The fall of Islamic Scholarship: The discussion begins

The past few months have been an interesting affair. I’ve been requested to speak about Muslim women in Islam at several Universities for Islam Awareness Week, which lead to me developing a deep passion for this subject. The more I’m learning, the more I’m impressed and amazed by our Islamic history.

I had originally envisioned it would be quite straightforward and the story began. I began to construct my lectures based around the status of women in Islam, the rights given by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and answering the question: does Islam liberate or oppress women? However, much to my surprise I came across a paradox. I would stand in front of many individuals and discuss how Islam liberates women, but, reality speaks otherwise. I began to unravel this paradox and it led me to the understanding that Islam does indeed liberate women, but the Prophetic vision and Qur’anic vision in some respects are a thing of the past.

In societies all around the globe we notice a trend of the decline of women, especially in female scholarship. There are women who succeed academically, however these educated women are faced with a question mark; will you choose your career or your child?

It seems we have done away with the legacies left by the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and the Scholars of the past, men and women. This being said, we cannot disregard the importance of family, because when we weaken the foundation of the family and the essential development of the early life of children in the name of gender equality, we will jeopardise society in the long run. On the other hand, when we deprive women from an education and work opportunities our societies won’t develop, nor will they become dynamic and fully functional.

This leads me to put forth a discussion; in the past the Muslim community experienced a vibrant female scholarship, but now there’s hardly anyone we can name. What has changed? Is it as one scholar stated when I put forth my desire to him:

“No woman has the capability to become a Scholar in this day and age.”

Or is it as his statement suggests that we’re dealing with a culture which will not allow a woman to flourish to her full potential? This being said, all our discussions should stem from the Qur’an, Sunnah and be based around the teachings of Islam.

I believe it’s time we discuss this matter in depth and start thinking – how can female scholars flourish once again? How can we tackle this culture of partiality?

Let me know your thoughts below.

The Author

Alima Ashfaq is the founder of I am Alima and hopes to transform it into the forefront of assisting women come closer to Allah (swt). She is the author of a number of publications, most notably Du’as of the Superstars.

11 Responses

  1. Fadumo Ali February 19, 2013 / 6:45 pm

    Subhanallah, Your right about that! :) this was a great read and I hope you expand on this topic because we really need to know what exactly is holding us back?. jkhairun

    – fadumo

  2. Rahma Mumin February 22, 2013 / 6:36 pm


    Beautiful put, I believe one of the biggest obstacle in our way in order for this to happen is the lack of motivation and actions, usually we tend to talk and talk about this topic but at the end of the day we go home/work/school go back to our responsibility and forget about it and not really put our words into action.

    Determination and Motivation is the key!

  3. Syeda Tahmina February 24, 2013 / 1:46 pm

    Assalamu Alaikum sister,
    I believe this career vs. family conflict rises due to the un-Islamic society we live in. When a woman tries to juggle family and career, troubles arise in both cases. This, I believe, is because of the expectations of employers from their employees. Honestly, it is not feasible for a woman to work full-time outside the home, since her responsibilities towards her family are much greater than that of a man. However, employers demand a full-time workforce, hence putting the women under pressure. She either has to ignore her work or her family.

    One way of rebuilding female scholarship could be to provide for the women an appropriate working condition, where she can hopefully take care of her children while working, or at least reduce the working hours, so that she can successfully tend to her scholarship, and her family. The world is not going to worry about family issues, so I guess it is on the shoulders of the Muslim community itself to create feasible working conditions for women.
    Jazak Allahu Khair.

    • Sister Omerjee March 4, 2013 / 10:43 am

      I don’t know much about what an Islamic society would be like for women. Pardon my ignorance.
      Could you explain it better when you refer to what would be the opposite of an un-Islamic society please? JazakAllah.

      • Syeda Tahmina March 21, 2013 / 4:38 pm

        In an unIslamic society, people, employers in particular do not acknowledge the vital and uncompromisable (i guess that’s not really a word…) roles that Muslim women (or all women, as you pointed out, Sister Omerjee) have to play. But in a proper Islamic society, when employers are God fearing individuals, they will have no choice but to acknowledge it, and at the same time, they will also see the importance of women working out in the field, not just within her home. I don’t know exactly how our beloved Prophet Muhammad did it, but he did employ women in various sectors of public administration, etc, but he must have also made sure that their familial duties are taken care of . We surely cannot be as flawless as he was, but no harm in trying!

        I know that the majority of the world’s people (all of them, i am inclined to think) do not live under Shariah administration. Yet, there are Muslim organizations like this one, and Mercy Mission, and Islamic Online University, and wonderful Muslim employers like Sister Zohra Sarwari, who can take the matter in their hands, and wisely tackle the issue. As for education, by the time a woman completes her undergraduate, she will be around 22, and an M.A. will take 2 more years; in my opinion, that’s not exactly a late age for marriage…. what do you think?

        • Sister Omerjee June 21, 2013 / 9:18 am

          Not a late age at all. Yes, I too am curious as to how exactly women were employed by the Messenger Sallallahualayhiwasallam within their society.

  4. Syeda Tahmina February 24, 2013 / 1:49 pm

    it could also be a result of very high expectations husbands and children have from the womenfolk, knowing that she has to juggle so many tasks at the same time. So perhaps as spouses and children, we can make the job easier for our mothers and spouses. It would help to remember that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) used to mend his own shoes, sweep his home, and do his own laundry.


  5. Sister Omerjee March 4, 2013 / 10:38 am

    Assalamualaykum Sister Alima,
    Masha’Allah. This is s topic close to the hearts of all Muslim women, and seriously needs to be addressed. On the one hand, we are OBLIGED as Muslims, to go out and seek knowledge. To educate ourselves.
    On the other hand, we are the backbone of a family, and the first teaching of our children falls to us, along with pleasing our hsubands and (generally) being a Superwoman, albeit slightly better dressed.
    Which to do? Can we do both? How?

    Being a University student at the mo, I’m on a pretty straight route. I know what to do RIGHT NOW, but what about afterwards? I want to get married whilst younger for various reasons (not going into those right now), but what about pursuing further my own education? What about a job? I want to build up my experience and portfolio now so that I can get into work as soon as possible, but WHEN do I work? After Uni?
    But then for how long before I can get married? Will I be able to do both at the same time? The job area I am aiming for is competitive and demanding. Will I be able to juggle both, because they’re both full-time jobs. (Whoever heard of a part-time wife anyway?)

    Some vague ideas that could be solutions to the Q you posted:
    * Yep. (As above). Work times need to be tailored better to accommodate for the dual role of (not just Muslim) women naturally must play. Companies need to allow shift-work, and maybe partner up mothers so they can cover each other’s roles. I realise this could get messy as sometimes people WILL NOT get along, and one person may demand too much of the other’s time when less convenient.
    * Perhaps facilities where children can be left to play? I swear I saw some photos of the giant Google HQ in America where they had nurseries so parents could leave their children while they worked. Again; potential messiness: the old COST vs BENEFIT quandary arises… Smaller places can’t afford those things…


    Anyway, these are just some thoughts. I really should have thought this post out better, but now I’m out of time and need to do some WORK. (Essay due soon on prions!)

    JazakAllah for the weekly Imaan-Boosters! I look forward to reading them.

    Sister O.

  6. Sister Omerjee March 4, 2013 / 10:45 am

    Oh yeah! One more thing (and then I’ll leave this comment section alone!)
    Did the scholar say WHY it wasn’t possible for a woman to become a scholar in this day and age?

  7. Alima March 22, 2013 / 1:18 am

    Assalamu ‘alaykum,

    MashaAllah, some great discussion points. I’m going to get back to you with my research and findings insha Allah :) May Allah (swt) reward you all for your contribution, insha Allah.

  8. Sister Omerjee May 30, 2013 / 11:28 am

    Assalamualaykum Sisters,
    I found this whilst browsing a separate post shared by TomDispatch, NOT IMPORTANT!
    However I think it pertains a great deal to our current conversation. Although the article looks primarily at the situation for pregnant women in America, it has several noteworthy points that can be shared amongst all women wherever they may be in the developed world.
    (I say developed world because of the job situation faced by women which would not be found in a less developed country, where occupations such as waitressing etc. are simply not done!)

    Worth a read if you ask me.


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