Promoting women’s rights in Islam: the role of female madrasah teachers in the economic and social empowerment of Indian Muslim girls

Kader, Bibi Faatima
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Madrasah education in South Africa is predominantly based on the Deobandi system which is underpinned by patriarchal ideologies that promote the grooming of Muslim women and girls primarily in the role of homemakers. The aim of this research was to investigate if female Indian Muslim madrasah teachers within such a patriarchal education system are able to teach girls in ways that empower them to pursue further education and business which are aligned with the educational and economic rights that Islam grants women. A qualitative research framework was utilised, within which the instrument of semi-structured interviews was employed. The five participants who were engaged in one-hour, semi-structured interviews had satisfied the selection criteria of being female Indian Muslim madrasah teachers from different madrasahs in various provinces across South Africa, including having a minimum of three years teaching experience. The data was analysed using a thematic content analysis method and it was found that Indian Muslim female madrasah teachers promote women’s rights in Islam through various pedagogies such as the use of religious texts, the modelling of important women in Islam, the use of class debates, and implementation of authentic learning. In addition, it was determined that the female Indian Muslim teachers encouraged students to pursue further education that could be either religious or secular, as long as neither type of education transgressed the boundaries of sharia (Islamic law). Moreover, the curriculum taught at these madrasahs by the female Indian Muslim teachers ranged from an exclusively religious education curriculum to one that had a focus on both religious and secular education. Lastly, a sentiment that was expressed by all five participants was that Islam and its religious texts do not need to be reinterpreted from a feminist perspective as Islam already holds men and women in equal status. The implications of these findings are that although these teachers work within patriarchal Deobandi institutions, they are finding ways to empower their learners by providing Indian Muslim girls with an education that challenges the subjugation of Muslim women within Islamic society, and that raises consciousness about women’s rights in Islam.
A research report submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree Master of Arts in Critical Diversity Studies to the Faculty of Humanities, School of Social Science, University of the Witwatersrand, 2022