Al-Azhar deeply regrets the decision issued by the authorities in Afghanistan, preventing Afghan women access to university education, as it contradicts Islamic Shari’ah and conflicts with its explicit call for men and women to pursue knowledge from the cradle to the grave. That call to pursue knowledge, Al-Azhar affirms, has produced mighty minds among geniuses among women along the scientific and political history of Islam. It is still a source of pride and admiration for every devout Muslim, who sincerely obeys Allah, His Messenger, and His Law.
How could those who issued this decision overlook more than two thousand noble hadiths reported in the most authentic Sunni reference books from the Prophet’s wife and the Mother of the Believers, lady ‘A’isha (peace be with her)! How could they overlook the abounding historical examples of female pioneers in education, sciences and politics who contributed to the advancement of Muslim societies past and present.
Here, it is sufficient to draw the attention of the issuers of this decision to the words of Imam Ibn Hajar, the luminary commentator on Al-Bukhari’s Sahih, in his Tahdheeb At-Tahdheeb. In case they know it not, Imam Ibn Hajar named around a hundred and thirty female hadith narrators, jurists, historians and writers among the Prophet’s Companions and their successors (Tabi`un). Among them are ladies Fatima Az-Zahra, ‘A’isha, Hafsa, ‘Amra, Umm Al-Darda, Ash-Shifa’ Bint ‘Abdullah, Hafsa Bint Sirin, Fatima Bint Al-Mundhir, and Karima Al-Marwaziyya (among the narrators for Imam Al-Bukhari, and Biba Al-Harthamiyya). Around 450 of these notable female figures are cited in Mu‘jam A’lam An-Nisa' by Zaynab al-Amili (d. 1332 AH). The excelled in the sciences of Sharia, language and literature. Other female figures are also mentioned ‘Umar Rida Kahala’s A’lam An-Nisa’.
This shocking decision to the conscience of Muslims and non-Muslims alike should not have been issued by any Muslim, let alone proudly clinging to it. I explicitly reject this decision, since it does not represent the Shari‘ah of Islam. Rather, it radically contradicts the call of the Noble Qur’an, the book in which the words knowledge and reason, with all their derivatives, recur more than a hundred times. I would also conclude my statement with two points:
First is that I warning Muslims and non-Muslims against believing or accepting the allegation that it is banning women’s education is approved in Islam. Indeed, Islam firmly denounces such banning since it contradicts the legal rights that Islam equally guarantees for women and men. So, claiming otherwise is a fabrication against this valuable religion. Islam is the religion that ordains every Muslim, male or female, to pursue knowledge, knowing that the Qur’an states, “Say, ‘Are those who know equal to those who do not know?’" [39, 9]. It is the religion that puts scholars’ efforts and martyrdom on equal foot on the Day of Resurrection.
Second is that I call upon our fellow brothers in authority in the Muslim Afghanistan to reconsider their decision, for the truth is more deserving of being followed. I also call upon all to constantly remember that nothing shall avail us against Allah’s Punishment on the Day of Resurrection, be it money, authority or high status [, in case we disobey Him].