By M. Riaz Khan, PhD
[Dr. M. Riaz Khan is Professor of Operations Management. He has served as Acting Chairman of the Department of Manufacturing and Management Information Systems, and also as Director of the Small Business Institute for many years in the College of Management. He specializes in Operations Research and has published extensively on quantitative modeling, capacity planning, performance measurement, productivity, resource allocation, inventory control, U.S. competitiveness in world trade, and a variety of small business issues. He actively participates at national and international professional conferences and regularly delivers his research papers. Prof. Khan also serves as reviewer for national and overseas scholarly journals, such as International Journal of Production Research, and is currently on the Editorial. Board of the Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Prof. Khan taught at the University of Maryland. He has also taught at Clark University and Boston University. As a visiting Professor, Dr. Khan has taught in Venezuela, Scotland, Germany, and England. Prof. Khan holds a Ph.D. from the State University of New York/Buffalo.]
Humanity has taken a very long time to understand the true position of women. The social system of Islam brought about a revolution in establishing this position. It started by recognizing woman as a free person, capable and entitled to excelling spiritually and materially in all fields and functions of life, like her male counterpart. Despite many important distinctions between the genders for the enrichment of human civilization, in the Islamic law, a woman is equal to man and is just as liable for her actions. There is
no gender differentiation in rewarding for good work either: “… whoever does
right, whether man or woman, and is a believer, will enter Paradise…”
(Qur’an, 40 : 40)
Likewise, Islam makes no distinction between secular duties and religious functions either. All activities whether they concern politics, economics or social endeavors, are Islamic duties; as prayers, fasts or charitable acts are. It is, therefore, logical that men and women are provided equal opportunities in public affairs, economics, education, and other fields, so that they can discharge their responsibilities appropriately within their
In every epoch of Islamic history, one sees Muslim women engaged in every
profession that suited them, from a battle field combatant to a court judge. Caliph Omar employed a lady, Shifa’ bint ‘Abdallah, as inspector in the market at the capital Madinah. The same lady had taught Hafsah, wife of the Prophet Muhammad (saw), how to read and write. Most recently, Muslim women have been prime ministers and presidents of their respective Muslim countries. Of course, Islam demands that a woman should remain within defined guidelines. On the other hand, it does not expect her to become
either an angel or a demon.
Under this Islamic doctrine, the Prophet (saw) encouraged women to enlighten themselves with issues that affect life. His wife, Syeda A’isha, was a very learned woman. During the period of the first four Rightly Guided Caliphs, her advice, including on political matters, was eagerly sought by the Caliphs. The entire Islamic scholarship still regards her as an authority on the Islamic jurisprudence. It is she who once proclaimed: “How praise-worthy are the women of Ansar that their modesty does not prevent them from attempts at learning and the acquisition of knowledge.” Yet at
another occasion, she said: ” May Allah have mercy on the women of Ansar! When the Qur’anic verse relating to the wearing of jilbab (a long and loose gown which covers a woman’s body from neck to feet) was revealed to the Prophet (saw), they tore off their big sheets of cloth and covered themselves with their torn parts and in this state offered their prayers behind the Prophet (saw) as silently as if crows were seated on their
In the battle of Uhud, when the disbelievers inflicted heavy injuries on the Prophet (saw) and the Muslims, A’isha and another Muslim lady, Umm Salim, raised up their gowns to the knees and helped the Muslim warriors. The Prophet’s daughter, Fatimah, dressed up his wounds and carried water to him. Umm ‘Atiyyah reports that she took part in seven battles with the Prophet (saw) and helped the warriors with medicine and other supplies, and
dressed up their wounds.
Khadijat-ul Kubra was a devoted wife, a life time companion and a staunch supporter of the Prophet (saw). When he received the first revelation in the cave as Prophet of Allah, he rushed trembling to her and said: “I fear for my life.” She provided him the comfort and strength by saying: “Allah will never debase you, you speak the truth.” She then became the first ever to accept Islam and committed all her resources to support her husband in his
mission of Islam.
Contemporary American society is generally concerned about race-relations, declines in social and moral values, domestic violence, economic disparity, job security, and other social issues. But for many parents it is the future of their children and the direction in which they are headed that is most worrisome. The primary mission of education has always been to nurture the personality of a child and to reinforce basic values on which social and
economic structure of society is founded. Unfortunately, the ability of schools to accomplish this mission has markedly diminished in recent decades.
Campuses are being used as the grounds for re-enacting the episodes many youngsters experience in their homes or view on television. For these youth, and those under their influence, the campus environment only facilitates a destructive progression of their adolescence rather than a healthy maturation. Cognitively and emotionally, the adolescence is the most fertile period of human life. This can be transformed into a critical thinking or a
retarding behavior, depending on what role models and conditions are provided. Instead, it is the drugs, guns, and violence among the youth that make the news these days. Some believe that this is the inevitable result of unrelenting obscenity, lewdness and desecrate expositions, promoted in print, movies, television programs, and even in the sports.
Today, the youth frequently choose their heroes from the show models, movie stars and the sport figures; not on the basis of their exemplary character or high moral standards, but for their flashy and lustrous life style. These personalities provide no content to the social and moral enrichment of the society, nor do they provide any incentive for achievements in life or academic excellence. They only heighten the peer pressure to conform to the popular culture of smoking, drinking, dancing, intermingling, taking trips to movie theaters and other hang-out places, plus many other counter-productive activities. Yet, the kids faithfully look up to them as their role models. They are not attracted at all by those who, for instance, have made contributions to the literature, humanities, politics, international relations, science, and technology. Their attitude, behavior, and general outlook towards life is drastically skewed under the influence of the characters they imitate. For many marginal kids, the unfortunate outcome of this deviance is a slippery slope, whose bottomless pit is a mire of callousness and desire.
The predicament of Muslim youth, particularly female, is manifold. They have to resist the temptations, which are nothing but a norm to their peers. Clearly their imperative is to preserve their Islamic identity and maintain their moral sanctity. Combating the alienating stereotype and prejudice against Muslims, however, makes their dichotomous experience in schools and at workplaces even more formidable.
Ironically, to add to this, there is also a calculated effort in the western Europe and the U.S. for the derailment of young Muslim minds. In his book, Some to Mecca Turn to Pray, (England), for example, the author Mervyn Hiskett articulates that Islam in the west should be discouraged. He proposes a comprehensive de-Islamization process for Muslim youth and blatantly recommends that mosques should no longer be allowed to be built. He further alerts that American experience shows that assimilation takes place more readily when Muslims are un-mosqued. Hiskett’s policy prescriptions continue stressing that young Muslim women be forced to adopt a culture of sexual and family anarchy for the disintegration of the Muslim community. The feelings expressed by Hiskett are shared by other writers and are echoed in many schools as well that the Muslim youngsters attend. It is widely acknowledged that Islam has many virtues for a sound social and moral order. The greatest asset that Muslim children have to restrain themselves is their Islamic vision that guides them how to exercise their freedom of choice. The children cannot, however, be expected to remain immune to their external environment and use righteously this freedom without a sustained source of re-invigoration of their Islamic behavior as the only sensible way for a decent life. Without appropriate motivation, nothing that needs to be achieved can be pursued. Laws and regulations can neither enlighten the thinking process of a person nor can they control one’s social behavior. It is a discerning conscience that shapes an individual’s attitude and behavior. A full appreciation and deep understanding of moral values, delicately implanted in the minds of the Muslim youth, is an essential part of comprehensive education and character building.
The life objective of every Muslim is to seek the pleasure of Allah (SWT). The Muslim elders are responsible to get this message across and see that the youngsters are aware of the limits to which they must adhere. These limits are to be respected, out of love and fear of Allah (swt) for their own good. A sharp conscience, that constantly reminds one of Allah’s presence and of the accountability to Him, is the description of a Muslim in action. Only such a character is capable of coping with social and moral dilemmas.
Admittedly, one can not deny the many positive aspects of western life. But social and moral pressures of this society are so enormous that many young Muslim women, like their male counterparts, are drifting away to non-Islamic patterns of behavior. This is because they are shaping their lives, like their mainstream peers, in the molds of the big name models, singers, film actresses, feminine activists, etc. These so- called models have no concept of a morally disciplined life, which is essential for a balanced social order. This presents a very perplexing dichotomy for many bright Muslim women. To dress and behave strictly as a Muslim in school or at workplace, for example, is seen as a barrier to being in the social American mainstream for success. This concern is genuine and serious as the future prospects of Islam in the west largely depend on what judgment the new generation makes at this juncture. This judgment may be influenced favorably by offering Islamic alternatives and bringing in focus what is worth pursuing in life as a Muslim and who to emulate in that pursuit.
For Muslim women, there are numerous role models in Islam to follow, as noted earlier. Allah (SWT) quotes a few cases of those women who He has condemned and, therefore, must be rejected, and those who He has exalted and are worthy of emulating: “Allah cites for the disbelievers the example of the wives of Noah and Lot. They were married to Our two righteous devotees, but they were unfaithful to them, and even (the apostles) could not avail them anything against Allah; and it was said to them: Enter Hell with those (who are condemned) to enter it.” (Qur’an, 66: 10) These women are the wives of Prophets who opposed their husbands in their efforts to reform a corrupt society. On the contrary, they collaborated with enemies who were resisting a social and moral change for improvement. They were disgraced, and even their relationship with apostles could not save them from Allah’s wrath. Similarly, some women with sublime characters have been praised by Allah (swt): “And Allah presents the example of Pharaoh’s wife for those who believe, when she prayed: O Lord, build r me a house in Presence, and save me from Pharaoh and his work, and save me from a wicked people. And of Mary, daughter of ‘Imran, who guard her chastity, so that we breathed into her a life by Our will, and she believed the words of her Lord and His Books, and was obedient to Allah.” (Qur’an, 66: 11,12) Here one woman is wife of Pharaoh, an enemy of Allah (SWT), who played god and oppressed his people and rejected the invitation of Prophet Musa to submit to Allah (SWT). She accepted Musa as Prophet of Allah (SWT) and became a believer. Allah (SWT) granted her a place in Paradise right in this world. Even her husband’s rebellion against Allah could not overpower her determination to reach out to her Creator. The other is Mary, the mother of Prophet Isa. She was not any body’s wife, but, because of her trust in Allah and spotless piety, Allah (SWT) granted her the characteristics of a Prophet, even though she was not a Prophet.
These four characters have been presented to set standards for Muslim women seeking a life of honor and dignity in this world and a place in Paradise. From these cases, it is very clear that every individual is free to adopt any particular life style, but is accountable for how this freedom is exercised. Neither any affiliation is of any avail, nor any degree of external pressure can overturn a person’s determined pursuit of moral excellence. A behavioral conformation to what Islam demands of a believer is an assurance of Allah’s pleasure and a life of grace that will continue beyond this life span. The Prophet (S) says that, among the women, Asia (Pharaoh’s wife) and Maryam bint ‘Imran are perfect women (Bukhari & Muslim). Then they should also be perfect role models for Muslim young women to emulate.