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By : Nina Nurmila, PhD


Education is an intended process which is done by the adult (mature) person who play the role as educator to the participants of education, either children, teenagers, or adult people in order to become a perfect human being. Those are the people who can play their role as servants and mandatory of God on earth. Of course, the human being that is mentioned here referred to both men and women, not only men. 

Regarding the function of human being as Chaliph on earth, among them were mentioned in the Quran QS.Al Baqarah/2 : 30 : 

And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority.” They said, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” Allah said, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know.”

Another verse talked about the function of human being had been alo explained in QS. Al An’am/6 : 165 : 

“And it is He who has made you successors upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.”

The previous verses did not specify that who become successor (Caliph) must be a man. It means, both of women and men has the same function as successor (Caliph) on earth. Namely as manager of the universe in order the life on the earth will be peace and tranquil, prosperous and sustainable. 

The inclusivity of the Quran towards men and women had been explained by Amina Wadud in her book Quran and Women,  which I ever mentioned in Swara Rahima number 34 Th. XI Maret 2011. In Arabic language, when a word is called as jamak mudzakkar (plural masculine)  it also include women, only if there is an exception that the plural form is only for men. For example, the word mu’minuun means the believers, either men or women, only there is another guidance which show that the word only referred to men.  For example by mentioning word mu’minaat after that as mentioned in the verse wal-mu’minuuna wal-mu`minaat. Then, the word Caliph or successor referred to men and women, only if there is a guidance that show that the words is only used for men. 

In the both two verses as mentioned above, as many of the Quranic verses, it is not specifically mentioned that the word is only for men, so it is utilized for both men and women. The specific designation for women after men,  mostly because it is used to affirm that women are included in the such word. The affirmation is important, because it is contradictory with the patriarchal culture which perceived that men are more preferred, while Islam came with idea of equality for both men and women. 

It is also necessary to be confirmed here, that even though the Quran uses the Arabic language which is steeped with the patriarchal culture,  it doesn’t mean that the values that are carried out by the Quran also patriarchal. The Arabic language is only a tool or media which is used by Allah The Almighty to communicate His message through Angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad, whose coincidentally speaks Arabic. According to Asma Barlas in her book bukunya “Believing Women” in Islam. Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an” (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002), Islam precisely an anti-patriarchy religion.  This situation for example, as described in the story of Abraham whose in obedience to God,  he decides to leave his father who works as idol makers and idolatry.  Father, in patriarchal culture is the central figure, while other figure beside father, for example the wife (mother) and the children are considered as secondary person whose existent should be dedicated to the interest of the patriarch, the father who become central figure in the patriarchal culture. For example, in the patriarchal cuture, a wife is positioned as a servant, an entertainer and supporter of the husband, while children are entertainers and heirs of the patriarch. In the patriarchal culture,  the existence of children and women are not as independent human being, but only as the complimentary and servants of the needs of the patriarch. 

This patriarchal culture, then will be changed by Islam through its tawheed concept. By this tawheed concept, that is declare the oneness of Allah and put his position on top of everything make all human being equal before Allah. The Islamic revolutionary and its resistance against the patriarchal culture that degrade women can also be seen for example in the verses that affirmed then women and men are equal. Among them are in Surat An Nisa/4 : 1 which there is no basic argument to claim that men are superior over women. The equality between men and women was also stated in QS.An Nisa’/4 : 124 and QS.An-Nahl/16 : 127 which said that whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he or she is a believer – Allah will surely cause them to live a good life, and will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they (the men and women) used to do. The equality and partnership between men and women was also described in the Surah At Taubah/9 : 71  which mentioned that the believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give alms and obey Allah and His Messenger.  

The partnership between men and women was described in the Quran with example as clothes, men are clothes for women and also women are clothes for men. The function of the clothes is to give comfort, protection, and and to cover disgrace; so that those function are expected by men to women and vice versa. The message on equality between men and women which expressed that the noblest person before Allah is the most cautious person, not the people with specific skin color (white, for example), or specific race or nation (for example Anglo Saxon) or with male sex.  This showed that Allah,  the Most Infinite Justice more take into consideration to somebody’s effort rather because to be the cautious person must be achieved and not a nature (given) as color skin, nation, or sex. In accordance with all of those verses as mentioned above about equality between men and women, Surah Al Mujadilah/8 : 11 affirmed that the high personal degree of somebody is not seen from his sex, but from somebody’s faith and knowledge. 

O you who have believed, when you are told, “Space yourselves” in assemblies, then make space; Allah will make space for you. And when you are told, “Arise,” then arise; Allah will raise those who have believed among you and those who were given knowledge, by degrees. And Allah is Acquainted with what you do.” (QS. Al Mujadilah : 11) 

The verse mentioned above,  one of them bring the inclusivity message. Even though according At Thabary which mean by ‘assemby’ in the verse is the Prophet’s Assembly, but as explained by Al Qurthuby it is possible to happened in other learning assemblies. Namely that we had been sitting in an assembly then another people came after that, we should move to  give a space for the person who had just came as a sign of our  attitude to the coming of the new person, who have the same purpose to seek the knowledge. Because with faith and knowledge, people’s degree will be lifted. 

From all of those explanation, it can be understood that Islam is an inclusive religion that emphasized to the justice and equality of peoples dignity. The excellence or the height position of a human over other human being,  also  before Allah was not based on sex (as a nature think) but based on faith,  cautious, and ownership of knowledge (something that is cultivated). It means that Islam had paved the wide way for women and men to have education, so that women and men can play their role as Khalifatullah fil Ardh (Chaliph on earth) and to help each other.  The perception that only men who can play  their role as Khalifatullah fil Ardh means that it ignored around 50% of human being in all over the world which many of them have better capability rather than who have the male sex, but they don’t have knowledge.        

Islam Prioritize Education for Men and Women 

Islam is a religion which prioritize education. This can be seen for example at QS.Al Mujadilah/58 : 11 above which put the position of the knowledgeable and educated person in a high degree. In order people will become educated, so muslim people are encouraged to seek knowledge. In the Islamic tradition, seeking knowledge is not limited with age, but it can be done since a person was still in the cradle until he/she go to the grave. Or in another words, we are encourage to seek the knowledge all times during we live (long life education). This was expressed in a hadith uthlubil `ilma minal mahdi ilal lahdi which means seek the knowledge from the mom’s cradle until you go to grave. Not only without border of time, Islam also encourage people to seek knowledge everywhere without border of space, although to China country. As Prophet Muhammad said, uthlubil `ilma walaw bis-siin (means : seek the knowledge although you should go China country). And the most important thing that seeking knowledge is a mandatory for all muslims regardless of their gender (men or women) as mentioned in a hadith thalabul ìlmi fariidhatun àla kulli muslimin wa muslimatin, which means “Seeking knowledge is mandatory for all muslims , men and women” 

Consciously or not, there have been some positive thing in Indonesia regarding the education which are suitable with the three Islamic concept above (long life education, seeking knowledge or learning borderless of space, and education as a mandatory for everyone, regardless of their gender, which will creat benefit for men and also women. For example, the government policies which increase and increase, from 6 years up to 9 years and it will move to 12 years, the policies regarding the capacity building of the teachers who haven’t reached their bachelor degree, namely a financial support for the teachers so that they can improve their quality at least by achieving undergraduate degree. While most of the teachers of elementary school and Madrasah Ibtidaiyah, therefore  this program which implicated to the increasing number of educated women, and the postgraduate scholarship award program to abroad suh as Australian Development Scholarship which grant scholarship for 500  students each year and required that half of the scholarship grantees must be women is part of affirmative action. 

Affirmative action or positive discrimination is a specific treatment to offset unequal situation by implementing a discriminative treatment in a positive meaning,  by giving priority to the parties which is marginalized or culturally discriminated. In the patriarchal culture, men are almost always prioritized in accessing education so that there is unequality, namely the high education for men and low education for women. To achieve a balance situation, then affirmative action treatment must be taken to prioritize women to achieve education opportunities. In Indonesia, affirmative action are not only implemented in education sector, but also in political sector. For example by ensuring 30% quota of women’s political participation in the parliament. The affirmative action usually a temporary thing,  only up to when the equal situation had been already achieved. When the number of educated women are equal with the educated men, for the purpose of justice the affirmative action whether in education or political sector will be no longer useful, it must be returned to the selection process regardless of their gender. 

In the Islamic tradition, affirmative action had been implemented by Prophet Muhammad PBUH in responding the request of Prophet’s women companions for him to provide a specific time for them, so they will feel free and more comfortable in asking for the issues related to women.  Then, the Prophet provided a specific day to accommodate the request of his women companion to learn and study together (see Sahih Bukhari, book (96), Article (9),  number 7310). In addition to that, the Prophet also asked men for not obscuring women who wanted to go to mosque for worshipping and seeking the knowledge together with men (see Sahih Bukhari, book (42), article (2), number 2354). 

Referring to the tradition when the Prophet Muhammad still alive, ideally women nowadays imitate the spirit of the women companions who lived during the Prophet era, who had high  spirit to study and not only learned together with men, but also adding the specific time in order to be more enlightened in some women specific issues, such as understanding the holy period after menstruation or istihadlah problems. This kind of reproductive problem, which is not experienced by men might be not learned when they studied together with men.Because, the must be hesitated to ask that questions among their men companions. 

Not only spirit of the women companions that should be followed by the muslim women nowadays, but also the critical attitude of Khaulah, a woman companion who didn’t want to take for granted her husband treatment who did the zhihar (personified herself as his mother’s back) against her so that caused the revelation of the surah Al Mujadilah which punished the husbands before they will be able to have intercourse with their wives. To have knowledge or education enable women not only behave critically, but also make them understand their rights and responsibilities so that they can do well their responsibilities to Allah, God The Almighty as well as people around them. The knowledge regarding their rights is also important,  so that by that knowledge women can claim their rights in a pride, do not be fooled or exploited by other people. 

In the early Islamic history, we also knew and had ability to imitate for example Siti Aishah who are smart and narrated so many hadiths. The intelligent of Aisha in the religious matter was proud by the Prophet,  until the Prophet said,  “Khudz nishfa diinakum min haadzihi al-humairah” (Take half of your religion from the Humaira/Aisha). In addition to that, the great grand-daughter of the Prophet named Sukayna bint Husein was also well-known with her intelligent and critical thinking and because of her wide knowledge. One of Imam Shafi’e teachers whose mazhab (school of thoughts) mostly followed by muslim in Indonesia,  namely Sayyida Nafisa was a pious and  knowledgeable woman. There are many more knowledgeable women in Muslim communities during the early Islamic era, which ideally we should follow because through education women can behave critically and did not take for granted all the injustices treatment against her. Or in another words, women can help other people to realize justice and equality between men and women. 

The Reality and Women’s Challenge in Accessing the Education

Although the Quran and hadiths above strongly emphasized men and women to seek knowledge borderless of time and space, but in reality there are still so many challenges which are faced by women is experiencing and continuing their study to a higher level of education. In reality, the higher level of education, there will be less number of women. This is seen through the reality which almost I see every day. For example, the number of female students of Islamic Subject Education which I teach in a class approximately 80 percent of the students. The number will drastically decrease in the Post Graduate and Doctoral level, which in some cases no female student there or amounting to as much as 5-7 percents from the total number of students. This situation shows that there is a handicap for female student to continue her study in the higher level of education. 

Some of the challenging factors among them are cultural factor. For example, there is an idiom that said as high as women ‘s education, she will come back to the kitchen. It means that in the cultural context, women are expected to remain staying at home and back to the kitchen, become a housewife who follow and serve the husband and nurse their children. Women existence in the kitchen an her role as a wife and housemaid even seen as a nature,  whereas it just a socio-cultural construction which can be changed. 

Actually, it is a no problem when women decide to become a wife or housemaid as long as she will not be trapped in injustices and arbitrariness of the husband and the woman herself enjoy her role. It become problem when she is determined to be a housemaid and unpermitted to decide another role just because she is a woman. Even though she have a capability to build her career or continue her study in a higher education level, it does not mean that she need not education. Education play a significant role for her to decide all kinds of social roles. With the provision of education, a wife or a mom can understand they way to prevent the health of family members, to provide nutriment, to maintain and adjust birth spacing, become the role model in worshipping God and educate the children well in order to become a strong generation. 

The standardization of woman’s role as wife and housemaid (with their heavy burden), can become a handicap for a woman to obtain maximum achievement. How can a woman obtain great achievement in the school, if they are still physically burdened with many household works which spend much of their energy and time, for example by taking care of the children, washing, ironing, cooking and serving all the husband’s needs? The married women often have many burden, not only double burden and they are only allowed to leave their houses after they finished all the household or domestic works. This is a kind of injustices. When a woman have another burden outside the house such as working in the public area or continuing their study, the strong supports from their relatives, especially husband. The support can be done such as by providing a household assistant or the involvement of the husband himself to handle directly the domestic works  which so far had been expected to be done by his wife. 

Second, marriage is often seen as the last destination of women’s life journey. Even though, going to school or work for some women are seen as a media to find mates,  which they will leave if they got married yet. Sometimes, they do this with imagination that after they got married they will live happily and fulfilled by the living from her husband. Of course, some of them will be happy if they find a husband who earns living, respects and loves her. But, not afew of them who become the victim of violence by her husband, regarding their economic dependency and powerlessness  to him and further some of them live with a tragic ending such as abandoned by her husband, economically (the husband doesn’t give her living anymore) or emotionally (such as her husband cheating her or marrying another woman/poligamy). 

Third, poverty often becomes a handicap for a woman (but also for man) in continuing the higher education. Poverty and folly often become a vicious circle which never ends. Only limited  people who are able to escape from the vicious circle. The story of Nuryati Solapari, who is willing to become a migrant worker in Saudi Arabia to find money to continue her study, can become a role model on how she can escape the poverty and folly circle through education. Because of her persevering and persistence, after coming back from Saudi Arabia she obtained to continue her Bachelor Degree and then continued to her Master Degree so that she is able to become a Lecture. And now she is studying to continue her Doctoral degree in Padjadjaran university (see  Femina number 28/XL, 14-20 July 2012, page 86-88). 

The Main Subject of Education (for Men and Women) 

Beside becoming a Caliph on the earth, the purpose of the creation of human being  is order people will worship Allah, as mentioned in QS Al-Dzariyat (51): 56, which is translated “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.”

In order to be able to play  well the role as the d servant of Allah, therefore the main subjects in Islamic education covering  aqidah (theology), akhlak (morality) and syari`ah (way of life), which some of them were describes in the Quranic verses in Surah Luqman as mentioned below : 

  1. Do not associate [anything] with Allah (tawheed : believing in Oneness of God) as mentioned in QS. Luqman (31) : 13.
  2. Commands to be grateful, and not kufr (denying) the favor gift of Allah, as mentioned in QS. Luqman (31) ; 12.
  3. In addition to be grateful to Allah, all mankind should also thank to their parents, especially their mother who have been pregnant in a very hard situation and  breastfeed the baby until 2 years old, as mentioned in QS Luqman (31) : 14. 
  4. The rules of interaction between children with their parents who hold another religion, namely that if the both parents trying to make her children associate anything with Allah, so the children should not follow their parents call. But they should treat their parents well in all of the worldly affairs, but still keep the guidance of the people who are obedient to Allah, as mentioned  in QS. Luqman (31) : 15.
  5. The command to educate the children to pray  (the shalat), to call for the good deeds and prohibit the evils, and to be patient in facing many problems, as explained in QS. Luqman (31) : 17.
  6. In addition to implement the Sharia such as doing prayer, the Quran in Surah Luqman (31) : 18-19 explained on how is the morality on treating other people. Namely that we should not looking away from other people, such as pretend not willing to look at or pretend not to know each other or showing sour expression to the person, or walking in prideful steps. What Allah commands to us is to behave in a simple manner when we walk away and to degrade the volume of the voice when we speak. 

There are so many more verses in the Quran which contained basic teaching for men and women. And it should be affirmed here that educating the children is not merely the duty of the wife/mother; but it is parents’ duty together. The habituation method and the parents role model is important, for example in educating children to do the five times daily prayers. The children should be involved in the jama’ah ( praying together) since they are still in early ages. Since a boy or a girl was 2 years old, they have had capability to follow the motions prayers done by their parents. When they come to 7-8 years old, when they have been in 1st or 2nd class of elementary school, the students in the school had been taught about the prayers ordinances and prayers  reading; so that many of them have had ability to do prayers motion  well and followed by the prayers reading they memorized. By the habituation process and role models, insya allah the children had been familiarized themselves doing the prayer well and right at 10 years old, before they reached baligh (puberty ages). Therefore, we can avoid ‘beating’ as method in educating a child, if they can’t perform prayer in 10 years old. 

“Beating” is not a good method in educating children. The suggestion to beat a child if they do not pray when they reach 10 years old, should not be literally understood as a potent method to make them doing prayer. But it should be understood that because of the importance of teaching the children doing prayers so it must be done with all methods, for example by habituating them and roles models (giving clear and concrete example). The “beating” method (without even little injury at all),  it supposed to be implemented only if other methods weren’t successful or it should not be implemented if our effort to make them familiarizing themselves for doing prayers had been successful. The Quran at Surah An Nahl (16) : 125 affirmed that the best method to bring people to the way of Allah, including teaching them for doing prayers,  must be with the wisdom, good advice, discussing with the respect to other people, not by beating. 


Education is an important thing for men and women in order they can play their role as Caliph on the earth and as the servant of Allah who always believe, faithful, and worship Him. In order to be able to play that role, all mankind (man and women) should have education, by seeking knowledge in aqidah (theology), syariah (Islamic jurisprudence), and akhlak (morality). The Quran as the words of Allah, although it used the Arabic language which is used for the patriarchic society, it doesn’t mean that Quran support the patriarchic culture. For example, the story of Prophet Abraham, indeed showing its position against the patriarchic culture and stress for the issue on the obedience to Allah over everything; although he must opposite or against with the parents opinion which actually suggested to be respected and to be treated well. 

Islam is a women friendly religion. Islam lift up women’s degree to the equal position with men  and giving the opportunity and further obligate women to seek knowledge as men, from the mother’s cradle to the grave, regardless of ages and distance of place. There were so many women role models since the Prophet era, so that woman nowadays ideally can use the opportunities to be more advanced and improving their education so she can be a person whose position will be lifted up in the higher degree as the promise of Allah in QS. Al Mujadilah (58) : 11. That Allah will lift the degree of a faithful and knowledgeable person, not the specific sexes because the sex doesn’t require a specific efforts and taken for granted by Allah 9nature), while to be faithful and to become knowledgeable it needs strong efforts. Wallahu a`lamu bish-shawab. Allah knows best! []


*)The Author is Lecture of Tarbiyah and Educational Faculty of  Islamic State University of Sunan Gunung Djati, Bandung. 

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