Young women, both Muslim and non-Muslim
living in the US, face an important dilemma. Societal, family, cultural, and
even economic situations dictate that an intelligent, self-respecting woman who
wants to ‘do something’ with her life and accomplish something ‘meaningful’ must
receive a minimum of a 4 year undergraduate college education.
Following the attainment of a degree,
the woman must go to work, full-time, in a high-powered, ‘respectable’ career.
Even if she does not need to hold a job in order to please other people, she
needs a job in order to pay off the immense debt she has incurred due to the
high cost of higher education.
Here is what sisters face:
A sister attending a public university
on in-state tuition might expect to pay $5,000 a year; a public university on
out-of-state tuition, $15,000 a year; and a private university from $20,000 to
$30,000 per year. Over the course of a four year undergraduate education, that
amounts to anywhere from $20,000 to $120,000! a sister who is fortunate and
blessed by Allah to come from a wealthy family will have no problems meeting
these financial requirements without interest-bearing loans and without needing
to work to repay loans. Some sisters from poor families may meet all financial
aid requirements and may be offered a free education. However, the majority of
the middle-class and less fortunate poor sisters will continue to face the
Many scholars hold the opinion that, due
to the severity of the warnings issued to those who deal in Ribā (interest of
any kind), as issued in the Qur’ān and by the Prophet (sws) in his Ahadīth,
taking an interest-bearing loan is unacceptable in any circumstance. That aside,
loans and debt present further complications for a sister who hopes to stay home
with her children, because a debt, whether interest-bearing or not, must be
repaid. Therefore, a sister who graduates from a university with a debt, will
then be expected to work in order to earn the money to pay off that debt. A debt
of up to $120,000 will take many years to pay off. Where, then, does this leave
a sister’s goal of having and raising her children?
Option number one: A sister may choose
to work and postpone childbearing. However, this can leave her only starting her
family when she is in her late 20s and early 30s, when fertility rates decrease,
and rates of miscarriage, genetic disorders, and other pregnancy complications
increase. Postponing children can also cause tensions within the family, as a
sister’s parents or parents-in-law may be anxiously awaiting grandchildren.
Furthermore, this raises the ages of the parents relative to the ages of their
children. This may leave the parents with young children at an age when they
have less energy to handle them, or it may simply be something undesirable to
Option number two: A sister may work and
start a family, and function in the role of the American ‘working mother’. This
forces the mother to abandon her children in day-care while she works, unable to
raise her children on her own and handing the responsibility of instilling basic
moral values to another: most likely a non-Muslim, as Muslim day-cares are hard
to come by. Is this how we plan to bring up the Ummah of the future?
Furthermore, numerous studies have found that children who are brought up in
day-care have a wealth of emotional, social, academic, and ethical problems.
(Despite a recent widely-publicised study that suggests that children who are
placed in day-care do not experience these problems, it still does not address
the problem of the lack of Islamic values and influences that can only come from
the Muslim family).
In addition, many women find Corporate
America hostile to women with children. Only recently did the ‘Family Leave Act’
passed by the United States Congress give a woman the legal right to take time
away from work when she has a baby without being fired. However, many problems
still exist in the workplace. Women who work are also denied the benefit that
comes to them and their children from long-term breast-feeding. Major medical
associations now recommend that a child be breast-fed for at least one year in
order to obtain optimal health benefits. Perhaps more importantly, however, is
the intense emotional bonding which occurs between the mother and the child
through this natural, merciful act.
Option number three: Forfeit education
completely, and in the process forfeit many of the benefits education can offer
– and there are, in fact, many. Often, I am asked by school advisors,
administrators, and friends: ‘If you just plan to stay home and not work, why
are you wasting your money on education?’
I have the following answer to this
1) As an intelligent woman, I feel
entitled to education. Simply because I plan to put my education to use in a
place other than the work force does not mean I am not entitled to an education
for my own interest or enrichment.
2) Something could happen to my husband,
and I may need to work (temporarily) to support myself and my family. As it is
very difficult for one without a college degree to obtain a job with a living
wage, my husband and I feel that a college degree is insurance against disaster.
3) My own education can be used to
educate my children. My major happens to be Arabic and I hope to speak and teach
Arabic to my children.
However, sisters may choose a variety of
courses of study that will benefit their children or others’ children in the
future (through home-schooling and teacher networks) including science,
mathematics, language arts, etc. A major in education is also highly applicable.
Some private universities which may be expensive may also be among few
universities offering specialised and obscure majors, such as Arabic.
4) By getting an education early on, a
sister can ward off the whisperings of Satan later. If a sister chooses to
forfeit her education in order to stay home with her children, Satan may cause
her to regret her decision. She may think: ‘If only I had gone to college, so
much would have been different.’ Yet if a sister postpones having children in
order to attend school and then pay off her debts, Satan may also cause her to
regret the decision, and she may think: ‘If only I stayed home with my children
instead of working, things would have been different’. Sisters need to be
encouraged to stay home with their children and provide their children with the
best Islamic upbringing possible. Not only for the sake of their children, but
for the great reward and dignity Islam places on the role of the mother. In
American society today, a woman who stays home to raise her children instead of
working in the ‘real world’ is looked down upon. A stay-at-home mother is
assumed to be less intelligent and less capable than a working woman. In defence
of stay-at-home mothers, the At-Home Mother Association published a book the
title of which reflects the prevalent attitude held towards women who stay at
home with their children: What’s a Smart Woman Like You Doing At Home?
Conversely, Islam places the highest
imaginable value on the difficult and rewarding task of motherhood. Mothers make
many sacrifices for the sake of their family and children and these sacrifices
do not go unnoticed by Allah. The mother makes sacrifices for her children
without regretting her sacrifices or feeling burdened by them, and because of
this, not only did Allah mandate the utmost of kindness and obedience to the
mother, but care of children is even considered the Jihād of the mother, and the
mother will be rewarded with Paradise for this Jihād, Inshā’Allāh. We do not
want to sacrifice the reward of mothering, nor do we want to sacrifice the
Islamic upbringing and warm, loving environment we can give our children by
staying home. Yet the system under which we must operate makes this goal almost
completely incompatible with the goal of obtaining higher education.
I am unable to offer a solution to this
dilemma. Perhaps, in order to secure the best interest of my family, I will
never finish school, unless we find a way to establish a system by which we can
enable our sisters to gain an education and fulfil family responsibilities, more
sisters will face the same difficult decision. May Allah guide us to the right
(Tasneem Crooker is on a leave of absence from Georgetown University)
Courtesy: The Radiance Viewsweekly, Delhi, India