Originally published in The Huffington Post
Next month I’ll become a father for the first time to a girl. You will be my daughter. Your mother and I are blessed with two boys already, and we are thrilled to finally have the blessing of a girl in our home. But, my dear, as I look around the world I see a frightening reality. One in which women are valued less than men, relentlessly abused, and treated as objects instead of human beings. In our country of America alone, a woman is abused every nine seconds, and domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women. This is not the world I want for you. This reality must change because you — and all girls — deserve better.
As I reflect on how to counter the uphill battle for girls that is this world, I believe Prophet Muhammad’s example and treatment of women is the key. Women in pre-Islam Arabia had no rights. They were treated as property, unable to so much as choose who to marry or when to divorce. Giving birth to a girl was so shameful, that it was customary to bury her alive to save the family’s honor. Prophet Muhammad condemned so-called “honor killings.” He put an end to such barbaric practices and taught that true honor comes from honoring women as equal human beings.
Prophet Muhammad’s example is just as critically applicable today. Unfortunately, nations like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan perpetuate the mistreatment of women, and in addition to the ongoing suffering of many women in those countries, many in the West wrongly assume that these nations follow Muhammad’s model. Dear daughter, nothing could be further from the truth. So as I make these promises to you, I also hope to set the record straight on the high status Prophet Muhammad granted women. And hopefully, together, you and I can change the status quo for women today, and create that world where women are treated as equal human beings.
My dear daughter, these five promises I make to you:
1. I promise to give you the best education possible.
Pre-Islam Arabia was a time when illiteracy abounded for both men and women. But women were at an additional disadvantage because they were viewed as property, not as human beings — thus little practical reason existed to educate them at all. To such a society Muhammad declared, “It is incumbent upon every Muslim male and every Muslim female to attain education.” His wife, Ayesha, became one of Islamic history’s foremost jurists. About her Muhammad remarked, “Learn half of your faith from Ayesha.” Following this model, centuries later in 859 C.E., Fatimah al-Fihri, a Moroccan Muslim woman scholar, established what is now the one of the world’s first and oldest universities — al-Qarawiyyin University.
Therefore, my dear daughter, I promise to move heaven and earth to get you the best education possible so you can become the best person possible.
2. I promise to empower you with self-determination by teaching you how to think, not what to think.
I will teach you morals, the difference between right and wrong, and how to treat others with respect, but I will not compel my faith on you. One reason Muhammad’s message resonated with the masses is it condemned blind adherence. Rather, the Qur’an repeatedly commands seekers of truth to “investigate,” “contemplate,” “reflect,” and “question,” why they believe what they believe. In this spirit, Muhammad empowered women to stop relegating their voices to their husbands and fathers and to instead think for themselves.
Finding your path in life begins with having self-determination. I want you to know what you believe, and why you believe it. Your mother and I were both raised to think for ourselves, and we have found our peace with Islam. Yes, your mother and I are Muslims, but rest assured your path to God must be your own.
It is reported that some of Prophet Muhammad’s companions became so frustrated with the newfound empowerment of self-determination afforded to women that they complained to the Prophet. To such complaints, Muhammad smiled and commanded acceptance. Likewise the Qur’an 4:19 declared to men,
O ye who believe! it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will…and consort with them in kindness; and if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing wherein God has placed much good.
Thus, it is not a man’s place to force anything upon you, or to force you to change. Rather, Prophet Muhammad afforded women self-determination, in word, thought, and deed.
Therefore, my dear daughter, I promise to give you the tools to find your path to truth and peace.
3. I promise to continue the fight to end violence against women.
Pre-Islam Arabia is much like today’s world, in which violence against women is an epidemic. To such barbarity, Prophet Muhammad forbade men from harming women in any way. The Qur’an implemented a systematic method teaching men to never resort to violence against women. At a time when abuse of women was common, like it is today, Muhammad emphatically declared, “Do not beat women,” and led by example. His wife Ayesha reports, “The Prophet never raised a hand against a woman.”
I promise to combat the backward mentality that a woman’s dress justifies violence against women. I promise to continue to teach your brothers that they must treat all women with respect. I promise to continue to teach your brothers to value the moral characteristics of civility in discourse, respect for a woman’s body, respect for a woman’s right to self-determination, and the equality and equity of women in general. I promise to place the burden to end violence against women where it rests — on men, and not on you. This is the example Prophet Muhammad set forth and thus the guidance I intend to follow.
Therefore, my daughter, I promise to create a world around you in which your brothers and I educate men to control their behavior and subdue their anger and violent actions, and hopefully soon we can end violence against women.
4. I promise to treat you as an equal to your brothers.
When your mother and I were expecting your two elder brothers, I would cringe whenever someone would remark, “Congrats on a boy! Good thing you didn’t get stuck with a girl.”
We live in a highly patriarchal society in which having a boy is all to often deemed as somehow “better” than having a girl. This is tragic and further creates a hostile world for girls and women even before they are born. On the contrary, Prophet Muhammad remarked about his daughter Fatima, that she and he would be together in paradise like two fingers are next to one another. In another incident Muhammad admonished, “Treat all your children equally, even in [something as simple as] your show of affection.” Likewise, Prophet Muhammad banned the barbaric practice of burying infant girls alive, and taught that true honor comes to parents who raise and educate a girl to the best of their abilities.
Therefore, my dear daughter, just as I exclaim with joy and kiss your brothers whenever I see them, and just as I have the highest ambitions for their future success, know that you can expect the same excitement and love and support from me throughout your life.
5. I promise to love you and treat you like the future queen you are.
Prophet Muhammad’s sons all died in their infancy or youth. Four of his daughters lived to adulthood. Prophet Muhammad’s relationship with his daughter Fatima is probably best recorded, and he treated her like royalty. Whenever she would enter the room, he would stand up to greet her, kiss her hands, and offer her his seat. My life goal is to follow this model for as long as I shall live. You are a queen, and you should never expect treatment of anything less than what a queen deserves.
Therefore my dear daughter, I promise to love you and treat you like the future queen you are.
Some of Prophet Muhammad’s dying words were, “treat women well, for they are your committed partners.”
My dear daughter, it may be years before you read my letter for the first time, and it may be years more until you understand what I have written. But know that throughout my life, I will fulfill these promises to you to the best of my ability. In education, in encouraging you to find your own path to truth, in protection from violence, in equal treatment as your brothers, and in love — know that my every waking moment will live to serve you as the future queen you are.