By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor-in-Chief
Prophet Muhammad (s) said: â€œThe seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.â€ (Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith #74) He also said: â€œOne who treads a path in search of knowledge has his path to Paradise made easy by Godâ€¦â€ (Riyadh us-Saleheen, hadith #245)
He further said: â€œA servant of God will remain standing on the Day of Judgment until he is questioned about his (time on earth) and how he used it; about his knowledge and how he utilized it; about his wealth and from where he acquired it and in what (activities) he spent it; and about his body and how he used it.â€ (Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith #148)
The Prophet (s) also said: â€œKnowledge from which no benefit is derived is like a treasure out of which nothing is spent in the cause of God.â€ (Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith #108)
He also said: â€œGod, His angels and all those in Heavens and on Earth, even ants in their hills and fish in the water, call down blessings on those who instruct others in beneficial knowledge.â€ (Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith #422)
Then he said â€œAcquire knowledge and impart it to the people.â€ (Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith #107)
In Sunan Abdu Dawood one reads the Prophet (s) explaining, â€œIf anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, God will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise. The angels will lower their wings in their great pleasure with one who seeks knowledge. The inhabitants of the heavens and the Earth and (even) the fish in the deep waters will ask forgiveness for the learned man. The superiority of the learned over the devout is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars. The learned are the heirs of the prophets, and the prophets leave (no monetary inheritance), they leave only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion. (Hadith #1631)
The statement that seek knowledge even if you have to travel to China is often attributed to the Prophet (s), but these are the words of Imam Ali, the fourth Caliph of Muslims.
Read these sayings of the Prophet (s) again and again. Repeat them to yourself and to others and notice something very simple that can be summarized in the following words.
â€œKnowledge is indivisible and regardless of oneâ€™s gender and age it is obligatory upon everyone.â€
Throughout our Islamic history, we have tried to define and redefine knowledge in our image, an image conditioned by our politics, culture, gender, ethnicity, society, economics and personal interests. We are the ones who have bifurcated it into worldly and religious sciences. We are the ones who have closed its doors whomsoever we wanted out. We are the ones who have tried to limit its acquisition whomever we wanted to exclude and we are the ones who have often tried to taint education with our biases and absurdities. We often presented our viewpoints as that of God because we claimed that we are created in the image of God.
But most of us failed to recognize that it was not the intent of God and the Prophet (s) to limit the access of education to girls and women. It was not their intent to deprive those born in a state of bondage of knowledge. It was not their intent to dictate to others what to study and what not to study as long as one understands the parameters of knowledge set by the Divine, the supreme authority.
The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and those who are like them and have behaved like them throughout human history, have actually argued against the way of God and the Prophet (s), by setting limits on the nature and type of education girls, women, children, and even men.
Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor-in-chief
A young child, in her courage and innocence, stood up against this idea based on her common sense, not fully aware of the true dimensions of the Divine expansion of education. The logic was simple. How could God be unjust to His own creation by giving one more access to education than to another of His creation? She was critical of the Taliban. She condemned their tactics as she saw them playing it in her small village. She even called them terrorists and called them unjust.
The mighty Taliban were upset. How could a young child question their understanding of religion? Rather than reviewing their own attitude or trying to educate their perspective to the child, they became furious. She became their target. Finally, they tried to kill her. This is how they had learned to deal with their opponents. â€œShoot those who oppose you and you would be blessed by the one in whose name you kill.â€ But the one who gives life and death saved her. She was injured and although she nearly lost her life, Allah saved her and many physicians, mostly non-Muslims, were inspired to help to save her.
There were several countries in the world including those with a Muslim majority who could have offered medical help to her, including Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, or India, but Britain took the lead to offer her the treatment. Since then, she is being projected by the so called western media as a symbol of resistance and an icon for women education. The Muslim media could also have taken up her case, but it preferred not only to ignore her, but to cast doubt on her story. Some even suggested that she was not attacked and she faked her injury. Among those who questioned her integrity were those Muslim theologians who have spent their lives teaching their followers the Quranic message that says: â€œdonâ€™t assume things.â€
The so-called Western campaign to project her as a role model for girls regardless of their religion and ethnicity has angered many pious Muslims. After all not many young kids question the authority of a coercive group in a small village in a remote area of the world.
The projection of a girl to a position of prominence does not sit well with them. A woman should spend her time in the home getting ready to produce children and then rearing and nurturing them. She is not supposed to talk about education or offer a leadership role. Children are not the teachers of their adults so they are upset. Religion is the prerogative of men only. A womanâ€™s voice in public is unacceptable in their understanding of Islam. Since they are the â€œdefenders of Islamâ€ and its gatekeepers, how could they let her be used by the West to make a mockery of genuine Islamic teachings?
They see in her rise a conspiracy on the part of the West to exploit her situation to serve their agenda against Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Muslim world. They suspect that the West is using her to impose upon the Muslim world its educational values, devoid of morality. They also see in her projection a well-conceived plot to strip Muslim world of its religious identity.
Ironically, none of those, especially the ones living in the West, would agree with what the Taliban have done or have been doing. Even the most anti-Western among them have serious issues with the thinking and logic of Taliban in implementing a version of Islam that is contaminated with male-chauvinism, tribal jingoism, and feudal parochialism.
What they also tend to ignore the fact that the girl they are accusing of playing in the hands of the West is echoing the ideas of their Prophet (s) on education to the world in an atmosphere of understanding and recognition. Their logic is interesting. â€œDonâ€™t speak the truth if it serves the political interests of others.â€ In other word truth has no value of its own and cannot stand on its own strength. She is quoting the Quran. they do not like it. After all the Quran is their monopoly. How could she or her secular father quote or use the Quran in their arguments. Her dress does not fall outside the parameters of Islamic norms. But they are still not convinced because the two inches of her hair closer to her forehead are still exposed to a male eye. Her language is soft and her style is decent, but it does not matter. She is not talking of revenge, even against those who tried to kill her and they think she can decide on her own whom to forgive and whom to declare an enemy. She is repeating what every sensible Muslim has repeated and would like to repeat about education, but they argue that being a woman, she can only repeat this message only to a closed audience of women and girls.
Seemingly, they canâ€™t rejoice the rise of one of their daughters and sisters to a position of dignity in front of a world audience in a climate that is filled with admiration towards her? To them even, as soon as a girl reaches the age of puberty, she is a source of test for men regardless of their age. They are so much obsessed with the sexuality of women in their own context that they are not willing to treat others like their daughters and sisters.
Let us come to other issues in her case. They argue that the west is exploiting her situation. Even if the West is exploiting her so what? The message she is delivering is worth repeating from every channel. She is not questioning Islam or challenging the Quran or the Prophet (s). She is simply following what every Muslim should have followed.
How many of those people who are critical of her were raising their voices in support of education for all when they were of her age? How many of them took the bullets for their stand? How many of them persisted in their mission even after being hit by a bullet? How many of them were seen as a symbol of hope by adults and non-Muslims when they were in their teens.
The argument that the West is hypocritical in its policies towards the Muslim world needs to be analyzed on its own merit. The West has double stand standards towards its own values. Yes, the West has used its drones to kill innocent people, yet it has played politics and havoc with the lives of the people, and yes it is not honest when it deals with Islam in general. But the same analysis can easily be applied to those countries that claim to be Muslim.
Let us also remember, that many others including the citizens of the Western world have also suffered at the hands of its brutal policies. The US destroyed its own economy in indulging itself in wars that were not necessary.
The tug of war between Republicans and Democrats is ruining the economy of the country. The foreign policies of the West are problematic even to its own declared principles.
But those policies need to be challenged on the basis of their absurdities and not on the basis of how the 16 year old girl is being projected.
If the critics look beyond their myopic perspectives, they would discover a new image of Islam emerging in the words of this girl, an image that none of them was able to create as most of them were busy and are still busy in fighting and destroying each other.