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Can Muslim women be intellectuals and have careers?

Salamu alikoum. I'm wondering what you think of woman who are intellectual? I've heard many negative comments from muslims that woman are stupid etc, and I've also read a lot of ahadith about it. SubhanaAllah I've met sisters with PHD in mathematics, physics , with degree in philosophy and psychology etc. I personally know many sisters who are very smart. My uncle's wife graduated with background in petroleum engineering. Both her and her husband were classmates during her time in university. But now he works in a well known oil company , that is like 4th or 5th largest internationally and she wasn’t allowed to work within the field. She works in administration at a school and she makes very little money. She told me herself that she doesn’t like to ask her husband to give her money and usually all her money go to her kids. So what is your opinion on thinking a woman can’t be smart or can’t have a high status job? Is it Islamic?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There is no clear evidence in the Quran or the Prophet’s teachings (pbuh) that tell us a woman should not be an intellectual or should not have a good career. It is about cultural beliefs and prejudices. In 1918, it would have been scandalous for an Egyptian woman to attend university. In 2016 more women than men were enrolled in university (34.8% vs 34%). As these cultures grow into the modern world over time, they will give up outdated cultural ideas while retaining Islam’s teachings (Egypt remains a conservative Muslim country despite the great increase in women’s education).

I believe women should be free to choose whether they want to focus on careers or to focus on their families. They should not be prevented from having careers if they want, but we should not force careers on them either. Their own choices and propensities should be respected. There is a tendency in the West to look at family women with contempt, as if a woman needs to succeed in the corporate world or become famous to prove her worth. In Islam she is considered worthy by the virtue of being a woman, she does not have to do anything additional to prove her worth. My sisters and aunts get far more respect and deference than most Western women get, not because they have done anything to deserve it, but because it is something guaranteed to them by my society’s Islamic morality and ethics (the same was true in 19th century Christian societies).

And God knows best.

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