A visit to the Orange Crescent School in the city of Garden Grove, Los Angeles County, Southern California, enlightens visitors about the perspective goal of children acquiring knowledge and education at this institution. The sidewall of the main school building has two messages that greet the visitors: “Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim man and Muslim woman” and “Seek knowledge from cradle to grave”. Muzammil Siddiqi is Director of the Islamic Society of Orange County that manages the Ar-Rahman Mosque and Orange Crescent School. During September 2001, he went to Washington DC, and met President George Bush and presented him with a concise report about Islam, the Islamic views about extremism and condemned heinous acts of terrorism carried out on September 11, 2001. He presented a copy of the Holy Qur’ān to President Bush.
Go to the Library of the California State University in the city of Long Beach (CSULB) and see large pictures of Hollywood movie stars hung in the main reading hall of the library and read the word “READ” above each picture. Go to the Wiseburn Los Angeles County Library in this writer’s Wiseburn-Hawthorne neighbourhood and read the word “READ” above the picture of Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Supervisor of the 2nd District of Los Angeles County. This exercise can be repeated in every city in Southern California. The concept has been borrowed from the life of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, who on the command of Almighty God, was told to Read by Arch Angel Gabriel. The first verse of the Qur’ān revealed to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was: ‘Read in the name of your Lord’.
Acquiring knowledge is a continuing process, starting in the womb and ending when someone dies and goes to his/her grave.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ on command from the Almighty God introduced reforms in society and set many shining examples for mankind. The Prophet said: “Women are the other halves of men. The best among you are those who are best to your wives, and I am best to my wives. Be kind with the soft and gentle ones (females). And to your wife you have a duty and a responsibility. Paradise lies at the feet of the mother.” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ expected Muslims to treat their children equally. It is said that he once reprimanded a man who kissed his son and not his daughter.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ gave women their birth rights because the Islamic law provides protection to women. A woman has the right to choose her own spouse and has also the right to divorce him. She is eligible to inherit property and has the right to own a business and manage her own property. She is free to acquire knowledge. Islam bestowed innumerable birth rights on women over fourteen hundred years ago when the European civilizations had declared that women had no soul and continued debating about the issue.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “O! People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah’s trust and with His permission. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”
In the South-Asia subcontinent top Muslim scholars are well versed in the Arabic language. Many scholars speak fluent Arabic, write books in Arabic and fully understand the message of the Qur’ān, Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and Islamic Jurisprudence – the Fiqh – yet, they communicate with the Muslim community through the most popular language of the subcontinent – Urdu.
Maulana Ashraf Ali Thaanvi, a Muslim scholar, wrote a 1000-page book in Urdu entitled Bahishti Zewar, meaning Heavenly Jewellery, for Muslim women on the Islamic Fiqh, describing in detail the rights and responsibilities of Muslim women in Islam based on the teachings of the Qur’ān and Sunnah. In the early 1950’s one of the teachers of this writer made a comment about this book to show how the Qur’ān has liberated Muslim women 1400 years ago. He said,
“If your wife is the owner of two houses and you live with her in one house, then you don’t have the right to tell your wife that you would collect the rent of the other house. She has the right to conduct her own business.” This is one of the finest statements about women’s liberation uttered in the 20th century.
Maulana Yusuf Islahi, who ran a school for girls in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh under the name of “Jamea- Tus- Salehat”, in a speech at the Islamic Society of Orange County, Garden Grove, California, in March 1998, said, “Serious discussions are always taking place regarding prayer and fasting. More and more speakers are spending time on these topics in speeches and discourses. It is time now to concentrate more on discussions on making families strong and inculcating family values in our present generation because families make and break nations.” He urged Muslims in the US to change their priorities. Today, more and more scholars are emphasising the same message.
Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal, one of the greatest philosophers and thinkers of the East who was educated in the West, reminded Muslims over and over again about their responsibility in this universe. In a speech in 1929, over 90 years ago, he urged them to wake up from the deep slumber and commence reinterpretation of Islamic thoughts in the light of the mundane and modern experiences. From his experience in Europe he said that Muslims should use Islam as a social policy. He always looked at the Qur’ān with the sensitivity of a philosopher and insight of a poet and warned Muslims that they should not let themselves be exploited by semi-literate Mullahs. In the final analysis he said, “Muslims must embrace modernity without losing their religious identity.”
Dr Iqbal felt that Muslims must benefit from the intellectual and scientific legacy of Europe and move forward while cautioning them that he did not mean to say they should accept un-Islamic learning. He said, “Muslims must get ready to re-adoption of values which they owned in their own time of wakefulness. This could be done through reconstruction of Islamic theology and Islamic law through Ijtehad.”
The emphasis on gender values should start at a very early stage in life. We must teach our boys to show respect to girls and consider them as equal partners. They should be made to understand that treating girls and women with kindness and respect are in the best interest of humanity. We must teach them to speak gently with girls, not hurt them and uphold their dignity. It is very imperative that we make boys understand that physical differences do not mean boys and men are superior to girls and women; teach them to be polite when talking to girls and women. Let us work together to see that boys are aware of distinctions between teachings of Islam and ideas and practices influenced by cultural and social conditions.
[Mohammad Yacoob is a retired industrial engineer and engineering proposals analyst who lives in Los Angeles, California]