Mutahallims (2021 — ongoing)
Islamic education is often associated with men. However, over the last years, female religious education is on the rise in Dagestan. Numerous new schools offer female Muslims not only a place to obtain knowledge, they also become spaces where women can explore specific female practices and opportunities within their religion. More often than not, the life of Muslim women is hidden from the eyes of strangers, thus my intention is to offer a glimpse into the universe of Muslim women, to tell stories of women who study and teach religion. As, according to Islamic faith, seeking knowledge is one of the duties of every Muslim.
Soviet ideology restricted people in getting knowledge about Islam and promoted atheism, but soon after the collapse of the USSR the ban on religious education was lifted. Islamic educational institutions — elementary schools (madrasas and maktabs) and universities — were established everywhere. Part of mosques or Islamic universities, madrasas are religious schools where people can receive education regardless of their age or gender. Madrasas offer a wide range of programmes which include not only religious disciplines — reading and interpretation of the Quran, performing prayers, hadiths (collections records of the life and words of the Prophet Muhammad) — but also secular ones. Men and women are always taught separately. Pupils of these schools are called mutahallims, while young girls are sometimes called mutahallimkas, with a gendered female denomination.
There are several types of female madrasas in Dagestan. Ones are aimed at educating adults and offer courses in the evening. Others accept both children and adults and teach during daytime. Some madrasas accept girls after they have finished nine classes in secular schools. Girls are taught here for one or several years depending on the program. Following strict rules is the hallmark of these madrasas. Girls have to repeat a grade if they fail their exams. Neither mobile phones nor TV shows are allowed. Girls have cooking and sewing lessons instead. Besides religious and general disciplines, they study home economics and first medical aid. Spiritual and moral education is of great importance in female religious schools — according to Allah the Almighty, a woman is to be modest and obedient. Women are taught to be compliant, respect the adab (etiquette), respect the elders, and obey their husband. According to madrasah teachers, parents believe that girls will benefit from these disciplines later in life while married and this is why they bring their children to madrasas. After madrasah, a woman can stay and teach at school or go on to an Islamic university to dedicate herself to scholarly studies of Islam or teaching elsewhere.