I haven’t got a doubt that Muslim women in our modern age bear part of the blame for the widespread misconception pertaining to: their status, perceived rights in Islam, and that they are mostly unrepresented; with scarce contribution to the development of their societies.

But that’s not because I believe in such erroneous perception of their role in our modern times. But it’s the fact that their role, Muslim women, has largely diminished compared to that of our grandparents and grand  grand mothers. A look back at the great inventions and contributions of Muslimahs to the glory of the Muslim civilization can prove what I’m trying to say. Thus I though of bringing into light, the marvelous example of Fatimah Al Fihri, the founder of the world’s first University, Al-Qarawiyine, located in Fes, Morocco.

Born to a wealthy family from Kairouan in Tunisia, Fatima and her parents were among many families who migrated to Morocco during the rule of King Idriss II.

Her husband, parents and brothers died, leaving behind a great wealth. Fatimah and her sister Mariam inherited such wealth and decided to join forces and devote their time, effort and wealth for serving their community, working on the betterment of its conditions, and hence attain the satisfaction of Allah Almighty.

Towards this end, Fatimah gave orders for the construction of Al Qarawiyyin mosque, which later developed into the massive and indeed the first academy. Mariam, on the other hand, decided to deliver part of her legacy by building the grand Al Andalous Mosque.

As for Al Qarawiyyin Mosque and Madrasa, it established itself as a key spiritual and educational academy that played a major role in spreading the light of knowledge and set the milestone for cultural exchange between the glorious Islamic Civilization and Europe.

It moreover had a unique social role of aiding the community and providing support to the families in a variety of ways that reflected in the rapid development of the city during that time.

The renowned academy gave birth to some of the most notable scholars, academics, writers, historians, mathematicians, and Chemists, and scientists credited for laying the foundation of many fields of development, which later sprouted to many astounding inventions we benefit from till date.

Alongside Hadith and Islamic Studies, the acclaimed university also taught secular sciences. And as time went by, it gained more prestige and popularity among the rulers, even of other countries, to become a center of education sought out by whoever wished to acquaint himself with modern sciences and development.

The Al- Qarawiyyin, recorded by Guinness Book as the oldest academic degree-granting university worldwide, is also credited for the revival of the sense of identity and spiritual awareness of Muslim Communities during the time, in a way that inspired and enlightened European and other civilizations which, back then, looked upon the Muslim Civilization as the center of light, education, and progression in all walks of life.

Today and with the status of women in Islam and their so-perceived marginalized role in human societies at the heart of debates about the Islamic doctrine and what it teaches about gender equality, I find the figure of Fatima Al-Fihri the best example of Muslimah entrepreneurs that rose centuries ago and planted a seed of light and development that many civilizations still reap its fruits in our modern age.

And while her highly respected personality defies misinterpreted perceptions and claims about Muslim women repression and misrepresentation in Islam, I see such icon also a source of inspiration for many Muslim women in our modern times- for those who represent seemingly revolutionary mentalities, with so much eagerness to give of themselves, to hold fast to their legacy- and for those who are confined to their houses and limit their input to raising children, even though I hold such burdening responsibility in great respect, to get out and do their share of development.

With a veil on our heads, the Qur’an in our hearts and minds, and alert conscious challenging all attempts to marginalize us, I tell all Muslim women, you’ve got to fulfill your part of the legacy we’re entitled to uphold.

Like men, we are God’s vicegerents on earth.

So rise up and venture into the world of fulfillment. Make a difference and dare to be upbeat and let nothing stop you. Revive the lost glory of our past, and set good examples of progressive Muslim women, capable of changing the world.

Wassalaam

Maha Youssuf

Posted on: 22- May-  2011