an active political role after the death of her husband. She even headed a war, but lost the battle of the Camel.
These two examples from numerous ones show how these women were free and emancipated. .
In the Middle Ages, demand for reform led to the establishment of primary and secondary schools for girls in such places as the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and Iran. And even universities were opened for women’s higher education. Women founded newspapers, educational and charitable organizations, and participated in important national movements.
So, in Islamic history, education had a high priority for women. They were seen to be very capable of acquiring knowledge and to teach others. They attended lectures in madrasas and in many cases were teachers themselves.
For instance, in the 12th century, scholar Ibn Asakiri travelled long distances in search of knowledge, and was taught by 80 different female Muslim teachers. Unlike Europe, women played an active role in subjects like science, history, algebra, mathematics.
Fatima Al Fihri in 859 established the first formal madrasa in Fez. It was a university where languages, literature, jurisprudence, science, and Arabic numbers were taught. These Arabic numbers, still in use, were copied by the Europeans.
Women were not seen as second class citizens, but played an active role, especially in education, altering the course of history by influencing civilized spheres of life working alongside men.
Weak economic and political conditions in many Muslim countries led women to become more involved with the outside world to earn a living such as the hundreds of thousands of young women working in the Bangladesh garment industry, other industries, and in agriculture. Factors such as war and labour migration have significantly increased the number of households headed by females.
In the 20th and 21st century, we see women who are scientists, lawyers, geologists, professors, diplomats, managers heading vibrant NGOs, and active in all areas of life. In Bangladesh, we have seen two female heads of government in Khaleda Zia and currently Sheikh Hasina, and in Pakistan, the late Benazir Bhutto headed the government. Female ministers and MPs can be seen in many Muslim countries, including Bangladesh.
The education of girls and women brings many specific benefits to society. Firstly, a mother’s education is of critical importance in ensuring that children attend school, acquire education, and become effective members of society. Secondly, it is a safeguard for the children’s own health and nutrition.
Thirdly, educated women are also likely to be better household managers, more informed producers, consumers, and traders. Fourthly, education gives women better access to the employment market and earning opportunities. Finally, women’s education has a constraining effect on fertility by the simple fact that high school and college enrolment tends to entail postponement of marriage.
Moreover, educated women are more likely to attach high priority to family spacing and to acquire knowledge to bring this about.
Unfortunately, in terms of culture, one has to recognize the problems deeply rooted in traditional beliefs and misrepresentation of religion, prevalent in many developing countries that hamper girls and women. Here, the Hefazat leader has taken the firm view that women are inferior, and have low or negative status in terms of access to education, resources, decision-making, spatial mobility, and normal life.
This will leave many uneducated women with a sense of their own inferiority, and influence their parents against equality of opportunity with men.
Shah Shafi has contravened Articles 28(2) and 38(4) of the constitution and has violated the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) ratified by Bangladesh. The Qur’an 3.195 says: “I will not suffer the work of any worker among you to be lost, whether male or female, the one of you being from the other.”
Shah Shafi’s preaching is against religion, social justice, human rights, UN Convention, and the constitution. He has shocked many people, both men and women, but there is so far little sign of reforms or promises of affirmative action by the government, or of legal action by the authorities against the Hefazat leader’s teachings. He desires male power over women.
Much can be forgiven in an aged person of 99, but he is a very dangerous man.
Selina Mohsin is a former ambassador.