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Enlightened… and Childless?

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baby.jpg“Study after study shows that better educated women have fewer children. They tend to marry later and bear children later. A World Bank report found that in places where women do not recieve a secondary education, the average number of children was seven. When women have secondary school education, the figure drops to three. Because they are literate they have a better understanding of contraception, and may be able to resist family pressures to have more children.”

This is an excerpt from my Social Studies textbook, where we’re learning about poverty and how it affects women and children. One message being conveyed is that to break the cycle of poverty, poor people should have less kids. Formal education is touted as the key to enlightenment (which subsequently results in you being smart enough to have fewer children).

I find it an interesting attitude in the West, that the more children you have, the less “educated” or “enlightened” you must be. Women are pushed to pursue higher levels of education and to establish careers for themselves, in order to be “fulfilled.”

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This actually presents a problem, of sorts, to me – I, too, believe that women should be more educated, first and foremost in Deen, and then in dunya matters too. I do think that we should be more active in our communities and establish ourselves in society. But this mentality against having children, against raising a family… that, I don’t agree with. I’m not exactly fond of children myself, but at the same time, I know that it’s something encouraged in Islam and that it’s also a physical and biological need/desire for most people.

So how do we strike a balance here? The secular opinion is clearly that the more enlightened one is, the less children you’ll have – does that mean that, to them, the childless are the most brilliant or something? Islamically, however, both education and family are highly cherished and encouraged, for both men and women.

My mum’s opinion is that we should all marry young, have children young, and then once they’re old enough to be a bit independent (say around age 8 or so), that’s when you should start studying again. Because of marrying young, you’ll still be in your early years/ prime and be able to pick things up pretty quickly at school, while still having the energy to run after your kids.

In fact, that’s what a few of her friends have done! They’re juggling husbands, children, school, and are pretty involved in the community… and they seem to be doing pretty well at it, too, masha’Allah! (And contrary to what you may think, they don’t have extended family around to help them out.)

What do you think? Is it an issue of children vs. education, or does it just have to be handled neatly and efficiently in order to enjoy both successfully?

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Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of MuslimMatters.org.

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. reader

    January 15, 2008 at 12:27 PM

    I think what comes with education for women is the awareness of what overpopulation is doing to the earth.

    Just Google “overpopulation” and you can see for yourself why too many people are making Earth bust at the seams. Many predict the oil wars will turn into water wars in the near future.

    So, with knowledge comes a sense of responsibility.

    I find it interesting that you state procreating is a “biological need.” I think that’s a stretch. I would say sex is a biological need, but not reproducing. We humans were given enriched reasoning faculties by our Creator, unlike bunnies.

    Also, can’t we consider children a “dunya” pursuit? As a blogger has expressed, some people approach building a family as something to “accomplish,” kind of like getting your hands on a mortgage. Children become a commodity to boost one’s self interests and/or ego, in that case.

  2. reader

    January 15, 2008 at 12:51 PM

    Errr…my comment was eaten by the system. If it happens to resurface, I’d delete this recap.

    Very interesting subject, to say the least. I’d say for women who gain knowledge, comes a sense of responsibility.

    All you have to do is Google “overpopulation” to see how Earth is busting at the seams. I’ve seen several articles predicting that in the near future “water wars” will replace the “oil wars.”

    I think the problem is that many people nowadays treat establishing a family as a dunya pursuit (which how is it NOT?). Get yourself a half a million $ home, your two Beamers or Mercedes, oh…and don’t forget the 2.5 kids. How is this any less materialistic than what so many Muslims condemn about “Western” culture? Children have become a commodity to fulfill one’s self-interests or repairs one’s downtrodden ego.

    I find it interesting that you state procreating is a “biological need.” I would say sex is a biological need, not reproducing. Our Creator gave us the wonderful faculty of reasoning…unlike hamsters.

    So, what’s the right answer for those women who feel they must be responsible with the knowledge they have gained about procreation? Responsible reproduction or voluntary human extinction.

    In the meantime, why should women be criticized for choosing to NOT have children? In what ways does it destroy society or the environment?

  3. Anon Muslim

    January 15, 2008 at 2:53 PM

    Having fewer kids doesn’t make someone more enlightened by default but I think it comes with the realization that in order to raise a well adjusted child, there needs to be a fair amount of parental involvement and stability in that child’s life. Not to mention the increased resources needed to properly provide for a large family.

    There’s only a finite amount of time in the day and splitting that time between 7 kids and 3 kids is a big difference. And really, the main thing that’s going to determine how a kid turns out is the quality/quantity of parental involvement.

    As far as marriage/kids vs education. It doesn’t have to be an either or type of thing unless one plans on having 7 kids.

  4. SH

    January 15, 2008 at 3:11 PM

    Sister Anonymouse I truly love you for the sake of Allah…You rock!! alhamdullilah!!! Excellent question sister one that is so relevant to newlyweds such as myself….I agree with getting married young but I also know that its much much harder to raise kids in a non muslim country than it is in a muslim country. My mom always says that at least in most Muslim countries no matter how bad things may be at least you always know where your kid is and what your kid is doing because here there’s not that close of network of neighbors etc…BAck home where I grew up (partly) everyone knows everyone so its much harder for kids to get into stuff they can get into here (drugs, dating etc etc.) Anyway so that’s why my mom’s always said that its okay if you have lots of kids there but here in America its much harder because you have to be constantly watching your kids your neighbor probably doesn’t have the same values you do so there’s no way you can trust anyone else to do it. So that’s something I would definitely take into consideration before deciding about kids also now that’s there’s stuff like al-maghrib which wasn’t made avaliblabe to me when i was growing up it might be a bit easier to raise good muslim kids but still school and friends influence kids a lot too…in the end I just make dua that we all have children that are on the siratul mustakeem and that spread the deen and are amongst those whom Allah SWT loves.

    Ps. Sister anonymouse I read your experience in high school that you had written earlier (I have a little sister in high school who went through something similar) and I just want to say we all support you in your striving to keep your deen in such a bad environment. May allah make you amongst those who enter janat-ul-firdous!!! Ameen!!!!

  5. H.Ahmed

    January 15, 2008 at 5:02 PM

    Reminds me of the movie Idiocracy. (http://www.hahmed.com/blog/2007/12/23/idiocracy/)

  6. Samir

    January 15, 2008 at 7:00 PM

    In my opinion, the important thing to realize here is the the education here most likely refers to ‘secular’ education which pushes to women the urge to join in the workforce, establish a career etc. which in turn makes it imperative for them to have less kids so they can focus on their career AND their kids.

  7. Tayyaba

    January 15, 2008 at 8:20 PM

    Bismillah.

    What I love about Islam is that it’s so flexible from one era to the next. It does not quantify how many kids one should have. It doesn’t dictate whether or not women should pursue careers or not (as these are ideas present only in our times). Nor does it specify what type of education to pursue. It’s left general on purpose, I think, b/c these matters will vary according to one’s potential, capabilities, and circumstances.

    I don’t think it’s an issue of children vs. education. Those who authored this textbook, i believe, are oversimplifying the matter. This is something I’ve questioned myself about, and so far, I’ve come to the understanding that one needs to separate *education* from *career*.

    I remember hearing that, “the reason why you’re in school is so that you can get that degree and make lots of money.” I mean, why else would anyone be in school right???? It’s become an unquestionable norm; whether it be men or women, we’re kind of brainwashed to think that way for 12 years in school…and then even more in college.

    Naturally, the most polarized tug-of-war a married woman faces in the 21st century is the demands of her career versus the demands of her family unit. This plays a huge role in the decision of how many kids one wishes to have because one has to make sacrifices in one or the other at points throughout ones life.

    As a Muslim woman, I try to think of myself standing in front of Allah, and imagine what He would ask me about first. I know that I’m indefinitely responsible for my children, and hence, if they need me in any way, I know I must sacrifice anything else–career, involvement in the community, etc. IF, and ONLY IF, their demands go down a bit at some point in my life, then I can make room for something else.

    As far as my education, I see it as an independent asset. I seek it because it will enlighten me, make me open minded, and help me raise a better family. If that education can help better my community/society AFTER I know I’ve given my time to my family, then I’ll use that education to better my community.

    Again…that works for me. People with different circumstances will act differently.

    What about women who aren’t able to have kids? Well, they have more time than ever to help their community :)

  8. Tayyaba

    January 15, 2008 at 8:30 PM

    In response to SH:

    Raising kids *PERIOD* is tough, whether you’re in the US, England, Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, or even China nowadays. Maybe it was easier in generations before us because of less exposure to other societies, but we’re now in a globalized culture especially with more access to media sources.

    Parents just face different battles. In the US, one has to worry about drugs, sex, losing one’s identity as a muslim, etc.

    In “back home countries,” there’s the battle of getting in the wrong crowd too–whether it’s political groups, drugs, or being Muslim culturally rather than being a Muslim by understanding what Islam entails.

  9. Danya

    January 15, 2008 at 8:43 PM

    The real problem with “overpopulation” is not merely numbers but the use of resources.

    It’s true a woman with sub-secondary education in, for example, India, may have 7 children and a professional woman in the States may have only 2, but who do you think is using more of the earth’s resources? The family in which each member has his/her own car or the family that lives in a room house?

    Also, the article does not take into consideration whether educated women feel satisfied with simply less children? Merely having less children does not mean they want less children…

    I think the conclusion made in the italics, the educated women desire less children due them having more understanding or what have you is a Western imposition of a view that is biased. There is nothing from the study, at least based from what I have seen, that indicates that there is a direct correlation between getting an education and desiring less children. Women may have less children simply because they are getting married later and working, thus making them too busy for children.

    As for myself, a 21 year old who is half way through law school (alhamdulillah), my first and foremost priority is having a family with insha’Allah 4 children. A lawyer that I interned for was pregnant and I asked her how many children she wanted and without hesitation she said “as many as possible.”

    Getting an education does not change one’s world view so much so the point that one suddenly has no interest in having children. There is no clear nexus between this supposed cause and effect.

  10. anonymousgirl

    January 15, 2008 at 9:50 PM

    I agree with Danya. You can be well educated and still desire a big family. There’s a problem with too many Muslim girls marrying young and not being able to study further and ther before not knowing what to do later on in life when there’s a financial crises/family crises. It’s important that young girls don’t get message that not being educated in a way that’s necessary for survival is something that should be secondary to marriage and children. Only when you can suppport yourself should you have children.

    I applaud the women who go back to work/study after having kids, it’s not easy to do and not everyone can do it. Therefore it’s better to get studying and work done earlier in life so that you can sit back and enjoy your children’s growing up later on.

  11. US

    January 15, 2008 at 10:28 PM

    “A World Bank report found that in places where women do not recieve a secondary education, the average number of children was seven. When women have secondary school education, the figure drops to three.”

    ________________________-

    What are the other instances where the average number of children increases or decreases?

    Did the World Bank also consider other considerations, such as “educated men” getting more divorces?

    Did they consider a womens’ health as a determining factor? (Are we getting less healthier, and thus able to bare less children, and if so, why?)

    Did they consider the role of individualism, ‘me 1st syndrome’, when determining why women may have children later?

    The more self-focused we become , the harder it is to have kids; after all, having kids requires giving your all. After all, if you slack off on raising a child, that would be an ‘uneducated’ decision.

    Perhaps in the population of females that have many children, some are more educated in child-rearing than a woman in the professional’ world. That is their full time career, so to say it is 7 Vs 3 is incorrect, they are in fact ‘even’:)

    Perhaps a women in the professional world knows that it is about quality, not quantity of kids.

    Perhaps in some situations, women are now more ‘career oriented’ because men are not fulfilling their roles as caretakers and protectors’, so how can they fulfill their ‘traditional role’?

    Maybe it’s just that is is now ‘more cool, or normal to have 2 or 3, VS 7, and this has nothing to do with education, but rather plain old societal pressure (what’s in and what’s out, like divorcing at the drop of a nickel:)?

    Perhaps there is a multitude of reasons why the trend is to have less children and to paint it with the brush of ‘smart VS dumb, literate VS illiterate’ is I agree, very much over-generalizing the issue.

  12. Saifuddin

    January 16, 2008 at 4:19 PM

    BismillaharRahmanirRahim

    as-salaamu ‘alaikum. Interesting post, thought provoking, mashaAllah. You wrote,

    “I find it an interesting attitude in the West, that the more children you have, the less “educated” or “enlightened” you must be.”

    You are right it is “interesting”, especially considering the current situation present in Britain and Europe.

    For example, the population in Briton is rapidly shrinking so much that in 20 years there will not be enough Anglo Britons to sustain the industrial and commercial economy that has been established. And I wonder, will that gap remain void or will it be filled. And I wonder who will fill that gap? ::he says rhetorically::

    Birth rate: 10.67 births/1,000 population
    Death rate: 10.09 deaths/1,000 population
    Net migration rate: 2.17 migrant(s)/1,000 population

    -Saifuddin

  13. Ruth Nasrullah

    January 16, 2008 at 6:12 PM

    Asalaamu alaikum. A couple weeks ago I was at a dinner party and a young sister was talking about her entrance into a high-level allied health school. Her mother made the comment that it was nice her daughter was doing that but since “girls always end up in the kitchen anyway” she might as well not bother.

    I was horrified by that.

    I really don’t understand the issue of “education versus motherhood.” How much time does it take to get an education? There are plenty of reputable schools where you can do courses online, and I would hope a husband wouldn’t mind watching the kids one night a week while his wife goes to a halaqa or local class.

    And how does the example of Khadijah (RA) guide us in this issue? She was an active and successful businesswoman and also had children later in life.

  14. inexplicabletimelessness

    January 16, 2008 at 8:59 PM

    As salamu alaikum,

    This is just me thinking out loud, but I really admire the character and personality of A’isha (radhi Allahu anha) because she was a scholar, doctor and so knowledgeable in so many things! She was a brilliant teacher to so many others. She is one of my role models, but I am wondering now after reading this discussion, how different would have A’isha (ra)’s life have been if she had kids? How would she have balanced between raising them to be upright, noble Muslims and caring for them versus studying/teaching the Deen.

    Are there good examples of Muslim women historically who have balanced both or is it usually that really good Muslim women just have really good Muslim kids who turn out to be really good scholars??

  15. alwaysred

    January 17, 2008 at 9:08 AM

    I don’t think there’s any one formula. But I do think from personal experience that having a family, and studying (for either spouse) at the same time is very tough and can take a toll on the family.

    Sure we can put off school to later years, but while a few women may have supportive husbands who actually see to it they do finish school, for many people this may never happen, either due to family circumstances, financial issues etc.

    My husband was doing his masters and we have one child right now. Compared to how our life was when he was in school to how it is now, its a big difference.

    I think school in this country or those late teen and early 20s do mature you. We simply don’t live in a time where we are mature enough to do what the sahaba did at 16.

    So marrying young is something prescribed in the sunnah, but maturity and ability has to also be present at the time of marriage and often for us growing up in the west, that hasn’t come yet at 18 or even at 22 for most people.

    We all know that it takes commitment and responsiblity to establish a healthy family. And those two things one can only give when they have the maturity to know what is important and prioritize accordingly. How many stories do we hear of young brothers getting married and then being out with their freinds constantly or who simply are way too involved in the community to give time to the wife? etc etc..and there’s other issues on the sister’s side.

    Plus don’t underestimate that an educated mother has more to offer on many different levels than a mother who hasn’t gotten an education and im not talking about just secular/deen. I’m talking about both.

  16. mcpagal

    January 17, 2008 at 12:24 PM

    For example, the population in Briton is rapidly shrinking so much that in 20 years there will not be enough Anglo Britons to sustain the industrial and commercial economy that has been established. And I wonder, will that gap remain void or will it be filled. And I wonder who will fill that gap?

    Birth rate: 10.67 births/1,000 population
    Death rate: 10.09 deaths/1,000 population
    Net migration rate: 2.17 migrant(s)/1,000 population

    Wait… doesn’t that meant that the population is expanding not decreasing? And I’m pretty sure we can lump the work on migrants :)

    Anyway, I don’t think it’s necessarily bad one way or the other. Some women are just more maternal and want umpteen babies. Others don’t, for whatever reason. It balances out – I don’t think the planet could really cope with every family having 8 kids or whatever.

  17. Meena

    January 17, 2008 at 11:25 PM

    Why would you asume that a career for woman isn’t fulfilling? you put it in quotation marks which is why i’m wondering. do u think careers are only fulfilling for men? if we want to move forward in this world we need to give our daughters the same rights as our sons, we should be encouraging them to go to university or college and study before getting married or having children, to do otherwise and marry young without any financial security or education is to do them a huge diservice. i think u need to look at this from a parent’s point of view. i don’t know many fathers that would want their daughters to be responsible for a child or a family if they don’t even have the means or have never had any experience with studying outside the home or working.

  18. Dawud Israel

    January 19, 2008 at 11:21 PM

    Educated sisters are more intimidating to men so they don’t always get married or if they do they do so later and naturally have fewer kids. And from what I hear there are more educated (unmarried) sisters now a days and fewer educated men. Women are naturally hard-workers so come across as more educated but men are naturally innovative smart.

    The other thing is in marriage the women has to respect the man, because psychologically that’s what keeps them together right?
    So if the woman is more educated than her husband, it’s like he’s not “worthy” of her. Marriages break.

    And especially today men don’t know how to be MEN. So women have to be more womanly…meaning shying away from (Islamically correct) feminism and doing the same things as men -sigh-

    End result: Women suffer…and men are to blame…I think it has always been like this tho :(

    My advice would be to get married after high school or for sisters to go into other fields. Or if you fall in love young, take advantage of it.

    It surprises me how many Muslims are against this when this is common among non-Muslims. I know of at least 2 non-Muslims who got married a year after high school.

  19. Meena

    January 20, 2008 at 5:29 PM

    Dawud are you saying that women should go into other fields considered “less” so their husband’s ego isn’t shot? I don’t think that man deserves to be with that women if he can’t deal with the fact that she went further with her studies. Maybe you need to explore why men feel so inferior in this case. It sounds to me as though it’s the man’s problem. To get married after high school means a girl most likely won’t ever have a shot at furthering her education or gaining work experience, that doesn’t sound too realistic to me. Sure there’s cases where women can go back to work after having kids, but for most the answer is no. We need to encourage girls to be secure and have a fallback option. They need to be a professional in their field and need money in the bank. Divorce can leave one devastated. I wish more Muslims could be more practical when considering their daughters for marriage. It’s heartbreaking to see a failed marraige and even moreso to see a women left alone and struggling to get back on her feet with only a high school education and 4 kids.

  20. AnonyMouse

    January 20, 2008 at 10:50 PM

    “To get married after high school means a girl most likely won’t ever have a shot at furthering her education or gaining work experience”

    Not if she puts it in her marriage contract as a condition! I personally think it’s important for women/ girls to get married young but ALSO to pursue further education… and the marriage contract is one way of ensuring that!

  21. Dawud Israel

    January 21, 2008 at 12:32 AM

    LOL I AM blaming the men…the loss of chivalry among men is quite mind-numbing. Sorry sisters, I apologize on behalf of my kind. :(

    “They need to be a professional in their field and need money in the bank.”
    Nuh uh, they don’t NEED to. What they NEED is success in the Hereafter. Just reminding. :)

    Education for sisters is always good but the CHOICE should be theres. Often it’s mothers and fathers who push their girls to get educated saying they won’t get married if they aren’t educated. In other words, sisters don’t HAVE TO get educated in order to get married. Men need to be educated because they need to support the family, but sisters don’t although they are better at it. Remember that.
    Forcing sisters to get educated so they can get married to the type of person the parents feel has a (educated) high status is equal to forcing your children into a marriage.

    And there is a concept a friend introduced to me while listening to my professor speak. I asked him, “Do you think he is married?” To which he said, “No. He’s too smart to be married.” To me, that sounds scary…because I think it might be true. :(

  22. Anonymous

    July 22, 2008 at 8:53 AM

    Assalamualikum,

    As a muslim woman living in the West I used to think that it was hard raising kids in the West, but after being here in a Muslim country and seeing around me I can just say that the trials that we are faced with in the West exist here, we don’t read labels coz we are in a Muslim country but its surprising how many medicines we find that have gelatin in them and they are not halal by any means. Parents in muslim countries have ‘dish’ or ‘cable’ at home and that means that the kids are influenced as much if not more. And the kids in the East are experimenting as well, drugs, drinks , and the whole other stuff…..

    Women who have gotten married early and bagged guys that earn handsome salaries pop out babies coz its expected but sad fact is there is a chef (or take outs) who cooks, a maid who does all the housework and what is the mother busy doing gabbing on the phone or watching the television and guess what happens they feel proud in showing off their kids’ dancing skills, and the topic starter is can you sing that song for our guests… and the kid is made to stand center stage…. what abt teens, well cell phones are rampant, malls are the only hangouts, competing with others is starting off earlier these days….

    I think the most important thing that should define whether a woman is ready to have kids should be her deen…Has she started walking on the path of deen enough and can she impart that knowledge to her kids. I shudder to think what a child will learn from his/her mother who does acts that are forbidden in islam? May Allah guide us in becoming mothers like the ones in the days of Rasool Allah (saw)

  23. Faiza

    January 25, 2018 at 9:36 PM

    You can have children when you are older too, especially nowadays it is a lot easier to do so. Women have children well into their 40’s! Look at Tammy Duckworth, she’s 49.

    Besides, getting an education does not take long. I know muslim sisters who focused on their education and careers, married in their 30’s and have children. It is best to at least finish your education before you marry, so you can concentrate on it.

    Regarding children, it is not a requirement in Islam. There are muslim couples who have decided to even be child-free because they simply don’t want to have children. Contraception is allowed as long as it is not permanent and both husband and wife agree.

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