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Incendiary integrists and Muslim girls’ education


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 16 August 2018 00:00


Muslim girls in increasing numbers all over the world are breaking down religious and social 

barriers and pursuing higher education in multiple disciplines

 

Integrisme is a French term for an ideology originated in the 19th and early 20th centuries which rejected the values of secular modernism and wanted the state and government subjected to the Church as it was in the days of medieval Christendom. This ideology rejects the idea of separation of state and church as advanced by the philosophers of Enlightenment. One who believes and works to achieve this objective is therefore an integrist. 

Sayeeda Warsi, a British Muslim writer and politician, in her recently-published ‘The Enemy Within,’ finds a similarity between integrisme and jihadism where the latter also wants an Islamic state governed by the sharia. Like the Catholic integrists, jihadists also want no separation between religion and politics. In their view Islam is a totality that encompasses all branches of human life, political, economic, cultural, ethical and moral. Jihadists are now popularly called Islamists and jihadism Islamism. 

These terms, as Warsi correctly identifies are misnomers, because Islamism and Islamist were used by the French philosopher Voltaire and philologist Ernest Renan in the 18th and 19th centuries to describe Islam and Muslims respectively.  They employed these terminologies because the ones current in Europe during their time, Mohamedanism and Mohamedan were also inappropriate.  

It was the Pakistani Muslim integrists, who a couple of weeks ago, burnt down twelve girl schools in Gilgit-Baltistan’s Diamer district in Pakistan. In October 2012, Taliban integrists shot and wounded Malala Yousafzai for advocating education for Muslim girls. 

Since 2013 Boko Haram integrists in North East Nigeria, with some regularity, burnt down a number of secular boarding schools, killed hundreds of students studying there and kidnapped girls from those schools not only to impregnate them but also indoctrinate them with their own version of Islam. (Incidentally, the name Boko Haram, which generally means ‘Western education is sin’ also means in Hausa language ‘books are outlawed’).

In June 2018, in the city of Jalalabad in Eastern Afghanistan, about 80 girl schools were reported to have been shut down because of threat from the Islamic State (IS) integrists. IS also closed down a number of girl schools in its so called Caliphate. 

An incident that occurred in Saudi Arabia in 2002 when a girls school caught fire and when students ran out to escape, allegedly without their head cover, the religious police chased them back into the burning building, because they were not properly covered, also shows the relative values attached to a piece of cloth and girls’ lives and education. All these raise one crucial question. Why are these integrists so afraid of and detest Muslim girls acquiring secular modern education?

Integrists are generally against secular education because that education teaches the learner the art of independent and critical thinking. Questions why and how are more important in modern education than questions of what, when, where and who, which focus on memory and reiteration and do not lead to creation of new knowledge. 

It was independent reasoning and rational thought that pushed the Muslim world to the forefront of scientific knowledge and discoveries between the 9th and 12th centuries, and dislodged Islamic orthodoxy from its seat of intellectual domination.  After the 12th century however, orthodoxy came back with a vengeance, closed all avenues of independent reasoning and promoted unquestioned imitation of the past. This is what the integrists want from their followers and traditional education in the madrasas satisfies that need. The history of Taliban madrasas in Pakistan is a good example to prove the point. 

However, from a utilitarian perspective integrists are prepared to welcome modern education in physical sciences and not in social sciences, because the latter undermines the social and political equilibrium of the ideology of integrisme. It should not therefore be a surprise to note that nearly 63% of the jihadists, according to one study, are graduates of medicine, engineering, science and business disciplines. According to the same source one of the disciplines the IS integrists suppressed in their caliphate was political science. 

Modern education beyond elementary level for girls is double jeopardy for integrists. If Muslim girls are trained to think independently and critically they would certainly start questioning the unjust and misogynous traditions and rulings of orthodoxy. That would then pave the way for a women liberation movement, which integrisme detests. 

On the lap of the mother, said the Prophet of Islam, the son finds his paradise. If these liberated women train their children also to think independently and critically and question the teachings of orthodoxy that would then dry up recruits for the jihadist venture. Therefore the simple solution is to burn down all secular schools for Muslim girls and stop them gaining higher education. This, in essence, is the reason for the incidents cited above. (Though unrelated to the subject under review the ongoing saga of reforming the MMDA in Sri Lanka and ACJU’s continuous foot dragging also exhibits streaks of integrisme).  

In any case, theirs is a losing battle. Muslim girls in increasing numbers all over the world are breaking down religious and social barriers and pursuing higher education in multiple disciplines. Scholars like the Moroccan Professor Fatima Mernissi, American Laleh Bakhtiar who translated the Quran, Egyptian American Leila Ahmad, a sociologist and author of Women and Gender in Islam, American Quran exegetist, Amina Wadud and British Sayeeda Warsi are a few of the shining examples of this new generation. 

Muslim women are already confronting the mullahs in their own territory.  Even Saudi Arabia, the fortress of Wahhabism, an ultraorthodox Islamic ideology, is relenting before the rising tide of women power. Indeed, as Sherin Khankan, the founder of the first mosque in Europe and a female imam has titled her book, ‘Women are the Future of Islam’.

(The writer is attached to the School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia.)


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