I found myself awake at 3 am, reading the names of my Nigerian daughters—hundreds of them. Some shared the same name as my wife, Ayesha. Others shared the names of co-workers and friends, cousins and acquaintances.
I call them my daughters because as a parent I don’t know how else to think of them—girls whose only crime was education.
As the international community finally expresses outrage and multinational efforts ensue to #BringBackOurGirls, I’m forced to remind everyone that I condemn this act not only as a father and a human being, but also as a Muslim.
Boko Haram’s claim that Islam motivates their kidnappings is no different than Adolf Hitler’s claim that Christianity motivated his genocide. This terrorist organization acts in direct violation of every Islamic teaching regarding women.
Boko Haram violates the Koran 24:34 which commands, “and force not your women to unchaste life,” i.e. a condemnation of Boko Haram’s intention to sell these girls into prostitution. They violate Koran 4:20 which declares, “it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will; nor should you detain them,” i.e. a specific repudiation of Boko Haram’s kidnapping and detention.
The Koran could not be clearer that no person has the right to force any woman for any reason. I delve deeper into this topic in my upcoming book, Extremist.
Prophet Muhammad’s dying words embodied these commandments. He implored, “Do treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers.” While he came to an Arab society entrenched in patriarchy and misogyny Muhammad instead taught, “It is the duty of every Muslim male and every Muslim female to attain education.”
But surely he meant only Islamic education, right? Well, perhaps, provided you define Islamic education how the Prophet Muhammad defined it—as religious and secular knowledge. Muhammad declared, “He who goes out in search of knowledge is in God’s path till he returns.”
Notice the Prophet specified knowledge in general, not just religious knowledge. And where should Muslims search for this knowledge? At a time when Islam had not yet expanded past Arabia’s borders Muhammad wisely implored, “Seek knowledge even if you must travel to China.”
Speaking of wise Prophet Muhammad added, “Wisdom is a Muslim’s lost property—he should embrace it wherever he finds it.”
Last I checked, “wherever” includes the West. Indeed, attaining knowledge is not just an option for Muslims but as the Prophet declared, “The search of knowledge is an obligation laid upon every Muslim.”
But the Koran’s commands and Prophet Muhammad’s acts aside—the ultimate test asks how well these teachings have played out in Islamic and world history.
In one word—amazingly.
Prophet Muhammad’s wife Khadija was not only the first person to accept his claim to prophethood, she ran a thriving trade business as a CEO during his lifetime. She was a leader, an entrepreneur, a mother, and a wife—all in one.
Likewise, prior to and well after Prophet Muhammad’s death, his wife Ayesha became recognized as one of Islamic history’s premier jurists and scholars. By comparison, consider that it was only in the late 19th century that US states began granting women permission to become lawyers—insisting that such a vocation was not appropriate for a woman to handle.
But while many have heard of Khadija and Ayesha, few have heard of Fatimah al-Fihri, who in 859—some two centuries after the Prophet died—founded humanity’s first degree-granting university.
Fatimah was a Muslim, an African, a female, and literally changed world history through education. Her revolutionary University of al-Qarawiyyin is now the world’s oldest university.
Fatimah’s university commanded immense respect—even attracting a young Catholic man named Gerbert of Auvergne. Those familiar with Catholic history know that Gerbert of Auvergne soon became His Holiness Pope Sylvester II—who ultimately introduced the concept of zero and Arabic numerals to a European subcontinent yet struggling through the medieval era.
All this because of a Muslim female scholar. Could any of this have happened if the view of Islam that terrorists like Boko Haram espouse has a shred of truth to it?
Do not give the terrorists known as Boko Haram the dignity of attributing any religion to their name. Islam not only permits but also actively commands female education. Look to the glittering examples of Khadija, Ayesha, and Fatimah al-Fihri. Education elevated women in Islam to a status of equality and elevated Europe out of the Dark Ages. Indeed, education is the solution to defeating Boko Haram ideology.
I will continue to lose sleep as long as I know my daughters are at the mercy of some of humanity’s most horrific people.
May these terrorists receive swift justice, and may our daughters be afforded the opportunity to become our future scholars.