The Stories You Don’t Know: Muslim Women and Education

The Stories You Don’t Know: Muslim Women and Education

Islam encourages both men and women to learn and seek knowledge – according to one prophetic tradition, from the cradle to the grave. According to another tradition, “seeking knowledge is a duty of every Muslim.” Throughout Muslim history there have been notable Muslim women who excelled in their fields of knowledge, beginning with Aisha bint Abi Bakr who narrated over 2,000 hadith. They include such notable figures as Rabi’ah Bint Mu’awwad, a great scholar of law in Medina, Umm ‘Atiyyah, who taught male scholars Islamic law, and A’isha bint Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas who had many famous male scholars as her pupils.

A Muslim woman, Fatima al Fihri, is the founder of the school that the Guinness Book of World Records calls the oldest continuously operating institution of higher education in the world, al-Qarawiyyin University in Fez, Morocco, established in 859. Nana Asma’u’s 19th century education for women makes her name still a popular choice for schools and women’s educational organizations in Northern Nigeria.

the scholars

Today in Morocco, the tradition of women imams and scholars has been encouraged by the government. King Mohammed has enlisted women to become religious guides or murchidats as a means of countering violence and encouraging tolerance. China is also home to a long tradition of female imams, including Henan province where about 100 female imams continue to teach and provide guidance.

In America, the legacy of Muslim women scholars (pictured above) continues with the likes of Dr. Ingrid Mattson, formerly director of chaplaincy at Hartford Seminary, and today the London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College. Hartford now hosts a new young Muslim woman Feryal Salem, Assistant Professor of Islamic Scripture and Law and Co-Director of Islamic Chaplaincy Program. She is one of a growing number of young American Muslim women scholars and academics who include Intisar Rabb, who was recently appointed Professor of Law and History at Harvard. To see the many notable Muslim women in academics whom we previously recognized see here .


Worldwide there are growing numbers of Muslim women in all levels and fields of education. There is an equal or higher ratio of women to men in Muslim majority countries such as Jordan, Algeria, Lebanon, Kuwait, Libya, U.A.E., Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh. In Qatar, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, there is a higher percentage of women in sciences than in some Western nations.

The percentage of women with a post-secondary education, include 52% in Iran, 34% in Egypt, 32% in Saudi Arabia, and 37% in Lebanon. In the United States a 2009 Gallup Poll found that more American Muslim women (42%) have college degrees than both American Muslim men (39%) and American women overall (29%).

Learn more about this subject through ING’s curriculum, Muslim Women Beyond the Stereotypes, which is available for educators online free of charge. ING’s presentation on the same topic can be requested for a live presentation or webinar.

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