What is the ruling on Females attending Universities?
Education is important for all individuals, male or female.
The Hadith often quoted in this context is, “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim.” (Ibn Majah) Yet the understanding of this Hadith is often lacking. The commentators of Hadith have mentioned various explanations to it but the common thread among these interpretations is as follows:
The first knowledge that is compulsory on every Muslim to study is Islamic knowledge to the extent that in all aspects of their lives, they are aware of the Islamic rules that relate to themselves. This refers to their Islamic beliefs, their religious obligations, their interpersonal duties with regards to family ties and marital life and the Islamic rules with regards to their business/profession. This is compulsory on every Muslim, male or female, without exception.
The second type of knowledge that is compulsory as a communal obligation (Fard-Kifaayah) relates to those Islamic practices which are compulsory on the community to fulfil rather than every individual. Examples of this are, the washing, shrouding and burial proceedings of the deceased. It is not compulsory for every Muslim to learn this but the requisite amount of individuals required to fulfil these tasks must be available.
The third type of knowledge that is compulsory also as a communal obligation are professions and businesses that are indispensable to normal human life like medicine, agriculture, tailoring, engineering and the like. Similarly, in this case it is not compulsory for every Muslim to learn all these professions but the requisite amount of individuals required to fulfil these tasks must study the same so that the needs of the community are provided for.
The importance due to each type of knowledge should be justly afforded. It sometimes happens that individuals will use the aforementioned Hadith to justify university studies but are content with a grade 6 and 7 level of Islamic studies!
2. Education for a Muslim should be attained in a manner in which the laws of Islam are preserved. Education is never a licence to transgress the limits of Islam.
3. Muslims, male or female, must endeavour to stay within the laws of Islam in attaining education. In keeping with this, they should choose the education system which poses the least risk to their Islamic morality. Hence, correspondence education must be given preference over university learning if the environment at the university is not in conformance to Islamic morality, as is the general case in most universities.
4. Similarly, those courses should be given preference wherein one’s Islam is preserved over more lucrative courses which place a person’s Islam at risk.
So keep your duty to Allah and fear Him as much as you can… (Quran 64:16)
5. Many Muslim societies have embraced the need for Muslim schools wherein segregation between the genders, an Islamic requirement, is practiced. The need for segregation is even more important at the university level. Muslim societies should rise to fulfil this important challenge and need of our time. Besides the Islamic requirement for this, gender segregated educational institutes have been proven to produce better academic results then co-educational institutes. If the Ulama were to endorse co-educational university studying simply because of the need of education and grant open permission for the same, it is highly unlikely that the Islamic requirement for segregated institutes would ever be fulfilled.
6. Mufti Taqi Uthmani Saheb addressing the situation wherein female expertise is required in the community and such expertise cannot be gained except in tertiary institutes, writes,
“As far as females attaining medical education is concerned, then this is not only permissible, rather it is Fardh-Kifaayah (a communal obligation). This is because the original ruling is that female patients must be treated by female doctors; and this will not be possible unless some females formally study medicine. Nonetheless, it remains the compulsory duty of females studying medicine to observe the Islamic regulations of Hijaab and that they protect themselves from being affected from the unrestrained nature of the (study) environment.” (Translated from Fataawa Uthmani vol. 4 pgs. 236,237)
7. The Islamic and the only model for the successful flourishing of society has always been one wherein the husband is the provider and protector and the wife is the homemaker and the guardian of the home. It gives men purposeful responsibility in life, it gives women protection as well as freedom from the burden of earning and it provides a stable family structure for the holistic development and upbringing of children. This does not mean that being a homemaker is the only role for a woman to play in society, rather it is the most important role.
Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam has said, “A man is the protector of his family and he will be questioned about them. A woman is the guardian of the house of her husband and his children and she will be questioned about that.” (Bukhari)
For a Muslim, male or female, the ultimate goal is the pleasure of Allah Ta’ala; all else is secondary. Our goal in this life is to prepare for our eternal investment in the hereafter with the world being the vehicle for doing so. Within this framework, one may excel in all of life’s endeavours but never at the expense of one’s hereafter. Education, while a noble pursuit, must be attained to one’s level best in a manner conforming to the teachings of Allah Ta’ala and his Rasool Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam.
Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam has stated, “The one who gives preference to this world will cause harm to their hereafter and the one who gives preference to hereafter will cause harm to their earthly life. So give preference to the eternal life over the temporary one.” (Mustadrak)
And indeed, the life of the hereafter, that is the real life, if only they knew. (Quran 29:64)
Jamiat KZN Fatwa Department