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.