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Toyin Falola: The Role of Women in Islam and the Education of Children

Toyin Falola

(This is the third report on the interview conducted with Sheikh Abdurrahman on May 2, 2021. For its entire recording, see https://fb.watch/5eN6-jkkUu/)

 

Religion is a sensitive topic worldwide, and discussions about religion, especially inter-religious talks, are always held with some words left out of the equation. Contrary to the overly cautious way religion is talked about, it plays a critical role in the day-to-day life of any society. Religions have been for as long as anyone can remember, and they do not seem to be leaving anytime soon. As edgy as some religious topics may seem, they must be discussed to get to the root cause of the topical issues and proffer solutions to them. It is expected that in the course of discussion and in trying to get to the root cause of some topical religious issues, some people’s ox will be gored.

In the Toyin Falola Interview with Sheikh Abdurrahman Ahmad of the Ansar-Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, the interviewers and interviewee did not shy away from exploring topical issues requiring attention. One of such topics is the role of women in Islam. They went further to discuss Islam and the education of children and Islam and extremism. There are lots of misguided perceptions about Islamism, and like all perceptions, they are based on the lack of substantial knowledge on what holds in Islam and the negative apparitions of some self-proclaimed Islamic terror groups. The lack of substantial knowledge and the refusal to launch discourses to know the truth are two of the chief reasons negative perceptions abound. Until we choose to have these seemingly inconvenient discourses, solutions might be far away from us.

Claims are widely held that Islam marginalizes women and that hefty restrictions are placed on their freedom of expression and being. How true are these claims? What does Islam say about women? What role does Islam spell out for women? These were implied questions that stemmed from Ms. Maryam Lemu’s series of questions drawn from what was obtainable during Prophet Muhammad’s era and what is happening now. One of the prominent perceptions among people is that Islam requires women to be subservient and silent observers of societal proceedings and deeds. Ms. Lemu quizzed to know where that ideology came from, seeing as women actively participated in the development of society during Prophet Muhammad’s time—as warriors, doctors, scholars, public speakers, and vocal career women.

Sheikh Ahmad’s response showed that Ms. Lemu was right in her claims about how Islam was in ages past. He confessed to being equally baffled about how Islam became known as a religion that considered women subservient folks and silent contributors to society. This tag, which has been given to Islam, seems to have stuck and edged itself into the thinking and belief of some Muslims. No one can tell if this mentality slowly spilled into Islam from general societal perceptions of men as the greater contributors to society. Sheikh Ahmad said Allah, the prophets, and his followers never commanded it. The Sheikh posited that the notion must have stemmed from the chauvinistic tendencies of overbearing cultures that came in contact with Islam during the spread of the religion. According to him, the change must have come due to the dynamic characteristic of some aspects of Islam.

Furthermore, the Sheikh said that relegating women to the background leaves us unproductive and backward. In many countries of the world, a large percentage of the workforce is women. Therefore, if we ask our women to take the backseat when it comes to sharing roles and tackling issues, we will have a drastically reduced number of people actively working, which would lead to reduced productivity. The Missioner firmly asserted that the claim and belief that women should not actively participate in community development did not stem from Islam and should not be tied to Islam. He further admonished that Muslims and non-Muslims alike should refrain from such primitive tendencies. Prof. Toyin Falola brought to the Sheikh’s notice some plans to seek and facilitate the foundation of a university for Muslim women. The professor talked about how he had earlier spoken to the idea of establishing a university for women. In response, Sheikh Ahmad said the idea of an Islamic-women university is welcome and a matter of necessity.

One other crucial role that women play in Islam is the education of children. This is not the formal school education, but the Islamic education of children–reading the Quran and writing in Arabic. Just as the family and its informal education serve as the child’s earliest socialization, the Muslim mother serves as her child’s earliest contact with the world of Islam. As is with the average family, the mother’s teachings do not hinder the child from pursuing further knowledge at an Islamic school. The Sheikh spoke of the critical role his mother played in his Islamic education. His mother introduced him to Islam before he proceeded to study at an Islamic school. His mother’s early lessons were instrumental to the Sheikh getting through the Quranic school and Islamiyya. The Sheikh did not step into a formal school of learning until he was 14 years old and fully grounded in Islamic education.

The first five years of a child’s life are believed to leave indelible marks on them, which is why they are called the formative years. The importance of the formative years and their influence on the child cannot be overlooked. During these formative years, Islamic children learn socialization from their mothers. This is only one of the many roles women play in Islam. Islam does not subjugate women; Islam does not see women as inferior. According to the Sheikh, Islam holds women to some moral standards in their dressing, in that a Muslim woman must cover herself fully from men who are not her immediate family members. Nonetheless, this Islamic doctrine does not subjugate, maltreat, ostracize, or discriminate against women.

In Nigeria, the process of Islamic pedagogy has always been a source of controversy. Many believe that the tutor’s teaching, especially when it comes to administering punishments, is harsh and needs reform. One thing that comes to mind about the average Islamic school is how learners should forget what they were taught or commit any other offenses common among children. Is this system of teaching widespread? What effects does this system have on children? Has it ever proven effective in helping children learn Arabic and the Quran? These are mind-boggling questions that could be implied from the question by Dr. Kole Odutola of the University of Florida as he sought to know Islam’s stance on children’s education.

Sheikh Abdurrahman Ahmad did not mince words in condemning the said Islamic style of pedagogy. He asserted that although popular in some communities, this known style is not the only way children are schooled Islamically. He sighted himself as an example–an Islamic scholar who was never beaten for once while learning about Islam and the Quran. He described the Islamic style of pedagogy, which imposes harsh punishments on students as wicked. In his words, “that way of educating children was wrong, it is still wrong, and it will ever be wrong. Most of the children who pass through that unfortunate system never learn much.” The Sheikh’s assertion that children who learn under duress and fear never learn much is backed by psychological science. Beating children distracts them from the learning goal and further compounds the problem. If you are in the process of teaching children a verse in the Quran and they are not getting it, the next thing is not to punish them. Beating the children would cause mental destabilization, making them forget the little they could recite before. Apart from causing mental destabilization, beating children during learning also makes them fearful of the teacher and the whip. Living in constant fear does something negative to the mind and development of students; it makes them lack confidence in themselves and their abilities.

The Sheikh explained that retribution is at the heart of this teaching style and that it is more of a societal problem where tutors want to discipline students the same way they were treated as students. It is a warped mentality of “we were beaten while learning, and look at how we turned out; so, we will beat you mercilessly too.” It brings to mind the near impossibility of excelling at many a Nigerian university lecturer’s courses and how this can be largely tied to the lecturer not scoring an “A” while also in school. Sheikh Ahmad said this teaching style is not Islam, seeing as Islam—meaning peace—is a religion that teaches kindness towards children. He further stated some effects of this teaching style, such as children losing interest in studying the Quran or taking out their anger and bitterness against the religion in itself.

Arabic is both a language of people and the language of Islam. The learning of a new language is not an easy process, as the learner has to get to grips with the grammar, language structure, pronunciation, tone, and style of the language being learned. The motivation to learn a new language is often absent, as the learner cannot tie the new language to an immediate need in their lives. There is also the case of the complexities of the language being learned, as compared to the acquired language, which may make a learner believe that Arabic is hard and English is simple, whereas the reverse is the case, but because the learner acquired English and did not have to learn the ropes expressly, they believe the one is easier to learn by the other. Furthermore, students’ language aptitude—the capacity to learn a new language—varies. Therefore, teaching two learners of different aptitudes at the same pace and expecting the same level of delivery from them is catastrophic. These essential things are not considered at those Quranic schools where children are mercilessly beaten for their inability to learn the Quran as fast as the tutor wishes. Sheikh Ahmad asserted the need to create a conducive learning environment for children to learn the Quran. He sympathized with the children subjected to, as he described it, the cruelty that is obtainable in some Quranic schools. He, however, assured and doused doubts that there are many Quranic schools where, just like the one he attended, learners are taught with kindness and given the room to grow and learn.

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