By Husseini Yushau BabalWaiz
The recent kidnapping of the 276 Nigerian school girls by the Islamist group—Boko Haram, (a phrase in Hausa language that means; western education is unlawful) has generated immense passion and attention from around the world. The media attention has been obsessive and viral. The hash tag created on social media; #Bring Back Our girls, is on every media platform – entertainment, religious, diplomatic and political celebrities (Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton inclusive) worldwide urging the release of these innocent girls.
While the world is in solidarity with the immediate release of the girls, it is important to remind the world and especially Muslims that there is nowhere in the Qur’an or hadith (prophetic wisdom) that it was stated Boko (secular/western education) is haram or unlawful. And for that matter, Islam never kicked against secular education for both men and women.
Contrary to the mainstream media labeling of Islam as an incubator of terrorism, pioneers of Islamic religion were strong advocates of peace and nonviolence. The unfortunate and unfounded narrative being propounded and propagated by Nigeria-based Islamist Boko Haram militants that western education is haram (unlawful) in Islam is the height of distortion and fallacy. Indeed, Education is halal (lawful). Boko Haram militants may misrepresent the true meaning of Islam but the correct version is Boko Halal meaning “education is lawful”. Islam is a faith whose first divine revelation was about seeking knowledge and does not endorse killings, kidnappings, and enslavement of young girls. No matter what the Nigerian militants may claim to justify their heinous act, Islam recognizes the status of women in society and abhors slavery and prostitution. If Boko Haram militants were true Muslims, they would not consider for one minute the idea of selling the girls to sex traffickers and pedophiles.
It is a clear-cut irony that, the first revelation that was sent to the Prophet of Islam Muhammad was, “Iqrah” (Qur’an chapter 96 verses 1-5) which says: “Proclaim! (or Read!)In the name of your Lord and Cherisher, who created men, out of a leech-like-clot. Proclaim! And your Lord Is Most Bountiful. He who taught by the Pen! Taught man that which he knows not” In his analysis of some parts of these verses, Yusuf Ali, the celebrated interpreter of the Qur’an stated in his, “THE QUR’AN-English Translation of the Meanings & Commentary” , that, “…”read”, “teach”, “pen”[which implies reading, writing, books, study, research], “knowledge” [including science, self knowledge, spiritual understanding…]”
The implication is that Islam embraces education, not necessarily religious education but western/secular education as well, without which the hypocritical Boko Haram could not have gotten those weapons they are using, because those were by-products of western education! And it is only through education (especially secular/western) that we will know His (Allah) reality and the reality of His universal phenomenon!
History has it that, due to the importance the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad attached to education in general, he sent one of his companions, Zaid bin Thabit to the Jewish land to learn their Hebrew language, which was not a religious discipline but a secular course. Once when the Prophet observed his companions using cross-fertilization method to increase dates yield, he kicked against that in the beginning. However, when the date harvest of that year was very low, he asked them why and they said; because they stopped cross-fertilization (which was then secular educational idea) that he advised against it. The Prophet then encouraged them to continue cross-fertilizing; since that was knowledge they learnt in order to increase production of dates. And he used to say to his companions that, “Wisdom (hikmah) is a lost property of a believer, he should grab it where he finds it (even from non-believers).
In the pre-Islamic era, women had been treated in such a way that their womanly pride was offended. Concubines were seen as an instrument of amusement and were treated in a degrading way. Fearing that they would grow up to become prostitutes, little girls were buried alive by their parents. But as events unfolded, the Holy Prophet abolished female infanticide, a practice of burying female infants alive by the Arab pagans and consequently restored the rights of women. Women became examples of modesty and virtue in society. The institution of motherhood gained honor, with the hadith that, “Paradise lies under the feet of the mothers”.
In his forward to a book entitled, Reading the Muslim Mind, by Hassan Hathout, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, former Minister of Petrol and Mineral Resources of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who used to lecture (annually) in Islamic Shariah at the Harvard University Law School in Boston, Massachusetts wrote that, “the history of mankind has witnessed a number of civilizations: The Chinese, the Pharaonic, the Greek, the Persian and Roman. It has also witnessed the Islamic civilization. Each of the civilizations that preceded Islam became renowned for aspects that distinguished it from the others. Thus philosophy thrived in the Greek civilization whereas architecture was the strong point of the Romans. The Islamic civilization, on the other hand, is notable in that it saw the rise of all major fields of knowledge, such as medicine, astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and philosophy as well as architecture.
The Christian popular magazine, Awake of April 2012 edition carried an article dubbed, Medieval Masters of Astronomy. It says, “…the Arabs (Muslims) were one of many peoples who studied the night sky. The golden age of science in the Middle East began in the ninth century C.E. and the Arabic-speaking astronomers of that era were regarded as masters and pioneers of astronomy…During the seventh and eighth century C.E., Islam expanded west from Arabia across North Africa and into Spain and east as far as Afghanistan. Scholars in this vast area drew on a legacy of scientific research from Persia and Greece, which was largely influenced by Babylon and Egypt.
By the 13th Century, some mosques even employed a professional astronomer, or muwaqqit, who helped worshipers pray in what they considered to be the proper manner. With their data, astronomers could also determine the dates of religious events and practices, such as the period of fasting during the month of Ramadan. Additionally, they could help pilgrims traveling to Mecca ascertain the length of their journey and plan the most efficient route…As early as 1031, Abu Rayhan al-Biruni(who had exceptional expertise in dozens of scientific, intellectual and academic disciplines) mentioned the possibility that planets revolve in elliptical orbits rather than circular ones…They (Muslim astronomers) could pinpoint the positions of the sun, moon, and five visible planets at any time of the day or night – an invaluable aid in navigation. They could tell time and maintain a calendar by observing positions of the heavenly bodies; charted star movements with unprecedented accuracy, and their findings proved invaluable to successive generations of astronomers.” Without western/secular education (which they were the pioneers of), how could these early Muslims have chalked all these highly incredible and indelible achievements? Folks, let us ask boko haram guys, rhetorically!
Prophet Muhammad strongly advocated education of both men and women, as he said in one of his hadith, “Seeking knowledge is mandatory upon every Muslim male and female.” Having seen the intellectual capacity of his wife Aisha, he advised his companions to seek part of the knowledge of Islam from her. And so they did and benefitted a lot from her expertise.
Clearly, Boko Haram must be acting with other motives but certainly not for Muslims and true believers of Prophet Mohammad. Militants must stop confusing people or hiding under religious pretexts to advance their political or other agenda. The mass media should also take note and decipher the difference pure religious motives and political and personal agenda.
Husseini Yushau BabalWaiz, is the Research & Outreach Coordinator, Center for Media & Peace Initiatives, CMPI (Babalwaiz@126.96.36.199). He is the author of Islam Promotes Tolerance & Prohibits Terrorism-Reviving the Islamic Advocacy of Mercy & Magnanimity to Mankind (forthcoming) and a Private Tutor in Arabic & Islamic Studies in New York.