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Why Aren’t There More Female Muslim Scholars?

Why Aren’t There More Female Muslim Scholars?


I agree that “Yes, women can become Islamic scholars, too.” But this is dismissive of the fact that men still dominate Islamic study and discourse at the highest levels. In time, I hope to see women have equal say and influence in all fields of Islamic study so as to balance out the pervasive and gender-biased male perspective on Islamic canon/teachings. This is the only way for Islam to shake off the culturally-rooted patriarchal shackles that have been sadly superimposed on it for centuries.

Salaam alykum,

The fact that I wrote “Yes, women can become Islamic scholars, too,” is dismissive of the fact that men still dominate Islamic study?

I think (or rather, I hope), by now I have illustrated my dedication and strong support for women, and I have cited, upon multiple occasions, that it is Islam’s unabashed support for women that I cite as one of the major and central reasons why I believe in The Qur’an.

However, I think the evidence, within the traditional Islamic discourse is overwhelming in that it enshrines women, and that women have been a critical element of Islamic jurisprudential and theological teachings, whether we look at Khadijah, Aisha, Fatima az-Zahra, or Fatima al-Fihri, who founded (yes, founded) the oldest university on Earth (incidentally, an Islamic university), and while I understand that I will neverunderstand what it is like to be a woman, nor will I understand the pressures and difficulties that revolve around being a woman, let alone one who wishes to learn about Islam on a scholarly level, I will say one thing:

As a man, there is only so much I can do. At the end of the day, if you see the pervasive gender-based male perspective on Islamic teachings (which, I respectfully disagree with you on), it is up to you and only you (I’m assuming you are a woman) to change these things. As a man, what can I do? Honestly. Other than show my support and attempt to advocate for, not change, rather a return to our Islamic foundations, which is rooted in empowerment of women; but as a man, again, there are limitations.

At the end of the day, it’s going to be up to you, womennot me, and while I will always support you, I will always be with you, I promise, there will always be a limit to what I can do, precisely because I am a man.

On an academic/scholarly level, change has exploded, especially in the last century: when you look at Soad Saleh, who is a professor of comparative Jurisprudence at Al-Azhar, where she also serves as A Dean(a DEAN), or Hanan Al-Laham and Huda Al Habash in Syria, and then there is someone who I genuinelylook up to: Intisar Rabb, who I am actually modeling my academic career after, who does not only have her PhD from Princeton, undergraduate work from Georgetown, but her Law degree from Yale, masha Allah, and she is a professor of Law at Boston College.

I have yet to see one person blog about Dr. Rabb, which confuses me.

You see, there is tremendous change happening, it just doesn’t get addressed or applauded, even by Muslim women, and that seems to be a central problem. Whether it’s Dr. Rabb’s classes in Boston or Dr. Saleh’s TV program on Islamic Jurisprudence, I see an underwhelming amount of coverage on their exploits, which saddens me.

Regardless, that’s just my observation, because, at the end of the day, the same issue exists: women are the ones who have to be there, learning and teaching.

It is great to identify problems, but the issue I have is that Muslims, especially in the West, have fallen into a “culture of condemnation,” in which in order to be exempt from criticism, we simply must condemn “Issue X” or “Issue Y,” and therefore, we have shown, through mere words, that we are “acceptable.”

I am sorry, I think that is terrible and lazy; it is easy to condemn something, it is far more difficult to changesomething. Great, you identify a problem, but the larger question is: are you prepared to take the necessary steps to change it?

So, again, it is up to you, Muslim women, to create this change. Do I realize there are obstacles? That there are many forces within ALL fields (Islamic, scientific, etc) that dissuade women from entering them? Of course I do. But again, I’m a man, there will always be a limit as to what I can do, and so I challenge my sisters in Islam, make Islam your own, study it, teach it, and pursue this study with the knowledge that there are many men, who want nothing more than your empowerment, than your pride, than to uphold your honor, because as men, and I don’t care what you all say, but we have been taught, that our pride and honor as men, is to ensure that you, the women of our (shared) society, have all the respect that we can provide you.

However, no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, it is up to you (women) to decide your roles, to decide what you desire and what your expectations should be, and all we can do is be there for you, but at the end of the day, it is women who must meet these challenges, and quite frankly, knowing the women in my family, and my sisters in Islam, I am quite confident that Muslim women can meet those challenges, insha Allah.

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