Muslim Peace Fellowship
Envisioning Peace


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Sadida Athaullah, originally of Hyderabad, India, has been living
in the US since 1980 and teaching Islamic Studies since the Gulf war.
She is a member of the Muslim Peace Fellowship.
Taught by the Pen
by Sadida Athaullah

Read! In the Name of your Lord who created—
created the human being from a clot of blood—
Read! For your Lord is the Most Generous
who has taught by the pen, taught humanity
what it did not know.

An educated and literate Muslimah has always been an Islamic ideal.

When the Qur’anic revelation began, the very first command (Surah 96, 1-5) concerned literacy. It was followed by about ten other verses, all revealed during the period when the Prophet was living at Makkah, mentioning education and reading.

It was beginning from this period that the Prophet had scribes who wrote what was revealed to him, and these copies multiplied rapidly.

When `Umarradiya Allahu `anhu accepted Islam, in the sixth year of revelation, it was after he had come across a copy of some part of the Qur'an in the house of his sister, Fatimah, who was also literate.

After the Prophet migrated to Madinah and established an Islamic state, he appointed Hadrat Sa`id ibn al-`As to teach reading and writing to the people of Madinah.

He also started the school of Suffah, the first residential school to teach reading, writing, Islamic law, memorizing of the Qur'an, tajwid (how to recite the Qur'an correctly), and other Islamic sciences which were taught under the direct supervision of the Prophet.

The school of Suffah had students who lived there and also students who came during the day, as well as casual visitors who attended in large numbers. The number of boarders varied from time to time and a record shows that there were seventy living there at one time.

The Prophet had a special day when he taught the women only and replied to their questions. He encouraged his wives to be educated and literate. He appointed a lady, Shifa' bint `Abdullahradiya Allahu `anha, to teach writing to Hafsahradiya Allahu `anha, after he married her.

Hadrat Shifa' was later employed as an inspector in the market of Madinah during the caliphate of  Hadrat`Umar.

`A'ishahradiya Allahu `anha, another wife of the Prophet, was probably the most educated woman of her age. She was learned not only in Islamic law but also in poetry, history, medicine, and mathematics. More than one-third of all the hadiths are related by her.

Umm Salamaradiya Allahu `anha, who married the Prophet after her husband was killed in the battle of Uhud, was also able to read. She was a poet and has related many Traditions. She had migrated to Africa and had a daughter from her previous marriage, Zaineb, who was born in Africa. Hadrat Zaineb was fluent in many languages and became a celebrated jurist of Islam.

Because of the attention that the Prophet devoted to education, the art of reading and writing became so widespread in his time that ordinary Muslims are told in the Qur'an to record their business transactions in writing.

The Muslim community today, however, suffers from lack of interest in education and literacy. In 1994 I made an informal survey of 300 Muslim women in Philadelphia and discovered that about 100 of our sisters could not read at even a ninth-grade level. Only 45 had finished high school. Two more had an Associate (two-year college) degree. Only three had regular undergraduate degrees. Among immigrant Muslims, many are unable to function at all in English, which is essential for people residing in North America.

It is our responsibility to see that each and every Muslim is literate and able, at least, to read the Qur'an and understand the basics of our faith.     

(October 1998, As-Salamu `Alaykum)

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Muslim Peace Fellowship
Rabia Harris, Coordinator,
The Muslim Peace Fellowship is part of the Fellowship of Reconciliation network