Times of Youth: Considering that a lot of people think that Islam oppresses women, and there is a boom of supporters of feminism and women’s rights and liberation in today’s times, would you enlighten us on what Islam says about educating females and ‘women empowerment’?
Dr. Bilal Philips: First and foremost, the Prophet (pbuh) called the Ummah to educate itself. Saying seeking knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim. That every Muslim means both male and female. That’s why it’s not surprising to find among the leading scholars of the sahabas were women. Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, was the fourth most prolific narrator of Hadith . Some huge portion of the Sunnah, of the Sharia that we know, was narrated by her. Umm Salamah as well, and others among the wives of the Prophet (pbuh) and female sahabees. They were teachers. Five of Imaam Malik’s hadeeth teachers were women. So the idea of women being educated was never an issue among the early generations. I think as time passed, corruption spread, and misunderstandings grew and women became sidelined. Women became barred from the mosque, like in Pakistan and India women can’t go to the Mosque. Something so basic. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had clearly said do not prevent your women from going to the mosque. So now if you’re blocking women from going to the mosque, something as basic as that, then of course other areas that the women should be free to participate in, they would have no opportunity. It’s not surprising that we have a situation now, which is a result of ignorance fundamentally of what the true teachings of Islam are.
The issue that women should be empowered, Islam empowers women. When Islam said to the women when you get married, you don’t change your name to your husband’s name, that was empowerment right there. 1400 years ago that even till today the west hasn’t reached. You have some female movie stars who when they get married they don’t change their names, but for the rest of the women of the west they change their names right away. Where did that come from? That came from the Roman concept of the man’s possessions. The man would put his name on all of his possessions. He would put his name on his villa, on his chariot, on his slave, and on his wife. Islam said stop that. The woman has her own name, that is her own identity, capable of owning and disposing of her property herself. This was only something given to women in the 20th Century. So, there are so many elements that Islam has provided in terms of women female empowerment 1400 years ago at a time when it didn’t even cross people’s minds. It’s modern times that they’re looking back and saying, “Wow. Amazing.” They were doing it from back then.